Dorian had heard whispers during his travels, of course. One could hardly go five paces in the Hinterlands without hearing the tales of the rising Herald, a heathen Dalish elf who walked through the Fade and had gone through the countryside, helping and killing and closing rifts left and right. Dorian still wasn’t quite sure if that was true—it was magic beyond sense if it was—but the peasants were both impressed and frightened by their new hero.
Dorian was too visibly foreign to get more than suspicious looks in most of the pubs he stopped in, but sometimes he would stand on the edge of a crowd and catch a story. The Herald was an elf, they said, quick and fierce and daring; he had two curved daggers that shone like starlight and crackled with lightning; his hair was as red as blood, his eyes green as emeralds; he’d fought ten thousand demons and won; he was blessed by Andraste herself to be her champion in the end times, destined to save them all from ruin—the usual nonsense. It was difficult to parse fact from fiction, but if half the things the people whispered were true, Dorian was a little impressed.
Still, as Dorian waited in the Redcliffe chantry, he paced, anxious and wary. He’d gotten word that the Herald and his little party had arrived and were meeting with Alexius. Felix should be sending them his way any minute. Dorian had his speech all lined up and ready to go, but if the Herald was an elf he might hear ‘Tevinter’ and refuse to listen to anything else Dorian had to say. It was really most vexing, to be constantly written off because of one’s homeland. Dorian couldn’t blame the people here for it, of course, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating. And if the Herald refused to listen to him, they were all doomed.
Dorian startled as green light filled the chantry. Oh Maker, not— he thought, but yes, it was a rift, the first he’d gotten close to since he entered this god-forsaken land. Dorian readied himself, staff in one hand. He’d passed by the outskirts of enough of them to know he’d be drowning in demons until the thing was closed.
The doors opened as the first demons began to pour out. Dorian spared a look and a quip for the group gathered—Maker, was that a Qunari?—but his attention was too diverted by the demons to get a proper look. Unknown magic flowed around him, swords were flashing, and he could hear orders being shouted by someone with a hoarse, strong voice. He focused on his own casting and, one by one, the demons were vanquished.
As the last disappeared, Dorian whirled on the voice he’d been half-listening to and watched, rapt, as the elf who’d been shouting orders lifted his hand. A beam of green light erupted from it, burning brighter and brighter until it stopped in an abrupt snap of crackling energy that made all the hairs on the back of Dorian’s neck stand up. The elf shook his hand, snarling down at it.
“Bloody thing,” he muttered, then looked over at Dorian. His eyes weren’t quite as green as emeralds, but it was a close thing—they were startlingly bright, huge and tipped up at the corners like a cat’s. “And who the hell are you?”
Dorian bit the inside of his cheek so he wouldn’t laugh. Not the best first impression to make.
“That’s fascinating,” he said instead, gesturing to the elf’s hand. “How do you do it?” When the elf shrugged, rolling his eyes, Dorian allowed himself to crow. “You don’t even know, do you?”
He froze as one of the knives in the elf’s hand was suddenly pointing at his throat. He summoned the last of his magic, but it was slow to come after all the fighting. The blade pressed deep into the hollow of his throat and Dorian didn’t dare swallow.
The elf frowned at him, examining him closely. Dorian stared back, taking in the cat-like eyes, the sharp face, the deep scar at the corner of his mouth that pulled it up into a permanent smirk. His thick auburn hair was pulled back a ponytail, shaved to a fine red fuzz underneath. A pretty picture, Dorian admitted privately. If they had met in a tavern, Dorian might have tried to make a night with him. But he had to be the Herald, and so Dorian forced down any spark of libido and met his hard green gaze head-on.
“I was supposed to meet Felix,” the Herald said, less question and more demand.
“No,” Dorian said, talking softly so as to not disturb the weapon on him. “You were supposed to meet me. Felix got delayed, but he’ll be along shortly.”
“And why,” the Herald said, though he finally lowered his knife, “are we meeting you?”
Dorian explained the situation as quickly as he could, using small words. The Herald didn’t have any problem following, though he did curse when Dorian brought up the time magic. He and the Seeker—Cassandra Pentaghast, unless Dorian was gravely mistaken—exchanged looks.
“Still think we should leave the mages to their fate, seeker?” the Herald asked in a syrupy-sweet tone.
Pentaghast glowered. “I never thought we should,” she said. “Only that this bed is of their own making. Cullen will not be pleased.”
“Cullen can go hang,” the Herald muttered. “All right, pretty,” he said, turning back to Dorian. Dorian’s eyebrows rose and he thought he heard the great, hulking Qunari snort. “Say I believe this whole crock of shit you’re throwing at the wall. What can we do about it?”
“Alexius is the key,” Dorian said, deciding to ignore the Herald’s suspicious tone. “Stopping him is the priority.”
“I must insist we return to Haven with this news,” Pentaghast said. “Alexius will not let us into the castle so easily, not after your little display, Lavellan.”
“Display?” Dorian asked.
The Herald—Lavellan—made a show of examining his drawn knives. “He may have made a remark about my elvish heritage. One of my knives may have come perilously close to cutting off an important piece of his body. We’ll never know.”
Dorian snorted before he could stop himself and froze, appalled. But the Herald glanced at him and grinned. It shouldn’t have been attractive, not with that scar pulling at his lip, but it exposed a dimple in his other cheek and crinkled his bright eyes. Dorian found himself unaccountably tongue-tied for the first time since he was thirteen and tried seducing his magic tutor. How uncouth.
Luckily, Felix arrived and put a stop to anything Dorian might have said or done. He managed to get a hold of himself enough to leave on a dramatic one-liner and found a neat little hiding spot in the back of the chantry, listening in as the Herald’s group readied to depart. Best to get an idea of what they thought of him and if they were really going to try and help.
“You should be careful, boss,” the Qunari said, buckling his huge ax to his back. “It’s always the pretty ones you’ve got to look out for.”
The Herald snorted as he wiped his knives clean of demon gunk. Dorian swiped at his throat, but it was clean, thank the Maker. “Just because I want to ride him doesn’t mean I’m going to tell him all my secrets,” he said.
Dorian’s entire body seized up. The Qunari laughed. The other elf, the one who had watched quietly during their talk without speaking, lips pursed and face inscrutable, coughed into his hand.
“It would not be wise to be involved with him, Lavellan,” he said.
He widened his stance and leaned against his staff as if preparing for battle. Dorian didn’t understand until he glanced back at Lavellan, who stared at the elf with narrow, predatory eyes.
“Because he’s a ‘vint?” he asked in a soft voice. “You think I care about that shit, Solas?”
Solas was silent for a long moment. “He may not be trustworthy,” he said, finally.
Dorian had heard that before. Hell, even his own country he was looked at askance by certain parties. But he waited, a little curious about what the Herald would do. If they wanted to bring Alexius to his senses, they needed to work together. Trust wasn’t necessary, but it would be helpful not to be second-guessed at every turn, especially since he was the only one who really knew anything about Alexius’ magic.
Sure, sure, a little voice whispered in the back of his head. That’s definitely the reason you want to know if the pretty elf trusts you. Totally believable, Dorian.
Dorian told it to shut up.
“You know how many villagers have told me that about you, Solas?” Lavellan asked. Then he snorted. “Hell, how many thought that about me until they found out this thing in my hand is their one last hope? If it weren’t for that I’d still be in a prison cell, on trial for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Had the Herald been a prisoner? Dorian hadn’t known that.
“Lavellan—” Pentaghast tried, but the Herald snarled at her, a move so primal it almost made him look bestial. Dorian shivered.
“Don’t pretend, Cass,” he said. “You looked at me and all you saw were the tattoos, the scar, the ears.” His voice was bitter. "Dalish. Does anything matter next to that?”
“I have already admitted my haste, Herald,” Pentaghast said, uncomfortable but staunch. “I judged you too quickly. It was a mistake.”
The Herald’s rage drained out of him like water, leaving something tired behind.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, rubbing roughly at his nose. “The point is, half of my inner circle shouldn’t be trusted, Solas. I’m hardly going to stop this ‘vint from being helpful just because he comes from a country of snakes.” He grinned. “Besides, he’s nice to look at, isn’t he?”
“I am sure I would not know,” Solas said stiffly.
The Herald reached over and hooked an arm over Solas’ shoulders, reeling him in as he started to make his way out of the Chantry.
“Oh, Solas!” he crooned. “You need to loosen up! If you’re sure men aren’t your style, I’m sure there’s a pretty girl or two in Haven who’d be willing to overlook the bald thing.”
“The bald thing?”
“You’re lucky you’ve got a sexy body,” Lavellan told him, grinning and mischievous. “Plus some people find that magic thing hot.”
“Like you, boss?” the Qunari asked, dry, following behind them with the Seeker.
Dorian was very invested in Lavellan’s answer, but the door shut behind them before he could hear it. He stepped out of his hiding place, arms folded over his chest. No, that hadn’t been what he’d expected. Not at all.
Naturally, he followed them.
Haven wasn’t exactly a secret, but Dorian had never traveled on his own before and his sense of direction wasn’t that great in Feraldan, where everything was covered in trees and mud. Following the Herald’s party was just easier and he was worried that if he wasn’t there to intervene, the Herald might actually leave Redcliffe to its fate.
He spent the day a few hours behind them. They were moving quickly and quietly, but they stopped often throughout the Hinterlands, usually as the Herald was pulled off to assist in one situation or another. Dorian was surprised by how often he put up with it. He watched from a distance as the Herald negotiated and cajoled and fetched. He even spent part of his afternoon hunting down a stray druffalo, coaxing it back to its field under Dorian’s disbelieving eye. What kind of divine prophet was he?
When they settled for the night in a clearing, shaking out packs and readying food, Dorian picked a spot nearby that he felt offered sufficient camouflage. He ate some of the dried meat from his pack and unrolled his own sad sleeping sack. He was just about to settle in when he felt the poke of a knife against his lower back, perfectly positioned to slide through his ribs and stab his kidney. He stilled.
“You’re following us,” Lavellan said. “Why?”
Dorian was no master tracker, but he wasn’t a rank amateur anymore. How had the Herald spotted him? He was sure he’d been careful!
“What can I say?” Dorian said, affecting nonchalance even as he began to sweat. “I’ve been made pretty promises before, Herald. If you couldn’t follow through, I figured I’d nag until someone came back with me to Redcliffe. It’s a lost art form, nagging.”
The knife disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. In its absence, Dorian whirled, hands crackling with fire. The Herald dodged with annoying ease, sliding his dagger back into his place on his shoulder.
“I guess I can’t blame you for wanting assurance,” he said and Dorian’s flames flickered out. “Next time just tell me. All this sneaking around is just stupid.”
Dorian blinked. “You’re really fine with me tagging along?”
The Herald rolled his eyes. “You said it yourself, you’re the only one who knows anything about these fools. Am I a newborn baby, to kick good information out the front door? Of course I want you to come along, you great sodding idiot, and I’ll want you to come along when we storm Redcliffe too.”
When not if. “You’ve decided to help, then?”
Lavellan’s face went abruptly icy. Dorian froze, uncertain, but he realized that anger wasn’t meant for him. For the first time, he felt a little sorry for Alexius.
“I decided to help when I found out he was kicking out Tranquil,” the Herald said. “You just made it easier to make my case to the others by bringing up the time magic shit. They may not care about mages but they care if you’re developing weapons like that.” He snorted.
“Why do you care about mages?” Dorian asked, a little curious.
He decided not to mention his own discomfort around the Tranquil. It was hard to look at them, to listen to them talk. He wasn’t surprised Alexius had started kicking them out. He was a little surprised that Lavellan cared enough about them to go against Alexius on their behalf. From what he’d observed so far in Fereldan, the Tranquil were regarded as nuisances at best and easy targets at worst.
“Why shouldn’t I?” the Herald asked. “If anything, we’re brothers in arms. Templars are just as likely to kill an elf as they are a mage. We’re just as bound by the rules of the shems as the mages are by the templars; we just have a bigger cage to roam around in. What is as despised, as suspiciously regarded, as outcast as a mage? An elf.”
“And yet you’re willing to work with me,” Dorian said, beginning to gather his belongings. He had very little; the sleeping sack, some provisions, all enough to fit in one solid pack.
Lavellan cast him a glance. His eyes really were a startling shade of green, almost the exact shade of the Fade rifts and the strange mark on his hand.
“You’re upper-crust ‘vint all right,” he said. “Tell me, how many elvhen slaves does your family have?”
Well. Dorian wasn’t about to be judged like that, even if it was coming from the supposed Herald of Andraste.
“Not as many as some,” he said, adopting his most dismissive attitude, the one he knew drove his father and his enemies mad. “Five, six. They come and go.”
“And you’re all right with that?”
“We don’t mistreat them.”
The Herald laughed, but there was no joy in it. “Ah. That’s what the shems tell themselves when they lock us in alienages, I guess.”
“And what would you know of it?” Dorian asked, bristling. “You’re Dalish, aren’t you? Don’t you wander about, free as you please?”
“Free?” the Herald scoffed. “We play-pretend at freedom we don’t have, ‘vint. My best friend was killed by a templar when we were young because he thought she had magic. Another was shot by shem poachers for sport. A clan just south of mine was slaughtered because there were rumors they were practicing blood magic. My younger brother had a finger cut off because a shem boy accused him of stealing and nobody thought to question it—what else does an elf do but steal and lie? My sister—” he cut off with a snarl, waving a hand. “We are animals to them, nothing better than savages to be corralled or controlled. Freedom? No elf has known that word for hundreds of years.”
Dorian clutched his belongings. He had arguments, good ones even—elves may be slaves in Tevinter, but at least they wouldn’t go starving and hungry like they did in Fereldan, at least there were places they could be treated with respect and dignity. But he couldn’t force them out under the Herald’s wintry gaze. The stories he’d heard of the wild elves of the South always made them sound idyllic. The Herald painted a very different picture and it was difficult to reconcile with what Dorian had grown up knowing.
The Herald took a step forward. Up close, his scar was deeper than Dorian had originally thought. The fresh wound, he suspected, had cut Lavellan's face to the bone.
“Give someone a roof and some food and they’ll be grateful,” the Herald said. “But if you think your slaves are really any better off than those sad fools in the alienages, you’re deluding yourself. Any dog will lick a hand that feeds it. It doesn’t make the poor fool any less collared.”
For a long moment, they stared at each other. Dorian wasn’t quite sure what he was waiting for, why he felt the need to hold his breath. The Herald had already held a knife to him twice and let him go, so he didn’t think he was going to get attacked. But there was something dangerous in the Herald’s eyes, something predatory that made Dorian instinctively freeze. This elf wasn’t like the ones he’d known back home, who all turned tame over time, by force or choice. No, this elf wasn’t like them at all.
Lavellan was a wild thing.
“Come,” the Herald said at last, relaxing a little. “You might as well sleep with us if you’re going to be following us. Our fire’s better too.”
He turned on his heel and stomped away. Dorian followed quickly, his mind still spinning.
Dorian could hear the yelling down the hall. A flustered guard tried to stop him as he made his way to the War Room, but he ignored the poor fool’s protests. The Herald had been holed up in there with his so-called advisors for over an hour and Dorian was done pacing outside waiting for an answer.
“—just abandon them to their fate, Cullen!”
“I’m not saying we should! But you have to recognize that we simply don’t have the manpower to take a castle like Redcliffe’s. The mages’ fate is out of our hands!”
“I won’t fucking leave them!”
Dorian burst into the room. All of them turned to stare at him as the guard stammered apologies over his shoulder. Lavellan’s skin was pale enough that his flush was highly visible and his eyes glittered. When he was angry, the scar on his lip pulled his mouth into a snarl. Dorian only recognized Pentaghast out of the rest of the group, but he could figure out the others&—Cullen, the ex-templar commander, Josephine the Antivan ambassador, and Leliana the shadowy spy-master. Leliana was the only one who didn’t look surprised to see him.
“Who is this?” Cullen demanded.
Under normal circumstances, Dorian would be happy to give him a leer; he was exactly the kind of man Dorian went after. But pleasure would have to wait, unfortunately. He had a goal to reach.
“Dorian of house Pavus recently arrived from Minrathous,” he said and watched with grim satisfaction as Cullen tensed. “I was under the impression that the Inquisition was looking to find allies to fix that great, gaping hole in the sky. Conveniently, you have an army of mages willing to take the plunge. And yet you’re willing to abandon them now that they need your assistance in return?” He clicked his tongue. “Not very sporting.”
Cullen flushed. “Of course we want to assist,” he said stiffly. “It’s simply not possible. The resources alone would decimate us.”
“Not to mention we are considered an Orlesian force,” Josephine cut in, tapping her quill against her writing desk. “If we’re seen attacking a Fereldan stronghold, especially one as renowned as Redcliffe, it could be seen as an act of warfare! At a time like this, when Orlais is teetering on civil war? It cannot be done.”
Lavellan bared his teeth, hands curling into fists. “I won’t leave them,” he said. “I don’t need your permission to go anywhere. Alexius invited me! All I have to do is kill the bastard and we’re done, right?”
Josephine sighed and Cullen put a hand over his face. Only Leliana looked amused, sequestered in a corner with her arms crossed over her chest.
“It is more complicated than that, Herald,” Josephine said, with such honest despair that Dorian figured she’d tried and failed to explain diplomacy to Lavellan before. “You cannot simply assassinate a foreign dignitary, even one who has…” She shot a glance at Dorian, "overstepped his bounds as Alexius has.”
“Gone fucking mad, you mean,” Lavellan said. Josephine glanced at Dorian again, more panicked, but Dorian agreed too much to be offended. Alexius had gone mad. “Listen, I don’t think you’re hearing me: I don’t care if you say no. I’m going.”
“And if you die?” Cullen asked, slamming his hands down on the solid oak table that separated them, jostling the tiny golden pins on the stretched out on their map. “Alexius is hardly unprotected. He could kill you. Without you, this entire venture has been for nothing. We’ll have no way to close the Rift, no way to combat the tears in the Fade, and no hope! You’re willing to risk all that for—”
Silence. Lavellan’s smile was cruel, a weapon pointed directly at Cullen’s throat.
“For what?” he asked in a voice as sweet as flossed candy. “For a few mages, Commander?” He clicked his tongue as Dorian had. “Once a templar, always a templar?”
Cullen’s face went so abruptly furious that Dorian almost wondered if he really would attack Lavellan. But he reigned himself in; the fury disappeared under a stone mask. Dorian had heard rumors of Kirkwall. It was impossible not to, even in Tevinter. But he wondered what Cullen had actually gone through, that he could pull something like that up so quickly. Perhaps, in this case, the stories were actually tamer than the reality.
“I want them safe as much as you do, Kai,” Cullen said quietly. “But you can’t just storm in and hope for the best. You have to remember that you’re not acting on your own anymore.”
“Like it or not, you are the face of this movement,” Josephine said. “The driving force behind it. Without you, we are lost.”
Lavellan snarled, pacing around in a tight circle like a wild animal caged. “You were the ones who dragged me into this,” he said, pointing an accusing finger. “You pointed me at the rifts and said go! I went along with it because I didn’t want to be yanked away in chains and sentenced to death! I didn’t ask for this!”
“And yet, it has fallen to you.”
Dorian startled and Lavellan stilled, head swinging around. He’d forgotten Pentaghast was in the room, she’d been so quiet. She moved from her corner to Lavellan’s other shoulder, standing side-by-side with him.
“Regardless, the Herald is right,” she said to the others, face a forbidding mask. “We cannot leave the mages as they are. We must find a way to help them.”
Dorian was pressed close enough to Lavellan that he felt it when he relaxed a little. He looked over but Lavellan’s face revealed nothing other than his frustration.
“Cassandra—” Cullen tried, clearly out of patience.
“I’m not asking for you to storm any fucking strongholds!” Lavellan cut in. “But there must be another way. An ally we can use, a distraction. A convenient fucking secret passage!”
A long silence. Then, Leliana smiled and stepped forward.
“Well,” she said. “If we’re talking convenient secret passages…”
"Well, that went swimmingly, don’t you agree?” Dorian asked as they left the Chantry.
Cullen had been more amiable once they had a plan with a modicum of success, though he had still muttered about going to negotiate with the templars instead. Josephine had been happier too, once they found a plan that didn’t involve storming a respected Fereldan castle with the full might of their army. However, despite his success, Lavellan was still agitated. Dorian had once seen a great cat in Minrathous, its fur the color of fire. It had been in a cage on display for passers-by and it had paced in tight, furious circles, tail whipping, ears flat against its head. Lavellan’s restlessness was the same, the furious movement of a wild animal entrapped. Dorian found to his own surprise that he didn’t like it.
“You really don’t want to be here,” Dorian said before he realized what he was doing. He bit his tongue. Until they fulfilled their goal, Lavellan was his ally, and a tentative one at that—he could hardly afford to alienate the man.
Lavellan laughed. It was a harsh sound, barely recognizable.
“I know the stories they spread down in the Hinterlands,” he said. “How I came to my divine duty with open arms, joyful and devout. Fucking idiots. They put me in chains. Cassandra put a sword to my throat. Help the Inquisition or let the Chantry have me as their scapegoat. It wasn’t much of a choice.
Dorian had a hard time believing someone as upright as Cassandra Pentaghast would go along with that. But the explosion at the conclave had shaken free a whole country’s worth of values.
“You seem free enough,” he said, gesturing to the open gate of Haven right in front of them. “If you really hate it that much, can’t you leave?”
“And go where?” Lavellan demanded. “Leliana would find me. And even if she didn’t, I couldn’t go back to my clan, not after becoming—” He said something in hoarse elvhen.
Dorian blinked. The elves in Tevinter had never spoken their own language in his hearing. It was a strange tongue, flexible and soft-edged.
“What?” Dorian asked.
Lavellan snorted. “I don’t know how to translate it,” he said, shrugging irritably.
They both turned. The elf apostate, the one Dorian had met in the Chantry, stared back at them. He had a curiously still face. Dorian resisted the urge to start poking at him until it cracked.
“That is the most direct translation,” Solas said. To Lavellan, he added, “I’m surprised your knowledge of the People’s language runs so deep. It is admirable.” He paused. “Your accent is a little off, though.”
“I think the ancestors will forgive me,” Lavellan said. Something about Solas’ presence helped; he relaxed a little as they walked through Haven together. “I gave them my word I would help them,” he told Dorian. “Forced or not, no self-respecting elf goes back on that. I won’t become trash who breaks promises.”
Dorian was beginning to see why Lavellan, who was coarse and blunt and entirely unlikeable, commanded a burgeoning army, why the soldiers in Haven bowed their heads as he marched past. Such honor in someone so volatile was rare—Dorian was intrigued by the contradiction. He glanced at Solas, who seemed unmoved.
“Regardless, I appreciate all you’re doing to help the mages,” Dorian said. A little sucking up couldn’t hurt, though Lavellan tossed him a look that said he knew what Dorian was up to. “I’ll be coming with you, of course, but our party to Redcliffe Castle must be small.”
“We want intimidation and manpower,” Lavellan said thoughtfully. “And if Alexius is part of a cult, he might have some idea of what went on at the Temple." He made a low, considering sound, then nodded. "Solas and Bull, then.”
“Seeker Pentaghast won’t like it,” Solas said, without any indication of his own feelings on being assigned to the group.
“She can talk when she gets several feet taller and grows horns,” Lavellan said, tossing his head. “No one intimidates like Bull and he’ll keep a sharp eye.” He glanced at Solas and his eyes crinkled up just the slightest at the corners. It was distracting and Dorian didn't like it. Not one bit. “Unless you’d prefer to stay back, Solas? I could always bring Vivienne, I suppose…”
Solas straightened, the most emotional Dorian had ever seen him. “No need,” he said rapidly. “I would be delighted to come with and offer my assistance, Herald.”
Lavellan laughed. “She isn’t that bad, you know,” he said. “A little stuck-up, but she means well. And she’s fucking insane out in the field, I didn’t even know you could do half the shit she does with lightning.”
“I take it this is another one of your allies?” Dorian asked.
“Madame de Fer,” Lavellan said. “She’s the First Enchanter of the Orlesian mages. I picked her up when we went to Val Royeaux a while back, though I really think it was more her that did the picking up.”
“You’ve collected quite a menagerie,” Dorian observed. They turned past the apothecary, back toward the chantry, having circled the entire town. Herald was indeed a small place and Dorian wondered how they'd accommodate what was sure to be extraordinary growth. “Varric Tethras and that qunari fellow, and I assume that strange elvhen girl in the tavern is yours as well. You taking all us outcasts and beggars under your holy wing, Herald?”
Lavellan snorted. “I believe in using every resource available to me,” he said. “I may be stuck here, but we’re going to stop the apocalypse my way and my way means taking any hand that's offered.” A courier came running up and Lavellan frowned, tracking him closely. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to be nosy for a bit.”
Dorian snorted, watching as he jogged off after the man. When he turned, he found to his alarm that Solas was watching him. Under pressure, Dorian’s first instinct was to peacock—he adopted his most charming smile and fluttered his fingers.
“Can I help you with something?” he asked. “That atrocious outfit, perchance? Lonely herdsman living like a hermit in the woods isn’t exactly chic, you know.”
Solas didn’t look even remotely annoyed. “The magister we hunt is a friend of yours.”
Dorian didn’t straighten from his relaxed posture. “He was for many years. What of it?”
“It is unlikely this confrontation will end without bloodshed.”
“Well, no,” Dorian said. “That would rather defeat the purpose of a dramatic meeting in the castle, wouldn’t it?” Solas’ brow crinkled ever so slightly. “Alexius is no longer the man I knew and respected,” he said since he would clearly have to spell it out for the elf. “That man would never abuse his power like this. Whoever Alexius has become, I don’t know him and I don’t care for him. I don't care for violence, but if it's the only language Alexius will speak now, so be it.”
“Hm,” Solas said.
Dorian had no idea where the Herald found these people. Between Sera’s attempt to shove a pie in his face the moment he showed it in the tavern and the Bull’s long stares he was beginning to think a prerequisite for joining the Herald’s inner circle was being stark raving mad.
“I should go pack,” Dorian said when it was clear Solas had nothing else to offer the conversation. “Difficult to decide what to wear to something like this. It’ll take me ages to figure out which robe says ‘you used to be my beloved mentor but now you’ve gone mad and power hungry so I’ve decided to take up arms against you.’ It’s a lot for one outfit to say, you understand.”
“Something red, perhaps,” Solas offered and Dorian almost tripped over his own feet.
When he looked back the blasted elf was smirking.
They set out the next day, a small force in tow. Lavellan was dressed in the dark, comfortable leathers he’d been wearing when Dorian had met him. They were a different style than what Dorian was familiar with—a thick ruff around the collar, some sort of silver-blue metal protecting the legs and arms, tough leather across the chest. Definitely not standard Fereldan fare, which meant that they must be customary for the Dalish. Only Lavellan’s feet remained bare.
“How can you be barefoot in weather like this?” Dorian asked as they rode through the Hinterlands.
Lavellan flashed him an amused smile from his red elk. The beast was majestic, but its bleat whenever Lavellan dug his heels in to get greater speed made Dorian's ears throb.
“I’ve only worn shoes by force," Lavellan explained. At his side, on a great charger, Bull snorted. "My Keeper wanted me to be more civilized, but I trained as a Ranger. You ever try sneaking up on a bear wearing those big clompy boots?” He gestured disdainfully at Dorian's footwear.
“But the cold…?”
Lavellan shrugged. “I don’t notice it.”
Dorian didn’t know how—the chill had settled into his bones and even though they were out of Haven and down in the considerably warmer lowlands, he still hadn’t quite shaken it off. He was dressed far warmer than the weather accorded. Yet Lavellan's indifference to the cold seemed the norm. Bull was continuing his trend of going shirtless and even Solas was dressed only in his light, ragged robes.
Lavellan didn’t stop as often this trip, taking the direct route to Redcliffe Village and the castle beyond. They replenished their supplies and let the horses rest in the camps leading up to it, Lavellan taking reports and giving orders. Dorian watched and thought that even though Lavellan might hate his role in the budding Inquisition, he was clearly quite good at it.
“Natural leader, that one,” Bull rumbled once as Dorian watched Lavellan point to places on a map where he’d found supplies abandoned by the rebel mages. “Fifty gold pieces says he gets some sort of title before this is over.”
Dorian glanced over at him. “Herald isn’t enough?”
Bull snorted. “It’s pretty," he acknowledged. "And useless. No, he’s gonna have some real power before this over, make no mistake. People sit up and listen when he talks. Poor kid doesn’t even realize.”
Dorian’s didn’t disagree. The Inquisition forces all saluted whenever Lavellan passed and seemed to regard even his most casual request as law. When Lavellan asked for some herbs to mix a few more potent potions before they made the final leg to the castle, Dorian watched, a little disbelieving, as no fewer than six soldiers silently battled for the right to retrieve them. Lavellan was clueless and Dorian didn’t know why that was endearing. Power should be used wisely, but it was somehow reassuring that Lavellan didn’t seem to know the weight his words held to the people around him.
The road to Redcliffe was almost peaceful. Lavellan told Dorian about the obstacles they'd faced their first trip there; the strange rifts and the bandits who were too well outfitted. Dorian was relieved that they had an easy time of it but also suspicious. Alexius knew they were coming and he'd be a fool if he didn't suspect Lavellan's intentions.
Redcliffe was also quiet when they arrived, almost a ghost town. It was unnerving when the place had been full of life and chatter the last time Dorian had been there. Now, people were holed up in their houses—Dorian saw more than one curtain flutter as they made their way through the village.
“Wait,” Lavellan said as they approached the docks.
Dorian watched as he leaped down from his horse and stopped to talk with a red-headed teenager.
“Who’s that?” he asked the Bull.
Bull grunted. “Arl’s kid. Got possessed once and it made him all nutty. Boss talked to him last time we were here too. He’s got a soft spot for kids.”
Dorian nodded. The child seemed upset about something but Lavellan just patted him on the shoulder once before returning.
“There’s something I need to check out before we go,” he said. “That house there?” He pointed. “It was locked last time, but I brought my tools with me.”
Dorian cast a look at the road to the castle. “You really want us to stop so you can break into someone’s house?”
“It’s important,” Lavellan said, eyes narrowing. “Connor says there’s something in there.”
He strode off without another word. Bull cast Dorian an amused glance as they slide off their horses to follow but Solas seemed as concerned as Dorian was with their dwindling time. Still, none of them spoke up as Lavellan knelt in front of the door of the house, which looked as nondescript and normal as the houses around it. He made quick work of the lock, sliding his tools in one of the many pockets on the belt around his waist.
Inside, the place was deserted and, to Dorian’s discomfort, full of skulls. It was a mess, as if someone had left in a hurry, and there were sheaves of paper drifting around the floor, stirred by the breeze. Lavellan bent and picked a page up, scanning it. His face whitened and his eyes flashed.
“Boss?” the Bull asked, taking a step forward. He had to bend his head to fit through the door. “What is it?”
Lavellan snarled and shoved the paper at him. As the Bull looked down at it, he stomped to a corner of the room and just stood there, breathing. The Bull let out a low whistle.
“Well,” he said. “At least that explains those fucking creepy skull things.”
Solas made a sound and Bull handed the paper to him. His mouth tightened as he read which, from Dorian's understanding, meant there was something truly dreadful written there.
“What is it?” Dorian demanded, looking between them.
“Your friend’s been experimenting on the Tranquil,” Bull said as Solas silently handed Dorian the paper. “Using their skulls to find these… I dunno. Shards, I guess? All over Thedas.”
"The shards unlock something in the desert," Solas said. "We have made preliminary inquiries, but all we really know is that whatever they are, the Venatori want them." He cast a long glance at Lavellan's still form in the corner. "And they need the skulls to find them."
Dorian wrenched the desire to be sick back as he read the paper in his hand. He didn’t understand it. Alexius was many things, but cruel had never been one of them. Ruthless, absolutely, but only up to a point. Dorian thought about the Tranquil he’d met and swallowed. They were defenseless as lambs, utterly incapable of any sort of self-defense. They’d probably come to their deaths with open arms. To kill them, to experiment on them, to use their bodies in such a way...
“I won’t show mercy to him,” Lavellan said, whirling back on them with enough force that Dorian flinched. He still looked wild around the edges. “If you want that, you need to leave right now.”
Dorian looked at him. “I don’t want that,” he said.
Lavellan grinned, narrow and wicked, and Dorian spared a moment of pity for his old mentor, who would have zero idea of the storm that was coming his way.
“Good,” he said. “Let’s go fuck up this asshole, shall we?”
Dorian didn’t come in with the main party on Lavellan’s orders. (“He’ll know something is up if you’re with us,” he’d said as they parted ways. “Might as well keep the surprise while we can.”) But he snuck in ahead of the Inquisition soldiers, sticking to the shadows as Lavellan and his two companions approached Alexius’ throne. He had to admit, Lavellan had made a good decision in his choice of companions—Solas’ even face and the Bull’s… everything made Alexius’ little foot soldiers nervous.
“So, Alexius,” Lavellan said. “Shall we have a little chat about time magic?”
Bull grinned as Alexius swung to question Felix and Dorian stifled a laugh. Lavellan was something else. Most people might be a little nervous in the presence of an evil Tevinter magister who’d mastered time magic, but Lavellan looked as calm and bored as he had over last night’s meal.
“Felix, what have you done?” Alexius asked.
He was trying to keep face but Dorian knew him well enough to recognize the tremor underneath. Felix shook his head as Lavellan explained how his trap had failed.
"You walk in here with your stolen mark and yet you don't understand," Alexius snarled, leaping to his feet. "You think you're in control? You're nothing but a mistake."
Lavellan's back straightened. "If you know so much," he said, "enlighten me. Tell me what the mark is for."
"It belongs to your betters," Alexius said, crossing his arms. "You wouldn't even begin to understand its purpose."
Felix leaped forward, but Dorian had heard enough. Alexius was at his coldest and most ruthless, a state Dorian had only seen him adopt once or twice in the ten years they'd known each other. He would not be reasoned with or talked down. Whatever it was tying to the Venatori, it was made of steel. The only way forward was to back him into a corner and take him under their control.
"Do you know what you sound like?" Felix demanded.
Well. Dorian had always loved a dramatic entrance.
"He sounds exactly like the villainous cliche everyone expects us to be," he said, stepping out of the shadows.
Alexius' surprise was gratifying, but his lack of fear was worrying. Dorian was egotistic, but he was very aware of his abilities: was he exceedingly competent and Alexius knew it well, having taught him much of what he knew. They were an evenly matched pair. Alexius, with the born paranoia of a Tevinter mage scrabbling for his place, should realize that he was outmatched. But he was all confidence and condescension. Something wasn't right.
"The Elder One has a power you would not believe," Alexius said. "He will raise the Imperium from its old ashes."
Lavellan rolled his eyes. "'Blah, blah,'" he said, mimicking Alexius' accent and deeper voice. Dorian heard Bull stifle a laugh. "'My cult is better than yours.' I've heard it all before, you realize."
"It's a chance for the Imperium to really one-up that whole 'starting the Blight' thing," Dorian drawled, reveling in Alexius' murderous glare.
He caught Lavellan's eye as Alexius expounded on the virtues of the Elder One and they shared a speaking look. But Dorian could hear soft movement behind them and, though he didn't dare look, he realized Leliana's people must be in the process of dispatching Alexius' forces. So he kept Alexius talking—might as well kill two birds with one stone and get information out of him while they distracted him. He felt Lavellan tense when Alexius brought up saving Felix's life but Lavellan's face was smooth as still water when Dorian looked over. One day, Dorian would really have to ask how he did that—his face never really reflected any of his tension though Dorian could feel it because of how close they were standing.
Then, the moment came. "Seize them, Venatori!" Alexius called out. "The Elder One demands this man's life!"
But there were only the dying gasps of Alexius' men. Alexius looked around, stunned, as Inquisition soldiers took the place of the fallen Venatori. Lavellan crossed his arms over his chest, tilting his chin back.
"Your men are dead, Alexius," he said. "This business of yours is over. Come with us now and we may yet be able to save your son."
Dorian blinked and Felix glanced over at them in surprise. Only Alexius remained unmoved, staring at his fallen soldiers with hatred shining in his eyes.
"You are a mistake," Alexius said, reaching into his robes. Dorian frowned. "You should never have existed!"
Dorian raised his staff just as Alexius revealed a green amulet crackling with time magic. Dorian shouted, trying to shove Lavellan out of the way, but the room went green with time magic and then everything was dark.