Chapter 1: Things Unsaid
The thing people will never tell you when they speak of the drift is that it is a great excuse to leave things unsaid that you probably should have said. It was so intimate, being with another person in a way that all the poets and lovers there ever were could only sketch the outlines of. You were in their head: they were in yours. You were two hearts beating and passing thoughts and memories between them like blood through arteries. You shared a single metal body and one purpose: you were the machine, you were each other, and the effects would never truly go away.
Dorian knew that better than just about anyone.
Stabbing pain in his chest. There was blood on the handkerchief when he pulled it away. The stab this time was of fear. But-
-shake off the pain, keep your focus. This duel’s not over, Dorian, you haven’t won yet. Deal with that cracking noise you heard later.
You’re sick. You can’t do this without hurting yourself. I’m calling it off.
They’d been part of the research team that had determined that such a thing was possible, two of the earliest members of the newly reformed Inquisition, which was comprised of an unprecedented mix of peoples from all corners of Thedas. They had united in a way the Blights and the Qunari alike had failed to unite them: their borders had opened, and their secrets were pooled together as they searched desperately for an answer to the new plague ravaging the world.
They came from all over: Rivaini Seers, Dalish Keepers, Nevarran Mortalitasi, more respectable Circle Mages, and apostates from the wilds of Fereldan, from Kirkwall, from the Feliscima Armada, from nowhere they would speak of at all. Orlais sent their bards and their university professors; Antiva sent their crows and their merchant princes. The Southern Chantry sent up their scholars and their Seekers of Truth, while the Qun sent down the Vidasala and a retinue of tamassrans. The Grey Wardens threw their weight behind the project: from Orzammar came the first Shaper to leave the Stone in their carefully curated memory, and, after a fashion, the Arcanist herself.
And, of course, there were all manner of magisters and enchanters from Tevinter. The first beast had risen up upon their shores, after all.
Thusly, the three of them weren’t the only Tevinters in the Inquisition, but they distinguished themselves from the rest quickly enough. Gereon and Dorian had always worked in the esoteric, the nigh-impossible, and found themselves right at home. Felix found, at last, the sort of work that he excelled at and made people take him seriously.
It was a hectic time. Inquisition agents went out and plundered long-dead magister’s grimoires and long-lost elvhen temples. They unsealed long-quarantined archives in the Southern Chantry, and in the Arcanist Hall, and the Darvaarad. Spirits of Wisdom were summoned: samples of the beasts were procured at very great cost.
In the end they found their answer. They called it the Titan, after a piece of near-forgotten dwarven history which predated both the thaigs and the Shaperate. It was a monster, designed to fight monsters: cobbled together from lyrium and silverite, embedded with runes, armed with swords and gaatlok canons and the deadliest of poisons besides.
At its center was a Spirit of Purpose, summoned by the Seers, and not truly bound to it so much as protected from corruption by special amulets. That provided the ability for the Titan to move, driven by will of the person piloting it.
Or, as it became abundantly obvious after the first disastrous attempts, by the combined will of the people piloting it. Even with the Spirit’s help, it was too much strain for any one person to bear up under.
Their first attempts at finding copilots were as disastrous at their attempts to function without them. The problem was neither magical nor mechanical: but copiloting the Titans required two individuals who would not mind seeing one another’s thoughts, feeling one another’s emotions. It required the ability to act as one being- not the domination of one person over another via blood magic, as was suggested as their next step, but a more equitable, natural connection.
The way two people sometimes clicked together like they were magnetized. The way they might pass mannerism and sentence fragments and jokes back and forth until they practically spoke a language of their own making. The way they might look at one another and share the thought as soon as he’s asleep …
Dorian mixed rum in with Gereon’s tea that night: the good stuff, strong and soporific. Felix gently guided Gereon into his bedroom, turned off the lights, and shut the door on his snoring. They took off running: it was Dorian who bullied the technicians into unlocking the piloting sigils and starting up the Titan’s mechanics, and it was Felix who did the fast talking when Inquisitor Trevelyan was alerted to their plans. By the time Gereon had been roused, they had already been proven right.
“And they said I would never perform any powerful magic,” Felix scoffed, one of Dorian’s smirks on his face.
“They’ve said a lot of things that aren’t true,” Dorian assured him, handing him another flute of champagne. He had to do it carefully: he’d always been the taller of them, but he was newly aware of it now. The ceiling seemed just a shade too low, and his fingers too long: his balance was thrown off for hours after that first drift.
Years of effort, and it was only for this: a candle lit with a spluttering flame as sweat rolled down his temple… Dorian limned in firelight, with glyphs and hexes sparking to life around him, as easy and simple as breathing, looking effortless-
-Felix looking over his shoulder, asking: how are you sorting these, which pattern are you following? Each individual glyph cut out of the parchment and then moved around until the answer was staring him right in the face, that’s why they couldn’t get the wrists to turn properly.
Don’t compare yourself to me. Especial do not do so and think yourself in any way lacking.
Gereon wasn’t pleased, but he was also proud: proud of his son’s bravery, proud of the way people in the Magisterium began to take Felix seriously instead of treating him as an invalid surviving on his father’s charity alone. He might even have been proud of Dorian, for being the sort of person who could follow his son into battle this way.
It didn’t really matter, what Gereon felt. He wasn’t the one drifting. He wasn’t the one who had suddenly- though not accidentally- become Thedas’ best hope for survival.
There were, from all accounts, four beasts currently ravaging coastal cities all over Thedas before disappearing back into the sea. And there was the fifth, the most recent arrival, which had come ashore on Seheron about a month previous, and on Seheron it had stayed. Apparently when they, the Qunari, and the Fog Warriors all joined forces they could bog down the beast as surely as they had bogged down each other.
They made the crossing from Qarinus. There had been a gala the night before, hosted by his parents of course. Father had had any number of vapid things to say about duty and honor and had some backhanded compliment about how far he’d come from his days of drinking his way through every whorehouse that would offer him a line of credit.
It had rather made Dorian wish to get blind stinking drunk, and find the sort of man who would fuck him without regard for either the setting or the inebriation. He might have done just that, had it just been him, but he would never do that to Felix.
Instead they embarked the following morning, sans hangovers and having gone to their own beds, alone, at a sensible hour. The trip was a short one. They travelled with their Titan on a specially made flat-bottomed barge, accompanied by a mishmash fleet of ships: Imperial galleys, Qunari dreadnoughts, Antivan privateers.
They initiated the drift once they’d arrived at the harbor. They couldn’t see the beast- the leviathan, as they were calling them now- but they could see the smoke from the gaatlok and magefire, and could hear the roaring from the beach.
“Just like we practiced,” Dorian said.
“Yep,” Felix replied.
Dorian had left himself open on his right side- a feint, and he wouldn’t fall for it this time. Instead he caught him by surprise, and swept Dorian’s legs out from under him. Dorian laughed, delighted and-
-they sat on the rooftop and watched the sun set behind Livia’s laboratory. It was peaceful, restful, trustful. He’d never known anything like it.
I suppose neither one of us is really an only child in the end, are we?
It was a long fight. A hard fight. Two and a half hours between when they engaged the creature and when it finally fell. They were exhausted by the end of it: their legs felt like jelly, their mana depleted entirely, the arms stiff and aching at the shoulders as though they were about to fall off.
But the Leviathan was dead. It was dead, it could be killed, and they had done it.
Somehow they found the strength to raise their arms in triumph, and yell loudly enough for those who’d remained on the boat to hear. It wasn’t long before all of Thedas knew what had happened, the sending crystals provided by Orzammar already distributed to every governing body in Thedas and then some.
The Leviathans were able to be killed. It was the greatest triumph the world had seen since the Wardens managed to slay Dumat once and for all.
And who had done that? Dorian of House Pavus, with his reputation for hedonism, flippancy, and selfishness, and Felix of House Alexius, who could barely light a candle with his magic. Two Tevinters, the sons of magisters, had saved the world.
Watching the Magisterium and the various skeptics from the South choke on it was one of the greatest pleasures of Dorian’s entire life.
They learned a lot during those early years, and not just about the leviathans.
The Titans had required the synergization of disparate schools of magic theory, had required enchantments from the dwarves and technology from the Qunari. There hadn’t been such an exchange of knowledge since the creation of the Grey Wardens, if there ever had been. Dorian had certainly never found himself challenged as much as he had been with the project, and considering his previous work was attempting to make chronomancy viable that was saying a lot.
He challenged the others just as much in return. They all did, arguments and competing theories and politics colliding together until enough had stuck to make a cohesive whole- and one no one entirely understood either.
First of all there was the drift.
At first they thought that the copilots for the Titans had to both be mages- and yes, Felix absolutely did count as a mage, thank you very much. Then there only one had to be a mage. Then they realized that the Templars could use the lyrium to channel their abilities through the Titan the way mages used their magic, and it turned out that you didn’t need a mage after all. Dwarves, surprisingly, turned out to take to piloting more smoothly than any other species: and for a while there they thought at least one pilot had to be a mage, or a Templar, or a dwarf, but then an augur had the idea to try two people who were neither of those things.
Apparently, Imhar the Clever had guided her. Dorian was skeptical of that part, but could not deny that Svarah Sun-Hair and Amund Sky-Watcher made a very effective team.
From there it was just a matter of finding two people who were compatible enough to work as a unit. The connection needed to be natural. Many thought that it needed to be a love match as well, which Dorian should have perhaps anticipated, but instead he found himself very annoyed by the presumption.
He knew what his reputation was like. He knew what sort of rumors his association with House Alexius inspired- he’d heard them repeated from even his father. It didn’t help, that many of the first pairs of copilots were couples: Cassandra Pentaghast and Regalyan D’Marcall, Svarah Sun-Hair and Amund Sky-Watcher. People from Tevinter were smug about it, after a fashion: ah yes, they’d finally found a place where such defects could be put to use. People in the South thought it was terribly romantic, in much the same way as they found the others romantic, which was almost worse. The Qun accepted it as the reason why they had such trouble finding copilots: there was no love like it permitted under the Qun.
Dagna had new freckles just under her eyes. There was a strand of hair that had escaped her bun and was flopping in front of her face as she spoke, it was all unspeakably-
-skin tan like fine whiskey, cheekbones shaded, lips curl when he smiles.
You should tell her. Even if her answer is not the one you want, at least you’ll know what it is.
For the sake of Felix’s reputation, Dorian was always swift with corrections when it came up, but the perception had settled into the public consciousness and refused to be budged, even after others began making headway: Alistair and Sharelmi Tabris, for example, had the same issue as he and Felix did, being neither related nor involved. And then there were Adaar triplets, who threw off the calculations about how many pilots of Titan could have, as well as causing no end to consternation for the Qun, who had thought that they were simply biologically unable to pilot Titans, somehow.
He heard rumors about what was happening in Par Vollen. He heard that when she learned of the Adaar triplets, the Vidasala had immediately tried to throw together individuals who were related by blood but had never known one another before, and then individuals who had been raised by the same tamassran but had been separated since late childhood. Neither metric worked: Dorian was unsurprised. If it were that simple, there would have been no need for Felix and himself to step in.
And then, of course, there was the matter of the Titans themselves.
Each Titan they created, they created around a specific Spirit of Purpose, who could join together two (or more) people in a Drift. It imprinted upon them: the longer it remained with them, in the Titan, the more personality and shape it possessed, until it, and therefore the Titan itself, became inseparable from the pilots. They could not merge with any other team, even if the people in question were compatible with one another.
None but the pilots and a few select enchanters were allowed into a Titan’s helm, so as to not warp the Spirit. That might have been responsible for the imprinting, but Dorian could not find it within him to be upset, because it kept Gereon out.
He would not have taken well to the discovery that their Titan’s spirit had taken the form of Livia Alexius. He was already on the verge of a breakdown from the fact that Felix was out there risking his neck. When it was announced that they would name the Titans and without thought he and Felix both blurted out Proud Defender- or Livi Alexa in Tevene- he very nearly had some kind of fit right there in the briefing room.
Gereon was so fragile, emotionally: in many ways, he wasn’t nearly as resilient as either Felix or Dorian. He hadn’t known that when they’d started either.
The leviathans were not merely ravaging beast capable of leveling a city. They were poison.
They had assumed that it would be something of the sort, of course. The very first avenue of thought they had pursued as to the nature of the beasts was that this was a new form of Blight. They’d been careful with the samples. There were wards and decontamination procedures and healers who checked them all over after every peek at Leviathan parts. They’d been careful when they constructed the Titans. The helms were sealed tight, waterproof: you could take a walk on the bottom of the ocean floor in them. They had, on occasion, done just that.
But somewhere along the line, someone had made a mistake. Something had gone wrong, and Felix became ill.
He didn’t want to let everyone down. And Dorian, who had been in his head, who knew exactly how important his place in the Titan program was to Felix, had not wished to take it away from him.
They didn’t know what it was, then. No one knew what blue poisoning was back then. They thought it was some lingering case of the flu at first, but Felix continued to sicken, and then they thought it was perhaps a more serious malady. Dorian should have told the healers. He’d made the decision to- but before he could pluck up the nerve for it, the warning bells went off. A leviathan was attacking, and the Proud Defender was needed.
After this fight, he thought. After this fight, I’ll get him to the healers.
It was a long fight. A long, terrible fight against the largest and fastest leviathan Thedas had yet seen. They fought for five hours, managing to severely wound the beast.
Then Felix collapsed, and Dorian fought on alone until the job was done.
Whispers in the corridor. ‘Shame he wasn’t a complete null. He could have found some honor in the Tempalrs.’ ‘He’s lucky his father didn’t sell him. Incaesori fetch a good price, even if they aren’t powerful.’
The words are spoken into a cloud of smoke. ‘Did you hear about Tecludis? They’re saying he had an accident on his honeymoon, but I heard something went wrong with his parents.’ ‘Was it that ritual again? The one that changes you?’ ‘Probably.’
“He would never have sold you, or hurt you. He’d tear the world apart before he let anything hurt you.”
“I know. That’s what I’m afraid he’s going to do.”
Your father shouldn’t hurt you either.
There were people who had taken the appearance of the leviathans as a sign of divine wrath. That wasn’t surprising: there were many in the South that blamed the Blight on wrath incurred by magisters, or by magic in general, after all. What was more surprising was that Gereon would turn to them in his hour of need.
The Venatori promised him a cure, in exchange for information about the program. Felix discovered it, and managed to get a message to Dorian out through Dagna, who hadn’t been barred from visiting him on his deathbed. Dorian confronted Gereon with the evidence while she took copies of it to Inquisitor Trevelyan- a woman he knew would act decisively with the information, rather than turn it over to the Council.
The meeting went as poorly as could be expected. It ended with Gereon being dragged away in chains, and Dorian being left to light Felix’s pyre alone with a list of things which should have been said while there had still been a chance to say them.
He left the funeral in a daze, walked into the nearest tavern and let it knock him flat. That was his life for a time.
Then his father caught up with him, and dragged him home at swordpoint. That was his life for a while too.
He had not anticipated how much it would hurt, no longer having Felix around. He’d mourned for Livia, and it had been nothing like this: like some part of his soul had been carved away, and the resultant jagged edges were necrotic and diseased.
He supposed that was because of the drift.
The thought crossed his mind, idly, and he waved it on without much in the way of contemplation. Somehow or another though, it stuck. It stuck, and other things stuck to it. Memories of Felix began to mingle with memories belonging to Felix. He found that his notes were littered with mathematical shorthand, that he began to think in logical notation and arrange things into sets.
Part of his soul might have died, but it was becoming obvious to him that some part of Felix’s still remained with him. He was living for two now, which meant that it was time for him to stop wallowing in self-pity and actually live .
The blood magic was just an impetus to leave in a hurry, really.
Dorian did not return to Qarinus for nearly five years, and when he did, it was only to laugh. His father wanted to build a wall. A wall. To keep out the leviathans. Instead of having the Titans fight them. They were calling it the Wall of Life. Could there be a more perfect metaphor for what was wrong with the Imperium than that?
His giggling was rudely interrupted by the appearance of Inquisitor Lavellan. She’d been in charge of Wycome, for the Inquisition- he and Felix had been stationed there while she was getting things up and running. Her hair had gone white, one of her hands was gloved, and there were more lines on her face- wrinkles, not vallaslin. Other than that, she was the same as ever, from the Inquisition armor she wore down to the way she sat down across from him without so much as a by-your-leave and stared him down.
Dorian considered getting up and leaving without saying anything, but he had no doubt that she had planned for that, and he would not like whatever it was.
“I presume this isn’t a social call,” he said, skipping over the pleasantries entirely.
“Nope,” she confirmed. “I need you to come back.”
“What for?” he asked. “I’ve heard that the Inquisition is scuttling the Titans, and even so, I’m useless to you without my copilot.”
“Our funding might be scuttled, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a need,” Lavellan said. “This Wall of Life is useless, and you know it.”
Dorian shrugged. Everyone knew the Wall was a crock of shit, even if they tried to tell themselves and others otherwise. It wasn’t exactly something that could be hidden. The Wall around Wycome, for example, had been breached less than a week before. The official word was that there had been some defect in the construction, some impurity in the metals used, and that the walls elsewhere were sure not to suffer from the same effects, but he didn’t think anyone actually believed that. Rather, they believed that without the Bloody Champion sailing in from Kirkwall, that there would be nothing of the city left.
“Still, I don’t see what that has to do with me,” he said. “Unless you’ve got a spare Titan laying around somewhere, I’m stuck.”
“Not any more I don’t,” Lavellan said. “But what I do have is the Proud Defender. She’s been repaired, and retrofitted, and she’s ready to go.”
“Except for the part where she’s missing half of her piloting team,” Dorian pointed out. “Felix is still dead, last I checked.”
“Yes, but, funny story,” Lavellan said. “It turns out that you don’t need both of the original copilots to run a Titan. You only need one, and a new drift-compatible partner. ”
“Well, then you’re still out of luck,” Dorian told her stiffly. “I don’t think I’ve room for anyone else in my head.”
“I’ve spoke with the Defender’s Spirit,” Lavellan continued, undeterred. “Livi is willing if you are.”
“I am not,” Dorian snapped, and stood.
“How do you think this is going to end, Dorian?” she called after him. He ignored her.
Inquisitor Lavellan was not a woman content to be ignored. She followed him out of the bar and into the streets- nearly deserted. Qarinus was a ghost town: those with means had relocated further inland, and those without worked on the Wall they knew would not protect them.
“How do you want this to end?” she tried again. “Do you want to stand around here and wait for the leviathans to step on you, or do you want to take the fight to them?”
Dorian chuckled bitterly. “For what purpose? Take a look around! It doesn’t matter what I want, or you want, or anyone wants, it’s already over!”
Dorian turned on his heel, and ducked into a side alley.
That wasn’t the Inquisitor.
Dorian poked his head back around the corner. Lavellan was still standing in the middle of the street, the only person in view, but she was holding a sending crystal, projecting Dagna’s image into the street.
There was no way she could know that some part of Felix had cleaved to him and never let go. She probably couldn’t even have known that Felix had had had feelings for the dwarf. That didn’t stop the feeling that he was being manipulated with cheap emotional ploys.
It was a struggle to keep the anger off his face, and to step into main street once more. It was what Felix wanted him to do, however.
“Hello Dagna,” he said. “Make any new breakthroughs today?”
That had been Felix’s thing, greeting her as such. If she found it strange to hear the words leaving Dorian’s mouth, it didn’t show on her face, which was shining in excitement.
“Boy did we ever!” she enthused. “We’ve found the Breach!”
“What,” Dorian managed. “The…Breach?”
“Yeah, you remember? We all thought that there must be some kind of thing that the leviathans were coming through? Well, actually it’s more like a tear through the Veil, but not the Veil, because it doesn’t go to the Fade…”
“You’re leaving out the best part,” Lavellan interjected mildly.
“Oh, right!” Dagna said. “We think we know how to close it!”
Dorian could not find the words. He wasn’t entirely sure how he was still standing upright. Perhaps Felix was helping him with that as well.
From over the sending crystal there was a loud crash.
“We’ll let you get back to work,” Lavellan said, and cut off the connection.
“You might have lead with that,” Dorian croaked weakly. “Maker, sealing the Breach would-”
“Save the world,” Lavellan agreed. “So you can see why I want all hands on deck for this one.”
“Gather your things and meet me by Anani Square,” she said. “Our coach leaves in an hour.”
Chapter 2: Survivors
The Bull was there, the day they managed to bring down the first leviathan. Vitaashi, they called it, a combination of poison and dragon, that had had the terrible luck to end up on Seheron.
Terrible luck for the island, because they all had enough shit to deal with. Terrible luck for the leviathan, because if there was a place full of people stubborn enough to stand against, it was Seheron.
A truce was offered, and accepted unconditionally: even the ‘Vints realized that killing the leviathan was more important than taking back the island. An alliance came next, which was a surprise: but the ‘vints wanted Qunari technology to help kill the damn things, and the Fog Warriors wanted to be able to rebuild, and the Qun wanted the world to not end. It was the logical thing, the right thing, to do.
It was also completely fucking nuts. They could all become the best of friends, and they still wouldn’t be able to kill this thing.
“You must keep it contained,” were the orders he received. “Avoid civilian casualties wherever possible, but you must keep the creature contained. If it slips back into the sea, we have nothing.”
There were other leviathans, he knew, ones that had destroyed cities and disappeared back into the ocean. Minrathous had been hit by one, and then it had showed up in Tallo. Hercinia had been hit next, and then that leviathan had gone to Highever. Llomerynn and Rialto had been hit by the same one, and then another had hit Jader. They hadn’t heard back from that one- yet. It was only a matter of time.
Vitaashi seemed like it was headed for Seheron City. Once it had leveled that, who knew where it might go next? Qarinus? Qunandar?
“Anything interesting from your superiors?” asked Berenice.
She was in charge of the ‘vints. He would have killed her on sight two weeks ago, and she him. Now they sat next to one another, and if he kept his axe leaning against his leg and she had her staff out then, well. Old habits, like leviathans, died hard.
“Nah, same old shit as last week,” he told her. “You?”
“Nothing official, but my contacts seem to think that we might be getting reinforcements soon,” she told him.
Anton, the leader of the Fog Warrior snorted. “Soon better be tomorrow,” he said.
Soon was two weeks and three days, too late for Berenice, Anton, and a thousand other people. And the reinforcements consisted of two ‘Vints, driving the only weapon they thought would truly work against the leviathans.
They’d known the Titan was coming- runners had been sent ahead with the news. What they hadn’t known was how badass it was going to be.
The Titan was huge- not quite as big as Vitaashi, but much, much taller than the Bull had been expecting, glowing with blue lines of some kind of energy source, topped off with the familiar ‘Vint Juggernaut-style helmet.
It made sense, he thought. The work for the Titan program had been mostly done in Minrathous, and the two people inside it, running the thing, were ‘Vints as well.
“Everyone clear out!” said the elf who had been given charge of the sending crystal used to keep in touch with the mainland. “Get out of her way, this isn’t going to be pretty.”
The Bull had to disagree with that. The last of the civilians had all left the area days and days ago: it was just the armies now, hauling ass to the nearby ridge to enjoy the show- and without having to worry about collateral damage, it was a really good show.
The Titan walked from the beach up into the jungle. Vitaashi let her, waiting, crouched and ready to spring.
The Titan was ready too: palm open, which the Bull wondered about, until the unmistakable boom of gaatlok exploding was heard. Vitaashi let out a roar of fury, bleeding that noxious green leviathan blood. The Titan fired again, and again. She was having better luck than their cannons had had, probably because she was a lot closer than any of their gunners could get, and more mobile.
The Bull wondered how many times in a row they could fire: gaatlok burned hotter than anything, and shooting from the same cannon too many times in too short a period would heat the metal out of solidity, and warp the thing out of any useful shape. There were some minerals that could be smelted with iron to produce a more durable steel alloy, but they were rare, and difficult to procure without the involvement of the dwarves.
The dwarves were in on this too. It was very likely that the Titan was made of the stuff their metallurgists coveted.
Then, instead of firing, the Titan raised her left arm, and a storm’s worth of lightning emerged.
“ Teth a, basra ,” Vasaad muttered next to him. “ Vashedan saar-qalaba .”
Right. ‘Vints. They used magic a lot.
And right at the moment, the Bull had much, much bigger things to worry about than magic. If that was what it took to ensure that the leviathans didn’t destroy every coastal city in existence, than that’s what it took.
Vitaashi screamed, and collapsed. The Titan called off the lightning, and reached for something on her back- a pole arm, which started out looking more like a dagger and gradually grew in size. The Titan marched over the where the leviathan lay, and raised it.
That was when Vitaashi sprang up, launching itself directly that the Titan. There was a furious exchange of blows, the Titan dodging and weaving and testing as Vitaashi attacked and attacked and attacked. It went on for over an hour like that. Then the Titan went down, and for a moment the Bull was certain that was it, that this new weapon had failed and they would be called in to try and finish it off the old fashioned way.
That was not the case. The Titan rolled with it, coming out on top of it, and punching it square in the face: once, twice, three times. On the fourth time she seemed to pause, arm cocked back and poised to strike again. Her palm opened instead, and she fired twice.
Vitaashi screamed between rounds, but after the second one it was silent. The Titan hauled herself back to her feet, and retrieved the polearm that she’d lost her grip on when Vitaashi had attacked.
The blade went down, and down. And then the Titan bent forward, and with a hand still dripping in green ichor, picked up the leviathan’s head and raised it for them all to see, both arms extended up in victory, the two ‘Vints inside yelling inside, their voices coming in over the sending crystal.
It was dead. It could die .
Vasaad had tackled him in a celebratory hug before he could quite process that.
“Holy shit.” That was Katrin, the new leader of the Fog Warriors. She slumped back against a nearby tree without bothering to check to fire ants, shoulders shaking. She either laughed or sobbed, or probably both. “Holy shit.”
“Manaveris Titania!” yelled out one ‘Vints, and pretty soon they were all taking up the call.
“Long live the Titans,” explained Tallis. She spoke Tevene. She’d been Tevene, before becoming viddathari.
“You can say that again,” the Bull agreed, laughing a little.
They could kill these things. Everything would be okay, once the leviathans were dead.
The thing was, of course, that they were still on Seheron. Just because there was a fragile, conditional truce didn’t mean that everything on the island wasn't still trying to kill him. There were still plenty of demons, plenty of man-eating wildlife. The near-destruction of Alam and the influx of displaced people created a crisis of hygiene and medical attention. The leviathan’s blood was toxic, almost virulent in much the same way the Blight was. Even without that, the lack of facilities meant that diseases ran rampant, and almost half of the Bull’s people were down with some kind of illness within the fortnight.
That was bad, but he could have dealt with that. What he couldn't deal with was the violence that came afterwards.
Oh, the Qunari had kept their end of the bargain. So had the Fog Warriors, and even the ‘Vints. But you couldn’t have a truce with the Tal-Vashoth. You had to be able to reason with them first.
Vasaad was one of the first people they killed. The Bull did the only thing he could do: he made sure the Tal-Vashoth didn't survive either, and then turned himself in for reeducation before he started hurting anyone else.
And he would hurt someone else. The Tal-Vashoth always did.
He expected that he would be reassigned off of Seheron, but he hadn’t expected that he would be reassigned to the mainland of Thedas.
“The Inquisition requires people to help keep the leviathans contained while the Titans make their way to the sight of the attack,” Vidasala explained. “They are normally mercenary companies, these harriers. We would like you to go undercover with one, to gather information.”
“Just gather?” the Bull asked.
“Gather,” Vidasala confirmed. “And wait. There may come a day when we need a man in that position.”
So the Bull went, and he waited, and he held his position, more or less.
Maybe less, rather than more.
The first outfit they set him up with was called the Fisher’s Bleeders. He didn’t like it very much. The leader was too full of himself, and too eager to assign blame to anyone but himself. The men were paid irregularly and generally not nearly as much as they were owed- their paychecks kept being docked for food and gear and medical supplies and every other thing that popped into Fisher’s head.
It wasn’t that unusual a practice apparently. Some of the other guys- almost all of them experienced combat veterans, good strong fighters who should have had no problem providing for themselves- had some real horror stories. Scars too.
Fisher might take on jobs that were more than they could comfortably handle for the glory; he might skim some off their wages, assign more blame to them than they deserved for failing to accomplish an all but impossible mission objective, and just generally be a pain to work with, but he wasn’t the worst. He didn’t tell new recruits that if they wanted their cut they would have to audition in his bedroll, he didn’t go around having people whipped to keep them in line, he didn’t leave their injured behind or deny anyone medical care or rations. There were, apparently, many people who did.
Still, they could all do better. The Bull could do better. The Bull could be better. And, after a couple of years of putting up with Fisher’s bullshit, he was pretty sure that he should be better.
He had it all planned out: he’d take their best healer, Larkin who he called Stitches, and their best archer, who everyone called Grimm and had never actually said his name, as far as the Bull could tell. Fisher didn’t like either of them, and they knew that they could do better. He’d make the break public, make sure the rest of them knew that they were welcome too, and then they’d go, head down South a ways, maybe take a detour inland a bit and see who else they could pick up before finding another Inquisition hold to sell their services to.
It was a great idea, and it probably would have worked if a leviathan named Verechelen hadn’t stepped on most of the Bleeders.
He lived. Stitches lived, and Grimm, and a grand total of nine others. That was it.
There had been almost fifty people in that company.
“You know what?” the Bull said. “We’re going to leave the leviathans to the Titans for the next little while. Let’s see what’s going on inland. You with me?”
They were. And, as it turned out, there was quite a lot going on inland.
The leviathans had made the seas completely unsafe. Merchants didn’t want to risk sending their goods across the open water- not with the Inquisition still occasionally commandeering vessels and throwing all cargo overboard to make room for guns and soldiers, and definitely not when those ships might get destroyed by the leviathans themselves. People in general just didn’t want to eat seafood any longer, not unless it came from the stream, and even then some people worried about contamination. Seaside villages fell into hard times, and then emptied, sending refugees flooding inland. The price of food skyrocketed; the price of luxuries went even higher, as not only was transport difficult, but people started eating grapes and making bread out of flax, inside of making wine or weaving linen.
Travel overland, while still not as dangerous than overseas, had become a riskier business than usual too. The flood of refugees and strain on the food supply meant that more and more people were turning to banditry to survive. As survival became a more tenuous thing, tension between different cultures flared up, bright and hot. A Dalish elf got caught stealing grain in one village, and then the resulting fight killed most of the clan and the villagers as well as burning most of the area down, and then the nearest city held an open forum on the question of whether or not to purge their alienage. The Tal-Vashoth companies that had been springing up around the Marches suddenly found themselves under siege when their neighbors found themselves catastrophically short of food; some of them paid up, and then hunted down the humans who attacked them in the night, slaughtering entire families. There were reports of civil unrest in Perendale, growing into civil war, threatening to grow into international war as soldiers from both Nevarra and Orlais were sent in to ‘keep the peace’. Even as more and more regular people fled inland, skilled fighters were sent to the coast; the people who would normally keep villages and roads cleared of dangerous wildlife, darkspawn incursions, and bandits just weren’t there any more. Merchants who wanted to export their goods would need to pay an exorbitant fee to travel with a soldier-protected caravan, or would need to hire mercenaries to escort them.
Hiring mercenaries put them into direct competition with the Inquisition, and that was no competition at all. The Inquisition had the coffers of both the Chantries at their disposal; they had weapons, armor, and even gaatlok and ships from the Qun for free; they had the special fees (including the one to be a part of the soldier-protected caravans) and taxes every nation save the Qunari now imposed on their people, and a line of credit from the dwarves that went all the way down to Orzammar.
There were still mercenaries to be found, of course- but most of the ones who were skilled had already signed on with the Inquisition. What was left was the cowards, the amateurs, and worst of all, the bandits who would pose as mercenaries in order to lead their employers into an ambush.
After a short job that took them west through Antiva, the Bull sat down and drafted his report to Vidasala.
They’re pretty much eating each other down here. The pockets of unrest we’re hearing about are only pockets because no one can get anywhere without escort, so there’s no way for information to spread well enough to coordinate. Sooner rather than later, one of these bandits is going to start consolidating their power and realize that there’s no one to stop them from declaring themselves the ruler of their own little country.
The merchant class may rebel- or might at least not want to act against such a leader. There’s a growing resentment of the Inquisition among their number over the complications they’ve added to trading overland. While they’re willing to tolerate it for now under the hopes that the Inquisition would make sea travel safe again, that won’t last forever .
That was the moment the Bull spotted the Tevinter tribune and his retinue walking into the tavern opposite the one he and his boys were drinking in. It wasn’t long before people started leaving, clearing the area.
“Fuck,” the Bull said quietly, folding the draft up hastily and shoving it down the side of his boot.
Grimm made one of his more startled sounding grunts as the Bull stood up. The Bull ignored him, and the barkeep’s outraged squawking about the tab.
Whatever was going on across the street, it was not good, he thought.
He thought correctly.
They weren’t in the main, food-serving portion of the tavern- the Bull had to push his way past a badly frightening maid to get to the backrooms, but once he did that it was obvious which one they’d holed up in. It was the one that had been barred, and had all the shouting and screaming coming from it.
By the time he got the door down, there was one dead soldier already, a member of the tribune’s party. Another soldier was howling in pain on the floor, his leg badly broken, bone poking out through a tear in his pants. The tribune’s face was bloodied, and there was more blood splattered here and there around the room, along with discarded weapons and bits of armor. The two remaining, uninjured soldiers from the tribune’s party were holding down another man, their target.
“Finish him off,” said the tribune.
One of the soldiers raised a flail, and that was the last thing the Bull saw out of his left eye.
The fight moved pretty quickly. He was angry and bleeding and he knew full well how to use it. There wasn’t time to worry about the eye he couldn’t open, or even the implications of intervening. He just needed to get rid of the remaining soldiers.
When it was over, he turned to the guy they’d been attacking. He was coughing, shaken, but alive and looking to stay that way.
“You’re safe now,” he said. “I’m the Iron Bull. What would you like me to call you?”
“Your eye!” said the guy. “It’s gone!”
The Bull pretended to misunderstand. “That’s kind of a long name, “Uraiitsgonn. Do you mind if I call you Yuri?”
“What,” the guy said. “The fuck.”
“Also, do you need a job?” Anyone who could inflict that amount of damage when outnumbered five to one was someone who he wanted to join up with, if possible.
Stitches and Grimm chose that moment to appear, trailing the rest of the boys.
“Who’s this?” Stitches asked. “Shit what happened to your eye.”
“This is Yuri,” the Bull said. “Do you mind taking a look?”
“My name’s not Yuri. It’s Cremisius, Cremisius Aclassi.”
“So, this is Krem,” the Bull reintroduced him as Stitches started his examination. “I’ve offered him a job.”
“Is the job getting your head examined?” Krem asked. “Because I think it needs to be.”
“No, that’s my job,” Stitches said before the Bull could say anything. “Now, hold still.”
For all that Krem was the twelfth member of the Chargers, the Bull had a tendency to think of signing him on as the beginning of his career as a mercenary captain.
They had a good year inland after that, heading west and south and picking up whatever work tickled their fancy. The picked up more people, until they were a little larger than the Bleeders had been, clocking in at sixty. They came across Dalish when they ended up needing to mediate a tense situation between two Dalish clans, another mercenary group, the local village and the comte whose land they all were- legally speaking, at least- on. Rocky answered an advertisement they placed when they needed a little more firepower to deal with a giant problem, and just kind of refused to leave until finally Krem relented and put him on their regular payroll. They took on Skinner when a bounty they were tracking lost them in Halamshiral, on the night when the new chevaliers went to test their new blades against the elves who lived there. They never did find that Sketch character, but the Bull was willing to consider it a win for the Chargers, all things considered.
With dedicated squadrons of scouts, mages, and sappers, the jobs they took gave them little grief. They took fewer casualties, did some really interesting work. They fought giants and wyverns and great bears; they safeguarded a village from darkspawn until Rocky could find a way to collapse the opening to the tunnel without burying them all in a landslide. They cleared out sylvans from a noble’s land in the Dales, spiders from a noble’s lands in Nevarra, and pretended to be ghosts in someone’s townhouse in Markham.
That one was weird. Very weird. It paid well, though, so the Bull was glad they took it when the next job they took- defending a village from bandits- paid them in rice.
His boys moaned about it until they fought their way through the worst ghast infestation possible to the next village over, about ten miles away. There they discovered that food was scarce and that rice was going to its weight in silver. Another five miles, they met up in a town that was calling desperately for anyone who could fight to help take down a dragon- there, the rice was worth twice its weight in gold.
“Does anyone else get the feeling that money just doesn’t mean anything anymore?” Krem asked, perturbed.
The Bull made a mental note to try and get paid at least partially in easily transportable goods from now on. He’d make sure Krem was still getting gold that he could send up north to help pay off his father’s debt, and Stitches got enough to send down south to his sister and her kids, and everyone else could just take their share in whiskey or horseshoes or whatever.
The boys grumbled a bit, and then it was announced that most of the mainland would be getting new currency, its value guaranteed by the Chantry. These ‘crowns’ might be blessed by the Divine herself, but that didn’t make people trust money whose value wasn’t intrinsic. Suddenly, bartering sounded like a pretty good idea.
The Bull still had Stitches handle exchanging most of their coin for ‘crowns’ at the nearest Chantry for the sake of convenience, holding back most of the actual gold for Krem’s pay. ‘Crowns’ weren’t legal tender in Tevinter- he’d need the gold to keep paying down his father’s debt.
They made the switch, and started sniffing out for jobs in the area. Stitches came back from the Chantry with one or two from the Chanter’s Board, Dalish and Skinner were going to head out to the alienage to see if anything screwy was happening there, and Krem was heading out with Grimm to see what other merc companies were in the area when the raven from Vidasala came.
The problem you foresaw with the bandits would appear to be manifesting in the Dalish. Head to Wycome, and rejoin the Inquisition. You will receive further instructions there.
Their year inland was up, it seemed. Back to the war.
He caught sight of the Defender again in Wycome, as it was pulling out of the bay in the center of a large convoy. It was being piloted still, apparently just so it could wave the city goodbye. The citizens of Wycome had all gathered by the docks to watch it go, and wave goodbye back.
The Inquisition had established their own hold there, and the Inquisitor in residence there was a Dalish woman named Ghilan’amin Lavellan.
Dalish frowned when she heard the name.
“Friend of yours?” the Bull asked her.
“No. I’ve heard of Clan Lavellan by reputation- they’re one of the larger clans, twins tend to run in their bloodline. They also take in a lot of city elves, which does not make them especially popular with some of the other clans. Some of them fear that it makes them too easy to trace, if the city elves keep in touch with their families who stay behind. Some just don’t like city elves.” Dalish shrugged. “It’s the Ghilan’amin part that’s weird, really.”
“What’s weird about her name?” the Bull asked.
“That’s just it- it’s not a name,” Dalish said. “It’s a title. It means War Leader.”
“That doesn’t sound ominous at all.”
“It really isn’t,” Dalish explained. “A Dalish War Leader is a temporary position- one of the hunters, someone who’s distinguished themselves or is just well-regarded by their fellows, is chosen to use it, and they lead the charge against whatever is threatening the clan. Mostly it’s for a week or so until whatever bandits are trying to pick a fight are scared away- with the leviathans and everything, most clans have probably had one for longer at this point though.”
It was still weird that she was telling people that that was her name. The Bull brought Dalish along with him, so she could get a read on the situation.
Ghilan’amin greeted them in her office, maps spread over her desk and a steaming kettle of tea ready to be served. She was a stockily-built woman in her early forties, with faded, weatherbeaten vallaslin in the same shade of pale green as her eyes.
“Andaran atish’an,” she greeted Dalish, before turning to the Bull. “Shanedan, Hissrad. The Vidasala has made your purpose clear to us. I have the contract for your Chargers ready to sign.”
Her pronunciation was horrible. The Bull blinked. Ghilan’amin seemed to take that for an agreement, and handed him a folio.
“I thought I was going to have to tell you that in person,” the Bull said, opening it up. It looked like a standard contract, but he was definitely going to have to bring it back with him to scrutinize. “That’s generally how it works. I give you the sales pitch for the services my boys can provide you, and then let you know what the catch is.”
“In this case, the catch is your fee, which is exorbitant,” Ghilan’amin said. “After all, we are all on the side.”
It was true, but the Bull was still going to have to have some words in his next report for Vidasala.
“Now, as I understand it your background is essentially military, and you were with a harrying company up along the coastline of Rialto, yes?”
“Yeah,” the Bull said. “That’s me.”
“Good,” she said. “We’re changing how the harriers operate. My experiences with fortifications are limited to aravels, natural rock formations and the odd ruin. Take a look at these and tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
Her nephew- actually a more distant relation, but they kept it to nephew and aunt for the sake of introductions- was with her in Wycome. As Clan Lavellan’s Second, he had a good view of the politics of the situation. As Lavellan’s nephew, he really enjoyed take the shit out of her. It wasn’t malicious- Mahanon loved his aunt and did seem to genuinely think that she should be in charge- but it was there and omnipresent, not to mention very informative. It was more than enough to build a dossier on her for the Ben-Hassrath.
For example: her real name was Dalal Dubois. But she preferred going by Lavellan, with Ghilan’amin Lavellan being an acceptable in formal occasions, and just using Ghilan’amin seemed to amuse her.
Once that was finished, he was able to turn his attention from her, personally, to her policies.
He could see why she had Vidasala spooked. At Lavellan’s urging Dalish clans had begun more-or-less adopting villages, protecting them in exchange for grazing lands for their halla, or manufactured goods that were difficult to make in an aravel.
“Every clan is comprised of, at the very least, fifty competent archers and three fully-trained mages,” Mahanon said with a shrug. “Sometimes they have even more. That’s enough to deter bandits, and deal with some of the more troublesome wildlife.”
And a lot of people were desperate enough to overlook past tensions with- if not outright hatred of- the Dalish, in order to secure that protection.
There were lines of communication, too, more or less. The traditional Dalish runners were replaced with a small aravel, armored with ironbark and carrying five hunters and a mage. The eight aravels that ran from Dalish-protected settlements between Wycome and Kaiten were all staffed by Lavellans- which by the Bull’s count meant that they had at least eight more mages than they should have had, what with Mahanon being the Second, Lavellan’s brother being the First, and there presumably being a Keeper tucked away somewhere that wasn’t an aravell.
“Clans do things differently from one another,” Dalish said, a little sadly. “Clan Lavellan is probably large enough that they have several not-technically-in-the-clan healers hanging around, just in case.”
He was pretty sure that Lavellan wasn’t sending healers to run through the bandit-populated woods, not unless they were also proficient in some other form of magic. He didn’t mention it to Dalish, just wrote it down in his report.
Not every clan was participating- not by a long shot- and it wasn’t like they controlled anything like an unbroken stretch of territory, but it wasn’t insignificant either.
He could see why she was worried. He just also thought that the worry was a little out of place. Lavellan did a lot for the Dalish, and she definitely had an agenda for her people, but she also didn’t do anything that didn’t also further the Inquisition’s interests. The Dalish opened up a corridor of trade, keeping vital supplies for the Inquisition coming in, and she even ensured that a few luxuries were imported as well. The Bull wouldn’t have pegged them as important, but then again, Wycome had a certain reputation as the ‘freest’ of the Free Marches. The nobility and the merchants had all grown to expect there to be a selection of good Antivan wine at dinner, among other things- having that again, even infrequently, went a long way towards easing any resentment there might have been toward the Inquisition.
One of the teams given a Titan in Wycome were twin sisters from Clan Lavellan, but only one. The other two went to some human cousins from within the city itself, and a Tal-Vashoth and his lover who had fled east from Kirkwall. She released the details on the three sets of copilots at the same time, which was smart: while a small number of people cried favoritism, as they always would have, most of the locals were too busy celebrating their new heroes, and most of the wider world was trying to wrap their heads around the fact that Viscount Dumar’s son wasn’t dead after all.
Advancing her people’s interests within the Inquisition was nothing the other bas didn’t do. It was just more obvious because the Dalish had previously had zero interest in the politics of Thedas.
The one thing Lavellan did that other Inquisitors did not do was to try and make harrying a safer occupation.
“The whole point of harrying a levithan is to keep it from destroying cities while the Titans are deployed,” she said. “It seems to me that the best way to manage that would be to have some kind of fortress- or fortresses, rather- along the coast.”
She had plans for those, which the Bull improved. She wanted towers, to both watch for the leviathans and keep their attention; the Bull told her to move them closer together, so that their ranges overlapped, and to at least make sure that their foundations were solidly built, instead of just have a mage pile one slab of concrete on top of another. She wanted ditches dug to help entrap the leviathans; the Bull showed her how to create a navigable network of trenches between the towers as well. She wanted to outfit the towers with bells and firecrackers to get the leviathans’ attention and to keep it; the Bull came up with the idea to keep the fireworks on barges, which would draw the leviathans within range of the towers’ weaponry without necessitating that it make landfall.
The first leviathan to attack Wycome was a new one, assigned the designation Alvinne, came about a year after Inquisitor Lavellan was placed in charge of the city’s defense. It killed around one hundred and fifty people before being downed, which was not a lot by leviathan standards. The next one, Il-Belliegha, came about six months later, and died without making landfall or killing anyone, which was pretty close to a miracle.
All things considered, the Bull was pretty damn proud of their work.
And then they came up with the Wall.
It was just supposed to be part of the hold’s defense, something that would make the actual city a little safer, to act as a deterrent against the leviathans. It was supposed to steer them towards the relatively easy pickings of the towers, or even the hold itself. It wasn’t supposed to be the primary method of defense. It wasn’t supposed to stand on its own.
But around the time construction on the Wycome wall was being completed, the Titans began to fail.
The Proud Defender failed first- but by all accounts, that was a matter of one of the pilots collapsing, more than any damage dealt to the Titan itself. They could have bounced back from that easily. But then the lost a second Titan, and a third, and a fourth…
When Saemus and Ashaad went down fighting Sovereign, a leviathan so huge that they ended up creating a new category for it, the Bull started getting a bad feeling. When the Seeker’s Truth went down against Mandrenke, taking Regalyan with it and seriously injuring Cassandra, he knew they were in serious trouble. There weren’t any functioning Titans anywhere within a week’s journey, and there were two other leviathans active and in need of containment along the coast of the Waking Sea. The only reason any of Val Royeaux was still standing was down to the Court Enchanter, who rode down with reinforcements, rallied the remaining harriers, and finished the job.
People started to leave the Inquisition- higher ups, people with connections. People with something other than the fight against the leviathans to lose. Soon Lavellan was the highest-ranking Inquisitor left.
“We’re losing our support,” Lavellan said. “They would never leave a Dalish elf in charge unless they thought we were sure to fail.”
The call for an Exalted Council ‘to discuss further strategies for dealing with the leviathan threat’ just cemented that fact.
“So you have made yourself trusted as an advisor, in addition to your position as a commander of her most successful harrier company,” Vidasala surmised. “That’s good. That’s useful.”
It was true, and nothing he hadn’t thought about before. He’d known from the start that there was a good chance that he was going to be a sleeper agent.
He’d just also expected that they would let him know that he was in the right place for the Qun to act, or that there would at least be a reason he had been activated.
He’d expected that the reason would be that Lavellan had started putting her own interests first, rather than it being that she was in a weak position. She’d said it herself: they were allies, on the same side. As long as their goals were aligned, there seemed to be no need to act.
But, apparently, that was not as it was to be.
He first noticed Gatt, posing as one of the servers in the main hall. The Bull pulled him aside as soon as he could.
“What’s the word?” the Bull asked.
“As far as we can tell, the Inquisition is virtually guaranteed to be dissolved,” Gatt told him.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Par Vollen’s split as to whether or not that’s a good thing,” Gatt said.
“What,” the Bull said flatly.
“The Titans are the only things stopping the world from being overrun by leviathans,” the Bull reminded him.
“And no Qunari has been able to pilot those things successfully,” Gatt pointed out.
“Only because we stopped looking,” the Bull said.
He was sure there had to be some drift-compatible Qunari. He was pretty sure that he and Vasaad would have been able to do it, if it hadn’t been for the fucking Tal-Vashoth.
“Nevertheless, we still have to rely on bas to protect us. Many don’t like it.”
“The Inquisition has been reliable enough so far,” the Bull pointed out.
“How long do you think they’ll remain reliable?”
“Longer than the rest of the bas will be comfortable with,” the Bull said. He double-checked: they were still alone, and unobserved. “Lavellan knows how they’ll vote. Right now, the plan is to stall for as long as possible- convince them that it’s better to phase out the Titans slowly, rather than just try to replace them immediately- and maybe sign some kind of separate treaty with a nation or two.”
“Do you think that she would sign with the Qunari?” Gatt asked.
“Yes,” the Bull replied. “Would we sign with her?”
“The leviathans are a threat to us all,” Gatt said. “I’ll pass it on to Vidasala. We’ll see where it goes from here.”
Where it went from there was the expected: the Council voted to suspend the Titan program. They would have one year, and then no new Titans would be built, and any seriously damaged ones would be retired. The various Inquisition holds would shut down as their new defensive strategy, called the Wall of Life, was completed, until they were all gone.
Where it went from there was the hoped for: the Qunari extended a formal request for an alliance with the Inquisition, which Lavellan accepted readily, much to the chagrin of the already bickering bas nations.
Where is went from there was completely off the chain.
Like he said, he’d been anticipating that he would have gotten some kind of formal warning, if he were to act as a sleeper agent. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t read the signs. Something big was coming. Something a bit more complicated than an alliance- something that would tip the balance more heavily in the Qun’s favor.
It wasn’t the prospect of betraying Lavellan that bothered him the most. Oh, he liked her. He thought she did good work, especially considering the tools she had at her disposal. He also expected that she would have a plan in place for him betraying the Inquisition, and the part of him that really did need the Qun to keep in check kind of wanted to know what it was, and see if he was equal to it.
No, what bothered him was the idea of what would happen to his boys afterwards. Lavellan would be suspicious of them, would want to know why they couldn’t tell that something had changed, at least, if not that he was planning something. They would want to know why they hadn’t been able to tell. Depending on how things went down, they could get caught in the crossfire in a fight between the Qun and the rest of Thedas.
That really bothered him. A lot. The Chargers might be his cover, but this wasn’t the Qun. They didn’t see themselves as tools, and they didn’t see him that way either. They thought he was their leader: reliable, loyal, capable of standing on his own without orders or at least a guiding directive.
He wondered if he shouldn’t try to send them away first: if maybe he shouldn’t find some kind of pretext and send them so far inland that by the time they even heard that the Qun had picked him up again they were too far away to do anything.
The Qun had had a similar thought, as it happened.
They didn’t give him much warning about that either. They just gave him instructions: Tell Lavellan to come with you and the mercenaries to the Storm Coast. She can bring bodyguards if she wishes, but no troops. This must be kept small, and secret.
“They wanted it done without my having any backup to interfere in the course of events,” Lavellan said, once it was over.
“They don’t work like that,” the Bull said. “They wouldn’t risk it. Not when it comes to dreadnoughts.”
It had been a simple enough mission on the face of it: they were to secure the passage of a dreadnought that had gotten separated its convoy. The instructions had not specified what convoy, leaving the implication that it had been escorting a Titan, because every authorized convoy was for Titans these days.
It almost certainly had not been escorting a Titan. What it had was anyone’s guess- personally, his was leviathan parts- but whatever it was the Venatori wanted it, badly.
They didn’t get it, but not because of him. As he, Lavellan, Leliana, and Mahanon took apart the main base camp and his boys took the look-out hill, the Venatori waited, and waited, and then charged the hill.
If they took that hill, they would be able to attack the dreadnought. The dreadnought would be ineffective when it came to fighting against people on the land. If it looked like they would lose, they would blow themselves up, to prevent whatever kind of resources they were carrying from being captured.
And that’s what they did, because his boys retreated from the hill on his orders. They would have died there, otherwise, and he couldn’t… he couldn’t do that, in the end.
He couldn’t leave the Qun either. He’d just done it because Lavellan had told him he should, and in his moment of doubt her orders were the only sure thing there was.
Things just kept getting worse, after that.
No other nation wanted to sign another treaty with the Inquisition: not after they became allies of the Qunari, and especially now, after they’d broken with them. They’re diplomatic overtures got them nothing, and after a while, they stopped asking.
With the Wall around Wycome complete, the Inquisition was kicked out of there first. They barely had a chance to unpack in Kirkwall before word reached them that the alienage had been purged.
Most of Lavellan’s clan had been there. They’d stayed behind, to fight the leviathans from the wall, or to spy on the city for the Inquisitor, or just because they’d decided to settle down there, maybe start a family. They were all dead now.
Then they started to lose revenue. Taxes were rescinded; they had to let a lot of the mercenary companies that were still the backbone of leviathan harrying go. Then they lost even more people- regular rank-and-file workers that kept everything going. Mage, Templar, and Tranquil alike were called back to their Circles, and professional soldiers back to their nation’s armies.
Eventually they were left with the people who had nowhere else to go, and the people who still believed that the Inquisition was their best hope for saving the world. There was a lot of overlap between the two groups. There had to be. Faith that there could be a world without leviathans was just about the only thing they had to offer anyone.
It felt like they were being chased, from hold to hold. They would arrive to oversee construction on the Wall that was meant to replace them. They would fight leviathan after leviathan, each growing in size and ferocity. The construction would be completed, and there would be a ceremony to honor their fallen and send them on their way and then they would leave.
Most of the city’s rich and well-connected would leave with them, leaving the walled-in city populated by soldiers and those unable to move to die.
“It’s time to rethink our strategy,” Leliana said, during one meeting. “We cannot continue pretending that there may be a way to sway Thedas’ governments to reason.”
“There are many individuals who still feel as though the Titans are the better option,” Josephine said. “If I could just-”
“Is it possible to sign with these individuals alone?” Lavellan asked. “Can they provide, say, grain or weapon, or gold from their own stores for us to use?”
Josephine thought it over. “In lieu of open support for the Inquisition?” she asked.
“Both would be ideal,” Lavellan said. “But at this point, we need to start giving our people something.”
“Yes,” Josephine said. “That should be possible.”
“It might not be enough,” Leliana warned them.
“Do you have another option?” Lavellan asked.
“Yes,” Leliana said. “Organized crime.”
They ended up pursuing both options.
Josephine worked her magic on the nobility and the rich, and they began to build up their resources once more. Irregular, much needed shipments of everything an army needed started coming again. They went to a coastal fortress in Ferelden- an elderly Bann who had lost all of her children to various leviathan attacks had forked the deed over, along with the rights to farm, forage, and hunt in the surrounding area. A comte in Orlais sent one fifth of the drakestone and paragons’ luster produced in his mines to the Inquisition to help build their defenses; contacts in Orzammar provided much of the rest. And then there was the Duke of Ghislain. Josephine’s envoy from him returned with a small company of chevaliers, fully outfitted with their salaries already paid up for the next five years, and riding at their head was Madam de Fer.
“You’re the woman who lead the charge against Mandrenke?” Lavellan asked, after skimming the letter of introduction.
“I am,” she replied. “I am Vivienne, formerly the Court Enchanter to-”
“You’re the only person to have ever killed a leviathan on foot,” Lavellan cut her off. “And my current Commander has been trying to tender his resignation so he can return to Kirkwall and participate in the unrest there. I’ve being trying to avoid receiving his letter all morning. If you want the job, it’s yours.”
“You know what, Inquisitor? I do believe we’ll get along splendidly.”
“Don’t say that until you’ve seen the state of your office, Commander.”
The coup in Kirkwall ended in their favor. The Circle was disbanded, mages and Templars sent to the Inquisition, or the Circle in Ostwick, or just fleeing into the Planasene forest as they saw fit, and a dwarf named Varric Tethras was installed as the new Viscount. He threw his city behind the Inquisition. He was pretty much the only one who did.
As for Leliana, well. She walked out of that meeting, rounded up Charter, Tiamat, and a few others, and a seemingly disappeared. She was still in contact with Lavellan, though the Bull didn’t know the details. But whenever they were short of something vital like lyrium or gold, some would mysteriously appear within their grasp, and every so often, someone weird would turn up.
Solas, for example: a smug apostate who arrived with a spirit boy in tow, claiming to have just been in the Titan graveyard and to be bearing urgent news.
“I’d like you to undergo Titan training,” Lavellan told him after that meeting. “Do you think you can do that?”
It was two years after the Exalted Council. No new Titans were being built, and the old ones were being wrecked much faster than they could be repaired. It kept him busy; harrying leviathans was suddenly a much more important task, with so few Titans spread so thin.
“Would there be a point to it?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lavellan said. “We’re hopeful that we can find some way around the imprinting a Titan’s spirit does on its pilots. If that’s the case, then we can start repairing some of the old derelicts who have lost their pilots. We’re going to need them, before we’re through.”
The Bull thought about it. He had thought that he’d been compatible with Vasaad. He was probably compatible with most his boys, especially Krem.
And they really did need the Titans.
“Yeah,” the Bull said. “I think I’d like that.”
Chapter 3: We Are The Resistance
Dorian had never been to the Inquisition’s base of operations in Ferelden. He’d never been as far south as Ferelden at all. He’d been to Kirkwall, for a time, after Felix had died. The city was a shithole, the ‘vint expatriate community consisted almost entirely of escaped slaves who looked upon him with suspicion and disdain, and just about the only comfort to be had was the fact Hawke’s life was a more public disaster than his own.
He’d danced at her wedding, a lifetime before that. She’d proposed to Merrill via the drift- or perhaps Merrill had proposed to her, it was never clear to Dorian which it was. Perhaps even they didn’t know. In any event, the copilots of the Bloody Champion emerged from their first drift quite determined to be wed, and as they were in Antiva at the time, they were hardly going to be denied.
He may have never been to Shatterhold before, but he’d worked with Hawke. It was not the sort of experience that was easily forgotten, and the familiarity of it washed over him in a wave of something like nostalgia as he saw her face.
“Holy shit, you’re alive!” she exclaimed. She bounded up to him, a large mass of woman three inches taller than him and perhaps half again his weight. Under different circumstances that might have been intimidating, but as it stood, Dorian’s main concern was that he might be hugged. “What are you doing this far south?”
“I came to sample the delights of Fereldan cuisine,” Dorian told her. “It’s been an adventure. I think that last tavern may have even used salt on their mashed potatoes. At any rate, I could ask you the same thing. I thought the new Viscount had arranged for the Kirkwall base to remain open?”
“Yes, Varric did,” Hawke confirmed. “But the Indomitable Siren is holding down the wounded coast while the Bloody Champion was remanded here, along with a bunch of other people from the old days.”
“The… Indomitable Siren?” Dorian asked. The name didn’t ring a bell.
“That’s one of the newer Titans,” Merrill said, coming up to Hawke’s side to greet him. “We might have stolen it off the assembly line, actually. Hello Dorian!”
“Hello Merrill,” Dorian replied, hoping he didn’t sound as wary as he suddenly felt. He felt vague ridiculous for even feeling it. Growing up in the Imperium did nothing if not teach one to look the other way when someone else was bleeding, after all, and Merrill had personally never been anything less than courteous and kind. Just because his father was an ass didn’t mean that everyone was.
If Merrill noticed his sudden reluctance, she didn’t show it. “Aveline and Isabela are piloting her,” she explained.
“They can hold that city together, so long as no one mentions the ‘c’ word to Isabela,” Hawke added.
Merrill frowned. “I think Isabela likes the ‘c’ word, actually.”
“The ‘c’ word in this case is commitment,” Hawke explained.
“Oh, that makes sense,” Merrill said, her expression clearing. “Are you here to help Dagna? She’s been busy lately- Sera’s barely had time to smuggle lizards into our quarters at all!”
“It’ll be explained at the briefing,” Lavellan cut in. “I’m just going to show Dorian around, and then we’ll meet up for the afternoon meeting.”
That was apparently Dalish for ‘you’re dismissed’. Hawke and Merrill let them pass with nothing more than a cheery “See you later then!”
“This is the main entrance,” Lavellan explained. “There are others, meant to be emergency exits. They’re warded to set off alarms if anyone crosses them, so we concentrate one guarding this one closely and just patrol around the others.”
“And the Titan pilots are on guard duty?”
“While their Titans are being renovated, and we don’t have any missions for them, official or otherwise, yes,” Lavellan told him.
“Are very many Titans being renovated here?” Dorian asked.
For an answer, Lavellan nodded to the dwarf manning the portcullis. The trellis was raised, the drawbridge lowered, and then they entered the Titan’s harbor.
There were several Titans, and Dorian could recognize them all. The Bloody Champion, of course, sporting a fresh splatter of red paint across its helm. The Sky Hammer, done up in Avvar battledress, its pilots just exiting it, clearly fresh from a dry drift. The Adaar triplets’ Herah Kaaras, decorated in vitaar patterns: the Adaars themselves were playing that hip ball game they’d tried to introduce to the rest of the Inquisition when they were all in Antiva together. Ulama, he thought it was called? An attempt at playing with them had been made, and it had resulted in Felix spraining his ankle and falling, bruising his entire left side in an attempt to put an end to their losing streak. Dorian frowned, rubbing his thigh at the phantom pain.
There were others he could just barely make out in the murk of veilfire torches: but he recognized the profiles of the Divine Hand from a propaganda poster(Cassandra must be around somewhere), and the Mabari Hero from personal experience. That last one was interesting- he’d heard that Tabris had gone missing, so who was the other pilot for the Wardens’ Titan?
“Would you like to see her heart, before we continue?” Lavellan asked.
Dorian forced himself to look at the sixth Titan, the one given the place of honor in the center of the harbor: the Proud Defender. She looked much better than she had the last time Dorian had seen her, gleaming with polish and a new coat of paint. The gaatlok canons had been replaced- had to be, now that the Qun had withdrawn from the alliance and there was no gaatlok to be had. There was some other kind of artillery poking out from the Defender’s right palm where they’d once been, apparently necessitating a new set of large, spiky shoulders to brace again the impact.
“We might as well get this over with,” Dorian said.
He’d worried, that with all the work Lavellan had assured him had been done to make the Defender fighting fit once more, that the spirit that powered her would have changed. Shifted. It took a very powerful binding spell to protect a single spirit from being influenced by those they dealt with daily. His father had had a Spirit of Hope bound near the fountain in the middle of the slaves’ quarters on their Qarinus estate. It had taken less than a year for it to develop pointy ears, stories about rebellions, and a penchant for spouting factoids about astrological navigation.
In hindsight, that had been entirely deserved. Needed, even. Still, the memory did nothing to calm him as he reentered the Defender’s helm for the first time in years.
The interior had changed as little as the exterior: cleaner than Dorian remembered it being, with the lingering smell of fumes from paint and polish still clinging to the still air. Lavellan hung back by the entrance, and let him refamiliarize himself with the controls.
They might have had to replace the gaatlok cannons, but the firing mechanisms seemed to be much the same, twinned on the right side of each cockpit. Between the two control centers the summoning circle for the spirit was dark, inactive for the first time in his memory.
“She’s asleep,” Lavellan said in response to his unasked question. “Give her a moment, and she’ll-”
A spirit awakening was nothing like a person awakening, as it happened. One moment there was nothing: the next, the cockpit was bathed in a blue light, and the Defender’s spirit was before him once more.
Livi looked exactly as he remembered, which was exactly as her namesake had been: a middle-aged woman with Felix’s eyes and jawline, with an indulgent air about her and a warm smile for him.
“Dorian!” she greeted him. “You came back!”
“Yes, I have,” Dorian said, around the sudden lump in his throat. “Supposedly, we just need one last push, and then it’s done.”
“Good!” Livi said, not a hint of doubt or fear in her voice. “It’ll be a glad day, when the job’s done.”
“It’ll be a relief, certainly,” Dorian agreed.
Livi regarded him for a moment. “How have you been?”
Dorian opened his mouth to lie, and then thought better of it. “I suppose, objectively speaking, I had worse when Felix collapsed and I was piloting you alone.”
“But it doesn’t feel that way,” she added for him.
“Do you know who my new copilot is?” Livi asked.
Dorian shook his head. “Not yet,” he said, with a questioning glance toward the Inquisitor.
“Right now, we’re scheduled to do tryouts for both you and Cassandra tomorrow,” Lavellan told him.
“Cassandra?” Dorian said, startled. He would have he’d have heard, if she’d outlived another copilot. “Why?”
“There have been some complications, since we stopped receiving support from most governments,” Lavellan said. “Suffice it to say, Leliana is desperately needed elsewhere.”
At least she wasn’t dead, even if that raised a great many questions. Dorian opened his mouth to argue further.
Lavellan cut him off. “You’ll get more information during the briefing.”
Dorian shut his mouth.
“Ready to move on, or do you need a moment alone?” she asked.
“I’m good, for now, I think,” he replied. He wanted more time, but there was clearly a schedule, and if the pilots were doubling as guards, he rather thought that he might be able to sneak back down here when he was supposed to be asleep. “I’ll see you later, Livi.”
Livi nodded, and disappeared. They exited the Defender, and went to the stairs. Bizarrely, they didn’t go up, where the sign proclaimed in both Trade and Orlesian to be the direction of the War Room, but down, through a pair of unmarked doors into what was probably some madman’s idea of a laboratory.
“I’ve heard rumors that the Wardens had come up with some semi-immortal, amoral maleficar to head up their science division,” Dorian remarked, looking around at the strewn bits of nullified leviathan and various rune fragments and hastily scribbled notes. He caught sight of a not-quite reflective surface- of Merrill’s eluvian- and quickly looked back towards Lavellan.
Lavellan didn’t even blink. “Avernus? He’s holed up elsewhere. Dagna’s in charge here.”
“Ah,” Dorian replied. Yes, that made sense too.
The first person he spotted was one of his own countrymen. Unfortunately- though, honestly, it would have been highly improbable otherwise- it wasn’t one of the Tevinters he got along with. Servis was a laetan, one with enough talent for Dorian to have been made aware of his existence even before the leviathans, if only in the context of his ability to brown nose his way into positions of power. He’d last caught sight of him attempting to suck up to Erimond, of all people. Dorian was quite content to take one look at him and turn in another direction.
“Who are you?” asked the elf who was standing in that direction. She had a very thick sort of Fereldan accent, very much like Tabris’, and a haircut so aggressively bad that Dorian half expected it to accost him in an alleyway and cut his purse. “Nevermind, shove it, she’s doing crazy things again.”
By she, she clearly meant Dagna. Dorian shoved it.
“Who are you?” asked the elf as they ran for cover.
“I’m Dorian,” he replied. “And you?”
“I’m Sera,” she said. “Is that Dorian like Dorian-Dorian?”
“I’m the surviving pilot of the Proud Defender, if that’s what you mean,” Dorian told her.
“Shite, really? I was just joking,” Sera replied, and then tucked herself into a ball with her hands over her ears.
Dorian and the Inquisitor followed suit, Dorian casting a barrier around them as they went, and just in time too. The foundations shook with the force of the blast, and his ears were still ringing as he stood up.
“Was that really necessary?” he asked.
“Oh, hey, you’re back!” Dagna said, as though he’d gone out for dinner as opposed to having left the Inquisition for the better part of five years.
“That does seem to be the consensus,” he said. “And how about you? Make any new breakthroughs?”
“Not really,” Dagna replied. “I’ve been testing Dworkin’s new powder cannon. I think it might work even better than gaatlok, in concentrated bursts, at least. It’s less good at dispersed shots- it tends to pulverize debris, instead of turning it into shrapnel.”
Dorian nodded. “Is that how we’re going to close the Breach?” he asked. “Some kind of explosive?”
“Oh no!” Dagna told him. “That’s the Inquisitor’s hand!”
Dorian turned back to Lavellan, eyebrow raised. “I’ll assume that’s a codename.”
“Unfortunately,” Lavellan said, peeling off her glove. Her hand was glowing, pulsating, with some kind of foreign energy that made Dorian’s hair stand on end. “It’s very literal.”
“That did not used to be there,” Dorian said, after a moment of squinting and gaping.
“No, it didn’t,” Lavellan confirmed grimly. “I’ll share the details with you in the War Room. We’ve got one Dirthamen’enaste of a briefing this afternoon.”
Before Dorian could say anything more, there was a polite cough from somewhere in the vicinity of his left hip. He looked down into the face of none other than Urraca Cadash.
“Urraca!” he said, delighted. Urraca’s had been the voice that had guided the Defender to and from a great number of patrols and fights. “I thought you left with Tiamat- when was that, three years ago?”
“Nah, I’ll be here when the Maker smiles upon Thedas once more,” Urraca said. “Tiamat just left because someone broke his heart.” She punched him in the leg, a little harder than was strictly necessary.
“Uh- I, uh-” It hadn’t been that serious. He hadn’t thought it was that serious. He certainly hadn’t acted in such a way as to make Tiamat think it serious, he was quite sure of that. “That is, I had no idea-”
Urraca snorted, and hit him again, more gently. “I’m kidding. After they started building the Wall, money started getting really tight around here. He left for a job that paid him.”
“Yes, it’s a pleasure to see you again too,” Dorian said with a sigh.
“Urraca will show you to your quarters,” Lavellan said. “You should get settled in, maybe even have a little nap, and then we’ll get started. The meeting will start at the fourth bell.”
Chapter 4: Mark My Words
The meeting they were having was bigger than usual, more important than usual, and Lavellan had more on her mind than the set agenda when she pulled him aside. “You sure about that, boss?”
“Very,” Lavellan replied. “I need your read on Dorian.”
“You can’t get Cole to do that?” the Bull asked.
“He has already agreed to step in if there’s something that needs said,” Lavellan replied. “But whether we hear a peep from him or not, I want your read on the situation.”
“Any particular reason why?”
“I knew Dorian, before,” Lavellan said. “We were in Antiva City, when I was new to the Inquisition. When I took command of Wycome, the Defender was one of the Titans that was at my disposal while we searched for local drift-compatible copilots.”
“Nice kid?” the Bull guessed. It seemed like the sort of thing that would be said about a guy who’d gone through what Dorian had gone through, if only for politeness’ sake.
Lavellan snorted. “No, being nice was Felix’s job. Dorian was an arrogant little shit who wouldn’t stop talking to save his life.” He gave her a moment, and sure enough, she sighed and added “He meant well. Most of the time he even managed to do well. Once you’d gotten used to the constant sarcasm, he was generally easy to get along with. Charming, witty, in love with the sound of his own voice, you know the deal.”
The Bull nodded. “Yeah, I know how the ‘Vints breed themselves.”
“That wasn’t who I shared a carriage ride with,” Lavellan said. “Dorian was far too quiet and It might be time, it might be grief, it might be something else, but I need to know what’s changed.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be much help for you, boss,” the Bull replied. “I didn’t know Dorian before.”
“No, but you know people,” Lavellan said. “I’m not asking for a comparison. Your opinion will do.”
“Sure thing, boss,” the Bull agreed. “It starts at the fourth bell, right.”
“That’s right,” Lavellan confirmed.
When he said that this meeting was going to be bigger than usual, he meant bigger relative to the last couple of years or so, as the funding for the Inquisition dried up. Back in the day, this kind of meeting would have been a daily occurrence at least, and would have involved representatives from the local government, and maybe even some foreign dignitaries, or other Inquisitors listening in from over a sending crystal.
Nowadays, there were no other Inquisitors, and it was just the people in Skyhold who came. Urraca Cadash, who ran the launching bay, and had her hand in the local goings-on of the underworld besides; Josephine Montilyet, who dealt with all the politics and diplomatic overtures that the Inquisition still needed, and Vivienne, who was in charge of the Inquisition’s fighting forces. There were the Titan pilots of course, and then the specialists, most notably Dagna, who had pioneered a lot of their advances in leviathan and leviathan-killing knowledge, and Solas, who had a weird affinity for spirits, including the ones who made the Titans work. Sera was there- she refused to be called an alchemist, or presume to speak of on behalf of the fighters who manned Shatterhold’s ramparts, but that’s why she was there. The Bull was, normally, there to do the same for the harriers. There were others too: rank and file soldiers, who had been selected to as potential copilots.
Lavellan entered last, and took her seat.
“Let’s get straight to the point,” Lavellan said. “As some of you might know, there was an accident in the laboratory some months ago. For reasons still unknown to us, the eluvian Merrill has been studying for so long activated, and engulfed me. And then- again, for reasons unknown- it spat me back out again with this.” She took off her glove, and showed the room to sickly green Mark, some kind of magic no one, not even Solas, had been able to explain in any way that made sense.
“This Mark has been an asset to the Inquisition. It’s told us something we would have never had known otherwise,” Lavellan said. “Because here, just a few miles offshore, on the very bottom of the seabed, is the Breach that let the leviathans into this world. Once I realized why the Mark was so active in this area, we took a boat- and a Titan- out to pinpoint the exact location.”
She nodded towards Bethany and Alistair who took over.
“We walked beneath the boat, and, sure enough, there it was,” Bethany said. “We weren’t down there for more than five minutes before it opened, and a leviathan came out.”
“It was a Chevalier- class leviathan,” Alistair said. “It had some kind of fire- something the burned underwater. I hit it with a smite, just to check if that would work and it started sinking back into the Breach, just for a moment.”
“It was a weird battle,” Bethany said. “We kept hitting it with magic and Templar abilities, and it kept sinking, and then it was gone.”
“I don’t think we killed it, but it hasn’t come back yet,” Alistair said.
“We’re fairly certain that this means that smiting and magic can weaken the Breach,” Vivienne said. “Unfortunately, none of the rest of the expeditions have done more than force a leviathan back inside. None of our attacks penetrate, or have any effect, even with multiple mages and multiple Templars keeping it open.”
“Right now, our best option is to send a someone through the Breach, and attempt to destroy it from the other side,” Lavellan said. “That’s what we’re here to discuss.”
“You intend to self-destruct one of the Titans, I take it?” Dorian asked.
“Yes, and no,” Lavellan said. She got up, and walked to the locked cabinet behind her, and unlocked it. Then she pulled out the orb.
“Solas, Cole and I went to Orlais, to a place called Ghilan’nain’s Grove,” Lavellan began.
“That still sounds like a name for your innie bits,” Sera muttered, sotto voice.
“No, that would be a grotto,” Merrill said absently. “Sylaise’s grotto, actually.”
“What?” Sera asked. “I was joking!”
“Hm?” Merrill said, turning to look at her. “Oh. I must have missed that.”
Even the Bull couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.
“Getting back to the topic at hand,” Lavellan said sternly. “There we discovered clues, which lead us to a lost temple, and there we found this.”
“I’ve seen that before,” Dorian said.
“Really?” Solas asked. “Where?”
“Well, not in person,” Dorian said. “But they’re in frescos, and books. Somnoborium , they’re called: vessels of dreams. One of the great heresies in the Imperial Chantry is the belief that magisters really did corrupt the Golden City, by entering the Fade with the aid of one of those.”
“This is an Elvhen artifact,” Solas said. “Used to create barriers.”
“The ancient elves needed orbs to create barriers?” Dorian asked.
“No,” Solas said. “Not barriers as in the spell. Barriers, such as the Veil which separates this world from the Fade.”
“What,” Dorian said.
“You mean that the Veil isn’t a natural occurrence?” Merrill asked, leaning forwards.
“More to the point,” Lavellan stressed. “We believe that we can use this to cut off the leviathans from our world once more. Now, the energy this consumes will effectively destroy one of the Titans.”
“The Defender, you mean,” Dorian said flatly.
“Yes,” Lavellan said.
“Why? Because it’s the oldest?” Dorian asked.
“There is a certain symmetry to it,” Josephine said quietly. “When you got the Defender to work, it gave us hope that the leviathans could be defeated. Many will feel it appropriate that the Defender be the one to end this war once and for all.”
“And when we asked, the Defender’s Spirit was the quickest to say that she would do it,” Lavellan said.
Dorian opened his mouth. Cole appeared next to him, and said in a voice that wasn’t Dorian’s or his own, “There are things worse than death, Dorian.”
“I- what?” Dorian asked, rearing back.
“Kid, you’ve really got to stop doing that,” the Bull said.
“You need to do this, Dorian,” Cole urged, still talking in that other voice. “You need to finish the fight.”
“That’s Felix,” Lavellan said, frowning.
“When did he say that?” she demanded.
“Inquisitor,” Dorian said, in a slightly strangled tone of voice. “When I said that I didn’t have room in my head for anyone else, what did you think I meant?”
“I thought you were being metaphorical,” Lavellan said pinching the bridge of her nose. “Now, I think you have Felix in your head and managed to not tell me this the entire month we were travelling down from Tevinter.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” the Bull said. Cassandra made a disgusted noise in agreement. Vivienne said nothing, but it obvious that she concurred.
“I thought you knew?” Dorian offered.
“It’s not a whole,” Cole said, abruptly switching back to his normally voice. “Just pieces, fragments that got stuck when he fell.”
“Well you came all the way down here and we’ve already attached a third life pod to the Defender, so you’re just going to have to find some way to work around that,” Lavellan said. “And so will your copilot, whoever that turns out to be.”
“Do I get a choice in that?” Dorian asked.
“There will be auditions,” Lavellan said, turning to the potential copilots that he and Vivienne had picked out. “For your copilot, and for Cassandra’s. They’ll be at the midday bell tomorrow. Any questions?”
“Would that be a three-way drift, like the Adaars?” Hawke asked. “Or would it be more of a two-and-a-half-way drift?”
“Any questions whose answers might help us seal the Breach or kill leviathans?” Lavellan amended.
Dorian raised his hand.
“Yes, Dorian?” Lavellan said.
Dorian pointed to Cole, still seated on the table next to him. “What?”
“This is Cole,” Solas introduced him. “He’s a spirit of compassion.”
“Well of course you are,” Dorian said.
“Yes?” Cole replied.
“Anyone else?” Lavellan asked.
She waited. There were none.
“Good,” Lavellan said. “Then good luck to you all. We’ll meet again after we figure out who’s drifting with who.”
The morning of the auditions dawned wet and grey, and the weather hadn’t improved by the time the Bull started heading out towards the practice ring.
“Heading my way, dear?” Vivienne asked.
“Yes ma’am,” the Bull replied, opening the umbrella he’d brought for her.
They walked across the battlements in silence, rain beating down on them and the stone. It cut off suddenly, once the reach the practice ring- a magic barrier had been erected, to keep it dry while the auditions were ongoing.
Dorian and Cassandra had already arrived, she looking a lot readier than he. She looked a little on edge, but well-rested, and secure in herself. Dorian was still looking a little travel-worn around the edges, and seemed tired and a little out of place.
That could just be the ‘Vint thing, though. There were still ‘Vints with the Inquisition, but not very many of them. Tevinter had jumped on the whole wall idea more quickly and fervently than even the Orlesian nobles, or that Duke out in Wycome.
Vivienne’s eyes swept the ring, taking the measure of the room, before turning to him, a question in the slight incline of her head. The Bull nodded. Everyone who needed to be here was here.
Vivienne clapped, once, and all eyes in the room turned to her.
“You all know why we are here,” she said. You all know what is it stake , she did not say, but it was heard all the same. “Clear the center, and let us begin.”
Cassandra and Dorian flipped a copper to see which of them got the first round. Cassandra won, and stepped up as Vivienne nodded to the first woman on their list.
Cassandra was an unkillable machine, even during a spar. The woman was out after an exchange of blows that last about thirty seconds. Then it was Dorian’s turn.
The Bull had to admit that he was more than a little curious about how he would fight. He remember that fight Dorian had had with Vitaashi, all those years ago, and he was curious to know whether or not that was Dorian’s actual fighting style, or if that was just the style he had when he was piloting a Titan, or if maybe that had been Felix’s fighting style.
A lot of mages just didn’t get physical fighting, after all. It wasn’t anything they had to rely on, not when they could light people on fire with a thought.
Dorian was competent, and much more aggressive a fighter than most of his opponents seemed to expect. They limped off the mat, more bruised and battered than Cassandra’s opponents.
The Bull waited. The unspoken truth of trying to match pilots blind like this was that the earliest fighters had no chance at all. There needed to be some kind of spark, some kind of connection for this to work, even if it was just someone who’d gotten a feel for your moves and tried to anticipate which of them they would use on you.
So Dorian and Cassandra plowed through the first half a dozen or so contenders, and those farther down the list- the most promising potential copilots- watched, and waited.
Cassandra was the first to be paired off: a thoughtful looking young man by the name of Delrin Barris, who didn’t manage to win against her, but but had surprised her, and managed to make a record two hits. Dorian had no such luck. Dorian, the Bull suspected, wasn’t even making an attempt to connect with anyone.
He couldn’t quite suppress a snort as Dorian flipped his latest opponent, coming very close to making him land on his spine.
“Something the matter?” Dorian asked, turning to him.
“You,” the Bull said. “You’re not even trying.”
“No, I’m winning,” Dorian retorted.
“That’s not the point, and you know it.”
“Then find me an opponent I can’t beat, and perhaps we might get to the point before the leviathans overrun Thedas.”
Oh, the guy was just begging for it. He turned to Vivienne, who nodded once, sharply.
“Okay big guy,” he said, handing the list over to her. He selected a staff from the rack of practice weapons, the biggest one they had. It was heavy, and he’d lose some speed with it, but not nearly as much as anyone else would use. “You asked for it.”
“Yes, I did.” Dorian grinned, and lunged at him.
The Bull let the first blow hit. Dorian put too much force behind his swings- it left him unbalanced and it was easy to shift his grip and retaliate. He could have flipped him, but he didn’t, not just yet. He just left Dorian with an obvious tap on his right side, and waited to see how he would react now that they were tied.
He’d surprised him. They circled one another, Dorian cautious and considering for the first time that the Bull had seen.
He still wasn’t patient, though. It wasn’t too long before he lashed out again- a feint. The Bull didn’t fall for it, nor did he fall for the blows that followed, all misdirection and oddly-angled strikes. Dorian was fighting a lot more subtler than he had been. It finally reminded the Bull of the way the Defender had fought on Seheron, all those years ago.
The Bull grinned, and went in for another hit. He managed it, but not without Dorian sneaking a hit of his own: just a gentle little tap, like the Bull’s first hit had been.
Cheeky , the Bull thought happily. Let’s see how you handle something truly unexpected.
He threw his staff the side. Dorian blinked his head turning towards it instinctively, and in that moment the Bull pounced. He threw himself on Dorian, who overbalanced and hit the ground hard, laid out flat on his back with the Bull on top of him, holding Dorian’s own staff so it was laid out straight across his throat.
“Yield,” Dorian said, grinning more widely than the Bull had ever seen him grin before.
The Bull got up, and offered Dorian his hand. Dorian took it cheerfully, and then turned to Vivienne.
“Well, I think that was fairly conclusive, don’t you agree Madame de Fer?”
Vivienne very clearly did not agree. “Bull? Perhaps we might have a word outside. Now.”
They didn’t quite have a word outside- not like the Bull was expecting, anyway. Instead, Vivienne lead him all the way to the War Room, where the Inquisitor was busy pouring over the latest projections.
“Inquisitor,” Vivienne said.
Lavellan looked up from the charts, frowning slightly. “Aren’t you supposed to be overseeing the potential Titan pilots?”
“Yes, we’ve just come,” Vivienne said. “Cassandra has found a copilot in Delrin Barris. Dorian is proving far trickier.”
“Let me guess,” she said with a sigh. “He’s taken to beating everyone matched with him into the ground just to prove that he can?”
“He was,” Vivienne confirmed. “And has since decided that he is compatible with the Bull.”
Lavellan frowned at Vivienne for a moment before turning to the Bull. “Are you not compatible?”
“I think we are, actually,” the Bull said. It wasn’t just that they’d fought almost intuitively well together- they could complement one another. Dorian had greater knowledge and experience with magic and the Titans themselves; the Bull had been fighting in one conflict or another for his entire adult life. They could cover one another’s weak points easily.
“Then what’s the problem?” Lavellan asked.
“The problem,” Vivienne said, her voice sharp. “Is that compatibility is as much a liability as it is a strength.” She turned to the Bull. “You do not deal with the less pleasant emotions- you repress them, or you externalize them, or both. It makes you an excellent soldier, and a much-loved leader to your men, but it’s not a desirable quality in a pilot. That will not work in the drift, particularly not with Dorian, who as I understand it, has a tendency to express himself in the most self-destructive manner possible.”
“As far as I’m aware, Dorian’s ‘tendencies’ pre-date the drift,” Lavellan pointed out dryly. “If he wasn’t able to overcome them, we likely would never have been able to utilize the ability at all.”
“With Felix,” Vivienne pointed out. “Who had had lived with as a brother for years, and already knew his tendencies, and how to manage them.”
“Well, we already knew we weren’t going to be able to find that,” Lavellan pointed out.
Vivienne opened her mouth to argue. Lavellan held up her hand.
“Do you think you can handle it?” Lavellan asked him.
“Yes,” the Bull answered.
“No, think about it,” Lavellan said. “He’ll be in your head. It’s very possible- very likely- that he’ll end up with your memories of the Qun, and Seheron. Are you okay with that?”
The Bull felt like the bigger question should be whether Dorian would be okay with that. He was the one with the self-destructive coping mechanisms, after all; for the Bull, a lot of those memories seemed like the belonged to someone else already.
“Yes,” the Bull said. “I can do this. We’d be good for each other, I think.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Lavellan said. “We’ll do the dry drift tomorrow.”
Vivienne pursed her lips, but was far too professional to sigh. “I want it noted that this is happening over my protests.”
“Noted,” Lavellan said. “Now go find Dorian and tell him what’s happening.”
The didn’t need to go far. Dorian was waiting right out in the hall outside the War Room, clearly having eavesdropped.
“We’re it?” he asked the Bull.
“We’re it,” the Bull replied. “Our first drift is tomorrow.”
“Good,” Dorian said, grinning.
For a moment the Bull was certain he was going to say more. He was sure that Dorian had meant to say more.
Instead, Dorian turned and began to walk away.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Bull,” he called over his shoulder, and then he was gone.
Chapter 5: Drift Compatible
Dorian had, more or less on instinct (on Felix’s instincts, at least) gone to see Dagna the night before. She had already been dragged out of the lab by Sera; he found them drinking in one of the empty Titan bays that lined the launch room, and joined them.
There, you see Felix? He’d thought after about five minutes. The answer would have been a resounding no . I could have gotten you supremely drunk, and then you could have moved on to more inclined pastures.
He sort of reflexively wanted to call it a mistake, but in all honestly it had fun. Sera, it turned out, was unexpectedly delightful in her own vaguely gremlin-like way. She also had an uncanny ability to prevent Dagna and himself from talking shop in perpetuity, and a seemingly endless supply of alcohol. One mildly uncomfortable magical purge later, and he didn’t even have a hangover to show for it.
“Morning,” Hawke greeted him.
“Nrgh,” Dorian replied. Simply because it was not a terrible morning did not mean that it wasn’t still morning .
He felt somewhat better after some eggs and something that was trying to pass itself off as tea.
“There’s something I’ve been wondering,” he said.
“Yeah?” Hawke asked.
“You are Merrill are still copilots, correct?”
“Yes?” When Hawke frowned her jowls made the expression seem extraordinarily severe. “Was that in doubt?”
“It’s just- I don’t know. It seems odd, your sister being here- and being a pilot- but not drifting with you.”
Hawke snorted. “Bethie’s here because when the Wardens needed another copilot for Alistair, I suggested her. I thought they would hit it off… and, honestly, I wanted her close by.” She turned to look over to where Bethany and Alistair were seated on the far side of the room. Dorian hadn’t made anything of the distance before, but he couldn’t help but feel like it was pointed now. “We hadn’t spoken at all since she was Joined- it took us months just got confirmation that she’d survived at all. She wrote to mother, but- that was it.”
“You still haven’t spoken?” Dorian asked.
“Not like I want to,” Hawke admitted.
Merrill sat down at that moment, passing her tin of molasses to Hawke and casting a miniature fireball to set her tea mug steaming before stealing the marmalade from Hawke’s tray. It was a routine they’d had established since before they’d been stationed in Antiva together, and it made Dorian smile to see that they were still doing it.
“Good morning!” she said. “What are we discussing?”
“Why I’m not drifting with Bethie,” Hawke told her.
“Oh, that’s an easy one,” Merrill said, scooping both her portions of marmalade onto her toast. “You’re not compatible.”
Hawke started. “What makes you say that?”
“Well,” Merrill said. “Don’t take this the wrong way, ma vhenan , but you annoy her too much.”
Hawke gasped and clutched her hand to her chest. “Are you trying to tell me that I don’t annoy you?”
“Not in the way you annoy Bethany,” Merrill told her matter-of-factly. “When you annoy me, you’re generally doing it on purpose to get my attention. Bethany you just annoy by being.”
This was apparently a little bit more truth than Hawke was expecting to receive with her molasses. She was momentarily stunned beyond words. “Um.”
“Also, you have a tendency to smother her,” Merrill continued blithely.
“She’s my little sister!” Hawke protested. “I’m supposed to smother her, it’s what being a big sister is all about!”
“She’s also a grown woman,” Merrill said. “She’s older now than we were when we got the Champion.”
“What has that got to do with anything?” Hawke asked.
“And to be perfectly honest, I don’t understand how anyone can drift with a close family member,” Merrill continued. “It’s all very intimate, isn’t it? Revealing. I think I would die of embarrassment if, say, Keeper Marethari had seen some of what we’ve shared in the drift.”
“Merrill, dearheart, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for years,” Hawke said. “Not everyone thinks of sex as often as you do.”
“You do,” Merrill pointed out.
“Only because I’ve been in your head for the better part of a decade,” Hawke told her.
“So what have you been working on?” Dorian asked, mostly to see if they still remember that he was sitting right there.
Hawke started; Merrill did not.
“The eluvian,” she said. “We’re still trying to figure out what activated it, let alone why it decided to eat Lavellan. Solas swears he didn’t touch it, and Morrigan has already sent all of her notes… we have no idea. None.”
“At least you got it to work,” Hawke said. “Sort of.”
“Yes, but we don’t understand how!” Merrill said, exasperated. “I always thought that if I fixed it, it would explain something, and instead all I’ve gotten from it is more questions.”
“We learned where the Breach is,” Hawke said.
“The Mark told us that.”
“The Mark was gotten on the other side of the eluvian.”
“She doesn’t even remember how it happened!”
Merrill sighed dejectedly and took another bite out of her toast.
“Well, I wish you luck with that,” Dorian said, as he stood. “Hopefully, there won’t be any more leviathans spotted in between now and when we’re due to seal the Breach up.”
“Leaving already?” Hawke asked.
Dorian nodded. “I’ve got my first drift with the Bull this afternoon. I’d like to be prepared.”
Dressing for the drift was a surreally familiar experience. Here went the rings on his fingers, that would channel the magic out of the Titan’s hands. Here was the circlet, so that when he moved the Titan would move. Here were his robes, padded so as to fit comfortably in the harness, and now slightly tighter around the middle.
He finished quickly, and hurried to the Defender. He arrived there alone- he was early, or so a quick look at the sundial confirmed. There were some dwarves there, and formari as well, but they paid him no mind. He was to be afford a moment of solitude, then.
Dorian spent that moment of solitude to look at Livi, who activated quietly as he entered the helm.
“I can’t help but feel like this is goodbye,” he said at last.
“I’ll still be here,” she replied.
“You’ll be different, though, once you’ve joined me and the Bull,” Dorian pointed out. Spirits were malleable, and Maker only knew what this one would become once joined with the former Ben-Hassrath spy.
“All living things change,” Livi replied gently. “Adaptation is necessary to survive.”
Dorian smiled, but said nothing, both in concession of the point and because he could hear the Bull entering the helm.
“You look good,” the Bull said.
“I always look good,” Dorian replied automatically, turning to get a good look at his new copilot.
The Bull looked good as well. He was in battle dress, same as Dorian, but unlike Dorian his idea of battle dress didn’t consist of robes and a comfortable pair of boots. Instead, he had on a well-worn leg brace, and was done up in intricate patterns of vitaar over his wide battle scarred chest.
“Is that green for the leviathans?” Dorian asked.
“Yep,” the Bull replied. “Like it?”
It was on the tip of Dorian’s tongue to deny it, before he realized how futile that would be.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Dorian said instead. “You’ll be in my head, after all.”
He grinned, out of politeness and a small amount of nerves. The Bull grinned back, looking far more genuine in his enjoyment of the exchange.
“I’m going to have to take the right side,” the Bull told him, tapping the metal of the brace encasing his left leg from ankle to mid-thigh.
“Just as well,” Dorian agreed. “I’m left-handed anyway.”
Felix had also been left-handed, and subsequently, so had the Defender. Dorian wondered, idly, if she’d be ambidextrous now.
They strapped themselves into their harnesses in silence. They were more or less the same as the harnesses he and Felix had used in the later years of their career as copilots: the same rigging and fit, the main difference being the little runes that lit up in a circle around him as he finished with the last buckle, and little wisps he could feel bound into the material.
Dagna had assured him that the new harness would prevent him from being knocked about at all, which would be a pleasant change. They hadn’t had these when they’d first built the Defender- he and Felix had come out of those first fights terribly bruised, occasionally concussed, and on one painfully memorable occasion, with a broken arm (Dorian’s). Later harnesses had prevented them from being tossed around the inside of the helm, but hadn’t done much else. These had some kind of variation on a barrier spell and a gravitic circle involved- they would keep him and the Bull steady even if the leviathan in question were to toss them around. No more bumps and bruises; at most, he should feel an unpleasant jolt.
“Ready?” Livi asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” Dorian said, facing the windows on the helm. It was a beautiful day: sunny and bright and spilling in through the open bay gates.
“Let’s do this,” the Bull said.
Dorian never looking at Livi when she did it, and the Bull seemed similarly disinclined. They stood staring out into brilliant blue day as her phantom fingers reached the back of their necks, and pushed-
-Felix, admonishing him not to go easy on him in between coughs-
-Krem’s dumbfound expression as he offered him a job as his lieutenant-
-Gereon, politely averting his eyes to the ceiling, waiting for him to finish dressing-
-everyone pretending not to hear as Dalish went down on Skinner in a not secluded enough corner of the Tower-
-Livia and Gereon sharing a kiss out in the garden, nearly walking into a tree branch as he tried not to stare-
-Tama’s hand on his head, where his horns would one day be, telling him that he would serve the Qun-
The memories were overwhelming at first- more so than Dorian remembered it being. They both stumbled a bit as they broke free, catching themselves before the runes could do it for them.
Beneath them, around them, the Defender shuddered.
“What’s going on down there guys?” Urraca asked.
The Bull turned to look at him. The Defender creaked; the helm wobbled slightly.
“Don’t do that,” Dorian said. “It’ll do what we do.”
“So what do we do?” the Bull asked. Even as he did, thoughts not entirely Dorian’s own filtered through. He caught, for half a second, the impression of the Defender with her arms raised.
“Shall we?” Dorian asked.
The Bull nearly nodded, before catching himself. “Yeah, let’s.”
It didn’t require any verbal coordination to move the Defender’s arm up into the familiar victory pose. That was good. They’d be very slow in a fight otherwise.
Over the sending crystal, they heard the applause from the Launch Room. Dorian smiled, and could feel the lopsided way skin and scar tissue pulled over the Bull’s face as he did the same.
“Let’s go for a little walk, shall we?”
The Bull didn’t bother replying. Dorian felt his agreement, and then they moved: one slow lap around the bay, and then one fast one. Some lunges to the side, and a few perfunctory stances for grappling with leviathans.
Good. This was good. It wasn’t the same instant, familiar connection that he’d shared with Felix, but perhaps that was for the-
-Felix coughed, and coughed, and threw up blood. He wobbled and then slumped in his harness, unconscious, but there was no time to say anything, ask anything, the whole of the Defender suddenly rested on him, a building pressure behind his eyes that made his veins pop and the leviathan was still there-
“ Festis bei umo canavarum ,” Dorian swore.
“Everything alright down there?” Urraca asked.
“Yes, I just-” Dorian began, and then stopped.
There was something wrong- more of the Defender was resting on him than it should have been, and the load was uneven, and moving.
“Livi, what’s happening?” Dorian asked.
“I’m not certain,” Livi replied. “But I think there’s something wrong with the Bull. It’s like he’s trapped in his memories.”
“Can that happen?” Dorian demanded.
“I mean,” Urraca said slowly. “If it is happening then I guess it has to be- oh shitfuckbuggery-”
The load of the Defender’s left arm suddenly lifted from Dorian entirely, and the black powder cannon emerged, taking aim squarely at the Launch Room.
“Don’t load any charges!” Dorian yelled to Livi, for whatever good it might do. “What is he- how is he-”
“I can show you,” Livi replied, and then-
-Vasaad’s body, riddled in arrows, familiar arrows, antaam arrows, he knew he shouldn’t have let him take point, he knew he wasn’t ready, he knew this was going to be trap-
“What,” Dorian gasped, jolting free of the memory. It was an even more useless thing to say than it had been before. No sooner had the syllable left his mouth than-
-He couldn’t let them get away, he couldn’t, he’d killed Vasaad, he’d thought that he could let him go, maybe, but Vasaad was dead and he’d thought that his old commander might just need some time before returning to the fold, but this was too far, he’d let his commander go Tal-Vashoth and he’d killed Vasaad and Vasaad was dead he was dead-
The Bull jerked, and for one moment Dorian was sure he’d gotten through. The moment didn’t last. He could feel, but could not prevent, a charge from being loaded into the barrel of the cannon.
“You need to evacuate the Launch Room!” Dorian yelled. “Bull! Bull, listen, it’s a memory, it’s already happened, it’s already done!”
The Bull made no response.
“Send me back in.” Nothing happened. “Livi, send me back in, I need to get through to him! I need-”
-fire and ruin, screaming all around, he did this, he did this, not for the Qun but for Vasaad, and he almost didn’t want to stop, almost-
-Bull! This isn’t really happening! This isn’t real!-
-Many Tal-Vashoth go after the most vulnerable- tamassrans and their children. They burn their orphanages, slaughter them without mercy. This is what happens outside of the Qun.-
-Bull, you have to listen to me. This is gone, this is done, I need you to disengage!
-fire and ruin, screaming all around, bodies everywhere, blood on his axe-
-You have to disengage! We need you to disengage from the Titan!-
-fire and ruin, screaming all around, bodies everywhere. Little bodies. Dead kids. Dead Tamassran. Dead Vasaad? Dead Commander? Dead-
-If you don’t disengage, then you’ll kill them all!-
-This is what you’ll become without the Qun. This is-
Very, very suddenly Dorian was back in the helm. The cannon was being powered down, and lowered. He broke his own rule, and looked to the Bull, who was hanging, much as Felix had, in his harness, out cold.
He forced the Defender’s left arm down, and the moment that was through Dorian unbuckled his harness and ran over to him. He disconnected the Bull from his harness and, as gently as he could while nearly collapsing under his weight, lowered him onto the floor, his horns framing Dorian’s torso and his head in Dorian’s lap.
“The healers have been alerted,” Livi said. She still sounded like Livia Alexius, but when Dorian looked up, it was the Bull’s Tama’s face that looked back down at him. “They should be here shortly.”
“Good,” Dorian said, and waited, hands clutching at the Bull’s shoulders until they arrived.
Dorian was given a cursory health check by an apprentice so young that it made Dorian physically feel the presence of all six of his grey hairs. He was fine- or, at the very least, he wasn’t in any state they could fix, and she was reasonably certain the after-effects of even this drift would fade in time.
Dorian was less certain of that. He wasn’t certain about much of anything, really. What had he seen in that drift, anyway?
It was all jumbled, layered and overlapped and fragmented and just in general a mess. Some of that was the grief, of course. How could it not be? But not all of it was grief. Not even most of it, Dorian was growing increasingly sure of that.
He was also left with the horrifying impression that he and Livi weren’t the first visitors to the inside of the Bull’s head.
Without quite meaning to, he’d found that his feet had taken him to Dagna’s doorstep. He rolled his eyes- Really Felix? She wouldn’t have been into even when you were alive and not a colllection of fragments in my head - and was about to leave her to her work and/or Sera when something occurred to him.
Dagna had been one of the main engineers behind rebuilding and retrofitting the Defender. She should have been in the Launch Room, to see how it worked. She should have been in the helm, pushing her way through the healers. She should be with him right now, pestering him for more information about what had happened, providing theories as to what had gone wrong.
And yet, she was not. Dorian couldn’t even hear her working, and while he’d like to think that was because Sera had dragged her away for an early supper, he doubted it.
He pushed open the door to the laboratory, and walked inside.
The first thing he noticed was that Merrill’s mirror was not where it ought to be. It wasn’t where it was earlier, and worse, it was in the center of a tangled nest of wires and tubing. That was the middle of it; at one end was a tank, filled with something that smelled of leviathan and rotten, slightly charred meat.
At the other end was Dagna.
“What,” he whispered, not quite able to believe his eyes.
“What?” Sera asked, coming up behind him. She stopped, stock still, when she saw what.
“No,” she whispered, lunging forward. “No, you stupid- Widdle!” She grabbed Dagna around the middle, holding her hand over her face. “She’s still breathing, she’s still-” She looked up, wild-eyed for a moment before focusing on Dorian. “Well, don’t just stand there! Do something!”
Dorian ran all the way back to the healers. Hopefully, there would be someone with a little more experience than the apprentice around.
Chapter 6: Some Spirited Discussion
There was another bigger than usual meeting, the day after. The Bull watched the room fill with no small amount of shame.
“Man, I blew it didn’t I?” he muttered.
“You didn’t drift with a bit of quasi-reanimated leviathan using a drift apparatus cobbled together from refuse and the eluvian, so I wouldn’t worry,” Dorian said. “I think we’ve officially been bumped down to number two on the shit list.”
“Uh,” the Bull said. “What?”
“Dagna,” Dorian replied, which was just about the only answer that would have made sense. Though, now that he was thinking about it, he wouldn’t have put it past Merrill either.
Merrill probably would have tried drifting with the eluvian, though, not use it to drift with a leviathan.
“How is she?” the Bull asked.
“Comatose, last I saw her,” Dorian said. “That was last night- as I understand it from Sera shouting at me from across the messhall this morning, she’s awake now. Speaking of, how are you?”
The Bull winced. “Fine.”
He’d woken up in the wee hours of the morning. Krem had been slumped over asleep on a chair next to his bed. Vivienne had been out in the hall a conjured magelight serving to illuminate the piles of paperwork even rogue, semi-illicit armies like the Inquisition’s generated.
“You gave us quite a scare,” she’d said.
Dorian had been nowhere to be found, but honestly, the Bull couldn’t blame him for that.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Dorian replied.
Everyone else had more or less trickled in at that point: Vivienne, Josephine, Urraca, Solas, the Titan pilots, and what seemed to be most of the magic and science division. They were just waiting on Lavellan, Solas, Sera, and Dagna herself, if she was up to it.
She was. She wasn’t even walking slowly. She was, actually, walking very quickly and speaking even more quickly.
“- just a few more minutes, I could have-”
“You could have died,” Sera said. “Died. You’d be dead. What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Dagna said. “We almost die all the time. You get up on the ramparts and throw fire bombs at leviathans for a living, and I make things explode. What’s wrong with you?”
“That’s not the same thing!” Sera insisted.
“Ladies,” Lavellan said. “If you could pick this back up after the briefing?”
They took their seats, Sera still grumbling under her breath.
“You’re all aware of what happened, in the broad strokes at least?” Lavellan asked.
They all nodded, except for Merrill who frowned and leaned closer to Dagna. “How did you make it work?”
“I didn’t,” Dagna said. “Not exactly. It’s a medium, you know, it bridges between things, and one of the things it bridges is our reality and wherever it was that the Inquisitor got the Mark from. I think it might be the same place they’re from, which only made it work better.”
Lavellan sat. “The same place as the leviathans?” she asked.
“Yes. I mean, that’s what it seemed like to me,” Dagna said. “It was like they could sense I was there, after a time. And they definitely knew about eluvians.”
“So where are they from?” Lavellan asked.
Dagna shook her head. “I didn’t get a name for it. It didn’t transfer.”
Solas coughed. Lavellan turned to him.
“It’s possibly the place which has come to be called the Void,” he said. “It’s… unclean, but-”
“Unclean?” Dorian asked incredulously. “The Void is unclean ?”
“And is a place of damnation in the Chantry’s theology,” Solas acknowledged. “As I was saying- it’s not uninhabited, though what dwells there I could not say.”
“Andruil, or perhaps Ghilan’nain,” Solas said, causing Sera to reflexively blow a raspberry at them both.
“For the time being, let’s assume that’s a nonstarter.” Lavellan settled back against the chair, and turned back to Dagna. “Tell them what you told me about what did transfer?”
“Well,” Dagna said. “The first thing you should know is that these aren’t exactly creatures. They aren’t doing this because they have a natural instinct to go around destroying things, they’re doing it because they’ve all got this kind of- it’s like a blood magic thrall, I think? It connects them all, and it steers them all. There’s some kind intelligence behind the leviathans- something that’s making them go towards cities around Thedas.”
“Are we talking a person kind of intelligence?” Dorian asked. “Or is it- something else?”
“I don’t know,” Dagna said. “It- it was jumbled. But I do know one thing- the attacks are only going to worse. The leviathans are only going to get bigger, and then they’ll start coming in groups, and then-”
“And then?” Lavellan prompted.
“And then we’re finished,” Dagna said. “They’ll break through the Wall, there aren’t enough Titans to fight them, and sooner rather than later, they’ll wipe out all life as we know it.”
“I don’t suppose they told you about any weaknesses we don’t know about?” the Bull asked.
“No,” Dagna said. “But I could probably find out! Now that I know what it feels like, and what to look for, I could drift again and-”
“What is wrong with you?” Sera demanded again. “The first try almost killed you.”
“And we don’t have any more leviathans left for you to drift with!” Sera continued. “The one you used is too dead to be viable, remember? And we don’t have any other bits that aren’t even older. There’s nothing for you to drift with, so there!”
For a moment the War Room was silent. Then Urraca coughed.
“What is it, Cadash?” Lavellan asked.
“You all remember my cousin, right?” Urraca asked.
“Yes?” Dorian drawled.
“I mean, you remember who he works for, right?” Urraca pressed.
“Anyone who doesn’t have senior security clearance, leave the room,” Lavellan said.
There was a general scraping of chairs as the room emptied of most of the Titan pilots and technicians. Dorian pushed himself away from the table, and then hesitated.
“Stay, Dorian,” Lavellan told him. “You’ve been reinstated.”
“So quickly?” Dorian asked.
“I checked with the Inquisitor, she said it was okay,” Lavellan told him.
“I’m staying too!” Sera insisted.
“Yes, you are,” Lavellan said. “You’ve had seniority for years.”
“Didn't that get revoked after that thing with the bees and Lady Whatsherpants?” Sera asked.
“To my continued horror, your clearance remains,” Vivienne said, longsuffering. “And over my continued objections.”
“I’ll be sure to make another note of your objections in my diary,” Lavellan said. “Sit down, Sera.”
“So who does Tiamat work for these days?” Dorian asked.
“The Nightingale,” Urraca said, at the same time as Josephine said “Leliana.”
“Leliana is the Nightingale,” Lavellan explained for Dorian.
Dorian frowned. “Isn’t the Nightingale the name of some kind of dealer in leviathan parts?” he asked.
“We needed an alternative revenue stream,” Josephine said. “Now that we’re no longer an official organization, we’re not receiving taxes or tithe money. We’re not without support, but it’s not enough to keep Shatterhold outfitted and battle ready.”
“We have more support than is common knowledge,” Vivienne added. “Especially among the nobility, many of our supporters do not feel as though they can publicly endorse the Inquisitions actions.” That included her lover, Duke Bastien de Ghislain. Their public breakup was a cover for his support of the Inquisition- he was pretty sure that had been her idea, and they still met up occasionally, in secret, but he couldn’t help but get the impression that it still hurt her, a lot. “The material support they provide, while much needed, must come in irregular, easily overlook quantities. We needed someone with a more reliable store to make up for the occasional shortfall. That is Leliana’s job. As a result, she often has a large amount of resources in reserve.”
It wasn’t phrased like a question, but she still turned expectantly to Urraca as she said it. Urraca shook her head.
“Tiamat is a professional,” she said. “Even when he acts like he’s letting me in on a big secret, he’s only telling me what Leliana wants us to know. But, if anyone does have suitable leviathan parts, it’s her.”
“You think you can get usable intelligence from another drift?” Lavellan asked Dagna.
“Yes,” Dagna said.
“No,” Sera insisted.
“Then you better get moving,” Lavellan said.
“No,” Sera said again.
“Ask around town for golden shoes,” Lavellan told her. “That will lead you straight for her.”
“You’re not listening,” Sera said. “This is stupid. No .”
“And you go with her and make sure she doesn’t try another homebrew drift with whatever Leliana has on hand,” Lavellan told her. “If she is going to drift again, she’s going to do it properly, with a spirit and a healer in the room.”
“Ergh,” Sera said, throwing up her hands. “Fine.”
“Go now,” Lavellan said. “Don’t waste any time. Send in the Titan pilots as you leave.”
They left, and the other Titan pilots filed back into the room.
“So, the next item on the agenda is the matter of which Titans will be accompanying me on the mission to close the Breach,” Lavellan said. “As you know, the Divine Hand had a successful dry drift yesterday morning, while yesterday afternoon the Proud Defender did not. The question now is how to proceed from here.”
“Not to place too fine a point on it,” Cassandra said. “But that does leave us with five functioning Titans in Shatterhold. Can we do it with that number?”
“It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Lavellan said. “But yes, we can do this without the Defender.”
The Bull kind of shut himself down after that. He didn’t need to know what the plan was. He probably shouldn’t even be there for the discussion. He didn’t belong.
They were dismissed, eventually, and Dorian brushed his shoulder along the Bull’s arm as they left the room.
“Shall we get lunch?” he asked.
“Sure,” the Bull said automatically. “Why not?”
They sat on their own in the mess hall. It wasn’t particularly unusual: they were only at about a third of Shatterhold’s capacity, in terms of people living and working here, a lot of people prefered to go down to the village whenever possible, and Vivienne had scheduled exercises with the harrying company for this evening. Still, today it felt deliberate.
That might have something to do with the pair of ‘Vints sitting at a table of their own, some distance away, glancing in their direction far too often to be a coincidence. One of them, Servis he thought his name was, worked here; the other was an envoy, from one of the very few magisters Josephine had managed to woo to the Inquisition’s aid. Erimond, he thought his name was: a magister himself, but not one with enough power to avoid being used as an intermediary.
Dorian didn’t glance back at them, but he did pause every now and again to watch them in the reflection on the back of his spoon. When Erimond stood, he tensed.
“Is this seat available?” Erimond asked, indicating the spot next to the Bull.
Dorian stretched out his legs, resting his feet on the rest of the Bull’s bench before looking up at Erimond. “No,” he said.
Erimond looked momentarily put out, before he smoothed his expression out. He turned to the Bull, and asked “Do you mind? I have delicate matters to discuss with Dorian.”
“Then by all means, speak quickly and fuck off,” Dorian said.
Erimond sighed. “Would it help if I said that I was not here to speak on my own behalf?”
“You’ve never done anything but speak on your own behalf.”
“Would it gratify you to know that my situation in the Magisterium has changed?” Erimond asked. “I made some… unwise, and shortsighted decisions in the past, and now it seems I must pay for them.”
Dorian made no reply, save to cock his head as though listening to something distant.
“What?” Erimond demanded after a moment.
“Well, it’s possible that he’s just stepped out for a moment, but thus far it would seem that the world’s smallest lutist doesn’t give a crap either,” Dorian told him.
Erimond sighed. “I’m here on behalf of someone who has only your best interests at heart,” he said.
Dorian snorted. “Everyone who ever had my best interests at heart is dead,” he said, sounding bored.
“You know that’s not true,” Erimond said.
Dorian sighed, and turned to the Bull. “How much does the Inquisition pay me again?”
“I’m pretty sure they’re not paying you,” the Bull said.
“Yes, that’s what I thought,” Dorian said, nodded down at his soup. “So. That’s definitely not enough to sit through this.”
“You want to go somewhere else?” the Bull asked.
“Yes, very much so,” Dorian replied. He stood, gathering his tray as he did so; the Bull did the same.
“If you would just listen-” Erimond said.
“Please tell my father that I would find his excuses about my ‘best interests’ or House Pavus’ ‘best interests’ or whatever ‘best interests’ he’s selling himself on these days to be more believable if he weren’t currently pursuing policies that virtually guaranteed mass extinction,” Dorian said over his shoulder, already moving away.
“Do you think the Titans are any surer a thing?” Erimond demanded. “Do you think the Inquisition is?”
Dorian stopped. “Yes,” he said. “You might not be able to see it, but we have some of the finest minds- some of the finest people- in Thedas here. If there’s a solution to be found, it’s in fighting, not hiding, and these are the only people who can find it.”
Erimond snorted. “I can’t believe you would say that after the way you were failed yesterday.”
Dorian froze again. This time he put down his tray and turned to face Erimond. “I beg your pardon?”
Erimond moved closer. “If the best the Inquisition has to offer is that broken qunari of your, then I guess the Wall really is our best hope.”
For a moment, Dorian did nothing. He wasn’t just not replying, but he was frozen and still, until very suddenly he wasn’t and Erimond had gone stumbling back as Dorian’s fist connected with his face.
“Do not,” Dorian said. He was seethingly, hissingly angry. Flames began to coalesce around his still-clenched fist. “Talk about him like that. Preferably, you do not speak about him at all.”
For a moment, Erimond did nothing. And then he grinned, blood staining his teeth as he shot lightning at Dorian. Dorian dispelled it immediately, and reared back to throw a fireball at him. The Bull lunged for Erimond.
He didn’t get that far. Both Dorian and Erimond froze before he could, mid spell and counterspell, as Vivienne walked towards them.
‘What is the meaning of this?” she asked, dispelling the others’ magic with a wave of her hand.
“I-” the Bull began.
“I didn’t mean you, dear,” Vivienne said.
“He insulted the Bull,” Dorian hissed.
“Also he seems to be working for Dorian’s father,” the Bull said. The details of whatever happened between Dorian and his father hadn’t transferred over during the drift, but he got the distinct impression of ‘not good’ about it.
“Halward Pavus?” Vivienne asked.
“One of the Wall of Life’s biggest supporters,” Dorian said.
“Not one of the ones who just pretend to support it, I guess?” the Bull asked.
“Not as far as I’m aware,” Vivienne said. “And that’s certainly not who he said he was working for.” She released Dorian with a wave. “Go. I’ll assign a few Templars to keep an eye on him while we sort this out.”
Dorian stalked out of the mess hall without another word, leaving his tray behind.
“Is he going to finish that?” asked one of the dwarves who worked on the Titan maintenance crews.
“Probably not,” the Bull said.
“Can I have that, then?”
“Sure,” the Bull said. “Take mine too.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” the dwarf said.
The Bull nodded, and then went after Dorian.
He found him, almost inevitably, on the walkway by the Defender’s loading bay, legs dangling over the side as he watched another maintenance crew scrubbing her up.
The Bull took a seat next to him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know how much she means to you.”
“It’s not your fault,” Dorian snapped. He sighed, and said, more quietly. “You have never drifted before. You didn’t know how one person’s memories might set someone else off. I did.”
“Did that happen with you and Felix?” the Bull asked.
“Not quite so violently,” Dorian admitted. “It- neither one of us was who we were supposed to be, and Tevinter has numerous ways to deal with aberrations like us. Felix knew they would never be used on him because his parents loved him unconditionally. I knew they would never be used, because any one of them would only jeopardize the future of House Pavus. Still, the anxiety remained in each of us, and if we weren’t careful, our anxieties would feed into each other, and grow exponentially.” He sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Felix was generally better at breaking out of it than I was. I’m not sure if any of that is still here.”
“You pulled me out of it,” the Bull pointed out.
“Perhaps,” Dorian said, after a moment.
They sat there for a time, watching the work being done.
“Vasaad,” Dorian said, after a moment. “He was your- he was important.”
“The word in Qunlat is kadan ,” the Bull said. “It literally means the center of the chest, or the heart. You use it for friends, people you trust, people you love.”
“That’s a great deal more romantic a term than I would have thought the Qunari would have,” Dorian said.
“It’s not. It’s not supposed to be,” the Bull corrected himself. “There’s no romance under the Qun. Passion, yeah, there are plenty of tamassrans under the Qun who can work all the kinks out for you, when you need it. You love your friends, sure, but not more than you love the Qun, or your place in it. Ideally, your kadan only make you love the Qun more. Romance makes people go crazy, it blocks out what’s important.”
“So, he was like Felix was for me, then,” Dorian said. “A brother.”
The Bull snorted. “No, definitely not that. It- I didn’t even realize it, is the really stupid thing. Not until after he died. Shit happens on Seheron, everything gets muddied, you’ve got to learn to be flexible about some things. There weren’t a lot of places where it was safe for tamassrans to be, and sometimes it could take days to trek the distance. Prostitutes were more common, but they were a risk. The ‘Vints and the rebels had spies and assassins in every brothel. So, you would turn to your people instead, because they were close by and you could trust them.” He shrugged. “I trusted Vasaad the most. I got along with him the most. It was very easy for me to tell myself that was why we ended up together so often.”
“ Kaffas ,” Dorian said, leaning towards him a little. “I’m sorry.”
“I was always a shit Qunari,” the Bull said. “I was hoping that the reeducators would have fixed it, but-”
“They reeducated you because of how you reacted to Vasaad dying?” Dorian demanded.
“I turned myself in, because of how I reacted,” the Bull corrected.
“It was my fault,” the Bull stressed. “I was the one who let things with Vasaad go too far, I was the one who let him take point, fuck, I was even the one who’d held back on reporting that the Tal-Vashoth who killed him had left the Qun! Right up until he shot Vasaad I’d been hoping that he would come to his senses and come back!”
“And then I killed them,” the Bull said. “I killed them all, Dorian. Every stinking Tal-Vashoth in his base. I didn’t do it because they were Tal-Vashoth, or because I had orders, or needed to keep order, or even because they posed a threat. I did it because they’d killed Vasaad. I did it because they’d taken him away from me.”
Dorian opened his mouth, seemed unable to find anything to say, and closed it again.
“It was selfish,” the Bull said. In Qunlat selfishness and madness were the same word. “I didn’t want to stop, even knowing where that was going.”
“But you did stop,” Dorian said.
“Yeah. I stopped by going to the reeducators and telling them that I needed to be stopped,” the Bull said. “They did their best. I guess that just wasn’t enough.”
“No,” Dorian said. “Stop right there.”
“Tal-Vashoth kill innocent people,” the Bull said. “They go after farmhands, tamassrans. Little kids.”
“I said stop .”
“I always knew this would happen. I enjoy fighting too much. Without the Qun-”
“They put that idea in your head!” Dorian shouted. “I saw it! That- that memory, or whatever it was, it’s not real. It’s not you.”
“You can’t know that,” the Bull said after a moment. Even he wasn’t sure what that had been- a nightmare vision, a cautionary tale he’d imagined in too-vivid detail and couldn’t get out of his head, or worst of all, what had really happened. How could Dorian know, just from taking a peek?
“Yes, I can,” Dorian said. “The memory- or whatever it was that you got stuck in. It kept changing.”
“That doesn’t mean-”
“You got stuck in it because you couldn’t tell which version was real, and that’s their fault. Not yours,” Dorian said vehemently. “And you know what? I didn’t pull you out of it, yesterday, and the reeducators aren’t what stopped you from going on a murderous rampage over the whole of Seheron. You did that. Both times, it was you, not me, and not the bloody Qun. It was you. ”
For a moment they stared at one another, Dorian breathing heavily, the Bull frozen. He was wrong, the Bull felt it on a gut-deep level, and then, very suddenly, he didn’t.
“You stopped yourself,” Dorian said, more calmly. “Because you don’t want to hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”
The Bull opened his mouth to reply, but before he could find the words, Shatterhold’s bell began to toll.
“Oh no,” Dorian said, looking instinctively out towards the water. “Another leviathan? It hasn’t even been a week since that attack on Amaranthine.”
“We’d better go,” the Bull said, as Svarah and Amund ran into the launch bay.
“Yes,” Dorian said, standing up. “I suppose we should.”
Chapter 7: Double Event
The bells were as grating as Dorian remembered. He moved slowly, hugging the walls and just letting his feet guide him on instinct.
He wasn’t surprised when he ended up just a short distance away, in the the Launch Room. He was still benched from the Defender. At least from here he would have a good view.
He was surprised to find that the Bull was following him there, however.
“Don’t you have your-” Dorian cut himself off before he could say boys . It seemed too familiar an address to give to people he had never actually formally met.
“The Chargers?” the Bull supplied for him. “Yeah. I was taken off the roster when the boss gave us our chance, and with everything that happened, I never got put back on.”
“Ah,” Dorian replied, bereft of anything usefully to say.
“Krem will take care them,” the Bull added. “He’s good, solid. He won’t let them down.”
There was an edge of guilt to his voice. Dorian didn’t have a monosyllabic nonword to express even his inadequacy to deal with it, so he stayed silent.
He wasn’t good at comfort, and this wasn’t a good setting for more yelling. He should probably say something anyway. Make some attempt at interpersonal interaction, even if he missed his mark.
It’s not your fault , he might say. You’re a good man.
“Aren’t there supposed to be, you know, leviathans out here somewhere?” Galelima asked.
“Maybe they saw us and returned home,” said Svarah.
“No,” Urraca said, frowning down at her maps. “You should be just about on top of it. Tower Two spotted movement by your position not five minutes ago.”
“Tower Five, reporting suspicious movement in the water.”
“Shit, really?” Urraca said. Five was almost four miles upcurrent from Two. “Watch out guys, this one is fast.”
Lavellan leaned forward, took the sending crystal. “Champion, Hammer, Karaas? Stay by the Two; Hero and Hand, you check out Five.”
The Titans copied, the Mabari Hero and the Divine Hand began to move west.
“This is Tower Three. We have a visual on Hero and Hand in our area.”
“Tower Four, reporting arrival of the Hero and the Hand, Inquisitor.”
And waited some more, until their waiting was done.
“Five reporting in with-” The rest of the transmission was lost in the sudden cacophony of sound.
There was a sudden, almighty screech of metal, and a terrifying rush of water against the sending crystal.
Tower Two was screaming. “We have the leviathan in sight, I repeat, we have the leviathan in sight! It’s fucking huge!”
The drift mingled Hawke and Merrill’s curses together. “Elgar’nan’s shit!”
“We’re engaging!” Svarah snarled.
“Herah Karaas, talk to me,” Lavellan ordered.
“They’re can’t!” Tower Two said. “They’re gone! Inquisitor- the Herah Karaas has been destr-”
There was an unearthly wail that filtered in through multiple sending crystals and echoed gratingly around the room. Dorian clapped his hands over his ears. He wasn’t the only one.
“Bigger problem!” Alistair yelled over the sending crystal. “There’s two of them!”
Lavellan alone didn’t waste any breath on cursing. “Towers Two through Five, light up your barges and engage! West battlements, aim for the leviathan by Two, east battlements on the one by Five. Cadash, designations?”
“-the nugshit Stone,” Urraca finished swearing. “Um. Okay, first one, by Two, that’s Anaris. The second by Five is Harbinger.”
“Do you copy that, Towers?”
“Copy Tower Two- Salope ! It’s gotten the Sky Hammer! It’s torn it apart!”
For a moment no one said anything, too shocked to even swear. They’d lost Titans before, of course they had. But not so quickly. Not two at once.
“Dark and cold,” said Cole, suddenly materializing next to the Inquisitor. “Water pressing, pushing, trying to get inside, through my nose, through my mouth…”
“Are you- being Svarah and Amund?” Urraca asked, sounding horrified.
“I have to go,” Cole insisted.
“There’s still the life pods,” Lavellan said quietly.
“I will try,” Cole said, though he didn’t sound particularly certain. Then he disappeared.
Lavellan took a deep breath. “Towers, have you engaged?”
“It’s made landfall. We’re giving it our all,” Five’s operator said. “So are the Hand and the Hero. It’s engaged, but I’m not sure if we’re doing any damage at all.”
“We’ve lit our barge,” Four reported. “No effect. Holding ready.”
“It’s headed right towards us!” came Two’s operator, sounding panicked. “Very fast!”
“It’s unmoored our barge, and it’s drifted out of our reach,” Three reported. “We’re armed and ready, but there’s nothing we can hit.”
“Champion, try and draw it back out a little, and towards Three. Three, make some noise. East battlements, throw everything you have at Anaris! West battlements, take aim at Harbinger, and wait for the Hand’s signal.”
There was a general scurrying in the launch room. It seemed very far away from Dorian for a moment , even when it was screaming two feet away from the end of his nose.
“I don’t suppose that the memory of the first drift transferred over?” he asked the Bull.
The Bull looked down at him, considering. “No,” he said slowly. “But I’ve heard the stories.”
“Good,” Dorian said, already turning towards the door. “We’re going to recreate it, let’s go.”
“Sorry, Dorian,” said Lavellan. “But you’re going to have to do it with authorization this time.”
Dorian opened his mouth to argue, and then the content of what she’d said hit him. “I’m sorry, did you mean to say with ?”
“I meant to say, bring me its head.”
Lavellan didn’t smile, not with two downed Titans and five dead pilots, with three Titans, four Towers, and the whole of Shatterhold waiting for her orders. Dorian had no such leaderly responsibilities, and therefore could indulge in an incredulous chuckle.
“I stand so instructed,” he said with a little bow.
“Get moving,” Lavellan said, her eyes flicking from Dorian back to the Bull. “Both of you.” She turned back to the sending crystal. “Champion, backup is on the way. Until then, stay alive.”
“What do you think we’re trying to do?” Hawke demanded. “Die?”
They dressed in record time, and hurried into the helm without any of the usual accompanying fanfare. There was, just for a moment, a pause, when the Bull hesitated on the threshold.
“Are you sure we can do this?” he asked.
“Supremely,” Dorian said, refusing to entertain any other notion. “Because, this time, instead of thinking about what we’ve lost, we’re going to go in thinking about something better. Just focus on something that makes you feel like we can win, and we’ll be fine.”
They stepped onto their designated runes, which began to glow as Livi awoke. She still looked like the Bull’s Tama.
“Another test run, gentlemen?” she asked. She still sounded like Livia Alexius.
“No,” Dorian told her. “There are currently two leviathans active, one of which has destroyed two Titans already.”
There was barely a pause, before Dorian felt her phantom fingers at the back of his neck. “To work, then,” she said, and then-
Watching the Titan fight, its palms bursting with gaatlok, and then bursting again in magic-
-Sera with Dagna’s head in her lap, laughing her way through an impression of Lavellan-
-Krem bumping against his shoulder, calling for another round of beer, another round of song-
-“It’s not a rumor,” Gereon said. “Three attacks by three separate beasts- they’ve called for a new Inquisition, to deal with the threat, and we’re going to join it.”
He and the Bull took a deep breath in, as one.
“You’re linked,” Livi informed them.
“Let’s do this!” the Bull roared.
The Defender moved smoothly out into the sunlight. A click, and the telescoping lense focused in on Anaris and the Champion, locked in combat about two miles away. They marched towards them, stomping through the waves, ignoring the burning barges and the clanging of the bell in Tower Three.
The Champion had the leviathan by the tail, a move which made a lot more sense to them only after it had been pulled free. Given thirty seconds, it reared back and struck like a scorpion’s sting, ripping away at the Titan’s armor.
Tail’s got to go.
The Champion did its best to counter, but Anaris was too quick. When they were still a half a mile away, it managed to sink its tail in under the mainline of lyrium that served as the Titan’s spine, and rip out a chunk. The Champion went dark.
“ Kaffas !” Dorian said, as the same time the Bull swore “ Vashedan !”
“Shit!” Hawke agreed.
They could here, via their crystal connecting with the one in the Launch Room, the sound of the panicked operator in Two updating them about the Champion’s disabled status. They could see, just barely, the hatch in the helm opening up, and two figures emerged from inside the Titan.
What are they doing?
“Hawke,” Dorian said aloud. “What are you doing?”
“Something really dumb,” Hawke told him. She was breathing heavily, and moving swiftly across the Champion’s shoulders. “Like, really, very, stupidly dumb.”
“This is a really bad idea,” Merrill agreed.
“This was a bad decision and I regret making it,” Hawke continued. “But it’s too late to turn back now!”
The Bull squinted, and the telescope refocused.
“Are you… throwing daggers at it?” the Bull asked.
“I’m trying and they’re mostly bouncing off,” Hawke reported. “This was a bad plan, I do not recommend this course of action to anyone. I’m going to try aiming for the eye now.”
Is she crazy?
“She,” Dorian replied. “Is completely insane.” Then he realized that the Bull hadn’t spoken aloud.
Ah, well. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t have voiced that fact of life aloud unprompted.
“You know what, Dorian?” Hawke said, panting. Dorian could see her profile as she ran along her Titan’s shoulders. “Less talk more walk.”
“Don’t walk, run!” Merrill insisted.
Anaris let out a roar of fury. Hawke must have managed to hit its eye after all. Something swirled around its face- its blood.
“I did wonder if I could do this outside of the Titan,” Merrill said. Anaris let out another roar, rearing back, trying to bat the blood away from its face.
That will never not be creepy.
Dorian wasn’t sure which of them thought that. Probably it was both.
They pressed onward. They barely made it another quarter of a mile before Anaris’ tantrum reached the point where its tail slashed across the Champion’s leg. Without the lyrium that enabled them to manipulate it, they had no hope of recovering: the leg buckled at the knee, the Champion tilting precariously.
“Elgar’nan,” Merrill swore quietly.
“SHIT!” Hawke yelped, not quietly at all. They could see her lose her footing and slide several feet along the Titan’s shoulders, until Merrill managed to catch her with a well-timed barrier.
Merrill’s concentration had broken when the Champion had tilted, and it was divided now with the need to keep Hawke from falling into the sea. Anaris was already shaking the blood from its face; very soon now, it would return to the attack, and they would be utterly vulnerable to it.
We need to distract-
They were still out of range with the cannon, but they could get it close, and with luck the noise of the explosion would do what burning barges and the bell in Three were not doing, and distract it.
They raised the Defender’s arm. The cannon- the very same one that had nearly destroyed the Launch Room not a day earlier- opened, and a shell containing the new black powder that Dagna had been so eager to test came rocketing out.
They didn’t wait for it land before continuing on. If it didn’t work- if it didn’t attract Anaris’ attention-
Anaris looked briefly in the direction of the explosion, before turning back to the Champion. They still had moments to go before they could hit it. It would have almost certainly destroyed the Champion by then.
Something knocked against the Defender’s legs: the barge that had come unmoored. The barge, that had been packed with straw and oil, and smaller amounts of drakestone and sela petrae, ready to burn with the light from a single flaming arrow.
They had much more than a flaming arrow available to them. They bent to scoop up the barge, and reared back to throw it, Dorian momentarily taking the full load from the legs so they could complete the motion smoothly. The barge sailed through the air, and landed on Anaris’ tail.
Now they had its attention.
It wheeled around sharply, some debris falling from the splintering wood of the barge, but not nearly enough to defeat their purposes. They stood still as it charged for them, and took carefully aim with the cannon.
“Eat ship and die!” the Bull crowed as they fired again.
Dorian almost turned to stare at him before he caught himself. “Did you seriously just say that?” he demanded. “Out loud?”
The cannonball connected with the barge, which magnified the explosion beyond their wildest expectations. The Defender was knocked back, water briefly closing over her head and Dorian and the Bull jerking against their harness as they impacted with the shallow water. They struggled to their feet.
The first thing they saw was Anaris’ tail, and then the Champion, laid out nearly flat, Hawke and Merrill two tiny specks just barely not in the water. For a moment, they thought that Anaris had died.
And then Anaris surfaced, making landfall after all.
It was badly wounded, its lower half charred and studded with debris from the barge. The harriers spilled forth from the trenches and bunkers surrounding the tower: the Chargers would be there. The Bull checked, automatically, the telescope focusing and refocusing as he searched. There was Krem, war hammer in hand. There was Grim and his arrows, and Dalish and her ‘arrows’, and Rocky tossing grenade after grenade over to Skinner and Stitches to throw. And, surprisingly, there was Vivienne, all lightning and sheer destructive power, leading the charge against Anaris to keep it on the ground. It was still struggling to lever itself up on its forelegs when the Defender landed on the beach behind it.
Bring me its head , Lavellan had said. They could do that. One flick of the wrist (Dorian and the Bull moving as one with a motion they would never use for themselves alone, the Defender echoing their movements) later and they had a blade to work with. The Chargers retreated, clearing a path for them.
They severed it’s spine first, before beginning to saw away. There’s no sense being stupidly vindictive.
“Proud Defender,” Lavellan said. “Can you confirm the kill?”
They raised the head.
“It’s dead,” they said.
They could hear the celebratory whoops from the Launch Room over the sending crystal as Lavellan replied. “Good work. Now go over to Five and help the Hero and the Hand with the other one.”
“The Champion?” Dorian asked.
“Don’t worry about us- help my sister!” Hawke insisted.
“And Two is sending out a boat to get to them,” Urraca told them. “We’ll have to assess the damage to the Titan later.”
They dropped the head, and moved towards the Harbinger.
It took time, to cross the distance of four miles, even with the long strides of the Titan. It gave them ample opportunity to observe its fighting style.
Harbinger was fast, and armored heavily. It wailed, high-pitched and distracting, which disrupted their communications and made it hard to focus.
“I don’t think the inside of its throat can be armored,” the Bull said. He thought through a half-dozen avenues of attack, a snapshot of each filtering through to Dorian’s mind. The cannon featured heavily; so did getting up close enough to the creature to nearly stick their hand in its mouth.
“It couldn’t just have a soft underbelly?” Dorian complained.
“It doesn’t, we checked!” Alistair yelled as the Hero went reeling back. Harbinger was attacking largely with its clawed forelegs, almost boxing with them. It used its tail too, even though it was not the weapon that Anaris had had. It wouldn’t pierce the Titans, but it could- and did- very easily trip them.
The Hand went down, and Harbinger clawed at it until the Hero went after it, ice glowing in the center of its palm. Harbinger screeched and hissed, launching itself at the Hero. It fell just as the Hand got up again.
And so it went. The grenades and arrows from the Tower had no effect on it. The harriers were holding back, ready to spring into action if the Titans fell and didn’t get back up.
“Safest way to do this is to pin it!” the Bull called out.
“We’ve been trying!” Cassandra replied shortly, letting out a little grunt of pain as Harbinger nearly took the Hand’s legs out from under it again.
“It’s slippery!” Alistair told them. “It’s super slippery.”
“Great,” the Bull muttered.
“Bethany,” Dorian said. “You’re a force mage, correct?”
“Yes,” she replied tersely. “Maker’s Fury is not doing as much damage as it normally does. Neither are the elements.”
“Can you cast a gravitic sphere around Harbinger?”
“Not around the whole creature- but I might be able to pin a leg,” Bethany said. “Emphasis on might.”
“We’ll keep it distracted,” Cassandra said, the Hand dancing back from the Harbinger when she might have tried for a blow otherwise. “We are heading east, and towards the beach. Be ready.”
The Hero headed back towards the beach. The Hand lead Harbinger back, and when it seemed to shift focus from them to the Hero, its grappling hook caught it around the tail.
The Hero cast. The gravitic sphere engulfed Harbinger’s left foreleg, and sank it down into the sand. Harbinger roared, thrashing madly as it tried to free itself.
As they drew in close, Harbinger tried to strike out with its free foreleg. They caught it and took aim with the cannon, waiting for it let out another wail.
It didn’t. Instead, it raised its hindlegs, revealing a webbing that ran from its ankles to its underbelly, and began to flap.
“Are you shitting me?” the Bull demanded.
“What’s going on?” Lavellan demanded.
“It can fly!”
It took off, its claws digging into the Titan’s hull. They began to rise off the ground.
“The grappling hook!” Cassandra cried. “If we both of us grab onto it, maybe-”
The gravitic sphere on its foreleg dissolved, and it clasped the Defender more securely and shot into the air. For a moment the Hand was dragged along with them, still connected via the grappling hook, but before the Hero could reach her and help, the grappling hook snapped, taking a piece from the Hand’s arm with it and sending the Titan back down to earth.
“We are not designed for flight,” Livi reminded them sharply.
“Tell that to the leviathan,” Dorian said.
Out of sheer desperation, they tried the cannon again, and the wrist blade. The cannonball bounced off and exploded somewhere below them without making a dent; the blade made no impression on the beast at all.
Dorian watched the Bull in the reflection of the darkness outside the helm as the leviathan brought them up, higher and higher. They kicked and punched, but there was no quarter to be found.
There was, however a hissing noise.
“I have sealed the helm,” Livi reported. “However, we are still losing air.”
Mountain air was thinner, he knew, but he didn’t think it was quite this thin. “How far up are we?”
“I can only guess,” Livi said. “But- at least fifty miles, based upon our velocity.”
“What?” Dorian demanded. “That’s- that’s not- you can’t just do that!”
“The creature is slowing,” Livi reported.
“Maybe it can’t breath up here either,” the Bull suggested.
“Then let’s make it count,” Dorian said. “We’re going to need magic.”
“I’ve already got a demon in my head,” the Bull said, though he didn’t feel particularly sanguine about the prospect. “What do we need to do?”
“Just follow my lead.”
He tried fire first, not because he thought it would do much but because it was an element, and simple, one of the first spells he ever managed to manifest. It worked even worse than he was expecting- the flames wouldn’t stay manifested. Of course they didn’t. Fire, even magically conjured fire, needed oxygen to keep burning.
He wasn’t sure that lightning would work, and ice had always been his weakest element. That left the necromancy.
“I’m casting a horror spell,” Dorian warned. “With luck, that will panic it, and we can shoot it in the throat.”
He had plenty of horror to draw upon, fifty miles up from land in the clutches of the beast. He only hoped that it had enough of a mind for horror to take a hold of- it varied, from leviathan to leviathan.
Harbinger screeched in fear, and they fired, once, twice, three times before it dropped them. They fell, watching it flap against the stars
But it had just been the middle of the day !
and then it exploded, the blast flipping them over to see-
Well, at first neither of them quite knew what they were looking at. Blue, predominantly, swirled over with white, one large blotch of white, red, and tan, and then-
And then green, in the shape familiar to them from maps: Par Vollen, Seheron, Tevinter…
“Oh,” Dorian said softly. “It’s round. Magister Strabarius was right. The world’s a sphere.”
“Holy shit,” the Bull said. “That’s- that’s it. That’s where we came from. The other continent.”
“One of,” Dorian pointed out numbly. “There- west of the Anderfels, see?”
There, on the other side of the Volca Sea was a jagged mass of land, partially obscured by what was obviously, even at this extreme angle, smoke.
“We’ve been hearing rumors for years that there was something there,” Dorian said. “I guess they were true.”
“The temperature on the hull is rising,” Livi reported. “Rapidly. It might melt.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” the Bull said.
Dorian reached for his mana, but no sooner would he conjure a barrier than it would fail. Out of sheer desperation, he tried ice to cool the hull. But he’d never had an affinity for cold- had always gone out of his way to avoid it- and it melted before it could do very much-
-Skinner sneaking up on his blind side, surprising him with a snowball to the face
-Dalish, her ‘bow’ raised high, conjuring a storm with a cold wind that cut through straight to his bone-
-Krem, huddled miserably beneath two coats, sniffling and determined as his breath fogged and ice formed on the lining-
-Grim hacking away at the ice until there was a hole large enough to fish in-
Ice blossomed from the Defender’s hands, much more naturally than it ever hand from his own. It spread across their hull, cooling it, and then forming its own protective barrier.
And then they both jerked back as the Defender hit the water once more.
“We’re in the Waking Sea,” Livi reported. “I think.”
“You’re home,” Cole said, suddenly materializing between them. Both he and the Bull started. “You’re coming home.”
As quickly as he’d appeared, he disappeared, leaving the Bull and Dorian to stare at one another, and the Defender to stand perfectly still as it sank deeper and deeper beneath the waves.
“Proud Defender? Can you read?” Lavellan asked, the sending crystal casting a pink glow as it activated.
“Yes,” Dorian replied.
“What happened?” Lavellan demanded.
“It’s a long story,” Dorian said. There was another jolt- they’d hit the seabed. He took a breath of thin, fetid air, and suppressed the need to cough it back out again. “And air is growing thin. Can we get back to you?”
“If you stand up and make a one quarter turn to your right, we will be headed in the direction of Shatterhold,” Livi informed them.
“We’re going to try and make it home, boss,” the Bull said. “Keep you posted.”
“I can help!” Cole’s voice had come over the sending crystal, but he materialized in the helm with a comically oversized bellows. He compressed it, sending a breeze of fresh air into the helm.
“Okay,” the Bull said, as Cole disappeared once more, only to reappear less than a minute later, bellows full of fresh air once more. “Sure. Why not.”
“Well, I’m not going to complain,” Dorian said.
They stood the Defender up, turned, and headed home, Cole ensuring that they had air to breath as they walked. Even with that help, it was tough going: the air was not as thin, but it quickly grew stale, and the helm itself became hot. Sweat dripped down their faces, and joined as they were, they could feel every droplet of it.
When the helm finally crested about the waves, Dorian could have cried.
“Opening the portholes,” Livi said, and the lowtide and lingering smoke was the sweetest thing he’d ever smelled.
“Hey,” the Bull said, smiling crookedly. “We survived.”
“That we did,” Dorian said. He could feel it all: the incredulity of it, the relief, the giddy joy. He couldn’t tell which of the emotions originated within himself. “That we absolutely did.”
Chapter 8: Canceling the Apocalypse
They had a party, of course. There was no way they could get away with not having one. They’d taken down two separate leviathans, seen the planet , and survived to fight another day- most of them had, at least.
Amund and Svarah would have killed them if they hadn’t thrown a party for their funeral, and the Adaars wouldn’t have begrudged them. They knew that you had to take your joy where you could find it, and today, despite everything, there was a lot of joy to be found.
It was with his boys, all tumbling against one another as the Bull disembarked from the ferry and they rushed to him. It was with Vivienne, quietly demurring his attempts to thank her with I needed the practice, my dear. It wouldn’t do to let those skills atrophy, and your Chargers had a place open for me. It was with Sera and Dagna, laughing at the face Dorian pulled when he tried treacle tart for the first time. It was with Merrill and Hawke, swaying together in one corner; with Cassandra and Delrin, laughing quietly over a mug of ale; with Alistair telling some kind of story involving ridiculous faces and large hand gestures as Bethany watched and smiled into her wine.
He and Dorian barely spoke a word to each other the whole party, even while everyone else was toasting them. The Bull knew that they would have to speak at some point, but he didn’t really feel it, not right at that moment.
He could feel Dorian, though: a fondness that had no set origin point, but was passed between them, stitching them together like needle and thread. The pull just got stronger and stronger, until the Bull managed to get free of his boy’s fifth encore of their song and Dorian excused himself from Sera and Dagna’s company.
They met in the middle of things- not alone, not by a long shot, but that didn’t seem to matter very much either. They stopped when they were very close to one another, not quite touching but near enough to feel each other’s body heat.
“Still feeling a little of the drift?” the Bull asked.
“Yes,” Dorian said. “You?”
The Bull nodded.
“Felix and I,” he stopped, and cleared his throat. “We would play chess, after a drift. We could tell it was ending when he would stop being able to catch me cheating at it.”
The Bull nodded again. “So, Dorian,” he said. “Would you like to come back to my quarters and play some chess?”
Dorian pretended to consider it. “I suppose I might come back to your quarters,” he said slowly. “But perhaps we might try an activity at which I actually excel?”
“Like sex?” the Bull couldn’t help but ask.
Dorian pulled a face. “Oh, and you were doing so well, too.”
“Is that a no?”
“No,” Dorian smiled- the Bull felt it behind his rib cage, a sharp and fragile thing. “It’s not a no.”
The ended up in Dorian’s quarters. You could probably argue that they were the closer set of rooms, but in all honesty that were too caught up in one another to keep track of which of them slept where. They needed a bed- or something horizontal, at least- and they needed it quickly.
Dorian fumbled with his keys, nearly dropping them twice before finally opening the door.
They both paused a moment, the layout of Dorian’s room both familiar and unexpected. Then they stepped inside.
They were still moving as a unit, stepping together, Dorian stride a little longer than was usual and the Bull’s stride a little shorter.
“I-” Dorian began. Then he stopped. He stepped closer, back into the Bull’s space. “There’s a ritual, that you have. For this, I mean. When you want to be put back into your head.”
Not quite how he’d put it, but “Yeah, I guess.”
“I didn’t get it all,” Dorian said. He raised his hand up, tentatively, and slowly, gently, brought it to rest against the Bull’s cheek. It was warm and rough and made the Bull suck in a sudden breath. “You’ll have to show me.”
“Right,” the Bull said. His heart thudded dully in his ears. “Okay, so. My watchword is katoh. You say it, and everything stops, no questions asked.”
“And if you say it, much the same?” Dorian asked.
“Yeah.” It had been a long time, since anyone had asked him that. It had been a long time, since he allowed anyone else that kind of control over him- since he submitted to it, willingly.
Neither one of them was going to be in control here. They were just going to look out for each other.
“What else?” Dorian asked.
“Nothing,” the Bull said. “That’s all we need.”
“Really?” Dorian demanded. “No candles or ropes or spicy oils?”
“Not on the first date.”
“Well then,” Dorian said, tilting his head back a little, a smug little smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Kiss me?”
The Bull obliged happily. They fell into one another, and then sideways onto the bed. They rolled onto it entirely, Dorian briefly on top, before he rolled them even further, nearly into the wall, using his hands on the Bull’s horns to steer him on top.
The Bull could feel him still, how much that worked for him, having the Bull’s bulk on top of him, feeling dwarfed and contained by it. He gently took Dorian’s hands from his horns, gathered them together at the wrists, and pinned them down above his head.
That really worked for him a lot.
“We. Are definitely. Breaking out the rope,” the Bull said between kisses. “On date two.”
“Yes,” Dorian agreed vehemently. “Yes, yes- Maker, no wonder so many of the other pilots were fucking. Don’t you dare stop. Why have you stopped?”
The Bull hadn’t finished laughing when he bent down to kiss Dorian again.
They were called to a meeting in the War Room the following day to discuss matters.
“Here’s the problem,” Dagna said. “We currently only have enough lyrium on hand to repair one of the damaged Titans, but not both.”
“Which means that we need to decide which is the better Titan for this job,” Lavellan said. “The Bloody Champion, or the Divine Hand.”
“So the Proud Defender and the Mabari Hero are still definite, then?” Dorian checked.
“It’s not like I’m spoiling for other options,” Lavellan grumbled. “Besides, believe or not, I’ve wanted you here from the beginning; the Mabari Hero is the only Titan which has both a Templar and a mage piloting it. We just need to figure out which of the Titans absolutely must be repaired to round out the group.”
“Can we not wait for more lyrium, and repair them both?” Cassandra asked.
“No,” Dagna said, with enough vehemence that half the table startled as they turned towards her. “You all heard what I said, about my drift with the leviathan. The attacks are only going to get worse, and closer together. We have only days before the next one hits, and there will probably be three of them then.”
“We cannot be sure-” Cassandra began.
“There will be three and they’ll be of the same Titan-destroying caliber as these two,” Dagna said firmly. “I know what I saw. And because time is such an issue, the lyrium doesn’t even matter. Even if we had enough to repair both Titans, it’s going to be a struggle to repair even one before the next attack hits.”
“I presume the amount of time it would take to repair each Titan is roughly equal, then?” Cassandra asked.
Dagna nodded. “The Champion’s spine is actually not very labor intensive, but it’ll take more time for it to set. Reworking the arm of the Hand will be more involved, but once the lyrium is in it’ll take less time to set.”
Cassandra nodded, before turning to Lavellan. “Both Barris and I are former Templars. If anything were to happen to the Hero during our descent, we would be able to weaken the Breach’s defenses for you.”
Hawke was already shaking her head. “You’ve already said it: you’ve got yourself the key and the bomb. You don’t need a backup plan, you need an escort. Someone who could clear a path for you, or cause a diversion, if need be.”
“We are not exactly defenseless, Hawke,” Cassandra pointed out.
“No, but you’re new to drifting together,” Hawke said. “You’ve done this more times than anyone else- you know it takes time for you to learn how to properly gel together, even if you and your partner do have relatively similar styles. Merrill and I- shit. Holy shit. Shitfucking Maker’s fucking balls .”
“What?” the Bull asked.
“I think she’s just realized that with Sky Hammar and Herah Karaas gone, we’re the oldest copiloting team here,” Merrill explained.
“Yep,” Hawke agreed. “That’s exactly what happened.” She shook her head. “How long will repairs take?”
“Two and a half days, maybe three,” Dagna said.
“And when will the next leviathan attack come?”
“Three days, not much more.”
“So, you see?” Hawke said. “You’ll need protection more than a backup, and we’ll be better at that.”
Lavellan looked to Cassandra expectantly. When Cassandra didn’t have a counterargument ready, she nodded. “Very well then. I suppose, worst case scenario, we could always see how will the Breach reacts to blood magic.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Hawke said firmly. Bethany looked sharply at her, but said nothing. “We’ll make sure you both make it to the Breach.”
“Good,” Lavellan said. She turned to Cassandra again. “I want you in the Launch Room while we’re running this mission. With Leliana not officially part of the Inquisition any longer, I’d feel most comfortable if I left you in charge.”
“Thank you, Inquisitor,” Cassandra said.
“I assume I’m also invited?” Barris asked.
“Yes, of course,” Lavellan replied. She looked around the table. “Anything else? Questions, objections, concerns?”
Sera, who had been uncharacteristically quiet until that point, grumbled something into her chest.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” Lavellan said.
“She wants to drift with a leviathan again,” Sera said, jutting her chin out in Dagna’s direction. “Even after Leliana said that there was a good chance that the leviathans were only attacking in a pair because the first drift lead them to Shatterhold.”
“What,” Lavellan said flatly.
“No you’re not,” Merrill said, alarmed.
“I’m not using the eluvian again!” Dagna swore. “Leliana has a spirit in her leviathan butcher’s shop that she’s letting me use!”
“Oh,” Merrill said. “Well then, I guess-”
“That doesn’t make it okay!” Sera snapped. “You almost died!”
“Yeah, but I know what I’m doing now!” Dagna insisted. “It’s never as dangerous the second time around.”
“Dagna,” Lavellan said softly.
Dagna looked to her, pleading.
“Not until after the Titans are repaired,” Lavellan said.
“What?” Sera demanded.
“If you still want to after they’re finished, then by all means, try to get whatever you can from them,” Lavellan said. “But we can’t give them too much advanced warning, and repairing the Champion takes priority, understand?”
“Yes, Inquisitor,” Dagna replied.
“You’re all so stupid!” Sera yelled, kicking herself and her chair back from the table and stomping out of the room.
“Anyone else?” Lavellan asked as the door slammed shut behind her.
There was not.
“Good,” she said, waving them away. “Then by all means, you’re dismissed.”
Eavesdropping was one of those old habits the Bull had never quite been able to kick. Truthfully, he didn’t really try too hard. Even though it was no longer necessary- no longer mandated by the Qun- it was still useful.
So he hung back a little, when he saw that the Hawke sisters were talking to one another in the hall.
“You’re not just doing this to babysit me?” Bethany said.
“Bethie, I know we had some wild times back in Lothering, but in no way does walking on the bottom of the sea resemble babysitting,” Hawke replied.
“It does if you’re just doing it to keep an eye on me,” Bethany pointed out.
“I meant what I said,” Hawke told her. “I won’t lie to you- being there to keep you safe is a reason why I’m doing this, and in a lot of ways, I’d feel much better if Cassandra were to come with us. But you need an escort, and I’m it. There is literally no one else.”
“Hey, come on,” Hawke said. “If we’re lucky, then by this time tomorrow the war will be over, and then-”
“And then I’ll go back to fighting darkspawn with the Wardens and you’ll go back to the Hawke estate in Hightown with Merrill,” Bethany finished for her.
“I- look if I put in a good word with the Warden Commander in Ansburg, I could probably-”
“No, let’s just- let’s just get it done,” Bethany said. “We’ll deal with what comes after, after.”
Chapter 9: The End Of All Things
The descent was almost restful, in its way. They sank down to the ridge where the Breach was located, quietly, almost meditatively, nothing left to do but fall.
A heavily publicized event: a walk on the bottom of Rialto Bay, not quite deep down enough for there to be no light, but deep down enough for the murk to cloud everything-
-the Nocen Sea looking so peaceful and clear, the debris from naval battles that normally cluttered it washed away by the latest typhoon.
There was a jolt, and they landed.
“We’re here,”Lavellan said, quietly. She sat before them, out of range of their harness’ protective runes, the orb cradled in her lap.
It was odd, having someone in the Defender that he wasn’t intimately linked to.
“Which direction are we headed?” the Bull asked, as Dorian conjured a magelight outside of the Titan to illuminate their way.
“Northwest,” Lavellan said after a moment’s concentration.
“Do you copy that, Hero, Champion?” Dorian asked.
“Copy,” Hawke said.
“Copy,” Alistair replied.
They took off, heading northwest past a warped and ancient-looking shipwreck, the crags and ridges of an underseas mountain range just barely visible in the distance. Strange-looking fish, so otherworldly that for a moment the thought crossed Dorian’s mind that they might be larva-stage leviathans came up to the magelight. Upon finding it insubstantial and not something to be nibbled upon, they scattered, or turned on one another, or attempted to nibble on the Titans.
Most were too small too do any damage, but when one of the bigger ones continued to harry the Champion, she pulled out her sword and sliced in half, drawing the other fish out into a frenzy.
“Did you hear that Varric is considering writing a book about all of this?” Hawke asked.
“Is that the one he’s calling This Shit Is Weird: The Story of the Leviathan War ?” Bethany asked.
“I’d heard he was calling it Fantastic Beasts and How to Crush Them ,” Merrill said.
“Last time I heard it was going to be The Perils of the Seaside ,” Urraca said.
“The last one I heard was Amaranthine Rim ,” the Bull added.
“Mae was forwarding me the excerpts he sent her, for a time,” Dorian said. “The title would change with every update.”
“It should be nearby,” Lavellan said suddenly. “Dorian, could you kill the light for a moment?”
Dorian banished the magelight to the other side of the Veil, revealing a sickly green glow of light coming from the other side of the small ridge before them.
“It’s the same color as their blood,” the Bull said.
“And the Mark,” Lavellan agreed.
Dorian summoned the magelight back, and they made the climb in silence.
The Breach was indeed the same color as the leviathan blood. Dorian was not entirely certain that it wasn’t made out of their blood: it had tendrils, like Merrill’s blood magic, and diffused through the water from them like they were a liquid.
That wasn’t what made Dorian banish the magelight and summon a barrier as the Bull pulled the Defender’s halberd from its back, nor what made their curses meld into the somewhat redundant “ Vashedan kaffas .”
“What?” Urraca asked.
“Two Sovereign-class leviathans, same as last time,” Lavellan told her. “Designations?”
“Whichever one is closer to you is Emissary,” Urraca said. “The other one is Nightmare.”
“Right,” Dorian said, thinking. “I might need your help with ice again.”
“No you don’t,” Hawke said, sounding unusually grim. “You stand back.”
“What-” Dorian began indignantly.
“You have Lavellan, you have the orb,” Alistair said. “We’ve got to take care of this, so you can make it to the Breach.”
“Dibs on Nightmare!” Hawke said, as the Champion nearly bounded over the ridge, before disappear momentarily into the stone seabed, only to reappear on the enemy’s other side. The Hero descended at a much more sedate pace, firing its cannon to get the Emissary’s attention.
We’re not really going to just-
-We’ll step in if it looks like there’s going to be a huge problem.
For one shining moment it almost looked like there would not be. The Champion lashed out with lightning- a risky element, considering the fact that they were all underwater, but it shot straight for the leviathan and hit, causing the creature to shriek. The Hero favored ice, which was what Dorian had thought to use, using it to freeze Emissary’s feet to the seabed.
Then Emissary began to glow red hot, melting the ice encasing it in an instant before springing upon the Hero. Then the lightning surrounding Nightmare failed to dissipate, surrounding it like a barrier as it rocketed into the Champion.
“We can’t take any serious damage,” Lavellan cautioned them as they moved down the ridge.
“Understood,” the Bull said.
He did understand, in a way Dorian could see and feel but couldn’t internalize himself.
They still had their axe out and ready to swing, so swing they did as Emissary rounded upon them, narrowly missing the Hero with its tail.
They swung: once, twice, three times into the creature’s ribs, until the heat of it melted the head of the axe clean away. Emissary roared again, its skin growing visible hotter, blue and white. They fired their cannon, managing to get a single round off before it slashed out at them.
Dorian swore he could feel his arm and the Bull’s burn as it’s claws raked across the Defender. They stumbled back, yelling in pain and fury.
Then Bethany cast a gravitic sphere right on its throat, send it’s head sinking slowly down towards the sand.
“I’m placing a spirit mark,” Dorian said.
“Good plan!” Bethany said.
She did something else- possible a form of the crushing prison spell- just before it connected with the glyph. It went sailing through the air- well, the water- and landed several feet away, it’s neck all twisted and cracked around itself.
It lay still, the heat rapidly leaching from its body.
They turned around just in time to see Nightmare rocket into the Champion once more, taking a hunk of her arm with it as it went zooming past.
“No!” Bethany cried. The Hero started forwards.
“We’re taking in water,” Hawke reported. “And Merrill’s life pod has been destroyed.”
“Please tell me there’s good news,” Urraca said.
“Yeah. I know how we’re killing this leviathan,” Hawke replied. “Bethie… you tell Mother that I’m sorry about leaving this way, okay?”
“What? No, you can’t,” Bethany said.
“We don’t have a lot of options here,” Hawke said.
“You’ve still got your life pod,” Bethany said. “They had to give you a qunari-sized one, and Merrill’s skinny. You’ll both fit!”
“But then who will stop the leviathan? You need to get to the Breach. The Defender needs to get through it. We can’t activate the self-destruct remotely with this much damage. It has to be us.”
“Why does it always have to be you?” Bethany demanded. “Why is it always you who gets to make these decisions? I didn’t ask to join the Wardens, I didn’t ask to join the Inquisition, and I’m not asking you to sacrifice yourself now!”
“I’m your older sister, that’s why,” Hawke replied. “It’s my job to keep you safe, just like it was my job to keep Carver safe. I’m not failing again.”
“And this is your idea of safe, is it?” Bethany demanded. “Trying to pilot a Titan while I’m crying?”
“It beats the alternative,” Hawke pointed out. “If I don’t do this, it won’t just be you I lose.”
“What about Merrill?” Bethany tried.
“I’m right here, da’len, in Hawke’s head,” Merrill chimed in. “Which you know. And you also know that you’ve got the only Titan with both a Templar and a mage on board. You’re our best chance for this to work. It why you’re here.”
“I’m sorry, Bethany, but they’re right,” Alistair said quietly. “We’re it. We need to clear to way for the Defender, and the Champion needs to clear the way for us.”
“Tell Dagna that she can have the eluvian,” Merrill said. “She seems to have better luck with it than I did.”
“I didn’t ask for this,” Bethany hissed. “I didn’t ask to be a Warden, I didn’t ask to be a pilot. I’ve just been surviving and doing what I’ve been told, because that’s what you wanted! And now you’re really going to make me tell Mother that she’s lost another child, aren’t you?”
The eerie glow from the Breach made the outlines of the landscape visible, though the fighting had kicked up too much debris to be able to see clearly. There was the bioluminescence from Emissary’s corpse, its blood glowing faintly where it was smeared against the rock face and was dissipating into the sea. Nightmare, farther away but turning around, clearly aiming directly for the Champion.
They could see the Champion, too, just barely. Its left arm kept sparking, as though trying to light a fire on the seabed. Its sword glowed with a combination of red lyrium and leviathan blood.
There’s not much time.
“I’ll go with you,” Alistair promised, at the same time Hawke said “Well, you know Bethie-”
“No,” Bethany said.
“You don’t have to tell her.”
“Oh, would you just-”
“You could always try interpretive dance!” Hawke finished.
“Can’t you be serious? Just once?” Bethany demanded. “You’re about to die!”
They really were. Nightmare had come around and was charging straight for them. The Champion raised its sword, and braced itself for impact.
Dorian could hear its Spirit, very faintly, over the sending crystals. “Heart overload primed, and awaiting your signal, pilots.”
“Hey, Bethany?” Hawke said. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Bethany replied.
And then the Nightmare was upon the Champion, just for a moment, before the Champion exploded, and took the leviathan with them.
“The way is clear,” Lavellan said. “Let’s make it count.”
Felix coughed, splattering blood all over the interior of the helm, and then collapsed before Dorian could even ask what was wrong.
Vasaad, smiling and laughing and far too cocky, dancing between the leviathan’s feet.
The Adaar sisters laughing uproariously, as Gamaal tried to prove that he and Dorian weren’t of a height.
Svarah and Amund, trying to teach them all some Avvar ballad that was supposedly about otters, but he was pretty sure was actually about sex.
And now Hawke and Merrill.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Dorian said, turning the Defender around just in time to see the Breach spit out a third leviathan.
And out, and out, and out it spat. It was easily the biggest one yet.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” the Bull said flatly.
There was a sudden screech- not from the leviathan, but over the sending crystal.
“We’ve got to tell ‘em, they’re going to- get off me you fucking arsebuckle, it’s important!”
“Sera?” Dorian asked.
It was Dagna who responded. “Dorian! You need- Ancestors, is the Champion gone?”
“The thingie!” Sera yelled from the background. “Tell them the key thingie!”
“Oh right!” Dagna replied. “The Breach can’t be opened with just magic or antimagic alone. It won’t even open for the Mark, we don’t think. It needs a physical component- a biological one. Something it recognizes as friendly.”
“Like a leviathan?” Dorian asked.
“Exactly! A leviathan! Or at least leviathan matter!”
His first thought was Emissary, its corpse lying perhaps five hundred yards to their left. The Bull’s first thought was better composed.
“We’re headed in that direction anyways,” the Bull pointed out.
“Yes, I suppose that’s convenient,” Dorian said, priming their cannon.
“There are nine rounds of blackpowder bombs remaining, and a full complement of flechettes,” the Spirit informed him.
“What are you doing,” Bethany asked warily.
“Something really stupid,” the Bull replied, flicking the Defender’s wrist to release the blade. “And no matter what, you and Alistair need to keep the Breach open for us, got it?”
“Dagna, your predicted triple event is here.” Dorian reported. Here, at the end of it all, there was no need to hold himself back for fear of collateral, no harriers that could be splashed with ichor, no farmlands that could be poisoned. He’d start with the Walking Bomb. He could feel the Bull’s approval, and his readiness- could feel the way he drew upon the pain in their arm as a source of rage and strength. “Two down, and what looks like our first Imperial-class leviathan to go. Do we have a name for that?”
“I think Trespasser is next,” Urraca reported.
“That works,” the Bull observed.
Trespasser sat at the lip of the Breach, a many-tendriled mass that observed them with at least a dozen eyes, each far too astute-looking for Dorian’s comfort.
I’ll weaken it with everything I have-
-and then I’ll spear it and we’ll ride it down.
“Mabari Hero,” Lavellan said. “Force that Breach to stay open, now, and hold it open for as long as you possibly can.”
There was a spell- something that he and Gereon had experimented with, back in the day, but had never quite managed to manifest until a usable way- that could slow down time. He didn’t cast it, he was reasonably sure of that, but it felt like they’d always imagined that spell would feel.
Spirit marks appeared beneath Trespasser’s tentacles; he set and detonated walking bomb after walking bomb all over the leviathan, leaving it pitted and screaming.
It was still upright when they drew within striking distance, towering them over them, fury in one of its remaining eyes. Dorian kept casting, letting the Bull take most of the physical load once they’d leapt up, drawing level with in just in time to plunge the Defender’s blade through it’s skull.
It died. Bethany or Alistair or some combination of the two must have done something, because Lavellan’s hand began to shine brightly, and when they fell with the creature as it toppled backwards they didn’t stop at the ocean floor but continued onwards, downwards, through the blinding light of the Breach and beyond.
For half a moment, Dorian thought that they must be in the Fade after all. But, no- there was no glimpse, however distant, of the Black City that loomed large over everything in the Fade, whether it was the demon who had fed him peeled grapes before trying to possess him at the Harrowing, or more sinister, less controlled circumstances.
“So, this is the Void?” Dorian asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lavellan replied. “This is the part where you leave.”
“What?” the Bull asked.
“The part where you leave,” Lavellan said. “I can trigger the explosion on my own.”
She hadn’t mentioned that she would be staying behind.
For a moment neither of them said or did anything. They each fought the urge to look at one another, and check what they already knew to be true: they didn’t want to go.
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” Lavellan said. “The pods are undamaged, correct?”
“Yes,” Livi replied for them. “All three are operational.”
“You didn’t tell us this part,” Dorian said.
“I was hoping that your survival instincts would prevent you from trying to talk me out of this now,” Lavellan replied.
“Well then you don’t know me very well do you?” Dorian said.
“No, I don’t,” Lavellan said. “And for what it’s worth, I think I would have liked to know you better.” She took a deep breath. “You understand, Bull, right?”
The Bull did understand, Dorian could feel. He could feel too, a memory teasing the edges of their consciousness: a moment on a cliff, the smell of burning gaatlok, and the wet sluice of rain.
“Yeah, I understand,” the Bull said. That didn’t mean that he would going to comply.
Lavellan sighed, and opened her mouth.
“It’s okay. You can go now, Dorian.”
It wasn’t Lavellan who said it. It wasn’t even the Bull: the voice that said those words belonged to Felix, whose ghostly form materialized at Lavellan’s shoulder.
“What- Livi, is that- why ?”
There was a shimmer, and then another form appeared next to him, this one qunari.
“Vasaad,” the Bull breathed.
“We’ve got her,” Vasaad said. “Don’t die here.”
“Either of you,” Felix urged.
Dorian felt his hands undo his harness, and felt the Bull’s hands do the same. They pulled free at the same moment: the Bull headed towards the back of the helm, for the life pods, while Dorian drew closer to the spirits, Lavellan, and the orb she held in her glowing hand.
“Are you doing this?” he demanded.
“Go, Dorian,” she said. “And don’t let them forget that we did this after most of the world withdrew their support.”
“Dorian,” the Bull called. “It’s time.”
The Titan wasn’t shutting down, as it should have done once he and the Bull had been disconnected. Livi stayed where she had been when they initialized the drift, direction behind the harnesses.
“Go,” she urged them. “I’ll keep her safe.”
Dorian joined the Bull over by the life pods, and they went.
Life pods had been a new and relatively untried technology when Dorian had first left the Inquisition all those years ago. It had been tried and tested many times since, and had a decent enough survival rate for a thing meant to convey people from very great distances underwater.
There were still a great many things which could go wrong.
The life pods might not be able to float upwards to the Breach, or threw it. They were deeper now than anyone had ever gone before: the pressure might simply be too much, or the air supply too little. The pods could themselves be trapped underwater beneath some overhang, and they might suffocate there.
It could happen to his pod, or the Bull’s, or both, or neither. The only way to know would be to reach the surface again, or die.
He could see the Bull’s life pod floating above him, as they passed through the Breach, and for a time afterwards. Then there was an intense flash of light. Then it became too dark to see much of anything.
He felt the blast of the explosion nearly a full minute afterwards, it sent his pod tumbling over upon itself until he nearly lost his lunch, before it finally righted itself and continued on its journey upwards.
It grew hot and stale in the pod, like it had in the helm after he and the Bull had fallen back to earth. Like then, there was nothing for it but to make it to the surface. Unlike then, there was no effort he could make to expedite that process.
And then, at long last, the little crystal window began to lighten, and within moments the pod had broken through the waves, and he was looking up into the afternoon sky.
He wasted no time kicking open the hatch, sucking in grateful breaths of air even as he sat up, casting around in increasing desperation. The Bull’s pod had launched ahead of his, he’d seen it, it should be here already…
The sea was choppy, and it took him several moments to locate the pod amidst the waves. It wasn’t opened.
No, he thought, and then he dived into the water.
Years of swimming lessons in the calm lakes of Asariel and the balmy Nocen Sea hadn’t quite prepared him for the cold, ruthless Waking Sea. He lost both of his boots and felt half-drowned himself by the time he drew up even with the Bull’s still closed pod several minutes later.
He blasted the hatch off and used a little more magic to clamber into the pod without tipping the Bull into the sea with him.
The Bull was terrifyingly still. For one long, tortuous moment Dorian was sure that he wasn’t breathing. And then, as seawater dripped from Dorian’s hair onto the Bull’s face he coughed, and sat partially upright.
“Did we win?” he asked.
“You idiot!” Dorian seethed, throwing his arms around him. The Bull reciprocated, holding him tightly with his head tucked beneath his chin. “You absolute- I thought you were dead!”
“Yeah, but did we win?” the Bull asked.
“Yes,” Dorian said. “Yes, we won- didn’t you feel the explosion? The light from the Breach went out afterwards- it must have worked.”
For several moments they simply stayed like that, intertwined and bobbling on the sea.
“We should send up a flare,” the Bull pointed out.
Dorian grunted in agreement, but didn’t actually bother with the flare, instead shooting the flame from his fingertips. Within moments, the sound of a cannon booming- the signal that the flame had been seen- reached them.
“There, see? Rescue is on its way,” Dorian said, resting his forehead against the Bull’s. “It’s all over now.”
Chapter 10: You Can Always Find Me In The Drift
They held the funeral for Hawke and Merrill at the same as they held the funeral for Svarah, Amund and the Adaars. The triplet’s parents came, stoic only because they had all cried themselves out before arriving in Ferelden; representatives of every Avvar clan that could be reached with the news in time came, and sat quietly only because Josephine had had a word with them about the way the rest of them paid their respects to the dead. There would be three separate memorial services, one for each set of copilots they’d lost, later. They could get to the drinking and shouting then. Leandra Hawke came, and cried and cried and cried as though she felt she had to make up for the rest of them not doing so, not quite able to muffle her sobbing even with Bethany’s shoulder.
The remains would be released after this service too. There weren’t any bodies, for Merrill and Hawke. Just a twisted lump of metal that had once belonged to the Bloody Champion. They were just going to have to do what they needed to with that.
Dorian went up to them after the service. If he’d ever spoken to Bethany like this- face-to-face, one-on-one- before the Bull couldn’t remember it.
“The memorial is being held in Kirkwall, I take it?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Bethany said. “Varric’s pulling out all the stops. He’s probably having a statue made. Aveline’s arranged for an honor guard to escort the remains home. It’s killing them not to be here. It’s killing all of them, but they’re taking it especially hard.” She took a deep breath. “Merrill talked about wanting a garden, once, and Boudecca’s been trying to make a grandest garden in Kirkwall ever since. There’s a decently sized oak tree there- we’ll bury them there. It’s an elf thing, apparently. Merrill would have wanted it, and Boudecca wouldn’t have wanted to be parted from her.”
“And then what?” Dorian asked.
Bethany hesitated, and then her expression hardened. “I’m not coming back. Not to here- not to the Inquisition. The Wardens can have me back when it comes time for my Calling, I guess, but not before. I’m done with this. I’m only here because she wanted me to survive, and look what’s happened now. No, I’m done. I’m not sure what I’ll do now, but it won’t be this.”
With the Defender on the bottom of the… wherever the fuck the leviathans came from he and Dorian were largely benched from the search and rescue operations that were still underway, just in case Lavellan had made it after all. There were the Chargers, of course; the Bull went out with them to scour the beaches for any signs of wreckage or survivors, taking Dorian along with. But everyone knew that the land-based search teams were just to keep everyone from going stir-crazy- if there was to be any luck had in finding the remains, it was going to be had by the other Titans.
There was not Solas, who had left Shatterhold some time before he and Dorian had been recovered from his pod. There was not Cole, who had either gone along with him or after him. Neither one of them had bothered to leave a note, so no one was quite sure.
The Hand was repaired- suddenly, now that they’d sealed the Breach for good, there were plenty of people willing to sell them lyrium at a discount- and joined by the few remaining Titans.
Hawke’s friends Aveline and Isabela came across the Waking Sea from Kirkwall in their Titan, the Indomitable Siren. They were the first to arrive, having left just after the memorial service. They were swiftly joined by Divine Convictions, Leliana and Cassandra’s former Titan, now piloted by Leliana and Josephine. Bethany had disappeared after the funeral, rendering the Mabari Hero nonfunctional in the process. It turned out that the Wardens had kept a Titan back somehow though, and Wardens Velanna and Nathaniel Howe came to help search in their Vigil’s Revenge.
And then, most surprisingly of all, a fortnight after the Breach had been sealed a spindly, spiky kind of Titan none of them had ever seen before arrived in Shatterhold.
“Lelianna said you might need help,” said Sharelmi Tabris, once she and her companion disembarked. The Bull was pretty certain that her copilot was the former Antivan Crow that had joined up with her during the Blight. “Badly enough that you might require the assistance of people who aren’t technically here.”
Dorian snorted. “You’re going to have one hell of a time hiding the fact that you have a Titan,” he said.
Tabris looked sharply at him for a moment, before letting out a snort of her own. “You’d be surprised,” she said with a sharp grin.
“We’ve been calling her the Black Shadow,” her companion said. “By all means, advertise that name- but only that one.”
They cycled the land-based search teams much more frequently than they did the sea-based ones. It was supposed to keep them from getting too burnt out, or discouraged. All that meant was that they had a lot of down time.
The Bull sparred with his boys, making sure that they stayed in top form. Dorian helped Dagna with her work, and with taking over Merrill’s work.
Most of the time, they were together. They fucked. They lay intertwined on the bed. They took their meals with their legs entangled beneath the table, and they sat on the walkway in the bay where the Defender had once stood and tried to make sense of it all.
“What do you think they were?” he asked, over and over again.
He had to ask again and again, because Dorian had a different theory every time he did.
Sometimes spirits were inspired by the lives they saw through the Veil, and took their forms- perhaps Felix and Vasaad had been inspirations enough to warrant such treatment. Lavellan might have created them using the orb whose nature she’d kept so secret, in order to force them to leave. Livia might have stretched herself to take on the three forms at once, to do much the same.
“Maybe it was some sort of after-effect of the Drift,” Dorian said. “Interacting with whatever metaphysics exist on that plane. I’ve often thought that I had a part of Felix still with me. Maybe it came out to tell me to stop hurting myself face-to-face one last time.”
“That wouldn’t explain Vasaad,” the Bull pointed out.
“Maybe you brought him, without ever having to drift with him first,” Dorian replied. “Maybe a part of him stayed with you after he died too.”
“What, like the whole ‘your loved ones are watching down on you from the Maker’s right hand’ thing you guys have?”
“That doesn’t gel with Qunari beliefs, I take it?”
“Nah,” the Bull replied. “Souls are energy. Once the body is finished, it’ll move on to a new one.”
“Perhaps Vasaad elected to stay behind,” Dorian countered. “Maybe he put off being reborn until he knew you were safe.”
That also didn’t gel with Qunari belief. Reincarnation was an automatic process, unsullied by will: as the tide rises the elder dies, and as the tide falls the babe is born anew .
Still. It wasn’t like any of this made the slightest bit of sense.
“Maybe,” the Bull conceded.
More than half of Shatterhold was gone when it happened: a leviathan that had been swimming around Thedas when the Breach was sealed, one that had already attacked cities in Orlais and the Marches, had materialized in Amaranthine. All but one of the remaining Titans had marched east, towing most of the harriers and mobile siege weaponry of Shatterhold behind them.
“Leliana says to not expect to see the Black Hand again after this battle,” Cassandra reported. “The Hero is eager to continue on her quest to find a cure for the Blight.”
She’d given up on finding the Inquisitor’s remains too, though Cassandra left that part out. The Bull wondered when it would come out: that they were unlikely to find anything of the Defender or Lavellan, and they should consider giving up the search.
The Bull would have felt like a dick for suggesting it, even now, nearly two months after the fact.
They went their separate ways: Cassandra to Barris and the Hand, to continue the fruitless, wearying search; Dorian to the laboratory, to assist Dagna; and the Bull to the practice ring to drill his boys.
“Come on, Krem,” he called out when he dropped his guard just a little too low for the Bull’s comfort during a feint. “We’re one of three harrying companies left in Shatterhold, we’ve got to be at our best. Do you really think you can fight off a leviathan with those moves?”
Once that was done, the Bull went down to the laboratory to see if he couldn’t drag Dorian out for an early lunch. He arrived to find that Sera had had pretty much the same idea.
“Urgh. Just keep me away from the elfy creepy mirror of death elfiness,” she was saying with a shudder. “I never want to have anything to do with anything from that place again.”
“I don’t know what the context is, but I agree,” the Bull said.
Dorian made a rude noise and raised his head from Merrill’s notes so he could roll his eyes at him properly. Then he bent his head back down again.
“I still can’t believe you drifted with Dagna and a leviathan,” Dorian said.
“I can’t believe it, and I not doing it again,” Sera insisted.
“Can you take a break and get lunch with me?” the Bull asked, placing his hand on Dorian’s shoulder.
Before, the eluvian had been dully reflective, the way many smooth, monochromatic surfaces were. The moment he made contact with Dorian that changed: suddenly their reflections were thrown into sharp relief, and bathed in green light that didn’t exist in the real world.
“What did you do?” Sera demanded, scuttling backwards.
“Nothing!” the Bull protested, snatching his hand back. It made no difference. If anything the glowing became more pronounced.
“Well, someone must have done something,” Dagna said, leaning in closer. “If not on our end, then on theirs.”
“Shite,” Sera swore, knocking over a pile of papers and a jar of crystals in her haste. “Where is-”
“What are you doing?” Dagna asked.
“After the last time this happened, she had a thingie installed to- ha!”
Sera found a rope a pulled. A bell sounded out, quickly drowned out by the sounds of feet pounding down the stairs.
“I don’t suppose she thought to leave any weapons down here,” the Bull asked. His hands itched for an axe.
“Nope,” Sera said, nevertheless returning with a bow and quiver. “I’ll spot you an arrow, though.”
He took it. If nothing else, he could stab something’s eye out with it.
The door to the laboratory swung open, and guards piled into the room. Vivienne appeared at their forefront, ice from the Fade Step still clinging to her clothes.
“What did you do?” she demanded.
“No one did anything!” Dagna said, sounding more frustrated than anything else.
“The Bull was taking Dorian to lunch, Sera was saying this was creepy, and I was just reading!”
“Reading what? An incantation?”
“What difference would that make?” Dagna demanded. “I’m not a mage. I can’t do magic. Believe me, I’ve tried!”
Fire alighted at Dorian’s fingertips. “Something’s coming.”
Something was coming: a small dot barrelling towards them to become a larger squiggle becoming the distant outline of two running figures. Sera drew back her bow. Vivienne conjured her sword. Behind them, the Bull could hear the sounds of an innumerable amount of weapons being drawn.
Suddenly, the fire went out in Dorian’s hand. “Is that Lavellan?”
It did look like her, kind of. The second figure behind her was still illegible.
“It could be a trick,” Vivienne reminded them all.
The fire returned to Dorian’s fingertips, and they all watched and waited as Lavellan and the other figure came closer and closer.
And then Lavellan was through, just barely. She collapsed the moment she was on their side of the eluvian, and lay still on the floor.
The other figure remained on this side of the eluvian, indistinct even this close. All the Bull could make out was a vague impression that it was a woman, and that her eyes flicked between him and Dorian before disappearing as the mirror went inert once more.
“Don’t worry,” Dagna said, already kneeling down by the Inquisitor. “She’s breathing. She’s just out cold, like she was the last time. Oh!”
“What?” the Bull asked warily.
“The Mark,” Dagna explained. “It’s gone.”
“Let’s get her to the healer’s ward, then,” Vivienne said. “I can get a better picture of her health there.”
She nodded to the Bull. He gave Sera back her arrow, and then picked the Inquisitor back up.
Lavellan was only allowed a certain number of visitors while she recovered, so they never went to see her at the same time. Oftentimes, they went days without either of them seeing her, but on some days the Bull saw her, and on others Dorian did.
“She’s making good progress,” Dorian said after one such visit. “The healers are just about satisfied and if Vivienne presents one more Circle mage to her just to make extra-sure that she’s not a demon, I do believe she’ll become very short with her. I’d expect her to rejoin society soon.”
“Good to hear,” the Bull said. “Has anyone warned her about the rumors?”
“What rumors?” Dorian tried to deflect.
“You know which rumors,” the Bull said.
They hadn’t been the only ones to see a woman behind Lavellan in the eluvian- a woman who many also saw as having protected her and guided her back to them before disappearing.
For a lot of people, that meant Andraste herself must have been the woman.
“Ah. Those rumors,” Dorian said. “The healers took me aside before I visited her, and told me not to mention it, so. Either someone already has and she reacted poorly, or they’re anticipating that when she finds out that she’ll react poorly.”
“What do you think?”
“About how she’ll react? Your guess is probably better than mine.”
“About what we saw.”
“Ah.” Dorian thought that one over for a moment. “Well. You have to admit, she does have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. One could see the hand of Andraste in that.”
“But you don’t.”
“No, though I don’t intend to shout it,” Dorian admitted. “I just- I think it was Livi. I think she brought Lavellan home.”
“Yeah,” the Bull said. “Me too.”
They were walking around the ramparts- the sun was setting, painting the sky in brilliant pinks and oranges, and the greeting bell went out, welcoming the Titans and those they were towing home. He took Dorian’s hand in his own as they turned to wave.
The world was safe, and they had helped save it. It was more than enough.