Work Header

What To Expect When You're Expecting the End of the World

Chapter Text

~ let me out shouted doubt

 In what is possibly the most foolish decision of his life, which is really saying something if he lets himself count all the incredibly foolish decisions he’s made before, Dorian lets himself get married off.

 He was determined that it never happen, or at least that it be indefinitely rescheduled to a future date until he or his fiancée died, or fell to scandal or some other unfortunate excuse. However, for all his pride and stubbornness, for all his bravado and rebelliousness, Dorian is only eighteen years old and made a fatal mistake. He made several fatal mistakes actually, as is his wont in life apparently.

 The first is that he grew too confident in his… curiosity for passion, which had been delving into passionate experimentation for quite some time, which was revealing an “unacceptable” preference. At some point, while kissing a fellow Circle apprentice or a librarian or a retainer or a guard (Dorian kisses a lot of fellows, he can’t be expected to remember them all), Dorian was too busy thinking Maker help me, I want to do this for the rest of my life to remember that his passions and affections had to be hidden in the closet alongside the skeletons and scandal.

 His parents found out. He doesn’t know how, who or where or when it was, but they found out and they are nothing less than aghast, betrayed, confounded, disgusted… the list goes on. A horror or disappointment for every letter of the alphabet. Their perfect son, the heir they’ve spent so much time and effort and money and favor into raising (as they have told him frequently, all his life, to make sure that he knows they care, that he knows to be grateful), is not so perfect after all.

 Thoroughly corrupted. Tainted.  

 The second mistake was that he didn’t just walk out the fucking door. He’s only eighteen, but he’s a Harrowed and powerful mage, he’s been given an unparalleled education by the best tutors and professors available, he’s already made a name for himself in the Minrathous Circle, he’s already made forays into politics at his father’s side, he personally knows and has charmed some of the foremost figures in the Magisterium and all of Thedas-

 The point – the fucking point is that he shouldn’t have given a damn what his parents thought. He shouldn’t need them for anything. His parents may be the most powerful, intelligent people he knows, despite their flaws, and he may have spent his whole life looking up to them and making them proud, but he didn’t owe them anything! Forget filial duty and pride in the Pavus name! He’s also spent his whole life straining, bit by bit, against the mold they made for him, so walking out the door into an apprenticeship and rebelling against the whole affair would just be the next step!

 Dorian is, after all, the sum of all their achievements! He’s an exemplary son in every respect, save for an admittedly sharp tongue and a preference for sticking that tongue into the mouths of other men. They can’t replace him. They need him far more than he needs them! He should have let them deal with the mess of this marriage business that they signed him up for!

 The second mistake is that Dorian hesitated. Instead of just walking out the door when his parents had dragged him out to the estate, he told himself to stay just a while longer, to ignore them, to argue them down, to wait it out. He let his parents pick at that determination. He overestimated himself, his own anger and determination and self, and his parents wasted no time in tearing him down.

 The third mistake is that Dorian listened to them. Just enough.

 Anything to make them proud.

 He let a little doubt in, and it didn’t go out again.

 Which is almost ironic, really, since that’s one of the first things a young mage gets smacked into their head before their Harrowing: Don’t Listen. Don’t listen to the demons, don’t listen to their whispers or their promises, don’t listen to temptation. A magister has no room for doubt. When dealing with demons, the smallest bit of doubt is tantamount to death, the slightest give is their gateway. 

 It turns out the same can be said of parents.

 Dorian’s parents picked and they pecked, until Dorian felt selfish and corrupted and broken and tainted. Until they have driven home every point to show that he’s foolish and stubborn and blind and ungrateful. Until Dorian could barely tell up from down, his identity was all but in pieces, and an arranged marriage was presented as the answer to everything. Or, at the very least, the only way out, the only end to their relentless assault against him, and he barely cared what form it took anymore.

 After all, his parents are the most powerful, intelligent people he knows, despite their flaws, and are frequently held as the ideal of marriage: an alliance of power, magic, and bloodlines. They know best. Filial duty demands he take to heart every lesson they offer. Marriages aren’t supposed to be happy. Affairs aren’t supposed to be affectionate. Pleasure and love are weaknesses that are always secondary to duty.

 Everything would make sense once he was married, they assured him; once he committed himself to his duty, everything would work out it was meant to. Things would go naturally from there. Everything would be better. Everything would be perfect.

 Dorian spends his entire wedding smiling beautifully and screaming on the inside.


 ~ a blue vase in many pieces

 Dorian is nineteen years old and married and nothing is better.

 It’s like…

 If when Dorian and his father were yelling at each other in the estate parlor, nearly a year ago, Magister Halward Pavus had knocked a vase off one of the tables. Which would be terrible, because the vase was beautiful, exquisite, absolutely one of a kind. It was smooth and as blue as the sky and with a million unique details that couldn’t possibly be replicated, and it smashed into a million jagged pieces that couldn’t be put together again. The only thing that would come of trying would be bloody fingers.

 Except, Dorian adored that vase, more than anything, even though he’d never realized this until it was in a million pieces at his feet, with water and cut flowers strewn over the carpet. And Halward, realizing his son’s distress, had sworn that if Dorian would just get married, the vase would fix itself. Just like in all the stories. Just like magic.

 Of course, perhaps fixing a vase could be done by magic. Dorian’s always had a fascination for thaumaturgy and a rebelliousness towards limiting theories, perhaps practical applications of time magic could exist and it could be possible to undo something that had gone wrong. And there’s plenty to be said for forays into object memory and the wonderful capabilities of spirits.

 That’s not the point.

 The point is that Dorian’s father said that marriage would solve everything. It would even manage to right spilled flowers and fix broken vases. And for some reason, Dorian went along with this.

 Only, after the wedding, Dorian’s come back to the parlor, a married man, and the vase is still in a million pieces on the floor. The water has dried up and the flowers are husks. No one’s even bothered to clean up the broken pieces. Dorian could be standing on the jagged pieces, feet bleeding, and his father wouldn’t even remember the incident or the promise, or the vase or that Dorian had absolutely adored that vase. All Dorian has now is bloody feet and bloody fingers with a heavy, bloody ring.

 Figuratively, of course.

 Interestingly, a vase actually had been broken in one of their earlier fights.

 Dorian thinks it might have been blue. He’s not sure. He’s never had any sort of burning passion for decorative pottery. A servant was called to clean up the mess and the fight moved on to the family dining room, as opposed to the formal dining room or one of the other dining rooms. The vase was quickly replaced with some other expensive dish and that was that.

 Really, he only remembers it because of the striking sound it made across the floor when it smashed. Loud and physical and violent. The sound is burned into him, along with the deep silence that followed, and the way Halward had looked at him and said, “Look at what you’ve made me do.”

 Dorian made of a point of purposefully breaking several expensive decorations after that. If he was going to be blamed for everything, he might as well break things himself. Enjoy the sound of something pretty breaking irreparably. One of his many mistakes, of course, since his parents never failed to use these moments of lashing out against him, yet more proof of his wildness and sickness.

 This is a terribly analogy.

 It’s just that everyone said that the vase would be fixed again. If he did this thing, the vase would be immediately fixed as though it had never been broken in the first place, no chips or cracks or missing pieces. There’d be no water or flowers on the floor. Everything would be fixed.

 Everything would be better.

 Everything would be perfect.

 Only it’s not and there’s no vase and Dorian doesn’t know what he’s thinking. His head is still upside-down and tainted and he’s spilling terrible analogies without anyone to tell them to. He’s not nearly drunk enough to deal with the fact that nothing’s changed, and that – in the middle of all the frippery and finery befitting a great alliance between two noble houses, despite the resplendent smile he has plastered to his finely painted face – he may be even more miserable than he was before he let himself get married off.

 He can fix the drunk part at least.


 ~ the wedding night

 A particularly nosy person might ask: “How did the wedding night go?”

 If Dorian had been inclined to reply at all, between the raging hangover and the black eye, and even more so inclined to reply honestly, he would have answered: “Badly.”

 A longer, detailed answer would have gone into the fact that while Dorian is very good at acting moderately sober, he is not very good at remembering the wall of fumes that comes with being very pleasantly very drunk. It would have explained how his dear wife is clearly a sharp and observant woman, who took one look at him, then a sniff, and immediately said, “If that’s how we’re going to do it.”

 Then Livia Herathinos grabbed the congratulatory, half-full decanter of wine in the bedroom and downed the entire thing in one long swig, in under a minute flat. It was very impressive. In hindsight, Dorian doesn’t know why he was surprised by that. Most of his mother’s “friends,” all matrons and ladies of the alti, exist with a glass of wine in hand; they all whine and dine on their rich misery together.

 “I’m already drunk, but clearly I need to catch up. I won’t be outdone by my dear husband,” Livia said, unpleasantly, and put the decanter down on the table. She missed by about two feet, but the decanter dropped onto the cushion of one of the table’s chairs instead of hitting the floor.

 “Oops,” she said witheringly.

 Dorian couldn’t have given less of a damn about the decanter, given how many he’d broken in the past year or so, and shrugged with graceful drunkenness. Since there was no point in pretending to be sober, he leaned heavily on a dresser and swept a hand over the room.

 “So, what now? How do you want to do… this?”

 Livia surveyed the suite, which had been prepared for them and rather looked like an oyster had eaten too much buttercream and lace, then puked everything up for some mad decorator to gilt and fluff. With gold and silver rose petals scattered artfully about for the newlyweds, of course.

 It felt similar to how both Dorian and Livia had been stripped of their reception clothes in favor of being bathed and stuffed into nearly sheer robes. Just as they’d been stripped of their wedding clothes in favor of the reception clothes. It was all about the show. Never mind that Dorian was nineteen, drunk, and barely holding it together, and that his wife was twenty, barely less drunk, and probably hated him for making his parents panic and throwing them both into this mess sooner than never.

 “I don’t, but we might as well get it over with,” Livia said.

 Dorian contemplated this and the consequences of not fulfilling expectations. They weren’t good. Then he contemplated the possible consequences of fulfilling expectations. They weren’t good either. Since he was very drunk, weighing two terrible options wasn’t easy, and Livia was looking very impatient by the time he managed to speak.

 “Please tell me you have protection,” he said.

 Livia scoffed and gestured wobblingly towards the bed. “What do you take me for? A fool? Of course I have protection. I have an apprenticeship on the edge of being formalized. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what to do and afterwards we’ll never speak of this.”

 “Well,” Dorian said magnanimously. “I’ve had worse seductions.”

 Of course, the wedding night didn’t go as badly as it could have gone. It was brief and they blacked out from their drunkenness soon enough, and neither of them died despite this drunkenness, though Dorian still got an accidental black eye and it was overall a very terrible attempt. It was always going to go badly though, so Dorian isn’t disappointed.


 ~ the not-worst person that could happen to anyone

 The best thing that Dorian can say about Livia Herathinos is that she’s not the worst person who could have happened to him. Well, that’s unkind. The truth is that Livia has many virtues, one of the greatest of which is that she wants nothing to do with him.

 Livia has her own life and studies, and a plan for herself that hadn’t involved House Pavus throwing a fit over their son being corrupted and depraved and needing some sort of intervention to get him back on the straight and narrow track of “perfect son who becomes Archon or whatever.” Oh, she’ll entertain and socialize, as is expected of the future Lady Pavus, but only if she absolutely must, probably because someone has a figurative or literal knife at her throat. Livia’s passion is her research. Dorian’s wife wants nothing more than to schmooze funding and apprenticeships out of the Magisterium, then spend the rest of her days at a bottom of a pit digging up magical and non-magical rocks, the older the better.

 Dorian, much to his parents and in-laws’ upset, has no problem with this whatsoever.

 Well, he has some problems with it, namely archeology and geology and geography. There’s nothing exactly wrong with those subjects, Dorian simply can’t imagine making them his life’s work, but he supposes that since it’s not his life, that’s not his problem. Livia wears too much brown and enjoys the outdoors and has misinformed opinions on necromancy, there’s just no saving some people.

 Really, his parents shove him into a room with Livia and his in-laws as though he’s really supposed to give a damn what his newlywed wife does. He’s too busy trying to build himself back up after his parents all but tore him down and threw his pieces to the lions. Too busy trying to cope with the fact that everything is supposed to be better now but it’s not, and he feels worse because it’s probably somehow his own depraved fault that he’s not feeling and acting like he’s supposed to.

 “I’ve accepted the apprenticeship they offered,” Livia says over tea.

 “Congratulations,” Dorian replies, steadfastly ignoring their audience.

 He barely knows a thing about geoarcheology, but he recognizes some of the names mentioned and it’s clear that Livia has nabbed herself a very academically prestigious apprenticeship, if not a politically advantageous one.

 “Thank you,” Livia says. “So, dear husband, how do you plan to occupy your time?”

 Dorian thinks it over, all too aware of their displeased audience, and unfortunately the only thing he can really think is, dear Maker, I have to get out of this house before I go mad or someone dies.

 “I think I’m going to get an apprenticeship too,” Dorian says.

 “Wonderful,” Livia says.

 The real problem for their parents is that it’s not unheard or, nor is it even strange, for Dorian and Livia to separate and continue their studies. They’re both still young and they have plenty of time to make heirs. Dorian’s nowhere near becoming Lord Pavus yet and everyone knows it. Plenty of noble marriages have happened at appallingly young ages just to get the affair done with and inescapable, with the two members of the union later reuniting at some much later date after establishing themselves properly.

 Apprenticeships and the connections that come with them are practically crucial in the Magisterium and to any significant mage’s well-rounded education. No one will pay any mind to Dorian and Livia throwing themselves back into their studies. It’s practically expected of them, really.

 So, Dorian and Livia do, in fact, throw themselves into their studies. Dorian still has letters and research and papers to manage, and the mess his parents left behind when they so rudely yanked him out of the Minrathous Circle to begin with. The only thing to do is return to the Minrathous Circle as though none of this ever happened and search for some equivalent to a pit in the middle of the desert to throw himself down, much like his lovely wife has done.

 Livia leaves him to it and loads herself into a carriage and out of his life.

 “Goodbye, dear wife. If you throw yourself down one of your rocky pits and stay there forever, I shan’t blame you,” Dorian says, as he helps her into the carriage.

 Livia pulls some fur monstrosity tighter around her shoulders and says, “Dear husband, I feel exactly the same way.” She slams the door shut in a way that nearly takes off Dorian’s nose and smiles sharply, wide and without any teeth. “I shan’t blame myself either.”

 It’s all very heartfelt.


 ~ letters of love

 After that, Dorian returns to the Circle and the high life of a young altus in Minrathous. He must deal with a few quips from his peers and professors about his hasty marriage, especially from the ones familiar with or suspecting of his proclivities, but he’s always been skilled in giving as good as he got, if not giving far better. Arranged marriages are par the course for the Magisterium, and he’s just the latest in a long line to be forced into miserable, distant matrimony. It blows over soon enough, if painfully.

 At least his black eye is gone, in a miracle of make-up and magic. The questions and rumors surrounding that would have been far worse than the ones already going around, Dorian is sure.

 To the disappoint of some and relief of others, Dorian doesn’t immediately resume pursuing his curiosities. It’s not loyalty to his wife so much as… being busy with his studies? Still licking his wounds from the whole affair? He’s not much in the mood to be curious or experimental is all, not outside of academic interests. His self from a year ago would be appalled with him.

 Every other week or so, Dorian will stare for a long moment at his wedding ring, among his many others, but except for the darkest and quietest moments of the night, he doesn’t think much about Livia. His father suggests that he and Livia keep up letters to one another, but Dorian ignores that.  

 Magister Pavus then orders Dorian to keep contact with Livia, so Dorian dutifully sends Livia a letter.

 It says:

 Dear Wife,

 I have been ordered to write you a letter.

 Sincerely yours,

 Your Husband

 Nearly a month later, fabulously late, Livia writes him a letter in return that says:

 Dear Husband,

 I have been ordered to reply to the letter that I burnt.

 Sincerely yours,

 Your Wife 

 For some reason, Dorian’s parents and in-laws are keeping track of whether he and his wife are writing each other letters. Dorian and Livia keep up this style of letters, sometimes including creative ways in which they were rid of the other’s previous letter, replying only as often as their parents force them to. Dorian sees no reason to change this fine, burgeoning tradition between them.


 ~ a man to whom I compared all others

 The only person that Dorian doesn’t want to murder after the whole affair is Magister Alexius, a professor of thaumaturgy and unparalleled magical researcher of Minrathous Circle, who upon his return to the Circle wastes no time in telling Dorian that he doesn’t think much of Magister Pavus for pulling his teenage son out of the Circle and forcing him to get married. In fact, Magister Alexius strongly denounces the entire affair, with no allowances for Magister Pavus’ behavior, as complete shit.

 It is no one’s business if Dorian, who has felt rather like a million jagged pieces of a person for months, spends the entirety of that rant staring at Alexius with stars in his eyes. Nor is it anyone’s business if those stars more closely resemble the beginnings of tears.

 “Even if the entire affair wasn’t a disgusting display of fear, ignorance, and the worst traditions of the altus class,” Alexius says plainly, “I could never forgive him for stealing the only halfway decent thaumaturgy student in the Imperium in the middle of the academic year.” He sighs and raises his hands thoughtfully to his chin, and his stare is frighteningly steady and warm. “I was considering waiting perhaps a few more years, but… Dorian, have you ever considered taking an apprenticeship?”

 “I may have considered the matter, yes,” Dorian says.

 “Let me rephrase that,” Alexius says, smiling gently. “Would you be amenable to an apprenticeship with me?”

 Magister Alexius will later be kind enough not to mention the fact that Dorian, nineteen and married and finally out of that fucking house, suddenly broke down crying in that private classroom. Alexius doesn’t mock him or tell him to pull himself together. Alexius looks comically alarmed, fumbles a handkerchief out of his robes’ pocket, and rushes around the desk to offer it to Dorian.

 “Dear Maker, Dorian,” he says. “If it’s so terrible a prospect, you can just say no.”

 And Dorian laughs. 


Chapter Text

~ the best person who could happen to anyone

 Dorian doesn’t see his dear wife again until he’s twenty. Since he and Livia have hardly changed the contents of their letters and don’t keep track of each other, neither of them knew that they would both be attending some dull academic function of the Minrathous Circle of Magi.

 Dorian later tells himself that he, at least, had the excuse of thinking that his wife had been comfortably content at the bottom of a pit somewhere in the desert.

 Livia, on the other hand, should have no such excuse, given that Dorian’s reputation proceeds him nearly like a parade, complete with glittering streamers. All of Minrathous and Circle Academia at this point has heard the upset of Magister Pavus’ brilliant son becoming apprentice to that infamous peace preacher and advocate for lower classes education, Magister Alexius. Academically, Dorian and Gereon are a perfect fit for each other, but politically? Magister Pavus was not pleased.

 House Pavus may be “liberal,” but apparently... not that liberal.

 Dorian is there with the Alexius family, introducing a sixteen-year-old Felix to one of his old Circle professors with a passion for mathematics, which is Felix’s latest interest. Gereon and his research partner, a wonderful lady of House Arida who is also his wife and coincidentally also named Livia, are across the room chatting to the one of the chairs of some education committee.

 Dorian should be in his favorite element, at a party with a drink in hand and easily the most beautiful and fashionable person in the room, but most of the guests seem to have been tipped out of their coffins for this one. It’s a dry affair, full of middle-aged and elderly researchers, and Dorian fully expects to end the night tipsily debating some wrinkled dowager on some ancient magical theory. An excellent way to spend the night, really, so long as he can avoid any pinching fingers, assassinations, duels, and all stories that begin: “When I was your age, about two Ages ago…”

 “Oh, excuse me, I believe I’m being signaled by the host,” the professor speaking to Felix says, sounding truly upset about the matter. “Please, dear boy, do keep your promise to write. I have the most fascinating texts and teachers to recommend to you, should you wish to pursue this field of study.”

 Dorian swears he looked away for only a minute, but she and Felix are apparently holding hands now, as though Felix has suddenly found his soulmate in a seventy-year-old professor of force magic and physics. The old woman is clinging to Dorian’s friend, gazing almost soulfully into his eyes, and Felix clings back as though he’s about to beg her to elope with or to adopt him if she speaks any more sweet numbers to him.

 Dorian puts a hand on Felix’s shoulder and gently tugs the boy back, hardly surprised, because this is not the first time similar things have happened. 

 “I will write the moment I get home,” Felix promises, effortlessly shrugging off Dorian’s hand. “I’ll speak to my father immediately.” Dorian puts his hand back on Felix’s shoulder and pulls him away before his friend can offer the woman the sun, the moons, and the stars.

 “It’s been a pleasure seeing you, professor,” Dorian says politely. “However, we couldn’t bear to keep you from your business any longer. Felix, perhaps we should go check in with your father, hmm?”

 Felix and his new beloved professor (as opposed to his previous beloved professor, who studied art history) reluctantly part ways. Dorian takes Felix by the arm, just so the lovestruck teenager doesn’t trip over the hideously long trains that are the current fashion for elderly women, and they turn towards Felix’s parents. They stop abruptly, accidentally coming face to face with another couple.

 “Oh,” Livia Herathinos says. “It’s you.”

 She looks lovely, as much as she can with yet another fur monstrosity draped over her shoulders. Her hourglass figure has only gotten wider, her raven tresses are twisted up beautifully, and her golden brown skin has darkened gorgeously in the sun of her expeditions. She even has a dark, handsome man in Antivan fashion on her arm, holding her drink.

 “Hello, dear,” Dorian says, satisfied by the fact he’s dressed far better than the both of them combined. While also, of course, being inwardly horrified but doing everything in his power not to show it.

 “I didn’t know you’d be here,” Livia says.

 “I could say the same about you. I thought you were at the bottom of a hole somewhere.”

 “I was, but my mentor, Magister Ampulla, is insistent that we return every now and again for supplies and funding,” Livia answers, plucking her drink from her companion and downing the entire thing. (Dorian is displeased to notice that his own drink is nearly empty.) “I hear you’ve been keeping yourself busy. It’s good to know I’m not the only one making the parents furious.”

 “Odd, coming from a woman who once said she’d wouldn’t be outdone by me.”

 “I have to let you have some victories, dear.

 Felix taps on Dorian’s arm. “Dorian, aren’t you going to introduce us?”

 “Ah yes, Livia, this is Felix, the son and heir of Magister Gereon Alexius and Lady Livia Arida. Felix, this is Lady Livia Herathinos, my wife of… dear Maker, it’s been over a year now, hasn’t it?”

 “Nearly two, actually.”

 “Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I’m afraid to say I have no idea who her companion is.”

 Livia leans against the man in question, whose brown skin greyed considerably the moment Dorian introduced Livia as his wife. He looks like a soldier on his way to his own execution, frozen in parade rest, but Livia just pats his chest fondly and returns the emptied glass to his hand.

 “Benigno D’Onofrio, my mentor’s steward of sorts, the beleaguered man who organizes everything from the travel to the guards so we alti can throw ourselves down pits without care. Also, my lover.”

 Dorian looks the man up and down, and finds… he can’t fault Livia her taste, though he doesn’t quite understand it. The man has a fineness to the face and wideness to the eyes that suggests elven blood, though the broken nose and weathered crowfeet are a unique touch, and is quite short and slender for all his hard, muscular limbs. Oh, Dorian sees her point now. He might be persuaded to throw himself down a dusty hole, for a time, if a similarly fine man was there too.

 He’s probably supposed to be upset at this. At least, if the man’s fear and Felix’s wide-eyed staring are any indication. However, Dorian must only ask himself one question: Do I really give a damn if the woman who doesn’t want to be married to me has a lover?

 Dorian raises his glass to the man and winks. “A pleasure, I’m sure.”

 Livia wags a finger at him. “Don’t you dare.”

 “My dear wife,” Dorian says, through the familiar bolt of fear that shreds down his spine at the knowingness in her expression. Not even suspicion, just assumption. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re suggesting there.”

 “I’m sure you don’t,” Livia says, and sighs. She points towards the far wall of the room. “There’s a private alcove just over there. Shall we get this over with?”

 “If you mean to finally murder me, I’m afraid I have to refuse.” Dorian runs a heavily ringed hand over his hair, his wedding ring no longer among them. “While this is an outfit I would be content enough to be caught dead in, it’s not the one I actually want to die in.”

 Felix catches Dorian’s gaze, with an intensely worried expression. “Should I get my father?”

 “If I were going to kill you, dear husband,” Livia sighs. “I would have done it years ago. Bring your own lover if you must, but know I mean you no harm.”

 “Oh, good heavens, no. Felix and I are just good friends,” Dorian says, trying to decide whether he wants to make a quip about the black eye on their wedding night or if Livia really thinks so lowly of him to be sleeping with a sixteen-year-old. Then again, her own lover looks like he could be nearly twice her age, so maybe he should make some clever quip about that.

 “Fascinating,” Livia says, entirely disinterested.

 Dorian rolls his eyes and turns to Felix. “I think this is a conversation for me and my dear wife alone.” He rolls over the objections rising on Felix’s face. “Please tell your father than I’ll only be a moment.”

 Then he gently shoves a scowling Felix in the direction of Gereon and the other, better Livia.

 “Well, my dear wife, as you said on our wedding night: I don’t want to do this, but we might as well get it over with. Where do you want me?”

 “At the bottom of your own pit without a ladder, preferably, but the alcove over there will do.”

 Dorian swans in the direction she points, reasonably sure she’s not going to murder him. Her lover certainly looks and sounds like the sort of gentlemen well-versed in disposing of bodies, but if Felix can be trusted, Gereon will descend upon them within the next two minutes or so.

 Dorian drains the last of his glass. “What can I do for you, my dear wife?”

 “Nothing,” Livia answers, with great certainty. “You can continue to do nothing. I wasn’t even going to tell you this, but since you’re here, I figured I’d do you the courtesy of informing you that once my mentor finishes conferring with Magister Erasthenes, we have all the funds, resources, and permissions to be out on the far southwestern borders of the Imperium for the next five years at least.”

 “Oh,” Dorian says. Then asks, “By any chance, do our parents know about this?” 

 “Of course not. I’ve written my parents a letter that I plan to leave behind for them to read once I’ve already left,” Livia says scathingly, and Dorian can only nod at the foresight and intelligence there.

 “Well, congratulations.” Dorian assumes this is the correct reaction to someone telling you they’re about to spend the next five years of their life on the wilds of the Tevinter-Nevarran border, presumably in some dusty temple missing its ceiling. At least, if they are a geoarcheologist.

 Livia certainly looks very pleased with herself. “Thank you.”

 “You’re welcome, though I’m still uncertain why you’re telling me all this.”

 Livia could have left the country and stopped sending him letters, and it probably would have taken Dorian those five years to notice and ask if anyone knew how she was doing.

 “Mostly so I can tell my parents and your parents that I informed you where I was going.”

 “Ah, now it makes sense.”

 Shifting blame is practically a national pastime.

 Livia sighs. “My parents have been making noises about properly establishing myself as the future Lady Pavus and producing heirs while I’m still young. I intend to tell them that we’ve agreed to speak of such things after my return. So, set the date for that discussion, dear husband.”

 “I will wait with baited breath,” Dorian assures her, with the certainty of man who intends to promptly forget such a promise. Fear is still fizzling at the base of his spine, with a new wash of tenuous relief. “I wish you luck. However, if that’s everything, I’m afraid my glass is terribly empty and I must refill it immediately.”

 “Whereupon it will be terribly full and must be emptied immediately,” Livia says dryly.

 Dorian smiles beautifully at her. “I knew I married you for a reason.”

 This actually manages to make Livia smile. Even her lover looks reluctantly amused, which a terribly good look on him. It really is some horrid joke of fate and fortune that Dorian is attracted to his wife’s older male lover rather than his young, lovely wife.

 The next thing any of them know, Gereon has swept aside the curtain of the alcove and is glaring at them all like they might have been considering something naughty.


 “Ah, Lady Herathinos, do pardon me for interrupting,” Gereon says, with immoveable friendliness and disapproval. A hereditary Alexius talent, Dorian is beginning to suspect. “I’m afraid I’ll need my apprentice returned to me, I urgently require his assistance explaining a project for the National Education Foundation.”

 He pauses, barely briefly enough to be considered polite. “Unless there was anything else?”

 “No, we’re quite finished, Magister Alexius,” Livia assures him coolly. She looks to Dorian and smiles insincerely. “It was lovely seeing you again, dear husband.” 

 Dorian lifts his empty glass to his wife. “Likewise, dear wife. Duty calls.”

 “As it always does.”

 “Well said, Lady Herathinos. Farewell.”

 Gereon yanks him away without another word and, most unfairly, without even the opportunity for another wink towards Livia’s lover. Dorian lets himself be dragged towards Felix and Lady Arida, Gereon’s wife Livia, both of whom look terribly worried for him.

 The other, better Livia, Lady Arida, wastes no time in throwing her arms around his shoulders. “Dorian! Are you alright?”

 Dorian awkwardly pats her on the back, uncertain of what to do with his empty glass. “Perfectly fine, I assure you.” When she releases him, he wriggles the fingers of his free hand in demonstration for her and Felix. “Not to fret. All the fingers and toes still attached.”

 Lady Arida pats him fondly on the cheek. “You had us terribly worried. What did she want?”

 “Since we happened to be in the same room for the first time in over a year, she thought she might inform me she plans to be out of the country for at least the next five years.” Dorian can’t bring himself to tell his mentor and hosts that his wife also introduced him to her lover, that seems crass somehow. “We agreed to discuss our future if she ever deigns to come back.”

 “Thoughtful of her,” Gereon says dryly.

 Dorian nods agreeably. “I thought so too. Oh! She wanted an introduction to you both at some point, I believe. I completely forgot. Might as well get all the suffering over with while we’re here.”

 He turns his head to look for his wife and her lover, but Lady Arida’s hand on his cheek firmly turns his head back to her. She’s a short, soft-spoken woman in her early fifties, with a kindly and clever disposition, who is perhaps the Imperium’s greatest expert and researcher on the Fade and the Veil. She pats him fondly again, taking care not to smear his make-up.

 “I think it’s time to get you and Felix home.”

 Dorian is twenty years old and not unfamiliar with staying up and out until dawn.

 “Well, I suppose it would be the intelligent thing to flee before I die of boredom or yet again being condescended to by a hundred-year-old professor in a bad wig,” he agrees, because it really is a dry affair and he suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, wouldn’t be opposed to curling up in a bed and hiding there for the next forty-eight hours or so.

 Strange, that.

 “Well said. Gereon, would you have the servants bring our coats and the carriage around?”

 “Of course,” Gereon agrees, kissing his wife’s free hand and leaving them.

 Lady Arida watches him go, then holds out one arm for Dorian to take and the other for Felix. Both young men hurry to give her their arms, and she leads them towards the door with her head held high. “Fortunately, we’ve already spoken our pieces to the host tonight. Best to give him something to do that isn’t threatening your wife, Dorian.”

 “I am perfectly capable of threatening my own spouse, Lady Arida, I assure you.”

 Lady Arida smiles at this quip, but doesn’t laugh. On his mother’s other side, Felix is actually staring at Dorian in what seems to be horror. Fair enough, Dorian supposes, since Felix is held fairly close to home by his protective parents, who are a bracing example of a loving, supportive, caring marriage. Horrifying, unnatural affections and such. 

 “Not that I am inclined to threaten her,” Dorian assures Felix. 

 Felix looks like he doesn’t know what to make of this and hisses, “I didn’t know you were married! Why didn’t you ever tell me that you were married?”

 “I… was under the impression that you knew, Felix. Everyone does.”

 For the first few months, it had seemed as though every altus and their House down to the mouser knew about House Pavus’ scion’s rushed marriage. Everyone was very disappointed that there wasn’t an immediate pregnancy and early birth to go along with it. The only people who didn’t seem to know were the fools with their heads buried in the books or up their own asses, and Dorian has hardly gone around trumpeting his wedded bliss from the heights of Minrathous or casually telling people.

 “Oh, I don’t think he was in the room when Gereon and I discussed it,” Lady Arida says.


 “It wasn’t a discussion fit for a young boy.”

 Dorian hasn’t been formally invited to his mentor and Lady Arida’s rants on every subject from politics to gossip to family matters to obscure magical theory, but they can occasionally be heard in the distance while walking down hallways. Dorian knows for a fact that Gereon and Lady Arida usually don’t care at all when Felix wanders into the room with a book in hand, no matter the subject they’re discussing. And, for the occasions when Gereon and Lady Arida might not want to expose their son to a subject, Felix knows all the best spots to eavesdrop on his parents’ business.

 However, with all the tutors and hobbies that Felix has, he can’t possibly catch all of them. There had to be some subjects that Gereon and Lady Arida kept completely private from their teenage son, and the hasty arranged marriage of an unwilling teenager might well have been one of them.

 Dorian doesn’t know which of these things is horrifying Felix more.

 “I can’t believe you! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were married!” Felix whispers, as they exit the party. His expression says that Dorian will be making some very sincere, dramatic apologies to be forgiven for overlooking such a travesty of friendship as not sharing all his secrets. 

 Dorian sighs. “It’s not exactly a subject I enjoy thinking about, and, thankfully, with my dear wife’s expedition, I won’t have to think about it for the next five years.” Dorian only shrugs over Lady Arida’s head at Felix’s intense glower. “Personally, I’m hoping much longer.”


~ a feeling of fairness

 It occurs to Dorian, several weeks after the party, a week after receiving a letter from his wife informing him that she’s left on her expedition, that his wife has a lover. He noticed, of course, when Livia introduced them at the party. He had even decided that he didn’t care if she did. He still doesn’t care, but he’s realizing now that he hadn’t properly considered those facts, especially together: that his wife has a lover and he doesn’t care.

 His father would probably be furious that the future Lady Pavus is currently dallying with an elven-blooded Antivan likely little better than a soporati. Dorian doesn’t intend to tell him, but it is terribly sweet to imagine just how furious and aghast Halward Pavus would be. The womb that will be bearing the perfect Pavus heir practically ruined, tainted, or some such rot. Not that Dorian cares much what Halward Pavus might think; he's barely seen his father since his apprenticeship. 

 Anything to make him proud. 

 The scandal, if it got out, would be equally delicious and hypocritical for the Magisterium and altus class. They do so like to toss their people up on pedestals and swiftly tear them down by whatever means necessary. Classic entertainment.

 He almost has to admire Livia’s complete disregard for her parents’ vision for her. He’s fairly certain she was supposed to be some lady of leisure and politics at his side, but instead she’s apparently going to spend her life throwing herself after ancient ruins and banging handsome Antivans against them.

 How could Dorian ever bring himself to be angry with her? Firstly, he’s not her keeper. Secondly, he’s sure she’s perfectly aware of and trusts that she’s planning for the consequences. At least, she had better, because Dorian doesn’t want to deal with that. Thirdly, he’s mainly just impressed at her determination and poise. Finally, fourthly, he thinks he may actually want to be her.

 Dorian comes to this realization while he’s drinking alone in his room at the Alexius estate, where all the best realizations are to be found besides taverns and bars. The realization that comes in tandem with all this consideration is that he hasn’t slept with anyone – figuratively or literally, but the importance is on the former – since he got married. Not out of any sort of loyalty, really, he’s just been very occupied with his incredibly fascinating work with Gereon and Lady Arida, spending time with the wonderful human being that is Felix, and deftly avoiding his parents.

 Dorian wouldn’t exactly say no to having sex with her handsome Antivan against some temple wall, so he can hardly expect that of his wife. It wouldn’t be fair. Just how it isn’t fair that Livia probably even has a list of ancient archeology sites to have sex in and Dorian isn’t doing anything similar. It should be him having sex with a handsome foreigner and all but fleeing the country! That smug witch.

 He’s barely even considered anyone lately. His teenage self from before this mess really would be so appalled with him. Such a complete change of character, of behavior, exactly as his parents wanted from him. An abrupt end to all his passion and affection, which had been sin and deviance in their eyes.

 It really makes a man think, especially when he’s drinking alone in his room at a late hour, going over every little detail of his life. Especially how the one time he had failed to exceed his parents’ expectations, daring to like men, had promptly ruined his life. How just one flaw, which really wasn’t such a terrible flaw or even a flaw at all if a person could just think freely about it for a moment, had immediately gotten him married, to a woman who had wasted no time in having nothing to do with him and in finding her own lover and happiness.

 Well, Dorian thinks, putting down his empty glass. Fuck that.

He won’t be outdone by his wife. He may not have a handsome Antivan on demand, but he’s not without his resources and considerable seduction abilities that surely exceed Livia’s. It just so happens that Lady Arida’s latest apprentice has been giving Dorian some very heated looks.

 Lady Arida has taken on many short-term apprentices, while Gereon only has Dorian and hasn’t shown much interest in ever giving House Pavus back its heir. So, Dorian has taken the liberty of flirting outrageously with the three other, temporary House Alexius apprentices he’s met so far. One of whom was a woman who flirted happily but insincerely back, the next of whom was a man who always turned terribly red and hastily shuffled out of the room, and the latest of whom seems… interested.

 Dorian gets unsteadily to his feet and thinks again, Well, fuck that. Fuck him.

 Luckily, Dorian’s just drunk enough to have the courage to knock on the man’s bedroom door and not drunk enough to be unable to make it there. He’s a little out of practice with hitting that exact sweet spot, but perfectionism is a Pavus’ most important and proud pursuit in life. He’s more than willing to put in the time and the effort for this one.


 ~ letters of love part two

 Dorian doesn’t receive another letter from his wife until he’s on the edge of no longer being twenty-one, and it’s not even from her. Livia has apparently delegated her marital letter-writing to her lover. Dorian has to stare at a wall for the better part of an hour, letting Felix confusedly pat his arm in comfort, before he can actually read the letter and he still doesn’t know how to feel about it.

 “I think I need to invent a new emotion,” Dorian says to Felix, who is seventeen and already incredibly world-weary when it comes to Dorian’s dramatics. “Something that fully conveys Livia Herathinos and my relationship to her. What would you call it when you’re at once insulted and impressed? Belittled so masterfully that there’s a bewitched respect as well as bemused rage?”

 “I don’t know,” Felix says, sitting beside him on the Alexius parlor sofa, not even bothering to hide the book open on his knees, “but you should definitely name it after yourself.”

 Dorian sends Felix his fondest look, chest bubbling with affection. “Felix, you heartless knave.”

 Felix doesn’t seem deeply insulted. He pats Dorian’s arm and turns the page of his book, some dry textbook on the history of mathematics in Orlais, with his free hand. “There are worse things to be called. As you know from firsthand experience.”

 “I’m a terrible influence on you.”

 “One I’m very grateful for,” Felix says kindly. “Are you going to read the letter or not?”

 The letter says:

 Dear Husband of Livia,

 Livia refuses to leave the dig site but insists that this letter be sent out with the mail. If she has not yet informed you, we can only receive and send mail once a month in our location. I am to tell you that she shredded your last letter and used it as packing for a particularly obscene fertility statue. I am also strictly not to apologize for telling you this and to inform you, as she did her mother, that any sending crystal sent to her to make communication more frequent will quickly be shoved down the gullet of the nearest gurgut alongside your next letter. I am strictly not to apologize for that as well.

 However, I was not forbidden from asking after your health, academic career, and general wellbeing. How are you? Livia is doing well in all respects, though she recently lost most of her hair in an accident with a phoenix that mistook her for a rival hen, which I am not to tell you about. We have eaten phoenix for the past five days and I have begun my traditional expedition dreaming of fine Antivan cuisine that has not been savagely burnt in ironic vengeance.

 I was also not forbidden from making attempts to get to know you, doubtless because it did not occur to Livia to do so, which I find foolish if our lives are to be so entwined, if distantly. I have not been strictly forbidden from informing you that I am helplessly in love with your wife and intend to spend the rest of my life with her. It is only the intelligent thing to do to make friends. I know this is not the way of the Imperium, but I am a man of humble Antivan origin, and Livia has said that you are “not the worst man who could have happened to her” and “a mildly clever, somewhat skilled, and foolishly softhearted man,” which I have come to recognize from Livia as very high praise.

 The letter continues in much the same fashion, describing Livia’s lover to be a mercenary from Antiva turned all-purpose steward of sorts to a Magister, with a fondness for animals and long walks along creature-infested landscapes. By the end of the letter, signed with a Sincerely from this Signore Benigno D’Onofrio, Dorian has never been so confused and unwittingly charmed in his life.

 “Felix, I think I may be in love,” Dorian says.

 This finally has Felix looking up from his book and leaning over to read Dorian’s letter. Felix makes several amusing faces, largely ones of confusion and disgust, exactly as Dorian would have expected from a teenager with terribly loving parents in a functional, loving marriage.

 “He seems… nice,” Felix says finally.

 “He does, doesn’t he?” Dorian muses, uncertain whether to be burning with jealousy or envy, or just to burn the letter and forget about it. “I’m not even surprised at this point. I should have expected Livia to find a genuinely charming man who is madly in love with her, to the point of being willing to spend his life in the middle of nowhere supporting her research.”

 Felix squints at him. “You’re envious, aren’t you?”

 “Madly,” Dorian answers unhappily. “I need paper, I can’t let this insult stand unanswered.” 


Chapter Text

 ~ what do you get the man who has everything

 It’s actually seven years between Dorian’s next meeting with his wife and his last.

 It’s a fairly decent seven years for Dorian too, such that even he had very little to complain about. Except how, of course, Dorian always had plenty to complain about and could, at any moment, have given an entire speech on everything that was wrong with his country and countrymen at the drop of some ancient professor’s ridiculous hat.

Dorian and Gereon have made some marvelous forays into thaumaturgy together, as well as several other subjects with the aid of Lady Arida and her apprentices, such that Dorian is now a respected, established researcher and honored alumni of Minrathous Circle. Gereon and the Better Livia, Lady Arida, have crowed proudly to all who listen that Dorian could secure a position at any Circle across the Imperium if he were so inclined.

 Dorian rather thinks they’re being kind, as well as taking the opportunity to annoy Halward and Aquinea, Dorian's actual parents. It’s not that he’d ever admit to even knowing what modesty is, it’s simply that most of the Imperium’s greatest institutions are run by the sort of people who might have a heart attack if someone suggested to them… say… that slavery be abolished and the poor be treated as people. A tempting thought, truly, but not one that will realistically advance a career already hindered by extremely liberal leanings, scandalous proclivities, and a fondness for outrageous company.

 Speaking of people who are terribly unhappy with him, Dorian has, for the better or worse, for a given measure, forgiven and reunited with his parents. None of the Alexius family agree with this decision and, for a given measure, neither does Dorian, but Magister Halward Pavus is still a man with great influence, a mage of great skill, and has apologized, if stiffly, for pressuring Dorian a hasty arranged marriage.

 Dorian hasn’t actually accepted that apology and doesn’t intend to, but he can stomach the occasional awkward conversation with his father for access to House Pavus’ resources. Thankfully, Dorian is still Gereon’s apprentice and extremely skilled at avoiding his parents, from suddenly canceling on events to deftly excusing himself from any conversation to fleeing the scene of a party if necessary.

 Inadvisable tactic, that last one. Dorian was unsuccessfully (and very, very poorly, if he did say so himself) framed for murder twice before his parents got the hint stopped trying to hunt him down and corner him at all the Imperium’s social events. Good thing too, because Dorian had to wriggle out of a third-floor window and climb down a wall the second time. Completely ruined his best set of gloves and lost his fourth-favorite brooch in the process.

 Also, at this point, Dorian is vaguely concerned that Gereon and Lady Arida may try to duel Halward and Aquinea to adopt him. Either that or hire assassins to make an orphan of him. Dorian has no idea who would win and doesn’t want to be the one to have to explain anything to Felix.  

What else? Ah, also in these seven years, Dorian has become a fully-fledged master of his chosen specialties, despite Gereon and Felix’s wrinkled noses, he likes fire and dead things, and Lady Arida says he is perfectly allowed to, so there. Dorian has also increased his skillset and range with several other fields of magic and disciplines, because the Pavus drive to pursue perfection is apparently ingrained in him whether he likes it or not.

 Anything to make him-


 Dorian does like being good at what he does, though.

 For example, he seduced and was seduced by an even half-dozen of Lady Arida’s apprentices, as well as countless others, which has been an adventure with its ups and downs. Most of it was inconsequential, but he had his heart broken by his single long-term lover. That was fun. Felix offered to eat the man’s heart, which of kind of him, but Dorian refused.

 Dorian’s also met a gallery of interesting people and figures, across the Imperium and beyond, and even made friends, to various degrees, with a few of them. Most notably? Friends nearly at first sight with a uniquely dangerous and scandalously daring woman, even by Dorian’s standards, who seeks to claim her inheritance after taking vengeance for her father’s untimely death.

 As well as, surprisingly, good friends and pen-pals with his wife’s lover.

 Dorian has dutifully shared all these details and many more with his best friend. Unfortunately, Felix is currently finishing a degree, or perhaps his second degree, in mathematics at the University or Orlais, so Dorian doesn’t get to enjoy Felix’s judgey faces.

 Felix once wrote that Dorian’s life by letters read not unlike one of those awful penny-dreadful serials that are currently all the rage across Orlais and the Free Marches. Dorian found it comfortably difficult to disagree. The Tevinter Imperium’s heightened “Great Game” (as the Orlesians liked to call it) even lent him all the star-crossed love affairs doomed to tragedy and grisly murder mysteries or assassination plots that he didn’t manage to stumble over himself.

 It’s been a busy, interesting, and alternatively dramatic or boring time.

 This time around, Dorian is kindly forewarned that his wife has risen from the distant and dusty grave that he’d thought he’d lost her in. Benigno, her lover and Dorian’s dear letter-friend, writes him with the news that Livia and her mentor are being forced to return to Minrathous so they can restock on supplies and funding, deal with their various responsibilities, and stop anyone from declaring them legally dead.

 If Benigno is to be believed, which is always because the man is dryly hilarious and honest, this has happened to Livia’s mentor no less than four times.

 Since Felix is away in Orlais tending to his education, Dorian’s newest friend is busy with inheritance and further vengeance that he couldn’t possibly interrupt, and Gereon and Lady Arida are taking a brief holiday to Qarinus, there is no one to stop Dorian from accepting Livia and Benigno’s invitation to an informal supper between family, which to say: Dorian, his wife, and his wife’s lover. Halward and Aquinea are possibly within reach to stop him from accepting, but Dorian has limited tolerance for them and they’d probably want him to go, or do one worse and invite themselves along, which would be terrible because Dorian actually wants to see his wife for once.

 Well, he wants to see his wife’s handsome Antivan lover and whether Benigno was exaggerating Livia’s latest archeological hair-related accident. Which is as close as Dorian is ever prepared to get.


 ~ respectability and responsibility

 On a lovely winter night, Dorian makes his way to the Minrathous townhouse that Livia and Benigno have apparently rented. He knows that Livia’s parents have their own Minrathous residences and a nearby estate, but he completely understands not deigning to stay there if there are other options. Firstly, he does the same thing. Secondly, Dorian sees his in-laws about the Magisterium on occasion, and he finds them similar to his own parents, only magnificently more unpleasant.

 Benigno opens the door for him and greets him warmly, a kiss on each cheek followed by a friendly embrace. Dorian is startled by the manhandling, but it’s good to finally meet in person the man who’s become his unlikely friend. Benigno takes Dorian’s coat himself and leads him to the home’s parlor, where Livia is sprawled on a sofa with an arm over her eyes and waves a lazy hand in his vague direction, which Dorian takes as greeting.

 “My dear wife, you look dreadful,” Dorian says as he crosses the room. He kisses the hand she’d waved at him, and at her rude gesture, takes the seat that Benigno is offering him. “Are you dying? I was under the impression that we had an unspoken agreement that the only acceptable way of death do parting us was a highly dramatic and public duel.”

 “I’d win,” Livia says.

 “My dear wife, you’re turning green.” Dorian turns to Benigno. “Is she sick?”

 “I’m not sick. I drank a potion that has yet to settle.”

 “Yes," Benigno says, "and she would be less sick if she had eaten something beforehand as I suggested.”

 It’s hardly polite to inquire into the strange substances one’s host chooses to ingest, so Dorian eschews prying in favor of scolding superiority.

 “Dear wife, that’s the first rule of potions use.”

 He wouldn’t be surprised if Livia has to self-medicate to tolerate him, Dorian certainly made sure to take a shot of his worst brandy before he stepped out the door.

 “Potions always made me queasy, I would have thrown it all up,” Livia insists, with the certainty of someone familiar with their vomiting habits.

 Dorian can reluctantly respect that.

 “Your hair looks exactly like tree sap exploded over the ends,” Dorian informs her. She looks rather good with near-shorn hair actually, almost as good as he does, but he’ll be damned if he admits it. “How was… where did you end up last? Through Nevarra and briefly into Orlais, then back to the Imperium’s southwest border?”

 “Magister Ampulla wished to discuss their discoveries with the University of Orlais,” Benigno agrees. “It was also a welcome and rewarding holiday in Val Royeaux for the team, after so long with so few other breaks. Your friend Felix says hello.”

 “Your friend Felix is a scheming snake,” Livia insists, still with her arm over her eyes.

 “He outwitted her in both a game of chess and of verbal wits,” Benigno translates. “We saw him only briefly, but he is very charming and leaves quite the impression when he chooses to.”

 “He played up the ‘please underestimate me’ thing, didn’t he?”

 Dorian doesn’t have the disposition for playing nice or being condescended to, but Felix is more than willing to play the friendly, kindly fool with a sympathetic ear when it pleases him. He’s aided enormously by his infamous inaptitude for magic and disinterest in the ruthless power-grabbing that many in the Imperium call politics, which many mistake for weakness of character.

 From Livia, her statement was less an insult than it was a very high, deeply disgruntled compliment.  

 “Like a master,” Benigno assures him.

 They chat in the parlor with drinks and light finger-food appetizers to whet the appetite and Livia’s stomach. Benigno’s Tevene is excellent, though with an occasional lapse into Trade, and Dorian is sure to compliment him on it. Dorian and Benigno discuss the couple’s recent adventures and Dorian’s own recent updates, with occasional bites of commentary from Livia, until a servant appears to inform them that supper has been served, the only servant that Dorian’s seen in the modest residence thus far.

 “We’re trying not to let my parents know that we’ve returned to the country,” Livia explains, having regained some of her proper color. They move to the dining room. “Nor anyone really, since it isn’t any of their business and I hope to be out of the country again before the year is out.”

 “Oh? Where to next?”

 Dorian probably doesn’t do a good job of hiding his relief. He hadn’t been keen on finally revisiting his and Livia’s marriage, but he managed to get out the door telling himself to just get it over with. Also, the shot helped quite a bit.

 They seat themselves and begin their first course.

 “We’ll be off to Orlais again,” Livia says. She looks torn because excitement and disgust. “My mentor is determined to dedicate years to all the temples and dig sites there, from the deserts to the Dales, properly investigating everything the Orlesians have managed to trip over. We can’t possibly leave the interpretation of history to the Orlesians, after all.”

 Dorian raises his wine glass. “Absolutely not.”

 Benigno refills Dorian’s wine glass as soon as he empties it, looking fond but despairing of his lover.

 “First, Magister Ampulla must finish delivering your work to the Circle and re-secure holdings and support here in the Imperium. We must at least put on a show of finishing our last expedition before we begin another. It may be upwards of two years before we leave again.”

 Livia rolls her eyes. “Dear husband, you study thaumaturgy, don’t you?”

 “Yes, as well as the disastrous effects of potentially using it, especially irresponsibly.” Dorian laughs at her unhappy expression. “Don’t fret, dear wife. Though I’ve managed to survive nearly a decade here, I shan’t expect you to match me or outdo me in that regard.”

 It’s a lovely affair, all in all, though not much discussion gets done on the responsibilities of their marriage and station. Dorian realizes this is because Livia has been waiting until the end of supper, by which he is very pleasantly drunk on excellent food and drink. By which they are all very pleasantly drunk, actually, though Dorian is inarguably the drunkest.

 “I know I said that we would discuss establishing myself as Lady Pavus and heirs and whatnot when I finally returned,” Livia begins, once the servant has clearly all the plates away.

 “To be quite honest, I’d forgotten,” Dorian lies.

 He doesn’t like this conversation anymore. He shifts slightly, crossing his legs unable the table, and he could swear he can feel the cracks in his skin straining to reopen. He likes to think he’s rather done with being a million pieces of a person that must be swept up time and time again, and that he’s reached a nice, only semi-painful middle between being married and pursuing his own passions and affections where he can. He doesn’t like stopping to trace the cracks and notice the pieces left behind.

 Livia scowls at him, looser than Dorian ever expected to see her. “I’m delighted for your peace of mind, but our parents certainly haven’t wasted their time giving me a piece of their minds on the subject. Unfortunately for them, I’ve come to the conclusion that I like my life as it is and I don’t want to give it up to chase their absurd doll fantasies.”

 “That’s perfectly understandable.” Dorian glances at Benigno, gauging whether it might be best to run for the door or throw himself out the window. “If this is the part where you kill me, I think I had best be going now.”

 Livia rolls her eyes at him again. “When you’re so perfectly content to live and let live?”

 “It’s worked so far. I assume this dinner has been your way of leading up to a better idea?”

 “We’re already there: live and let live, as it’s worked so far.”

 “That does sound appealing,” Dorian agrees, “but they do expect…” He waves a hand, vaguely, searching for the right words through his self-inflicted, host-encouraged haze. “…things from us at some point. There will be trouble if we continue not to deliver.”

 “So we deliver.”

 “That seems rather contradictory to your earlier suggestion.”

 “More specifically, I deliver the real reason I’m part of this absurd union. It’s not really about having a Lady Pavus, plenty of magisters and alti manage the Magisterium alone, it’s always been about being a suitable broodmare for the heir to House Pavus,” Livia continues, her stare matching Dorian’s with even determination. “If I deliver the real reason behind all this, they’ll cut their losses with me. You’ll have the heir you need and an absent wife, and we can both live and let live with our responsibility fulfilled.”

 “Dear wi-” Dorian begins, then cuts himself off. “Livia. I don’t mean to be rude, but can you hear yourself at the moment? Benigno, I thought there was an unspoken agreement between us that you would inform me when she finally went mad.”

 “Always get it in writing,” Benigno says mildly. “That’s the first rule of agreements.”

 Dorian turns desperately back to his wife. “What exactly did you take before I arrived? I would advise you to take your apothecary to task for poor quality dru- Oh, Maker, it was some sort a fertility potion, wasn’t it?”

 Those are infamous for making people feel bloated and nauseated.

 “You really-!”

 Livia and Benigno’s expressions confirm it.

 Dorian gets to his feet. “I’m leaving. I can’t believe you would-!”

 “I’m not going to force you to do anything and I’m not going to keep you here,” Livia snaps. “Leave if you like, dear husband, but think before you storm out that door. An heir is what they want and I’m willing to deliver one. In less than a year, you’d never have to see me again.”

 “Dorian, it bears thinking about,” Benigno adds gently. “Better now under your own terms than this comes to an unpleasant head later.” He reaches across the table to put his hand over Dorian’s, white-knuckled against the wood. “The opportunities for a free future will disappear sooner than we all think. Please, just… listen.”

 Dorian really does like to think that he’s older and wiser than he was when he let himself get married off, nineteen years old and screaming helplessly on the inside. He should walk right out that fucking door. He shouldn’t listen to a word that anyone says to him. This marriage hasn’t been the worst thing that’s ever happened to him, but it’s hardly made him happy and the temptation being dangled before him is weighed against the rest of him asking if he can really afford to tie himself into any more knots.

 However, he’s quite drunk, it’s dark outside, Benigno’s hand is warm against his, and Livia Herathinos is actually looking at him with an expression resembling hope. Dorian is older and confident that he can handle himself now. So, against his better judgement, he slowly sits back down.


 ~ you and me and him make three

 Much later, all Dorian can really manage to say is, “Dear wife, as… elegant and… blunt… as this idea of yours is, I have less than no desire to relive our wedding night in any way.”

 It’s his last defense, because Livia and Benigno are very persuasive and Dorian apparently can’t handle himself as well as he thought. He can’t think in a direct line at the moment.

 “Neither do I, really,” Livia answers, loose-limbed and soft-eyed. Dorian has no idea how the wine is mixing with whatever potion that Livia took, but it appears to be working for her. He’s never seen her so not hateful. “But we might as well get this over with and this is the easiest way. I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Benigno to join us this time around.”

 Dorian’s head snaps around to look at his wife’s lover, who inclines his head with a wry smile. He looks especially handsome, relaxed and mischievous, his accent thickened from the wine they’ve all probably had far too much of. Especially Dorian, with the way a shock of heat goes down his spine.

 “I am more than willing,” Benigno drawls.

 Dorian can only look helplessly back at his wife, upon which the shock of heat does shrivel. He can still see Benigno and his half-unbuttoned shirt out of the corner of his eye, though. It helps.

 “That might… change things significantly.”

 “One hopes so.”

 “How…” Dorian clears his throat. “How is this going to work exactly?”

 “As two of the finest young and upcoming academic minds in the Imperium,” Livia says, “I’m sure we can figure it out. We have a bedroom prepared upstairs. Shall we?”

  “Well,” Dorian says magnanimously. “I’ve had worse seductions.”


 Much, much later, Dorian is lying in a very large bed between his wife and his wife’s lover, staring disbelievingly at a dark ceiling. Livia and Benigno are both asleep. Livia is clinging to him like an octopus, pressed against his side and snoring softly, and Benigno’s arm is cushioning Dorian’s head, Benigno's hand in Livia’s hair while his legs tangle with Dorian’s.

 The strangeness is outweighing the comfort.

 It’s far past the middle of the night, so it would be very rude for Dorian to scream. Not that he feels like screaming exactly, it’s just that it wouldn’t be all that amiss an exorcism.

 He’s mostly stunned speechless anyway, now that he’s finally beginning to sober up.

 Dorian remembers thinking, Well, fuck that, at some earlier point in the night. Right now, the only thing going through his mind are flashes of future consequences, like lightning, and three words on disbelieving repeat, Well, fuck me. He knows what the fuck he’s done, it’s just that he can’t believe he actually did it and doesn’t know what to do next.

 Livia and her lover don’t seem to have any issue with the cracks and pieces that make up Dorian Pavus, sleeping comfortably against him after… that. He knows there aren’t actually any broken lines over his skin, but he could swear he can feel them.

 He’d swear never to drink again, but he needs another drink too much for that.


 Much, much, much later, Dorian joins Livia and Benigno at the breakfast table. It is oddly enough not the most awkward morning-after that Dorian’s experienced. He usually doesn’t stay the night, or ever literally sleep with anyone. Livia and Benigno, however, serve a delightful breakfast and offer him hangover cures and laundry services, apparently content with the whole affair.

 “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like,” Benigno says kindly.

 “No, he’s not,” Livia says.

 Benigno opens his mouth to argue with his lover, but Dorian clears his throat. “Thank you for the offer, but I think it would be best that I get going fairly soon.” He ignores the triumphant look that Livia sends her lover. “You will alert me if…” Dear Maker. “…the pregnancy takes?”

 “Of course,” Benigno says. “As you will be the one raising the child, it is important that you be involved from the beginning. We will write you immediately.”

 “And I can trust that you will be taking measures to assure that…” Dear Maker. “…the child is… mine?” 

 Livia sends him a disdainful glower over her toast. “It would rather defeat the purpose if I didn’t. Of course, it’s not as though there are well-known blood rituals easily capable of determining a child’s parentage or any other concerns to take into consideration.”

 Benigno reaches over and pats Dorian’s hand to assure him. “There are plenty of ways of having sex.”

 Dorian opens his mouth and closes it again. There certainly are.

 “Oh, Dorian, you must remember to take your friend Felix’s letter with you when you go.”

 Dorian will argue on his deathbed that “Oh, fuck” is a valid and distinct emotion. He knows this because he is experiencing this emotion right now. Maker, Felix and Maevaris are never going to let him live this down. Oh, they’re going to have so much to say about this. None of it good.

 “Fuck me,” Dorian says unintentionally.

 Livia smiles bemusedly at his suffering. “Did that already,” she says. “Not particularly inclined to do it again. Let’s make the second time the charm for this one, shall we?”


 ~ oh, brother

 Dorian physically winces while writing the explanation of what he’s done to Felix. He hasn’t told Gereon and Lady Arida, though he knows they’re suspicious that something is bothering him, nor has he shared the news with any of his other friends (what other friends, really) and acquaintances. He certainly hasn’t told his parents and in-laws that he and his wife are trying for an heir, as he and Livia have sworn not to do until possibly after the baby has already been born.

 And there is going to be a baby. Benigno sent Dorian the letter last week. Dorian went over to Livia and Benigno’s townhouse for a congratulatory supper. He was filled in on Livia’s healthcare regimen and chosen healer, as well as her plans to lie low, and introduced to several of their servants. It was a fun affair, Dorian thinks, though it was slightly dampened by how he felt mostly numb and terrified through all of it.

 However, for all that the utmost secrecy is paramount, Dorian must tell Felix. Felix would never forgive him if he didn’t share this secret, Dorian has only just gotten Felix to stop bringing up the fact that Dorian didn’t share he was a married man. Felix holds grudges for years.

 Also, Dorian is going to go mad if he doesn’t tell someone.

 As much as a relief writing this letter is, Dorian can’t help but physically wince. Felix’s last letter included several lines of his opinion on Livia (“I don’t like her. I wouldn’t trust her to be good to anything that wasn’t a thousand-year-old rock.”) and Benigno (“He seems nice, but nice is different from good. I would watch him. He seems a man too knowledgeable and charming for anyone’s good.”), and if that wasn’t bad enough, it ended with Felix playfully beseeching Dorian not to do anything too foolish without him there to watch the show.

 It’s… it’s not good.

 This is proven how, two months later, Felix replies to Dorian’s letter in person. He has his latest degree in mathematics in hand and promptly uses the rolled-up paper to smack Dorian upside the head, before launching himself over for a hug. In between assurances that they missed each other dearly, Felix wastes no time in demanding all the details and what exactly was going through Dorian’s head when he made the decision.

 “A very good year of Antiva’s finest,” Dorian replies. 

 “I already guessed that.”

 “I… I don’t know, really. Whatever was going through my head, the decision’s been made now and I can hardly take it back. Unless, of course, I try to manipulate time, but I’m not quite there yet.”

 “I like the use of the word ‘yet.’” Felix says wryly, then sighs.

 “It’s not half-bad, really.”

 Felix sighs again, with pointed loudness.

 “I will admit that, in hindsight, it may have been a mistake to visit Livia at all, since I have never made a life decision that is either good or sober in her presence.”

 Felix doesn’t look at all mollified by this generous admission. He rather looks like he wants to run all the way back to Orlais or hit Dorian with his rolled-up degree again. “So why do you keep seeing her?”

 “Well, I am married to her.”

 Felix is not mollified by this perfectly reasonable statement either.


Chapter Text

~ what to expect when you’re expecting

 Livia takes to pregnancy with less grace than she does a great amount of complaining. She admits that it gives her plenty of time to compile her research and finish writing several papers, but she’s not happy about all the aches and swelling that comes with this great idea to buy her freedom. Benigno kindly acts as a buffer between Dorian and his dear wife, whenever Dorian comes to visit and Livia looks like she’s genuinely contemplating his murder.

 Their parents still don’t know that Livia is even in Minrathous, which is an impressive feat. Dorian’s in-laws had even approached him for news on their daughter, to which Dorian replied that he heard that she was recently in Orlais. Dorian’s father once made sidelong comments about Dorian’s regular, lengthy disappearances, but Dorian only made a pithy quip about being constantly watched because of how handsome he is and stared Halward down until the subject was dropped. Luckily for Livia’s security insistences, Dorian is well-versed at this point in making sure he’s not being followed.

 On one hand, there’s no need for secrecy, since their parents will be overjoyed to learn that Dorian and Livia are finally fulfilling their purpose. On the other hand, Livia has sworn that Dorian will die a uniquely painful death if she’s forced to bear their parents’ constant hovering and micromanagement. If they’re going to play to the puppet show, they’re at least going to do it without Magister Pavus and Magister Herathinos swooping in to take control of the strings.

 The only person outside of Dorian’s little… awkward marriage trio… who knows is Felix, though Dorian’s closest friends and acquaintances must certainly suspect that whatever skeletons in his closet are trying to break down the door. Gereon wasn’t pleased by Dorian’s substandard work in the beginning, brought about by stress and distraction, but a few words from Felix, triumphantly returned to conveniently distract his beloved and loving parents like a true friend, garnered some leeway and compassion. Unfortunately, that means Dorian is just about ready to set himself on fire if Gereon and Lady Arida tell him one more time that he can talk to them about anything.

 Speaking of true friends and fires, Felix and Livia take to each other like a house on fire, which is a saying that Dorian truly didn’t understand until recently. His best friend and his wife absolutely despise one another. It’s truly remarkable. They can’t be in the same room unsupervised for thirty seconds before the casually cutting remarks and passive-aggressiveness go flying.

 “I don’t like her,” Felix says, as his full explanation.

 Dorian sighs. “Oddly enough, I noticed that.”

 “You’re right, Dorian, that is odd.”

 Felix, of course, being a true friend, is alternating between being a gentle, compassionate supporter and berating Dorian for every foolish life decision he’s ever made. Dorian is endlessly grateful for Felix sneaking out along with him and keeping his secrets, risking trouble on Dorian’s behalf without even blinking, or with passive-aggressive cheerful comments like, “I like trouble. Evidently.” Dorian is not endlessly grateful for those. 

 Dorian is convinced that this must be what having a younger sibling is like. They grow up so fast. It feels like just yesterday that Felix was a bright-eyed teenager. At first it’s all hanging onto your every word and hero-worship, and then the next thing you know… bam! It’s all been replaced by cheeky sarcasm and high-handed judgement for your life choices.

 Dorian loves him so much, and says as much one night when they’re getting drunk at Livia’s house after she successfully enters her third trimester. Felix cries, which makes Dorian tear up, which makes Livia come into the room and throw a book at them because she can’t drink, demanding to know what they’re still doing in her house, dripping on her floors.

 She then spots Benigno passed out on a chair, presumably from some combination of stress and wine. Benigno had invited them to have a celebratory drink and it had gotten enormously out of hand, much like this entire situation. After babbling on about his mother, crows, and Maker knows what else in at least three languages, Livia’s lover had fallen asleep and was snoring softly while holding a wine bottle like a child, and Felix and Dorian had started crying at each other.

 Livia waddles out of the room in disgust and leaves them to it.

 “I really don’t like her,” Felix says again. “I like you, but I really don’t like her.”

 It’s all very touching and heartfelt.


~ love, protection, and respect

 Dorian is nearly thirty and married to a woman with a life plan that doesn’t include him and going to be a father despite never having contemplated fatherhood. It’s laughably absurd, except how it’s actually happening. If someone had told him at eighteen that this would be his future, he would have rightfully told them that they were mad.

 If there is any sort of divine being watching over him, its favorite phrase in regards to his life is, What? You thought this would be easy? No! Life’s got to be an uncontrollable disaster, you know, can’t be helped.

 It’s like…

 The altus classes may be cynical when it comes to love, and more or less everything else, but they fall over themselves for legacy. Dorian grew up hearing endlessly about respecting your glorious ancestors and the joys of filial duty. If there’s supposed to be some great feeling of pride and joy for whatever fleshy blob is attached to Livia’s insides like a parasite, Dorian hasn’t experienced it yet.

 In the beginning, it’s like someone’s told him that he has to look after a nug.

 And that despite his personal feelings or doubts, this nug actually means the world to him and his entire life depends on him looking after it. Even though Dorian’s only seen a nug once in his life and never wants to repeat the experience. His entire life is apparently meaningless if he fails this nug.

 Also, he’s never seen this nug in his life, but it’s somewhere out there in the world, identical to thousands of other nugs, and he’s something supposed to just “know it when he sees it.” No, he’s not allowed to know where the nug is. No, the nug can’t have any distinguishing features. He’ll know it when he sees it, though. Everybody knows their nug when they see it.

 Also, this nug is pretty much the entire reason for his existence. It’s the culmination of his duty as the scion of House Pavus. It’s going to be twice the mage that he is and entirely replace him in his father’s eyes. It’s rather galling, actually, to think this nug is going to be his legacy, but there’s no helping it. The nug is going to be the sum of his achievement on this dismal world, and frankly he’s not entirely certainly it exists no matter what anyone tells him.

 “Dorian,” Felix says finally, slowly. “What are you even talking about?”

 Dorian pauses and realizes he’s been violently pacing the Alexius library, waving his hands about not unlike a madman. He looks to Felix, staring at him from a desk, mathematics abandoned over the tabletop in favor of staring wide-eyed and deeply concerned.

 “To be fair, that made more sense in my head,” Dorian says.

 “I don’t think that analogy ever made sense in any context,” Felix replies, pressing a hand to his forehead like he’s trying to pinch himself awake. “But please, try again if you like.”

 It’s like…

 Dorian’s never imagined himself as a father before, except to vaguely resolve that he’d be a better father than his own. The problem now is that he has no idea how to do that. He doesn’t know how to raise a child at all, much less do a better job of it, whatever that means exactly, than a powerful, intelligent, well-regarded magister. He’s been Gereon’s apprentice for nearly a decade largely because he was sure he’d turn mad or murderous if he stayed in that house any longer. He’s never had a successful relationship. He’s not family or father material.

 “Dorian,” Felix sighs. “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not that complicated.”

 “Oh? I didn’t know you were an expert on the matter.”

 “I’m not, I’m just the only person in the room with common sense. Stop thinking about this in terms of heirs and power and tradition, or whatever’s running through your brain at the moment.”

 “Whether there’s a book called ‘How to Raise an Archon,’ thank you so much for asking.”

 “If that existed, your father would own it,” Felix says. He’s silent for several seconds, then he reaches over to close one of his books and put his pen back in its holder, and turns to face Dorian fully. “Dorian, did you know that my grandfather tried to have me killed?”

 Dorian stares. “I beg your pardon?”

 “My parents didn’t want me to find out, but I did, of course. Not long before you became my father’s apprentice, though it all happened several years before. Essentially, my father’s father was a man obsessed with the legacy of House Alexius. He ceded his seat in the Magisterium to Father in the hopes of spurring him to political pursuits instead of academia, and wasn’t pleased that Father became a champion of education and the lower classes.”

 Dorian slowly takes a seat across from Felix, taking his hand.

 “You know me, I barely have enough magic to light a candle,” Felix says jokingly. “I showed my magic fairly early, but it never improved. By the time I was twelve, it was clear that it never would. My parents were disappointed that they couldn’t include me in their research, with my limited magic, but they sought out the best tutors for anything I cared to learn instead.”

 “Which is everything,” Dorian prompts.

 Felix laughs and nods. “Which is everything, yes. However, my grandfather wasn’t content with this, concerned that his heir was, and I quote, ‘just barely more than a soporati,’ and tried to have me assassinated.”

 “I assume he failed.”

 “Terribly. Mother stopped the attempt and had him killed to protect me.”

 Dorian swallows past a blockage in his throat. “Felix, why didn’t you ever tell me?”

 “I’m not even supposed to know.” Felix shrugs, reaching over with his other hand to pat Dorian’s. “I’ve long-since come to peace with it, it’s not worth dwelling on.” He looks off into the distance for a moment. “I think Father’s never quite gotten over it.”

 Dorian brings his other hand over to hold Felix’s. “I can understand why.”

 “Thank you. The point of telling you this, however, comes back around the first thing I said.”

 “‘Dorian, what the fuck?’

 “No, the other thing. The one I just said: this isn’t going to be easy, but it’s not that complicated. This isn’t some show nug that you’re going to make compete for Archon-

 “Now there’s a picture.”

 “You inspired it. Anyway, it’s not a prize-winning pet that you can hire other people to look after and train, this baby’s going to be a person. A very small and vulnerable person, with thoughts and feelings of their own, in an, and I’m quoting you here, ‘endless nightmare of a world.’ Love, protect, and respect your child, Dorian. Give them better than your parents gave you just by loving them for who they are.”

 Dorian lets that sink in over several seconds of silence. It sounds simultaneously so simple and like an impossibly tall order. Dorian is fairly certain he can’t be trusted to love, protect, and respect himself, much less look after another human being.

 “I don’t know if I can do that,” he says finally.

 “You’re going to have to, Dorian,” Felix says, with gentle, uncompromising force. “You made what I am hesitantly calling ‘an objectively bad decision’ – admittedly while very drunk and being pressured by a viper of a woman and her handsome, conniving lover – and now you need to take responsibility for it. This really wasn’t the sort of choice to make on a whim.”

 Dorian lowers his head to the desk and says quietly, “I know.”

 Felix leans in, fingers tightening over his. “Personally, though, I think you’re going to be an amazing father, Dorian. I know you don’t think you’re ready for this, but you’re already a great friend and brother, and you don’t have to go any of this alone.”

 Dorian chokes on his reply, tears gathering in his eyes. “Thank you, Felix.”

 “I fully expect to play indulgent uncle here, though, not second parent,” Felix says. Then, after several seconds of silence, adds playfully, “I can’t wait to see the look on my parents’ faces. They’re going to be so excited and surprised that you’re making them grandparents first.”

 “If Gereon doesn’t murder me for all that subpar work first,” Dorian mutters.

 For someone who so frequently must tell himself that he thrives on stress, one would think he’d be better at lying by now. From sheer practice, if nothing else. His academic career is essentially on hold until he can turn the pile of work he’s managed to get done into something understandable to other people.

 He can taste wet salt on his lips. He doesn’t know how to address the idea of him being Gereon and Lady Arida’s son. How to tell Felix that’s the most ridiculous and unworthy and absurd thing he’s ever heard, so much so that he doesn’t have the words for how much… everything it is.

 “He’ll just have to cope with you being average for a while,” Felix says conversationally. “He’s very worried about you. I think he and Mother suspect you’re being blackmailed, but they don’t know what to do about it.”

 Dorian laughs, weakly, because that’s probably what his parents think as well. Also, he wouldn’t say it’s an entirely untrue assessment. He finally looks up again, squeezing Felix’s hands again.

 “What would I do without you, Felix?”

 Felix squeezes Dorian’s hands in return and says sincerely, with all the love and affection between them, “Evidently, have a drunken, misinformed threesome with your estranged wife and her lover, and become a father to a nug with dreams of ruling the Magisterium. Frankly, I’m terrified what nonsense you’ll get up to if I leave for Orlais or try to have my own life in any form again.”

 And Dorian laughs.


 ~ heartbeat

  Sometimes, when Livia is feeling generous, or when Benigno gives her a judgmental look, she’ll let Dorian lie against her and listen to her belly. She became more benevolent about the entire thing when she figured out she could prod the baby into kicking him in the face. His dear wife likes doing that, she says it makes her feel better about having to be a beached whale for several months.

 Dorian doesn’t dare talk to the baby, because he doesn’t know what to say and Livia would be able to hear whatever he did say. He’s not keen on letting her mock whatever rambling pieces of his heart he manages to spill out. That doesn’t stop him from imagining what he might say, though. There’s a spell that lets him listen to the tiny, fluttering heartbeat, and suddenly Dorian can feel every crack and chip in his skin, and a million pieces of a feeling get caught in his throat.

 His imagined thoughts go all sorts of different directions. The ones he feels most comfortable sharing with Felix are, Dear Maker, please don’t ever ask how you were made, and, I have got to come up with a decent story that doesn’t involve a drunken night with my estranged wife and her lover.

 It’s like…

 Dear Maker, there’s a potential person in there.

 It’s like Dorian’s been given a flowering plant in a pot, to replace those cut flowers that were strewn over the floor when the blue vase broke. Only he doesn’t know anything about gardening. He has vague ideas about water and sunlight, but he knows that that’s not always enough.

 What if he gives it too much water and drowns it? What if it needs a light, even drizzle and he can only manage a clumsy downpour? The thought makes him scared to give it any water at all.

 Is there such thing as too much sunlight? Can a plant dry out from too much sun?

 It’s enough to make Dorian want to go running for a library and to interrogate everybody he knows about how they managed or would manage their plants. Only the plant that Dorian’s been given is totally unique and no one knows what it’ll need. People keep saying that Dorian will know what to do or just to hire a gardener, but Dorian doesn’t know and he can’t trust anyone. Except Dorian also can’t improvise because this plant is a living thing, one that’s too important to just leave to chance and trial.

 What is someone poisons his plant? The Magisterium is full of the sort of people who stomp on flowers more or less for fun. Never has a more competitive gardening competition been seen as that of the Tevinter Imperium. Dorian has enough trouble keeping himself alive, day to day, between the duels and the assassins, and the blackmailing and the accidents, and his scandalous proclivities and potentially being framed for treason or any crime of his rivals’ choice. A plant’s not going to be able to keep people from pouring poison over it.

 He didn’t ask for this, except he sort of did.

 What if the plant never flowers? People say that the purpose of the plant is to flower and Dorian will need to raise it well so it makes the most beautiful flowers anyone’s ever seen. Except what if it doesn’t flower? What if it’s the ugliest plant anyone’s ever seen? Ugly plants deserve water and sunlight too. Something shouldn’t have to be beautiful to be able to live.

 What if it the ugliest plant that Dorian’s ever seen? He wants to look after the plant, but what if he can’t stand the sight of it? What if he can’t stand the smell of it? What if it makes him sneeze? It’s his plant, but what if he can’t love it? What then?

 People keep saying things like how a person needs to talk to your plants, except that sounds rather ridiculous to Dorian. Why would anyone talk to a plant? It’s a plant, it can’t talk back.

 Felix would probably say something along the lines of it not being a plant’s purpose to talk back.

 Except this plant is a person and it will be able to talk back at some point.

 Anything to make him proud.

 The phrase rings in Dorian’s head like a bell. Like the crash of a vase on the floor.

 What if you hate me? Dorian thinks, listening to that tiny, fluttering heartbeat of a person. What if I fail you and you hate me for it? What will you think of me? Will you think I’m tainted and foolish and not enough? What if I can’t manage to hide all the cracks and chips in me, and you see them all? What if you hate me for them?

 Dorian is married and has an heir on the way. If everything is supported to be better and perfect at some point, it’s cutting it very close. Plenty has changed over the years, but sometimes it seems like nothing’s changed at all and the jagged pieces of that stupid, metaphorical vase still haven’t been cleaned up off the carpet.

 He’s older and wiser, but he can kick out the doubt as many times as he likes, and that still doesn’t stop the worrying. He can be as flippant as he likes, but he still worries. Sometimes fear and hope feel like much the same thing, just different sides of it.

 What if you love me? And what in the world can I do to deserve it?

 That thought is the worst one somehow.

 It feels the realest.

 Dorian doesn’t know how to handle that one.


 ~ f is for friends

 “What happened to your alcohol cabinet?” Dorian asks Livia.

 “You and Ben drank it all.” Livia turns the page of the novel she has resting on his head. “Your friend Felix suggested that, since I’m unable to drink, we don’t replace it as a show of solidarity to me, the person doing all the work here.”

 “Thoughtful of him,” Dorian says, already composing his speech of betrayal.  


 ~ it’s happening

  Dorian isn’t actually at home when the runner comes with the news that Livia is in labor. Dorian is at the Circle of Magi in Minrathous, assisting Gereon with a long-scheduled public talk on thaumaturgy, specifically time magic and the enchanted foci for performing time magic, one of the pivotal introductions of their research to Circle Academia. It goes incredibly well, a deeply satisfying result of years of work, and Dorian is cleaning up the papers while Gereon finishes answering the questions of some remaining professors, apprentices, and magisters.

 Well, Dorian is actually finished cleaning up, he’s just leaning on the lecture hall’s desk and trying to figure out why Magister Prycis and Magister Urathus and some of their like are still lingering. It’s been nearly an hour since the talk finished, such that Dorian has bid farewell to his own classmates and curious apprentices (as well as his father, who Dorian hadn’t expected to attend), and Felix and Lady Arida have already left for home. He wouldn’t have thought these men were the type to care about anything besides bleating about the superiority of the Tevinter Imperium, or the type to even understand such complex and unstable magic.

 Gereon is in the middle of finally excusing himself when Felix comes running into the room. Felix doesn’t look at his startled father and heads straight for Dorian, who has his staff in hand and is perfectly prepared to murder whoever’s caused whatever Felix is running from.

 “Felix,” Gereon calls, surprised, urgent. “What’s the matter?”

 Felix waves his father off, too out of breath to speak, and pulls Dorian towards the door. Once they’re outside, in the hallway, Felix makes to speak but is still too out of breath. He looks like he ran back all the way from the Alexius estate, save for how Dorian is certain that’s physically impossible. Dorian has to pat his friend on the back while Felix puts his hands on his knees and wheezes apologetically.

 “Whenever you’re ready, but preferably before I get wrinkles, Felix.”

 “It’s happening.”


 “Benigno sent a runner,” Felix pants. “It’s happening.”

 Since Livia is in her tenth month of pregnancy and has been composing various creative death threats upon his person for several weeks now, there’s only one thing that can mean. Instead of leaping into action, however, Dorian freezes on the spot. Because, dear Maker, it’s happening.

 Gereon opens the door to the lecture hall and closes it behind him. “Felix? Dorian? What-”

 “My wife is giving birth,” Dorian says unintentionally.

 Gereon stares at him.

 Dorian stares back.

 “Sorry, must be going,” Dorian says, and takes off running.

 The trip to Livia and Benigno’s townhouse is a bit of a blur from there.


 ~ felicitations

 When Dorian finally makes it to Livia, he hasn’t missed much. Livia is unhappily pacing the upstairs hall, complaining loudly to the midwife and her healer, and Benigno sits him down and explains that these things typically take some time, especially the first time. Benigno also breaks out the brandy that he snuck past his lover and keeps Dorian company, with stories that his mother told him about her own pregnancy and birth experiences, until Livia yells for him to get upstairs so she can use him as back support.

 Though the rest of the wait is garishly slow, he’ll remember it largely as a blur of pacing and doing his utmost not to have another glass of brandy. Shitfaced drunk may have been how he brought his child into this world, but it’s not how he wants to see them enter it.

 Benigno finally comes back downstairs sometime past two o’clock in the morning, after nerves have all but torn Dorian to pieces. He leads Dorian back upstairs to a guest bedroom, explaining that Livia is currently passed out from exhaustion and the midwife and healer have finished cleaning up. Then, without any sort of ado, Benigno carefully reaches into a basket-turned-bed and puts a wrapped bundle into Dorian’s arms, which he kindly adjusts to hold the bundle properly.

 “This is your daughter, Dorian.”

 Dorian nearly swallows his tongue and has to be directed to a chair before he falls over.

 “She’s so small,” he says.

 He’s never seen fingers so small before, splayed against the soft, red cheek of a small, squished face. He touches her hand, carefully, and marvels at how tiny it is. Then brushes his hand around her face, over her tiny nose, over her fluffy, sparse patch of black hair. He’s never seen a newborn baby before. Surely all human beings can’t have started so small and helpless.

 “It is one of the wonders of the world,” Benigno agrees warmly, before Dorian can realize he’s spoken aloud. “What are you going to name her?”

 “I- What did Livia say?”

 “That she would leave it to you, as she is leaving her daughter.”

 Dorian stares down his nameless daughter. Kind of her, he supposes. Relatively.

 “Surely you have ideas?” Benigno prompts.

 Dorian has no less than dozens of pages of ideas, stuffed between the pages of his textbooks and journals, hidden between the magic scripts of his research and specialization mastery. Unfortunately, all of them are terrible. Dorian has no desire to name her Livia or Aquinea, nor to bless her with the gruesome or dull history of some ancestor, deceased magister, or ancient priestess. At least for her first name, as the altus class is predisposed to a gruesome number of long names.

 Going through lists of traditional Tevinter names to pick one for his child revealed that Dorian knows and dislikes more people than he’d thought. He won’t name his child after someone he hates. It’s a tragedy how many perfectly good names are ruined by fools.

 “Some,” Dorian says, “but none of them worthy.”

 Whatever he chooses may very well be stuck with his poor child for the rest of her life. It has to be something that suits her soft olive skin and squished, round face and small, sleeping features. It has to suit the tiny, fluttering heartbeat under his fingers.  

 “What would you name her?” Dorian asks, before he can think. Then he realizes he’s just asked his wife’s lover to name their daughter. “Never mind, I can come up with something. If all else fails, I’ll just name her ‘Crusher of Nations’ or something else suitably Tevinter-”

 Benigno laughs softly. “I am honored that you would ask, Dorian. Do not worry, I know she is not my child, though I would like to consider myself an uncle of sort.”

 Dorian imagines all his Pavus ancestors rolling in their graves at the idea of a part-elf Antivan commoner becoming an honorary uncle to the heir of House Pavus. “Consider it done. The more the merrier.” Though Felix may not be pleased to share status with a man he still considers suspicious.

 “Thank you,” Benigno says. He looks over the baby’s small face. “I would name her Felicita.”

 “Felicita,” Dorian repeats, slightly disbelieving.

 “After your friend, Felix, of course, but it is also an Antivan name. It means happy, or happiness.” Benigno shrugs, smiling gently at them both. “In Tevene as well as Antivan, I believe, nearly.”

 Dorian looks down at that small face again, the tiny fingers, the small breaths.

 “Felicita,” he repeats.


 “Well, it’s no ‘Crusher of Nations,’ but I like it,” Dorian says finally. “Felicita Pavus. Hello.” 


Chapter Text

~ meeting the family  

 Felix cries when Dorian introduces his daughter to House Alexius. He desperately wanted to be there for Dorian, but Gereon and Lady Arida wouldn’t let him leave the house and were apparently half-convinced the whole thing was some cover for Dorian being blackmailed or something. The newborn baby that Felix is blubbering over thankfully manages to convince them otherwise.

 “Happy tears,” Felix insists wetly. “These are happy tears.”

 Unfortunately, Dorian then has to explain that they were keeping the whole thing secret for safety reasons and his wife’s personal preferences. Gereon and Lady Arida don’t look especially pleased by this reasoning, but that’s likely because they’ve never liked his wife.

 Fortunately, Felix distracts them by bringing the baby over and handing Felicita to Gereon while saying, “Come and meet your grandfather.”

 And, with a nod of confirmation and helpless grin from Dorian, Gereon immediately melts like a candle in a firestorm. Felicita is swept into Gereon’s arms like he’s adored her forever, then Gereon and Lady Arida seat themselves on a sofa and coo over Dorian’s daughter like pigeons instead of highly respected researchers and members of the Magisterium. Felicita blinks curiously up at them, while her namesake then assaults Dorian with hugs, muttering about how proud and touched he is.

 Eventually though, Gereon asks whether Dorian’s parents know that there’s a new heir to House Pavus. Dorian has to admit that he was rather hoping that gossip or an informant would tell them. Gereon looks disapproving, if not at all surprised.

 “Dorian, you shouldn’t let your parents find out about their granddaughter through gossip.”

 Lady Arida, currently cooing over said grandfather, makes the exact grimace of disagreement that Dorian would expect from a woman who had her father-in-law assassinated to protect her son. Dorian would make some pithy quip about following her example if Felix hadn’t sworn him to secrecy.

 “I’ll tell them soon enough,” Dorian promises insincerely.


 ~  meeting the other family

 It turns out that Dorian never has to pluck up the courage to seek out his parents, because Magister Halward Pavus comes knocking within the week. It turns out that Livia finally went to go inform her parents that she was in Minrathous and had given birth to a daughter. Dorian’s father finds out because Livia’s outraged father immediately knocked his door down to demand if he’d known.

 Magister Halward Pavus is not pleased to have found out he’s a grandfather in this way. The indescribable terror that Dorian feels upon receiving his father is lessened slightly by the bright spite that accidental delivery invokes.

 However, Dorian finds himself feeling differently when his father’s entire face softens upon being introduced to Felicita. Halward asks to hold her with such softness that Dorian can’t do anything but acquiesce, and it fills him with an odd pride and joy to watch his father poke at his daughter’s nose and introduce himself with a gentle smile.

 Anything to make him proud.

 It also fills him with a deep, quiet rage. How dare you, he thinks, without understanding why, and he lets the feeling go in a deep breath. He breathes again and lets the light melancholy that replaces it go as well. Through all the cracks and chips in his skin. Years and years of it in a moment. They have no place here, with such soft things, and he won’t bring them here now.

 “Felicita,” Halward says. “An unconventional name.”

 “When have I ever been one for convention, Father?” Dorian says, and his heart twists a little when Halward chuckles.

 “A good point.”

 “After Felix,” Dorian says. “One of Livia’s friends suggested it.”

 Dorian is many sorts of shameless and scandalous, but he’s not about to tell his father that his daughter was named by his wife’s lover, who was very much present during the conception. No, he’s saving that for a moment when he needs something really good to throw into Halward’s face.

 Not yet, he thinks, watching his father rock his daughter gently. Not now.


 ~ meeting the other family properly

 In hindsight, it shouldn’t surprise him that his parents find out about Benigno without anything to do with him. Dorian’s mother, Aquinea, and Livia’s mother go to visit his dear wife. Triumphant in having delivered an heir and, more importantly, having set a date for her future expedition, with spiteful glee, Livia introduces Benigno to both women as her lover of many years. Since Benigno clearly has elven ancestry, is a commoner, is Antivan, and has a passing resemblance to Dorian, it would be an understatement to say that Dorian’s parents don’t take the news well.

 Dorian reluctantly accepts an invitation for him and Felicita to his parents’ estate and immediately regrets it. So much for cautiously wanting his daughter to know her grandparents.

 Halward demands how Dorian even knows that Felicita is his daughter. Aquinea insists that they use a blood ritual to confirm that Felicita is a Pavus, her nose wrinkled at the idea that the tiny child in front of her might be some bastard. She describes Benigno as though she doesn’t know which part of him is worse: elven-blooded, a common mercenary, Antivan, or that he dared threaten and/or taint the purity of House Pavus’ line. Halward seems settled on the last item.

 Dorian imagines anyone taking a knife to the soft little being in his arms, using even such “soft” blood magic on her, causing her even the slightest burn of unnecessary pain, and promptly walks right out the fucking door without another word and with Felicita safe in his arms. He won’t inflict the blood-curling pain of those rituals on his daughter.

 He burns all the letters his parents send him for weeks afterwards, and, on one memorable occasion, has an animated skeleton deliver them back to the Pavus estate unopened, because he’s feeling particularly spiteful that day.

 He spent so fucking long proving himself to his parents and this is what he gets?

 Anything to make them proud.

 Admittedly, Dorian’s wondered the exact same thing. However, he refused to let the doubt get in this time, to let his parents get figuratively under his skin or literally under Felicita’s. He knows now that it doesn’t go out again, not easily. He refuses to prove anything.

 As often as Dorian has claimed that his wife has no desirable qualities, Livia’s not stupid. She knows about the existence of the blood rituals. Everyone does. Those blood rituals have caused and prevented many a scandal across the Tevinter Imperium. Delivering a false heir could have ruined her and House Herathinos. Therefore, it also would have ruined all of Livia’s plans to throw herself down an Orlesian pit for the rest of her life, which is evidence enough for Dorian.

 Also, there’s no way Livia would have gone to all the trouble to seduce him if she was just going to let Benigno father her child. Benigno had expressed discomfort at the very idea, and Livia does appear to have some… almost human-like feelings of affection for her lover. Would she treat Dorian like that? Yes, probably. Benigno? Dorian doesn’t think so.


~ darling

 Felicita is his daughter, Dorian knows.

 He knows it most when he’s lying shirtless in bed, failing to read, with Felicita lying on his chest. She’s trying to lift her head up, hitting him repeatedly with her tiny fists as she happily struggles, making the most adorable little grunting sounds. Dorian can’t even remember what he was reading.

 Skin to skin is their favorite position. Gereon, Lady Arida, and the wet nurse that Livia arranged for him as a parting gift all suggested it. Dorian would now greatly recommend it. The position lets Felicita enjoy his warmth and the steady beat of his heart, while Dorian can enjoy her softness and smell her patch of hair and feel her fluttering heartbeat with a brush of magic in his fingers.

 Her heartbeat terrifies him sometimes. It’s like a mouse. Flighty and fragile. Maker, what a thing to know he’s brought a living person into the world, to feel her mortality under his fingers. He can’t imagine taking a knife to her, letting blood magic burn into her. Not while he breathes.

 He doesn’t think he’d care if Felicita wasn’t his daughter though.

 At this point, he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s a father, that he’s going to be raising a child, that he has a responsibility to raise them well. He’s been squaring up to this for nearly a year, he’s not quitting now. He’s agreed to care for Felicita none the less should she even be less magical than her namesake. For there’s nothing about her that would be less for being Benigno’s daughter. She would blow bubbles and struggle to lift her head just as well.

 Isn’t that a frightening thought? The Magisterium might expire on the spot at the scandal.

 Maybe he should throw that in his father’s face, the next time they see each other. Dorian would be perfectly happy to keep a bastard as his daughter, he thinks. That Halward is seeking to make Dorian’s child the perfect heir to House Pavus is his problem.

 Felicita’s only problem is running out of energy to lift her head. She yawns.

 Dorian coos her at. He’s completely certain that no baby has ever yawned so adorably before.


 ~ new life

 Dorian said before that he didn’t believe that he was father material, and frankly, he still believes this is true. Sometimes he’s not even sure that he does love Felicita. Sometimes he looks at her and feels numbness closing in on him. Sometimes, especially when she’s wailing at the top of her weak little lungs, Dorian feels something like resentment at the base of his breast.

 His entire life is essentially paused to tend to a creature who can’t do more than lift up her head and make nonsense sounds. Gereon has excused Dorian from work for as long a leave as he needs, only Dorian feels like he’s about to go mad if he doesn’t do more than tend to a baby. As fascinating as it’s been to learn how to take care of a child by himself, if he ever has to, he does have a wet nurse who is perfectly capable of cleaning up shit and feeding her so he can do things like sleep and not spend every second of his life revolving around a small lump of a human being.

 That said, Dorian is sometimes prepared to swear that watching her limbs flail and head bobble may be the most interesting thing in the world. Felicita is a better conversationalist than half the Magisterium. It’s nice to feel like he’s fully capable of looking after his daughter. And the first time she smiled back at him, in toothless greeting, Dorian felt like his heart stopped and restarted in his chest.

 It’s not all good and it’s not all bad, but at least Felicita seems happy. She seems to love him, as much as someone who chews their own hand can love anyone. So long as she’s fed and warm and surrounded by her favorite people, she doesn’t know any other way to be.

 Imagine that.


 ~ babyproof

 Dorian puts great care and effort into his appearance, every part of him, including and especially his mustache. His mustache is stylish. His mustache distinguishes him. His mustache has gotten him laid on no less than half a dozen separate occasions. His mustache is perhaps the only thing keeping people from thinking he’s still nineteen, which is why he grew it in the first place.

 The point of this is that he’s now learned a new part of his care routine. His mustache is not something to leave within the reach of tiny, grabby hands that don’t understand what they’re holding is attached to his face. His mustache, much to Felicita’s squealing disappointment, does not come off like that.

 He doesn’t care what Felix says, it wasn’t funny.


 ~ a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it

 Dorian’s daughter is born the same year that the most uniquely dangerous and scandalously daring woman in the Imperium officially claims her inheritance, outmaneuvering her opponents and taking vengeance on the last of her obvious enemies. Dorian would go and congratulate his dear friend, but he’s retreated from the public eye with Felicita’s birth and must content himself with sending a letter. So, Magister Maevaris Tilani responds by coming to see him.

 Dorian brings his months-old daughter to the table, where Felicita can experience the joys of sitting up with assistance and being part of the conversation from his lap. Maevaris brings a handsome ginger dwarf named Thorold Tethras, a merchant and representative for Orzammar in the Ambassadoria, whom she introduces as her fiancé.

 “Well,” Maevaris says. “We have been busy.”

 “Some of us more than others. Congratulations again on finally forcing the Magisterium to bend your will and offer you your own seat.” Dorian lets Felicita attach her gums to his hand and gnaw on each of his fingers, which have been very much lacking in rings lately. “I’m dying to know how you did it.”

 “So did my enemies,” Maevaris drawls, crossing her legs in her seat.

 She looks wonderful, all silver blond curls and golden, rosy skin, framed in blue and grey. Success suits her. Affection and happiness suit her as well, as she takes Thorold’s hand and smiles at him. When Dorian had met her, Mae had been largely consumed by grief, anger, and vengeance, partly hidden under a resplendent smile and some very smart remarks. It’s part of why they formed such a close friendship, like long lost comrades in bitterness.

 Dorian laughs. “If I’d known that promising my hand in marriage a handsome dwarven fellow would help solve all my problems, I’ve had done it years ago.” He winks at the fellow and is delighted to receive a wink in return from the grim-faced man. “Master Tethras, I hope you know how lucky you are.”

 “I can always stand to be told again,” Thorold says solemnly. “It does wonders for my ego.”

 Which makes Dorian laugh again, and Felicita echoes the sound in his lap with a squeal. Maevaris raises her eyebrows at the sound, which is fair because Dorian’s daughter sounds not unlike an excited nug at times. Thorold smiles affectionately at her, likely completely unaware that Felicita is going to yank his stylish copper beard out if he gets anywhere near her vicious little hands.

 “I know for a fact that it was not so long since we last saw each other for you to have become a father,” Maevaris said. “I wouldn’t even have known you were married if the gossip hadn’t made its circuit of the Imperium back in the day, you never mention your dear wife.”

 “I’m sorry, Mae, but I was respecting Livia’s wishes in keeping the matter a secret.”

 “Your Alexius friend knew, I assume, given his hasty departure from Orlais.”

 Dorian winces. “Well… we do live in the same estate and I had to have someone prepared to keep me from drinking Minrathous dry. Felix is quite excited to meet you, though. He’s out meeting with some Circle professors at the moment, unfortunately, or he’d be here. I believe he said, ‘If there’s a woman out there who can so effortlessly outdo you in liberal politics and scandal, Dorian, I must meet her and shake her hand.’”

 “If there’s a man out there who can make you leave some for the rest of us, the honor will be mine,” Maevaris says. “Although…” She looked him over shrewdly. “You have a look about you of a man who’s been drinking less.”

 “Waking up in the unholy hours of the morning to tend to this squealing nug leaves a man without much inclination for late nights on the town or hangovers in general,” Dorian explains, having learned this lesson quickly. It was a surprise, actually, to realize how much he had been drinking.

 Admittedly, he does miss certain aspects of a wild life. Nights in the right bars and lovers that only lasted a night had been fun most of the time, and still can be if he has the wet nurse take Felicita for the full night, but he is getting older, and the secrets and stress of it all seem to get to him more than they did before. He has Felicita to wake up to in the morning and to look out for. He tends to miss sleep more than anything else, and drinking and wild nights don’t help with that.

 Maevaris smiles. “I’m glad for you, if disappointed. It feels like the end of an Age, you know. You, a respectable father to a beautiful squealing nug, and me, a senator of the Magisterium and to be married to a respectable businessman and ambassador.”

 “You? Respectable? Perish the thought.”

 “I know,” Maevaris sighs. “I always thought it would only happen over my dead body, posthumously ‘corrected’ for the history books, as they do. But alas, it’s happening anyway.” Then she casts aside the melancholy and gives Dorian a particularly wicked smile. “At least it’s still over someone’s dead body.”

 “I would say I remember there being more than that, but I know my wife is too good a woman to do something like that,” Thorold says, in the bemused voice of someone warning their significant other not to make too obvious insinuations about their crimes.

 It’s especially funny here because Dorian has helped Mae make and hide the bodies before. Necromancy makes the process so much easier. Mae was very grateful and impressed.

 “Oh, yes, I’m very good,” Mae agrees, her hand moving casually to Thorold’s thigh, “but when I’m bad, I’m far better. Wouldn’t you agree, Dorian?”

 “If you were a man, you would have ruined me,” Dorian agrees vaguely.

 Mae pats her fiancé’s thigh in victory, and Dorian watches them warmly. What House Tilani lacks in political clout, they more than make up for in obscene wealth and their ties to the dwarven Ambassadoria. It seems unlikely that Maevaris and Thorold’s relationship isn’t at least partly political, but there’s clearly sincere affection and trust between them. How their union is going to work when the Tevinter Imperium and Northern Chantry likely won’t allow a legal marriage, Dorian doesn’t know, but if he trusts anyone to make it happen, it’s Maevaris Tilani.

 Later, they move into a sitting area and Dorian insists on having Maevaris hold Felicita. Maevaris keeps trying to pass Felicita and her grabby hands and drool off to Thorold, who held her readily until she went for his beard. It’s hilarious. Also, deeply vindicating to see someone with a wardrobe comparable to Dorian’s have to suffer as he does, if only for an afternoon.

 “I suppose I shan’t be able to call on you for much in the Magisterium,” Mae says conversationally. “You’re a terribly useful friend, Dorian, but it appears this conniving little lady has beaten me by claiming you first. Even I can admit when I have lost.” She holds Felicita in front of her so they can look each other in the eye. “I will have my revenge, young lady. I’m watching you.”

 Dorian grins as Felicita smacks Mae on the nose. “Perhaps I won’t be able to throw myself entirely at your service, Mae, but a man has to have hobbies. I can hardly rest on my laurels if Felicita demands to rule the Imperium someday, and when have I ever passed up an opportunity to shock the Magisterium with the wonder that I am?”

 Mae hums. “Those who are so easily shocked should be shocked more often,” she says agreeably, setting Felicita back on her lap, more comfortable with the girl now. “I’ll keep you at the top of all my guest lists then. Good friends are hard to find, but always worth it.”

 She exchanges a smile with Thorold at that, one softer than Dorian’s ever seen on her before. It’s enough to fill Dorian with bewildered joy and envy for her. Then she turns back to him, bouncing Felicita softly in her lap while Dorian’s daughter does her best to eat her own hand.

 “You truly do look well, Dorian,” she says warmly. “If a little tired, but I imagine that’s this one’s fault. Oh, how times have changed, haven’t they?”

 Dorian laughs. “They never stop, do they?”

 “Do you remember all the foolish things we said and did only years ago?”

 “It’s rather difficult to forget,” Dorian says nostalgically, because they did some very foolish things, having thought they’d found a kindred soul. “Horrifying, really, in hindsight. I can barely believe that we managed to justify some of them to ourselves. ‘You only live once’ and all that.”

 “We do only live once,” Mae agrees, “but I think if we do it right, once can be enough.”


 ~ don’t cross the streams

 Dorian will immediately come to think of introducing Felix to Maevaris as a terrible mistake. Not the sort of mistake that introducing Felix to Livia was, though, because Felix and Maevaris take to each other like long lost soulmates. Felix’s best friend and Maevaris’ fiancé are left standing off to the side like yesterday’s loved ones while Felix and Maevaris laughingly compare stories of the stupidest things that Dorian’s ever done.

 It’s terrible. Between them, they know everything.

 They even know things that Dorian doesn’t know because he was blackout drunk at the time.

 Felix has the advantage of having known Dorian since they were both teenagers, but Maevaris was the one present while Felix was off at university in Orlais and unable to stop Dorian from regularly and more frequently making mistakes. Mistakes that had aged and increased in grandeur alongside Dorian himself.

 Whatever happened to the “What happens in Qarinus stays in Qarinus” promise? That's what Dorian wants to know. 

 Felix is probably winning, though. The disastrous confidence and unsupervised resources of age may be a firestorm, but it really can’t compete with the sheer idiocy and angry lust of Dorian’s earliest forays into adulthood. Though it's certainly the tidal wealth of stories is what really puts Felix over the edge.

 Maevaris cackles loudly at something Felix says, and Dorian can’t do anything but put his head in his hands and hope to die. Surely he’s got to run out of embarrassment at some point. He’s always been good at owning his shame, but no one can be this good.

 Thorold pats him on the shoulder. “It could be worse,” he says kindly. “You should meet my younger cousin. When he runs out of true stories about you, he just starts making up extravagant lies.”


 ~ think of the children

 Sometimes, in the dark of night, when Felicita is curled up in her crib, Dorian will stay there and watch her. Lean against the crib, rest his head on his arms, and put his hand gently against her chest and feel her fluttering heartbeat and small breaths. Sometimes he can feel an intangible wind go whistling through the cracks in his own chest, and send a chill over the chips in his skin. Ready to scatter him into a million pieces of a person again.

 Sometimes it’s fine and warm and he’s just there to enjoy Felicita’s adorableness. In a characteristically early bid for favorite uncle, Felix has given her a stuffed, fat dragon toy that’s bigger than she is and enchanted to stay warm or cool. She loves it. She chews the tail even in her sleep to prove it.

 Dorian’s father sent another letter and Dorian made the mistaken of actually reading it this time, hoping against all the odds that it might contain a half-hearted apology of sorts. Surprisingly, there actually was an apology, but only for “startling him,” and then it insists there was no appropriate time to wait for as every day wasted would allow Dorian to become more attached to a child that might not be his. The waste of paper then goes on to demand that Dorian just be reasonable for once and get the test over with, as Halward and Aquinea don’t want to believe that Dorian has done something so foolish and ridiculous as take in a bastard by mistake, because surely it was a mistake.

 Dorian burned the letter immediately, but it was already burned into his mind. The appeals read exactly like those of people who hadn’t known him in years, who perhaps had never known him at all. It’s insulting and infuriating, and it’s worse to think that his parents are still so capable of getting under his skin and making him doubt himself. Or worse: making him dislike himself.

 He wants nothing more than to let them think the worst and stew in their own wounded pride, but the potential consequences of his spite weigh heavy and distant over his head like a blade. He won’t bow, but a future so mired in doubt and dislike isn’t what he wants for Felicita.

 He cannot help but see Felix in the library, solemn and sorry, recounting a secret part of history neither of them were supposed to know. Surely, Dorian thinks, his parents would not attempt something so heinous, would not break his trust so callously, would not deal such a fate on an innocent child. They are remarkable individuals, though not the best of fathers and mothers, and Dorian knows that they are better than that. Then again, Dorian had thought his parents would never force him to get married, so maybe he never knew them at all either.

 What a lovely world, Dorian thinks, sending a pulse of warmth through his hand when Felicita shivers in her sleep. She makes a please cooing sound and flops an arm across her chest, holding him to her. What a lovely world, to keep making people choose between self-preservation and principles.

 What is it that Felix is so fond of saying? Principles are a privilege, or something like that. Followed by a sermon on how ridiculous it is for men with knives to the throats of others to crow about the nature of morality and choice. If Dorian and Gereon think of themselves as progressive liberals, then Felix is a budding unflinching radical extremist always about one whispery “I beg your pardon” from leading a revolt, with Maevaris right behind him.

 Felicita is so small. She grows so fast, but she’s still so small, and the world is so very big and so very full of hate and fear. Just babyproofing parts of the Alexius estate has been a nightmare, Dorian has no idea how he’s to begin with the whole world.

 Especially the Tevinter Imperium, the land of murderous magisters and suffering slaves and no history half as vile as its present. Where the Orlesians’ “Great Game” is considered an adorable imitation and the fashionably cynical yawn at parties that don’t contain at least one death. Dorian has been dealing with assassination attempts all his life, from before he even understood what they were, and Felicita will likely face no different.

 What is it that Maevaris is so fond of saying? And how lucky they are, despite all the self-inflicted burdens and cruelties of the Magisterium, in comparison, to have been born alti. Dorian has very rarely felt lucky in his life, but there is little arguing with Maevaris and her experiences.

 And this is the world he’s to give his daughter, the world he’s already brought her into.

 How dare you, he thinks of himself.

 Perhaps it would be easier to resign himself to it all if there wasn’t goodness and happiness too. If there weren’t men like Felix and women like Maevaris. If there weren’t wonders of architecture and art, of music and theatre, of mathematics and science, of food and culture. If the Minrathous Circle hadn’t been home to miraculous magics and enchanters in the truest meaning of the word.

 If there weren’t children like Felicita, all across a country that deserves the worst condemnations.

 if he could forget the image of his father holding his daughter so gently, smiling down at her with careful, reverent joy. Halward’s face full of glowing pride and wonder. No matter how many letters he burns, the image won’t leave him. It lingers like a memory from a tantalizing dream. Too soft and hopeful, too disparate to ignore. Sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night, though he knows far better, though he still has the burns, he wants it so desperately that he can barely breathe.

 Is he protecting his daughter? Or are his pride and bitterness robbing her of her rightful inheritance? He knows better now than to let in the doubt, but in the dark, he can yet wonder of what could have been. What yet could be.

 Anything to make you happy. 

 “What I am to do with you, Felicita?” Dorian whispers. 


Chapter Text

 ~ first words

  Felicita deigns to say her first word when her namesake is present, as opposed to the unintelligible babbling she usually makes when she and Dorian have their excellent conversations. It’s an enjoyable afternoon at home, sitting on a blanket spread out of the library floor, discussing a bit of everything and nothing, and occasionally tickling Felicita’s belly or graciously accepting whatever toys she chooses to bestow upon them before she demands it back.

 Felix was given the great honor of holding Felicita’s stuffed dragon toy for a whole fifteen minutes. He treated this gesture with deeply understanding and touched gratitude, and thanked her profusely, which is why her namesake is one of her favorite people.

 Dorian shares the news that his dear wife and her lover have left for Orlais with all haste. Livia and Benigno have not visited Dorian and Felicita even once, but Benigno has kept him apprised of Livia’s academic progress and their expected departure dates, and any movement on the part of their parents. Dorian would never admit that he missed them, of course, but he does think fondly of some of the time spent at Livia's townhouse before Felicita's birth. Livia and Benigno don’t expect to return for at least another five years, and Benigno happily wished Dorian all the best down the path of parenthood.

 Felix clearly doesn’t approve, even as pleased as he is to be rid of Livia. Dorian quickly changes the subject to discussing Maevaris’ latest bill on the floor of the Magisterium, which the both of them have a great many opinions on. Felicita even chimes in with appropriate raspberry noises at the foolish backwards nature of the Imperium’s politics.

 Partway through this topic, Dorian notices something off about Felix. When prompted, Felix admits that he’s received offers to return to the University of Orlais to continue his studies, as a research assistant or researcher in his own right, or possibly even in a teaching position. The problem is, as excited as he is by the opportunities, that he’s loath to leave his family again, especially Dorian and Felicita.

 “Nonsense, Felix, you can’t put your life on hold just to watch me fumble my way through parenting,” Dorian insists. “I know we’re highly amusing and gorgeous people, but I hear there’s more to life than just the two of us. Did you know the world doesn’t actually revolve around me? Shocking.”

 Felix laughs. “I imagine it was a very harrowing moment for you.”

 “It changed my life. Demons couldn’t possibly compare. Felix, I insist, in fact I demand, that you go back to those offers and accept the one that does you and your beautiful numbers the most justice.”

 “Well, what can I say to that except ‘of course, my liege’?”

 “‘Thank you, Dorian, you are so very handsome and wise’ is always a classic.”

 The conversation then turns to beautiful numbers and necromancy, Felix and Dorian’s specialties respectively, and their current research projects. It’s always a pleasure, discussing a passion with someone supportive and equally passionate for their own studies. It’s a good way to work out ideas and learn how to communicate them, since Felix is barely magical and Dorian can understand Felix’s explanations of his most complex work only as separate words.

 Dorian’s explanation of his current project involves wild hand gestures, as explanations do, and this must spark something in his daughter. Felicita wriggles her way forward and smacks Dorian’s thigh with both hands and insistently says, in a very clear lisp, “Bo’s!”

 Dorian and Felix both turn to look at her.

 “Sorry, darling, what was that?” Dorian asks, leaning down for her.

 “Bo’s,” Felicita says again.

 Dorian’s brow furrows in the way of a man who’s been trying to make words of nonsense for months. It almost sounded like… but… no. Very carefully, he raises a hand and lets bright yellow sparks dance off his fingers.

 Felicita squeals in delight. “Bon’s!”

 “What is she saying?”

 Dorian lowers his sparking hand so Felicita can smack delightedly, with her clumsy little hands, at the harmless lights. “I think she’s saying ‘bones,’” he answers Felix.

 “And why does Felix the Younger-”

 “You will be the death of- That’s not her name.”

 “-think that ‘bones’ is the word for magic?” Felix finishes, grinning unrepentantly. “How could that possibly have happened, I wonder?”

 Dorian coughs and turns the sparks blue for his daughter. “Felicita is an invaluable research assistant. Bones are, no pun intended, the bones of body reanimation, so they understandably come up frequently.”

 “Understandably,” Felix says.

 “Things may have gotten mixed up, since Felicia needs some theatrics to keep her focus,” Dorian explains. It’s a good way to get his thoughts out, pacing with Felicita in his arms and absentmindedly maintaining a simple flash spell. He coughs again. “I also may have… She especially enjoys it when I animate her toys – which is actually incredibly difficult, you know, you should be impressed because it really was extraordinarily difficult, as stuffed animals have no bones or muscles and no memory of life or movement – so the subject of bones may have come up frequently-”

 Felix starts laughing halfway through this explanation and is wheezing for breath by the end of it, eyes bright. Felicita laughs with him, delighted by the noise, in the middle of trying to eat her father’s sparking fingers.

 “Oh, Dorian,” Felix says, wiping a tear away from his eye, “never change. I’m going to miss you terribly.”

 “Yes, well, try not to get into too much trouble without me.”


~ co-author

 When Felix finally leaves for the university’s next term, Orlais’ newest researcher, it feels like a piece of Dorian goes with him. Even Felicita notices his absence, though she doesn’t understand where her namesake and other favorite person has gone or why. All she can do is cry, unhappy and confused, and all Dorian can do is pat her on the back empathetically.

 He reads her Felix’s first letter from Orlais, and she babbles uncomprehendingly back at him. He reads her Benigno’s letters describing his and Livia’s adventures in the wilds of Orlais as well, feeling it’s only fair that Felicita know something of her mother. Understandably, she tries to escape the room.

 In return, Dorian sends Felix news of all of Livia’s hair-related archeology accidents, every bit of news on Gereon and Lady Arida, and details every wriggle of Felicita’s progress and growth. When he publishes his next paper for Gereon of the Minrathous Circle of Magi, he makes sure to send Felix a copy with a note that he partnered with a fellow genius for this one, much like Gereon and Lady Arida began their illustrious academic partnership, and plans to do the same for all his future publications.

 In this paper, beside the Dorian Pavus being named the primary author, there is an F.H. Pavus named co-author. Plural pronouns are used throughout in reference the authors behind the work. Full credit is shared between them.

 Felix’s response begins: “Dorian, tell me you didn’t actually name your daughter the co-author of your paper-”

 Gereon was terribly confused at first, because all of Dorian’s work is linked to his, until he took a closer look at the name. He and Lady Arida thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen in their lives. They’re possibly the two most respected names in Circle Academia, in magical research throughout the Tevinter Imperium, and they both laughed until they were fit to cry. They still randomly break into laughter just thinking about it.

 Dorian’s response to Felix explains that yes, he did, and his plans won’t be swayed. Maevaris sent him an approving letter from Qarinus and several of his old classmates and professors sent letters that hedged at the identity of this previously unknown assistant of his. Halward sent him a deeply disapproving expression across the room of a party. Why would he ever care to stop? 


Chapter Text

~ maevaris

 It begins with Maevaris, because, as she says later, she is a trendsetter in everything.

 Including, apparently, misfortune.

 The year is 9:37 Dragon.

 Dorian and Gereon have finally officially dissolved their apprenticeship, which frankly ended years ago, and currently enjoy a close friendship and mutually beneficial academic partnership. It’s a bit unnerving, being without Gereon’s official protection, but Lady Arida made a point of reassuring Dorian that he and Felicita are still very much members of the family.

 Lady Arida and her latest apprentice are deep at work on a study of the Veil, while Gereon’s latest research apparently has him invited to a number of salons and suppers by a strange line of people. Magisters and merchants and alti whom Dorian wouldn’t have thought were interested in the subject, especially when Gereon and Dorian’s latest thaumaturgy research has been hitting a series of dead or catastrophic ends. Dorian is currently kindly filling in for his former mentor's classes at Minrathous Circle, not having been invited, by which he is neither disappointed nor surprised. 

 Felix is in Val Royeaux, at the University of Orlais, and reportedly having a wonderful time with his beautiful numbers. He plans to return to the Imperium for the winter holidays, early next year, claiming that he cannot possibly go any longer without seeing Felix the Younger.

 Felicita has turned two years old. She celebrated with a cake bigger than she is, again.

 Dorian is, as usual, not speaking to his parents.

 Livia and Benigno are still at the bottom of some pit in Orlais, without any plans to return anytime soon. Benigno has reported some minor issues with patrons and strangers making ridiculous demands of them, especially of their research and finds, laying claim to certain sites and discoveries. Livia’s sharp tongue is making short work of these interlopers, of course.

 In early autumn, Maevaris and Thorold have come to Minrathous on business, and to visit various friends and acquaintances. They are both doing very well for themselves. It’s the Magisterium and Circle for Maevaris and the Ambassadoria and Merchant Guilds for Thorold. Maevaris comes to visit Dorian after a class and invites him out to dinner later that week with her and her husband, which he gladly accepts.

 The day after, Dorian learns that Thorold has died of an accidental fall.

 This is the Magisterium; this is the alti and the Ambassadoria; this is the Tevinter Imperium; and Maevaris is a woman of many enemies. The chances of a genuine accident are so laughably unlikely that the term is more of a smug insult to titter at all the parties.

 By the time Dorian can make it to Maevaris, he finds her Minrathous residence bright and airy, which is to say: empty of any other sympathetic acquaintances or friends. Maevaris has no family and Thorold’s is far away.

 Dorian stands alone in an immaculate hallway.

 Maevaris and Thorold’s marriage was true, but it was not official, nor was it popular. Promising Thorold her hand in marriage was yet another aspect of Maevaris’ life for the Magisterium to consider distasteful, so very vile and impure, and most of the proud dwarven Ambassadoria followed in turn, beholden to the altus class’ poor opinions and not without their own.

 Dorian knows the vultures will find Maevaris’ misfortune nothing more than just desserts. Much like his marriage was for him, who had only begun to skirt the edges of scandalous.

 Pure white flowers cover most of the furniture. The sparse, unmatching few that have cards are revealed to be from fellow merchants and some few members of the Ambassadoria only, mutual business partners being polite or those who would not dare offend House Tilani or House Tethras. The rest of them are enormous, exotic arrangements in matching vases, without cards, and Dorian suspects that Maevaris ordered them herself.

 He finds her in the middle of her receiving parlor, a soft blue room, surrounded by a forest of these pale flowers, wearing a daringly cut evening dress in blood red. Complete with gloves, jewelry, and heels in gleaming ruby and gold. Her make-up is a fierily, painstakingly decorated as the rest of her, but the black under her eyes runs when she looks up at him, standing in the doorway.

 “Thorold liked flowers. Even more because it was thought so odd in a dwarf,” she says.

 Dorian steps forward and kneels in front of her. “Mae, dear Maker, I’m so sorry.”

 Mae lets him take her hands in his, her nails painted blood red and fingers decked in rings. She pats his hands, as though he’s the one who needs comfort between them, then pulls him up to sit beside her on the sofa. They stay there, hands between them, saying nothing.

 “It was foolish to imagine that we could be happy for long,” Mae says finally, “but she who hesitates to be happy is a damned greater fool.” She pats his hands again. “I won’t blame myself for this, Dorian, don’t you worry.” 

 There’s a hard note in her voice that makes it clear that she will be blaming someone though, and that they will regret it deeply when she finds them. Whoever did this clearly didn’t learn from the revenge that followed the framing and execution of Athanir Tilani, nor from the battle of inheritance that followed after Maevaris revealed she would not be so easily used and discarded like her father.

 “If there is anything I can do…” Dorian begins.

 “There is very little I cannot do myself,” Mae says. “If I need you, Dorian, I will let you know, but while I appreciate that you don’t make that offer lightly, I would rather remind you that you do have a daughter to think of.” Her voice is kindly, but it has the bite of a reprimand. “For her sake, please, do be careful of throwing yourself into other people’s schemes at a whim.”

 She takes a deep breath, before Dorian can apologize for offering to help. “A copper of performance is worth sovereigns of promises,” she says, in the tones of someone reminding herself, then sniffles. “Thorold used to say that. Thank you, Dorian, for the offer. For coming to make it.”

 “What do friends do, if not help hide the bodies?” Dorian says lightly.

 Mae laughs. “How very true.”

 “Don’t worry, Mae,” Dorian continues. “I won’t hold any sharp or unreasonable words against a grieving woman. Maker knows I have no room to talk, nor even the excuse of grief, actually.”

 “Also very true,” Mae agrees.

 “Ow,” Dorian says lightly. Then, after several seconds, adds, “I adore your outfit.”

 “Thorold liked it when I dressed up. When I said fuck it to even thinking of hiding, he loved it; I could have worn the most garish outfits imaginable, though I wouldn’t be caught dead poorly dressed, and he would have loved it still. Better to be looked over than overlooked, as you well know.”

 Dorian swallows against a lump in his throat. “Very true.”

 Not always.

 “When I decided to marry him, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I knew it would be worth it.” Maevaris laughs, despite the black streaks through her rouge, and squeezes Dorian’s hands. “A woman in love can’t be reasonable, you know, or she wouldn’t be in love. Go home to your Felicita, Dorian, and keep her far from the vipers for as long as you can.”


 ~ lady arida  

 It follows with Lady Arida, because the world apparently is, actually, an endless nightmare.

 The year is 9:38 Dragon.

 Maevaris has vanished into her year of mourning, which Dorian knows she plans to spend exacting quiet vengeance. She’s already started, by some of the gruesome rumors running the length of the Imperium. She dropped by with a pretty dress for Felicita before she left, but she didn’t linger.

Gereon and Lady Arida depart for Val Royeaux. From his meetings and Lady Arida’s latest research on the effects on the Veil while pushing the boundaries of magic, Gereon believes that they are close to be a vital breakthrough, but they have made plans to visit Felix at university and then return with him for the winter holidays. Their research in put on hold, left in Dorian’s keeping as he stays behind.

 Dorian is uncertain that Felicita is comfortably capable of such a long journey, and unwilling to bring her south with the chaos spreading quickly through the Free Marches. It isn’t safe for such a small girl. Even Gereon and Lady Arida, two extremely dangerous mages, are leaving with a heavy guard.

 Late last year, the City State of Kirkwall became the latest in the South’s list of tragedies and horrors. An apostate destroyed the city’s Chantry, turning a massive, dwarven-made palace it to smoking rubble in little more than a minute. By all reports, it was magical destruction on the scale that Qunari powders could only dream of. 

 All of the Imperium’s alchemists have been falling over themselves to replicate or rediscover the recipe. The Chantry isn’t the only one searching for this dangerous apostate; the Chantry may not even be the most dangerous one searching. The Tevinter Imperium is salivating over that sort of power, as they do, and every other magister has been crowing about potentially turning Seheron, Par Vollen, and all of the Tevinter Imperium’s enemies, which is basically the entire rest of Thedas, to ashes.

 It’s disgusting, really.

 If that weren’t enough, this act apparently caused the resident Templars of Kirkwall to call for the barbaric Rite of Annulment on the city’s Circle of Magi, which then reduced the rest of the city to smoking rubble in a conflict that’s slowly been infecting all of the South’s backwards Circles. Despite their College of Enchanters soon after voting not to dissolve their broken Circles of Magi.

 Or so most of the stories say. Some of the stories go on about elven blood mages and the Lyrium Ghost and some holy Qunari book being stolen by a pirate, others go on about demons impersonating Templars and dragons returning in hordes and cows flying over the Waking Sea. It’s largely all nonsense and extravagant lies. The general consensus seems to be that half of the South is currently on fire and the other half is bathing in oil and hollering at dragons.

 Not really great for them, and so soon after that Blight too.

 Nothing of note really happens while Gereon and Lady Arida are gone.

 Dorian must fend off yet another attempt from his parents to get him to “see sense.” He’s not sure whether this one was supposed to be about Felicita or another of his life choices, he walked out before any conversational markers. They had an earnest attempt at a decent conversation beforehand, though, mocking the falls and foolishness of various members of the Magisterium.

 There’s several attempts to steal Gereon or Lady Arida’s research, but none of those get very far. One doesn’t become one of the best magical researchers in the Imperium by letting their work get stolen, after all. No, one does that by stealing other people’s work.

 Dorian deals with them, as well as a few attempts that seem more like failed assassinations. The usual obstacles. Such is life, among the Magisterium, the alti, and especially Circle Academia.

 There’s unrest in the Magisterium, but there’s always unrest in the Magisterium. The South’s chaos has just made the excitable, the supremacists, the doom-preachers, the gossips, and all the other lovely headache-inducing elements of the Senate worse.

 More interestingly, Dorian also learns his full capacity for agility during this time – he can cross a fully furnished room much faster than he thought. However, he doesn’t learn this during any actual combat or his daily exercise regimen. No, he learns this when he spies Felicita with a pen to the walls. To this day, he still has no idea how she got her conniving little hands on it, but never before has he experienced such sudden panic and unmagical haste.

 It’s a fine enough life, until he receives a crumpled letter from Gereon. It’s been less than a week since he received their letter informing him they had made good time from Val Royeaux and would be home again very soon with Felicita’s namesake, who was eager to see how much she’d grown.   

 This letter tells him that Lady Arida has been killed in a darkspawn attack.

 Their party was apparently divided and attacked by hurlocks shortly after crossing the southern border. Gereon’s party killed their attackers and arrived to drive the other party’s attackers off, but not before Lady Livia Arida was killed and Felix injured. The letter is disjointed, full of missing details and unfinished thoughts, but Gereon signs off with the assurance that they will return with all haste.

 Dorian stares at the wall for a long time, then goes to find Felicita. She’s napping and complains greatly when Dorian picks her up, but settles down when Dorian picks up her toy dragon and returns to his bedroom and lies down, letting her sprawl over his chest and go back to sleep.

 Dorian puts his hand on her back and lets magic spread through his fingers, searching for a fluttering heartbeat to listen to instead of his own, which is hammering in his ears like a war drum.


~ felix

 It should get better when Felix and Gereon return, because at least they are alive. Dorian’s nerves need the slaking of a safe return. Felicita has missed her honorary grandfather and is excited to see her namesake, largely due to Dorian’s own excitement as she doesn’t seem to remember Felix otherwise, and at least there can be some happiness in their reunion, alongside the grief.

 Except Felix is pale, far too pale even for a man recovering from injury, and his smile is heavy and strained. Understandable, really, of a man who had just lost his beloved mother, but there’s a slump to his shoulders and a weight to his greeting that speaks of worse news. 

 Felix has been tainted with the Blight.

 If Dorian kept a diary, that would be the last line before the entries ended permanently. It shouldn’t be so possible for a single sentence to make Dorian feel like that painfully held-together vase slipping off the edge of the table. All he can do is put Felicita in her namesake’s lap and hold them both.

 There are tears, but none from Felicita.


~ gereon

 It continues with Gereon, because he’s the last member of House Alexius and life’s really got to kick men when they’re down, apparently. It can’t just be happy with the fall, no, it’s got to stomp in the teeth too. It’s like an urge. Can’t be helped.

 The year is 9:39, nearly 9:40.

 Letters from Benigno and Livia have been infrequent and brief.

 The usual unrest is Orlais has become a budding civil war between Empress Celene Valmont I and her cousin, Duke Gaspard de Chalons. The Tevinter Imperium is, of course, just tickled pink by the news of the flame spreading to the Orlesian Great Game. The disruption of the Magisterium’s business interests to the South is annoying, but the Imperium does so love to watch lions fight to the death.

 The Southern Chantry is suffering from having its fingers in too many pies, torn between the Orlesian bickering and the continuing unrest and uprising of their Circles of Magi. In an absolutely brilliant display of political acumen and compassion, the Southern Chantry dissolved the College of Enchanters and has banned any future meetings. The Tevinter Imperium was not at all impressed by the Southern Chantry’s decision or ability to destroy any form of mage governance, nor by rumors of the Southern Templars exacting unsanctioned Rites of Annulment.

 All the stories of the mages make them out to be useless Chantry martyrs or villains, but that’s really only to be expected of the Southern Chantry. If not always, then certainly now. The Maker’s truth is apparently second to the inescapability of greed, fear, and other politics.

 The usual conflicts continue between the Tevinter Imperium and Par Vollen. The Qunari attacked the fortress of Ath Velanis and apparently the King of Ferelden was involved, which was different. Maevaris was involved as well and has promised to tell him the full story when they’re both not terribly busy.

 Gereon has become a different man.

 No, it would be easier to stomach if Gereon were a different man. Gereon is the same man that he always was, a man to whom Dorian once would have compared all others, but he is that man at his lowest and most desperate point, and still finding greater depths. He hasn’t recovered from Lady Arida’s death and he refuses to come to term with the fact that Felix is going to die.

 All of Gereon’s research has turned to the sole purpose of curing Felix, or rather: since the Blight has no known cure and Gereon is no healer, keeping Felix alive. He cannot lose Felix. That his increasingly unstable and unethical experiments to delay the Blight are causing Felix pain is not enough to stop.  

 Dorian threw himself into helping Gereon in the beginning. Dorian stayed far longer than he should have, in fact, persuaded onwards by how he might do the same if it were Felicita with the Blight instead of Felix. However, now, Dorian has paused at the lines in the sand while Gereon has marched forward, knowingly not looking down.

 Gereon’s meetings and hosts over recent years line up a suspicious list of all too ready allies. Magisters whose support and suggestions that Gereon would have scorned before are just another resource for keeping Felix alive. At their eager prompting, there are no boundaries in magic that are not worth crossing now. Men who Dorian know to be foul and corrupt come with offers and bargains to which Gereon, no matters how much he assures them otherwise, is beginning to listen.

 Power isn’t the only thing demons offer.

 Felix, in his own grief and out of love and fear for his father, is allowing this.

 What he knows of, at least.  

 Felix still has nightmares of his mother’s death, and he says plainly that he misses her like a second illness. It’s… difficult for Felix to deny his father much, in this state. Losing Lady Arida was hard on all of them.

 Anything to make him happy.

 Felix doesn’t want to die, but he’s coming to terms with his inevitable death and so must Dorian. He can’t condone forcing Felix to suffer and in the dark just to placate them. If Felix, tired and weakened and grieving, won’t stand for himself, Dorian must.

 This doesn’t go well.

 Dorian confronts his former mentor when Gereon is in no mood to be confronted. Too brashly does Dorian tell Gereon to accept the inevitable, to get over his grief and realize who he’s listening to and what he’s doing to his son. Stress and grief have made mockeries of what they were. Gereon takes Dorian’s insistence that he can’t condone this as a threat. Gereon takes all of what Dorian says as selfishness and threats, and Dorian takes offense.

 They fight, in the way only men who have called each other family can. None of Dorian’s life decisions are safe from Gereon’s misdirection and censure. From Dorian’s disastrous marriage to his sinful proclivities, to his relationship with his parents, to his abilities as a mage, to his daughter.

 And, as always, Dorian gives as good as he gets, if not better.

 Which is probably why Gereon finally snaps and tells Dorian to get out.

 Breathless with fury, all Dorian can do is go.

 Felicita is four years old. She knows that Felix is sick and that her father and Gereon have been working to make him better. When she asks why they’re leaving, Dorian just barely manages not to spit out something foul and bitter about Gereon going mad. Instead, Felix tells her that since he’s been so sick, they thought it might be best for her and Dorian to visit someone else for a while, and then distracts her with the book they were reading while Dorian and Gereon had their unreasonable discussion.

 “I’m so sorry, Felix,” Dorian whispers, as he and his friend have one last embrace.

 “Me too,” Felix says. “I’ll try to get him to see sense, Dorian.”

 “First time for everything,” Dorian says teasingly.

 Felix’s laughter is as strained as the joke. He tells Dorian to look after Felix the Younger for him, and Dorian can’t even bring himself to say that’s not her name. Felix’s smile, as they go, is brittle, like a man one bumped table from smashing into a million pieces of a person.

 Dorian knows the feeling.


~ halward

 It follows with Halward, and Dorian has to keep pinching himself to check if this isn’t happening over his dead body like he said it would. The sad truth is that Dorian doesn’t have many places to go. The sadder truth is that some small part of him hoped against hope that Halward could be the one made to see sense eventually, that his father could be trusted when things really came down to it.

 The year is 9:40 Dragon.

 And things are really coming down to it.

 All of the South is on fire now, both figuratively and literally, and it’s spreading north. A Circle in Rivain was annulled. Rivain. The Imperium, or rather: the Magisterium, wasn’t happy to hear that, as much as it still deeply enjoys the suffering of its neighbors.

 Orlais’ civil war has gained bloody battlefields and all-out conflict, outside of the ballrooms and clever parlor banter. However, it’s still no match for the chaos of the Circles of Magi. Mages always make the greater mess. Really, the Chantry should be glad that the uprising has prevented the royal Orlesians from throwing full towers of mages at each other.

 It’s all very scandalous. Rumors come to the Imperium’s Circles of a violent conflict at the White Spire, the center of the Southern Chantry’s Circles, followed by the shocking news of some “Lord of Templars” cancelling something called the “Nevarran Accords,” and the supposedly disbanded College of Enchanters meeting in secret to vote to separate from the Chantry. All the dignified magisters chuckle at the poor Southern Chantry, losing its Templars and its mages one after the other.

 Then the next thing anyone knows, this “Lord of the Templars” declares the Circles of Magi no more, which has all of the Imperium’s alti sneering at his presumption, and promptly turns up dead, which everyone agrees was very long overdue. If a Templar had such ideas above their station in the Imperium, they would have been dead before they could call themselves lord of anything.

 Now it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s happening through all that smoke. Many in the South are quaintly referring to the conflict as a Mage-Templar War. The Imperium is very amused.

 Well, the Imperium is many things, although mostly smug.

 A whisper is running the rounds of the Imperium, one so quiet that it can’t be heard unless someone is already listening, unless someone else points it out. Dorian can’t hear it, but he notices something being heard. It’s difficult to parse whether it’s something new or Tevinter supremacists just singing the same old song all over again. He wants to go looking for it, but a warning letter from Maevaris tells him to be careful of these people and reminds him to keep Felicita safe.

 Maevaris is busy, Felix is dying, Benigno and Livia have gone missing, and Dorian swallows some of his pride to make use of his birthright. Halward and Aquinea accept him back with surprisingly open arms, and acquiesce to Dorian laying down the law that Felicita is his daughter with odd readiness.

 Felicita is five years old and she doesn’t like her grandparents. She’d rather set up and act out tea parties with her toys – occasionally complete with murder, but far more often princesses and romance and fashion – than answer questions about signs of magic that she hasn’t shown. She gets hilariously moody if Aquinea too often interrupts her royal galas or story-time with prodding about education and her absent mother, and it brings joy to Dorian’s withered heart to see his mother so grumpily and sharply scolded by a five-year-old for interrupting a book his daughter’s read at least fifty times.

 Dorian only wishes he could interrupt Halward’s discussions about his “future,” which include potential remarriage among other nightmares, with biting commentary along the lines of, “This princess is a mathematician, NOT a mage! STOP messing it up.” and high-pitched whining about, “Don’t you know how ANYTHING works?”

 It would be wonderful.

 It doesn’t take long, really barely any time at all, until Halward and Aquinea’s cooperativeness makes Dorian too suspicious to bear any longer. It’s like they’ve suddenly been told that honey catches more flies than vinegar.

 Dorian is over thirty, but apparently his parents think he’s still eighteen in all the ways that matter to them. It’s almost embarrassing how easy it is to break into his parents’ private offices. All business leaves a trail, if a person knows where to look, and Dorian spent so long in that damn family closet that he likes to think he’s on very good terms with the skeletons. He is a necromancer, after all.

 The letters to the House of Repose to potentially dispose of his dear wife and her lover are a surprise. Dorian thought his parents preferred local, homegrown assassins, but the Orlesians have apparently managed to sketch out a neat little contract to be enacted at Magister Pavus’ leisure.

 Following that, the letters and receipts of dealing with some of Dorian’s past lovers aren’t much of a surprise. It’s insulting, but not surprising that his parents believe Dorian can’t handle his own affairs. Magister Pavus can’t let it be known that his son likes to have sex with men. Of course not.

 The letters where Magister Pavus demurs over having his granddaughter assassinated are… Dorian can’t believe he honestly thought his father was above that. Admittedly “removed from the picture” can be taken a number of ways, but unfortunately for Magister Pavus, Dorian takes sincere issue with all of them. Call him petty, but Dorian can’t find in his bitter little heart to be grateful his father apparently preferred to kidnap and misplace Felicita rather than outright kill her.

 Finding the plans for a blood ritual is losing a last bit of hope that Dorian didn’t know he had.

 Not a simple one to test Felicita’s parentage either, but a complex disaster of magic apparently meant to “fix” Dorian himself. It’s not just vague notes, as though that would somehow be better, but pages upon pages of an insane ritual that’s been developing for years, the desperate workings of a man who apparently doesn’t care if his tainted, estranged heir goes mad or suffers or dies in the process of making him "normal".

 This is nowhere near as hasty as Dorian’s terrible marriage, it is careful, but it is no less careless. It is infinitely viler. It calls for blood and sacrifice and force. It’s exactly what his father had always deemed the resort of the weak-minded, only somehow worse. It hits directly in that bitter little heart, and strikes straight through the cracks.

 Dorian takes Felicita and leaves that same night.

 It was a mistake to return at all.


~ livia

 It ends with Livia, Dorian’s dear wife who won’t be outdone.

 The year is still 9:40 Dragon, barely.

 The Southern Divine has called for a Conclave between the mages and the Templars. Frankly, it’s long overdue and Dorian’s not certain how it’s supposed to work when neither group is a united front. Usually a side must agree with itself before it can agree with another side. But good for them, he supposes, may the Maker bless them and all that.

 Felix is still dying, if slowly, and has sent Dorian troubling letters concerning the men and magisters in with which Gereon has fallen. Felix is worried his father will fall apart without him and is keeping sharp watch on House Alexius’ new friends, but Dorian is still angry at Gereon and more worried for his friend: grieving, sick, and alone among men who are no one’s friends.

 Dorian is avoiding his parents entirely, lest he finally let out that scream that’s been bubbling in his chest for over twenty fucking years. They don’t know what they did to make him leave this time, and seem to be hopeful they can persuade him to return willingly into their trap since he already did so once. Dorian isn’t even hopeful he’ll be able to stop himself from killing somebody if he sees them again, because anytime he even thinks about returning it just turns into endless screaming on the inside.

 Felicita is unhappy at their frequent moving and Dorian has apologized to her frequently for it. They’ve taken a residence through the Minrathous Circle of Magi, of which Dorian is still a “respected” member, if not a particularly illustrious one of the moment. It’s temporary, he tells his daughter, until they find the right house and no, they can’t go back to the Alexius estate because Felix is still very sick.

 “I miss Felix,” Felicita says petulantly, shoving her supper about on her plate.

 Dorian has been picking up simple meals through the Circle of Magi and restaurants, too exhausted to find a servant who won’t report back to someone else and unable to cook by himself with frequency or finery.

 “I know, darling,” Dorian says tiredly. “I miss him too.”

 Offers trickle in, from these men who are no one’s friends, using Gereon’s name against him like a passcode. Claiming that Gereon says he has potential, that Gereon has forgiven him and would have him return, and that they alone can see his full potential realized. Dorian doesn’t know if the words about Gereon are true, but it doesn’t matter. Little better then demons are these men.

 Dorian won’t be had by them. He declines, strongly.

 Before Dorian can decide what foolish thing to do next, it’s decided for him. Shortly after an encounter in the hallways of the Circle, in which Dorian immediately tells an unreasonable, powerful man to get fucked for daring to start an unsolicited conversation about his daughter, a journal is delivered to his door. By which Dorian means: a small child, some dusty soporati urchin or slave who can’t be much older than Felicita, thrusts a beaten paper parcel at him and takes off running without a word.

 The paper is torn, revealing the edges of small journal with no magic or markings clinging to the worn leather of its cover. Dorian reenters his temporary residence and, curious and wary, unwraps the parcel and opens the journal. The only people he knows who might send him something like this are Felix and Maevaris, so he’s understandably surprised to see a hastily scribbled and smeared letter from his dear wife, from whom he hasn’t heard in over a year, on the first page.

 Dear Husband,

 We have uncovered a group of Tevinter deplorables calling themselves the Venatori. They worship a leader they refer to only as the Elder One, a man they claim will remake the world and restore Tevinter to its former glory. The usual cult garbage, except they may have the means to do it. They are widespread, spreading, and powerful, built into the heart and bones of the Imperium. You know at least one member, I assure you, but most likely more.

 Years ago, we made the mistake of working with the wrong people, and now of asking the wrong questions and refusing the right offers. My mentor is dead. Ben and I intend to run, he’s contacted his family in Antiva for aid and I my own, but it is more likely that we will both be dead by the time you receive this journal.

 In this journal, I have recorded everything relevant to the Venatori that I have discovered. All their plots depend on the South. Unfortunately, you are the only person I know who may be able to make something of this information. I may have died for this, so you had better stop drinking and do something with it.


 Your Wife

 Underneath Livia’s signature is one last scrawl, a single name, clearly added later at a last minute, blotted and underlined and smeared to the point of being barely legible.  

 Dorian doesn’t even get to stare wide-eyed at the journal for a full thirty seconds before someone breaks his door down. Two men in hooded robes are standing in his front hallway, staring at him with the journal in one hand and his staff in the other, snatched up again at the first sound, pointed towards them. They both hold staffs themselves, directed forward as they entered over the splinters of his door.

 “Didn’t anyone teach you it’s polite to knock?” Dorian demands.

 “Hand over the journal.”

 “And now no introduction. Any more and I’ll have to assume you don’t know what manners are.

 That has the first man raising his staff for a spell, but Dorian is faster. Ever the better, perfect mage. A wave of violet Horror rushes forward with a soundless roar, as though flowing directly from his heart, where rests the knowledge that Felicita is just upstairs. It engulfs the hallway, swallows it, and both men at the end of it.

 Both of them immediately collapse in on themselves, one of them with a strangled scream.

 “That was unforgivably rude,” Dorian informs them and has them Sleep.

 Classically, Horror is supposed to come after Sleep, given that Sleep makes a person vulnerable to Horror and the layering enhances both, but Dorian likes to play to his strengths. Subtlety has never been one of them. Sleep doesn’t work well on fully focused and healthy men about to start a fight, anyway.

 He drags both men into the house, hides their staffs, and makes a sincere effort at putting his door back up. Then he searches them for identifying information. The only things they’re carrying are their purses, some jewelry, some bits and bobs of spellcasting, and a short note with no signature that boils down to: “By now the messenger should have arrived in Minrathous. Check her house and husband, then meet me at her mentor’s office. If you find the journal, acquire it by any means necessary and bring it and its holder back. If you can’t, destroy it and kill them.”

 Dorian glances down at the sleeping bodies at his feet. “Terribly convenient of you to carry this,” he murmurs, ignoring the worry under his skin and drumming in his ears.

 “Papa?” Felicita’s voice calls from upstairs. She sounds so scared and small.

 “Not to worry, darling! Papa will be upstairs in a moment!”

 Dorian stands in the middle of his rented house, with two unconscious men who were sent to kill him at his feet, his frightened daughter upstairs, and a journal of extremely dangerous information from his potentially murdered wife in hand. A journal that will see him and Felicita murdered next, if he doesn’t do something before the men wake up or their fellows come looking for them.

 He flips the journal open to the letter again, to the bottom of the page, to the name smeared in the panic which with it was written. Like a warning. Like his worst enemy or his only hope.



~ the beginning

 In what is probably not the most foolish decision in his life, given all the foolish decisions that make up his entire life, Dorian decides to decide what to do later. He may be a widower now. He may have a cult out for his head at this very moment, thanks to his dear wife. Running for his life comes before cursing Liva’s name and that he ever let himself get married off.  

 “Felicita, find your bag! We need to leave!”

 “Again?” Felicita demands, holding her worn, fat dragon toy close to her chest and frowning at him from her bedroom doorway. She resists as he ushers her into her room and starts going through her things. “But we just got here!”

 Dorian crouches down in front of her, holding her bag. “I know we did, darling, but I need you to listen to me.” He puts a hand on her cheek and leans in close. “There are some very bad men looking for us right now, because they want to do terrible things and I’m not going to let them. I need you to start gathering your sturdiest clothes and your most important things. I’ll be back to help you very soon, but I need you to help me.”

 Felicita lets him put the bag into her small hands. “Are they why we keep moving?”

 It feels like all the breath goes out of him at that one. A million terrible possibilities clamor to come to mind, moments and movements he hadn’t known to consider before. It would be so easy to blame them for everything.

 Dear Maker, is this where he’s supposed to tell Felicita that her mother may be dead?

 “I don’t know, darling,” Dorian says, “but I’m going to find out.”

 Felicita frowns still. “Where are we going?”

 “We need to hide first, but then we’ll decide together, alright, darling?” Dorian has no fucking clue. Maevaris, probably, if they can make it. “Please, hurry and find your things. Papa needs to take care of something downstairs and then he’ll be right back. Alright?”

 “Alright,” Felicita repeats uncertainly.

 Dorian kisses her on the forehead. “Thank you, darling. Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”


Chapter Text

 ~ two dashing rogues

 “Remember, we’re going to have to be very sneaky, alright?”

 Felicita nods with all the solemnness of a six-year-old girl. “Like rogues again!”

 Dorian laughs. “That’s right, darling, we’re going to be rogues again today.”

 He finishes fixing Felicita’s scarf to hide the lower half of her face and pulls up the hood of her thick robe-turned-coat. He has his own hood to hide his face. They shouldn’t stand out among the crowds of refugees and mages, worn and dusty as they are, so long as they keep to the edges.

 “There, a dashing rogue fit for sneaking,” he declares, brushing her off a bit before he can lean back in satisfaction. “Now, show me a rogue’s sparkle-less fingers.” Small hands come up for his inspection, not  a sparkle in sight, and he hums. “Very good. What are you going to do if you start feeling too much?”

 “Take deep breaths and tell you right away.”

 “Perfect, darling.” Dorian leans forward and kisses Felicita on her hooded forehead.

 The large Fereldan village of Redcliffe is chaotic to say the least, full of refugees and mages and villagers all coming and going. Dorian and Felicita skirt the Venatori occupiers - the "few apprentices, several servants, and many guards of House Alexius" by the word of the crowds in Redcliffe, but this sort of entourage is suspiciously large even by the standards of the Magisterium. They do this by blending in with the malcontented crowds; they simply look like more refugee mages, and the recently arrived Inquisition soldiers and scouts make an excellent distraction.

 An uneasy feeling had crept over Dorian on their approach. In the village itself, it’s worse. Hundreds of anxious mages make the very air itch. Felicita scratches at her arms with her nails and Dorian must pull her aside to take deep breaths until they’re both calm again.

 The wounded, furious, and frightened mages are not the only source of stress, however. The unstable manipulation of time has left foul scents and wordless whispers and strange lights, lurking in the corners and circling the settlement. Dorian can’t begin to guess what’s been done, save that it’s unlike anything he’s seen before. Functional time magic. Magic beyond all previous boundaries, and therefore almost certainly beyond any sort of sense or safety.

 “Papa,” Felicita says in her rough Trade, pulling on his arm and pointing. “The Chantry.”

 “Ah, well spotted. Thank you, mellita.”

 Tevene stands out too much in the South. Fortunately, children pick up languages well, and the average Fereldan and Marcher can’t tell the difference between a Tevinter accent and a slightly less unpopular one, such as Antivan or Rivaini. Or even between Tevene and the languages of its neighbors.  

 It’s late afternoon, on the edges of evening, when they enter the Chantry. Evening absolutions will likely be happening within an hour or two. The Chantry isn’t as crowded as it could be, but it’s not as empty as Dorian would have liked.

 Southern Chantries don’t compare to the opulence of the Imperium, though the same sort of lofty disapproval and judgement can cling to the cracked pews and shabby banners nevertheless, especially when one is Tevinter mage, or just a mage regardless of origin. Redcliffe’s Chantry is different. The stone outside bears the old marks of a battle, and the inside is filled with frightened refugees and fervently praying mages, seeking reassurance from a few tired but steadfast Sisters and an elderly Mother.

 “Can I help you, serrah?”

 Dorian looks up from where Felicita is hiding uncertainly behind his legs, her head tucked behind his hip. An exhausted Sister has approached them; she smiles kindly at the hooded Felicita before looking up at Dorian. “Another guided Chant will begin on the hour, or you are welcome to find your own Light in our Maker’s House.”

 “Perhaps another time,” Dorian demurs. “I’m actually looking for someone.”

 The Sister doesn’t bat an eye at this; they’re hardly the only ones. She makes no argument when he declines assistance, drifting away to help the next wayward soul, leaving Dorian and Felicita to make their way towards one of the few spaces for private prayer deeper inside.

 At first, they find nothing but grieving, desperate, remorseful strangers. But, at the very back of the Chantry, Dorian peers around one of the privacy screens and breathes a sigh of relief at a hooded figure in familiar colors, kneeling in silent prayer in front of a humble altar of unlit candles.

 “I never took for you a particularly devout man, Felix.” Dorian says in quiet Tevene.

 The figure spins around immediately, his hood falling from his gaunt face as he stands. However, Felix staggers at the suddenness of his own movement and Dorian must swoop forward to steady him.

 “Dear Maker, you look terrible,” Dorian says.

 Felix shakes his head, then once steady, suddenly engulfs Dorian is a tight hug. “And you’ve hardly changed, despite the wild apostate look,” he says. As Dorian hugs his best friend back, he can’t help but notice how thin Felix is under his robes. “It’s so good to see you, Dorian.”

 “Of course, seeing me is always an incomparable joy.”

 Felix laughs wetly and releases him. “Of course.”

 “Dear Maker, Felix, please don’t cry.”

 “Happy tears, Dorian. These are happy tears,” Felix insists, wiping them hastily away with his sleeve. Then he looks towards Felicita, six-years-old now, standing shyly a few feet away. “Oh, you’ve grown so much.” He smiles brightly. “Hello again, Felix the Younger.”

 Dorian beckons Felicita forward. “Darling, do you remember Felix?”

 “A little,” Felicita says and shuffles forward. “My name’s not ‘Felix the Younger,’” she tells him reproachfully, looking up with a frown. “My name is Felicita Pavus.”

 Felix crouches down for her and chuckles gently. “My apologies, Felicita.”

 “He only called you that because he’s your namesake, darling.”

 “It used to annoy your papa terribly,” Felix says in a loud whisper, “but of course I’ll call you how you like.” He holds out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Felicita Pavus.”

 Felicita shakes it with a firm nod. “The pleasure is mine,” she says loftily, clearly imitating her father. Then she asks, “Are you still sick?”

 “Felicita!” Dorian hisses.

 “Sorry,” she says, possibly reflexively.

 But Felix only laughs again, until he coughs several times. “I am still sick, yes. I have the Blight,” he says sadly. “Do you know what the Blight is?”

 After nearly a year of fleeing for their lives, especially through Ferelden, there was no avoiding a more thorough explanation of darkspawn and the Fifth Blight. Felicita nods, frowning.

 “People don’t get better from the Blight,” she says.

 “No, they don’t,” Felix agrees.

 “But you’ve been sick for a really long time.”

 “Dorian, it’s fine,” Felix says, before he can say anything. Then to Felicita, he explains, “My father has used magic to try and make me healthy again, but it only worked a little.” He looks up at Dorian again. “I have so much to tell you. I can’t believe you managed to reach me, but I’m so glad you did.”

 “If it’s truly as bad as I hear, I could hardly do anything else,” Dorian says dismissively.

 Felix grimaces. “Whatever you’ve heard, I promise the truth is far worse.”

 There’s a demonic hole in the sky, anything is appallingly possible, so Dorian isn’t all that surprised that Felix’s promise is kept. Dorian’s largely just disappointed that he’s still so aghast at the world being an endless nightmare. Also: disappointed that he somehow keeps underestimating people’s capacity for sheer stupidity.

 Dorian shares some of what he knows and some of Livia’s discoveries and theories with Felix. Felix isn’t impressed that the possibly late Livia Herathinos is the main reason why Dorian and Felicita had to flee the Imperium, but he is properly upset at the potential plans and operations that Dorian reveals.

 “I’ve been trying to contact the Inquisition since we arrived in Ferelden, but I’m not sure any of my messages have been getting through,” Felix says, and he looks a decade older than he is as he sighs. “Their Herald of Andraste is due to arrive within the next few days. They may be the best option for stopping whatever the Elder One plans for my father and the Southern mages, and for all of Thedas, if half of what you suggested is true.”

 “A rogue, heretical arm of the Orlesian Chantry?” Dorian demands skeptically. 

 “My father and the Elder One are fixated on the Herald of Andraste and their Mark, which has proven capable of closing the Rifts. Unless you know of anyone else capable of and willing to do the same…” Felix’s tone is becoming annoyed.

 Dorian sighs and rubs at his eyes. “I take your point.”

 “We don’t have many options, Dorian.”

 The Elder One can’t have the Mage Rebellion. There are hundreds of mages here, including children and the elderly. Even some extremist Southern cult sounds better for everyone all around than whatever horrors the Venatori might unleash using their new chattel. Better for everyone except the Venatori, of course, but they could honestly spontaneously combust at this point and Dorian would cheer.

 “They help people,” Felicita says. “Everybody on the way here talked about them.”

 Felicita has been rather taken by the idea of a heroic Herald of Andraste. Dorian still doesn’t believe the Herald part, but even he can admit that he’s heard nothing but good deeds by the Inquisition on the way through the Hinterlands. Apparently Felicita was listening too.

 Dorian can admit, with great disgruntlement, when he’s been outvoted by both Felix-es.

 “I have to return to my father, but I’ll meet you here again tomorrow,” Felix says.

 “Gereon won’t be suspicious of your sudden Enlightenment?”

 “He knows I don’t agree with what he’s doing, though not the extent.” Felix shrugs, a familiar sly smile pulling at his face that gives Dorian an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. “I’ve been guilting him into allowing me this source of comfort, which gives me a regular opportunity to act freely. Away from the other Venatori with us, who openly disdain the Chantry, Southern or not.”

 “Felix, you scheming snake,” Dorian says, proud.

 “Thank you.” Felix says, and picks a walking cane up from beside the altar that Dorian hadn’t noticed. It’s well-made, in the colors of House Alexius, clearly made for Felix. After a moment, Felix adds quietly in Trade, “It does help, to find some peace amidst everything.”


 “Vitae benefaria, Dorian,” Felix says, a wry twist to his lips. “Felicita.”

 “Vitae benefaria, Felix,” Felicita echoes.

 Dorian sighs, because he has no room to speak on morbid humor in poor taste.

 “Vitae benefaria, Felix.”


 ~ one fiery duel

 It’s been a long, long year, and it’s exceedingly off-putting to think such a terrible year doesn’t even have the kindness to be over yet. It’s just begun, really. And it looks even longer when the future can’t seem to make up its own mind about when the end of the bloody world will show up already. Beyond appalling, it’s just rude.

 It’s been a long way here, and the path forward seems to stretch longer still.

 Dorian and Felicita hide among the crowds, yet keeping their usual distance from other people. Dorian would usually peddle and barter in a settlement, but the need for secrecy outweighs the benefits of a few more coins or supplies. Outing himself as yet another Tevinter mage in this teeming pool of anxiety and fear? Dorian’s very attached to his limbs and prefers they remain attached to him, if at all possible, thank you. He’s fairly certain the real thing protecting him, one of the Venatori’s Most Wanted Loose Ends, from being caught here is that even the Venatori think him waltzing into the village they’re occupying is too damn stupid for him to do.

 They pitch a tent near a Redcliffe local’s residence, on the edges of the village, out of the way and almost entirely out of sight. Their host is a man called One-Eyed Jimmy, who has two eyes and doesn’t seem to mind the occupation by the Mage Rebellion, or the Arl and his men being cast out of their home, or the budding Tevinter occupation, or the hole in the fucking sky. No, this man is far more concerned with the recent disappearance of a dearly beloved, prophetic family ram. Everything else is comparably inconsequential to poor, lost Lord Woolsley.

 A starry-eyed Felicita is immediately convinced that this lost beast is a magical ram, or a shapeshifting witch or spirit stuck in animal form. Dorian is convinced that the man is just an unfortunate fool, but he politely doesn’t say as much. Not to their host’s face, at least.

 “Ferelden hasn’t gone to the dogs after all,” Dorian mutters disbelievingly as he sets up their wards. “It’s gone to the goats.

 Felicita giggles at him.

 At least it’s slightly better than when they made the mistake of camping near all those horse and druffalo farms not far from here. Dorian’s unfortunately gotten used to camping and animals, but there’s something very different about herds upon herds of them. Nothing but the delightful smell of beast and shit over there. He doesn’t care how much Felicita enjoyed herself. Never again.

 By the time their humble abode is prepared, there’s little else to do but share a small meal and settle in for the night. However, being surrounded by other mages means that there’s little harm in practicing their sparks and a little fire before that. Redcliffe is so teeming with casual magic and flaring mana that it could almost remind Dorian of home, save for the looming cracks in the Veil, constantly poking in just in case he forgot the world is ending… and possibly unravelling now.   

 With a little concentration, using some of the choice sticks they’ve picked up along the way, Felicita manages to set the end of her makeshift staff on fire. Her entire face lights up at her accomplishment and she grins at her father. Dorian has no idea how missing one of her upper front teeth just makes her even more adorable. Witchcraft, he supposes.

 Dorian scoops up one of the discarded sticks and lights the end with fire.

 “I challenge you to a duel, my lady,” he declares in Trade, twirling his new weapon and entering a flamboyant fencing stance. “Your insults against me shall not be permitted to pass unanswered.”

 Felicita’s grin widens and she holds her stick in front of her like a blade. Swinging it so quickly about makes the flame at the end sputter like a candle. It nearly goes out. Felicita’s eyes widen and she scowls at it with concentration; the wood pops and crackles until the dying flame steadily returns to life.

 “Careful, Lady Mellita, a duel with fire swords requires focus,” Dorian admonishes. He twirls his own stick again, keeping the flame steady and bright at the end, before returning to another flamboyant, not-entirely-correct fencing stance. “Perhaps you are not ready to face me after all.”

 Felicita tries to scowl at the villain and grin at the same time. She clumsily mimics his stance, never overbalancing before catching yourself. “Perhaps you’re not ready to lose!

 “Another grave insult! En garde, my lady!”

 Dorian swings his blade at her, slowly, and the sticks meet with a clack and a giggle from Felicita. Anything like actual fencing would be asking to have someone’s eye taken out. Felicita’s flame flickers dangerously again, and Dorian pulls away so that she can rekindle it.

 “I see you are stronger than I thought,” Dorian says loftily. “Prepare yourself! Watch your stance!”

 Their sticks clack together again, then again, and Felicita’s flame stays alight both times.

 “I should have known that it would take all my skill to defeat you, Lady Mellita!”

 “I’m the one who will defeat you!” Felicita declares, and takes a careful swing of her own.

 Dorian makes sure to block it and grunt with effort at the gentle clack. “I am the master of the fire sword! I have defeated a dragon using this blade! How are you going to defeat me?”

 “I’ve defeated two dragons!”

 “Two? Impossible!”

 “At the same time!”

 “Well, now you’re just being silly.”

 “No, I’m not! I’m going to defeated you like the dragons!”

 Dorian lets her beat him back and chase him around their small space, behind the house. Soon enough, Felicita’s spell falters and winks out, and won’t relight no matter how hard she frowns at the charred end of her stick. Dorian lets his own flame sputter out and makes an alarmed gasp at the sight.

 “How clever of you, Lady Mellita, to prolong our duel until both of fire swords ran out of power! Our duel is a tie now. We shall have to continue our duel another day, and I know that I shall finally defeat you then!” Dorian casts his stick aside and bows more deeply than he would to actual royalty. “As always, it has been an honor fighting you, my lady.”

 Felicita is still frowning at him when he lifts his head, and then raises her stick and returns to her fighting stance. Then she grins, wide and wicked.

 “What’s this?” Dorian gasps, throwing a hand over his heart for the drama of it all. “Are you using your fire sword as a regular sword? How? That’s never been done before!”

 Felicita scoffs. “Now you’re silly!”

 Then she charges and Dorian must run before his daughter whacks him in the knees with a stick again. It won’t be the first time and it definitely won’t be the last, but it still hurts. Dorian begs for mercy, but Felicita offers him nothing but manic giggles and some extremely close calls.

 After several minutes of this, Dorian must gracefully collapse near their tent. “I cannot run anymore!” he cries, throwing up his hands to protect himself. “Please, Lady Felicita Mellita, have mercy!”

 “Never!” Felicita cries and raises her blade high.

 Dorian lunges for her, catching her around the middle and causing her to drop her stick with a squeal. “You’ve fallen for my trap!” They wrestle on the ground, Dorian blowing raspberries into her tickling areas, like her neck and belly. “I have you now, my lady!”

 “Noooo!” Felicita cries in Tevene, fighting back. She smushes her hands against his face to push him away, making Dorian momentarily fear that she’s going to pull the mustache. Thankfully, she only brushes against it, shoving at the bottom half of his face.

 Dorian stiffens. “Oh no!” he cries. “You’ve discovered my weakness! My mustache!”

 Then he collapses, somewhat gently, on top of Felicita, who shrieks.

 “Papa! Papa, noooo! Move!”

 “I can’t move, Felicita, I’ve been defeated.”

 “Papa, you’re squishing me! Get up!”

 After several seconds, with a heavy sigh, Dorian rolls off, and Felicita immediately struggles up and sits on top of him. Possibly in revenge, possibly just because she can.

 “Oof,” Dorian says.

 “I’m hungry,” Felicita informs him.

 Dorian lifts his head and squints at her. “You’re not going to eat me, are you?”

 “No, I want good food.”

 “I’m not sure whether that’s an insult or not. Alright, darling, suppertime then.”


~ countless bad dreams

 After eating and preparing for bed, Felicita is worn out and drops off almost immediately. It’s been a long way to Redcliffe for the both of them, though Dorian finds sleep far less easily. The anxiety in the air is less at night, on the outskirts, but that doesn’t change the cracks in the Veil.

 The green glow of the Breach is more visible at night, a distant, eerie light over the Frostbacks, distracting from the stars. This may be the closest that they’ve come to the hole in the sky. He can’t imagine what it must be like to sit directly under it, on the rubble of the failed Conclave that killed so many, including the Southern Divine. It’s been nearly a year now. If Dorian had to sit under the open Fade for a year, he’s sure he’d be mad by now.

 He might go mad if he must spend too long in Redcliffe as it is. It can't be enough that the Venatori bring themselves. The effects of unstable yet somehow functional time magic linger still, at once subtle and deeply pervasive to anyone with the senses for it – strange scents, wordless whispering and stitches of speech, and lurking lights and shifting shapes – exactly like undone happenings settling poorly, but on a scale that Dorian never imagined. It’s fascinating, and tempting, but Gereon must be spinning spells even now, wherever he is in this village, to settle his dangerous undoings, to try and stop the unravelling.

 Dorian slips off into uneasy dreams. There aren’t any demons, but it doesn’t help his peace of mind to imagine them skirting his piece of minds in favor of weaker prey. After all, with so much uncertainty in the future and anxiety in the air, as the warring in the South has shown him, as the Venatori do nothing to prevent, there are so many mages for the demons to choose from.


~ and a gathering of suns

 The next day is spent alternatively gathering information and staying out of sight. It’s not easy. When Dorian isn’t clearly foreign, he’s still clearly noble-born, near a year on the run doesn’t change that, and the only way to avoid revealing himself as either is eavesdropping, and he must take whatever path he chooses with Felicita in tow. Secrecy is difficult with a six-year-old at your heels for several reasons.

 A man travelling on his own is commonplace, but a man travelling with a child has a story and apparently everyone wants to hear it. Really, it has been just astounding the number of people who have walked up to him, apropos of nothing, using Felicita as a conversation starter. Dorian can’t shake memories of the alti, can’t help hearing casual, too familiar questions about his daughter as subtle threats against her.

 He’s also received more unsolicited parenting advice than he ever could have dreamed of not wanting. Admittedly, some of it had been incredibly helpful, but only very rarely. The rest has been Dorian barely managing not to kill people for telling him superstitious nonsense about sneezing and curly hair.

 Speaking of superstitions, more evidence appears to reveal that the unstable Fade hasn’t helped the anxiety hanging over Redcliffe. Southern mages aren’t entirely incompetent. Several of them have noticed the same symptoms of irresponsible time magic that Dorian has – body doubles, memories that didn’t happen, strange incidences being done and undone without warning, a pervasive feeling of wrongness or forgetfulness – all of which are even worse than the ones Dorian catalogued before, suggesting that the instability is indeed getting worse instead of better. The rebel mages don’t seem to know why these things are happening or what this magic is, though, only suspecting that the Tevinter magister and his apprentices (the Venatori) are somehow behind it.

 Most of the mages aren’t happy about being signed into the service of a Tevinter magister. Some few fools are, but it’s quickly evident that they’ve imagined an Imperium entirely different to the reality, which is that they would be eaten alive even if they were miraculously made alti instead of indentured immigrants. They have no idea what Gereon is a front for. Several Southern mages might have an inkling; they plan on running, on abandoning the Mage Rebellion for other groups, or on following the Tranquil mages that are being cast out by the Venatori.

 Dorian finds himself listening to some of those Tranquil mages, discussing their futures with logical emptiness, in their strange, dull voices. He’s found he can scrounge up pity for them, but largely they make him uncomfortable. The Imperium rarely resorts to the practice. It’s considered a fate worse than death to be stripped of one’s magic and identity, the two of which are considered entwined.

 “I intend to seek purpose with the Inquisition,” a man tells his empty-eyed fellows. “I will offer them my services as an alchemist.”

 There are three of them: a human man, a human woman, and an elven woman, all gathered in a dark corner, their sunburst brands bent together. Nobody is paying them any attention. Most of Redcliffe’s residents, much like Dorian, don’t even seem to want to look at them. Dorian might have passed them by if Felicita hadn’t pointed them out.

 Their inability to sense or interact with the Fade makes it very easy to eavesdrop on them. Dorian and Felicita listen in, with Felicita scrunching up her brow in an effort to keep up with their Trade.

“The Chantry has failed to keep order and provide safety,” the elven woman says.

 “The Inquisition is not the Chantry,” the man counters blandly.

 “It was ordered by the Divine and is run by her Hands.”

 “Who have been denounced by the Chantry and yet continue to offer aid to those in need and work to return order. They are a growing organization that will require workers with my skills.”

 “An organization that may yet fail,” the human woman says.

 “An organization that may not have the resources to provide safety,” the elven woman adds.

 “This is true,” the man admits dully. “However, it may succeed. It would be illogical for the Inquisition to refuse my services, which will allow me to assess them on the behalf of the many. I will write with my observations and progress.”

 “My observations support that you will make a competent judge, Clemence,” the human woman says. “We will do the same, should we reach our destination and it prove adequate.”

 “That is reasonable,” the man, Clemence, says. “What is your chosen destination?”

 “We have decided to travel to the Circle of the Sun. Their representative has offered both protection and purpose for us, and searched out Tranquil mages specifically.”

 “Perhaps they are the ones behind the disappearances.”

 “They were in possession of many significant references, including that of Amell,” the elven woman says. “I assessed them and have decided they are genuine. Apprentice Argus, who has done nothing against the disappearances or for us, threatened them away. We will write with observations and progress. If we do not contact you again, it may be assumed that we are deceased and the many should be informed to prevent further losses.”

 “That is reasonable. Similarly, if I do not contact you, the many should be informed of the Inquisition’s dangers as well,” Clemence says, still no emotion in his voice at their potential imminent deaths.

 The conversation ends shortly after that, with apparently nothing more to be said.

 Really, it’s as though all Minrathous’ worst actors and dullest professors have been combined into a single person, only multiple times over. Dorian would shudder at the thought if he wasn’t reluctantly intrigued. He was told that Tranquil mages were malleable, content to serve without any motivations of their own, yet here they seem to have organized among themselves and are taking initiative. He imagines the people who told him such things would be terribly shocked.

 It’s rather like your rug getting up and informing you that it finds its conditions unbearable and has decided to seek its fortunes somewhere else. Which is most certainly the Imperium’s worst nightmare.


~ waiting

 “Hello, Felicita,” Felix says, first thing, when they meet him later that afternoon. “Have you been keeping your father out of trouble?”

 “I don’t even get a greeting now, I see how it is.”

 “Yes,” Felicita assures her namesake. “It’s very hard.”

 “I know, it’s very, very hard. It used to be my job and he was even more trouble when he was younger,” Felix confides. “It’s good to know that another Felix is doing a better job than I did.”

 Felicita shakes her head. “He keeps me out of trouble too! We beat trouble together!”

 “That’s very good to hear,” Felix says, looking like he is also having trouble with his heart suddenly melting in his chest. “It’s good to see you too, Dorian,” he teases, before his expression turns grim. “I suppose you’ve noticed my father’s failure to fix the instability.”

 “Like a particularly annoying bird wailing outside my window after midnight, yes.”

 Dorian is speaking from experience with this simile; some idiotic Pavus ancestor decided to make keeping peacocks on the family estate a tradition. Their monstrous screams still occasionally haunt him.

 Felix huffs a laugh, then coughs a few times. “Like most spectacular failures, of course, it’s actually made things worse. A Rift has opened not far in front of the main Redcliffe gates, apparently with some time-bending side-effects that makes fighting the demons more interesting.”

 “Well, that’ll ruin a number of people’s planned getaways.” 

 “Especially with Sidonius - one of the Venatori, second after my father - and my father calling for a lockdown and watching all the exits instead of helping the local Watch, retired local soldiers, and the Inquisition soldiers and scouts,” Felix says. “There are hundreds of mages here, dozens of whom must have some combat training or experience, at least some of whom might be willing to help, but Father’s forbidden them from going near it.”

 Felix sighs and rubs at his eyes. He has the look of a man who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in months. “It’s not good, but scouts have it that the Herald of Andraste is less than a day away.”

 “They’ll have to hold until then,” Dorian says grimly.

 “Are we safe here?” Felicita asks.

 Felix doesn’t hesitate to nod. “We’re safe in here. My father and the Inquisition won’t let the demons overrun the village,” he assures her. As a side note, he says to Dorian. “Some of the Redcliffe villagers are surprisingly determined and blasé about it, actually.” Then back to Felicita: “We’re just worried about the people protecting us and everybody outside the village.”

 “Between the refugees and the Watch, someone will go running for the Inquisition,” Dorian says. “If they’ve spent so much time helping every other stranger on the street, they’ll come running for Redcliffe.”

 “And the Herald will close the Rift,” Felicita says.

 “And the Herald will close the Rift and stop the demons, yes,” Dorian agrees. “That does seem to be what they do. Have you heard much about this Herald of theirs, Felix?”

 “Too much,” Felix says dryly. 

 “Are they really a Qunari?” Felicita asks.

 “That’s what they’re saying, although they’re apparently a Qunari who’s not part of the Qun, and those people are usually called Tal-Vashoth,” Felix explains, ever faithful to the technicalities.

 Felicita looks up at her father. “Why aren’t they part of the Qu-un?”

 “Er, I suppose they didn’t like it much, darling.”

 Felix snorts and then coughs when Dorian shoots him a glare.

 “Did they leave like we left Tevinter?”

 Running for their lives from a cult with delusions of taking over the world? Dorian can see the potential similarities there. He wouldn’t go around saying as much, though. “I don’t know, darling, maybe, maybe not.”

 “If they did, they probably don’t like to talk about it,” Felix says gently.

 Felicita mulls this over thoughtfully and her namesake turns to Dorian again.

 “I’ve made copies of my father’s work, as much as I could, in the hopes of…” Felix trails off, then clears his throat. “I didn’t know what had happened to you. Even when you sent the note that you were leaving Tevinter, I couldn’t be sure you hadn’t been caught or killed. It was one of the greatest surprises of my life to hear from you again, and to actually see you, you both, alive and well… I had to come here again just to make sure yesterday wasn’t a dream.”

 “I’m so sorry that I left you alone, Felix,” Dorian says, heartfelt, and reaches out to put his hand on Felix’s shoulder. “I should have-”

 Felix shakes his head. “If you stayed you’d be dead, and if I’d left, I’d be dead.”

 A fact that Dorian doesn’t like to think about. Felix hasn’t been the only one wondering if his best friend was dead, wherever he was. Grief on top of that for Lady Arida. It was a miracle that Dorian managed to find him again. Dorian opens his arms and takes Felix in another hug, Felix who’s been so very sick and so very alone for so long.

 “Maybe so, but the only way to beat trouble is together, you know,” Dorian says teasingly.

 Felix laughs wetly. “I know, but you know me, I happen to like trouble.” He squeezes Dorian one last time before pulling back. “It bears saying again: I’ve missed you, Dorian.”

 “I’ve missed you too.”

 Felix looks down at Felicita, lingering around the vicinity of Dorian’s hip, clinging loosely to her father’s belt. “And of course I’ve missed you too, Felicita,” he says, wiping at his eyes. Then he winks. “Even if you don’t remember me very well.”

 Felicita clings tighter to Dorian at that, and Dorian cups her head in comfort.

 “Oh, we’ve gotten off-topic.” Felix clears his throat and reaches for the stack of notes he’d left by the small altar of the private space. “I meant to say that I’ve been working on my father’s notes myself, but, you know me, thaumaturgy was never my passion, and since I barely have enough magic to light a candle and with the Blight… practical progress has been… backwards… let’s say. I originally gathered it for you, hoping to find you again.”

 Dorian accepts the notes gratefully. “I’ll do my best to stop the world from unravelling, though I haven’t done much research in quite some time…” He peers at some of the notes, which are unfortunately in a combination of Felix’s chicken-scratch and Gereon’s chicken-scratch. Appalling. Chickens would cry. “Frankly, I haven’t a clue how Gereon’s accomplished any of this.”

 “Ask the Venatori and the Elder One, they probably know,” Felix says with a shrug.

 “I’d rather not.”

 Felicita giggles uncertainly, then ducks her head when Dorian squints down at her, meeting her grin wth a smile of his own. At this rate she’s going to develop so morbid a sense of humor that even the Nevarrans will be horrified.

 No, wait, everyone knows Nevarrans don’t have a sense of humor, always so busy with their ceremonies and worship. They’ll be horrified at the poor Tevinter taste of poor Felicita’s inevitably morbid humor. They certainly turn up their noses at the Imperium’s styles and traditions surrounding necromancy. Stuffy conservatives, the lot of them.

 “I’m going to arrange a meeting with the Herald,” Felix says.

 “I’d like to be there.”

 “I thought you might. If they arrive tomorrow, I’ll have them come to the Chantry, hopefully around this same time. Mother Eglantine-”

 “I beg your pardon.” 

 “-has agreed to hold absolutions and Chants outdoors and to have the Sisters and volunteers work around the village,” Felix continues, steadfastly ignoring any outbursts. “It won’t seem suspicious, between the Rift and the rebels. The Chantry should be empty for us to meet in private.”

 “Should be, yes. You trust this ‘Mother Eglantine’? If that is even her real name.”

 “I trust she has the best interests of Redcliffe and her people in mind, and that it’s clear my father doesn’t share her perspective. Between that and the Inquisition’s deeds, it’s enough.” Felix’s tone is becoming annoyed again.

 Dorian is unhappily familiar with the concept of enough. It’ll have to do. “Very well. And what shall I do while you direct the Herald to the Chantry? Wait?”

 “Since you’re trying not to get caught, yes.”

 “I don’t like waiting,” Felicita says grumpily. “It’s boring.”

 “Well said,” Dorian mutters.

 Felix glares at him. “I may have to distract my father and be unable to speak with the Herald at all. If that happens, you are going to have to speak to the Inquisition on your own, and gain their help. The Elder One and the Venatori – my father can’t succeed here. They can’t succeed anywhere, and the two of us aren’t going to be enough.”  

 Dorian sighs. “The lesser of two evils, I suppose. While I am ever so charming, Felix, I am still a Tevinter mage and you do remember what happened the last time I tried to persuade complete strangers, yes? I nearly burned your parents’ estate down.”

 “No, I destroyed that memory,” Felix says. “If you’re so inept, then let Felicita do the talking.”

 Felicita ducks her head back behind her father’s hip at this prospect. A very quiet no is barely heard.

 “That’s not happening, and I have never been inept at anything in my life.”

 “If you say so. Looks like it’s going to be you. ‘The lesser of two evils, I suppose.’”

 “Very clever.”

 Felix smiles wryly. “Don’t worry, Dorian,” he says, and unashamedly knocks Dorian’s shins with his cane in a friendly gesture. “I will try and escape my watchers to meet the Herald with you, just try not to burn the Chantry down before I get there.”

 “How else am I supposed to survive this wretched cold, Felix?” 


Chapter Text

 ~ and a herald of andraste

  The Herald of Andraste arrives shortly after midday the next day. Felicita wants to go see them immediately, but Dorian refuses to get anywhere near that fuss. They don’t need that kind of attention. Dorian must resort to reminding Felicita of this and that they will be seeing the Herald later.

 Redcliffe locals and the refugees largely seem grateful that the time-spinning Rift on their doorstep is gone. A fair number of the mages are too, especially the Tranquil, as much as emotionless people can anyway. Everybody likes the people who make the demons go away, it seems.

  Well, most sensible people like the torn Veil between worlds being closed. The Mage Rebellion is torn over the people who’ve done it. Many of their members seem very excited that the Inquisition has come to save them from the Evil Tevinter Magister and his secretly Venatori entourage, but some are more than a little bit appalled and pissed off to see the Inquisition. Even if they don’t like Tevinter, to them, the Inquisition is nothing more than the arm of a Chantry that made them prisoners the first time.

 To be fair to them, Dorian is fairly sure he also feels a reflexive urge to light anyone who tells him to be grateful to them on fire. There are many things he does have to be grateful for, yes, but to people who tell him to be grateful to them? There’s a reflexive urge to burn.  

 He and Felicita make their way to the Chantry as soon as they know the Herald has entered Redcliffe. As promised, the building is emptied of worshippers, who are all congregating on the lawn outside or gone to see the Herald. It’s unnerving how large and spacious the building is without the people, how silent and solemn without its flock, how cold and wide the light from the high windows.

 Dorian releases Felicita’s hand and she stomps curiously across the stone floor, enjoying the space, listening raptly to the tiny echoes she sends through the building, and then immediately testing the extent of her new stomp-to-echo abilities and her father’s patience and headache. However, beyond directing her to the private area at the back of the Chantry, Dorian leaves her to it. She’s been very well-behaved in all their sneaking lately, she can stomp about, pretending to be a giant, in an empty Chantry if she wants to.

 Dorian goes searching for any extra letters or notes that Felix might have left him. He finds none, so he settles in by the humble altar and continues trying to make sense of Gereon’s notes. It’s not a fast process. Just reading them is difficult, so understanding the broader concepts is currently far beyond him, and the details further still. Dorian may be one of the best mages of his generation, but even he can’t learn an entirely new and foolish branch of thaumaturgy from some stolen, likely incomplete, written-by-a-headless-chicken notes overnight.

 There was… something like a ripple through Redcliffe when the Herald closed the Rift in front of the gates. Dorian felt it from the other side of the village. He can’t yet tell if this has agitated or soothed the instability. Leave it to the end of the world to be full of unfairly unprecedented and unique magic, Dorian might be ecstatic if the stress of it all wasn’t trying to personally do him in.

 Dorian alternates between trying to understand the thaumaturgy notes and wondering what he’s supposed to say to the Herald of Andraste. He and Chantries don’t typically get on well. He’s never properly met a Qunari, but he doesn’t suppose that’ll go well either. Dorian has walked a very fine line of being extremely charming and greatly disliked in his life. Though the two are hardly mutually exclusive, of course.

 Just once he’d like to go somewhere where some megalomaniacal magister hadn’t already ruined it for every Tevinter altus after him, unfortunately that place doesn’t actually exist in all of Thedas. The Imperium’s made well sure of that.

 Felicita has no such concerns. She’s pulled her stuffed fat dragon toy from her bag. It’s been worn from a respectable red to a tired pink, and the enchantments no longer work, but Dragon is still the most important toy in the world. Dragon is apparently now going to rescue some poor imaginary mages from a Rift of demons, and may or may not be playing the role of the Herald of Andraste. It’s hard to tell between the swooshing noises and stomping by the storyteller.

 Of course, this is when a great shudder goes through the Chantry, out from the middle of the building. An earthquake, if earthquakes made stone walls ripple like water and the air scream like it’s a living thing being burnt alive – ironic, somewhat, in a Chantry. Several of the ragged banners and toppling pews actually do catch fire.

 Dorian snatches up his staff but falls to the floor, Felix’s notes fluttering around him, the privacy screen smashing down behind him. It’s hard to keep your stance when the floor, the air, the world is moving, stretching, compressing, shaking. Warping. All centered around the middle of the Chantry.

 Felicita falls hard to her knees in the first shudder, and shrieks as everything seems to fall apart around her in a green and wild light seeping from thin air. A high window ripples and shatters. Another cracks. Dorian stumbles towards her, dodging a tottering candelabra, and slides across the rippling stone to fall over her, casting a barrier over them both. Glass and pieces of the ceiling crash against the blue shield, and Felicita clings to his robes.

 Then, without pause, comes a sudden wind, an inhale, that swallows all the candlelight and flames and disappears into a crack in the world in the middle of the stirring, iridescent green light seeping from nowhere and everywhere. Then stillness, briefly, save for a last breaking of glass.  

 A long, glowing sliver of a break in the Veil hangs, for a held breath, in the middle of the darkened, shaken Chantry. Whispering wordlessly, loudly, in an all too familiar rush and shade.

 Dorian stares wide-eyed. He’s seen Fade Rifts from a distance before; he’s never seen one open before.

 Another, stronger shudder goes through the Chantry. The Fade Rift bursts open and the entire Chantry lights up with unnatural green, fire and lightning and glow, as the air rips apart and turns itself inside out. The pews slam against each other, into the walls. The last windows shatter in the thunder. The new Fade Rift seizes, then flares up and out in every direction, scorching stone, setting flames again, lashing against Dorian’s barrier. It cracks and rumbles like a hastened storm. Then again. Then again. All while dripping a deep green and sickly yellow of unstable magic that blurs the air.

 Then it flares again, brighter and wider, long arms of magic ripping into the floors and walls, creating blazing, concentrated points of light. The world is barely trembling now, or perhaps Dorian is trembling for it, and he stands quickly, forcibly pulling Felicita to her feet. They must leave while they can.

 However, it is too late for them. The Fade Rift seizes, and from the points of light burst long, scaled arms and half-formed wraiths and shades buildings themselves shapes out of dust and debris. There must be too many demons lurking about Redcliffe. If the Rift had to look for monsters to chew up and spit out, it clearly didn’t have to look far.

 So much for Chantries being a neutral, nonviolent space.

 A tall, scaled Terror smacks into the floor first, spit out from a crack in near the ceiling, and lets out a high-pitched screech. It drops to all fours, its long limbs folding with too many joints, mismatched across its arms and legs, and its sharp claws and spiked tail tear into the stone. The Terror tastes the air, several different tongues flickering out, many at once. Then it turns towards Dorian and Felicita, and stares with the empty sockets where eyes might have been.

 Dorian’s heart drops to his stomach and leaps up to his throat. “Felicita, hide!” he orders sharply, shoving her towards the private prayer space. “Hide, now!”

 This isn’t the first time Felicita’s had to hide while Dorian fights. She runs, stumbling only once, and disappears while Dorian steps forward to meet the demon, staff turning in his hand. Several shades have almost formed, more struggling, and several wraiths lurk almost curiously behind the Terror and the Fade Rift. All of them between Dorian and the only door.

 This isn’t the first time Dorian’s been in a fight for his life, for Felicita’s life, especially since leaving the Imperium. However, it is the first time he can’t see a way out. He’s never faced a Fade Rift before. He doesn’t know if he can manage to take Felicita and run this time.

 The Terror burns easily enough, screeching as it disintegrates piece by piece, a lesser thing clearly unprepared for the other side of the Veil. It takes one step towards him, tail flicking, and he ends it for even daring.

 The Fade Rift then seems to suck in the Terror’s remains, piece by piece eating the same creature it spawned, which would be incredibly fascinating if it were just Dorian’s life on the line.

 “I don’t suppose any of you would be willing to answer some basic questions for a paper? No? I didn’t think so. This is why academics are such terribly unhappy people, you know.”

  The wraiths are trickier, throwing magic and pieces at themselves from near the ceiling, blows enough to wear down his renewed barrier or take him by surprise if he lets them persist. Wraiths are fast, but extremely vulnerable to nullifications. Unfortunately, Dorian learns, nullifications of magic don’t work next to an open Fade Rift. Either the instability makes manifesting the spell near impossible or the spell fizzles out in failure after a bare second of existence.

 Also potentially fascinating, if an unpleasant discovery in the moment.

 “What the-? Kaffas!” Dorian ducks the lopsided lunge of a shade, then swings his staff to take off one wooden limb and its Chantry banner head with its blade. Then again to cut through its gutless middle of questionable flesh and turn away, out of reach of… it’s two remaining limbs on the left side. “Vishante kaffas!”

 He hates fighting mismanaged demons. Three limbs and none of them match. Horrific.

 Dorian sets Flashfire over the pile of shades struggling out of the debris and Immolates the decapitated shade in front of him, which was tilting lopsidedly but seemed prepared to continue nevertheless. Several of them screech and disintegrate, others crawl desperately away from the flames caught to their half-formed flesh.

 His barrier flickers and flares with the wraiths’ continuous spells. Dorian recasts it just in time for one of the stupid things to throw a partial rib at him. Rude. He throws a chain of lightning back at them, one that rips thunderously back and forth between them.

 He then must duck away from one of the Fade Rift’s flares, an arm of green striking out at where he once stood with a loud crack. Attracted by his spellcasting, perhaps? Dorian resolves to keep his distance and picks off a wraith lurking in the Chantry’s wings, then stabs down into a burning shade crawling for his feet and lights it from the inside. He spins away again as another creeping arm of the Fade Rift seems to reach towards him, pulling the disintegrating demons into itself.

 Dorian turns to face one of the two remaining shades on the floor, a large thing with only one limb and two heads and three poor attempts at feet, lumbering forward through the darker green magical discharge the Fade Rift has been giving off. Before he knows what’s happening, he’s nearly lost his head to its claws.

 Dorian trips backwards, into the similarly colored instability and watches as the world slows to half speed. The shade swipes its claws again; it breaks his barrier and dies screeching, long and low, slowly, in the flaming backlash.

 Quickly catching his balance, Dorian stumbles out of the instability and watches the world return to normal speed. The last remaining wraith’s spell crackles towards him, a poor attempt at returning his lightning that killed all its fellows, and it’s all he can do to throw a partial barrier, the barest sparks of one, to meet it. Through the collision of spells, he catches sight of the final shade still struggling to form itself, pulling itself into being incredibly slowly through the sicky yellow discharge of the Fade Rift.

 Temporal distortions? No, of course this Fade Rift, currently setting the Chantry’s roof aflame and shaking its stone down to the foundations, comes with temporal distortions.

 “That’s just lovely,” Dorian mutters.  

 Of course, with one wraith and still-forming shade remaining, the Fade Rift seizes and flares again. Brighter, louder, scorching over every surface. More demons spill out of the cracks, pulling themselves free with howls and hisses.

 “Even more than before!” Dorian groans. “I assume because life really is an endless nightmare.”  

 Two long-limbed, mismatched Terrors crawl out of the walls, one with patches of feathers and another set of arms folding out of its back like wings, and the other with three tails and three heads. Several lost-looking  wraiths appear and spiral off in their different directions, lashing out or drooping away. An uncomfortable number of shades pull themselves into being out of summoned flesh and borrowed objects, wallowing through each other and the instability gathering around the room.

 Dorian steps back. It dawns on him now that perhaps he should have taken Felicita and run for it. With a powerful enough barrier, he might have made it past the demons. Here, there is no end to them, and he hasn’t the foggiest idea how to even begin to approach the Rift itself.

A lurking, still-forming shade’s arm, which splits into two forearms and hands at the elbow, makes a valiant grab for his boot from the middle of a sickly yellow temporary distortion. Its reaching makes a wet slap against the floor.

 The Terrors turn on him.

 Someone outside the Chantry must have heard the noise. The demonic screeches, the whispers and thunder of the Rift, and the crash and shift of the Chantry itself can’t have gone unnoticed. Unless all of Redcliffe has terrible hearing or Rifts have opened all across the village, someone will go running for the Inquisition. The Herald should be on their way, and Felix will surely arrive eventually, if only to tell Dorian that the Herald refused to come meet.

 The Fade Rift has only just gotten started, but so has he. Really, he’s barely warmed up.

 Dorian steps forward and stomps on the shade reaching for his boot, dragging his staff over its body and pressing down into in with fire and force. Its six-fingered hand disintegrates under his foot. Then he lifts his staff and twirls it at the missing Terrors, one of which has three empty sockets and the other of which has at least a dozen eyes over where a face might be, and a jaw that opens sideways.

 “You know, I’ve heard the phrase ‘a face not even a demon’s mother could love’ and wondered at it, since demons don’t have mothers,” Dorian tells them with careless bravery, slowly backing up, though he’s arguably seen far more disturbing and disgusting sights with his chosen specialties, “but suddenly, looking at your lovely visage, it all makes sense.”

 One of the Terrors hisses, like water on hot metal, and lunges directly into a Searing Flame Glyph Dorian had laid a moment before. The other Terror skitters over the walls towards him and gets Immolated for its rudeness, then hits his barrier and the Glyph of Repulsion lain at his feet. It flies across the room to screech and scrabble, aflame, on the floor with its fellow.

 Dorian focuses on the wraiths and the shades, and must resist the urge to make use of his necromancy spells. His Siphons aren’t working properly with the Fade Rift spilling distortion and swallowing its own demons, and he doesn’t dare summon any spirits directly next to such an instability. The Fade Rift might swallow them instantly, or worse: corrupt them against him. He has no desire to fight his own Simulacrum. Annoying, but he did listen when the guiding figures in his life told him that a varied repertoire and the ability to improvise would keep him alive.

 Travelling here to this horrible country proved that well enough before the Rift. This really is unnecessary further education, in his opinion.

 He burns and cuts at the shades, until the remaining pieces of carpet are ashes and all the broken pews are aflame. He steps off his Glyph of Repulsion and slams a shade so hard into it with force magic that it shatters between the two. He cuts a charred Terror in half and enjoys the dubious pleasure of discovering this sometimes only makes a demon duplicate. He turns both halves to ashes.

 He dodges a strike by the Fade Rift, which shatters the remains of his Glyph of Repulsion, and wonders if Haste will be enough to gather his daughter and flee. He could try to layer Haste, but in a hall of unstable temporal distortions? It depends how foolish he’s willing to be.

 He bursts a wraith open from the inside and looks over the two remaining shades, sliding towards him with six claws raised between them. They’re very slow. He sets Flashfire over them both.

 “Ha! I could do this all day!”

 The exhilaration of clearing two falls of demons is heady, but not half as heady as his fear when the Fade Rift immediately seizes again and starts spilling out more wraiths and shades. The Fade Rift is apparently very willing to test his honesty with that last statement. He regrets saying that now. Whether he could or not, he doesn’t actually want to.

 “When has life ever care for what I want to do?” Dorian asks himself, and shifts his stance to face the new wave. Then, because he’s clearly not suitably terrified, the Fade Rift pulses again, while the new wave of demons is still finding its feet.

 “You have got to be joking.”

 The arms reach out again, quickly followed by more demons. Some of them lash out at each other for getting too much into their personal space. One of the fully-formed shades eats a still-forming one, which struggles in the distended jaws.

 “No, wait, of course. Endless nightmare. Silly me.”

 From there is a blur of breaking barriers and roaring flames, of shifting time and stone and screaming demons. Dorian sets his own sleeve on fire, when his staff gets stuck in the roiling guts of a shade and he’s left with little choice but to cast Immolation and Flashfire with his bare hand. When he finally pulls his staff free, it actually slides in his sweaty grip, and he sends a Wave of Fire across the Chantry because fuck it, really.

 It’s down to two shades again when, across the Chantry, there’s the creak of heavy doors swinging open. Finally. Dorian, unfortunately, has to finish killing the blighters trying to kill him. He jabs the blade of his staff into the shade behind him and lights it from the inside, before tearing his staff out of disintegrating demon guts to whip it and a wreath of flames into the other shade so hard that the creatures spirals off into screaming dust. Dorian then spins on the person at the door, arms and demons at his feet burning figuratively and literally respectively, just in time for the damn Fade Rift to start seizing with more demons again.

 Standing in the doorway is a tall Qunari woman, a lightly-armored warrior carrying a long maul in one hand and the green of the Fade in the other. She looks somewhat surprised. Behind her, as the door finishes opening, is a veritable crowd of odd-looking people.

 There is no time for standing around all opened-mouthed like plebeians.

 “A little help here, please?”

 The Herald of Andraste raises her maul. “Right,” she says and throws herself forward to meet a Terror demon pulling itself into existence. She hammers its torso apart in before it can finish realizing.  

 “Thank you!” Dorian says, and turns around to Immolate yet another shade. He’s lost count at this point, but frankly just one of them has been one too many. “Keep away from the yellow and dark green magic discharging from the Rift, they’re points of unstable temporal distortion!”

 “Unstable what?” a heavily accented voice demands. A Nevarran?

 “Oh, again with this shit,” says a deep voice, and an enormous Qunari male charges past Dorian to meet the swarming shades with a ridiculously large axe.

 On Dorian’s other side, another warrior, helmed and heavily armored, moves past him and slams their shield into a shade so hard that the creature should by all rights die on the spot. Shimmering barriers in two different shades pull up around the two Qunari and the helmed swordsman, both clashing against Dorian’s own, considerably weaker barrier.

 A crossbow bolt slams into the forehead-shaped part of a wraith, and the spirit spirals down directly into the blade of the helmed swordsman and disintegrates under the blow.

 An arrow flies into the soft neck of a Terror trying to crawl over the walls and it falls, and suddenly its skin freezes over and ice juts out from its limbs, and it shatters into pieces over the stone floor.

 Dorian feels… rather superfluous, actually. He Immolates another shade, but he probably could have left it as the Herald’s maul seconds after makes short work of the flaming flesh and flailing limbs. 

 “Cover me!” the Herald bellows. “I’m closing this before the Chantry comes down on our heads!”

 She thrusts her left hand up towards the Fade Rift. Green light bursts from her palm, a spiraling arm of magic between her and the Rift that cracks and booms and shakes the Chantry walls. The Herald’s face screws up in effort, as the Rift struggles and lashes out around them, but the Rift shrinks. The temporal distortions begin to disappear like morning mist. The demons shriek and stumble, and fall immediately to the Herald’s companions.

 Then a snap of the wrist and the Fade Rift closes, it slams shut and folds away into the air, swallowing the last wraiths with it. A pulse goes through the Chantry, a stabilizing ripple that echoes through the building. The warping and scorching through the stone remains, but solidified, steadied. Hardened what the Rift turned fluid. The instability appears to be… entirely gone.

 The Herald of Andraste lowers her hand, which is still sparking with green Fade light. It looks unnatural and… there are many burns and scars on her hand, not a scrap of skin that isn’t marked in some way or another, which twitches… It’s apparently painful. Also, apparently capable of controlling the Veil and stabilizing Gereon’s foolish time magic.

 It’s impossible. Even more impossible than a hole in the sky. 

 Dorian’s tilted his hips and head questioningly before he even realizes it, all while leaning on his staff for support. “Fascinating. How does that work exactly?” 


Chapter Text

 ~ the tevinter resistance

 The Herald looks down at him with a blandly curious expression. Qunari markings are painted like scales over her face. She’s remarkably handsome, with an almost military bearing, sharp eyes, and horns that curve down around long, pointed ears. One of her ears twitches, like an ox flicking at an insect.

 “Probably magic,” she says. Her voice is deep, and rough not just around the edges, but all the way through.  

 Well, Dorian knows a deflection that unsubtle when he hears one. “I’d be terribly worried if it were anything else,” he says, noticing that the door’s been shut again in the battle and he’s now the center of attention, as he so often is, of the Herald’s… odd crowd of companions. Very odd companions.

 Many of whom look very hostile. Dorian supposes it doesn’t look good to be a Tevinter mage found in a burning Chantry with an open Fade Rift, in a Venatori-occupied Fereldan village of a Mage Rebellion turned chattel, but it’s still rather unfair to be so suspicious and unfriendly because he was clearly fighting it. There’s no need to look like they’re ready to fight him next.

 He looks back to the Herald and bows to introduce himself, heart still racing in his chest. “Thank you, for your assistance there. Dorian Pavus, most recently of Minrathous.”

 The Herald nods in return, looking less like she’s about to crush him like an insect.

 “Another Tevinter,” the helmed swordsman says, in a heavy Nevarran accent. They come up beside the Herald, specifically to the Herald’s shoulder, and don’t sheath their sword. Their grip shifts as though they’re a twitch away from lunging forward. “Be cautious with this one.”

 “Let one Tevinter in, suddenly they’re scurrying out of all the walls like roaches,” another woman agrees in an Orlesian lilt.

 Dorian glances towards the door, where stand the rest of the Herald’s companions. Four of them.

 A brown-skinned male elf with intricate facial tattoos, a tall bow, and an unfriendly smirk.

 A plump, pale, and bearded man with a worn coat of pockets, a tall wooden staff, and a long brown braid. Yet another apostate presumably, one fortunate enough to have fallen in with the right cult.

 Between them is a red-haired male dwarf with an enormous crossbow-like contraption, a broken nose, and an unreasonably unbuttoned shirt.

And... Dorian matches the comment to the fourth companion by the doors, a dark-skinned woman in elegant light armor and a horned hat, with a long metal staff and an unimpressed expression. It works for her terribly well. If Dorian had met this woman at one of the Imperium’s parties, he might have steered clear to save himself the claws.

 Roach? Excuse you.

 He catches sight of the other Qunari again as well, not far behind him. A scarred, shirtless mountain of a Qunari who raises the eyebrow of his one eye at him, ridiculous axe ready over one shoulder.

 Dorian looks back to the Herald. He’s surrounded; he doesn’t like being surrounded. It’s never a good thing to be and no one’s even pretending to garishly fawn over him. He smiles. “Suspicious friends you have here.”

 The Herald doesn’t seem particularly bothered by this. “I was expecting the younger Alexius.” 

 “Felix should be here, after he finishes distracting his father.” Felix had better find his way here, or he and Dorian are going to have words later. Dorian pointing his staff downwards is a mindful endeavor. “We needed a private place to speak with you, you understand, somewhere without Tevinters in the walls. Magister Alexius doesn’t know we’re here and I’d like to keep it that way.”

 The Herald stares, then nods and returns her long maul to its place on her back. The Nevarran swordsman sheaths their blade with a disgusted grunt, though Dorian doesn’t understand why anyone could consider the swordsman unarmed when he saw full well what they did to that poor shade with that shield, which stays firmly in hand.

 Across the room, the bow and crossbow-like contraption are lowered, but the other Qunari and the two mages don’t bother. Far be it for him to expect everyone in the South to have manners.

 “Who’s ‘we’?” the Herald says.

 “Ah,” Dorian answers, inwardly cursing himself. “Well, that would be my partner, another Tevinter going against the end of the world and the Imperium’s eternal desire to conquer the ashes. Untraditional, perhaps, but new traditions have to start somewhere.”

 That actually makes the Herald smile in amusement, for a second. It changes her face enormously. “Are they here now or are we waiting on them as well?”

 “They are here as well,” Dorian allows.

 “Hiding?” the Nevarran demands.

 “Ye… es, that’s rather what most people do when there are demons about,” Dorian says absently, and makes his decision. He spins on his heel and walks deeper into the Chantry, loath to leave her hiding in fear any longer. “Felicita!” He raises his voice and switches to Tevene. “Felicita, it’s over! Where are you, darling Felicita?”

 It takes several seconds, and just when Dorian opens his mouth to call again, a small voice calls from the private prayer area. “Here!”

 Dorian moves towards the sound. “I hear you, Felicita? Where are you?”

 “Here, Papa!”

 The lid of a small chest rattles, a pile of Chantry robes and prayer objects strewn in front of it. Dorian steps gingerly over Felix’s notes – he’s going to have to pick those up, thankfully none of them seem to have been destroyed or permanently ruined – and lifts the lid of the chest. Felicita is curled up inside and, after blinking several times, lifts her arms. Dorian lifts her out of the chest and into his arms – she’s big enough that it’s becoming difficult, but he persists. Her legs go around his waist and they hold each other tightly. She’s shaking like a leaf.

 “It’s fine. It’s over, darling,” he whispers. Dorian presses his lips to her head, tucked against his chest. “I have you. It’s gone. I am here, you are safe. You did so well hiding like that. I’m so proud of you.”

 It’s difficult, picking up one of the Chantry robes to wrap around Felicita’s shoulders with only one hand, but he manages it. Surely the Sister won’t protest the borrowing of a robe to warm a scared little girl. This justification for things hasn’t failed Dorian yet and he’s not about to stop now.

 “Are you fine? Are you hurt at all?” Dorian asks, picking up his staff and letting warmth run through the arm keeping Felicita on his hip. He’s tired, but he still has mana to spare for this.

 Felicita nods, still trembling.

 They still haven’t stepped out from the private prayer area. “The Herald of Andraste is here. She closed the Rift. Do you think you can come meet her with me, darling?”

 Felicita nods again.

 “That’s my brave girl,” Dorian says, and kisses her head again.

 He steps out of the private prayer area to face the Herald of Andraste and her many odd companions. The Nevarran’s drawn their blade again and the Herald has a hand on the hilt of her maul. All of their expressions as it becomes clear Dorian is carrying a child are… somewhat hilarious. There are raised brows and wide eyes all around, if briefly.

 “Oh,” the Herald says, and lowers her hand.

 “My daughter, Felicita,” Dorian introduces, stopping where he can see them all. He lifts her higher on his hip, again using his staff for support. “Thank you, again, for closing the Rift. Felicita, this is the Herald. Do you want to say hello?”

 Felicita peeks out from under the borrowed Chantry robe, and her eyes widen at the two Qunari in front of her, along with five other strangers. Probably too many people for her, after the Rift.

 “Hello,” she says, in Trade, and immediately ducks her head again.

 “Hi,” the Herald says softly, looking… disturbingly smitten. When she looks up at Dorian himself again, her expression falls short of solemn. “An interesting choice of partner. How long was that Rift open before we got here?”

 Dorian does his best to shrug carelessly with his daughter on his hip. “Not unbearably long.” He looks around at some of the expressions on her companions. “I will swear on any deity of your choice that I didn’t open it. If it hasn’t been made clear, Magister Alexius manipulated time itself to beat you to the Mage Rebellion and steal them from you.”

 “Time magic?” the Orlesian woman scoffs. “That’s quite impossible.”

 Dorian stares evenly back at her. “Safe?” he asks, then answers himself, “No. Sensible? Not remotely. Possible? Very much so, I assure you.”

 “I was going to ask if that’s less dangerous than it sounds, but…” the Herald looks around the Chantry, with the stone walls warped and windows broken, covered in smoldering demon guts and some still-burning pieces of debris. “I think that’s already been answered.”

 “More, actually,” Dorian says. “The magic that Alexius is using is wildly unstable, and it’s unravelling the world. Hence: the Fade Rifts in ‘The Maker’s House’ of all places. Though your… ‘probably magical’ Mark seems to have stabilized the temporal distortions… for the moment, at least.”

 “You seem to know a lot about this magic,” the Nevarran says.

 Dorian sighs. “That’s because I helped develop it. A part of it. Magister Alexius was my mentor. Emphasis on the was, there,” he adds, when this gets him disapproving and distrustful expressions again. “It’s been years, and we’ve… long-since parted ways.”

 The door of the Chantry creaks and they all look towards it. The male elf nocks an arrow and both of the mages lift their staffs, and a hooded figure with a cane slips inside. Felix looks up at the crowd, then around the ruined Chantry, unconcerned by the weapons pointed towards him or the door creaking shut behind him. He lowers his hood and looks at Dorian and Felicita.

 “Do I want to know what happened here?” he asks, and walks over to them.

 “Probably not,” Dorian answers. “How’s your father? Is he getting suspicious?”

 “I don’t have much time. I shouldn’t have played the illness card,” Felix says tiredly, a long history in that single sentence. He throws an arm around Dorian and Felicita in greeting, and switches to a whisper in Tevene, “Are you both fine?”

 “We’re fine, my friend,” Dorian whispers back.

 Felix nods and pulls back, then turns to face the Herald. “Sorry I’m late. Thank you for coming.”

 The Herald inclines her head.

 “Have you told them about the Venatori yet?” Felix asks Dorian, who sighs.

 “I was getting there.”

 “Who are the Venatori?” the Herald says. 

 “A Tevinter supremacist cult that worships someone called the Elder One,” Felix answers plainly. He looks exhausted, and he’s leaning heavily on his cane. “My father has joined them and is expected to deliver the Mage Rebellion to the Elder One. Several of them are disguised from the Mage Rebellion as members or apprentices of the Alexius household now. I don’t know what will become of the Rebellion afterwards.”

 “Nothing good?” the Herald suggests.

 “Presumably,” Felix agrees. “That’s hardly all, however. Expectations aside, my father and the Venatori are fixated on you and your Mark. Whatever he’s done to get them, after the preparations for your arrival and that meeting… I now believe he’s done to get to you. The Mage Rebellion seems to be only be an expendable means to an end.”

 “Unsurprising,” Dorian comments, “if your magic’s capable of manipulating the Veil, and potentially time itself.” The Magisterium would drown itself in blood for that power. “They go absolutely mad for things like that.”

 “Who is this Elder One?”

 Dorian and Felix exchange a look.

 “We don’t know,” Felix answers.

 “Some megalomaniacal magister, I assume,” Dorian says at the same time. “Which doesn’t narrow it down much, unfortunately.”

 “Whatever the case, I suggest you leave Redcliffe immediately,” Felix says, “while you can yet leave. The Venatori are already here, and reinforcements are on their way. Return with reinforcements of your own, under the guise of continuing negotiations, perhaps.” He looks beside him. “Dorian, you should leave too, before my father finds you here.”  

 For the first time, the other mage by the door speaks up, the plump, apostate-looking man with the beard. “What about the mages?” He looks to the Herald. “We can’t leave them here.”

 The Herald crosses her arms and looks to Felix. “How long do we have?”

 “I couldn’t say.”

 “Would you cooperate with Inquisition agents to observe the Venatori’s movements?” the Herald demands.

 “Yes, of course, though I don’t know how much help I’d be. I believe the Venatori already find my suspicious, and my father keeps a close watch on me.”

 “Due to your illness.”

 “Yes,” Felix says shortly, a clear invitation not to continue that line of inquiry.

 The Herald returns to the main topic, bluntly. “You’ll share information with us even knowing that the Inquisition will later use this to take your father down?”

 Felix nods. “Yes, even so.”

 Dorian’s hands are full, but if they weren’t, he’d reach out to put a hand on Felix’s shoulder. Felix loves his father more than anything, but… that can change. Dorian would know, having gone through at least two men to whom he compared all others.

 “Dorian has more information on the Venatori than I can offer you anyway,” Felix says.

 Dorian doesn’t startle, but it’s a close thing. “What?”

 “You do.” Felix looks at him evenly, pointedly eyeing the girl on Dorian’s hip with her arms around his neck. “And you can’t stay here, Dorian.” Then he smiles. “For one thing, you lit their Chantry on fire, when I specifically told you to try not to do exactly that. Mother Eglantine is going to murder me.”

 “I was not at fault for this,” Dorian says hotly. He did try, and at least he didn’t start the fire.

 Also, he can’t leave Felix alone here. Not again.

 Felix’s expression, however, says that, illness or not, Dorian will be leaving Redcliffe if Felix has to physically throw him out himself. Ill or not. Felix looks towards the Herald, who is staring at them with her eyebrows raised, looking bemused.

 “You won’t find a better expert on time magic and the Venatori outside of the Venatori.”

 “You can’t be serious,” the Nevarran says.

 The Herald looks down at them curiously. “Why not?”

 “We can’t bring a Tevinter into Haven,” the Nevarran insists, aghast.

 “Are you serious, Seeker?” the dwarf by the door says disbelievingly, shouldering his crossbow-like contraption. “He’s got a kid. Sure you can’t make an exception for a Tevinter and a half?”

 “I think it’s a good idea,” the male elf says from beside him, shrugging. “The Nightingale’ll wanna hear what he has to say. Who wants to tell her we turned this down?”

 “Yeah,” the dwarf says. “Not it.”

 Dorian knocks Felix gently on the shoulder with his staff and hisses in Tevene, “Can I talk to you?”

 “What about?” Felix answers lowly. “You and Felicita can’t stay here.”

 “So you volunteer me for the Inquisition?”

 “You can’t stay here, Dorian. If it were just you, it might be different, but you have Felicita to think about. The Inquisition needs your information, and you need their protection.”

 “What about you? You’ll be here alone-”

 “I’ll be fine.” Felix clasps Dorian on the shoulder. “So long as I know you and Felix the Younger are safe.”

 “You will be the death of me. That’s still not her name.”

 “Felicita the Elder sounds strange to me.”

 Felicita giggles quietly and Felix looks at her fondly.

 “Go, Dorian, I can take care of myself.”

 “I can’t just invite myself to join the In-”

 “That’s why I’m inviting you on your behalf.”

 “Not to interrupt or anything,” the Herald says loudly, “but I don’t speak that.” She looks between them both. “The Inquisition could always use more people, and I could stand to hear more about these Venatori. We can find room in Haven for a Tevinter and a half.”

 The Nevarran makes another disgusted noise.

 “On probation,” the Herald allows.

 Since Dorian has spent perhaps the majority of his life on some form of probation or another, he’s not especially concerned by this. He is, however, concerned about walking into a Southern cult full of Templars and other people with growing reasons to hate the Tevinter Imperium, especially with Felicita in tow. Felix seems to trust them and Dorian wants to trust them, but that’s how people get killed.

 “Dorian,” Felix says quietly.

 Dorian sighs and says to the Herald, “I will graciously accept your invitation.”

 “Thank you,” Felix says, infinitely more graciously, and squeezes Dorian’s shoulder one last time before letting go and raising his hood once again. “Dorian should be able to help you work out a way to get into contact with me. I have to return to my father before he notices I’m gone, or Calixtus sobers up enough to come looking, and I do suggest you leave soon as well. Vitae benefaria, Dorian, Felicita, Herald.”  

 “Vitae benefaria, Felix,” Felicita says.

 “Vitae benefaria,” Dorian echoes, because she’ll wonder if he doesn’t.

 The Herald nods as Felix passes them, and soon Felix has left the Chantry again, as quickly as he came.

 This leaves Dorian alone in the Chantry again, with the Herald of Andraste and her odd crowd of companions. He sets Felicita down, because his arms ache, and is not delighted to find he’s the center of attention once again.

 “I have some belongings to collect before we can leave,” Dorian says finally, “and I can’t be seen. Where should we meet you?”

 “Do you know the Crossroads Village, where Guerrin’s Road meets the King’s?”

 No, but he can probably find a refugee to point him in the right direction.

 “Yes,” he says.

 “An Inquisition agent will be waiting there for you,” the Herald says. “At least one of us will be waiting there as well, to guarantee we’re each meeting the right people.”

 The party leaves without much further ado. Dorian assumes the Nevarran swordsman is giving him a dirty look as he goes, but the helmet makes it difficult to confirm. The one-eyed male Qunari gives Dorian a thoughtful once-over as he follows the Herald out, but Dorian just glares back.

 Once they’re all gone, Dorian checks over Felicita once more, then they go to collect Felix’s stolen notes and their other most important things, such as Livia’s journal and Felicita’s fat dragon toy. Dorian makes sure not to leave any thaumaturgy papers, even when a Sister reenters the Chantry and screams at the wrecked state of it. Thankfully, she’s too shocked to stop Dorian as he raises his and Felicita’s hoods, ushers Felicita past the Sister, and hurries away from the scene of his crimes.

 Now he can genuinely say he’s lit a Chantry on fire. Surely that’ll win over the hearts of the Inquisition.

 The Herald of Andraste didn’t seem to mind. An odd not-Qunari surrounded by odd people, it seems.

 Sneaking out of Redcliffe is easy enough that Dorian’s surprised more mages aren’t just wandering off, if they’re so wary of the Tevinter Imperium. The only person who stops them is One-Eyed Jimmy, who earnestly ask them to keep an eye out for Lord Woolsley and to remind the ram to return to Redcliffe if they see him. Dorian, with no intention of going looking, promises to do so.


 ~ crossroads village

 Questioning incoming and outgoing refugees reveals that Crossroads Village is about half a day’s walk down Guerrin’s Road from Redcliffe. Since Dorian tends to avoid the major roads and half a day’s walk is much longer when your travelling companion is six years old, they set out immediately and still end up having to make camp for the night.

 They encounter no trouble. The most notable other creature they encounter is a curious brown squirrel, which Felicita spends fifteen whole minutes gaping at because Tevinter doesn’t have these particular, ever so delightful tree rats. Never mind that they’ve seen dozens of the things on their travels. She only stops chittering back at the bushy-tailed fellow when her father has had enough and pulls her along.

 Dorian is too tired for much play that night. Thankfully, Felicita would rather ask him questions about the Herald of Andraste and her companions, many of which Dorian has no answers for. She asks questions about the Fade Rift and Dorian assures her that the Herald fixed it, because it certainly seemed as though the Mark had stabilized Gereon’s mistake as they left. Then she asks after Felix and Dorian, though he can’t answer all of her questions about what exactly Felix is doing, has plenty of entertaining, giggle-inducing stories to tell about the best friend – the best man he’s ever met – who he’s just had to leave behind among the vipers. Again.

 They both fall into an exhausted sleep that lasts until Felicita kicks Dorian awake in the middle of the night and informs him that she must pee. After that, they go back to sleep and Dorian doesn’t wake until morning, when Felicita pushes at his shoulder and informs him that she’s hungry.

 “I’m up,” Dorian assures her, pushing himself up despite his burning arms and aching head, because Felicita needs feeding no matter how sluggish his mana feels. “I’m up, Felicita.

 Since they’re due to meet the Inquisition again – to potentially join the Inquisition – Dorian makes sure that they stop to fix their appearances first, as they did the day before when due to meet the Herald. They stop to wash as best they can. Dorian fixes his own hair and mustache, then dries and brushes Felicita’s dark hair out, long down past her shoulders now, and braids it into a crown around her head.

 If there are two things he misses desperately about the Imperium, besides the warmth, it’s his wardrobe and his make-up. He misses his wardrobe back home like a damn limb sometimes, actually, but settles for their best clothes, clean and fixed neatly, with their cloaks overtop because Ferelden is unacceptably cold. No wonder the culture suffers.

 All he has left for make-up is a small tin of kohl that he picked up as a treat, just enough to make him feel like he hasn’t gone entirely wild Southern apostate. He fixes some kohl around his eyes, and then at Felicita’s insistence, does her eyes too with a sharp reminder not to rub at her eyes this time.

 Crossroads Village is much like any other small settlement in Ferelden: shabby and apparently permanently wartorn. If there’s one thing Dorian learned on his travels: if it isn’t the recent Mage-Templar War, it was the Blight, and if it wasn’t the Blight, it was the Orlesian Occupation, and if it wasn’t that, it’s some other horrible event that Fereldans miraculously managed to survive and bounce back from. The Crossroads Village is clearly bouncing back again, with an Inquisition camp on its edges and a strong Inquisition presence throughout – scouts haggling with merchants, soldiers chatting up townsfolk, and enough banners to make any poor bystander go blind.

 Dorian and Felicita enter cautiously, holding hands. Dorian’s staff marks him as a mage and that can lead to some interesting welcomes, though usually not immediately violent ones with Felicita kept close to his side and a general fear of provoking an obvious mage.

 “Where’s the Herald?” Felicita says.

 “She might not be here, so we have to look for her or one of her friends from yesterday,” Dorian explains. It’s not long into the afternoon, but he doesn’t know if the Herald left Redcliffe and came here immediately or took a roundabout route. “They might not be here yet, so we might have to wait for them again.”

 “They’re helping people,” Felicita says, with great surety.

 Dorian doesn’t have the heart or the energy to suggest otherwise. “That’s right, mellita. Now, let’s see if we can find the Herald or her friends, yes?”

 Crossroads Village isn’t very large, Dorian and Felicita don’t have to go hunting very far. Dorian is only just beginning to consider approaching one of the Inquisition soldiers when he spots the Nevarran swordsman waiting. Their back is to him and they’re missing their helm, but he recognizes the shield on their back and the stiff-shouldered stance.

 He is… somewhat surprised to have the swordsman turn and come face to face with a woman. Olive brown skin, short black hair with a crown-like braid, and a scar cutting through one side of a strong jaw. An embarrassing mistake, and in hindsight incredibly obvious, but not something he ever must mention.

 “Magister Pavus,” she says coolly.

 “Ah, Altus Pavus, actually,” he corrects, and continues despite her glower, “Magister Pavus is my father, and… it’s not as though the title stands for much in the South anyway.” Except for an invitation to get spat on. “Dorian will do fine. This is Felicita, as you know, and you are…?”

 He lets the opening hang and the swordswoman looks almost embarrassed.

 “Cassandra Pentaghast,” she says with a nod.

 “The Right Hand of the Divine,” Dorian says, slightly taken aback, because he’s heard the name quite a bit over the past year.

 If the clucking of the local Sisters and Mothers of every other town he’s passed through are to be believed, he’s in the company of the infamous. Cassandra Pentaghast is the Right Hand who, immediately after the death of the Divine, walked away from the Chantry to found the Inquisition with the Left Hand and heretical Herald of Andraste, or so the rumors go.

 The woman glowers again. “Yes,” she says shortly.

 Felicita tugs on his hand and Dorian looks down to see her other hand patting at her crown braids, looking up at the warrior woman before them with an awed expression. Then she points up at Cassandra and tugs at her father’s hand again. “Same!”

 “Same what, mellita? Oh, same hair. You’re right, you do have almost the same hair.”

 Cassandra Pentaghast, infamous heretic of the South, stares down with wide eyes. “What?”

 Felicita points at her own crown braids, and Cassandra Pentaghast echoes the movement to put a gloved hand on her own head, stupefied. Felicita smiles up at her, a shy grin missing one of two front teeth. “We have same hair,” she says again, slowly in her limited Trade.

 “Oh,” Cassandra says awkwardly, lowering her hand. “Yes. I suppose we do.”

 Then she clears her throat. “This way, Dorian… Felicita… the Herald is camped not far from here.” 


Chapter Text

~ adaar

There’s another Inquisition camp on the cliffs above Crossroads Village, about half-an-hour’s walk at a pace comfortable for Felicita. Cassandra seems somewhat disgruntled at having to slow her breakneck march, but Dorian just gestures repeatedly to Felicita, who smiles and pats her head delightedly every time she sees Cassandra looking at her. Cassandra Pentaghast doesn’t insist on a faster pace.

This camp is hidden comfortably in the trees of the cliffs, clearly older and more important to the actual operations of Inquisition than the camp below in the village. The scouts and soldiers here make those below look like new recruits. Dorian catches sight of the Orlesian mage and the crossbow-wielding dwarf both writing at a desk, sharing the space without actually going near the other, and the one-eyed male Qunari talking to some men who look more like mercenaries at the edge of camp.

Cassandra leads them to the Herald, who’s standing by the fenced edge of the cliffs.

The Herald, the tall Qunari woman, has her back to them as they arrive, with an enormous black raven sitting comfortably on her arm. After it nips at her fingers, the Herald mutters something, and then steps forward to gently toss the great bird into the air off the cliff. Felicita watches raptly as the raven spreads its wings and takes flight. The Herald watches it go, off into the horizon, for several seconds, leaning forward heavily on the wooden fence of the cliff.

Cassandra interrupts the moment by calling for the Herald. The Herald calmly turns and comes to thank Cassandra and greet the Tevinter outsiders. At a gesture from the Herald, Cassandra immediately excuses herself to speak with some Inquisition soldiers nearby.

“My name’s Adaar,” the Herald introduces finally. “I prefer it over ‘Herald’ or ‘Your Worship.’ Glad to see you’ve made it. No troubles leaving Redcliffe or on the road?”

“None but the usual lack of baths and silk sheet lodgings,” Dorian replies easily.

The Herald, Adaar, raises her eyebrows, lips twitching. “The horror,” she says wryly, crossing her arms. “I’m sorry you had to face such hardship. So, what do I call you? Dorian or Magister Pavus?”

Dorian sighs. “Not every Tevinter mage is a magister.” He has been over this countless times since arriving in the South. “I know the South gets it confused, but Magister Pavus is my father’s title. I’m just an altus,” he explains, “and barely that down here. Dorian will do nicely.”

“Dorian, then,” Adaar says, before looking down, smiling. “And I hear your name is Felicita.”

Felicita prompts ducks her head behind her father’s hip.


Adaar laughs. “Don’t worry about it, I’ve had similar reactions from grown men three times her size. Hello, Felicita, my name’s Adaar. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” Then she looks back to Dorian. “Glad to have you both with us, if not pleased at the circumstances. I’m afraid we’re going to be making a fairly hard ride back to Haven, setting out early tomorrow, so the pleasantries and questions will have to wait. Can you ride?”

“Excellently,” Dorian answers. His upbringing made certain of many skills.

“With your littlee?”

He’s never heard that word before in his life, but he’s going to assume it’s some variant on “little one.” Adaar is looking down at Felicita as she asks.

“Less excellently,” Dorian admits. “We have done it before, however.”

“We’ll have a mount ready for you on the morrow, so you’ve got until then to admit you’ve never been on a horse if you’re lying. Not that I think you’re lying. I’m just saying it’s happened and mortal fears of horses being revealed after we’ve put you on the horse is not something I want to repeat.”

Then Adaar waves a scout over. “We’ll show you where you can set up your tent. Food’s on us the whole way, so prepare for more hardship there. If you need anything, let me or Cassandra or one the scouts know.”

And that’s it.

That’s… really it.

The Herald, Adaar, excuses herself forthwith to join Cassandra and the soldiers. The scout leads Dorian and Felicita to a space for their tent, pointing out various points and people of interest along the way, like where to piss and who to tell if a nug gets into your tent in the middle of the night. Then, with a halfhearted salute, the scout leaves to it, without any rude questions or biting comments whatsoever.

Dorian carefully pulls Felicita away from his hip so he can get their tent set up. They apparently have an entire evening and night to wait for the Herald and her companions to finish their business in the Hinterlands. It’s… so far definitely not what Dorian was expecting, he can say that much. Since most of Dorian’s expectations are ridiculously far-fetched or pessimistic, or both, this isn’t immediately a bad thing.

However, he still must ask himself what exactly Felix has volunteered him for. If they both live through this, Dorian and Felix are going to have such words later. They’re more or less at whole paragraphs now, any more of this and Dorian will have to write his best friend a whole bloody book.


~ varric

The next of the Herald’s companions that Dorian meets after Cassandra Pentaghast, heretic of the South and warrior who blushes over a six-year-old girl admiring her hair, is the male dwarf with the inability to button up his shirt. It’s after Dorian’s finished setting up their tent and has decided to practice sparks with Felicita while waiting for supper.

Dorian feels overwhelming fondness for Felicita, watching her screw her face up and attempt to call sparks from individual fingers of her hands, but he also feels a nostalgic fondness for the Felicita who used to attempt to eat his hands when they sparkled. She’s so much bigger now, sitting cross-legged in front of him and making sparks of her own. She’s having trouble with the middle and index fingers of her left hand and all the fingers of her right, being left-handed, and with generally keeping the sparks to one finger instead of the whole hand.

Dorian runs her through wriggling each of her fingers separately again. There are some scouts watching the lesson, though they’re pretending not to, but Dorian softly sings the finger song for young mages with her nevertheless. It’s in Tevene anyway. Once without magic, then again with demonstrating sparks for Felicita, who tries to keep up and ends up with fizzling or full hands of sparks.

“Very good, darling,” Dorian tells her. “You’re getting so much better. Sparks come and go almost every time you tell them now.”

“I can’t get them to come from the right fingers,” Felicita grumbles.

“The fingers are new and difficult,” Dorian assures her. “You can already get the sparks to come and go with the song! Your control is better every time, darling. You’ll get those fingers before you know it. Now, again, at least one more time. With magic.”

By the end of this one last time, Felicita manages to get sparks from her thumbs in time with the song. She beams up at him and Dorian wants to applaud her progress and dedication, but someone else beats him to it. Dorian and Felicita turn their heads to see the dwarf approaching them, clapping lightly. Felicita ducks her head shyly and Dorian eyes the fellow warily.

“Whoa, Sparkler, no need for the stink eye.” The dwarf puts his hands up and stops several feet away, and gives them a friendly, lopsided grin. It’s very rakish. “Just enjoying the show. I’ve never seen such a talented mage so close to my own height before.”

Dorian cautiously relaxes. “I suppose we don’t typically come in your size.”

“Not that I’ve seen,” the dwarf agrees, and makes a half-bowing gesture. “Varric Tethras, at your service.”

That has Dorian sitting up straight. “Dorian Pavus, at yours,” he says. “This is Felicita.” Then he summons the courage to ask, “Tethras? Any relation to Thorold, formerly of the Imperium Ambassadoria?”

This is clearly not the relation that the dwarf was expecting Dorian to ask after. “I…” he says, then clears his throat. “This is usually where I’d make some comment about not all dwarves knowing each other, but yeah. My cousin. Only one of the bunch who didn’t drive me up the wall, or the other way around. You two knew each other?”

“Not well. He was married to a good friend of mine.”

This clearly isn’t what Varric was expecting either. “You know Maevaris Tilani?”

“Who doesn’t know Mae?”

Varric laughs, eyes crinkling warmly. “True enough! So, how does a Tevinter magister and his kid end up in the Fereldan backwoods?”

Dorian sighs. “I’m not a magister, not every-”

Varric laughs and holds up his hands again. “I know the difference, Sparkler, no need to give me the lecture. Believe me, I’ve heard more about your country than I ever wanted to know, especially about magisters. All the gory details. So, you’re an altus, then. That’s still unbelievable.”

“Don’t close your eyes, I might fade away,” Dorian grumbles.

“I wouldn’t put it past this year. It’s been weird sh- stuff. Mind if I join you two?”

Dorian looks towards his daughter. He’s fairly desperate for adult conversation, but they were in the middle of a lesson. Well, near a good end for a lesson. He doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable.

“Felicita, this dwarf is Varric Tethras. He’d like to sit with us, is that fine?”

Felicita doesn’t look enthusiastic.

“You can go sit in the tent and just listen instead, or we can finish our lesson,” Dorian offers.

He’s not surprised when Felicita crawls towards their tent instead of choosing to stay outside, without looking at Varric. Dorian doesn’t mind. She’s probably feeling self-conscious, having realized that people were watching their lesson, everything becoming a bit too much. The tent flap is open, so he’ll be able to keep an eye on her and she’ll be able to participate again if she wants to.

“I’m afraid you’ve been rejected,” Dorian says.

“Believe it or not, I’ve had worse ones. Mind if I just join you then?”

“Such persistence. One might think you’re after something.”

“Come on, Sparkler! A Tevinter altus come to fight alongside the Inquisition with a kid in tow? There’s a story there. You can’t write that stuff. Can’t blame a guy for being curious.”

“Not with that attitude,” Dorian counters and waves his hand before him, “but I am rather enthralling, it’s true. Who am I to turn away the enchanted? Please, pull up a piece of dirt.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Dorian half-suspects that Varric’s been sent to interrogate him, but the dwarf is charming enough that it’s more difficult than usual to mind. Varric is quick-witted, easy-going, and an interactive, unjudgmental listener, and Dorian does love talking about himself. It’s a pleasure to be interrogated. So far as Dorian lets himself be interrogated, of course, since he is an altus from the Tevinter Imperium and knows better than to show all his cards too soon, or sob all his secrets into a stranger’s shoulder.

He’s especially motivated to keep his secrets because what isn’t embarrassing is just complete fucking tragedy, and none of the Inquisition’s damn business.

“I made some very unreasonable people very angry and finally had to flee the country, as one does when one has the sense to know that conquering the world is more effort than it’s worth,” Dorian explains easily. “I took Felicita and ran, and we’ve been running ever since.”

“Don’t imagine that’s been easy with a mageling in tow.”

“There may be times when one or both of us are crying, but it’s marginally better than being dead,” Dorian answers idly, leaning back and keeping half-an-eye on the bustling camp around them. Really, such an odd collection of individuals. “How about you? What horrible chain of events happened to you to have you throwing your lot in with a rogue Orlesian Chantry cult?”

Dorian really does mean this as polite conversation, perhaps with just a tinge of bitterness and warning, but his best intentions have been known to make him enemies. His impolite conversation could start riots. Thankfully, all Varric does is throw back his head and laugh, perhaps with a tinge of bitterness of his own.

“Never thought I’d be so glad to meet someone who hadn’t read my books,” Varric says, with an admiring twinkle of touché in his eye.

Shoulders relaxing slightly, Dorian raises an eyebrow. “You’re an author?”

Apparently, Varric is more than a famous author, he’s an infamous author. He’s a member of the dwarven Merchant Guild and a businessman, born and raised in the city state of Kirkwall, which explains the Marcher accent. He’s also a companion and the biographer to the city’s Champion.

“So you were there when…?”

“The city set itself on fire for the second time in three years and Blondie blew the Chantry up?” Varric exhales through his nose. “Yeah.”

“Hm, you know, we passed through Kirkwall on our way south. Briefly.”

 Just enough for Dorian to have a rough idea of its Champion, though the man had been long gone at the time, and to see the hole in the ground that the Imperium raved over. It was, as the rumors had promised, a very impressive hole. However, it had also been much smaller and more contained than Dorian might have expected. It must have been alarmingly controlled explosion, which Dorian finds more intriguing than sheer damage. The damage to the city itself and the deaths of any outside the building seemed to have come nearly entirely from the fighting that apparently followed. 

Varric perks up. “Yeah, what’d you think of it?”

“…Bit of a shithole,” Dorian says finally, because it was.

Varric sighs fondly. “Yeah.”

“Remarkably resilient,” Dorian allows. “Not particularly welcoming to Tevinter mages, unfortunately.”

“Sparkler, don’t take this the wrong way, but friendliness towards Tevinter mages is usually a sign to get out of town for the rest of us.”

Dorian remembers the familiar Imperial architecture and the enormous, horrifying statues, the lurking, hungry eyes from every ashen corner and the haunting moniker of “City of Chains” even Ages later. Then he remembers Redcliffe and the burning Chantry and the world unravelling around hundreds of frightened mages tricked into servitude by the Tevinter supremacist cult du jour.  

“I suppose my country tends not to put its best foot forward,” Dorian says, speaking as someone with a terrible tendency to eat his own foot on the regular. “I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of your book sometime.”

“When you have the author sitting right next to you? I’m wounded.”

Dorian and Varric chat about everything and nothing, as people who get along instantly but may yet be enemies do. Varric is kind enough to give Dorian a brief overview of what to expect in Haven (“Not gonna lie, the end of the world constantly leaning over your shoulder isn’t my idea of fun.”) and of the Herald Adaar (“Good woman, despite everything.”) and her odd collection of travelling companions (“And believe me, Sparkler, I know weird people. This is just getting started”).

Apparently, there are plenty more travelling companions and significant Inquisition members back in the village of Haven. Each of them odder and with a more mysterious past than the last, according to Varric, with playful emphasis on the “mysterious past” part at Dorian’s blasé uncooperativeness.

“Tell you what, Sparkler,” Varric says, as he excuses himself before he can outstay his welcome. “A rebel Tevinter altus with a mageling might just be the winner.”

“Fantastic,” Dorian says, with his most winning smile. “I strive for excellence in all regards.”


~ jude

It turns out that Felicita didn’t poke her head out again because she fell asleep. Dorian leaves her to her well-deserved nap and grabs Felix’s notes, which are no less urgent for being crumpled and out of order. The capabilities of the Herald’s Mark may be miraculous, but trusting solely in miracles seems far-fetched to be kind about it, and Dorian has missed thaumaturgy terribly.

He sets himself up at the mouth of their tent, between Felicita and the heretics they’ve thrown their lot in with, then he crosses his legs and opens the notes, and keeps watch on all the people still badly pretending not to watch him.

A fair amount of the camp has cleared out, leaving an almost skeletal Inquisition staff alongside the Herald and her companions. Herald Adaar and Cassandra, who is whatever a Seeker is exactly, are still talking lowly over a map, directing the various scouts and marching soldiers. The Orlesian mage, Madame Vivienne, and the one-eyed Qunari, the Iron Bull, have joined them.

Varric has gone to keep company with the male elf – a Dalish called Sam, according to the dwarf. One of them has pulled out a deck of cards and they appear to be casually playing for life and death, the male elf called Sam frequently breaking into cackling laughter as Varric chuckles.

It makes Dorian wistful for gambling as a matter of fun.

When the wistfulness threatens to become melancholy, Dorian frowns and forces himself to pay stricter attention to the notes. Then, of course, against his best intentions and wariness, he quickly loses himself in the material. He only looks up again when he realizes he must wake Felicita up immediately if he wants her to sleep again at a reasonable hour.

Thankfully, Felicita hasn’t inherited Dorian’s unwillingness to sacrifice his beauty sleep, and is easy enough to prod awake with minimal grumbling. Unfortunately, Felicita has rubbed at her eyes and smeared the kohl again, and is much more unwilling to let her father clean her face. Dorian wins the ensuing battle largely because he refuses to lose to a six-year-old in front of the Inquisition and its Herald of Andraste, not even a day after fighting a Fade Rift by himself.

Then there’s a small fit when Dorian won’t redo Felicita’s kohl, one that has Dorian barely able to keep from rubbing at his own eyes. It’s expensive and late in the day and she’s already ruined it once, but she wants to look “nice” and won’t come out of the tent without it. One would think by her sobs that Dorian is the cruelest father in the world.

Dorian is prepared to let her rot when someone actually approaches them. It’s the last of the Herald’s travelling companions, the plump and bearded mage with the coat of pockets. He seems fairly young for all he’s clearly a grown man, lurking uncertainly, pale face still spotted red.

“Hi,” he says, in a surprisingly low voice.

“Hello,” Dorian answers skeptically. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”  

“I was hoping I could ask you some questions? About the Mage Rebellion?”

“I’m not a member, for all they’re apparently welcoming Tevinter mages now.” Dorian can see the sharpness reflected on the man’s face, but he’s already speaking. “We were in the village for all of three days perhaps, and trying not to be seen, so I’m afraid I’m hardly caught up on the latest gossip.”

The man laughs nervously. He has a strong Marcher accent. “I know, but… anything you can tell me about the situation would be appreciated. I tried speaking to one of the Tranquil who’s joined, but… they miss things, for all they see everything… and I think we could really use an outsider’s perspective, since the hole in the sky and the fighting is starting to seem normal.”

“That does sound like a cause for concern,” Dorian allows.

“Jude Trevelyan,” the fat young man says, sticking out a hand. He retracts it the moment he realizes Dorian is still sitting down several feet away and eyeing the hand mistrustfully. “Formerly of Ostwick Circle, now an apostate and apothecary of the Inquisition.”

“Dorian Pavus, most recently of Minrathous Circle.”

“I know. I mean, I was there yesterday-”

“I remember.”

“Oh, good.” The man, Jude, scratches at the back of his head, where his long braid is twisted into a lopsided bun; he’s apparently at a loss for words. “I can come back another time,” he decides.

Dorian sighs as the man moves away. “Wait,” he calls, after the dejected slope of shoulders. “Far be it for me to deprive a fellow of the latest gossip.” The man may have family or friends in Redcliffe, and Dorian is hardly going to gain the Inquisition’s approval by being as snappish as his daughter. He gestures at the spot where Varric sat before. “It’s hardly an Orlesian parlor, unfortunately.”

Jude quickly settles into the patch of dirt for Dorian’s guests, his pocketed coat and robes have clearly seen many similar seats. “I don’t have a point of reference,” the man says with a shrug and an almost smile. “This is the nicest Orlesian parlor I’ve ever seen.”

Dorian laughs despite himself.

Unfortunately, he can’t answer many of Jude Trevelyan’s questions, and his few offerings are poor. Jude doesn’t seem particularly surprised by this and accepts that Dorian hasn’t seen or heard of many of his fellows with another, sadder shrug. If the few mages Jude spoke to in Redcliffe didn’t know of their fates, it’s farfetched that Dorian might have heard.

Against expectations, Jude doesn’t continue. Dorian thought he might ask about Gereon, or Felix, or the Imperium, but the man looks too tired for that, for all he looks fairly young underneath the beard.

“Sorry. I do wish I could help you,” Dorian says.

Sometimes he wishes he could offer the fantasy of the Tevinter Imperium, one of the many glorious fantasies that the Imperium employs to control the masses and glut the magisters, but it’s too many forms of cruelty to try and gild the bloody past and present of his homeland. To himself and especially to these desperate Southern mages, and especially to Felicita. Wishing won’t make the fantasies true.

Jude shakes his head. “No. Thanks.”

After a few seconds of silence, the man hesitantly says, “I saw the clapping game you were playing earlier with your daughter.”

“It’s a traditional way for children to learn control of their magic.”

The man rubs the back of his neck again at Dorian’s sharp tone. “Yes, I know. I just… didn’t know that Tevinter had them too,” he explains. “I thought it was a Circle thing.”

“The Imperium has Circles too. Nothing like your Southern Circles, however; they’re primarily centers of learning and academic study instead of prisons, though they do, admittedly, function largely on privilege.”

Dorian inwardly grimaces at the reminder of how cutthroat these bastions of education can be, and a laetus certainly wouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with the alti. Maker forbid the children of the Magisterium encounter a poor person, or worse: liberati.

“I trust Southern Circles have their own, quaint traditions then?”

“Yes, we do. I was wondering if… you might like to learn?”

Dorian raises an eyebrow at the idea of a Southern mage teaching him anything, but Jude is glancing towards the tent, where Felicita has grown tired of her fit and has been watching them both for quite some time. Dorian’s daughter ducks her head upon finally realizing that they know she’s there.

“Or trade?” Jude offers, with another almost smile. “I’d like to learn yours, if you don’t mind. After all, it’s not every day a man gets the opportunity to learn that forbidden Tevinter magic that the Chantry’s been keeping from us.”

Dorian laughs lightly. “I warn you, there’s going to be a disappointing amount of blood magic.”

Jude pauses awkwardly, before saying, “Oh, no, that’s what I was hoping for.”

He looks so uncomfortable that all Dorian can do is sigh. “I’m not a blood mage. Incredibly, there are mages from Tevinter who aren’t. I’ve never used blood magic.”

Remember that. It’s the resort of a weak mind, Dorian.  

“I find it distasteful, personally.”

The man doesn’t look any more comfortable at this either, but he does raise his hands in peace offering.

“The most popular clapping game I know is Andraste’s Mabari – it’s based off a Fereldan tavern song,” he explains, when Dorian quirks a brow. “One of the mages in Ostwick adapted it for magical learning ages ago and the apprentices have been teaching it to each other ever since.”

“Sounds positively Southern,” Dorian says, and raises his hands. “Let’s see it then.”

“Without magic, first?”

“As much as I do like living dangerously, let’s strive for responsibility.”

Jude slowly moves through the motions, which Dorian mirrors, while softly singing the charming Southern song of the clapping game. Felicita crawls back to watch them curiously.

“You know Andraste’s old mabari.

He don’t show up in the Chant.

And if you ask those holy Sisters,

They’ll say Andraste can’t

have had a smelly wardog.

But all Ferelden knows it right:

Our sweet Andraste, she needed

a dog to warm her feet at night.”

The motions are simple, as easy to follow as the ones that Dorian teaches his daughter. The magic involve is likely little more than sparks as well, adapted to suit the skill levels of the players involved.

Dorian remembers, with equal amounts disgust and fondness, the severe burns and frozen fingers of his own boyhood games. Yet another competition to show up one’s peers, among the Tevinter alti, which became increasingly dangerous as the years went by until games could properly turn into duels. An opportunity to show up his peers, fulfill a deep need for victory, and potentially injure his unbearable fellows? How could a young Dorian resist?

Jude sings on:

“And there’s Andraste’s mabari

By the Holy Prophet’s side.

In the fight against Tevinte-”

The fat young man abruptly pauses, looking somewhat alarmed. Dorian stares back, unsurprised, because of course even the Fereldan folk songs adapted to children’s games cast the Tevinter Imperium as the villain. Quite rightly too, according to past and present. Dorian’s homeland may not be the source of all evil in the world, but it’s not very good at pretending that it’s not making a very sincere attempt.

Since Jude Trevelyan is slowly turning an alarming shade of plum, Dorian decides to have mercy.

“It is history,” he says magnanimously, and waves his palms slightly. “Apparently applied fancifully by Southern drunkards. Shall we continue?”

The rest of the song doesn’t mention Tevinter again, save in that chorus and when describing even good old Archon Hessarian shedding a tear when the wounded mabari throws itself on Andraste’s pyre.

It’s painfully Fereldan. Felix would adore it.

“Charmingly rustic and delightfully grim,” Dorian remarks. “Unrealistic, of course, since everyone knows magisters are incapable of having feelings or shedding tears, but it could almost challenge the morbid themes of Tevinter’s most beloved children’s songs.”

“I’m almost too afraid to ask,” Jude answers, but with a small smile.

“Sweet nursery rhymes and loving lullabies do exist,” Dorian replies, as someone who sings them frequently to his darling audience, “but they’re popularly considered dull.” He looks to the side, where his daughter has finally crawled out of the tent. “What do you think, Felicita? Do you want to try?”

“It’s very fun,” Jude assures her, directly, with a hesitant smile.

Felicita shrinks back, shaking her head. “No,” she says, in short Trade.

Dorian sighs.

“That’s alright,” Jude says, unconcerned. He smiles kindly at Dorian's daughter. “It takes the Circle kids a few times too. With magic now? So you can teach your daughter yourself?”

“…That would be appreciated, thank you.”

Even after a few times, Felicita still refuses to join in, too wary of the newcomer. Jude doesn’t seem offended, and excuses himself with a small smile. And a separate farewell to the both of them. As polite and well-meaning as the man seemed, Dorian is glad to see him go, too guarded to put effort into scintillating conversation. Once the man goes, Felicita is all too eager to try this Southern exercise.

Between her brief sleep and the new situation, Felicita is restless. It’s an interesting balance between her wanting to do and see everything and being entirely unwilling to be seen. She chatters and Dorian listens as he always does, and he vents his exhaustion by glaring at any Inquisition members who stare.

Sleep doesn’t come easy for either of them that night.

Dorian has that ridiculous mabari song still stuck in his head when he wakes up. Trevelyan may have been decent towards him otherwise, but this is really unforgivable. 


Chapter Text

~ travelling companions

True to the Herald’s word, the journey back to the Inquisition’s center of operations isn’t easy. The mount he and Felicita are given is decent, and his daughter is immediately enamored of the creature, which is inanely named Dog for some inexplicable reason, but Felicita is unused to the aches of riding. She cries. Dorian spends a great deal of the journey rubbing down her legs with heated hands and assuring her, through the gritted teeth of a man who hasn’t done hard riding in quite some time, that it will get better.

He tells himself this also while bearing the attention and judgement of the Herald and her companions. He tells himself that it must confuse their poor Southern heads, confronted with an evil Tevinter magister who is neither a magister nor evil. No wonder they stare.

This may be unfair. The Herald herself seems relatively friendly. Her severe appearance and serious demeanor are broken by a ready sense of humor and an apparent weakness for all things small and adorable, Felicita included. Dorian doesn’t know what to think of a tall Qunari woman with a strict bearing occasionally making silly faces, smiling wide, and wriggling her long ears at his daughter, all with no particular care as to whether he’s watching or how ridiculous she looks.

The Herald’s questions are as similarly opposed as her behavior. Either she doesn’t speak to him at all or unleashes a wave of questions, which alternate themselves between respectfully tame and painfully direct:

How long had he been Gereon’s apprentice? How long had it been since they parted ways? How long had Gereon been a member of the Venatori? Why was Gereon doing this? Could he be reasoned with? What sort of man was he before he became so desperate? Would he betray the Elder One if the Inquisition could pretend to offer a more tangible miracle for Felix? What does Dorian know of the Venatori in Redcliffe besides Gereon?

Dorian likes most of his answers about as much as Herald Adaar does, if her thoughtful frown is evidence of anything.  

Cassandra Pentaghast seems determined to be suspicious of him. However, fortunately, Felicita insisted on having a crown braid for the rest of the journey. The fearsome, heretical Right Hand of the Divine apparently can’t keep up her rather intense glare when faced with a six-year-old girl delighted by their matching hair, and she glares at Dorian, who may or may not have found this incredibly amusing, twice as distrustfully for this obstacle when Felicita isn’t looking.

Varric Tethras and Jude Trevelyan continue to be relatively friendly as well. Varric is less respectful than Adaar when it comes to getting answers and infinitely more slippery, but even his snooping curiosity is charming. Dorian enjoys and endures their conversations in equal measure, with the mental note never to get drunk around the dwarf should the opportunity arise.

This is followed by a wistful mental note about how long it had been since Dorian had properly gotten drunk. Far too long ago and far too infrequently in general considering there’s a hole in the sky and demons are pouring out of tears in the Veil. Debauchery for pleasure is a lost privilege of the past. He is alarmingly willing to kill for a new opportunity, now that he lets himself consider the matter, part of which is having someone trustworthy to watch Felicita.

Jude Trevelyan remains awkward yet decent company. He knows his magic well, though he and Dorian study vastly different disciplines. Dorian feels almost pathetically grateful for the freely given friendliness, which contributes some to the awkwardness.

Jude also is content enough to give some first-hand details of the Mage-Templar War and the earliest days of the Inquisition (as is Varric, but Jude does so with less dramatic flair and blatant embellishments, and Dorian’s mood currently prefers the earnest tellings). Trevelyan and his Templar sister apparently abandoned Ostwick Circle together, and led a small company of mages away, and later to the Divine’s Conclave, before joining the Inquisition to continue helping people. Which is a fascinating tale even told vaguely.

What endears the young man most to Dorian, however, is that Jude makes just as much effort to make conversation with Felicita as he does Dorian. Simple things, like her favorite color (it depends on her mood, but usually pink), or her favorite animal (it depends on whatever creature is in front of her, but otherwise dragons), or her favorite song (anything she can come up with on the spot). Trevelyan is also respectful of her limited Trade – not all children came to Circles immediately fluent in Trade, the young man explained sheepishly, at some curious questions from Dorian – and Dorian’s own conversations with the man inspire Felicita to begin to shyly respond to him. Verbal responses, even, instead of communicating through silly faces, as the Herald of Andraste apparently does.

Varric told the Qunari woman that her face would get stuck that way if she kept at it, but she laughed him off with a quip about how people generally couldn’t tell Vashoth apart either way. Varric and the other Qunari, the Iron Bull, both snorted, but the male elf called Sam laughed so hard that he nearly fell from his mount.

Jude even occasionally asks simple questions about Tevinter Circles, at which Madame de Fer can scoff.

Madame Vivienne, also aptly known as Madame de Fer, is a more recent addition to the Inquisition, according to Jude. She’s a leader of and ambassador for the Orlesian Loyalist Mages, the mistress of the Orlesian Duke of Ghislain, and the former Arcane Advisor to Empress Celene. A formidable woman and a powerful ally to the Inquisition, an ally that they are incredibly fortunate to have, if also one who is extremely disapproving of the Mage Rebellion and the Tevinter Imperium. Which is a fair position not without some very good arguments, Dorian will concede. 

She doesn’t seem to care for Dorian at all, and Dorian feels certain that Felicita is the only thing keeping her on the more polite side of civil. She and Dorian exercised a mutual, respectful avoidance. Between what he's told of her and what he can observe, Dorian knows he's not in much state to match wits with a woman like her. 

Roach. He’s not a roach, excuse you.

Also exercising a mutual avoidance with Madame de Fer is Sam, the male Dalish elf with the long bow and the perpetual smirk. Up close Dorian can see long, thin scars cutting through the facial tattoos, a great many of them, but he doesn’t ask how either markings came about. Sam doesn’t seem interested in speaking to Dorian, instead hanging back and incessantly watching with sharp eyes or exchanging loud laughter with the last member of the Herald’s party.

The last member of the Herald’s party is the enormous male Qunari with the eyepatch, and the broad horns and broad shoulders and broad everything, and a missing shirt, called The Iron Bull. The article was stressed many times. He’s apparently also a Tal-Vashoth and the leader of a mercenary group called The Bull’s Chargers, which was recently hired by the Inquisition, and seems content with tossing jokes back and forth with Varric and Sam, while steadily watching Dorian and Felicita. He keeps his distance, but he watches, and sometimes he’ll meet Dorian’s glare and raise his eyebrows or make some friendly comment as though to ask what Dorian’s going to do about it.

By the end of the journey, Dorian is prepared to pray for the Maker to save him from Qunari, Dalish elves, Nevarran swordswomen, and Orlesian mages with intense stares. As worthy as he is of being admired, this is really not his preferred situation for being stared at. And he’s in too precarious a position to tell any of them off properly or, in the case of The Iron Bull, do something about that ridiculous, one-eyed dare of a stare.

He’s not sure how to take Varric’s insistence that there are even more interesting characters awaiting them in Haven. For all he enjoys winning contests, this isn’t one he ever wanted to enter.

He and Felix really are going to be having such words later. Dorian’s already writing the acknowledgements in his head for that book. Some of them aren’t bad; he’ll actually have to write them down later. 


~ better halves

The village of Haven lives up to the grand Fereldan tradition of being permanently in some state of wartorn. Also, of being miserably cold even in autumn; unsurprising, being at the base of the Frostback Mountains, but still unpleasant. Despite these things… despite the looming Breach and the rubble of the mountain Temple, Haven is a surprisingly thriving makeshift settlement.

Even from a distance, it’s clear there are more tents than buildings, which are mostly simple cabins and a long lodge or two, but more structures are quickly coming along in strict organization. A tall wooden wall protects the village proper, though buildings and tents sprawl all over. Fires and runes lace the settlement to ward off the chill sliding down the snowy mountains. It’s altogether both less and more ragged than Dorian was expecting. Greater and fewer people as well.

There are people everywhere, of many different backgrounds. Elves, dwarves, and humans. An unfortunate number of Chantry members, perhaps. Both Orlesian and Elvish are scattered among the more common Trade tongue; though far more of the former than the latter. Felicita alternatively cowers against him, away from so many faces and sounds, and gapes at such an odd settlement of people.

Returning scouts, training soldiers, and working villagers call bright greetings to the Herald and her companions as they pass. The Herald is greeted by all and waves calmly back, greeting most of them by name. Mercenaries joyfully call out to their Chief, the Iron Bull. A pair of elves playfully catcall a grinning Sam. Mages alternatively greet Madame De Fer or Jude Trevelyan. Cassandra Pentaghast and Varric receive their own greetings from soldiers and villagers, the former with more respect and the latter with much hollering about when to expect the dwarf in the tavern again.

There’s a small crowd of people waiting for them at Haven’s gates. Workers to take their mounts of course, but most notably yet another male Qunari, and a tall woman in Templar armor.

This new male Qunari looks similar to the Herald; slightly broader, with larger, more ram-like horns, but with the same long face. Nowhere near as large or broad as the Bull, though. This new Qunari is leaning against the gates and has a pair of wooden crutches close at hand, presumably because he hasn’t a right leg from the knee down. His simple tunic and trousers may have been made from vegetable sacks for all Dorian knows, but unlike certain others, he’s at least wearing a shirt.

“Number Two!” Herald Adaar calls to the other Qunari, with a brightness previously unseen.

She throws herself from her massive mount, and he throws himself forward without care for his crutches or one-leggedness, and they grasp hands before knocking their foreheads together in the way of familiarity and very hard heads. Dorian hasn’t the faintest how they manage not to knock themselves out or to the ground.

“How’s it been holding down the fort?” the Herald demands.

“Do you want a list of grievances and damages now or later?” Number Two answers grinningly.

Dorian dismounts and helps Felicita down, missing the rest of the exchange. An Inquisition stable-hand takes Dog the horse and Felicita clings to Dorian’s thighs, practically trying to burrow into his robes.

The woman in Templar armor comes forward to hug Jude Trevelyan as he dismounts, smiling wide.

“Look at you!” she crows, and smacks him playfully on the chest. “Back in one piece! I knew you could do it.”

“Thanks,” Jude says, smiling back. “Please watch the gauntlets.”

“Whoops, sorry. So, who’re the new people?”

The woman turns on Dorian and Felicita. Her Templar armor is a lighter set, without the heavy skirt, and she’s without weapons, or so Dorian would notice if he wasn’t thoroughly distracted by the old, brutish burn covering the entire left half of her otherwise pale, spotty face. It’s consumed her left eye, her ear, and has twisted half of her mouth and a patch of the brown hair pulled into a short braid.

“Oh, a tiny!” She grins wide and lopsided down at Felicita. “Hi!”

“Lessa, this is Dorian and Felicita,” Jude introduces. “Dorian, Felicita, this is my sister-”

Elder sister,” Lessa stresses, and sticks out a hand. “Lessa Trevor- Trevelyan. Hello.” She peers down with her one eye at Felicita, who is still trying her best to crawl into her father’s robes, then looks up and says jokingly to Dorian, “If you think my face is frightening to small children now, you should have seen it before the Rage demon.”

“She’s just shy,” Dorian excuses, trying to nudge his daughter into standing on her own. He settles for catching Lessa’s hand and kissing just above the gauntlet. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“You say that almost like you mean it, I don’t know if I like you,” Lessa says, grinning.

“The Herald’s-” Jude begins.

“You lot are expected in the Chantry, I know,” Lessa finishes. “Find me once you’re done, Jude; I found a shiny rock I need to show you. Bye, little tiny.” She turns towards the Iron Bull and saunters off, crowing, “My other eye! The ground of the training ring and the flat of my blade have your name on it! Article included!”

The Iron Bull turns away from an unfamiliar Dalish elf and laughs loudly at the challenge. “Oho! Can’t wait to get down and dirty with the Bull again?”  

Nearby, Sam the Dalish elf leans down and murmurs to Varric, “Five silvers on the demon hunter.”

Varric pulls a small book from his coat and a piece of charcoal from nowhere. “Seventh time’ll be the charm, eh?” he says, already scribbling. “Give me a second to lay the odds, Smiley.”

Madame de Fer has already swept far away from all of them.

Odd people indeed. Dorian feels at once lost and challenged, and can’t quite decide if he likes it.

The only thing he knows immediately is that he’s never been anywhere quite like this. 


~ an antivan, an orlesian, and a raven walk into a chantry

Jude leads Dorian and Felicita towards the Chantry, at the heart and head of the village, surprisingly even larger than Redcliffe’s and apparently the base of Inquisition operations. They follow Herald Adaar, the Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast (Dorian still doesn’t know what a Seeker is, precisely, beyond some sort of “super Templar”), and the new one-legged Qunari, Number Two, on his crutches.

People watch them curiously as they pass – blatant Southern nosiness at its best – and the density of Chantry-related individuals increases with proximity. Dorian keeps his and Felicita’s hoods up, and notices that the few glares are directed fairly evenly across their parade of apostates, Qunari, and blasphemers. Fascinating, if unsurprising. He keeps Felicita close to his hip, hidden as best he can at his side, her small hands clutching at the insides of his robes.

Waiting for them in front of the Chantry are two women. An Antivan and an Orlesian – Dorian can tell immediately by their clothing – and both are clearly important figures in the Inquisition. The Haven residents and milling Chantry flock give the pair what can be generously described as a deeply respectful berth.

The Antivan is a beautiful woman, with rich brown skin and a jeweled net of thick black hair, some loose tendrils curling around a thoughtful, sharp-eyed expression. Her golden clothing in all its intricate details borders the edges of practical and fashionable, decorated by some small jewelry but no visible Chantry insignia. She stands like… not a courtier, but rather an important official of a court. She holds herself too solidly to be a woman who wastes the days away with whatever frippery is in latest fashion.

The Orlesian is… finely featured, red-haired, and pale, Dorian would say, but gloomy in her purple hood and light armor, which does have heavy Chantry ornamentation. Everywhere. The Maker’s Eye sits in the middle of her chest, on the clasps of her hood, and seemingly embroidered and scratched on all her edges and hems, looking out. And yet… her own gaze appears at best only politely interested.

“I take it your trip to Redcliffe did not go as anticipated?” the purple Orlesian says wryly to the Herald and Cassandra Pentaghast in Trade. Her Orlesian accent is lighter than Dorian might have expected, unlike Madame de Fer’s lilt, and the Seeker’s heavy Nevarran accent.

Said Seeker, Cassandra Pentaghast makes a disgusted sound in lieu of answering verbally. It’s not an inexact or inappropriate response, really, Dorian feels. A brief if unilluminating summary.

“When does anything?” the Herald Adaar answers tiredly, before looking to the Antivan. “Hello, Lady Montilyet.”

“Herald,” the golden Antivan, Lady Montilyet, says. “I have taken the liberty of sending for Commander Cullen.”

“I take it my messages made it. Good. We need to talk. Inside and immediately.”

Lady Montilyet nods. “Of course.” She looks to Dorian then, her welcoming expression only slightly stiff. Well-practiced warmth. If Dorian was any less an altus, he never would have noticed. “It would not do to perform introductions in the cold, when we could be making our new guests comfortable inside. Please, serrah, do come in.”

“At last, some measure of civilization,” Dorian quips back. “Thank you, my lady.”

Lady Montilyet turns to lead them all inside, but a loud squawk interrupts their procession. Looking up finds a great black bird lowly circling the clearing in front of the Chantry. A raven, the same enormous creature that Dorian had seen the Herald tossing into the air just before their second meeting. The raven squawks again, indignantly, a message visible on its leg as it spirals.

“Better get that,” the male Qunari, Number Two, says, as the Herald Adaar lifts one of her long arms.

The raven swoops down and lands with heavy neatness on the Herald’s arm guards.

Felicita squeaks at the force of its wings finding balance, pulling against Dorian’s leg as the bird settles its feathers. Dorian crouches down to point out that the bird has landed and that it’s a messenger bird, one of the Herald’s, and won’t eat her or anything of the like.

Unfortunately, just as he says this, the raven snaps at Herald Adaar’s fingers for reaching for its message. All of Dorian’s work is undone. Felicita squeaks and cowers.

The raven, meanwhile, croaks warningly at the Herald’s scowl, and snaps at thin air, as though biting off invisible fingers. Then, point made, it sidles along the Herald’s arm to reach for the Orlesian woman. It calls out to the Orlesian with another croak.

“I see how it is,” the Herald Adaar says, and, with a sigh, hands the bird over to the Orlesian.

The Orlesian reaches for the bird with a wide smile, her gloominess vanished, and the enormous raven half-hops and half-falls into her arms. She takes the weight with barely a waver of readjustment, and coos over the bird like a beloved pet.

“Oh, hello again, my handsome friend. It has been far too long.”

Not unduly, apparently, as the great, fierce-looking raven croaks lovingly back and wriggles happily under her petting. The Herald Adaar has her arms crossed while watching this (as does the Seeker Cassandra), but her Number Two is suffering a rather sudden coughing fit. The Orlesian turns to enter the Chantry, and the Antivan, Lady Montilyet, sighs and herds them all inside after her.

“Oh! Is this for me?” the Orlesian is saying as she walks, her back to them all, her arms full of affectionate bird. “Thank you so much. You are so sweet to me!”

Dorian looks to Jude beside him for answers, but all the mage does is shrug at him with wide-eyed confusion. At least it’s fairly easy to herd Felicita inside, away from reaching eyes, following the bird and woman who suddenly have her fascinated instead of scared.

“Dorian,” Herald Adaar says, as they walk and the doors of the Chantry creak shut behind them. “I would like to introduce Lady Josephine of House Montilyet, the Inquisition’s Ambassador.”

“A pleasure,” Dorian assures them both, doing his best to bow with a six-year-old attached to his hip. He supplements it with another kiss above the hand. “It is always a pleasure to see another Northerner here in the South. It gives me hope I will yet survive this wretched cold.”

“It’s not that bad,” Jude protests.

Lady Montilyet gives Dorian yet another of her warm smiles, though it’s difficult to gauge her sincerity in the dim light of Haven’s Chantry. “We shall have to agree to disagree, Serrah Trevelyan,” she says with good humor. “The War Room, Herald?”

“If you would, my lady.”


~ the war room party

 The Haven Chantry is, as its exterior indicated, much larger than the one in Redcliffe. It looks older, as well, like it’s been resisting a much-needed renovation for a century or two. Dorian’s heard such stories about the Temple of Sacred Ashes – not just from Varric and Jude, but from every other Fereldan, it seemed, on his travels – which… makes it somewhat amusing that the Inquisition has taken what may be a deeply holy relic of Chantry history and apparently turned it into a center of operations.

 Oh, there are some altars and Chantry ornaments about, some Sisters, Brothers, and Mothers of the Inquisition, fine. Yes, someone has made an effort to make the old stone halls marginally presentable, with more Inquisition and Chantry banners to make any poor bystander go blind, but dozens of crates and barrels and miscellaneous supplies are stacked high in many corners. It really is such a difference from the most ostentatious Chantries of the Tevinter Imperium, which are all gleaming marble and guiltless gilt and priceless art in Dorian’s distant memories.

 The “War Room” is revealed to be a fairly small room at the end of the Chantry’s main hall, with little more than a broad map table and two desks. As well as a few sparse chairs, which rather look that they were made by some miserable man who believed the concept of comfort is a sin.

 Felicita immediately takes the liberty of a seat. Dorian stands, despite desperately wishing to join her, as the thick door of the room closes.

 “War Room,” Dorian says, looking around. “A daunting name for such dull décor.”

 “Thanks, we try. This is Leliana, our Master of Scouts,” Herald Adaar says, gesturing to the Orlesian, who is now seated on one of the desks with the enormous raven in her lap. “And my Number Two, also known as the Other Adaar.” She gestures to the male Qunari, settling himself into one of the seats across the room. “And you already know Jude and Cassandra.

 “Leliana, Lady Montilyet, Number Two, this is Dorian Pavus and his daughter Felicita, of Tevinter,” Herald Adaar says. “The ones I wrote you about.”

 Dorian would have made some quip of the Orlesian woman, Leliana, who is now looking at his curiously. Something along the lines of, “What a polite way of not saying ‘spymaster’.” By some bizarre fortune, however, Dorian is saved from his own tongue; he’s too taken aback by how the bird in Leliana’s lap tilts its head at him in suspicion.

 “A Tevinter,” Leliana says. “My, you are a long way from home.”

 “Shockingly, the end of the world concerns us all, even the Tevinter Imperium,” Dorian says, and leans on the arm of Felicita’s seat. “Don’t tell them they’re a part of Thedas and subject to same consequences as everyone else, though. They’ll likely keel over of the shock.”

 “Now there’s a strategy,” Number Two says bemusedly.

 “If only it would work,” Cassandra Pentaghast agrees darkly. She has her arms crossed and is leaning against the desk between Leliana the Spymaster and Number Two the Qunari.

 “Dorian has information on this Venatori cult that’s taken over the Mage Rebellion, most specifically on their leader, Alexius, and his time magic,” Herald Adaar continues. “Dorian, you’ll probably be glad to know that we’ve established a line of contact with the younger Alexius, Felix.”

 Felicita stops staring at the great black raven, receiving scritches from the Inquisition’s spymaster, and perks up at the mention of a name she recognizes. Dorian doesn’t know how much of this conversation she’s understanding.

 “…That was quick work,” Dorian says. “Is he well?”

 “Well enough, according to him, if far better once the Venatori have been stopped.”

 Dorian resists the urge to sigh mightily and fails. “Knowing Felix, that could mean anything from ‘I’m practically entirely healthy’ to ‘I’m coughing up my own bones but won’t admit to it for anything’.”

 Leave it to Felix to avoid answering the question of his own health even now.

 Then, of course, Dorian realizes what he’s just said and glances down at Felicita. She’s frowning, and Dorian desperately hopes that she hadn’t been able to follow that. Shit. He puts a comforting hand down for her to hold, if she so chooses, and looks back up.

 “Thank you, however, for the reassurance.”

 Felicita’s small hand slips into his own, and he squeezes it lightly.

 The Herald Adaar inclines her head. “He’s been significantly helpful. And speaking of reassurance… firstly, let me apologize for our abrupt flight from Redcliffe… secondly, I’d like to assure you that you and your daughter will be safe with the Inquisition. While you can expect some suspicion due to your newness, and are expected to comply with the usual rules-”

 “No stealing, no murder, that sort of thing,” Number Two says helpfully.

 “-you can also expect the same respect and sanctuary as any refugee here.”

 Dorian would say that this directness didn’t throw him off, but that’s because it’s his prerogative to embellish the truth for his own reputation. Cassandra Pentaghast doesn’t look especially pleased, and Leliana the Spymaster and her enormous raven are still watching him – not with unfriendliness but certainly not with friendliness either – and yet… neither object.

 It’s a remarkable difference from the first conversation in the Redcliffe Chantry. A suspicious one, perhaps.

 “Truth in advertising, with the name, then?” Dorian answers. “That’s rather unique of you. I was under the impression that we were on probation. Has there been a change in your immigration policy?”

 “Something like that,” Herald Adaar agrees, and exchanges a pointed look with Cassandra. It’s very brief, but it looks as though much is said, before Adaar’s stare turns towards Dorian again. “But you can rest easy knowing that the policy won’t change on you again. Unless, of course, you turn out to be here to end the world properly. In which case, I’d mainly like to know why you took so long.”

 “Fereldan weather is ghastly. Terribly sorry about the wait.”

 Dorian’s vague regret for this statement is immediate, as is Cassandra Pentaghast’s focused glower. Dorian’s only saving grace is Herald Adaar’s slowly widening grin and Number Two’s loud snort of amusement. Well, at least the Qunari think he’s funny. Dorian can die a perplexed man.

 “It’s been unbearable, but you’re here now,” Herald Adaar says. “Now, I’m telling you this because we want to hear what you have to tell us about the Venatori, but… Let’s just say that another new policy, one that I never imagined we’d have, is that littlees aren’t allowed around War Room talk.”

 “Oh,” Dorian says. “Rather close-minded of you, don’t you think?”

 “It does leave something to be desired in dull meetings. I’ve asked Jude here in the hopes that you and your daughter might consent to separate during this conversation.”

 “It won’t be anything she hasn’t heard before,” Dorian tries.

  This is a lie. There are plenty of things that Dorian hasn’t told Felicita, or has gone through every effort to hide from her. Felicita knows that Gereon is doing “bad things”, but not the extent of her adoptive grandfather’s actions. She hasn’t the same understanding of the consequences as Dorian, who prefers not to frighten his six-year-old daughter with theories about the end of the world.

 Felicita knows that Dorian has worked hard to bring them here, but not the extent of how. Felicita knows that it’s a miracle that Felix is still alive, but not the price of it, or the depth of Felix’s illness. Felicita knows that the Venatori are “bad people” who forced them to leave the Imperium, but not the more gruesome details of the Venatori’s ambitions.

 Felicita has now long-since known that her mother might be dead, however, and even that it was because Livia was uncooperative and discovered too much of the Venatori’s ambitions. Though Dorian’s not certain how much Felicita cared about Livia when he two have never met. Felicita accepted the news rather matter-of-factly, actually, for a small girl. Felicita has cried for many things, but not for Livia. Not that Dorian cried either, but…

 “Even so,” Herald Adaar says firmly.

 Well, Dorian supposes it would be tricky getting Felicita to sit still anyway. Another five minutes and Felicita’s shyness will wear off enough that she will make to pet that enormous raven.

 “They’ll be in just the next room,” Lady Montilyet assures them, from where she’s standing by the other desk, nearest to him and Felicita. “We will wait for you to settle her.”


 ~ barely any time at all

 Dorian and Felicita haven’t been separated for very long in… quite some time. Felicita relents, but anxiously, as Dorian explains in Tevene that the Herald of Andraste needs to talk to him privately, and that Jude will wait with her just outside. Dorian, hiding his own anxiety, is the one to lead her outside to an alcove, to prove to Felicita that it’s not a case of her being taken away, but one of Dorian returning to her as soon as possible.

 That should be more familiar to her.

 “No more than half an hour, darling,” Dorian promises her.

 “We can practice magic tricks while we wait,” Jude suggests kindly, in Trade.

 “No magic without Papa,” Felicita informs him, her chin held high.

 Dorian can’t resist tapping that small chin, then her nose, for the steadfast recitation of that rule. She hasn’t always followed it, sometimes he spots her making sparks when she’s bored and leaves her to it, but he’s done his best to impress that magic requires confidence, practice, and supervision.

 “Jude here is a mage too. He can help you, if you want to try, but you can just watch if you like,” Dorian says. Then he relays the message to Jude in Trade.

 “You’re very smart and responsible,” Jude says to Felicita, slowly and clearly. “I would be happy to just show you some small tricks that you can try later with your father. You can just watch me and listen.”

 “Is that alright, mellita?” Dorian asks.

 “Alright,” Felicita agrees quietly.

 “Half an hour, darling,” Dorian repeats, and kisses her on the forehead in farewell.

 And with that, Dorian stands and makes to return to the War Room. He removes Livia’s journal from a pocket inside his robes, as he goes. Dorian hardly has all the information on the Venatori memorize, so he’ll need Livia’s journal.

 At this point, the journal contains both Livia and Dorian’s notes on the Venatori – their movements, their members, their motives, and their magic. Felix’s notes on Gereon’s time magic are yet separate in Dorian’s bag, but the journal as it is now has been more than enough to validate a warrant through the Venatori for Dorian’s head.  It feels like holding his figurative life in his hand, as he looks down at the journal and considers whether to hand it over to the Inquisition.

 He’d rather not. Besides, the entire thing is spelled shut for Dorian, and written in Tevene, or even Arcanum, with some few fleeting words and phrases in Trade or Antivan. Most of Dorian’s notes are in his private shorthand, or code, as would be the academic notes of any intelligent, competitive scholar of the Imperium. It took him months to decipher all of Livia’s secrets, even with the papers she’d stuffed in the back of the journal to explain her own shorthands and codes. Dorian will have to translate the journal’s secrets to reveal them to anyone else.

 He can work with that.

 One thing that Dorian does, however, before going back to the War Room, is look yet again to the letter from his late wife, the one on the first page of the journal. He tears it out and folds it into a pocket inside his coat. That, he feels, is none of the Inquisition’s business.


Chapter Text

~ the commander of the inquisition

 As Dorian approaches the War Room, he realizes that he can hear shouting, just barely, through the closed door. He doesn’t recognize the voice. It’s a man’s voice, but Dorian can’t quite place the accent. It’s one of those terribly lost somewhere between Fereldan and Marcher.

 In either case, however, the content of the shouting is perfectly clear.

 “-a Tevinter mage into Haven. Are you mad? You have no idea what horrors they’re capable-”

 Ah, so that’s how it’s going to be. Dorian lifts his chin. So be it.

 He opens the door and the shouting stops. All of the occupants of the room turn to look at him. Besides the loss of Jude and Felicita, no one else has left or moved. Herald Adaar is in the middle of the room, clearly having been in a face-off of sorts with their new addition.

 The voice apparently belongs to an overtired blond man, most likely about Dorian’s age, wearing armor and some fur monstrosity that even Livia wouldn’t have touched. (A kind lie, actually; there was no fur monstrosity beyond Livia’s terrible sense of fashion.) The Commander of the Inquisition’s forces whom Dorian has heard so little about, presumably.

 Handsome enough, Dorian will give him that, with a scarred lip and stubble, and a pale scowl that superfluously speaks of too little sleep. Dorian probably would have slept with him, under more convenient circumstances, if the man were amenable and less… fervently distrustful in way that will be giving him wrinkles. On this ridiculous principle of self-defense alone, Dorian has to resolve to dislike the man.

 “Are we still on for preventing the end of the world?” Dorian asks, as he closes the door behind him, his voice sharp and sickeningly sweet to his own ears. Oh, his mother might be proud. “Or shall I just get back to all those ‘unspeakable horrors’ I’m surely about to commit when your backs are turned?”

 The Commander doesn’t seem amused. What a surprise.

 The Herald of Andraste, however, can’t seem to manage it either, which is disappointing. At least the other Adaar, Number Two, tries to quirk a pitiful smile for him. Well, there go Dorian’s only allies in this madness. Lady Montilyet has a very particular polite smile that Dorian knows better than to coat.

 “Lunch perhaps?” he says. “What vintages of ‘blood of the innocent’ do you have?”

 And this is immediately in poor taste even to Dorian’s ears. Dear Maker, he might as well take his boot and shove it in his mouth. It’s so much easier to remember not to be himself – not to give in to his easily pricked pride and overly sharp tongue – when he has an extremely impressionable six-year-old clinging to his hip.

 What was it that someone told him once? Dorian thinks it might have been Lady Arida. “Sheathe your tongue before you cut your own throat” or something like that, only playfully. While it stuck with Dorian, who very well knows and hates what he’s a product of, it’s never seemed to actually stick.

 “This is a Chantry cult, we don’t drink. It’s against our code for maintaining the purity of self,” Number Two quips back, finally.

 The Qunari is very carefully relaxed in his seat, and Dorian has never heard so clear and purposeful an attempt to save a conversation. Or so preposterous a statement. While Dorian is grateful for this follow-up to his admittedly terrible joke, that had better be a terrible joke of its own.

 “A truly lost cause, then,” Dorian replies, and steps fully into the room, near where Felicita was sitting before. He doesn’t sit. “That is a joke, yes? If it’s not, I’m afraid I must be going.”

 “If it wasn’t a joke, I’d ask you to take me with you,” Herald Adaar sighs. She waves her hand between Dorian and the blond man in introduction. “Dorian Pavus of Tevinter, this is Cullen Rutherford, the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces. Commander, this is Dorian, who has information on Gereon Alexius and the Venatori for us.”

 “I heard,” Commander Cullen says, and seems to be trying to stare Dorian down.

 Dorian could laugh out loud at this. He’s stared down notable members of the Magisterium and has refused to be cowed by far more intimidating and dangerous men than this. Dorian calls on that, and meets the man’s stare with his most “polite and genial and unintimated and also fuck you” expression. Rather rude to be casting about unspeakable horrors on people he doesn’t even know.

 To the man’s credit, he doesn’t even blink.

 “I’d like to hear what he has to say,” Herald Adaar says, with a pointed look.

 Ah, there’s dissent among the Inquisition’s command, apparently. It’s a poor man’s rendition of the Senate at home, but it does make Dorian somewhat wistful for the screeching and backstabbing of the Magisterium. How very Tevinter of them.

 However, on this note, who is in charge here? Dorian was under the impression that it was ultimately their Herald of Andraste after meeting her, before that he supposed that the Herald was only a figurehead for the Divine’s Hands, and here… he’s not quite certain. He could go either way, really.

 “I too am interested,” Lady Montilyet says casually.

 “He’s already here, Cullen,” Leliana the Spymaster agrees. “Why throw him out now?”

 The raven in Leliana’s lap croaks, seemingly… bizarrely… in agreement.

 Commander Cullen looks away from Dorian, to Adaar, and inclines his head. “So be it. He’s already here; we’ll hear him out.”

 One would think by his tone of voice that the Herald was advocating for Dorian to actually speak about the end of the world and unimaginable horrors. Dorian has to wonder what Tevinter mages the man’s encountered before. Not any decent ones, clearly. There go some few inconsiderate megalomaniacs ruining travel for the rest of them again.

 The Herald nods back at Cullen. “Thank you,” she says curtly.

 They part ways to stand at opposite ends of the room. As Dorian intends to speak towards Adaar, he isn’t looking forward to having Commander Cullen’s stare boring into the side of his head for the duration of this conversation. That’s a part of home sweet home that Dorian hasn’t missed.

 Dorian’s mood is marginally improved, however, by how the raven in Leliana’s lap suddenly puffs itself up and hisses at Commander Cullen as he approaches. It’s an enormous bird with a sharp beak and sharper talons, and it’s a genuinely intimidating display. Or it might have been, if Dorian hadn’t grown up managing his fear of the insufferable peacocks on the family estates.

 Commander Cullen only leans away slightly and glares at the bird.

 “Leliana,” he says warningly.

 “He is only saying hello,” Leliana says mildly, petting the raven soothingly.

 Out of the corner of his eye, Dorian sees Number Two put his hand over his mouth, and Herald Adaar nudge him while turning her head away to hide a smirk.

 “Charming greeting,” Dorian says.

 At the same time, a disapproving Cassandra Pentaghast says, “That is not a friendly hello, Leliana. Control your bird, if you insist on including him in these meetings.”

 The raven puffs itself up, as though to hiss again, but is interrupted as Lady Montilyet pointedly clear her throat. At a stern glance from her, the raven reluctantly settles.

 Dorian finds himself nearly as enthralled with the enormous bird as his daughter. There are a great many stories about strange ravens in the world. This certainly can’t be a normal bird. What sort of strange Orlesian Chantry cult has Felix handed him over to?

 “If we could get on with our business?” Lady Montilyet says, and finally looks to Dorian again. “If you would?”

 Dorian steps forward. “I would, and it seems that I will. Where do I begin?”

 “The beginning, probably,” Herald Adaar says.

 “A classic choice,” Dorian commends her, and tries to settle on where that is exactly.


 ~ the Venatori

 He begins with Gereon and Felix.

 “In 9:38, the Alexius family was attacked while returning to Tevinter and Felix fell ill,” Dorian explains shortly. “I was Gereon’s apprentice… of sorts… at the time, but we parted ways a year later when Gereon became too desperate for a cure for anyone of conscience. He later fell in with… hmm… a deplorable crowd I now know to be the Venatori.”

 And he continues with Livia, of course, who may come back to haunt him if he doesn’t.

 “By some delightful quirk of fate, at the same time,” Dorian says, raising the journal to bring it to everyone’s attention. “My wife, Livia Herathinos, a renowned archeologist and scholar, had been spending most of her time in western Orlais. She, much against her formidable will, fell in with the wrong patrons and partners, and, last year, sent me this. It’s a journal on the Venatori: every piece of their business that my dear wife could stick her nose into.”

 Most of the room has fixated on the journal. Dorian brings it down.

 “And now my own research and findings, besides,” Dorian adds. “For this and other… incidences… the Venatori want my head. Before you change me out for this book, I’d like to inform you that you have little chance in reading it, unless you read Tevene and various personal codes.”

 “And you will translate it, I suppose, for a price?” Cassandra Pentaghast says darkly.

 “Only that Gereon be stopped before he destroys himself and the world with him, which I dearly hope you planned to do anyway,” Dorian answers.

 Number Two is eyeing the journal warily. “That’s a thick book,” he says.

 “Please tell me that half the pages are empty,” Herald Agaar agrees.

 “I was under the impression that you’d rather I not lie to you,” Dorian says, somewhat apologetically.

 Not really. He wishes dearly that he could say that honestly, but the journal’s pages are double-sided and crammed full of information, translations, and theories. If he must suffer that, then so must everyone else.

 “Alright, so… this Tevinter supremacist cult that we’re just now learning about also has business going down in western Orlais?” Herald Adaar says. “I don’t have the time to jump out to western Orlais.”

 “No one has time to jaunt out to western Orlais,” Commander Cullen agrees.

 “I will write to some of my acquaintances,” Lady Montilyet says firmly, and reaches behind her for a writing board laying on the desk. She begins to write very, very quickly. “Please, continue, if you would, Serrah Pavus.”

 “You may need to write to many more people than that,” Dorian says. “Livia suspects that the Venatori may have people as few as the Winter Palace, and I, against all my best instincts, believe she may be right. It’s difficult for us Tevinters who aren’t a part of the cult and their gossip, but the Venatori would be even greater fools than I imagine if they hadn’t taken great advantage of this ‘Mage-Templar War’ and the latest Orlesian civil squabble to increase their power.”

 “They are not the only ones,” Leliana the Spymaster muses.

 “Very much not,” Dorian agrees. “I must have passed a dozen local political intrigues on the way here. But Gereon’s acquisition of the Mage Rebellion is a bold move for them. For all my suspicions, I would have said that such an outrageous and upsetting foray into Southern politics went against their instincts to creep in the shadows. Either something’s made them truly idiotically desperate or…”

 “They’ve gathered enough power to have some confidence of success in their goals,” Lady Montilyet says.


 “That or both,” Commander Cullen points out.

 He’s not wrong. Lady Montilyet concedes his point with a nod before Dorian can.

 “Whether they are worthy of their confidence or not will have to be seen,” she says, in the voice of a woman who will be testing them of this.

 “I’d wish you luck,” Dorian says, “but I hardly have any to spare.”

 Herald Adaar leans her head back against the wall. Her horns clack against the stone.

 “This conversation is going to be much longer than I thought,” she says.

 Number Two pats her sympathetically on her Marked arm.


~ debrief

 Dorian must put a limit on this delightful conversation. He told Felicita that he would be no more than half an hour, and he will keep that promise even come Inquisitions and holes in the sky. He can of course return later, but keeping to set times with Felicita may be the only reason Dorian can still consider himself sane.

 This ultimatum isn’t argued as much as Dorian might have thought it would be. The Herald and her… Dorian wouldn’t say companions… commanders, perhaps. The Herald of her commanders quickly decide that they don’t want the beginning after all. Western Orlais and the Winter Palace are not their immediate concern, compared to the open Fade hanging over their heads and unravelling the world.

 They want the ending; they want Redcliffe.

 Dorian personally can’t blame them, though he thinks they should be much more concerned about Gereon and his time magic than they seem to be, and says as much. He also says that if the Venatori have risked coming to light for the Mage Rebellion and the Herald’s Mark, it may be in the Inquisition’s best interests to stop them now, where they’ve possible overextended themselves, and weaken them greatly. Should the Inquisition decide to investigate the Venatori further, it may buy them time.

 “Or we could overextend ourselves into another cat-and-mouse conflict with no end,” Commander Cullen replies.

 Dorian would hardly consider himself an expert on the Inquisition’s forces and reach, he doesn’t argue this, but he does continue to argue for Redcliffe. For Felix. On some level, he’s vaguely concerned for the fate of the Orlesians, but he does agree that the potential unravelling of the world takes precedence.

 Most of their time is spent answering questions on the Venatori in Redcliffe, from Gereon to the Venatori mages and soldiers disguised as apprentices, servants, and guards of the Alexius household. Besides Gereon, there are three other Venatori mages to be wary of in Redcliffe when he left.

 Naenia, a minor altus of the equally minor House Argus, who seemed to be in charge of handling the Mage Rebellion and a fellow necromancer. (Not that Dorian shares his specialty to the room; Southerners are so unreasonable about a perfectly respectable school of magic.) Dorian doesn’t know much about her, beyond hearing her being mentioned as some sort of radical in the Circle, and that she seems to be responsible for throwing the Tranquil out of Redcliffe on Gereon’s orders.

 Pius Sidonius, another minor altus, appears to be in charge after Gereon. The men that the Venatori brought, the guards and servants that don’t actually belong to House Alexius, belong to him. Felix says that man is a dangerous duelist and force mage, and has an unbearable high opinion of himself.

 Then finally, Calixtus of no well-known family, who appears to be a disgruntled laetus who used to be apprenticed to an altus. His specialty in Entropy is apparently a cover for his true specialty in blood magic. Felix suspects the man is there is keep an eye on Gereon and Felix, but according to Felix, the man’s eyes are always more interested in finding the bottom of a bottle.

 “Interesting,” Leliana says, as she listens to all this carefully. “Is he a lecher, as well as a drunk?”

 “We should be so lucky,” Lady Montilyet murmurs, as she continues to take notes.

 “I’m afraid I was fortunate enough not to find out,” Dorian answers. “Felix should be able to tell you more of them and Redcliffe, if he hasn’t already. He had a great many complaints that we didn’t find the time to share.”

 The conversation, in the final ten minutes, turns towards Gereon’s time magic. Commander Cullen initially expresses disbelief at the very idea, much like Madame de Fer, but the man also seems pragmatically resigned to the rise of impossible magics. Dorian could do, however, without the rather judgmental look and comments about leaving well enough alone. Like Dorian’s the one who opened the hole in the fucking sky.

 “Oh, that’s helpful,” Dorian says to the man. “I’ll just use my knowledge of a previously theoretical magic to send myself back in time and prevent myself from learning it in the first place, and break the world. My time certainly would have been far better spent advocating for the imprisonment of mages in the Imperium or the like. Brilliant.”

 Again, the Commander isn’t amused. “None of this would be happening if mages didn’t spend their time pushing the boundaries of the natural world and unknowingly, uncaringly, provoking disaster.”

 “I disagree. If people aren’t pushing the boundaries of magic, then the only ones who know how to handle the impossible when the world threatens to end are going to be the megalomaniacs determined to end it and members of their supremacist cults,” Dorian argues. “I suppose I could have left well enough alone, but then you wouldn’t have anyone who knows anything about Gereon’s time magic, now, would you? That scenario sounds just delightful for everyone.”

 The budding argument is interrupted by Herald Adaar, who "doesn't want to hear it". She'd rather hear more about this time magic and how to combat it than more about how it came to be. Number Two immediately seconds her opinion. 

 Deciding in hindsight that provoking a man who is already prepared to hate him might not be wise, Dorian drops the argument, for the moment, even though the man is desperately wrong, and proceeds to give his best view and theories of the magic that Gereon’s developed since Dorian left. Such as how this time magic appears to interact with the Fade Rifts in Redcliffe.

 The Herald and company have already asked if Dorian suspects the Venatori behind the explosion at their Conclave. Dorian couldn’t right say, said as much, and then expressed disbelief that the Inquisition apparently didn’t know what happened either. 

 It was their own Conclave, and they don't know? 

 Perhaps his tone was too incredulous, as no one actually deigned to answer him. That was rather rude of them, he thinks. 

 “Why did you decide to meet us in the Chantry?” Cassandra Pentaghast asks, with the tone of the woman very loudly not accusing Dorian of opening the Fade Rift himself.

 “It provided some modicum of privacy, of course,” Dorian answers flippantly. So they're moving past the topic of the Conclave and Fade Rifts, apparently. “We could be sure that no uninvited Tevinters would be coming to pray or poke about. We’re too afraid of catching on fire if we step through the doors.”

 Herald Adaar and Number Two are, again, proven the only two souls in the room with any sense of humor.

 Lady Montilyet, as Dorian and the Herald both go on to express their opinions of the Redcliffe Chantry Rift, has other concerns.

 “I can already see the letters!” the Antivan woman says, her hands flying furiously. “Redcliffe demanding that we pay for a new Chantry!”

 “I’d… think they’d be more worried about their Tevinter infestation than renovation,” Dorian says, as someone who hasn’t the damnedest clue how not to draw attention to the fact that it was him, besides the Rift, who nearly burned that Chantry down.

 He then realizes his comment echoes Madame de Fer’s roaches comment and becomes upset with himself.

 The conversation ends there, as their time limit comes up. The Herald’s commanders seem to have plenty more questions, but Herald Adaar dismisses them all by pointing out that they have plenty to discuss before they even think of asking more questions.

 “Do you have any plans to flee the country tonight?” Adaar asks of him.

 “Not yet,” Dorian answers.

 Herald Adaar nods. “Brave man. Alright, so,” she says forcefully, “we’ll leave you to return to your daughter, Jude can help you both get settled in Haven, and we’ll send for you at a later date about translating that journal and to talk some more about Redcliffe. Agreed?”

 The question seems directed more at the room than Dorian. No one else answers, but the important thing seems to be that despite any other glowers about the room, no one objects.

 “I would appreciate the chance to put my feet up,” Dorian says.

 “Right, I’ll see you out.”


~ why would you want to save the world?

 The Herald does see him out, nodding at the rest of the room, and closes the door behind her and Dorian as they exit. Also, presumably, closing the door on the argument that is soon is erupt inside that room on any number of topics. Dorian’s at once terribly curious and terribly glad to be uninvited.

 “We’ll send for you as soon as we come to a decision,” Adaar says.

 Dorian glances back towards the War Room.

 “Good luck with that,” he says.

 Adaar grimaces. “I thought you didn’t have any luck to spare." 

 Dorian considers that. Very rude of her to be bringing up things he’s said flippantly in the past.

 “I like to imagine myself a charitable fellow. You seem to have even less than I,” Dorian says. “Remarkable, that.”

 Adaar snorts and glances down at the Mark on her hand.

 “I think I’m in debt at this point,” she says. “But thanks anyway.”

 Besides his feelings on being shown out of the room where things happen, Dorian is also terribly, terribly relieved to see Felicita at the other end of the hall. She and Jude are sitting cross-legged on the floor, by the alcove, exactly where he left them. She appears to be helping Jude build some lopsided creature out of the ice and snow that Jude conjures. Jude is the first to spot Dorian, at the other end of the hall, and pauses to wave with a handful of snow.

 Felicita notices this, and turns around, and smiles wide.

 Beside him, Herald Adaar claps him on the shoulder. “I won’t say thanks for dumping all these new problems on me, but I will thank you for your help, and the luck. I am grateful, and glad to know that there are other people out there working to keep the world from ending,” she says.

 “Well, I do live in it,” Dorian answers. “So I do find it a matter of utmost importance.”

 “You’d be surprised at some people’s priorities.”

 “Not really,” Dorian says. 

 Adaar laughs. “Yeah,” she says, and drops her hand from his shoulder. “If no one else has said it yet: welcome to Haven. I’ll leave you two to getting settled.”


 Just as the Herald steps away, Felicita crashes into Dorian’s knees. She hugs him around the waist and beams up at him. Her hands are absolutely freezing. Dorian yelps at the tiny fingers that manage to worm their way against the skin of his back.

 “Cold fingers, darling!”

 “Sorry,” Felicita says, and lets him scoop her up onto his hip.

 “Just don’t touch my skin, darling, clothes are fine. How are your fingers?” Dorian catches one small hand and inspects it carefully, as he walks with her to rejoin Jude. “Do they hurt at all?”

 “No,” Felicita says, and shoves both her hands in his face to prove this.

 They’re not at all red or blue or any worrying color, but they do very strongly of something that Dorian can’t immediately place. He sneezes into his shoulder, away from Felicita, and leans away from her hands.

 “They don't need to be in my eyes for me to see them, Felicita. What’s on your hands?”

 “Freeze Balm!” Felicita says happily, in Trade, before switching back to Tevene. “Jude keeps Freeze Balm and aaaall kinds of potions in his pockets. It keeps you from getting hurt by cold! He says that he went through a bottle a day when he was learning ice spells, to keep his hands safe!”

 “That’s very smart of him,” Dorian says, and resolves to keep Jude Trevelyan around by any means necessary.

 Decent company and a decent apothecary? The man’s a treasure.

 The fat young man also looks very nervous, as Dorian stops in front of him.

 “I asked Felicita about allergies, but she didn’t know of any,” Jude says. “So I dabbed some Freeze Balm on her arm and we waited before we… It doesn’t have any of the common allergens in it. Are there any allergies that I should know about? Just, um, for future reference?”

 Dorian studies Jude. It’s not a particularly good idea to go about sharing one’s medical information about to just anyone, Dorian would think it a good way to get something deadly in one’s food, but the man is an apothecary…

 “Papa,” Felicita says. “What’s an allergy?”  

 “Felicita doesn’t have any, but I have a minor allergy to stripweed,” Dorian answers quietly. Then to Felicita, “It’s an intolerance for something, like a plant or animal. Stripweed is commonly used for tea, but for some reason, it makes me sick.”

 “Oh,” Felicita says. Then announces and points, “We made a dragon out of snow!”

 Dorian looks down at the lopsided snow creature in the middle of the Chantry, which only very vaguely resembles a dragon. It doesn't have any wings. 

 “It’s a very good dragon,” he says, in Trade for Jude’s benefit as well as Felicita’s learning. “I like the horns.”

 Felicita beams. “Jude said-”

 “Trade, please, Felicita. Jude doesn’t speak Tevene.”

 Felicita frowns, and her brow furrows in concentration. “Jude said wings might fall off.”

 “I think making wings that could stay up would be hard with snow, and they might take up too much space in here. Somewhere else, perhaps? We’re going to go find somewhere to camp now, and we can’t leave snow in the Chantry.”

 Thankfully, Felicita is too distracted by the prospect of making wings to apparently get upset at the destruction of her snow dragon. “Ice bones,” she realizes, and pushes at his shoulder. “Ice bones would make the wings stay up.”

 “Trade, mellita, and that’s a very good idea.”

 “Adaar asked me to help you find somewhere,” Jude says, “and to show you around.”

 “If you would be so kind,” Dorian says, and puts Felicita down again.

 She grabs his hand, her fingers still cold, and pats the snow dragon in farewell. Then the snow dragon is dispelled without any of the expected fuss – although with the certain expectation that a new and better snow dragon is somewhere in their immediate future – and they exit the Chantry, and reenter Haven.


Chapter Text

~ the adventure of felicita

Felicita didn’t mean to get separated from her Papa. She was only looking away for a moment, she didn’t even stop walking, but when she looked again, her Papa and Jude were gone. She tried waiting for them to come back and she tried looking around while waiting, but Haven is crowded and busy and there’s no sign of her Papa anywhere.

One of the nearby Chantry ladies, a Sister, is beginning to look at Felicita suspiciously, so Felicita decides to go looking for him. He can’t have left Haven without her and she won’t leave Haven without him, so she won’t get lost. But it isn’t very easy to go looking for someone, she soon finds, in a crowded village when you happen to be the same height as most people’s waists.

She wishes that she hadn’t let go of her Papa’s hand, even if it had been to wipe the remaining Freeze Balm off their hands. All she has now is her bag and one of his handkerchiefs, which she holds very tightly. It smells like him. She wishes she were a dog or another animal with a good nose, and could follow people’s smells. Then she’d be able to find her Papa easily, any time she lost him, and sniff out all the animals they passed with ease.

Felicita thinks about shouting for him, but… she doesn’t want to. If she shouted, everyone would look at her. People looking at her will almost certainly mean people trying to talk to her in a language she barely understands, then treating her like she’s a baby.

While ducking between tents and barrels and cabins whenever it looks like someone is frowning at her, Felicitia catches a glimpse of a bearded mage carrying a crate of potions. She hurries after him, towards a bunch of cabins off to the side, only to have a bearded mage who is not Jude at all turn around when she tugs on his robes. His beard is dark and his head is bald, and he scowls down at her and leans forward.

Felicita squeaks and immediately flees before he can say something.

Only, she immediately bumps into the Chantry Sister who’s been frowning after her and apparently following her, who does say something and reach for Felicita. Felicita ducks the Sister’s reaching arm and runs away. Her Papa says people are not allowed to grab her if she doesn’t want them to, and Felicita doesn’t want this strange lady to grab her.

Felicita runs down the path towards a bunch of cabins, past crates and tents and trees, and turns a corner only to nearly run into someone else. Felicita manages to dive between their legs, but barely, and she scratches her hands on the ground as she does.  

She scrabbles back to her feet and glances back, and up, at a tall, bald elf man looking down at her in surprise. He turns his head to face the approaching footsteps, and Felicita takes advantage to stumble hastily away.

Felicita takes cover behind a pile of firewood outside one of the cabins. She pulls her hood up, readjusts her coat, and clutches her father’s dirt-marked handkerchief closely. After several seconds of careful breathing into her knees, she dares to peek her head out.

The Sister is talking to the elf man and looks angry with him. The elf man glances towards the pile of firewood where Felicita is crouching. Felicita ducks away again, and when she dares to peek out again, the elf man is pointing in a direction away from Felicita and saying something. The Sister shakes her head and stalks off in that direction.

The elf man watches her go and, as soon as she’s gone, looks directly at Felicita’s hiding place and raises his eyebrows at her. Instead of coming to speak with her, however, the elf man turns to meet the not-Jude bearded mage who’s just turned the corner. They move off towards the largest cabin nearby, speaking together in Trade, and neither looks towards Felicita slipping slowly out of her hiding place.

Felicita goes the opposite direction, away from the cabins, keeping close to the trees and the wall as she looks for her Papa and any more frowning strangers. She holds her hood up as she goes, just like she’s seen her Papa do.

She tries to keep out of the open, but she comes across a loud building full of rowdy people and the only thing to do is scamper by as quickly as possible. But Felicita is small, she can’t see well and isn’t easily seen, so she nearly gets squished by an elf woman who comes careening out of the building’s door. Or rather, she nearly gets squished by the elf woman’s wildly kicking legs in yellow plaidweave. Luckily, Felicita ducks forward, squeaking, and the elf woman, with an alarmed shriek, spins on an unbalanced heel to fall behind where Felicita had been.

They both end up on the ground. Felicita scrambles up as the elf woman grumbles into a sitting position, rubbing at her head and her uneven blonde hair into a mess. Felicita’s frightened attempt at a sorry becomes another squeak, as the elf woman glares at her and says something in Trade too quick and too strong for Felicita to have a hope of keeping up with.

Felicita runs away, followed by the shouts of the elf woman. She scampers down stairs and between bushes and around another bend, then ducks behind a stack of crates off to the side of a big set of gates. The same gates where she and her Papa dismounted.

It’s here that Felicita takes the time to breathe and hide for a bit, holding her father’s handkerchief like it can keep her hands from sparking. After her heart’s stopped thumping wildly, Felicita peeks out at all the people passing by - humans, dwarves, elves, though no other Qunari. She still doesn’t see her Papa, or any of the few people she knows. Felicita slumps behind the crates, determined to stay where it’s safe for a while longer.

It’s loud here, by this gate. Everybody’s shouting and talking and she can’t understand any of it, and there’s the sound of metal clashing metal from the people they saw practice fighting earlier. It’s so much and Felicita is just about ready to burst into tears, when she hears something familiar through the din of shouting and fighting. She looks up. Someone is talking in her language, just on the other side of the gates. She knows those words.

It might be her Papa, even if it doesn’t sound like him.

Felicita crawls out from her hiding place and carefully slips through the gates, and sneaks towards the familiar sounds of Tevene.


~ krem

The Chief’s only just got back, but of course he’s already got some awful training idea and has to change everything Krem was doing or had planned. For all he’s the most relaxed boss that Krem’s ever had, the Iron Bull is a nitpicky, henny, hardass bastard. Krem is not going soft, thanks, and not looking forward to all the Chief’s new ideas for training them repeatedly into the dirt for “their own good”.

There was nothing wrong with the way Krem had scheduled their drills. If the Chief wants to drag them all out before the crack of sunrise tomorrow to beat them up, that’s  his  problem. Krem likes to think he’s a soldier boy at heart, but he also likes sleep, thanks. Of course, the Chief just thinks it’s funny when Krem cusses him out over it. 

Krem has to pause in the middle of his cussing - the good Tevene stuff that Krem knows the Chief understands, because cussing at length in Trade can just boil down to the word fuck on repeat and that’s not good enough - when a kid starts wandering their direction and doesn’t stop.

Krem stares down at the kid, wide-eyed, when she finally stops beside him. 

It's a little girl - a little Northern girl - with dark hair, a brown face, and a mage-like coat and hood. She lifts her chin.

“Avanna," the kid says.

As though Krem wasn’t in the middle of using words that his mother would have washed his mouth out with soap for saying.

This kid can’t be more than six or seven. Oh, no.

“Avanna,” Krem echoes, horrified.

The kid only brightens and then says in very rapid, anxious Tevene, "I lost my Papa and I can’t find him. My name is Felicita Pavus, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The last bit sounds like an introduction someone taught her to say before she even knew what it meant. It’s been years since Krem was really around any Tevene, he can’t really place her accent to a city, but he can place the accent and wording as rich kid. He can place it as noble kid. Soporati and even laetus kids aren’t nearly so well-spoken.

Oh, no.

Krem looks towards the Chief, who is grinning at him like an unhelpful idiot, where he’s sitting on a rock at the edge of the Chargers’ tents and was letting Krem cuss at him in Tevene. The little Northern girl, Felicita Pavus, follows Krem’s look. Her eyes widen with surprise as she spots the Chief.  

“The Iron Bull!” the kid says.

“Hey, kid,” the Chief answers. “You lost your dad?”

“I did not mean it,” the kid says, stumbling over accented Trade.

“That’s alright, I bet he didn’t mean to lose you either,” the Chief says easily, because the big ol’ bastard likes kids. Talk about turning soft. “You need help finding him again?”

“...Yes, please.”

The Chief slowly gets to his feet, leaving his axe behind. “We can do that.”

The kid, Felicita Pavus, only comes up to Krem’s waist, more or less, but she’s even smaller next to the Iron Bull. The Chief could step on her, and while she looks a little nervous, she doesn’t shy away, because kids always like the Chief back for some reason.

“This is my second,” the Chief says, thumbing a gesture towards Krem. “His name is Krem Puff.”

“Chief,” Krem says, because really?

The kid looks towards Krem dubiously, then back to the Chief. “Krem Puff?” she repeats, badly, in the voice of someone who might not even know what that means.

“It is not,” Krem says, and elbows the bad influence beside him, who grunts. Then he looks down at the kid. “My name is Cremisius Aclassi, but most people just call me Krem.”

The kid thinks about it, then nods firmly and sticks out a hand.

Krem stares down at her.

“You’re supposed to shake it, Krem,” the Chief says helpfully.

“I know that,” Krem says, annoyed, and gives the kid his hand.

Her hands are a bit clammy, but her small handshake is surprisingly firm for someone who can’t get their entire hand around his. 

"The pleasure is mine,” she says loftily, in Tevene, like she’s parroting someone again. Then she says excitedly, "You’re from Tevinter too!”

“Yes,” Krem agrees slowly, as she lets his hand go."I used to be.”

“Hey, kid,” the Chief interrupts, before anything can get really awkward. (Krem breathes a sigh of relief, because he has no idea how to begin to have a conversation on his homeland with a little Tevinter girl.) “Where’d you see your dad last?”

“The Chantry,” the kid answers.

“Shouldn’t be too hard to find him, then. You want a lift, so you can see?”

The kid looks confused. “...A… lift?”

By this, of course, the Chief means a ride on his shoulders. The kid looks interested, but ultimately refuses, politely, to be picked up. The Chief doesn’t take any offense and instead offers to walk Felicita Pavus back to the Chantry her father, which she accepts. Krem goes with them because, well, because the kid looks at him expectantly and he’s curious.

“Is this what you meant by the Herald bringing a ‘Vint and a half’  into Haven?” Krem hisses at the Chief, when the kid is far enough ahead not to hear.

The Chief had said something along those lines earlier, but he did it immediately before hopping into the training ring with Lessa Trevelyan, who’d decided to welcome him back by trying (and failing) to kick his ass again. Krem was distracted by the need to shout advice at Lessa on how to knock the big lump on his big ass - it’ll happen someday, Krem believes in her - and forgot nearly all about the Chief’s shit warning about other Vints being in Haven.

“Eh, more like a Vint and a third, if you ask me,” the Chief answers.

Krem wants to make a comment on the Chief’s size in comparison with everyone else, or ask about the stress on Vint there - because there are Vints and then there are Vints - but suddenly the kid goes tearing off. Krem is about to shout after her, but someone else is already shouting.



Krem takes one look at the man hurrying towards the kid and knows two things. Firstly, yeah, that has to be the dad, they look and dress alike. Secondly, yeah, the Chief’s right, that’s a Vint if Krem’s ever seen one. The man’s a mage and either not great at hiding it or doesn’t care, and clearly an altus. That or a very well-to-do laetus, but Krem doubts it when the name Pavus is beginning to ring more than a few alarm bells in his head.

The Vint sweeps his daughter up into his arms easily, and the kid lets him and clings. They mutter to each other in Tevene, and Krem catches snatches of apologies and assurances, before he looks up and spots the other Trevelyan, Lessa’s brother, jogging up behind the Vint, who by the path between them sprinted halfway across Haven at the sight of his daughter.

Krem’s attention snaps back to the Vint at the mention of his name. Felicita is telling her father that Krem and the Iron Bull helped her find him. The Vint, listening carefully, looks over at the pair of them. Krem can see the realization on the man’s face, as they meet each other’s eyes - Krem is a fellow Tevinter in Haven and not even close to an altus - and can only hope this Vint altus stranger is intelligent enough not to try and relate to him over the Imperium.

Turns out nope.

“A pleasure to see a fellow countryman so far down South, and fellow countryman with a sense not to join some absurd cult at that,” the Vint says, as he approaches with his daughter on his hip. “Thank you for helping Felicita find her way. My name is Dorian Pavus, it’s a pleasure to meet you…?”

“Krem,” Krem answers shortly. “Not a problem.”

The Vint doesn’t offer his hand for Krem to shake, too busy holding his daughter. “Well, thank you, ‘Krem’,” he says, and thankfully doesn’t pursue the Tevinter Imperium line of questioning. Instead, he looks to the Chief and says stiffly, “And the Iron Bull, as well, thank you.”

“Anytime,” the Chief says easily. “Might want to keep a closer watch on your kid.”

The Vint, Dorian, looks like the Chief insulted his honor, or whatever it is alti get upset about.

“I’ll keep that in mind, thank you,” the Vint says frigidly.

It sounds more like fuck you.

“Where were you headed, before your kid got lost?” the Chief asks.

“To find somewhere to set up camp, at the Herald’s request,” Jude Trevelyan answers, before the Vint can try to kill the Chief on whatever imaginary offense is going on in his head so hard that it’s leaking onto his face.

“Thanks for the help, Bull, Krem,” Jude says.

“Anytime,” the Chief repeats.

“Your sister was looking for you,” Krem says to Jude. “She said to tell you that she’s going to be flattening Cullen’s soldiers with Lysette, until whenever you’re finished. There was also something about a rock?”

Krem didn’t quite catch that part about the rock; it didn’t seem so important between all of Lessa’s grumbling about licking her wounds and Krem needing to tease Lessa about that taking all day, with her having “a lot of wounds to lick”! Lessa laughed at that, but then she waggled her remaining eyebrow and asked Krem if he was offering to help. Krem accidentally tripped over his own feet instead of making a clever response, and Stitches and the Chief laughed at him while Lessa sauntered off. Not so good times. 

“Apparently it’s a shiny rock,” Jude replies with a shrug, like he too is confused by the sudden interest in rocks. “Well, I guess I should go have mercy on them sooner than later. Thanks.”

Before Jude can herd the Vints off, Chief opens his stupid mouth again.

“Have you introduced them to Flissa?” the Chief asks of Jude, like anyone’s first stop in Haven should be the tavern if they have a kid. “You should introduce them to Flissa and her girl, if you’re giving them a tour.”

Oh, right, Flissa does have a little girl too. Krem can’t imagine an altus letting their kid play with a Ferelden commoner’s bastard - no offense to Flissa or her girl, but that’s what they are in the eyes of alti and that’s usually all a person is in the eyes of an altus. No offense to the Vint’s kid, either, who seems like a sweet enough girl. All the offense to the Vint still looking at the Chief mistrustfully.

“No, but that’s a good idea, thanks,” Jude says. “See you around, Bull, Krem.”

“Yeah, see you ‘round,” the Chief says, as Krem nods.

The Vint just nods back, stiffly, instead of saying anything, but the little girl on his hip is sure to wave at the Chief and Krem both. Krem waves back, as does the Chief, and she grins at them and keeps waving, even as the Vint turns away and follows Jude.

“Goodbye, the Iron Bull!” she calls. “Vitae benefaria, Krem!”

Not something Krem ever expected to hear from an altus’ kid, he’ll admit. He turns to the Chief beside him and shoves into the big ol’ lump’s side, because that was a shit warning (an altus!)  and there’s no way the Chief doesn’t think this whole thing was hilarious.

“Who the fuck were they?” Krem demands.

“Watch your language, Krem Puff,” the Chief says bemusedly, and leans away when Krem tries to shove him again because that wasn’t funny. “Come on, I’ll tell you somewhere else.”


~ all the feelings of home

By the time they complete a small tour and reach their campsite, a spot apparently not far from Jude or his sister’s own tents, Dorian’s arms are aching with carrying Felicita. He’s reluctant to let her go, but she sits obediently down in the spot he gestures towards when he finally sets her down. He’ll be able to keep an eye on her as he sets up camp, which’ll have to do for his yowling paranoia, which was earlier convinced someone had stolen his daughter.

She’s so much heavier than she used to be. Dorian might know impossible magic and consider himself highly educated by some of the most illustrious schools in the Imperium, but sometimes he still doesn’t understand where all his daughter’s new weight and size is coming from.

Just like he despairs of understanding plenty of what goes on in her head, from her fascination with animals and the outdoors, to the fact that she apparently has no issue in walking up to a strange Tevinter man and a Qunari. Of course, the Iron Bull isn’t precisely a stranger and Dorian has been treating the Herald like a friend, but still. The Herald may be surprisingly well-spoken and civilized for a Qunari, but the Iron Bull is not.

Of course, Felicita hadn’t grown up with the same warnings that Dorian had. They hadn’t lived in an area of the Imperium where they might have to fear Qunari attacks or raids, Dorian had never thought of taking his daughter anywhere near Seheron or the other Nocen Islands, and Felicita was too young to have heard the frightening stories of the barbaric Qunari in the Circles, the ghastly rumors of Seheron at the Magisterium parties, or the news that came from eavesdropping on Halward’s business. Even on visits to Qarinus, Dorian had never considered entertaining his toddler daughter with the savage things that the Qunari did to Tevinters and even their own mages.

Felicita was only five years old when they’d left, and Dorian couldn’t have cared less what the Qunari were up to between all his own, far more important problems.

What is he supposed to tell Felicita? Stay away from Qunari, they’re dangerous?  Dorian’s sure that’ll go over fantastically with the Herald, when it inevitably comes out. No offense meant, it’s just that the Qun is barbaric and you’re a Vint-killing brute? That’ll be incredibly endearing.

Besides, it’s not as though the Herald, her brother, or the Iron Bull are even Qunari, now, are they? They’re Tal-Vashoth or whatever the term is for Qunari with the good sense to abandoned the Qun. Not that Dorian’s hear much better rumors and stories about rogue Qunari and rogue Qunari mercenaries, beyond the deeds of the Herald and the Inquisition. Perhaps he’ll revisit this line of thought when he comes across rogue Qunari outside of the Inquisition.

Perhaps he’ll just tell Felicita to be more careful around strangers in general. He hasn’t yet the faintest how to tell her to not give her father heart trouble by approaching a Qunari and a soporati man who clearly hated Dorian on sight.

Dorian doesn’t understand how, in the fifteen minutes she was lost, Felicita apparently managed to find the only other Tevinter in Haven. Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi, according to Jude, is an ex-soldier from Tevinter and the second-in-command of the Iron Bull’s Chargers, and yes, the only other person from the Imperium in Haven. What spectacular fortune Felicita has, though Dorian couldn’t yet place it as for good or ill.

“I heard Tevene,”  Felicita explains, upon being asked how she found Krem, as her father sets up their future home sweet home. “I thought he could be you, but he wasn’t, but he was speaking Tevene, so I knew that I could talk to him.”

Dorian then doesn’t understand why the man would be speaking Tevene to a Qunari, or at all if he was the only Tevinter in Haven. That seems somewhat useless.

“What was he saying, mellita?”

Felicita looks nervous. She clutches at Dragon, removed from her pack to sit in her lap. “I shouldn’t say it.”

“I don’t mind if it’s bad,” Dorian assures her, curious to know what the soporati was saying that Felicita thought it could be him.

Felicita repeats it.

Dorian stops casting spells on their campsite and looks at his daughter, who ducks her head.

Jude, off to the side, furrows his brow. He’s admitted to being able to read and write some few phrases in Tevene and Arcanum, as apparently comes with a decent Southern Circle education, to make sense of various magical texts and terms. Speaking it, fluently and in everyday life, is another thing altogether. Dorian doubts the young man learned this in his Southern Circle.

“Dear Maker,” Dorian says. “Felicita, you thought that was me?”

“Heard you say those words before,” Felicita mumbles defensively. “Lots of times before.”  She kicks her legs rebelliously. “All the time, whenever anything bad happens.”

“Well,” Dorian says, and looks back at what he’s doing.

He can’t say she’s wrong. He just rather hoped she wasn’t hearing those words.

“Those are very rude words,” Dorian says finally, in Tevene.

“I know,” Felicita says.

“Please don’t repeat them again, darling. Someone could take serious offense to those and you’re too small to duel anyone.”

If they were back in the Imperium and Dorian said that at a party, it would be grounds for no less than a duel. Possibly several duels. At least two, Dorian would think. Dear Maker, the mouth on that soporati in a public place.

“What if something bad happens?” Felicita asks.

Dorian considers this. His first instinct is that his darling, beloved, innocent six-year-old daughter should not be saying those words under any circumstances. Perhaps when she’s an adult, it will be acceptable. However, Felicita is not quite so innocent, he knows, and Dorian has tried very hard to raise her on a system of fairness. If Dorian has to eat all this horrible Southern food, then Felicita has to eat all of her horrible Southern food, so that neither of them die. They have an agreement there. 

“Well,” Dorian says. “I suppose that’s fair, darling, but it has to be very bad, alright?”

Felicita nods firmly. “Alright.”

“Well-settled, then,” Dorian says, in Trade again, and gets back to work.

Off to the side, Jude is still frowning curiously. “Do I want to know?”

“I would think most mages already know words fit to set things on fire,” Dorian answers. “I’d rather not repeat them, if you don’t mind. You don’t have an equivalent for a good number of those words in Trade.”

“Oh,” Jude says, still looking very curious. “Alright then. When you’re done this, did you two still want to go meet Flissa and her daughter, before I go find Lessa?”

“Who’s Flissa?” Felicita asks, before Dorian can.

“Flissa runs the tavern, the Singing Maiden. I think her daughter’s a few years older than you. They’re both very friendly,” Jude explains. “Getting to know them is a good way to get to know everyone else in Haven. Flissa knows lots of people and their children.”

This inspires sudden, anxious urgency in Felicita. “Papa. Papa. Can we go?”

“Who knows a city better than its bartenders?” Dorian quips.

It’s a popular and versatile proverb, one of that Dorian borrowed from Maevaris. Bartenders is easily replaced by whatever a person pleases, whether it be merchants, servants, courtesans, or the Brothers who take confessions of sins. Dorian prefers bartenders, because it’s the most true from his life, unless the proverb is changed entirely. "City" to “nobles” and "bartenders" to “their servants.”

“Papa,” Felicita says demandingly.

Knowing full well that this is a fight he won’t win by easy means and a fight he doesn’t even want to win, Dorian sighs.

“Yes, mellita, we can go.”


~ sera

The Singing Maiden is unconscionably loud and crowded, enough that even Dorian in his youth might have avoided the place. (Although not if there wasn't anywhere else available. Fereldan ale may be swill, but it's better than nothing and Dorian in his youth was not a particularly discerning man. Abstinence has made Dorian now a less discerning man than he'd like.) Felicita doesn’t want to step inside, so Jude steps instead to get Flissa, the tavern owner, to step outside for a moment.

Flissa is a plump, fair, brunette Fereldan woman who can’t be much younger than Dorian, and introduces herself anxiously, but becomes much friendlier once she spots Felicita. Dorian explains with all his charm that Jude is introducing him to all the important people in Haven, Jude explains that they’re only looking for Flissa’s daughter for Felicita, and Flissa becomes friendlier still.

Flissa steps confidently back inside the tavern to holler for her girl. “Filly! FILLY!” For such an initially anxious woman, she has an impressive pair of lungs. “Come away from Sera for a mo’, there’s someone here for you to meet!”

After several seconds, a girl slouches her way out of the loud tavern, perhaps nine or ten years old. She looks much like her mother, and she’s already quite tall, in a tunic she’s still growing into and leggings that she’s soon to grow out of. She’s much taller than Felicita, who is only six and has always been fairly small for her age.

“What?” the girl complains.

“Come here and meet Felicita,” Flissa urges her daughter. “She’s just arrived today.”

Dorian doesn’t have to do anything at all, besides gently nudge his daughter out from behind his legs. Flissa is more than happy to facilitate an introduction between the two girls, and assures Jude that she has one of her girls behind the bar inside.

It almost reminds Dorian of all the times his parents introduced him to the children of their peers, who were to be Dorian’s rivals or allies that were also rivals. Either way, the important things about those meetings was that Dorian and everything he’d recently done would be used by his parents to prove that they had the superior offspring and bloodlines. It was never simply to make friends. Dorian doesn’t remember much of it, besides stiff clothing and boring parties, and some vague memories of flinging words too big for them at other children like weapons.

In retrospect, it was much like his adolescence and adulthood in many ways.

There is no earthly way that Dorian’s parents would approve of him letting their granddaughter play with a Fereldan commoner, but Dorian feels that goes hand-in-hand with running away to Ferelden in the first place. They didn’t approve of Dorian playing with the servants’ and slaves’ children either. And after everything, frankly, Dorian feels that his parents have lost the privilege of having opinions on him and Felicita.

Dorian’s only concern is that she may become too attached to friends who may be temporary. Like father, like daughter. He doesn’t know how long they’ll be staying with the Inquisition. Pulling Felicita away from her homes time and time again, continually leaving people behind, is painful.

Well, Dorian has plenty of concerns, really. Far more than just one. What if she doesn’t get along with other children? Felicita has little experience with other children, beyond those of the servants in the Alexius household, most of whom she likely can’t remember. Dorian was an insufferable presence on many of his peers, who were an insufferable presence on him. What if, like her father, Felicita becomes a pariah among these Fereldan children? What if she gets hurt? What if she gets rejected? 

“Oi, it’s you!”

Dorian turns away from Flissa encouraging conversation between her curious daughter and an eager, stumbling Felicita.

He’s being borne down upon by a blonde elf woman with terrible hair, a worse sense of fashion, and a very angry, very freckled face.

“I beg your pardon?” Dorian demands, because he’s never seen this elf in his life.

“Nah, it’s you,” she says accusingly and glares up at him. “It was your bub runnin’ all over the place? I bruised my arse green because she nearly whacked in my kneecaps earlier! Watch y’bub, yeah? Afore she trips up someone who could squish her flat with their big arse!”

Dorian takes several seconds just to parse what the elf woman has said; it’s times like these, facing off with strong Fereldan accents, he finds his understanding of Trade insufficient. He… doesn’t know... all those words.

Nevertheless, Dorian now has the distinct feeling that Felicita didn’t tell him something. He’s never had this feeling quite like this before. He doesn’t like it.

Dorian looks down to Felicita, who squeaks in immediate guilt, then back up to the elf woman.

“I’m sorry-”

“Ah, stuff it,” the elf woman says uncaringly, and saunters back into the tavern.

Dorian looks to Jude helplessly.

“That’s Sera,” Jude says.

“She’s amazing,” Flissa’s daughter assures Felicita.

Jude, more quietly, away from the hearing of the girls, continues, “She works with Adaar, closing Rifts and such, most of the time. She didn’t come to Redcliffe, because, well… she doesn’t like… nobles… or, uh, mages. Especially nobles, but... also especially mages.”

“So, me,” Dorian summarizes.

“Don’t worry,” Jude says sympathetically. “She doesn’t like me either.”



Chapter Text

 ~ the parting of the ways

 Dorian sets himself to work on Livia’s journal – which is really Livia and Dorian’s journal, thank you, even if Dorian feels that it is perfectly legitimate to lay all the blame (not the merit, but the blame) of it on Livia – and Felix’s notes the very next day. Properly. Instead of scribbling thoughts, theories, and translations into the margins during whatever rare minutes he could catch on his travels, before Felicita inevitably recaptured his attention.

 It’s been quite some time since Dorian had the luxuries of a desk and a supply of materials, as he generously presumes the Inquisition will generously provide for him. However, he also remembers how incredibly tedious projects, regardless of environment, have a habit of devouring the time between the present and a due time. Time management will not become kinder any time soon, besides, what with Gereon’s alarming usage of time magic currently wreaking untold consequences on Redcliffe, the Veil, the world, and so on. It’s best that Dorian begin as soon as possible.

 If he had been by himself, he might have bypassed breakfast in favor of not interacting with people, not experiencing the shame of what might as well be begging, not inflicting Southern gruel on his poor tongue, and getting straight to work. Felicita’s presences demands differently.

 Much to Dorian’s displeasure, there’s no sign at all of the Herald Adaar or any of her commanders, nor even of Jude and his sister. It’s rather annoying and inconsiderate of them, Dorian thinks, to leave him to be squinted at suspiciously by various Haven residents. He has several books worth of cultist plots and impossible magic in his pocket; at the very least, someone should have been by to accord him writing materials and inform him of what plans have been made for Gereon, Felix, and Redcliffe.

 But no, of course not, it’s Dorian who has to seek out information and secure resources for himself. He takes Felicita and returns to the Chantry, to accost the first of the Herald’s War Room party unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Their unwilling patron turns out to be Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, as spotted by an eager Felicita, who has not ceased insisting upon crown braids ever since.

 In the face of Felicita’s perfectly adorable face, the Seeker stands no chance when Dorian saunters up with Livia’s journal in hand, requesting a space and resources to work on the translations.

 Dorian will have to discuss running off and nearly getting herself squished by armor-clad Nevarran swordswomen with his daughter, before she really does turn him grey with stress. Dorian must admit, however, that Felicita throwing herself forward to be nearly tripped over is remarkably effective.

 Cassandra Pentaghast, glowing impressively, leads them into a large building beside the Chantry. She explains that it used to be the home of the previous leader of Haven, before the Temple of Sacred Ashes was rediscovered. Now, it serves as the center of the Inquisition’s scholars, accountants, secretaries, and all other fools who have made it their life’s work to go through stacks of dusty books, notes, letters, and other related horrors until their eyes bleed. Several Tranquil, curiously enough.

 Personally, it smells a bit like home to Dorian.

 “We have alchemists and apothecaries performing their duties and research in another building, further away,” Cassandra Pentaghast explains curtly. “The enchanters are nearby, adjacent.”

 “Avoiding potential accidents, are we?” Dorian says.

 Most Circles he knows do similarly. At least, back in the Circles of the Imperium, they do similarly. Those who perform alchemy and enchantment experiments are exiled to buildings where they only have themselves to blow up or set aflame, if they are particularly ambitious, foolish, amateur, or inattentive. More than once, Dorian has seen his fellow researchers have smoke billowing out of their windows; more than once, Dorian has been that researcher with smoke billowing out of his windows.

 In this moment, a wry statement too late, Dorian remembers what happened to the Divine’s Conclave.

 “Avoiding the smell,” Cassandra answers unhappily. “But yes, that as well.”

 “Ah, Dorian says. “Fair enough.”

 Cassandra introduces him to a young female elf, named Minaeve Surana. Minaeve has dark red hair and a quiet manner, and is wearing the plain, thick robes of a Southern Circle apprentice. Cassandra Pentaghast introduces her as the head researcher of creatures for the Inquisition, and asks Minaeve to find somewhere for Dorian to work and materials to work with until further notice.

 “Do not share your work with just anyone,” Cassandra orders of Dorian, just before she leaves to continue whatever business they’d interrupted. “Bring it to me or Leliana.”

 Dorian doesn’t like the idea that he can be ordered about, even if he had no intention of sharing Livia and Gereon’s work. “I’ll resist the temptation to share appallingly dangerous information with every other passing stranger. When can I expect to hear news of and plans for Redcliffe?”

 “When we have finished discussing our course of action,” Cassandra answers, sharply.

 And, with an especially foul scowl, she leaves without another word. Dorian takes this to mean that the War Room is in the same disarray and disagreement as before, if not worse. Either that or Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast was the worst person to ask questions of, besides perhaps Commander Cullen, and Dorian will have to seek out Herald Adaar later. In either case, Dorian will not be sharing his work until he sees some work on the part of the Inquisition.

 The creature researcher, Minaeve, finds Dorian a desk and materials, and quickly leaves him be. She evades all attempts at a conversation, just as many of the room’s workers avoid eye contract with Dorian altogether. It makes Dorian feel particularly poisonous.

 Still, he sets himself to work. Whether or not the Inquisition or the South will be grateful for his efforts, something in Livia’s notes or Felix’s notes may help stop the Venatori or prevent the end of the world. Dorian’s hardly doing this for them, after all. If he did everything in his life to please other people, he’d currently be dead or absolutely miserable.

 Between the different languages, with the occasional pieces of complex academic language, the codes, and the chicken-scratch, Dorian really is the only hope the Inquisition has in translating these secrets. Unfortunately, between the different languages, the academia, the codes, and the chicken-scratch, Dorian quickly develops a minor headache.

 It used to be that Dorian could slouch in the most terrible positions and squint at the tiniest print without issue, but age is apparently catching up with him soon than he would have wished.

 Felicita, of course, true to tradition, isn’t helping.

 “Papa, I’m booored.”

 Dorian sighs and remembers fondly when Felicita could be entertained by chewing her own foot. She’s always been such a happy and well-behaved child, but she’s still a child. What did he really expect?

 Dorian looks over at her and finds that his daughter, Felicita Herathinos of House Pavus, is lying face down on the floor like a plank of wood.

 “Felicita! Get off the floor!”

 Felicita reluctantly flops over and sits up. “But I’m booored.”

 “That’s no excuse to roll around on the floor, darling. Someone could trip over you.”

 “I wanna dooo something.”

 “Then read a book, darling. You have books in your bag.”

 Felicita frowns. “Not that.”

 Dorian rubs a hand against his temple. While Felicita enjoys being read to and can read, she still resists reading on her own. He doesn’t understand her. According to all sources, when Dorian was her age, he was an advanced and voracious reader, but Felicita’s relationship with reading is a struggle.

 Felicita is struggling to sit quietly and entertain herself now, and Dorian… cannot blame her. He gave her a piece of paper to draw but, but the paper’s long-since been filled, and Felicita has clearly grown bored of sitting quietly. Dorian is far from willing to send her off into the wilds of Haven by herself, but he can’t send her off to wander in here without disturbing someone else’s work.

 He glances around and finds that they’re already disturbing people’s work. Dorian stares evenly back at some of these overly curious Southerners until they duck their heads – at least the Tranquil workers in here can mind their own business – before he sighs again.

 “Excuse me?” Dorian asks of the nearest scholar. “Where could I find the apothecaries?”

 Jude Trevelyan is likely busy, but he’s also the only person that Dorian could imagine leaving Felicita with for a time. The young man might consent to letting Felicita help him make potions and poultices and whatnot, or even watch. At the very least, Felicita can stretch her legs and the man might have something for Dorian’s burgeoning headache.

 Dorian folds away any sensitive notes and closes the journal, and takes them with him as he takes Felicita to find Jude. The anxious Inquisition scholar’s directions were simple, but Dorian thinks he might have been able to find the Inquisition’s alchemists and apothecaries by smell alone. The cabin smells nearly overpoweringly of elfroot and embrium; it reminds Dorian of the early parts of his necromancy training, with cadavers in the Circle, before training moved on to far less clean and pleasant spaces.

 Dear Maker, he hopes they don’t have any dead bodies in there. Not because he feels that Felicita will be particularly upset by the sight of another dead body, but Dorian feels that Felicita is a bit young to begin hanging around or poking at dead bodies just yet.

 There aren’t any dead bodies inside, but Dorian does find Jude Trevelyan slumped over a table, not unlike a dead body. A middle-aged bald man with a dark beard looks up from several simmering pots over a large fireplace, as Dorian knocks on the door frame. As do the two others in the room: an elderly woman and an apprentice-looking teenage girl.  As does Jude.

 “Dorian? And Felicita,” Jude says, surprised and clearly confused.

 “Hello, Jude!” Felicita says, and then suddenly ducks behind Dorian’s legs at the sight of something.

 Dorian follows her gaze to the middle-aged bald man with the beard, who appears to be frowning at them both, but who shakes his head and turns grumblingly back to his work. Other than the glaring, Dorian doesn’t see a glaringly obvious reason why the man might be making Felicita hide.

 Jude quickly gets to his feet. “Hello. Did you need something? Oh, no, did I miss something important?”

 “Well, the world seems to be ending very slowly, but besides that, not that I’m aware of,” Dorian answers, then clears his throat. “I’ve just begun work on a rather dry project for the Herald, in the building beside the Chantry, and it’s not a greatly entertaining place for Felicita. I was… well, I was hoping you might be available to spend time with her, at least for a few hours.”

 “Oh, um, I wouldn’t mind, but…” Jude looks nervously towards the bald man with the beard.

 “Just go, boy,” the man grumbles. “You’ve been worse than useless all morning and some of us have work to do. Come back whenever you’ve got your head back on.”

 “Uh, alright. Thanks, Adan,” Jude says, and begins packing up his things and changing a stained apron for his coat of pockets. “Yes, I’d be happy to spend some time with Felicita while you’re busy with your work. Just give me a moment.”

 “Head… back on…?” Felicita mumbles quietly, confused.

 “It’s a saying, mellita,” Dorian explains.

 Jude says his farewells to his colleagues and they all step outside.  

“Late night?” Dorian asks.

 “Something like that, I guess,” Jude says, and rubs at the circles under his eyes.

 “I take it they were some incredibly enthralling rocks, then?”

 Jude freezes. “…What?”

 Dorian raises his eyebrows at the young man. “Your sister had some particularly shiny rock to show you yesterday, if I’m remembering that absurdity correctly. Or was it simply code for something less absurd or more so?”

 “No, it wasn’t- it wasn’t code. It was just…” Jude sighs. “Lessa being Lessa. Do you kn… Do you have siblings?”

 “I am blessed with being an only child,” Dorian answers, and tries not to think of Felix.

 “Oh,” says Jude. “So, did you have anything you wanted us to do?”

 “Not to wander off and get into trouble or anything dangerous, but beyond those incredibly difficult criteria, no,” Dorian says.

 He proceeds to list a number of activities that Felicita might enjoy. From clapping games and other minor magic practice, to anything to do with animals (and Dorian does mean anything), to perhaps finding that tavern woman’s daughter again, to even simply practicing her Trade.

 Felicita catches on quickly, and her immediate suggestion is to make another snow dragon. A proper snow dragon. A big one. A really big one. Real size. With ice bones and wings. (There is much stress on the bones and wings part of things.)

 “I don’t know about ‘real size’,” Jude says gently, undaunted by Felicita’s enthusiasm. “But we can try, and maybe we can find some other people to help?”

 Felicita nods, as she fumbles something out of her bag: the paper that Dorian had given her. She turns it over – away from various doodles and scribbles – and shows it to Jude and Dorian, who both lean in to peer at the paper. It’s a very rough sketch of a draconic skeleton. It’s quite good, for a six-year-old girl who can’t have seen an actual dragon or a dragon’s skeleton before.

 “Oh, wow,” Jude says.

 “Mellita, that’s very good! Your drawing is excellently thought-out! And I can tell it was made a great amount of effort,” Dorian says, switching to Tevene so that she’ll better understand him, and then points. “You’re missing the wing scapulae, though. The forelegs and wings don’t attach to the same scapulae. The wings and arms move independently of each other, remember. The forelegs don’t have knees like that, either; they’re more like arms.”

 He demonstrates by bending his arm for her a few times. “But, of course, if you are only making a sculpture, it won’t matter. The bones won’t be real bones and will only serve as internal support. You haven’t seen a dragon before. If you intend on animating your dragon, then the functionality of the bones will matter.”

 Felicita’s eyes light up. “We can animate it? Would you animate it?”

 Dorian coughs. “Not today; I think we would need to make a drawing together and build it together, and… people in the South are scared of necromancy, darling. I need you not to tell people about it just yet, so we don’t scare them. Alright, darling?”

 Felicita frowns. “Alright.”

 Dorian crouches down and kisses her on the forehead. “Why don’t you make this one for practice? We’ll build a snow dragon together that I can rig another time, when my work is done, I promise.”

 “Um, is there anything I should know here?” Jude says.

 “Just that Felicita may need your help with getting the bones exactly right,” Dorian says, as he stands. “Are you at all familiar with draconian skeletal anatomy?”

 “I’m… vaguely familiar with human anatomy.”

 “Well, now’s your opportunity to brush up on both. Felicita, you and Jude can learn together.”

 Felicita and Jude both look skeptical, before Jude nods.

 “I like your drawing, Felicita,” he says, and offers her his hand. “But I don’t know a lot about bones. Can you tell me what all those bones are? While we go find Filly and where to build our snow dragon?”

 Felicita reluctantly lets go of Dorian’s robe and takes Jude’s hand. “Alright.”

 “Thanks. Goodbye, Dorian.”

 “Vitae benefaria, Papa.”

 “Goodbye, mellita.”



 Dorian returns to the Chantry-adjacent building. It takes some time before he hits his stride, during which he overhears some rather fascinating pieces of gossip, such as that Lady Montilyet’s office is upstairs but that she hasn’t been seen in more than passing for nearly two days, but focusing is much easier without a six-year-old girl rolling over the floor and he falls into the work soon enough.

 He translates anything that might have significance to Redcliffe first, specifically the Venatori – Gereon, Sidonius, Calixtus, and Naenia – that are currently in the village. Anything that seems relevant to the Inquisition and Ferelden. Then anything that the Venatori might want significant numbers of mages for and who might be involved in moving the Mage Rebellion to the Imperium. Sorting through the journal for the relevant information and organizing the information seems to take more time than the translations themselves, but it also seems like a tossup.

 He’s only interrupted when the creature researcher, the young elf, Minaeve, comes hesitantly up to his desk. She doesn’t say anything at first, leaving Dorian to look between her face and the enormous, ancient book in her hands.

 “Can I help you?”

 “Are you from the Tevinter Imperium?”

 “I am,” Dorian confirms, uncertain as to where this is going.

 “Do you read Tevene?”

 Dorian looks down at the Tevene writing that he was just reading and resists the urge to be sarcastic.

 “Several forms of it, yes,” he answers, and then he suddenly understands. “Do you have something that you need translated? Because I’m afraid that my current workload is incredibly urgent and that book looks… well… nearly bigger than you are. I’m physically intimidated by that book.”

 Minaeve smiles, weakly. “Oh, no, I read Tevene, and even Arcanum, just… not perfectly. There’s a word I can’t seem to find a translation for and context is…”

 “Being less than cooperative? When is it ever? Let’s see the offending word then.”

 Minaeve brings the text over and sets it on his desk. She points out the offending word and tries to read the phrase out aloud for him, some Tevinter’s study of demons from at least several hundred years ago. Her accent is deeply Marcher and her pronunciation is accordingly, adorably terrible.

“Dear Maker, and I thought the size was intimidating; I've seen less incomprehensible nonsense written by my daughter. Give me a moment. Do you have a paper? Ah, thank you.”

 Dorian writes out a translation of the entire phrase, as he doesn’t have an exact word for the concept.

 “The offending word here is literally an archaic academic term in Tevinter, one that’s fallen out of common usage,” he explains. “Though I don’t believe it ever become truly popular, before it was… I believe this theory may have been disproven. Is this Epimetheus’ Animal Encyclopedia? Yes, this is likely the man who came up with it, even. He’s rather infamous for that, actually.”

 “I’ve been noticing that. I’m going to bring him back to life or go back in time, just so I can strangle him,” Minaeve says, glaring at the paper. “Troth. That would be the most equivalent word in Trade. He didn’t believe that Fade creatures could change their nature or have their natures changed.”

 Dorian laughs, startled, and turns it into a cough. What a fascinating and incredibly ironic choice of magics mentioned in her murder plot there. He hopes it’s coincidence.

 “A popular sentiment in academia if I’ve ever heard one,” he tells her, “and to that dreadful man specifically, even. Though, personally, I’ve never met any academic who didn’t live to make up words. Hypocrites, the lot of us.”

 That makes Minaeve laugh too, and Dorian smiles at her warily, aware of the people watching them.

 “I’d burn this book if I wouldn’t hate myself for the act,” she confesses, smilingly, as she puts the paper on top of the book and lifts it into her arms. “And if his dissections and alchemic experiments weren’t nearly unparalleled in their depth and detail even Ages later.”

 “There are better books and journals out there,” Dorian assures her. “Unfortunately, most of the sparse copies grace the various shelves of the Imperium like a puzzle. Their cruel, selfish caretakers will part with them only over their dead bodies, besides.”

 “I could go for that,” Minaeve says lightly. “Thank you for the help.”

 “Not a problem, my dear,” Dorian assures her. “Try not to plot any great library robberies or murders.”

 “No promises,” Minaeve calls back, and she drops the book back on her own desk with a heavy thump. Her own thump, back into her chair, is alarmingly lighter.

 Ignoring the stares on him from around the room, just as he did as he entered, worked, and left with Felicita, Dorian gets back to work. The world apparently isn’t going to keep itself from unravelling.


 ~ snow dragon mark two

 Minaeve calls him over a few more times, over the course of several hours, to aid with several translations. Apparently, the lack of an expert on Tevene in all its forms has been something she has been unknowingly waiting for, all her life. He even aids one of Minaeve’s colleagues with another set of old Tevene translations, near the end of things.

 These Southern mages’ Circle educations have apparently been severely lacking, as Jude admitted with his extremely poor understanding of Tevene. At an especially dubious expression from Dorian, one of them admits that the Chantry tended to denounce and confiscate anything to do with the Imperium, which was the good reaction for the Chantry. It made the acquisition and study of Tevinter Circle Academia near impossible without outside support or high seniority.

 Dorian is impressed with their abilities and progress in the light of that, and says as much. He doesn’t say that it’s no wonder Southern Circle Academia falls so pitifully behind in regards to magical study, but dear Maker, does he think it.  

 It’s Minaeve who comes to tell Dorian that it’s beginning to approach supper time, and that she’s frankly concerned with the number of hours he’s been working.

 Dorian, who suddenly realizes that he is quite hungry, thirsty, and stiff, points out defensively that he’s seen her here for just as long.

 Minaeve is not impressed. She lifts her chin and insists that she stopped for lunch and sensible breaks. She insists on a schedule of them, for the Tranquil, who will also work stupidly past sensible limits. She didn’t think to include Dorian, but the glint in her eyes says that this will change.

 Dorian, upset at being compared to Tranquil, unfortunately can’t dispute her claims. With his nose firmly in his translations, he has no way of confirmation what Minaeve may or may not have done.

 “I am well-aware of my limits,” Dorian insists.

 “And you apparently choose to ignore them,” Minaeve replies. “Like an apprentice.”

 She kicks him out of the building; in that she says, “I am kicking you out of my building,” and Dorian goes. Not necessarily because he’s afraid of fighting a small elven woman, but because he may or may not be somewhat concerned that a small elven woman, who has already professed thoughts of murder, may attempt to fight him. It’s long past time to check on Jude and Felicita, anyway.

 He hadn’t thought they’d be gone so long, actually. For several minutes, as he adjusts to the late afternoon light, Dorian feels somewhat panicked that something might have happened. His panic disappears, as finding Jude and Felicita turns out to be far less difficult than he might have feared.

 There is a dragon, made from snow, in front of Haven that is ten feet tall.

 “We, um, may have gotten a bit carried away,” Jude Trevelyan says, standing awkwardly in front of their creation. “I figured that you’d come get her eventually? Whenever you were done? We were definitely going to come find you before supper.”

 Creations, Dorian notices. There is a baby dragon, about three feet tall, beside the larger one.

 There are several other children around, including the tavern woman’s daughter, allegedly “helping” while they poke at the dragon’s tail and such. Dorian is standing at the front of at least a dozen adults who have come to gawk as well, mostly curious Inquisition soldiers and scouts. Varric and Sam have wandered over, as has Lessa, as have even the Iron Bull and a few of the Qunari’s mercenaries.

 Dorian’s elusive daughter is on the snow dragon’s back, patting carefully at the wings, which aren’t spread but aren’t tucked hard against its body either. Dorian wanders up to her and must tilt his head back slightly to look at her over its shoulder.

 This is… a lot of ice and snow. It’s cold in Ferelden, but it’s yet autumn still, and only the barest scraps of this could be natural. This snow dragon is painstakingly layered and maintained, with a thin layer of ice over the sculpted snow to hold it in place. Dorian realizes, rather faint-heartedly at the sheer amount of effort and control, that young Jude Trevelyan is quite the talented and powerful mage.

 “Felicita?” Dorian calls.

 Felicita looks up and crawls up the dragon’s back to peer down at him. “Papa! Avanna!”

 “Avanna, mellita. Your dragon is enormous! It looks very real. I thought Haven was under attack!”

 Felicita grins and spreads her arms wide. “Nooo! Protector of Haven!”

 “Oh, it’s a nice enormous dragon, I see. Is that its baby?”

 “It’s practice dragon,” Felicita explains, and pats the one she’s sitting on. “Yes. It is the baby.”

 “A little Felicita dragon?”

 “I’m not so small!” Felicita says, then adds, “Maybe. This one is you.”

 “I’m honored. I look very fierce.” Dorian holds his hands out for her. “It will be time for supper soon, and you can tell me all about your dragons.”

 “No! Yes, I will tell, but… Papa, I’m not done yet!”

 Dorian recognizes that whine, and his own perfectionism. “Alright, mellita. Five minutes for finishing touches. Do you need any help?” His own magic has been languishing away all day, save to treat the aches he gained at a desk.

“No! Nearly done!” Felicita insists, and throws herself back towards the wings.

 Dorian steps back and another voice speaks up: “Well, and here I was worried the dragon in the Hinterlands was back for revenge. Not what I was expecting when someone told me there was a dragon at the gates, but I like this better.”

 Dorian turns around to see Herald Adaar standing behind him, in front of the crowd, with her hands on her hips. She’s looking up at the dragon, and then looks down and raises her brows at him.

 “You fought the dragon in the Hinterlands?” Dorian asks.

 “I ran away from the dragon in the Hinterlands,” Adaar corrects, as she crosses her arms. “The one that’s taken over the quarry to the south-east of Redcliffe? It’s actually several dragons; that one had babies too. Lots of them. I don’t envy the nearby camp’s work with those things. I don’t suppose yours wants to take it on for me?”

 Dorian imagines pitting an animated snow dragon against an actual dragon. It’s a cute idea, not unbefitting Felicita, but the real dragon would surely melt the snow dragon or tear it to pieces in appallingly few seconds.

 “I don’t think that would work,” he says finally. “You’d have to ask Jude and Felicita, anyhow, as the beast belongs to them.” He pauses for a moment. “Could I have a word?”

 “You can have several,” Herald Adaar answers. “Come on.”

 “Several? Why, I feel special.”


Chapter Text

 ~ what will be done

 Adaar huffs a laugh at his quip, as she leads him out towards the small lake in front of Haven, past the edges of the soldiers’ tents. Close enough to keep Felicita’s snow dragon well in sight if he wishes, but far enough away not to be overheard by the crowd gathered around.

 “I imagine this is about Redcliffe,” Adaar says, looking out towards the lake.

 “Yes, I find it somewhat difficult not to be constantly and immediately concerned about it.”

 Adaar sighs and thumbs over her shoulder at the Breach, constantly looming over Haven, somewhat obscured by cloud today. “Don’t worry, it gets easier. Either that or you get too exhausted to panic over anything anymore.” Then she sighs again and drops her hand, her Marked hand, with the green light and painful-looking scars. “I’m sorry. That’s not what you want to hear.”

 “No,” Dorian agrees, though he is sympathetic towards her. “My personal connections to Gereon and Felix aside; if the Venatori are so fixated on your Mark, if they are given the time to take Redcliffe and the Mage Rebellion fully for themselves, they will come for this… delightfully rustic sanctuary of yours. Whatever happens, it will make Redcliffe look like a picnic.”

 “I know,” Adaar answers darkly. “If I had my way, we’d be returning to Redcliffe now. Shit, if I’d been more prepared, I could have taken Redcliffe the moment that I got there.”

 She runs her hand, her Unmarked hand, over her face in exhaustion. She’s missing the scale-patterned face paint today, and her dark hair is loose down her back. She has even deeper and darker circles under her eyes than Jude.

 “That’s the thing about time magic, apparently,” Dorian says flippantly, “it ruins all your careful preparations. The Venatori will make time to do their work and damn the consequences.”

 “And damn… no, unravel… the world? That’s what you said.”

 “I say a lot of things, but yes, something like that,” Dorian says. “Time is not on our side here.”

 “With you on it, I’d hoped that might change.”

 Dorian pauses. “Yes, well… what Gereon’s attempting is well beyond lines I would never have dared to cross. The severe disadvantage of parting ways and having a mimicry of a moral backbone, apparently. Desperate men seem to be free of the burden of last resorts.”

 Adaar hums in something that might be agreement, and bends to pick up a stone. It’s a flat one, and Adaar quickly sends it skipping across the lake. It skips seven times before it sinks beneath the water.

 “Leliana and I want to return to Redcliffe before the end of the week,” Adaar says finally. “Arrangements and concessions have to be made. I can’t give you the details, but I can assure you that Felix Alexius will be treated as an ally of the Inquisition. The elder Alexius… we don’t know what will happen. If he surrenders, the Inquisition may have mercy, but… with magic like that… the priority will be Redcliffe and the safety of the people there.”

 Dorian swallows past a catch in his throat. “Understandable.” He swallows again, and adds, “Before you ask, I have no attachment to the other Venatori, so… do with them as you wish with my blessing. Unless, of course, you mean to let them go.”

 “No,” Adaar says shortly. “But I do mean to take you with us, if you would come.”

 “I… can’t imagine that going over well… in your War Room.”

 “It didn’t.”

 “I can imagine that.”

 “I don’t have to, but I still mean to do it,” Adaar says firmly. “You’re clearly a battle-capable mage, you’re familiar with the Venatori, and you’re the only one who might be able to do something if something goes terribly wrong with that time magic.”

 All true. Unfortunately.

 Adaar continues: “I won’t say I’m not asking you to fight your mentor; I can’t ignore that you may be the only one who can. However…” She looks away from the lake to meet his eyes. “…if you believe you have a chance of reaching the man you used to know… you and the younger Alexius… I would prefer to end this with as little a fight as possible.”

  That’s… far more than Dorian let himself hope for. He doesn’t know if he believes he can reach Gereon, when all his previous attempts have ended in disaster, and when none of Felix’s attempts have been able to get through to his father besides. Gereon’s reason seems to have died with Lady Arida. But the chance… the possible chance to save Gereon from himself remains a powerful temptation.

 To be there… to confront Gereon, to rescue Felix, and to defeat the Venatori who have killed Livia and Benigno, and chased him and his daughter so far from home. In this moment, Dorian wants nothing more than what Herald Adaar is offering.

 And yet…

 “I can’t bring my daughter,” Dorian says, “and I can’t leave her.”

 Adaar nods. “I can’t make the decision to fight for you, but I would like you with us for Redcliffe, and your daughter would be looked after in Haven. Jude would likely be willing to stay behind with her, and… Number Two would be willing as well. I asked him and he agreed.”

 Number Two, the other Qunari, or the “Other Adaar” as the Herald put it. Dorian can imagine both his parents going ashen at the very thought of Dorian entrusting a Pavus to a Qunari, if either of them fully believed that Felicita was a Pavus.

 “I… don’t believe you ever mentioned your relationship to this… ‘Number Two’.”

 “I’m not in the habit,” Adaar agrees. “He’s my brother. My twin, actually.”

 That explains the resemblance between them. “You… look alike.”

 “We do.” Adaar looks him directly in the eyes again. “My family would look after yours, Dorian. We are all in this struggle, whether some acknowledge it or not.”

 Dorian is struck rather speechless, which has rarely been known to happen.

 “Just consider the offer,” Adaar says, “and all your other options, and prepare yourself to live with whatever choice you make.” She looks out to the lake again. “That’s all any of us can do.”

 “I… Thank you,” Dorian replies finally.

 “Before you make any sort of decision, I do have news from the younger Alexius for you. Come to the Chantry after supper and I’ll persuade Leliana to share it. Nothing’s enormously changed in Redcliffe, but hope from a friend hasn’t hurt anyone that I know of, and I’ll give it to you both, if I can. I imagine you have plenty of complaints about our ‘rustic sanctuary’ for him.”

 “Maybe one or two. Perhaps enough words to waste a bird’s wings, but neither too heinous, I assure you. He pauses, then repeats, “Thank you. I have translations of the journal for you and your spymaster – ah, ‘Master of Scouts’, my apologies – on the Venatori in Redcliffe and so on.”

 “It’ll be a trade then,” Adaar says, smilingly.

 “I always try to enter negotiations without being empty-handed,” Dorian agrees.

 “Good policy,” Adaar says, and claps him on the shoulder with her Unmarked hand like a friend.

 She’s quite tall, so Dorian must crane his already suffering neck back to look at her. He’s not used to feeling small. He can’t quite say if he likes it. He doesn’t think he does, but he also doesn’t think he minds the Herald’s brief, friendly touch before she turns away to return to Haven.

 “Tell your daughter that I like her dragon,” Adaar says, waving over her shoulder with her Marked hand.


 ~ the days that follow

 The days that follow continue much like Dorian’s first full day in Haven. He works on his translations and continues to assist Minaeve and her colleagues in their studies, leaving Felicita and Jude to various projects and mischief. He has brief, passing discussions with Herald Adaar, and he observes the various strange characters and goings-on of the increasingly infamous Inquisition.

 And he prepares to tell his daughter that he will be leaving her behind.


~ a tip of the hat from lady montilyet

 Lady Montilyet eventually returns to her upstairs office in the Chantry-adjacent building of paper-pushers that smells somewhat like home to Dorian. She apparently has another office, more suited to receiving various allies and patrons, in the Chantry. The couple of more familiar-looking personal secretaries in her train are the ones who bridge the short passage between offices.

 Dorian is in the middle of assisting Minaeve with a particularly abominable text on dragons and related creatures at the time. As the Herald mentioned just the day before, the Inquisition has a Hinterlands camp, tucked in a ravine, beside the quarry where a prolific Ferelden Frostback has made its nest. This camp is thus tasked with containing and hunting the dragonlings where they can. The dragonlings, unlike their massive mother, are more than small enough to come sniffing around the Inquisition’s camp to try and eat the scouts and soldiers.

 The dead dragonlings and their parts are sent back to the Inquisition, for sale, materials, and study. Minaeve is the study part of this, and is not pleased at being hindered by some “pretentious Orlesian ass” of a scholar who fancied, wrongly, that he knew enough Tevene to write partially in it.

 “Perhaps he thought it sounded more ‘cultured’ or ‘academic’ or some other rot,” Dorian says, leaning over the desk with Minaeve, almost ready to tear his hair out. Well, he’d never do that to his dear hair, but it’s the spirit of the phrase. “It would be a more convincing attempt if he hadn’t gotten all the conjugations offensively incorrect.”

 “And from three different Ages,” Minaeve moans, her head against her desk.

 “And areas of the Imperium, at that,” Dorian adds offhandedly. “Perhaps you’d be better off finding an alchemist and conducting your own experiments with frostrock. I wouldn't trust this man to know a dragon’s tail from its teeth if it were killing him with them.”

 “Harritt doesn’t want me ‘ruining’ the scales.”


 “The head blacksmith.”

 “Oh, hmm,” Dorian says. “I can’t suggest dueling him for them, you might take me seriously.”

 Minaeve groans and bangs her head, lightly, against the desk.

 “Don’t do that,” Dorian chides her.

 “I miss Helisma,” Minaeve says, lifting her head only to put it in her hands.

 “I’m afraid I don’t know who that is either, my dear.”

 Minaeve sighs and lifts her head from her hands as well. “Helisma Derington was a woman from my Circle,” she explains, “and my friend. She decided to become Tranquil a few years ago, but…” Minaeve tugs on her hair. “We were still friends.”

 Personally, Dorian doesn’t understand how you could be friends with a Tranquil. He hasn’t seen any evidence here in Haven to corroborate the agency and collaboration of that group of Tranquil in Redcliffe. He doesn’t even like being in the same room of the Tranquil who work in here; he can’t imagine willingly spending time with such dull, joyless, empty-eyed people and calling them friends. Could a Tranquil even be a friend to someone in return?

 He doesn’t say all that however. Minaeve has a guarded look about her, and there are Tranquil listening, and this story has the feelings of a tragedy.

 “What happened to her?” Dorian asks instead.

 “We got separated when the Circle fell. I took as many of the Tranquil mages as I could, because no one else seemed to be looking out for… seemed to care what was going to happen to them.”

 That sounds rather like Jude and Lessa Trevelyan’s story, only Dorian doesn’t believe Jude said anything about the Tranquil. Older and younger mages, with an emphasis on younger mages, Jude’s story seemed to imply. Children. People of the Circles who couldn’t look after themselves.

 “I couldn’t keep track of everyone,” Minaeve says simply, “and Helisma just… disappeared in the chaos. So many people did.” She shakes her head and sighs. “Helisma knew so much about creatures. She was so clever. It was her passion, even more than me, even when she became Tranquil. Beasts especially, and especially-especially anything that could fly when it shouldn’t have been able.”

 Dorian’s trying not to draw parallels and metaphors there, but he’s not that strong a man.

 “I’m sorry for your loss.”

 Minaeve tugs at her hair again and then rubs at her eyes. “No, I’m… sorry for bringing this up. Maker, it’s not important. Why did I bring that up?” She rubs at her eyes even harder. “I’m sorry.”

 “Because it’s important to you,” Dorian answers. “You wouldn’t have brought it up if it wasn’t.”

 Dorian doesn’t understand why Minaeve cares about a woman who chose to become Tranquil, but he… understands more than he’d like about caring for who a person used to be. He knows more than he’d like about crying over people he never chose. Who is he to judge what friendship and companionship these Southern Circle mages found for themselves in their horrible towers?

 Felicita doesn’t bring up things like this unless they matter to her. No matter how small or strange her concerns may seem to Dorian, they’re important to her. She doesn’t know anything else.

 “Besides, I don’t imagine you enjoy the opportunity of emotional confessions in the company you usually keep,” Dorian continues, before he can regain control of his mouth.

 He truly doesn’t understand how one could be genuine friends with a Tranquil, who are famously rather poor with emotions.

 Minaeve seems to appreciate this less than his first statement.

 “I’ll leave you to-”

 Before Dorian can flee, Lady Montilyet and her secretaries enter the building and rescue him. Lady Montilyet greets everyone brightly and makes a witty joke about work never being done, and announces that her secretaries have correspondence for some of Mineave’s colleagues from their families, acquaintances, contacts, and colleagues further afield. This is a more than sufficient distraction.

 Lady Montilyet then turns on Dorian and asks to speak with him, and Dorian revokes his own internal statement on rescue.

 He follows her to her office, and then revokes his own previous revoking. It turns out that Lady Montilyet only wants to thank him for his recent translations of his information on Redcliffe and the Venatori, and also to thank him for assisting Minaeve and her colleagues.

 “It was a pleasure to guide them. I consider it a responsibility to save the world where I can from poor translations and the miscommunication of knowledge,” Dorian says easily.

 Lady Montilyet’s upstairs office is a simple affair, with desks for her and her secretaries, and a closed door that Dorian suspects leads to a shared bedroom for the three women. The second floor is much smaller than the first, but may be burdened with the same amount of paperwork, if not more. Small creatures could be crushed by those stacks of correspondence and books.

 “An admirable outlook,” Lady Montilyet replies, as she sinks into the seat behind her desk. “One that I wished more people subscribed to. In my line of work, one mistranslated word can often end in generations of embarrassing conflict.”

 “Perhaps not on the same scale, but I would say academia is far from different in that regard.”

 “And I would agree with you entirely,” Lady Montilyet says. “Now, I have another question for you.”

 “Just the one?”

 Lady Montilyet smiles slyly. “Perhaps not. I heard a rumor from Master Tethras-”

 “Just the one?” Dorian repeats.

 Lady Montilyet’s smile grows wider. “Perhaps not,” she says again. “I heard from him that – forgive me for indulging my curiosity – that you are, like him, also friends with Magister Maevaris Tilani.”

 “I am lucky enough to consider myself such, yes,” Dorian agrees.

 He’s not certain where this conversation is going. If anyone is to have a decent understanding of the Tevinter Imperium’s politics and House Pavus’ formidable place in that – of everything that Dorian has left behind – it would most likely be this woman, besides the Inquisition’s Spymaster. What she might want of him, knowing that, he doesn’t know.

 “How small our world is,” Lady Montilyet muses. “Thank you for indulging my curiosity, serrah. I had recently, through Master Tethras, reached out to make contact with Magister Tilani. I am yet waiting on a reply. On this subject, I wished to ask if you would like to take the opportunity to send any other letters through the Inquisition.”

 Beyond the one that Dorian wrote to Felix, yesterday, through the Inquisition, which he does not doubt was well-perused by Leliana the Spymaster and perhaps even Herald Adaar.

 Dorian hasn’t spoken to Mae in nearly a year, beyond sending her some few sparse letters to vaguely inform her of what happened. He has no idea whether Maevaris received any of his letters. She is, without doubt, absolutely furious at him for the poor job he’s done of keeping Felicita away from the vipers. The temptation of an ally like Maevaris, even countries away, is powerful.

 “I will think on it, thank you,” Dorian says.

 He didn’t burn all his bridges back in Tevinter. He yet has friendly acquaintances from the Circle and the Magisterium both, though all can only be trusted to act according to their natures and own self-interest. Unless a letter was directly delivered to Maevaris’ hands, Dorian is sure that his communication would be swept up by either the Venatori or his father. He’s not sure which would be worse.

 “Please do,” Lady Montilyet says kindly. “And please give my compliments to your daughter for her impressive and delightful sculptures. Serrah Trevelyan informed me that she was the true artiste of the work.”

 Dorian may throw himself out the nearest window if Felicita becomes anything like any of the “artistes” he’s known. Some of them are delightful people, he’s sure. Others, like one of Dorian’s previous lovers, were so terribly self-involved that there was hardly any room at all for Dorian’s own self-involvement. If the man hadn’t been appallingly, exceptionally talented with his fingers in all regards, Dorian might have cursed him in an especially ironic fashion.

 “Felicita will be delighted to hear that,” he says instead.

 Lady Montilyet pauses in reaching for a pen. “Felicita,” she repeats, with slow consideration. “It’s a lovely name, and a traditional Antivan name. I would have thought that Felicia was the Tevinter form of the name.”

 “Oh, it is,” Dorian assures her. “Proof of my excellent taste, wouldn’t you agree?”

 Lady Montilyet smiles once more. “So it is.”

 Ah, Dorian thinks as he excuses himself, that is who Lady Montilyet reminds me of: Benigno.

 Dorian allows himself a moment’s pause, at the bottom of the stairs, to think of Livia’s lover, who was also a distant and reliable friend to Dorian over the years, before the Venatori. Through letters mostly, but through Livia’s pregnancy consistently. Benigno would choose Livia every time over Dorian, and had repeatedly.

 Yet he had still been a friend, even if not a close one… or perhaps even a good one.

 But who is Dorian to judge?


~ salrok

 Most of what Jude and Felicita do, Dorian only hears about later. Sometimes he manages to participate, between various meetings and his work, but most of the time, it feels as though every time that Dorian looks back, Jude, who seems to have been essentially temporarily excused from his duties in the apothecary, has managed to accumulate another small child. Felicita is still Jude’s priority, the young man assures him, but the other children just… show up.

 “Most of them are from my Circle in Ostwick,” Jude explains, when Dorian frowns at a circle of children listening to the tavern woman’s daughter tell some tale. Felicita is among them, her brow furrowed to keep up with the Trade. “I used to help teach the apprentices a lot, so they know me. Their caretakers come with them sometimes. One or two of them are like Filly: the children of people around Haven. Felicita says she doesn’t mind.”

 No, Felicita adores having other children around, even if she struggles with them. She’s the smallest and the youngest of them, and a foreigner and a mage besides. She fumbles through interactions, failing to understand why various other children act the way that they do, and sometimes she becomes shy or embarrassed, and yet… Dorian has rarely seen her so bright. She returns to him at the end of every day with a seemingly endless parade of stories and issues and ideas. The thousand and one small concerns of a six-year-old girl, framed as an exciting new adventure and experience.

 Dorian… doesn’t quite know what to think of this. His childhood was a parade of nannies and tutors far more than other children. Jude and Minaeve both seem to think this is normal enough for children. Varric wasn’t at all surprised when he came by for a friendly chat; he just made a quip about Jude apparently running a new “circlet of magelings… and some extras”.

 Dorian’s going to leave Felicita here, if he is to be sure that Gereon is stopped and Felix is saved. Will she be happy here without him? Will she understand? Will she be safe?

 He’s still thinking this, early one morning, when Felicita and Jude take him to see the Inquisition’s brontos. It’s just the three of them who go. Felicita couldn’t wait to show them to him, and the beasts are quiet and not working yet when it’s still early. If someone had told a much younger Dorian, once upon a time, that he’d be getting up at the crack of dawn to see hairy, shuffling beasts pull logs, he would have laughed at them uproariously.

 Felicita runs off to greet her favorite of the beasts through the fence, and Dorian follows, listening to her tell him about prehensile lips and how brontos walk on their digits and not the flat of their feet. Jude explains that they’ve been borrowing books from Minaeve, who was more than happy to share.

 “Are you the dad, then?” says a deep voice from around Dorian’s elbow.

 One of the dwarven handlers of the brontos has come up beside him. There’s a few of them just beginnings their morning with the Inquisition’s transport beasts. This one is a handsome fellow, with dark skin and a large hooked nose, with the speckling of grey and leathery wrinkles of a dwarf in or approaching his fifties. He has a striking, blatant black tattoo over his left eye.

 “Yes, I am,” Dorian says, turning towards the dwarf.

 “Seen Jude bringing your little girl around a few times,” the dwarf says, and throws the rope he’d been holding over his shoulder, before holding out a hand. “Salrok Cadash. Well met.”

 Dorian takes the hand and shakes it. “Dorian Pavus. The pleasure is mine.”

 Salrok Cadash nods towards Felicita. “How old is she?”

 “Six years. Just this autumn.”

 “Mine’s all grown now, but I remember when she was that age. Never thought then that I’d miss her always being underfoot.”

 Dorian stiffens at the potential sob story. Salrok notices.

 “She’s a part of the Inquisition with me, but she just left yesterday,” the dwarf assures him, with a knowing grin. “Another mission for the Hands.” He shrugs. “Can’t remember ever having that much energy, but she seems to like it.”

 Dorian looks back to Felicita, struggling to climb the fence and better peer at the sleepy brontos. He can’t imagine her all grown up. When she was first born, he might have pictured her as a young magister-in-the-making, some terrible combination of himself and Livia, but now… the future is so unknowable… so many paths that Dorian may have thrown away on her behalf… and Felicita is nothing like he could have imagined then.

 “I can’t imagine her as an adult.”

 “I still have trouble,” Salrok says sympathetically. “It happened faster than I thought it would.”

 “Doesn’t everything except dull meetings?”


 They stand in silence for a bit, watching Felicita hang over the fence and try and coax a bronto to come say hello to her. If the creature actually went for it, Dorian might be concerned. Felicita isn’t much larger than its mouth. However, the beast seems more concerned with falling asleep where it stands.

 “Look, I came over because I heard from the Other Adaar that you might be joining Adaar on her way to Redcliffe, and that Other Adaar and Jude might be looking after your girl,” Salrok says. “Little girls are cleverer than you might think. You don’t want to surprise her with your leaving. If you’re going, you should tell her now, or soon. Let her get used to it. Talk her through it.”

 Dorian looks down at the dwarf, surprised.

 “Voice of experience talking, boy,” Salrok says, and pulls the rope off his shoulder. He nods in farewell and wanders away. “Best to you and your girl now.”

 Felicita turns to Dorian then, having noticed that he’s not directly beside her.

 She waves him forward. “Papa! Come see!”


~ though I have to say goodbye

  Felicita is quiet when Dorian tells her that he’s leaving with the Herald for Redcliffe. She takes in his explanation near silently. His explanation that the Herald wants Dorian with her because Dorian is the only one who knows a lot about Gereon’s time magic, that Dorian wants to go save Felix from the Venatori, and that Felicita is far too small to come or help.

 She accepts that she’ll be staying with Jude or the Herald’s brother just as quietly. Far more quietly and unsettlingly so than she accepted the news that her mother had been killed by the Venatori.

 Dorian doesn’t like the quiet. He might have preferred screaming.

 “I’ll be back soon, darling,” he promises her in Tevene. “As soon as I can, I’ll come back to you.”

 Dorian used to be of the opinion that the only thing to do, if you were one of those unfortunate people who were born with their heart in their hand or on their sleeve, the best thing to do about it was to pretend that it wasn’t there or to beat other people bloody with it. It’s not a fun thing to have your heart out of your body, but one coped somehow.

 Now, Dorian’s heart has moved, and this doesn’t quite apply. He wants nothing more than to hold Felicita safe, and to shelter her from the whole world. This is even less viable than the previous solution, and at least twice as dreadful a problem.

 How is he to protect her when he seems to be the one hurting her?


~ renan

 The very next day, Felicita is in a better mood and Dorian is bewildered.

 “Did you talk to her?” he asks Jude.

 “A little bit?” Jude answers and points towards the throng of children still containing Felicita. “It wasn’t me, though. It was them. A few of them have parents who are soldiers or scouts, and they’re all used to the Herald’s party heading out and always coming back.”

 “Oh,” Dorian says, still bewildered. “I suppose that might do it.”

 He never considered that the other children might comfort Felicita. He didn’t think that they might make an outcast of her for her father briefly leaving, but he didn’t begin to imagine that they would help in any way. But Filly, the tall Ferelden girl who seems to be mentioned in every other of Felicita’s sentences (alternating sentences being about creatures of some kind or another), has her hand on Felicita’s shoulders as she tells some extremely dramatic story.

 According to Felicita, the tavern woman’s daughter follows not only that female elf, Sera, about, but Varric Tethras as well. Being acquainted in a friendly manner with Varric, this leaves Dorian somewhat concerned as to the company that his daughter is keeping.

 “Just… try to come back,” Jude says awkwardly.

 “…Pardon me? Was there another option? I must have missed that one,” Dorian replies offhandedly, and goes to extract his daughter from the horde.

 Felicita has a few more questions for him, about how much danger he’ll face, about how long he thinks he’ll be gone, but her mood is much more genial. She confirms several times that Dorian will be coming back, but then moves easily along into tales of whatever mischief was concocted today.

 Along the way, they’re accosted by a pair of elves.

 One of them is Sam, the brown Dalish elf that Dorian met in Redcliffe, and the other is a stranger. A stocky female elf with speckled skin, frizzy red hair cut short and left wild, and a heavy assortment of beaded and woven jewelry about her person. She also has a light facial tattoo, in blue, and leathery wrinkles about her face that might put her in her forties.

 They look nothing alike.

 “See, Renan? This is the new Vint shem I will be travelling with,” Sam says, his arm over her shoulders as he gestures towards Dorian. “I told you that I would introduce you. This is Dorian, and that’s his daughter, Mellita.”

 He proceeds not to perform introductions the other way around, and leaves the new elf, Renan, to squint suspiciously at Dorian and Felicita both.

 “That’s… not her name,” Dorian says finally, instead of demanding to know what in the world is happening. Why he is being subjected to the scrutiny of an older female elf.

 Sam blinks in surprise. “It’s not?”

 “No,” Felicita says. “My name is Felicita.”

 Sam looks down at her. “Huh. Then what does mellita mean?”

 “Some prefer to translate it as ‘honey’, but I prefer ‘darling’,” Dorian says shortly.

 “Oh,” says Sam.

 He winces, and looks to his companion, Renan, who is looking very unimpressed with him.

 “He calls her that all the time,” Sam says defensively.

 Renan rolls her eyes so powerfully that Dorian’s rather amazed the world doesn’t spin for her, then she steps up to look him in the eye. She’s much shorter than him, so it’s difficult. Dorian’s almost reminded of Livia, to be encountering a woman able to look down on him from below like this, but this elf seems to be staring into his very being and not liking what she sees.  

 “Do not speak to my son, Vint,” Renan says finally.

 Sam puts his scarred face in his hands. “Renan,” he says plaintively.

 Renan turns on her heel and reaches up to grab him by the ear. Sam skips out of her reach and frowns at her. 

 This begins a rapid conversation in Elvish that Dorian can't even begin to follow, which ends in Sam and Renan moving off together. Renan shoots a vicious warning glare at Dorian, before she goes.

 “Papa, what was that?” Felicita says, confused.

 “Darling, I have no idea.”

 Felicita is quiet for several seconds, before she breaks out into giggles.

 “What is it, Felicita?”

 “He thought my name was ‘darling’!”

 Dorian smiles, and scoops her up into his arms. For all he knows, she’ll be too big for him to do this by the time he comes back, even though he has no intention of being gone for long. Felicita shrieks as he throws her over her shoulders like a beloved sack of vegetables.

 “Isn’t it, darling Felicita? Felicita darling?”

 “Papa, put me dooown!”  


 ~ the messenger

 Far too soon, although not nearly soon enough, Dorian catches sight of a great black raven swooping down over Haven, towards the Chantry. He follows it, instead of returning to work alongside Minaeve and her colleagues.

 It flies directly for Leliana the Spymaster, who is outside speaking to Commander Cullen, and has a thick message tied to its leg for her. Leliana lets the bird sit on her shoulder, as she unfurls the letter. 

 Herald Adaar appears just behind Dorian, following him from the practice field with the soldiers, where he saw her sparring with Cassandra Pentaghast while he said his goodbyes to Felicita and Jude for the day.

 “That’ll be it,” Adaar says.

 Dorian watches as Lady Montilyet and Number Two come out of the Chantry. Number Two peers bravely over the shoulder of Leliana the Spymaster as she reads – a raven on one shoulder, a Qunari leaning over the other – while Commander Cullen and Lady Montilyet wait impatiently for news.

 Cassandra Pentaghast brushes quickly past Dorian and Adaar, to reach the others. She reaches them just as Leliana looks up and says something to the gathered group.

 “That sounds altogether a pleasant and not at all ominous statement,” Dorian answers. “It. Why, that conjures up any number of ghastly and intimidating possibilities to look forward to.”

 “Sure does,” Adaar agrees.

 The group looks towards Herald Adaar, one by one. First, Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, then the others, and the expectations there are colossal from the Inquisition’s mismanaged leaders.

 Save for Number Two, whose expression is somewhat blank, and perhaps even sad.

 Yet Adaar only again claps Dorian on the shoulder, as though they’re friends who share the burden of it.

 “You ready for them all?” she asks.

 “I’ve been waiting for the rest of you to catch up since the moment we met,” Dorian answers.

 Adaar grins, though it’s honestly far more of a grimace.

 “That’s the attitude. Back to Redcliffe, then,” she says. “Finally.”   


Chapter Text

~ three dashing rogues and one dashing mage

Redcliffe Castle is a fortress popularly considered to be indomitable, and laying siege on a hardy, wartorn village filled with anxious mages is popularly considered a bad idea. At least, Dorian generously presumes they would be, if the queries were posed to a general populace. And yet, they’re going to have a go at both anyway, because what better time than the end of the world for terrible, desperate ideas?

Either that or because they’re all fools, but Dorian prefers to imagine otherwise.

At the farthest point of the village, an old mill sits tall, lopsided, and lonely on a high hill across from the distant castle. This mill sits alone, Dorian presumes, because of the constant and hideous creaking sound that it makes as the evening’s wind pushes at its stalled sails. No other house could stand to move in next to it, and not even its original owner could stand it for long, judging by its somewhat run down state.

Dorian suddenly misses having someone to share these thoughts with. He’s been feeling the absence of Felicita at his hip especially since leaving Haven far and fast behind them, and he feels it sharply now as the Herald Adaar walks into the village below.

Adaar walking through the front gates of Haven, under the guise of negotiations with Gereon, is either incredibly bravery or idiocy. If it’s not both, of course, which Dorian believes it to be.

Which Dorian can see it to be. Actually, directly see it to be, even high above the village and looking down on all the little people and houses. The village of Redcliffe hasn’t improved since he left it, no, it’s gotten nightmarishly worse. Whatever spells that Gereon has been weaving to keep the Veil together have left stitches that could politely be called amateur; more directly, Dorian would call these “stitches” appallingly ugly and one wrong move from falling to pieces.

Cracks of pale greenish light line the roofs and walls of the village, from thin cuts to straining gashes - traceable outlines of instability illuminated in the setting sun, all too ready to break open. Yet the setting sun’s light also doesn’t hit the village quite rightly - it’s too bright in some places and too dark in others - there are shadows lurking where there shouldn’t be or missing where they should be. Unseen winds moan and push the trees in too many directions. And yellowish mist and a darker green haze are brewing over the houses, looming relatively unseen until they spark bright green - so briefly that you could blink and you’d miss it - where they meet.

“Dear Maker, Gereon,” Dorian says to himself. “What have you done?”

“These are the temporal distortions that you described?”

Dorian turns as the Inquisition’s “Master of Scouts” comes up beside him. Leliana the Spymaster’s expression is too genial for her gloomy hood and light armor, still decorated with the Maker’s Eye at every edge. Her expression is too politely and vaguely interested for the great longbow in her grip and the greater raven sitting on her shoulder.

Dorian looks back to Redcliffe. Gereon’s foul work here has stretched and twisted the Fade so far that Dorian might compare the Veil here to wet paper if he wasn’t now afraid to even breathe on the very fabric of reality. It might be subtle to some, perhaps, but Dorian could only forgive that level of obliviousness in the blind. The eerie, tangling of the threads of the air itself makes a person’s hands - or feathers, as the case may be - stand on edge.

“It’s even worse than I imagined,” Dorian says instead of waxing poetic on the unravelling of the world. “I couldn’t begin to sit down and write proper theory on these new Fade Rifts of yours, but any magic in this environment would… well, let’s just say ‘likely aggravate the instability to unpleasant ends’.”

That provokes a snort from behind them, and Dorian turns fully around to look at that blonde female elf with whom his daughter’s friend is obsessed: Sera. Her light armor is mismatched and sparse - all the better to blind her foes with her garish plaidweave clothing, apparently - but her bow, while shorter than Leliana’s, is as sharp as her derisive grin. She’s leaning against the doorframe of old mill, while Leliana’s chosen “scouts” file quietly inside.

“If you mean: ‘start puking fucking demons out’, just use real words,” Sera says.

Then the elf woman mimes vomiting explosively, complete with appropriately ghastly sound effects.

Dorian might have been insulted, if it wasn’t such an apt summary of an admittedly disgusting situation. He might not be disposed towards liking this woman, but he understands better now why she’s so popular with little girls under ten years old.

She’s… she’s still going.

When Sera finishes, after all of Leliana’s a little over a dozen or so agents have filed inside the old mill, her legs have spread so far and she’s sunk so low to the ground that she has to push against the ground to hop back up. Once she does, she flips her head up and bows with smug grace that the Tevinter Imperium’s most dreaded primadonnas couldn’t hope to match.

Sam, the Dalish standing and smirking behind Sera, tucks his own bow under his arm and applauds her lightly. Meanwhile, on Leliana’s shoulder, the enormous raven croaks in what might be laughter. It flaps its free wing appreciatively.

Dorian looks to Leliana herself, who is smiling perhaps more sincerely now.

“Essentially that, yes,” he says.

“We suspected as much, based on our reports, your Felix’s reports included,” Leliana says, unworriedly. “and we have taken the delicacy of the Veil into account.”

Dorian doesn’t know if he should correct that “your Felix” of hers.

“He’s n-”

“‘S’why the big girl’s got the Bull and the big Templar ladies with her,” Sera says, flexing her arms and striking various poses, as though to communicate through gesture either Seeker Pentaghast or Jude’s sister, Lessa, or perhaps even the Iron Bull. “So, take your own advice and don’t break the bottle of demons open on us, yeah, Magister Fancypants?”

“I’ll endeavor not to do so,” Dorian says.

He eschews mentioning for the nth time that he’s not a magister nor named “Fancypants”. If it hasn’t stuck with her on any of the many occasions the entire way here, it’s probably not about to start now. There’s no use in wasting any more breath over it.  

“It’s not like he’s the Vint to really be worried about, anyway,” Sam interjects, and looks over towards the castle and the setting sun. “Plenty of shem mages in there and around here to keep quiet before they panic. It’s probably time to get moving, Nightingale, if we want our hunt to meet in the middle.”

“Yes, yes,” Leliana says, and lifts an arm so the enormous raven can shuffle down from her shoulder to her forearm. “So we shall. Come away from the edge, would you, Dorian? Before you are seen by one of the village’s residents.”

“They’re all huddling inside their houses and tents,” Dorian says, as he follows her towards the old mill. “Out of curiosity: what sort of fantastic Southern optimism does it take to believe that wood and fabric will protect you from the fabric of reality getting unraveled? It’s inspiring. I might be able to use some of that.”

“There are more direct ways of getting dead,” Sam says about this latter statement.

At the same time, Sera says about his former statement: “Never stopped anybody from peeking out their windows, now, did it? ‘S’thing about places full of people: someone’s always watching, Magispants. You look down at all the little people and the little people look right back up.”

“Indeed,” Leliana says, as she pets the raven on her arm about the face. “Tell our other friends that we’re going now, would you, my handsome friend?”

The raven croaks back adoringly, before nipping at a loose strand of Leliana’s hair, and she smiles at it. Leliana steps away from the rest of them to launch the bird into the air, where it takes off in the direction of the lake that sits beside Redcliffe. Leliana recaptures Dorian’s attention before he can watch the speck of a bird disappear entirely.

They’re off.


~ the belly of the beast

Inside this old mill which sits tall, lopsided, and lonely on a high hill across from a distant castle, is a secret passageway directly in the dungeons of this castle. It is… remarkably convenient to say the least.

“This is remarkably convenient, to say the least,” Dorian says.

“It was built as an escape route by one of the previous Arls of Redcliffe, for him and his family, when it was thought Redcliffe might fall to oncoming sieges,” Leliana answers from behind him, as they creep down a rickety and narrow staircase in next to complete darkness.  

“Leaving everybody else behind, of course,” Sera mutters.

She’s leading the way, just in front of Dorian. Leliana the Spymaster is just behind Dorian, surely prepared to knife him in the back if necessary - a position of which Dorian is very acutely aware. Leliana’s scouts follow just behind her, with Sam bringing up the rear.

“Terribly rude of him,” Dorian comments, “both to build a selfishly secret passage and then to make it so unpleasant. If you’re going to do that, you could at least have the courtesy to make it comfortable for the people breaking in. Not that the cold air and colder stone isn’t lovely on places I’d rather they weren’t; which is to say: everywhere.”

“Yeah? Yeah, what a tit,” Sera answers agreeably.

It sounds as though she might be mocking him, but Dorian’s too busy trying not to break his neck to judge. The steep staircase has essentially become a ladder, and the lights being carried with the party aren’t enough for Dorian to make the leap.

“That’s it. I can’t see,” Dorian says, and lights up the tunnel.

He immediately finds himself with a knife pressed warningly to his gut by Sera. He stands there, unmoving, carefully not breathing, as she glares at him. The dim lights that he’s summoned bob around them, illuminating their dismal passage, and her twisted, scowling face.

“What was that about not breaking open the demon bottle, nobshit?” Sera demands.

“Summoning some light so that we don’t break our necks is hardly going to strain the Veil that badly,” Dorian says disbelievingly. He’s already given up on figuring out what she just called him.

“So far as you know-”

“I do know, actually. Besides-” He gestures upwards at the cold stone uncomfortably low above them. Who built this tunnel, anyway? A band of absurdly skinny and nimble dwarves? “-the earth acts as somewhat of a natural magical stabilizer. More than enough to-”

Sera blinks and tilts her head. “You expect me to believe dirt makes magic safe?”

“That is… not remotely what-”

“Perhaps a little warning next time, Dorian?” Leliana interjects, from behind him. “Sera, I’m afraid that we are in a hurry, here. If we could be on our way?”

Dorian wonders, for a second, if there had been another, more subtle knife at his back this entire time. He’d prefer not to think about it, but he assumes so. Whatever weapon Leliana the Spymaster might have trained on his back, at least he can comfort himself with… how Sera’s knife disappears into… somewhere he doesn’t manage to catch in the shadowy tunnel.

“Whatever,” Sera says scowlingly, and they’re on their way again.

 The steep way down soon turns into a long way across, a passage that’s even colder than the miserable staircase. Then, after far too long in the shivering dark, the passage turns gently up, and Leliana bids Dorian be rid of his summoned lights. Dorian dismisses his lights, they climb, and soon Sera is slipping ahead and disappears.

Once she calls the all clear, Dorian leads the way out of the secret passage, out of a moved wall, and… directly into the dungeons of Redcliffe Castle. At least, Dorian must presume these are the dungeons of Redcliffe Castle. He’s not aware of any other local dungeons.

That’s quite the secret passageway. Far from comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but still remarkably convenient for their needs. It wouldn’t begin to fit an army and it’s quite easily closed off, but it’s perfect for a small party seeking to dethrone the usurpers threatening Redcliffe. Unless one happens to be a Qunari, of course. Which is apparently at least one decent reason for Adaar to walk through the front door: Dorian can’t imagine the Herald or the Iron Bull squeezing themselves down that passageway.

“This way,” Leliana says, slipping past Dorian and Sera.

The Inquisition’s spymaster walks through Redcliffe’s dungeons exactly as she implied: as a woman who’s been here before. She checks around corners, but leads through directly through a veritable underground maze of rooms.

Redcliffe’s dungeons are far from a cheery place, though Dorian would never begin to expect a dungeon to be a cheery destination to tour or for sneaking about. They begin at the lowest floor, and already the place is enormous, twisting, filthy, and grim. All solid stone passageways, thick metal bars, and thicker metal doors, with dreadful lighting and a worse smell.

“Nice place,” Sam mutters, from where he’s come up just behind Dorian.

“They cleaned out the dead bodies from the last time I was here,” Leliana murmurs pleasantly, before she throws up a fist just as Dorian might have made some internal comment about personally feeling more comfortable being surrounded by dead bodies. “Ah… and have been making their own, as we were told.”

With such extensive dungeons, of course the Venatori have been making use of them. Moving fully up into this new level of dungeons, they find a woman - blond, mid-thirties, looking very stressed - fumbling with a heavy set of keys, trying to open a large cell full of people in robes - some of them in Circle robes - mages. This anxious woman has a small crowd of other people behind her, also with the dress and bearing of servants, as they all look up wild-eyed towards Leliana as she approaches.

“We are the Inquisition, and we are here to help,” Leliana the Spymaster assures them gently, fearlessly kneeling directly beside the woman trying to open the cell. “Hello, Valena.”

“It’s you,” the woman, Valena, breathes. “You came.”

Leliana reaches out and gently touches the woman’s shoulder, smiling as the woman claps her own hand down, gratefully, atop of hers.. “Of course, we said we would,” Leliana says. “Help will always come to those in need.”

Leliana then stands up and moves away, and directs two of her scouts to remain with Valena and the other servants - some of whom look as though they’ve been imprisoned for days, while other might have followed Valena - and the imprisoned mages - many of whom look terrible, in an absolutely miserable state, with few ways of putting it kindly. These must be the members of the Mage Rebellion that Felix mentioned in passing and in his letters: the ones who were too rebellious for the Venatori’s tastes. At least some of them.

“There are more of us farther-” one of the mages begins.

“Talk to me, mate. Not to her,” one of Leliana’s assigned scouts says, a dwarf who’s taken over the keys from Valena and doesn’t even have to kneel to take cracks at the cell door. “She’s going to be busy dealing with the assholes upstairs. I’ll get you out of here.”

Leliana leads them off, with smiles and nods for the people they pass. Dorian follows, awkwardly, unsure how to address these people who have been essentially left to rot by Gereon, if not worse: left to the whims of the resident Venatori and their men.

“Kick his teeth in!” one of the younger mages calls after them. A teenage boy - in ratty Circle robes - with a swollen face and an arm in a makeshift sling.

Beside Dorian, Sera turns and walks backgrounds to give the boy a salute and a vicious grin. As she turns on her heel, skipping slouchingly around, she turns that vicious grin on Dorian, who can’t do much more than scowl helplessly back at her. He had nothing to do with the foul actions of the Venatori here in Redcliffe, whatever his connection to their apparent leader.

Up through the Redcliffe dungeons they go. At the door to the next level, they meet a pair of “Venatori” standing guard - a pair of elves wearing borrowed uniforms and armor which unsurprisingly don’t fit them well, with the actual owners slumped unconsciously and tied up nearby. One of these “Venatori” salutes them mockingly as they pass, up towards the exit to Redcliffe Castle’s dungeons, while the other blows a lasciviously wet kiss at Sera and Sam, who both grin at them and make their own gestures of affection.

Then they’re in Redcliffe Castle proper. In the dimly flickering stone halls that are only marginally warmer than the dungeons - though leagues warmer than that blasted passageway - and barely better decorated. Dorian could swear Fereldans have an allergy to taste and warmth.

“Sam,” Leliana whispers. “Sera.”

“Yeah, I’m on it, Lady Birdie,” Sera says, and pulls an arrow from her quiver. She nocks it and jerks her head towards the end of one hall. “The lil’ people who’re coming with me, we’re fucking off now. Whoever doesn’t has gotta go with Sammy.”

“Which is a great choice, because my people are the fun party,” Sam says uncaringly. He already has an arrow nocked, though not drawn, and nods his head in the opposite direction of the hall. “Let’s get this hunt moving.”

“Yeah, let’s. Come on, Funner Party,” Sera says, and slinks off.

Dorian might have cared to inform her that he’s fairly certain that’s not a word, but he’s fairly certain that half of what comes out of that elf woman’s mouth isn’t words and that she doesn’t care. Besides, she gets her point across fairly well anyway, despite her vocabulary being estranged from words Dorian knows to be words.

Three of the Inquisition’s scouts pull away to follow Sam - although looking at them, Dorian’s not entirely sure they’re Inquisition scouts, exactly, as at least one of them has facial marking similar to Sam. Another three follow after Sera, on eerily silent feet down the hall, and none of them are wearing anything like Inquisition uniforms or equipment.

This leaves Dorian with Leliana the Spymaster, and six others who are almost certainly Inquisition scouts proper, by the Maker’s Eye pointedly staring out from their gear. Somehow, Dorian immediately misses Sera and Sam. They’re no Adaar or Jude, of course, but there’s something to be said about company that makes no pretense of liking you, and the emptiness at Dorian’s hip is beginning to grate in the silence.

Leliana nocks her own arrow and says, “This way.”


~ negotiations

If Dorian likes to think that he has a policy of not entering negotiations empty-handed, then the Inquisition apparently likes to enter negotiations having a weapon in both hands and already having lopped off those of the other side. It’s almost admirably Tevinter of them, as, in the Imperium, compromise is ideally something only the other side must do.

Dorian might have felt pity for the Venatori, if they weren’t still so dangerous and loathsome.

He’d scourge up some pity for Gereon as well, if most of it didn’t belong to Gereon anyway, and there was any room left next to the anger. He’d ask himself how Gereon could have thought any of this was a good idea, if he wasn’t sure that Gereon had lost his common sense long ago.

Redcliffe Castle is far more stable than the nightmarish haze threaded through the village, but that is a desperately low record to clear. Eerie green lines creak and crack through the grouts in the walls, through the air, through the ceiling, and barely visible streams temporal distortions mist through the castle ceilings and over the floors.

“Watch where you step,” Dorian warns several times, as he’s quickly proven the best at spotting these nearly immediately. It helps that he can sense the push and the pull of the Fade in other ways as well, where a mundane person cannot.

It makes him feel somewhat less superfluous, as Leliana the Spymaster and her scouts lead a direct and bloody path to Redcliffe Castle’s great hall. More than one of the Venatori’s men - the Altus Pius Sidonius’ men - falls unaware to a blow from the Inquisition. Foul-smelling cloths are clapped against lips by some, but throats are simply cut or shot through where less deathly methods of removal might be inconvenient. They are on a very strict schedule. Thankfully for the innocence of the floors, they don’t encounter many men.

The rest are no doubt patrolling the outer parts of the keep, or dying to Sam and Sera’s arrows and knives elsewhere in the bowels of Redcliffe Castle.  It’s more than a little intimidating. It also makes Dorian desperately curious, though he’d likely sleep better not knowing.

Leliana directs her scouts to continue their path of removal against the Venatori’s guards surrounding the great hall, which they do, silently and deadly. Leliana then leads Dorian into the hall itself, through a side door, into the shadowy edges of the large room, behind columns. Around them, Leliana’s scouts - agents, whatever they are called - slip through the hall.

Dorian is however rather more focused on Gereon’s voice, audible from the moment Leliana opened the door of the hall. Dorian peers around the edge of a column, conveniently slightly behind the dais where sits, Dorian presumes, the “throne” of the Arl of Redcliffe - which gives him a three-quarter back view of those on the dais. Gereon is standing in front of this throne, speaking to Herald Adaar, who is standing in front of the dais with her companions flanking her.

Dear Maker, Gereon looks… old. Dorian hasn’t seen the man in more than very brief passing, from a distance, in years now. Dorian’s ex-mentor looks gaunt and on edge. Gereon is thinner, more greyed, perhaps even slightly greenish in complexion, with deeper lines in his face, and his hand gestures as he speaks are graceless and erratic.

His voice is at once tired and lofty and desperate, as he “negotiates” with the Herald.

“I am fully willing to cooperate with you to lend you the mages you need to deal with your Breach,” Gereon says, “but I have been offered little in return. Your flight from Redcliffe doesn’t inspire confidence in our partnership, Herald.”

“Your disposal of the Arl of Redcliffe didn’t inspire confidence in our partnership either, Magister Alexius,” Adaar returns coolly, standing with her arms crossed and her chin high.

In her light armor, with her maul over her back and a scale-like pattern painted freshly over her face, she looks formidable and unimpressed. Flanked by an equally fierce and armored Iron Bull, Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, and ex-Templar Lessa Trevelyan, the Inquisition presents a dangerous, steady front, if perhaps not a threatening one to Gereon’s eyes.

Gereon waves his hands dismissively. “He was being unreasonable about an obvious and beneficial alliance. We haven’t disposed of him, merely… encouraged that he temporarily relocate while important matters are seen to.”

“The Breach is a priority for the Inquisition,” Adaar says, with a stiff nod.

It could be interpreted as agreement, and clearly has been by Gereon, who nods in return. To a man who has faced the ire of nearly the entire Magisterium, to a man so blinded by his own desperate plots.... Dorian doubts that Gereon sees Adaar as more than a means to an end, or perhaps even a particularly clever puppet performing tricks for an Orlesian Chantry cult.

Hypocritical, perhaps, but self-awareness has hardly been Gereon’s forte lately.

The conversation continues, in the small dull and delicate manner of two people who have no intentions of keeping any promises they make and of destroying one another at the soonest opportunity, and Dorian casts his eyes about the great hall.  There may be some Venatori men near the front of the hall, but Dorian’s eyes land foremost on Felix, unsurprisingly.

Felix looks well enough, though Felix’s “well enough” is still fairly terrible by anyone else’s standards. “Tired and desperately sick, but currently not invalid” is a good day. Today is a "good day": Felix is sitting in a chair beside the Arl’s throne, his grip pale-knuckled around his cane.

Interestingly, there’s a woman seated in another chair on the other side of the throne. A brown-skinned and dark-haired elven woman, in her fifties perhaps, wearing Circle robes of a more ornate style and greater quality than that of the average mage, with painfully stiff posture and her hands folded in her lap. The leader of the Mage Rebellion whom Felix has mentioned, Dorian presumes, whose decisions Dorian hasn’t been greatly impressed by: Fiona.

She’s very silent and still for a woman who fought so hard to free her people from the Southern Chantry's iron fist - a woman currently listening to a Tevinter magister barter her people back to a faction of it.

Neither Fiona nor Felix look towards the edges of the hall, as far as Dorian can see.

Dorian turns his attention back to Gereon.


~ the desperation of good men

There is much that Dorian could say about his ex-mentor - about Gereon Alexius.

There is much that Dorian could say about this separate man, in front of him, with the same name. The man who used to be a man to whom Dorian compared all others.

Dorian loves Gereon Alexius desperately, but Gereon has now shown him the destruction of desperation and Dorian hates him for it. 

There is a kind of hatred, Dorian has found, not necessarily above or below any other particular kind of hatred, reserved for the people whom he used to love. It’s far easier to hate people whom he has never loved. The disappointment is excruciating. 

Where is the man took a guarded teenage boy and whisked him away from overbearing parents and a loveless marriage, and accepted him into his home to a degree where they could all pretend that boy was another son to him? Where is the man who protected that boy and half-raised that boy and encouraged that boy to follow him to pursue miraculous magics that others called impossible ?

Where is the man who went up against nearly the entire Magisterium and preached about education for the masses? Where is the man who - occasionally openly - denounced greed and nobility and every despicable, hypocritical sin of the Imperium? And made good on his word?

Frequently, Dorian tells himself that that man must still be in there, somewhere.

After all, this whole string of madness was born out of Gereon’s love of his son - his brilliant, kind, barely magical son whom his late wife had killed his father over. But does it make it better that Gereon is doing this for the love of his son? Would Dorian even call it love? It must be, Dorian thinks sometimes, before he remembers the strain and suffering in Felix’s eyes.

This is not the same man who bemusedly, exasperatedly put up with Dorian’s inconstancy during Livia’s pregnancy. This is not the same man who immediately made room in his home and accommodations for Felicita, the same man to whom Dorian easily, thoughtlessly, and (secretly, deeply, shamefully) sincerely introduced his daughter as “your first and only grandchild, until Felix gets moving on these things”. This is not that same man.

Except this is the same man and it leaves Dorian feeling like that vase, that long ago metaphor, tipping off the edge of the table, smashing down against the floor - a million pieces of a person on the carpet.

What could Dorian have told the Inquisition about this Gereon Alexius? Gereon is a brilliant and formidable man, an unparalleled researcher and mage, and a man who knowingly, stubbornly, desperately stopped looking down at the lines in the sands that others didn’t dare cross.

It brings up uncomfortable thoughts of how far Dorian would go for Felicita. To say that he would go as far as Gereon, if not beyond, is to compromise the self he dearly wishes to be. To say that he wouldn’t, feels a betrayal to his love for Felicita. It’s a line of thought that could twist a man into madness, if he let himself, which is a thought that leads to a new line of thoughts of how Gereon’s desperation twisted his love into something so selfish and monstrous.

Does that first man truly matter? In the face of the man in front of Dorian now?

Dorian couldn’t rightly say.

It matters to him, though, no matter how desperately he wishes it didn’t.


~ call for desperate measures

What happens next, Dorian will later - much later - recall in a way more “I know this list of events happened” than memories. When it comes to memories, he will remember the vivid light and the burning pain and his own desperation demanding the impossible of him.

The Herald Adaar cuts off her “negotiations” with Gereon. She asks Gereon to surrender.

Gereon, surprised, stares at her. He then asks why Adaar believes he might surrender to her and the Inquisition. In his eyes, he still believes that he holds the upper hand.

This belief lasts only long enough for Dorian to step forward, out from behind the columns of the great hall, to reveal that he has been assisting the Inquisition and to stand beside them.

Gereon isn’t pleased about this. Perhaps he still hasn’t forgiven Dorian for “abandoning” him and Felix, just as Dorian still hasn’t forgiven the man for throwing him and Felicita out, and for what he’s done to Felix. Gereon practically snarls and Dorian is flippant about this, though he still tries to take his ex-mentor down.

Leliana and her scouts turn out of the shadows and remove any remaining Venatori. Their bows are drawn and directed towards the stunned magister on the dais, greatly outnumbered.

This is where Felix intervenes, and the betrayal on Gereon’s face reads like agony.

Felix tries to talk his father down, to make him see sense. His tone has the depth of a conversation that has been had, desperately, many times before. Perhaps also that of a conversation that Felix doesn’t expect and never expected to win, despite hope.

Gereon is truly outnumbered. Leliana and her agents close in, and the Herald slowly draws her long maul as her fierce companions draw their own weapons. Dorian has his staff in hand. Gereon only has Felix and Fiona behind him, and Fiona is still sitting stiffly in her seat, whereas Felix is in no coordination to fight for his father if he wanted to anymore.

However, while Gereon is truly outnumbered, he is not therefore outmatched.

Felix’s betrayal is just one more in a long, long line that has had no impact on Gereon’s twisted desperation. Gereon will not stop, it’s clear in his eyes, even as Felix begs it of him now.

Gereon stumbles back and his hand flies for the amulet - the Amulet - around his neck.

The cracks of green through the castle strain inwards like an intake of breath.

Dorian doesn’t think.

Or perhaps he does think, but the issue is that he thinks far too much at once. He knows that Amulet, he knows what it can do, and he knows he doesn’t know what it can now do. He knows that Gereon, focused on Adaar, cannot kill the Herald of Andraste. He knows that whatever Gereon is attempting now will surely end in his death and - for his own sake, for Felix’s sake, for the sake of the man that Gereon used to be - Dorian knows this cannot happen.

In hindsight, Dorian will perhaps admit that he didn’t know anything at all. Not in the slightest.

Dorian is already moving forward, between Gereon and Adaar, as Gereon begins to cast. Felix yells and jolts forward, Adaar and her companions move to defend themselves and counter, and at least one of Leliana’s scouts lets their arrow fly. Their reactions are useless, in the face of a brilliant mage who will not hesitate to break time to his needs. 

Gereon is a blur.

But Gereon is also not the only mage who knows some measure of time magic.

Dorian was already casting as Gereon began his spell. At first, Gereon blurs, but then he slows again to a perceptible speed, and the world crawls around them both.

Gereon is, however, by far the better time mage.

Dorian has only the time - his own twisted, impossible time - to throw himself towards Adaar and attempt to catch and redirect Gereon’s spell towards her. A feat he personally wouldn’t recommend even with magics that weren’t popularly considered impossible.

Gereon’s spell towards Adaar is…

Well… Dorian is thrown back against Adaar, who is in the midst of slowly swinging her maul, and then... Suddenly, the world moves around them like it’s screaming. Adaar at his back is the only solid point in a storm. All Dorian will remember of that moment is the vivid light, the burning pain, and his own desperation demanding that he take the impossible and make it





Chapter Text

~ foreigner in a strange land

 The impossible, twisting spell released – through his shaking hands and arms and skull with a snap – and the world stopped spinning wildly only for everything to instantly go black with dancing spots.

 Unfortunately for Dorian’s aching body’s plans of passing out, he fell forward into several feet of cold water. He’d never managed to sleep in water that could be best described as freezing, even in the Imperium’s bathhouses or his own home as part of some absurd beauty or health treatment he wouldn’t have tried, especially not fully clothed. Dorian woke up again instantly. Fully. Alarmingly, freezingly, sharply awake, while submerged in cold water. 

 Dorian pushes himself up and gasps and coughs for air, then he struggles to pull himself fully out of the water. Getting upright is decidedly difficult when the world hasn’t really stopped its spinning entirely and isn’t suddenly pitch black. Dorian might have kept stumbling about like some pathetic drunk for a bit longer, if a hand didn’t come out of nowhere, grab him firmly by the collar, and yank him up.

 He taps at the thick arm keeping him steady by the collar – there are comparisons to a kitten caught by the scruff to be made, but he’d rather not – and then looks beside him. Once Dorian’s eyes adjust to the poor light, he realizes that he’s looking right into the Herald Adaar’s face.

 She’s soaking wet, frowning fiercely, and entirely unimpressed.

 “Oh, hello,” Dorian says. “Thank you.”

 Adaar releases his collar, but she keeps her hand on his back until he can find his balance.   

 “Where are we?” Adaar demands.

 “Not a beach in Antiva, but beyond that, I haven’t the faintest,” Dorian answers.

 All the light in this dim, dreadful place is coming from a doorway – the only apparent opening to this miserable room – shut to them by thick metal bars. Oh, dear Maker, it looks like they’re in a cell.

 Adaar wades over to the cell door and peer out, and Dorian follows her. He winces as water drips from the ceiling directly over his eye, and raises his hand to his face to find… fuck… his make-up is running. That’s just the icing on the shit cake of whatever the fuck Gereon’s unmanageable spell did. Dorian begins searching for a handkerchief as Adaar squints towards the light.

 It’s better than screaming or fainting. Probably.

 It smells terrible in here. Something very close nearby is almost certainly rotting. 

 “This is by far the least nice cell I’ve ever had the displeasure of being in,” Dorian says and begins using his soaking wet handkerchief to mop up some of the disaster on his face. “Do you see anyone to complain to?”

 “No. I can’t even tell where we are and the door’s locked,” Adaar mutters, and thumps her fist against the stone walls. “What happened back there?”

 Now that he feels somewhat centered again, Dorian wades back towards where they’d appeared and begins examining the remnants of the time magic he’d failed to dispel. Though Dorian’s performed some rather fantastic magic while distressed, in danger, or (and sometimes and) in a very big hurry, it’s still not a highly recommended state for casting or dispelling magic, and especially not for in-depth analysis. Whatever’s happened now only serves to prove that, he thinks.

 The remnants of the spell are weak, surprisingly so, and Dorian must draw partially on his experiences examining the spell while trying to counter it to give Adaar an explanation.

 “Gereon tried to… I’m not certain… remove you from existence? Mm, there’s really not a good way to put that, is there? I’d assure you that it wasn’t personal, him trying to remove you from existence or the like, but that hardly makes it any better for you or on him, does it?”

 “Nothing about this ‘Herald of Andraste’ thing has been personal,” Adaar says dismissively. “Someone trying to kill me for personal reasons might be a welcome change.”

 “That’s the… an attitude.”

 “Don’t tell anyone, I have some blessed bullshit martyr persona to maintain.”

 Dorian pauses, and looks behind him. The Herald Adaar has hardly been the most upbeat and enthusiastic Herald of Andraste that he could have imagined. She’s not the puppet he’d initially expected of an Orlesian Chantry cult. But that was… very bitter.

 It sounds not unlike something he’d say, in the right circumstances.

 “Are you… quite alright?”

 “No, not for nearly a year now, but that doesn’t change anything about our situation,” Adaar says pragmatically, and leans against the stone wall near the doorway. “How did you and the elder Alexius move that fast? Time magic?” There’s something bordering on an accusation in her voice. “I didn’t know either of you could do that.”

 Dorian doesn’t much like anything about this situation, but he especially prefers the situation not escalate to “being stuck in a dark, cold, wet cell with an angry and resentful Qunari woman”.

 “I told you he was capable of time magic. I suppose some small part of me hoped that Gereon wouldn’t so carelessly rip the Fade to pieces to pull something like that,” Dorian answers sharply. “I shudder to think of the consequences of that spell on the Veil in that hall… and mine, trying to prevent Gereon from erasing you from existence. We both have Felix to thank for the notes on that, actually.”

 “I barely followed that,” Adaar says. “Walk me through what you think happened.”

 Dorian looks back to where they appeared and fell into the water. He’s beginning to shiver, despite having magic to keep his body heat up, still standing in this puddle of a cell.

 The Fade here is… strange… and the spell was entirely unconventional but…

 “It appears as though Gereon wasn’t only trying to remove you from existence, but remove you from existence beginning at a certain point in time in the past.”

 “The explosion at the Conclave?”

 “That would make sense – if the Venatori’s focus is on the Mark and that’s where you received it, then yes, that makes sense – but I can’t be sure…. My knowledge of what he’s doing is limited, but it seems like… months at the least. Long before Redcliffe, of that, I’m certain.”

 “I can’t remember what happened at the Conclave,” Adaar says.

 Dorian pauses and turns to look at her again.


 “Unluckily, and I was the only survivor picked out of the middle of it.”

 “I was… wondering about the circumstances of the explosions, given the, hm, accusations in your War Room towards the Venatori. It’s true, then? None of you know the cause of it? The perpetrators? What happened? Did you just wake up in the middle of it all with that thing on your hand?”

 “Basically, yeah.”

 “…My sincere condolences,” Dorian says, for lack of anything better to say. “That also explains quite a lot, about the early rumors of there being a ‘Divine-killer’ before all the… ah… ‘Herald of Andraste’ propaganda?”

 “Leliana and Josephine work fast and hard,” Adaar says with a tired shrug, unconcerned at having the Inquisition’s narrative of ‘Andraste’s chosen one’ being referred to as propaganda.

 Fascinating. Also, equally reassuring and alarming in many ways.

 “But thanks for the sympathy,” Adaar says, then asks, “So why wasn’t I cast back to Conclave and then into nonexistence? Or something like that?”

 “Two possible reasons, unless you count the third where it’s actually both, or the fourth where I’m entirely wrong and it’s neither,” Dorian answers, turning back to the strange Fade here. “The first reason is that Gereon was casting an extremely experimental spell under duress, which is a recipe for disaster. The second reason is that I was personally very invested in not letting Gereon succeed.”

 “So what did you try to do?”

 “I like the emphasis on the ‘try’, it’s very honest. Essentially, I attempted to dispel the magic entirely. Counter his attempt to destroy your existence, counter his attempt to twist time backwards, and… we now appear to be in a dark, wet cell. You’re very welcome.”

 “Thanks,” Adaar says, with equally sarcastic sincerity as Dorian’s statement. “You have no theories as to where we are? Or even when we are? Since apparently that’s something that’s up in the air now.”

 “I’m… afraid not,” Dorian says. “However…”

 He turns away from the remnants of his and Gereon’s spell, and finally peers properly out of the cell.

 Dorian finds himself looking out into a dungeon, of course, gloomy and in a filthy, unmaintained condition. All stone walls and thick metal bars. Their cell is lower into the ground, with several steps down into the water just outside their door, but there are still puddles of water from a leaking ceiling through the rest of the dungeon. There are a few other cells, but they’re all dark, save perhaps for some muted, reddish glowing in unseen corners. The only light is a magical torch by the far door, also barred, which presumably leads upwards and out of this miserable place.

 “I believe we may yet still be in Redcliffe Castle,” Dorian says. “Some miserable corner of its dungeons that no one’s bothered to keep decently.” He taps the style of metal bars in front of him and gestures towards the distinctly arched walls. “I had a lovely tour of some of them on my way in.”

 Adaar perks up beside him and leans to look out again. “I haven’t see the dungeons. You’re sure?”

 “No one does brutal architecture like Fereldans. Unless the same tasteless fellow who built Redcliffe was recommended to every other fortress, or you can offer some reason we might be in another castle’s dungeon, I’d say I’m sure.”

 “There’s a relief,” Adaar says, then reconsiders her own words. “As far as ending up in a cell and soaking wet in the middle of an important confrontation goes. No guesses as to what time it is?”

 “No well-educated guesses, but I can begin throwing about random dates if you like.”

 “I’m good,” Adaar says. “Right. Well… then I’m declaring it ‘time to get the fuck out of this cell’.”

 “That, we can agree on.”

 “Good, then get out of my way so I can have a look at this door.”

 Dorian, having a decent sense of self-preservation, quickly gets out of the way of the angry Qunari woman so she can have a look at the door. He could offer to throw magic at it until it breaks, but Force spells applied thoughtlessly rarely turn out well, and Adaar’s arms seem more than capable of ripping those heavy metal bars off their hinges if it truly becomes necessary.

 So, Dorian stands back and contemplates the idea that they may have travelled through time itself.  

 “You know,” he says thoughtfully, “when I was a younger man, when I first became Gereon’s apprentice, I had plenty of dreams of travelling through the Ages and witnessing history. Travelling through time seemed like such a… well… romantic thing to do… and a suitable prestigious, unique accomplishment for House Pavus, of course.”

 “Was this before you figured out this shit unravels reality?” Adaar asks.

 “Not entirely. It took some time to sink in properly, and even then that seemed like such a simple hurdle in the name of glory and progress. It became… less simple as the years went by.”

 Dorian’s younger self might have been thoughtlessly eager and ecstatic at the news that he would one day travel through time itself – a possibility that they have yet to confirm and hopefully will disprove. Currently, Dorian, whose joints and skull and mana already ache with trying to tame such wild magic, mostly just feels like being ill at the very idea.  

 It’s either the idea or the rotting smell in this dungeon… or both.

 If they have done the impossible, then… even ignoring all the consequences that Dorian and Gereon left behind in that hall, even if they somehow don’t unravel Redcliffe and all reality around them, what further, unimaginable consequences might await even successful, stable time travel?

 Adaar hums consideringly, as she rattles at the hinges and the lock.

 “My brother likes to say that nothing in life is or was ever simple,” she says. “Despite time and despite change, everything ultimately remains as it is. The simple only appears to become complicated as we gain the ability to finally understand it for what it truly is.”

 “…That’s very wise,” Dorian says.

 “Yeah,” Adaar agrees. “But don’t tell him. He’s already insufferable.”

 Dorian laughs, lightly, because that’s a familiar sentiment.

 There have been times, especially in the past few years, where he’s missed Felix like a limb. Even when he was a younger teenager to Dorian’s barely older teenager, when they first met, Felix was already terribly wise and endearingly insufferable.

 “That’s it, I can’t see properly,” Adaar says.

 And then she raises her hand and, with a flick of her wrist, summons a ball of magical light.


 ~ what everyone knows

 Dorian stares for nearly ten seconds of silence, during which Adaar pointedly ignores him.

 “…You’re a mage,” Dorian says finally.

 “So are you.”

 That is true, but… Dorian tries to phrase a question – any question – and fails. He looks Adaar over, from her broadness and height, to her long arms to her longer maul. Her armor’s not really thick enough for a warrior and her weapon… oh, dear Maker… it was a staff all along.

 If she had used magic in front of him, Dorian surely would have noticed. Well, he was busy with the Fade Rift in the Redcliffe Chantry, which was the only opportunity he had to see her fight, but he doesn’t remember any obvious magic besides the Mark.

 “If you’re going to say something, you have the next five seconds to share it,” Adaar says.

 “…I feel like I should have noticed and am unhappily humbled,” Dorian says finally. “You do a very good job of concealing it. At the very least, I would have expected all of Haven and beyond to be talking nonstop about the scandal of the ‘Herald of Andraste’ being a Qunari and a mage.

 Adaar sighs and turns her head to look at him. “You’re not entirely wrong about that, because that is what they say before Leliana shuts the 'wrong' sort of gossiping down. But they’re still wrong and so are you: I’m Vashoth, not Qunari. I’m correcting you because I know tiny mix-ups like that really matter to humans and especially to the Chantry.”

 “I, er, am aware of how much the Chantry – either Chantry – cares about differentiating between the two, yes,” Dorian says awkwardly.

 “Then you should also be aware of how much the Chantry and Par Vollen love Vashoth and mages separately, and how they really love Vashoth mages,” Adaar says shortly, as she turns away and begins frosting the lock. “Who hates mages? Everyone except Tevinter. Who hates kossith? Everyone except Par Vollen. Who hates Vashoth or Qunari mages? Absolutely everyone.”

 “I’m… gaining a further awareness, thank you.”

 “I live to enlighten people,” Adaar says shortly, “and apparently that bitch Andraste agrees.”

 Dorian doesn’t know what to say to this, because he’s still vaguely Andrastian if largely agnostic about it, and blasphemy has generally been something to share around close friends. He hadn’t imagined he and Adaar, whom it seems he doesn’t really know at all, were that close.

 Adaar has, while speaking, essentially turned the door’s lock into a block of ice. She then takes up her maul with a determined look that makes Dorian take an instinctive, cautious step back.

 “The other reason I’m not really tossing any magic about anymore is that, ever since getting this stupid Mark, I’ve had to relearn everything I know,” Adaar says. “The first time I tried to use magic after the Conclave blew up, with an opening to the Fade stuck in my fucking hand, I blew myself up. Didn’t really help the ‘Divine-killer’ shit. So… yeah… stand back.”

 “I think I will, thank you,” Dorian says, and quickly wades to the very back of the cell.

 Adaar takes a deep breath and, summoning up impressively condensed Force magic, swings her maul into the frozen lock, which… shatters… essentially. It’s very loud and very effective. Adaar only has to reach forward and pull, and the door of thick metal bars groans and sloshes open for her.

 Dorian lowers the weak barrier he raised to keep his upper half relatively dry, just in case.

 “Someone may have heard that,” he says.

 “I don’t really care,” Adaar answers, trudging up the stairs and into the dungeon. Most importantly: she trudges up the stairs and out of the dark and the water. “Are you coming with or staying in there?”

 “Ah, coming with, thank you.”

 Dorian wades his way out of that dismal cell and up the stairs, where he joins a steaming Adaar in spelling the cold water out of his clothes. His mana complains at the strain, both in terms of power and control, but Dorian really couldn’t care less. He’s not going to die of a chill in some disgusting dungeon in Ferelden, thank you.

 Just as he’s deciding on what to do about his hair (he hates having it wet, but without any sort of styling instruments, it will be unbearably, unmanageably fluffy if he tries to dry it), Dorian spots runes about their cell out of the corner of his eye. Their cell had an enchantment on it? He turns fully. Several enchantments on it, by the amount and complexity of the runes carved into the stone outside.

 Dorian takes several steps back – not back into the water – and lets his hands hover over the runes as he traces their purpose.

 “What is it?” Adaar says.

 “Enchantments on the cell,” he answers, and points to the two control points on either side of the cell door. “Two main ones. The first, I presume, is the prevent the usage of magic inside the cell, or… more accurately… I presume from what’s left of it that it was to prevent the usage of magic inside the cell.”

 The water dripping from the ceiling that Dorian has inwardly cursed so much? There’s a leak just above the carved enchantment that has deeply eroded several key points of it.

 Even if that’s not the issue, it doesn’t look like the enchantment’s been touched up or renewed in quite some time.

 “That’s… fortunate,” Adaar says.

 “Quite, though I’m sure you could have ripped the door off its hinges through sheer frustration alone if necessary, and the other… which appears… marginally functional… I think explains how we came to be in this miserable place. It looks to be a ‘net’ of some kind, to catch any mage looking to warp their way into Redcliffe Castle. At least, into the inner keep from the outside.”

 “So we did travel somehow.”

 “Whether in time or simply to the other end of the main hall, it has yet to be seen,” Dorian answers, feeling rather fortunate that such a run-down looking enchantment didn’t just tear them to pieces. He moves along the runes, settling on an adjacent enchantment. “Hmm… This appears… this may be an… alarm of some sort. A bell on the trap, so to speak-”

 Dorian cuts himself off as he catches footsteps, a set of them, coming down the stairs at the other end of the room.

 Oh, how many times must a man regret being proven right?

 Adaar, her ears perked up, grabs him by the scruff of the neck again and pulls them quickly towards that door before Dorian can protest that decision or the indignity of being hauled about. She presses them both against the far stone wall and, with a sharp look, releases Dorian to press her finger against her lips. Then she turns her head to the main door of this section of dungeon, not far beside them.

 A flickering light comes up close against the door, there’s the scuffle of shoes, and then a jingling of a ring of keys. With a heavy clunk, the door groans open and two men walk carelessly into the dungeon. Simple guards, not mages, with the swords at their hips and one of them carrying a torch. They both have the House insignia of the Venatori Sidonius’ on their armor.

 That’s… not a good sign.

 “-the enchantments are faulty on this one, aren’t they?” the one with the keys is saying in Tevene. “One of that bitch’s freak spells wormed its way into one of the dumped corpses, mark my-

 The one with the torch lingers a few steps behind, as the one with the keys stomps forward. Key-Guard stops suddenly, in the middle of one of the puddles of water leaked through the ceiling, as they take in the sight of the cell door wide open and with the lock smashed off.

 Adaar shifts her grip on her maul and steps silently forward.

 It is very frightening to see someone that large and that strong move that silently and that quickly, Dorian discovers. Adaar’s maul smashes into the skull of Torch-Guard with a sound somewhere between crunch and crack. Dorian doesn’t want to imagine what might have happened if she added Force magic to a blow like that, because… it would even more impressive, he’s sure.

 The torch clatters and Torch-Guard thumps to the floor as Key-Guard is turning around, and Key-Guard has only the time to go appropriately wide-eyed. Adaar thrusts her Marked hand forward and the puddle at the man’s feet surges up to encase him in crackling ice from the shin down.

 Key-Guard drops the keys of his naming and attempts to draw his sword, but Adaar swings her maul and knocks it effortlessly out of his wrist. The sword clatters to the floor and guard’s hands go up, as Adaar levels her weapon firmly at his throat. The man – some broad Tevinter man in his thirties – swallows visibly and looks like he’s about to faint.

 Dorian steps forward, watching as the guard’s eyes take in Adaar properly. They’re already wide, but the guard’s eyes widen again as he properly notices the Mark on Adaar’s hand.

 “You’re supposed to be dead,” the guard says to Adaar.

 That’s a… very not good sign.

 “Dorian?” Adaar says flatly. “Did this nice man just call me something rude?”

 The guard’s expression of disbelief turns to abject terror.

 “It depends on whether you take offense to being called ‘dead’,” Dorian answers as he stops a step behind her and several to the side. Out of range if that long maul starts to swing again. “Apparently, you’re supposed to be dead.”

 “That’s nothing new,” Adaar says, stare still fixed on the guard. “What’s the date?”

 Somewhere between disbelief and terror, confusion enters the guard’s face.

 “I would answer her, friend, before she gets truly angry,” Dorian tells the guard in Tevene, and, just to get the message through, repeats her question. “What’s the date?”  

 With some stammering, the guard answers. He tries to give it in Trade, but trips over the words too badly, so Dorian tells him to just give it in Tevene and…

 And then it is Dorian’s turn to stare disbelievingly, because that can’t be right. 

 “Dorian?” Adaar says.

 “I don’t think you’re going to like the answer,” Dorian says faintly.

 “Probably not,” Adaar agrees, “but tell me anyway.”

 “A year. We’re nearly a year into the future. It’s Parvulis – Kingsway – of 9:42.”

 “…If this is joke…”

 “My poor sense of humor ought to be taken out back and killed if it was,” Dorian agrees, as his mind whirls through how this might have happened. “But I’m not. Unless the nice man is lying to us, it’s…”

 Dear Maker, when Gereon tried to send Adaar back nearly a year and remove her from existence, and Dorian was trying to counter that, he must have… He might have managed to dispel the attempt on Adaar’s existence, but the twisting of time itself… if he only managed to reverse it instead of dispelling it when attempting to counter Gereon’s unpredictable, impossible magic… 

 Dorian presses a hand to his forehead and tries not to panic. “It’s 42 Dragon.”

 And it’s probably at least partially his fault.

 Adaar pulls her maul back so she can lean on it and says, “Well, fuck.”


 ~ the only way out is through

 Dorian concurs with her summation of their situation, but all he can do is lean on his own staff and try to breathe. He actually… they actually travelled through time. Dorian’s younger self would really be ecstatic and Dorian would slap his younger self for the audacity, which is apparently a possibility - Dorian could travel back in time and slap his younger self for being a monumental fool - because Gereon really has consistently managed to perform time travel now.

 Reality may very well begin to unravel around them at any moment. Dorian really cannot begin to imagine what Gereon and Dorian’s combined disaster of a spell did to the hall in Redcliffe, did to the already unstable Veil and Fade there, as Dorian and Adaar left.

 “What do you know about what happened after I ‘died’?” Adaar demands of the guard, frozen at their mercy. “Who’s currently in charge of Redcliffe? And what’s happened to the Inquisition?”

 For some unfathomable, frustrating reason, this is the moment where the man recovers from his surprise and his fellow’s sudden death (because surely the other fellow is dead, having taken Adaar’s maul to the skull). The guard recovers something akin to bravery. His expression is still distinctly terrified, but still he spits at Adaar’s feet and declares:

 “I won't tell you anything, ox! The Elder One will come for you!”

 Adaar is unimpressed. “Dorian,” she says flatly, again. “Did the nice man just call me something rude?”

 “Unfortunately, yes. He’s also refusing to talk and made a veiled threat about the Elder One.”

 Adaar raises her maul and the man first quails, then but only raises his chin and determinedly spits at Adaar’s feet again. He repeats himself, and looks rather proud of himself for it.

 “I don’t suppose you have the patience for torture?” Adaar says to Dorian.

 “Not particularly,” Dorian replies absently, “and I’m given to understand that it doesn’t actually work.”

 “Yeah, not in my experience, and me neither,” Adaar says.

 Dorian turns away as Adaar swings her maul again.

 “I could have put him to sleep,” Dorian volunteers, after the guard has slumped to the floor.

 “And leave him to wake up again?” Adaar answers pragmatically. “If the Venatori are still in control of Redcliffe a year into the future, I’m not going to waste my time taking prisoners. There’s no way the world waited for us. It clearly hasn’t. Tell me you can undo this and send us back.”

 “I… might be able to do that, but…”

 “What do you need?” Adaar demands, without hesitation.

 “More mana than I currently have,” Dorian answers, gaining his confidence as he speaks. Not unusual for him, and far better than panicking. “The Amulet – it’s enchanted, we, Gereon and I, originally designed it as a focus – that Gereon used to cast the spell, alongside my own staff. And to be in the place with strong remnants of the spell – more than the remnants in that cell, which may contain more of the net’s displacement than our travel – ideally, most likely, where Gereon and I tore the Fade apart to cast our spells…”

 “The main hall,” Adaar supplies.

 Dorian nods, flipping through the notes that Felix had stolen from his father in his mind. “Yes, and likely your Mark, as well. It appears to have… impossible abilities… closing the Rifts and stabilizing the Veil in the Chantry. It’s no wonder the Venatori wanted it. Undoing an entire year won’t be without… unpredictable difficulties, but with your Mark to help manipulate the Fade, it’s… potentially possible.”

 If it’s not possible yet, Dorian will do his utmost to make it so.

 A year lost in twisted time.

 Adaar’s right. The world won’t have waited for them.

 Dorian can’t begin to imagine what’s happened to everyone in that time. Gereon was becoming increasingly unstable and Felix was blighted. Has Gereon finally managed to cure the Blight? If not, what has another year with the Blight done to both Felix and Gereon?

 And, dear Maker, Dorian can’t bear to imagine what’s happened to Felicita.

 He told her he’d be back before she knew it.

 It’s been a year.

 She must think he’s dead. As dead as that guard thought Adaar was supposed to be. As dead as Livia. 

 “Right, so… mana and an amulet and breaking into the main hall,” Adaar lists. “That sounds… unpredictably difficult on its own. And then what?”

 “I try to unravel the spell and send us back, using the remnants of the spell and foci as a guide,” Dorian answers. And Adaar’s Mark to stabilize the mess. “Unless you want to go it alone with your Mark. I’m sorry, I may have helped invent this magic, but I can’t give you a better answer than that.”

 Adaar nods, then sighs. “I’d say it’s better than nothing, but that’s a disservice to the fact that you’re actually giving me solutions,” she says. “Thanks for saving my life… or my existence, apparently.”

 “Return the favor by helping me help you back, and I’ll consider it even.”

 “You’ve got yourself a deal,” Adaar says.

 She offers him her hand and Dorian just… looks at it.

 “Shit, wrong hand,” she says, and offers him the Unmarked one instead.

 Dorian shakes this one.

 “A pleasure doing business with you,” he says.

 “We’ll see if you’re saying that by the end of this, but so far it’s mutual,” Adaar says, as she drops his hand. “Now, let’s go see what else the Venatori have done with the world instead of waiting for us.”

 Dorian raises his brows and repeats, “What ‘else’?”

 Adaar looks at him. “Yeah,” she says, and gestures towards one of the other cells. “What else.”

 Dorian finally takes a proper look into one of these dark cells. The lighting in here is so abominably dim that he hasn’t been able to make out more than shadowy lumps in passing, vaguely body-shaped. Dorian had presumed them to be the source of the terrible smell and eschewed taking a closer look in favor of more pressing concerns.

 Until now, at Adaar’s gesture, where he takes a second look.

 There are corpses, of course, some of them in piles. That’s exactly as Dorian assumed.

 But… growing out of some of these sickly-looking corpses, out of wounds in the skin and facial features, are tiny red crystals. These crystals are glowing faintly. Apparently, these are source of the light he’d noticed earlier in passing. Dorian might have called them beautiful if something about them didn’t feel unnervingly strange and strangely familiar as he pushes at the Fade around them.

 And, of course, if they weren’t growing out of corpses.

 Adaar comes up behind him.

 “Is this some sort of bizarre illness or corruption?” Dorian demands of her. “What are those things?”

 “That’s red lyrium,” Adaar supplies. “I didn’t know it could grow out of people like that, but apparently the future is just that awful.”

 Dorian pauses and turns around, and looks up.

 “I beg your pardon,” he says stiffly, because that’s absurd. “But red what?” 


Chapter Text

~ everything there is to know about red lyrium

 “Red lyrium,” Adaar repeats, with an expression somewhere between sympathetic and bemused at his reaction. “Creative name for it, I know.”

 That’s a rather rude expression of her, Dorian might think, if his mind hadn’t suddenly refused to work. He keeps looking between Adaar and the tiny red crystals growing out of the corpses. They almost look like blood, or would if they weren’t faintly glowing and giving off an eerie, shivering feeling.

 Adaar shrugs unhelpfully, at Dorian’s aghast and silent question.

 “I still don’t understand it is exactly. I’m not allowed to go near the stuff. But according to Varric: it’s a new form of lyrium that’s much more powerful than regular lyrium, but the price of that is that it does strange things to the Veil and drives people mad.”

 “Regular lyrium and other ‘enhanced’ lyrium composites have been known to do those things,” Dorian says. “I can attest from… not personal experience, but personal experience witnessing the unpleasant personal experiences of others.”

 Lyrium and the effects of lyrium on people are studied extensively in the Tevinter Imperium, for obvious reasons. Also, less obvious reasons. It’s hardly a real Tevinter party if some young altus doesn’t overdose on experimental drugs, whether provided by the host or brought by the guests. And it’s hardly a real Tevinter drug – a real luxury and unique delicacy, by the standards of the upper classes – if lyrium isn’t involved, whether it’s being drunk or snorted or smoked.

 Dorian doesn’t have personal experience going mad from lyrium, but… well… He wasn’t a particularly unadventurous young man, whether before Livia or before Felicita. These things had a habit of slipping into the Circles and making the rounds of stupid, rich youths looking for any high or advantage.

 “Yeah, me too,” Adaar says easily. “The shit people’ll take for a boost, right? But Varric was really insistent that this stuff was worse than that shit: much more powerful and fast-working on the madness front. Not just ‘mad with power and greed’ mad, but ‘hearing voices and seeing things’ mad. Also, Veil-bending to the point of haunted houses. Very insistent on that point too.”

 “I… can’t say I’ve heard of lyrium that could haunt places, but it was hardly my field of study,” Dorian says, still not entirely comprehending the extent of these tiny crystals. “The experiments involved had a tendency towards… living specimens. It frankly turned my stomach.”

 And he’s speaking as a necromancer. At least his subjects are already dead.

 “That’s… appropriately horrifying and within the realm of possibility, come to think of it,” Dorian continues. “If Gereon’s suddenly made impossible advancements into time magic, then of course someone’s managed to make some horrible ‘super-lyrium’. Of course they did; I don’t know why I’m surprised, because life is just an endless nightmare like that.”

 It’s either accept this fact or scream, and screaming might attract more unwanted attention than the two most recently dead bodies nearby. It’s, frankly, rather unfair that Dorian must keep all his screaming internal about a new, extremely powerful, corrupting form of lyrium. That’s so much to ask of a man.

 After a moment of consideration, Dorian asks hopefully, “Is there any chance that Varric’s lying?”

 Everyone in Haven knows that Varric Tethras has a habit of embellishing his stories and lying both fabulously and casually. He’s a regular favorite for it with both the tavern patrons and Felicita’s little friends. It’s both absurdly charming and fascinatingly devious. It makes Varric both a dwarf after Dorian’s heart and a dwarf after Dorian’s most embarrassing, uncomfortable, and scandalous secrets.

 “Well, yeah, but Cassandra and Cullen both backed him up, so not this time,” Adaar says, with a briefly wistful expression. “According to the both of them, someone sold a unique idol of the stuff to Kirkwall’s last Knight-Commander-”

 “The one who went-” Dorian spins his finger near his head.

 “That’s the one. Apparently, it turned her into a statue of the stuff, after a long battle of some ‘real freaky shit’. Quoting Varric directly there. So… y’know.” Adaar shrugs again. “Watch out for it. Probably best not to touch it, but I’m not your mom.”

 “If you were, the Venatori would all be dead and so would I,” Dorian says gratefully. “‘Probably.’ I’ll endeavor to keep my hands to myself, then.”

 Adaar snorts. “Don’t let me stop you from feeling up a corpse.”

 Dorian looks away from the corpse, towards Adaar, unimpressed. Never before has he felt such an overwhelming urge to out himself as a necromancer, and he’s torn between keeping the knowledge to himself and telling a deeply, equally inappropriate joke.

 If they’re going to tell necrophilia and other corpse jokes, then Dorian has Adaar deeply, ridiculously outmatched here. He learned necromancy from some of the best of the best. He also, accordingly, learned all the most offensively and disgustingly morbid jokes from these necromancers. The only problem, besides the stigma attached to the field, is that much of the humor is fairly inaccessible and works best in Tevene.

 Adaar raises her eyebrows. “Not to your taste?”

 “Nor to my sense of smell,” Dorian counters, and decides not to go there quite yet. He looks back to the corpses and the tiny, eerie crystals. “You know, I heard that rumor while passing through Kirkwall. That the infamous Knight-Commander had crawled out of the burning Chantry as a glowing monster. I immediately dismissed it as fanciful nonsense, of course.”

 “I lost that luxury about a year ago, but I probably would have done the same thing,” Adaar says, and sighs. Any sympathy in her voice seems to drown in the bitterness, which is understandable.

 Dorian watches as a thoughtful expression crosses her face and her ears flick with it. She then looks away from this awful dungeon and carefully, intensely watches him back.

 “You think the Venatori had something to do with this ‘red lyrium’ stuff?”

 “I wouldn’t put it past them in the slightest,” Dorian answers unhappily. “If they’ve managed to loop Gereon into things, then there’s any number of mages in the Imperium they could have bought or forced into their ambitions. There’s any number of mages in the Imperium looking for any opportunity to make the next ‘Lyrium Ghost’ or some other nonsense.” 

 “I don’t know what that means,” Adaar says. “Also, no offense, but your country’s garbage.”

 “I…” Dorian trails off and considers what foot his country’s put forward here. “I suppose that I have very little room to argue that point in our current situation. I’d make some pithy comment about Par Vollen, but it seems you had the good sense to get out of your country long before I did.”

 Adaar lips turn up, but not sincerely. “Can’t get out what you were never in. I’m Vashoth. My parents are the Tal-Vashoth, not me, but sure, I’ll take credit for that good sense.”

 Dorian is getting the sense that he’s stepped wrongly here and quickly steps back.

 “You seemed to attribute this ‘red lyrium’ to the Venatori’s doing just now. What was the popular theory before?”

 “Mainly that red lyrium is bad and no one should go near it ever, and ignoring the problem forever will make it go away,” Adaar sums up with another shrug. “The other usual Chantry approach besides murder. Personally, I thought that it might be some side effect of the Breach or other Fade Rifts. There’s cartloads of the stuff up near the Breach, where the Temple of Sacred Ashes used to be.”

 “And no one made any effort to collect samples and study them?” Dorian demands, aghast.

 Adaar snorts. “That’s making too much sense. I told you: no one’s allowed near it, both the Breach and the red lyrium, especially not me, on pain of Leliana and/or Cassandra’s wrath.”

“Ah. That… does sound like quite a lot of pain,” Dorian agrees. “But there’s no other information on it?”

 “Cullen and Cassandra don’t want anyone near it, while Leliana wants someone to study it, and Josephine wants to study it but won’t let anyone unqualified study it unsafely,” Adaar rattles off tiredly. “If you want to try finding someone actually qualified and miraculously willing to get involved with the Inquisition’s shit – someone all four of them agree on – be my fucking guest.”

 “I will pass on that impossible task, thank you,” Dorian answers mildly. “I suppose they’re not willing to take samples and send them out to unknown consequences? No, of course not. One of the concerns is that someone unsavory will get their hands on the material, or something, yes?”

 “One of the shit ton of ‘concerns’, yeah. Adaar’s ears flick in thought again, as she looks back at the tiny crystals growing out of a corpse. “The black market for lyrium’s where the money’s at.”

 “For strange composites and unique forms especially, yes, I’m aware. I am from the trash heap better known as the Tevinter Imperium, you know,” Dorian answers. “Well, unfortunately, that rules out anyone might have been able to recommend, should we manage to live through this.”

 “Shame. I’m sure they would have loved to hand some more red lyrium over to Vints,” Adaar says. Then, after several seconds pause, says, “Lyrium’s stupidly valuable, right?”

 “Idiotically so, yes.”

 “Yeah, people scourge up even the smallest piles of dust of the stuff. And this red lyrium stuff is incredibly powerful and dangerous, and exactly the sort of thing some Tevinter cult would fuck with for power, right?”

 “Most likely, yes,” Dorian answers, trying to follow this thread. “Is your point that the Imperium is trash again? Because we agreed on that already too.”

 “No, it’s that those are some decent-sized ‘super-lyrium’ crystals growing on corpses and the Venatori have dumped them here like quarantined garbage,” Adaar says, gesturing at the corpses with a frown. “Seems to me like they don’t need them. Full offense, but I don’t think they’re clever enough not to mess with the stuff just because it’s dangerous.”

 “Ah,” Dorian says. “That does… bring up some interesting thoughts as to what awaits us.”

 “Interesting isn’t the word that I’d use,” Adaar says. “But yeah.”

 She turns away from the cell and goes to pick up the keys that one of the dead guards had dropped. She twirls them a couple times in her hands, doing a full turn to have another look around the dungeon. Once satisfied, she stops and looks at Dorian expectantly.

 “Ready to see what’s happened to the world?”

 “I wasn’t ready for that even before we travelled through time,” Dorian answers.

 Adaar snorts. “Me neither, but waiting to be ready is how nothing happens and I’m starting to get hungry. So, let’s go kill some Venatori and do some impossible magic and not touch any red lyrium. Easy as breathing and we’ll be home in time for supper.”

 “That’s optimistic of you,” Dorian says, as he moves to leave this filthy dungeon.

 Adaar shrugs and leads the way out, twirling the keys on one finger. “I tell myself a lot of things to force myself to get up in the morning, before someone comes along and drags me out by the feet.”


~ the mines of redcliffe

 The eerie, shivering feeling gets worse as they make their way up the stairs of the dungeon. The initial strangeness to the Fade, but much louder and grating. At first, Dorian attributes it to the anticipation of the unknown and hostile, but as they near the top of the stairs, and Adaar opens the door and peers carefully around the corner, Dorian realizes that it’s a very real feeling in the air.

 Especially as Adaar stiffens at whatever she sees and comes back around the doorway’s corner with an expression like a harrowed woman. She looks down at him and Dorian looks back at her with commiserating knowing.

 “How bad is it?” he whispers.

 There’s a red glow coming from this next section of the dungeon, much brighter than the faint light of the cells they just left. Dorian is keeping a hand on the cold stone walls to keep himself steady, while Adaar tries to find the words.

 “…Bad,” Adaar says finally. “Really bad.”

 “How descriptive.”

 Adaar scowls at him, unimpressed, and steps fully out into the next room. She gestures stiffly towards it and says flatly, “You find the words to describe this fucking mess, asshole. Did the Redcliffe dungeons look anything like this the last time you were here?”

 Dorian more cautiously steps out into the room – a long and broad hall, at which their door sits at the end very end, opposite a twin – and looks towards the red glow. It is all he can do not to drop his staff where he stands. He didn’t go through this section of the Redcliffe dungeons, but they did not look like this the last time he passed through.

 There are several small cells along the hall and growing from each one are enormous formations of red lyrium. Larger than Dorian. Larger than Adaar. They span from the floor to the ceiling like eerie, bright red trees, with their crystal branches swirling over the stone and out of the cells like creeping veins. Looking at them, their pulsing gleam, their insidious apparent growth, Dorian thinks he might be sick.

 Oh, dear Maker, they have to walk past those if they want to get out of here.

 “That is… very bad, indeed,” Dorian manages apologetically.

 Adaar can’t even manage to look triumphant. Instead, she looks beside her to the opposite door and says, “Think this one’ll be the one that leads up directly out of here? No red lyrium mazes?”

 “If I were that lucky, I wouldn’t be here,” Dorian answers. “But I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try.”

 Adaar flips through the ring of keys and opens the door, and the both of them are very disappointed to see that there are stairs leading down. Adaar closes the door again, though she doesn’t lock it. The both of them look, queasily, down the red lyrium hallway.

 “I feel like it’ll eat me,” Adaar says.

 “I feel exactly the same way,” Dorian agrees. “Shall we?”

 By some miracle, they manage to make it past the red lyrium formations without dying, going mad, or throwing up. This leads them to another door, a thick thing of wood and metal, which Adaar unlocks with shaking hands while Dorian tries to think of anything besides the red lyrium looming at his back. When Adaar finally manages to get the lock to clunk undone, she kicks the door open and Dorian doesn’t blame her for it in the slightest despite the crash of it.

 He’s not sure who to blame for the fact that there’s only more red lyrium in this next room – a brighter red glow, a worse feeling thrumming through the air – but he will certainly be blaming them very strongly whenever they’re introduced.

 A displeasure to finally meet you, sir, he’ll say, and for that I have to kill you now.

 “For fuck’s sake,” Adaar says disbelievingly.

 They make their way through this hallway too, cautiously but making great effort not to linger. Past the red lyrium formations, some of which have disturbingly figure-like shapes stemming from parts of them, some of which aren’t even in cells, and past cells with corpses with red lyrium growths that have half-consumed them. Through the eerie quiet, which broken only by whatever sounds they make, a watery drip from the ceiling, and the low creak and moan of distant suffering.

 “What the fuck is this?” Adaar says, as they make their way up another set of stairs. “What the fuck is this? What the fuck is this? These are people. Are they still alive? I saw one of them move. How the fuck are they doing this to people?”

 “I… I’ve heard that lyrium composites can be essentially renewable sources of power when implant-”

 “Shut up. I don’t want to hear the end of that sentence,” Adaar snaps, without looking back. “Not another fucking word of Vint experimentation on ‘living specimens’. Unless you know of the direct way out of here, then shut up.

 When faced with Adaar’s anger, Dorian decides that this is advice best followed. He’d thought she asked, but… he can try to work out how this might be possible in silence. Attempting to understand the magic behind this is the only way he’s staying relatively calm at the moment, but he can recognize that there remains a reason why he tends not to share his chosen magical field with strangers.

 At the top of this set of stairs, they walk through and someone speaks to them.

 “Did you find out what set off that alarm-?”

 There’s another set of Venatori guards, standing around and apparently waiting for their dead fellows back downstairs. The one who’s speaking turns to face them and his eyes widen at the sight of an angry Vashoth woman bearing down on him. He can no time to do anything about it before Adaar’s maul smashes into his head.

 His fellow manages to draw his sword, but Dorian, with nothing better to do, casts Horror on the man. The pull on the Fade is strange and feels as though the control of it is slipping quickly out of Dorian’s hands, but it works. The guard’s sword clatters to the floor even before Adaar kills him.

 This time, Dorian makes no argument that Adaar needn’t have killed them.

 Adaar leans on her maul and breathes, among the bodies. At least the smell of rot and other death has gotten marginally better, Dorian thinks, as he focuses on doing the same. Unfortunately, as he lets himself really consider it again, it really is only marginally better.

 “You didn’t do this,” Adaar says finally.

 “Kill those men? Yes, that was entirely you,” Dorian agrees.

 “No,” Adaar says, and gestures towards a red lyrium formation in the corner of the room. “That.”

 “Not to my knowledge,” Dorian replies. Then corrects himself, “I mean: of course not.”

 Though that’s arguable, depending on whether one counts how it’s Dorian’s fault that they’re nearly a year into the future. If Dorian had properly dispelled Gereon’s attempt on Adaar’s existence, none of this would have happened. So, Dorian did, arguably, have a hand in this.

 “You’re actually trying to give me answers,” Adaar says disgustedly. “Without you, I’d be non-existent and you’re trying to give me answers and solutions. Telling you to shut up was a disservice to that, again, even if the Venatori and your country are garbage. So… sorry.”

 “…I am… not without the need to apologize myself. The fact that many of my countrymen can’t discern between acceptable courses of discovery and horrors that cross every line in existence is why we’re here,” Dorian answers finally.

 It’s not an unreasonable thing to be upset over. Dorian’s upset as well. Oh, the speeches he’s writing in his mind for Gereon, if Gereon is yet behind all of this monstrous absurdity. It makes the book that Dorian’s supposedly writing for Felix look like a pamphlet. He doesn’t understand how a man could become everything that he once condemned.

“And you’re here because you decided not to be one of them.”

 Dorian blinks. “Pardon?”

 Adaar looks at him, watches him as he watches her, and says, “Aren’t you?”

 It sounds like a challenge. One directly to a man who fled his country only because of the immediate threat to his and his daughter’s lives.

 Though… if Dorian had been a more sensible and selfish man, he would have instead turned his back on Gereon, Livia, and the Venatori, and found some remote corner of Thedas for himself and Felicita. Dorian could argue that fighting the end of the world is also a matter of personal safety, but he hadn’t yet known that the world might unravel when he’d initially left. He hadn't even known about the Breach. 

 “I suppose I am, though that feels as though it casts aspersions on my intelligence.”

 “It shouldn’t,” Adaar says. “Choosing not to do this crap.”

 That’s a distressingly good point.

 “I was referring to how belatedly I made that choice, but yes, that would make for a much happier world, wouldn’t it?” Dorian agrees. “I do apologize, though. I should have recognized that your question was rhetorical. This is honestly hardly the first time I’ve disgusted someone with especially… morbid and immoral academic talk over dinner-”

 “If I need you to shut up so I don’t throw up, I’ll let you know, but you have no idea how welcome it is to actually have someone trying to make sense of any of this shit and explain it to me properly,” Adaar interrupts and straightens up to stretch. “Did anyone introduce you to Solas? You two are going to get along like a house on fire.”

 “I’m afraid not. I’m also afraid to ask which meaning of the phrase you’re using there.”

 “I chose that phrase specifically, so have a guess,” Adaar says, and gives him no time in which to do that. Instead, she takes a deep breath and says, “You were saying something about creating renewable sources of power by implanting lyrium composites into… people? Is that what you think this is?”

 “It’s… my best guess,” Dorian says helplessly, trying not to look at the red lyrium formation in the corner and seek out the person that may potentially be at the heart of it. “I mentioned that it’s hardly my field of study, yes? I’d put good money on that work, which I’ve heard about only in scandalous passing, and this being related somehow.”

 Adaar takes a deep breath and drags a hand over her face. “So this is a fucking mine.”

 “I… beg your pardon?”

 Adaar gestures to one corner of the room they’re in and says, “Find me better answers for those if you think I’m wrong. The Venatori have turned Redcliffe’s dungeons into a fucking mine for red lyrium.”

 There are what Dorian supposes to be mining tools stacked carefully in one corner in the room. He supposes this because he’s never mined anything or been in a mine before in his life. The scattered shards of red lyrium dusted lightly over the floor and the storage containers – barrels, crates, evenly lined against the wall – support this. Dorian goes over to peer inside one of them and, yes, there’s a half-filling of red lyrium inside. Stacked in nearly obsessively neat rows.

 There’s no other reasonable explanation; the Venatori are mining the red lyrium here.

 “I’m deeply sorry, but it seems you’re right,” Dorian says.

 He says this instead of screaming. How remarkably unfair all his screaming must always happen on the inside.

 Adaar groans and drags her hand down her face again, and clacks her horns against her maul, repeatedly, similar to how a person might hit their head against a wall. “I’d really like for this shit to stop being real now,” she says. “Any second now, if it could just fucking stop, that’d be great.”

 “I can speak from personal experience now to say that won’t work,” Dorian says apologetically.

 With great reluctance, Adaar stops, and then she goes straight for the door. “We need to get out of here last year,” she says firmly. “Come on. If we’ve been dropped at the bottom of this pit, the only way out is up and through. How’s your mana doing for getting us out of here? Don’t cast spells if you can help it, unless you want a taste of the hottest new lyrium drug on the market.”

 “I’ll pass, thank you, and will obligingly endeavor to let you do all the work.”

 “That’s what I like to hear,” Adaar says wryly.

 Dorian follows her out and keeps to relative silence, as they pass through Redcliffe’s maze of a dungeon turned bizarre red lyrium mine. Now that Adaar’s pointed them out, he notices more tools for mining, kept in strictly tidy piles, as they creep past the formations. There are scratches in the lyrium, purposeful chunks carved out of the veins, parts where their branches are cut off in suspiciously clean slices.

 It makes him wonder, much against his will…

 “Who’s doing the mining in this place?” he wonders to Adaar. “I was under the impression that labor like this required workers. I doubt it was any of the Venatori guards that we passed.”

 Adaar shoots him a look over her shoulder, somewhere between bemused and unimpressed. “I don’t know,” she says, somewhat mockingly. “If the Venatori have control of Redcliffe and are from Tevinter, it seems like a real fucking mystery where they’re getting their workers, doesn’t it?”

 “I did assume that it was forced labor of some kind,” Dorian replies sharply. “Slave labor, that much is obvious. What free man would expose themselves to this madness?”

 Adaar still looks bemused and unimpressed. “Desperate ones. Did you have a point?”

 “Yes. Lyrium is a substance rather unto itself, and even the dwarves’ resistance to it isn’t infinite. This ‘mine’ is relatively without any persons who might be able to handle a supposedly extreme and corrupting form of lyrium, or require any ‘guarding’ thus far.”

 This seems to appeal to Adaar’s interests, as he ears flick in thought at this point. “They might’ve been working them to death,” she says. “It takes time and money to bring in new bodies.” She stops at another door and begins searching for the key. “But… you might have half a point in there. There’s something real fucking weird about the tools, have you noticed?”

 “Besides all of it, you mean?” Dorian offers wryly.

 Adaar snorts, but doesn’t smile as the door clunks open for her. “…Yeah, besides all of it,” she says, as stands back and returns the keys to her hip, readies her maul, and kicks open the door again.

 Dorian follows her, then must suddenly stop so he doesn’t bounce off her back.

 “I fucking knew it,” Adaar says.

 There’s a person in this room, not slumped in a cell, but hunched over and carefully picking at a formation of red lyrium. It’s an unnatural pale and thin woman, dressed in a filthy brown robe. She’s without any hair, which makes the dark sunburst on her forehead all the clearer as she looks up at them.


 ~ the blighted miner

 “Of course they’d use Tranquil for this shit,” Adaar says disgustedly, and makes to move forward. “Who else has any sort of resistance to lyrium?”

 Dorian doesn’t think and reaches out to grab her by the arm, to pull her back and away from the woman in front of them with sickly, greyed skin and sunken eyes. Adaar’s very heavy, so he presumably manages mostly because she’s surprised enough to allow it.

 “What?” she says.

 “That woman is blighted,” Dorian says, certain nearly out of his wits with it.

 “What?” Adaar repeats and glances at the Tranquil woman.

 “She’s blighted. She’s a ghoul.”

 “Are… Can that happen to Tranquil?”

 “I… I don’t know. Can they become ill? I do know that the Blight is a physical thing that cares little for the rules and rituals of men,” Dorian answers, and gestures at the Tranquil woman wildly. “Look at her greyed and sunken skin! The bleeding in and from her skin! She’s blighted and in the process of becoming a ghoul. Far into the process.”

 “How do you know?”

 “Because I’ve studied the Blight. Felix’s illness? It’s the Blight, and so is that.”

 Adaar’s eyes narrow. “You said he got sick three years ago. No one lives with the Blight for three years.”

 “I’ve also said that Gereon is a brilliant and desperate man,” Dorian argues. “The Elder One’s apparently offered him his Golden City: a cure for Felix. He’s been trying to do the impossible for years and I was there for the beginning of it.”

 Adaar is quiet for several seconds, before she looks back to the Tranquil woman, who has, as Tranquil so eerily do, returned to her work with little care for their presence. Adaar looks back to him.

 “Why the fuck would the Venatori bring a blighted woman in to work here?”

 “A very good question,” Dorian says. “One, I think, that we will only answer by asking the Venatori themselves or that woman over there. And I’m afraid you’ve killed all the Venatori we’ve met so far.” He clears his throat. “Not, of course, that I am criticizing you for that.”

 Adaar leans back up. “You’d better not be,” she says, and turns towards the Tranquil woman.

 Then she leans back down and whispers, “My experience with darkspawn and ghouls is ‘kill it’.”

 Dorian wouldn’t criticize her for this either; that is what most sensible people do.

 “Then it appears it’s time for more new experiences today,” he says. “Aren’t we having a fun time?”

 He moves past Adaar and towards the Tranquil woman, stopped a good distance away, in case this line of questioning become violent. The looming of the red lyrium formation that the woman is picking at serves at a very frightening reminder to stay back.

 “Excuse me?” Dorian says to the ghoulish woman. “How did you come to be blighted?”

 “That’s… direct,” Adaar mutters, as she comes up behind him.

 “They’re Tranquil, there’s no point in skipping around their feelings and dawdling in their company,” Dorian murmurs over his shoulder, as the Tranquil woman stands up. He repeats: “How did you come to be blighted? And how did you come to be in the service of the Venatori?”

 The woman’s answer is to… stare at him, with her glassy, sunken eyes. There’s a reddish glow to them, and to her. An almost luminous sickness. Her mouth opens and moves in disjointed, soundless shapes. After several seconds, she manages to make a sound, but it’s hoarse nonsense, and her stare slowly drifts away from them as she seems to follow her nonsense imitation of speech.

 “Did that make sense to you?” Adaar says.

 “I don’t think that would make sense to anyone,” Dorian says, and snaps his fingers. The woman’s eyes come back to him and he repeats in both Trade and Tevene. “How were you infected with the Blight? How did you come to be blighted?”

 The woman’s answer is, at first, just to stare at him again. Then, slowly, she seems to return to the red lyrium formation and her work. Dorian sighs and resists the urge to hide his face. His hands have not been in pleasant places today and he’d likely smear what remains of his pitiful make-up.

 “Dorian,” Adaar says urgently.

 Dorian opens his eyes and realizes that the woman has only placed one hand on the red lyrium formation, and is staring at him and Adaar, making her hoarse, disjointed sounds. She can’t be implying… There’s no reasonable way that…

 “Did you get the Blight from the red lyrium?” Dorian demands, aghast.

 The woman pauses and… nods.

 “Dear Maker,” Dorian manages weakly. “Were you part of the Mage Rebellion?”

 She nods again, and, appallingly, leans tiredly against the red lyrium. No fear for herself, if she can even feel or express fear. She closes her eyes, and there’s almost the appearance that she’s not entirely emotionless and that she’s listening to it. A proposal not unlike the stories he’s heard of the dwarves and their Stone Sense, or… the Grey Wardens and their Blight.

 Blighted lyrium.

 Dear Maker.

 “Dorian,” Adaar says sharply. “How the fuck is that possible?”

 Dorian makes a helpless gesture and tries not to burst into hysterical laughter. “I don’t know! It either questions the very nature of lyrium or of the Blight, neither of which is particularly well understood. If you’d asked me five minutes ago, I would have told you that only living things could become blighted!”

 Adaar puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. “So… really don’t touch the red lyrium.”

 They can’t, really, avoid it. They’ve touched doors and walls. They must be tracking lyrium dust on their boots. This horrible substance is everywhere.

 “Definitely not,” Dorian agrees weakly.

 He takes a deep breath, then looks at the Tranquil woman again. Her symptoms. She’s in an alarmingly late stage of the Blight. She’s essentially a ghoul and Dorian doesn’t understand why she’s still here.

 “I have no answers for this,” Dorian says. “I do, however, have a rather horrifying but important question. If you feel prepared to risk being sick.”

 Adaar squeezes his shoulder again. “Hit me with it.”

 “Anyone in this late of a stage of ghoulishness should be… well… essentially feral or a slave to the darkspawn, if not both. Is this an effect of Tranquility on the Blight? Or,” Dorian takes another deep breath and continues, “like the Grey Wardens, have the Venatori – or Gereon – found their own formula for delaying the Blight and its Calling on a larger scale?”

 “...I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adaar says frankly. “Explain.”

 “The Grey Wardens are all blighted,” Dorian answers. “Intentionally, through some deeply secret ritual. It’s what gives them their ability to fight the darkspawn as effectively as they do, coopting the darkspawn’s strengths, such as their ability to sense each other, to forsake eating for long stretches of time, and to fight near endlessly.”

 “…Are you…” Adaar releases his shoulder and runs her hand down her face again. “Are you serious?”

 “Deadly, unfortunately. However, the Blight eventually catches up and turns all Grey Wardens into ghouls. Even they lose both their bodies and minds by the end. They call it ‘the Calling’ and march off into the Deep Roads to fight until they die. Lovely tradition, isn’t it?”

 “Fucking charming,” Adaar says, and stares at him intensely. “How do you know this-” She narrows her eyes and cuts herself off with the answer to her own question: “The elder Alexius’ research into the Blight.”

 “The Grey Wardens are very protective of their secrets as a whole – I’ve heard they’ll stab a person in the front to keep their secrets – but individuals are… let’s say… far less so. Gereon may have refused to lose his son to the Wardens or their version of the Blight, but he could recognize the value of their knowledge. Not many can keep their tongue or their oaths when courted by all the money and favors that a Tevinter magister can offer.”

 “Not many can keep their mouths shut for far less,” Adaar mutters.

 “I would appreciate it, if we ever encounter Grey Wardens, you not inform them that I have a… decent and passing knowledge of their deepest secrets?” Dorian says conversationally. “Don’t hesitate to make them aware of the Venatori’s apparent knowledge, however. That seems a fine solution.”

 Adaar sighs. “That’d be a fight. Do I have a choice, when you just tossed me down in with you?”

 “My apologies, but you did ask.”

 “Because you brought it up. I’m slowly learning it’s better never to fucking ask anything ever again.”

 “And enacting those lessons?”

 “I’m a nosy moron whose curiosity is probably going to kill me,” Adaar answers sharply.

 “…I feel exactly the same way,” Dorian says, not entirely insincerely. “Shall we… try for any other questions here? Do you have any? Or shall we be on our way before someone comes to investigate the disappearance of those guards?”

 Adaar grimaces. “I’m not sure what answers we’ll get.”

 The Tranquil woman in front of them has sunk down to the floor, kneeling against leaning against the red lyrium formation with her eyes closed. As though Dorian and Adaar have assumed the position of command, and she’s given out, now that she knows she need not work. She looks, as the ghoulish do, like a walking, breathing corpse. Her hands and arms are uneven with growth and scratches, with bloody splotches under greyed skin and open wounds, with endless days working at the red lyrium until it’s driven her all but empty. Whatever was left of her, of course.

 Dorian’s never seen Tranquility and the Blight, presumably some variation on it not unlike the Grey Wardens and their rituals, combined in a person before. He never considered the possibility. It’s more horrifying than he ever could have imagined it be.

 “Tranquility and the Blight,” he says aloud, quietly, to Adaar. “I’m given to understand that the Tranquil can still feel pain, even if they don’t react to it. Her very existence must be the most perfect, constant, serene agony imaginable.”

 “…Do you think she might report to someone, if we leave her here?” Adaar asks.

 “I couldn’t say,” he answers tiredly. “I don’t believe she’d bother. Why? Are you considering…?”

 Adaar shrugs and says simply, “It might be a mercy.”

 Dorian stares at her.

 “Didn’t anyone tell you what I did before this shit?” Adaar says. “I was a mercenary. Puppetry still, but of choice, mostly. You get comfortable with it or you burn out, no matter how good the money is. Sure, have your code and keep to it, but don’t think about it if you want to sleep at night.”

 “That’s a… vaguely familiar feeling,” Dorian says.

 He doesn’t know what else to say.

 “So said the man from Tevinter,” Adaar says, but not mockingly. Not even sadly. She doesn’t even sound particularly resigned. “Color me surprised. Too many knives in the featherbed? Too much blood?”

 “Something like that,” Dorian says, as his chest tightens at the hit too close to the heart of it.

 The Tranquil is a dead woman as it is and she can barely communicate. He doesn’t even know if Tranquil can make the choice to live or die. Even if they can, she’s presumably either in the Venatori’s thrall or the Blight’s. He knows so much less about the world than he ever believed, it seems.

 “Leave her be,” Dorian says.

 Adaar tilts her head, ears twitching. “Why?”

 “Why not?” Dorian counters tiredly. “Just… leave her be. We’ll be gone soon enough and none of this will have ever happened.”

 Adaar stares at him, watching him as he’s watching her, and shrugs.

 “Alright,” she says. “Let’s go unravel the world.”


Chapter Text

~ misery loves company

 If there is one fact that Dorian feels certain of… it’s that misery adores like-minded company. Life’s really got to kick men when they’re down, apparently. It can’t just be happy with the fall, no, it’s got to stomp in the teeth too. It’s like an urge. The world has to be an endless nightmare! Can’t be helped.

The Tranquil that they leave behind isn’t, unsurprisingly, the only blighted miner imprisoned in the equally blighted dungeons of Redcliffe. There are more of them. Not many of them, but one had already been too much. All of them are empty-eyed, grey-faced, sunken to the bone with their labor and their exposure to the ever eerie and sickening red lyrium.

 Adaar’s expression darkens with every enslaved miner they meet, every blighted corpse that they pass, and every rare Venatori guard who happens to have the extraordinary misfortune to be assigned to these dungeons. She doesn’t hesitate to introduce them to her maul and Dorian wouldn’t dare dream of suggesting otherwise at this point.

 He, on the other hand, feels light-headedly unnerved and nauseated with every new horror decorating this dismal place. It was bad enough when he didn’t know what red lyrium was exactly. Well, he still doesn’t know what red lyrium is exactly, but now he knows that it’s blighted and he couldn’t keep the fact out of his mind if he wanted to.

 They are surrounded, at any and every given moment, by the Blight.

 His skin is crawling at the mere idea of touching anything – the lyrium, the corpses, even the walls – and the reminder of everything he’s touched already. He’s irrationally afraid to breathe in this place.

 At the very least, Dorian soon comes to a part of Redcliffe dungeons that he recognizes. It’s undergone some appalling redecorating with red lyrium, filth, mining equipment, and so on, of course, but it’s a sign they’re finally nearing the exit to the castle proper. The relief he feels could undo a man.

 “The sooner I am out of this wretched oubliette, the sooner I can refuse to remember I was ever here,” Dorian comments, only mildly hysterically, as Adaar goes through the pockets of a dead guard.

 He feels like a wreck. He’d try to do something about his ruined face or his still damp hair or his uncooperative moustache – all of which are surely disasters in their own right – if he wasn’t trying to avoid touching himself. His hands have been in some truly unmentionable places today – of the deeply unfun and unsexy kind: the potentially blighted.

 “Hah,” Adaar says, without much humor.

 “A Tevinter cult enacting an Orlesian named imprisonment in a Fereldan dungeon,” Dorian muses unhappily. “Well, there’s something to be said for this wretched business bringing all of us uncomfortably closer together. Not something nice, of course, but… something.”

 “Something,” Adaar agrees, and stands up. “He’s got nothing.” She flips a few coins over her fingers, though, and pockets them. “If the Venatori have some way of avoiding the Blight or any other effects of this red crap, or thrall items or whatever, they’re not keeping them on their person.”

 “That’s rather rude of them towards innocent looters,” Dorian says.

 “Right? Real fucking rude.”

 “I look forward to enjoying more of their hospitality upstairs,” Dorian continues. “Shall we?”

 “Yeah, but if the next room has more red lyrium, I’m going to scream.”

 Given that every single room and hallway thus far has had red lyrium, to Adaar’s flat statement, Dorian replies, “I imagine you’ll find yourself unpleasantly unsurprised. Endeavour not to do so directly in my ear, would you?”

 Dorian is, of course, regrettably proven right. Red lyrium decorates a dark, damp room of four cells, though the eerie, blighted substance is thankfully kept to one corner. Adaar doesn’t immediately scream, but she does grunt as she very efficiently kills a guard who happens to be in the room. The guard lets out a strangled scream, before his body hits the floor with a thump, and Dorian waits a little ways behind to see if Adaar is going to scream as well in the aftermath.

 Instead, she freezes, in the middle of turning back towards him. Her eyes are caught on one of the cells. Not the one with the veritable trunk of lyrium, but the one with… a corpse that is now… standing up and pressed against the bars. It… wasn’t doing that when they came in.

 Oh, dear Maker, it’s not a corpse.

 “Adaar?” the woman says, disbelievingly.

 “Cassandra,” Adaar answers, wide-eyed and horrified, now finally looking like she might sincerely scream. “What the fuck happened to you?”


 ~ the truth seeker and the liar

 The Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast looks like she’s seen far better days. She looks much better than the Tranquil, farther down in the dungeons, but that’s not saying much. Looking in better shape than a ghoul is a distressingly low bar to clear.

 Adaar steps closer to the bars and Dorian steps urgently after her.

 “She’s blighted,” he warns lowly.

 He looks apologetically – pityingly, perhaps, if he is being honest with himself – towards Cassandra Pentaghast as he says this, but the Seeker is still staring, stunned, towards Adaar. Adaar doesn’t look away from Cassandra, but she doesn’t come without arm’s reach of the Seeker’s cell.

 “Yeah, I have eyes,” Adaar answers hoarsely.  

 Cassandra’s brown skin is greyed in the way of sickness and little sunlight, splotched with scars and bleeding, and faintly luminous in the reddish sickness of those blighted with red lyrium. They’ve taken her armour and her weapons, even her boots, and she looks so much less… her… without them. She looks too small for the proud and unimpressed woman Dorian’s come to be glowered at by.

 Her hand trembles as she reaches hesitantly through the bars.

 “You died,” Cassandra says, disbelievingly.

 Though perhaps the smallness could be attributed to her thinness. The sunken exhaustion in her features. She’s clearly not been enjoying the Venatori’s hospitality, since they’ve been gone.

 “Dear Maker, have you been here all this time?” Dorian says, despite himself.

 The idea is too ghastly not to be spoken aloud.

 Cassandra seems to snap out of a daze, slightly, as she looks towards him with confusion. Dorian hasn’t the faintest what a year of imprisonment and being blighted by red lyrium does to a person, but he supposes if there has been any desperate hoping and/or hallucinogenic daydreams on the Seeker’s part, he hasn’t largely featured in them. The Seeker frowns.

 “I didn’t die,” Adaar says firmly, and recaptures Cassandra’s attention. “Alexius used time magic to try to erase me from existence. Dorian intervened but couldn’t counter it entirely. We arrived and were caught by a warp net deeper into the dungeons less than an hour ago.”

 Cassandra’s reddish gaze sharpens, as she looks back to Adaar.

 Adaar shrugs and smiles, grimly. “I heard from a dead man downstairs that we’ve been gone nearly a year,” she says. “Here’s hoping that really fucking late’s better than never.”

 “You are…” Cassandra trails off, as she looks between them both. “You’re really alive.”

 “And kicking,” Adaar assures her, with a sharper sort of smile. “Let’s get you out of there.” Then she looks back over her shoulder. “Dorian, there’s some more crap carved into the walls here. Be a nice man and break it to fucking pieces for me, if it needs breaking.”

 “It would be my pleasure,” Dorian says, and steps forward to get a better look at the enchantments on the Seeker’s cell. “It’s always a delight to wreck a fellow countryman’s hard work.”

 Adaar looks back to Cassandra. “What happened after we disappeared?” she demands, in the exact way of a woman who’s been very displeased for quite some time over not getting answers. Both the Venatori and the Tranquil have been deeply uncooperative. “I thought we had Alexius cornered. All his hard-hitters and guards were supposed to be dead by the time we confronted him.”

 Cassandra opens her mouth to reply, Dorian opens his mouth to make some presumably inappropriate quip about the situation, but they’re both beaten to it. A deep voice, deeper than even Adaar’s, speaks up hoarsely from the other side of the room.

 “You should know better than to underestimate a Vint when he’s cornered, Boss.”

 Dorian turns sharply on his heel, but Adaar swings around more slowly.

 “Bull,” she says in greeting, then pauses. “You’re lookin’ real hot there.”

 “Could say the same to you, Boss. You haven’t aged a day.”

 The Iron Bull is sitting in the cell across the room, his broad horns and broader shoulders resting against the wall, and his arm casually leaning on one pulled-up knee. He looks to be in a similar blighted state to the Seeker. His grey, scarred skin is covered in blighted scabs and bleeding, and there’s that same eerie, paled, reddish glow to him.

 He’s thinner as well, gaunter, under the Venatori’s delightful hospitality. The Venatori have also taken his armour and his weapons, down to his boots, leaving him with only his trousers in a cold, filthy cell. They’ve even taken his eyepatch, and the wound there is… less than pleasant to look at. It looks like it’s suffered special attention from the Venatori’s hospitality, and the Blight has a way of reopening old and even supposedly healed wounds.

 “Time magic does that to a person,” Adaar says. “It’s how Alexius got the drop on us.”

 The Iron Bull grunts, unimpressed. “It’s how the Vint did a lot of crap.”

 “What happened after we disappeared?” Adaar repeats, with her eyes narrowed on the Iron Bull. Without looking at Dorian, she says in flat reminder, “Dorian, the enchantments.”

 “Ah, right. I’ll… get right on that.”

 The enchantments are similar to those in the cell where Dorian and Adaar appeared, except for how they’re functional and far better maintained. Relatively simple and common, as far as enchantments go, intended to prevent any magic, especially warping, and strengthen the integrity of the cell. There are no alarms attached to them, which makes breaking them practically child’s play.

 It also allows Dorian to pay attention to the conversation.

 “Whatever happened between Alexius and your Vint there exploded on the rest of us,” the Iron Bull explains, after the Herald repeats her questions. “Alexius got the drop on all of us.”

 “He used his time magic to undo all of our planning,” Cassandra interjects darkly. “To undo even the deaths of his followers. With his followers resurrected, the Venatori easily retook Redcliffe and imprisoned us, and…” She hangs her head slightly. “…the world has suffered greatly for it.”

 Dorian turns. “Pardon? That’s absurd.”

 Cassandra doesn’t take this statement well, to say the least, and her reddish glower is… well… frightening. Dorian can admit it’s a very unnerving and impression blighted glower.

 “Oh, no,” Dorian realizes. “I don’t mean the ‘worldly suffering’, of course; I believe that. But the resurrection of dead Venatori? His efforts to reach Redcliffe before the Inquisition already twisted the Veil in precarious knots and dangled it off a cliff for good measure. How by the Maker did Gereon stabilize those discrepancies in reality?”  

 Cassandra’s blighted glower just fiercens and she answers flatly, “He didn’t.”

 “Ah,” Dorian says. “I… see.”

 “You really don’t,” the Iron Bull says from across the room. His one-eyed, reddened gaze is also intense and impossibly steady. The missing eye makes it worse. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

 All Dorian can do is stare back.

 “We’ve seen a bit, so far,” Adaar says, for them both.

 The blighted red lyrium growing like living things out of corpses? An entire, enormous dungeon turned both grave and mine? Full of dying Tranquil and Venatori guards? Yes, Dorian might call that a “bit”. He might call it many things, really.

 The Iron Bull raises one eyebrow and grimaces. “Then get ready to see the rest of it.”

 No, thank you, I’d rather not, Dorian might say, if that wasn’t precisely what he must do if he wants to have any hope of returning to the Redcliffe he left behind. Any hope of undoing this wretched, blighted, increasingly horrifying and upsetting future. I’ve seen enough and, frankly, I hate it, though I thank you for the offer. Except, no, fuck you for the offer, actually. 

 “The world has suffered greatly while you’ve been away, Herald,” Cassandra says solemnly. “It is a blessing from the Maker that you have returned to us at long last, but… I fear it may be a blessing that has come far too late.”


 ~ the things we left behind

 As far as the explanation goes, Cassandra Pentaghast and the Iron Bull know this:

 “The world’s gotten fucked over.”

 “Yeah, I gathered that much,” Adaar says to the Iron Bull. “I want the dirty details of the fucking.”

 This makes Dorian raise his eyebrows, as the Iron Bull snorts at Adaar. Dorian and Adaar have freed Cassandra, and now Dorian is working to break the enchantments on the Iron Bull’s cell. He likely doesn’t need to, but caution is the better part of survival. The Tevinter Imperium has a delightful tradition of leaving unpleasant surprises for interlopers and enemies in… well… everything.

 Thinking on all the horrifically gruesome traps that the Imperium enjoys employing is a far better train of thought, in Dorian’s opinion, than letting his mind contemplate how gingerly Cassandra Pentaghast had stepped out of her cell. The careful, trembling steps. How her thinness was more pronounced, standing side by side. How her blighted hand had hovered above Adaar’s, very consciously never touching, and how Adaar hadn’t pushed forward to close the gap. 

 “The Venatori’s ‘Elder One’ has been making war against the rest of the world,” Cassandra explains.

 “Who is he?” Adaar demands.

 “I don’t know. I have never seen him. Many of these Venatori haven’t either. Alexius remains in charge of Redcliffe, which now serves as a fortress for the Venatori and their forces… and a residence for him and his resurrected followers to do their research.”

 “Research?” Dorian repeats, and immediately realizes asking about the Venatori’s research before anything else doesn’t put him in a very sympathetic light. “Is Felix, the younger Alexius, still alive, then?”

 The Iron Bull shrugs, while Cassandra glares suspiciously.

 “Probably,” the Iron Bull says.

 This is where Dorian learns that not only have Cassandra and the Iron Bull been enjoying the Venatori’s hospitality all this time, but they’ve been unwillingly assisting in Gereon’s experiments with the Blight. As have Leliana the Spymaster and Jude’s sister, Lessa Trevelyan, who are apparently also imprisoned somewhere here in Redcliffe.

 Misery truly does love company.

 Neither the Iron Bull nor Cassandra have seen the younger Alexius, but given that they’ve seen the elder Alexius on a dedicated basis, there is a general assumption that his son is still alive. Probably.

 Neither of them seem particularly fond of Felix. Nor, accordingly, of Dorian.

 Dorian still breaks the enchantments on the Iron Bull’s cell, because he’s an incredibly kind man like that, and because the angry not-Qunari lady asked him to. He stands back as Adaar breaks open the cell itself and the Iron Bull hauls himself to his feet and then, limping slightly, out of the cell.

 “I’m more interested in ‘forces’,” Adaar says. “Him and what army? Did Tevinter decide to fall in with the cult and finally try to invade the rest of the world again? What about the Fereldans?”

 “You’d be better off asking someone who hasn’t been staring at the same walls for a year,” the Iron Bull says, as he limps over to the dead guard in the middle of the room. “Archon hasn’t ‘bent the knee’, Tevinter’s north enough to keep out of most of the shit for now, but there’s still a whole lot of Vints throwing their lot behind the ‘winning side’.”

 “My countrymen do tend to do that,” Dorian admits to Adaar, because it’s true. “The Magisterium is made of some strong wills, but mostly of spines with the consistency of jelly.” He looks back to the Iron Bull. “That’s not nothing for someone who’s been whiling away his time staring at walls for a year.” 

 “Still got one good eye and at least half an ear,” the Iron Bull says, as he bends down with a grunt to loot the dead guard’s weapons. “Never met a Vint who could shut the fuck up.”

 “Ah. That’s… also regrettably true,” Dorian admits to Adaar. Tevinters do live to gossip and monologue. 

 The Iron Bull tosses the man’s sword towards Cassandra, who steps forward and catches it readily enough. She tests the weight of it and, despite her sickly thinness, begins to look much more like herself as she looks to Adaar.

 “The Venatori have been making thralls of the rebel mages and monsters of the Templars. This… blighted red lyrium…” Cassandra pauses, with fierce and furious disgust. “Do you remember how we received word, before… Redcliffe, that red lyrium had been found within the Templar Order?”

 “Like it was yesterday,” Adaar says.

 The Iron Bull snorts as he hauls himself to his feet. He doesn’t have a weapon, having given the only one to the Seeker as it was far too small for his hands, but he looks no less dangerous for it.

 Dorian looks between the three of them, because… he wasn’t told of that. He’s not surprised or particularly offended, per se, but he’s a bit miffed to have been left out of this loop nevertheless. He would have liked to have been aware of red lyrium before seeing the worst of it.

 “Templars are more susceptible than most to this red lyrium,” Cassandra explains, scowling. “The situation at Therinfal Redoubt must have been far worse than we ever could have imagined. This… Elder One and the Venatori have… some unnatural power over this red lyrium. It has allowed them to bend both the mages and the Templars to their will, and turn them on the rest of Thedas.”   

 “There are some of them around Redcliffe,” the Iron Bull says. “One of the Vints, Sidonius, likes having them on a leash. You’ll know them when you see them. Hard to miss giant, glowing red monsters.”

 “If only,” Cassandra sneers, though her expression then becomes solemn. “With our and our allies' defeat at Redcliffe, Ferelden was cast into chaos. It forced a full and open conflict between the Venatori and the Queen, to which the Venatori brought these powers that it seems none of us were prepared to face. We do not know what has become of the Inquisition, save that remnants of it still cause the Venatori much grief.” The scowl returns. “Though not nearly as much grief as they deserve.”

 “The Vint Sidonius likes to take it out on us,” the Iron Bull adds, with a shrug that’s far too careless for his words. “He took Leliana out of her cell-” He nods towards the third cell, the last one that’s not covered in red lyrium. “-for ‘questioning’ again a couple hours ago.”

 “Well… we’ll have to pay him a visit, then,” Adaar says, in the way that suggests it won’t be a nice visit. No, Pius Sidonius, who’s supposed to be dead, will soon be joining his men as a body on the floor.

 “I’d like that, Boss,” the Iron Bull says, with a wide and dangerous grin.

 Dorian wouldn’t mind murdering a fellow countryman who has apparently helped send Ferelden into chaos, enslaved rebellions and orders alike, and is currently waging war on all of Thedas. Is it even considered to be “murder” when it’s war? Assassination is the term for politically motivated murder. When it’s war, however Dorian thinks it’s just called “killing”.

 But what Dorian would truly like at the moment, what he wants nothing more than to do, is ask what’s become of Felicita. He knows it’s pointless. Cassandra and the Iron Bull have already admitting to having little insight into what became of the Inquisition at large, and the world beyond that.

 Felix is probably alive, but… in what state, Dorian doesn’t like to imagine. Has the Elder One fulfilled his promise to Gereon and cured the Blight? If Gereon’s research continues, Dorian doubts it.

 Having some insight into Felix and Gereon makes the not knowing about Felicita worse. It had been easier to ignore the thought of what might have happened to his daughter, beyond the fact that she must think him long dead, without the presence of people he knew. It had been so much easier to pretend that this endless nightmare was happening only to other people before.

 “What about Lessa?” Adaar asks. “She’s here, right? Where?”

 The dread rushes up Dorian’s spine even before Cassanda and the Iron Bull exchange a solemn look. Before the both of them look pointedly towards the fourth cell in this room – towards the corner with the massive red lyrium formation inside, its branches creeping out over the floor and ceiling.

 “Oh,” Adaar says quietly. “…Shit.”

 “Yeah,” the Iron Bull says, resigned. “If you want to know what a Red Templar looks like, there it is.”

 Dorian’s curiosity has always led him into situations he’s later regretted in some form or another. No one becomes a necromancer without having a morbid sense of curiosity. Much more, no one studies time magic unless they’re a fool. Dorian continues that delightful tradition now, as he steps forward and foolishly, morbidly, and regrettably looks into the blighted cell beside the Iron Bull’s.

 Inside the red lyrium formation… well, no… the tall woman chained and hanging from the wall is the red lyrium formation. Enormous, eerie crystals have grown out of her blighted wounds, her scarred face, and her bloddy limbs. Into the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and each other. She’s not so much a ghoul as a woman becoming a blighted, crystal tree, like something out of ancient, gruesome legend. Any movement on her part would break something, from the crystal pulsing from her shoulder and growing into her head… to the crystals growing out of her mouth that have pierced her cheek and become her jaw.

 Yet Lessa Trevelyan doesn’t move. All she does is stare ahead, with one reddened and empty eye, some small lyrium crystals growing around her eyelashes like tears. She’d look like a statue if she wasn’t so blighted and bloody. She looks like a curse half-finished… a corruption half-formed…  

 Dorian can’t even tell if she’s alive. Much to his sickened surprise, he dearly hopes she isn’t.

 He can’t even begin to imagine describing this to Jude, wherever the man might be in this awful version of the world.

 “Shit,” Adaar breathes quietly, just behind him.

 “Yeah, like that, only moving,” the Iron Bull says. “Fast-moving. Watch out.”

 Dorian turns to look at him and the Qunari is still more resigned than solemn, or horrified, as he looks steadily back. The Iron Bull hasn’t come closer for a better look. There’s a look, both in his reddened eye and his missing, bleeding wound, that he knows the sight too well already.

 “They are unnaturally strong, and near mindless in their monstrosity,” Cassandra adds grimly, beside him. “It is much like fighting darkspawn, if darkspawn were made partially of lyrium crystal.”

 “That’s… incredibly horrifying,” Dorian says, for lack of anything better to say.

 There’s not really words for things as nightmarish as this. When he came South, fleeing the Venatori with vague intentions of at least stopping Gereon, he never imagined anything like this. He doesn’t know if he even could have conceived of anything like this. Dorian generously imagined the end of the world as immediate unravelling, not… anything as gradual or gruesome as this. Who would have thought that the end of the world be so slow? 

 “What a fucking mess,” Dorian murmurs.

 The Iron Bull grins again, wide and dangerously sharp. “You haven’t seen anything yet, Vint.”

 “Allow a man his delusions, please,” Dorian answers.

 “I would rather not,” Cassandra interjects darkly. “Is that not how all this happened?”

 “Ah, well… you have a… not terrible point there.”

 “I’m really going to scream at some point,” Adaar says quietly, beside him, ashen-faced. She’s still staring at the glowing, growing thing that used to be Lessa Trevelyan, an ex-Templar.  

 “I’ll join you,” Dorian says weakly.

 He doesn’t look back. He’s had enough, and he apparently needs to prepare himself for more. Dear Maker, he’s losing track of every new horror they’re encountering here. He feels as though he’s been swept away, and the wild motions of it all are threatening his increasing nausea with a knife.

 Dear Maker, Gereon. What have you done?


 ~ a plan to end the world

 “So, Boss, what’s the plan?” the Iron Bull demands, as they move along.

 “Find Leliana, kill every Venatori between us and Alexius, and then take Alexius’ amulet,” Adaar answers succinctly. “Dorian believes he can send us back to the point where we disappeared. Undo… well… everything that’s happened since we left.”

 The Iron Bull and Cassandra both stop and look at Dorian. Dorian looks desperately towards Adaar. The Iron Bull and Cassandra’s blighted stares are very intense, uncomfortable, and judgemental.

 “Starting over would be easier than trying to fix this fucking mess,” the Iron Bull says finally.

 “Would it work?” Cassandra demands. “How would it work?”

 “Ah, well…”

 Dorian repeats, briefly, the proposal he made to Adaar. With enough mana, Gereon’s amulet, Dorian’s staff, Adaar’s Mark, and the remnants of their spells in the main hall… Dorian may be able to send them back. It should work. He’s confident in Felix’s notes and more than desperate enough to try.

 What better time than the end of the world for terrible, desperate ideas?

 Unfortunately, Cassandra asks the exact question that Dorian was rather hoping she wouldn’t. The uncomfortable fact that he’s been realizing as they’ve continued through this blighted future.

 “What happens to us, when all this is undone?” Cassandra asks.

 Dorian has two answers for this, one of them more truthful than the other. The first answer for this is that he doesn’t know. Time magic on this scale is unprecedented and unstudied. He frankly can’t be entirely sure what will happen to this world they’re leaving behind and all the people in it. He might never know. The second answer…

 “Everything should be undone,” Dorian explains. “I, well, you should return to being as you were, before, with no memory of any of this. It should be as though everything that’s happened since we left… simply never happened in the first place.”

 No dungeons full of red lyrium and blighted Tranquil. No Venatori and their Elder One waging war on the rest of Thedas with armies of enslaved mages and red lyrium Templar monsters. It sounds rather delightful and infinitely preferable to Dorian.

 And yet the silence, in this hallway in the Redcliffe dungeons, is nearly unbearable.

 “‘Should be’,” the Iron Bull repeats.

 “There’s always that unfortunate room for error, which should, in this case, be very slim if-”

 “Dorian, shut up,” Adaar says.

 Though Dorian usually doesn’t appreciate being ordered about, he’s very grateful for this reprieve. Time magic is agonizing to attempt to explain on the best of days. One might think the Iron Bull and Cassandra Pentaghast might be grateful to learn that all their suffering will be undone, and the world given a second chance in a far less perilous state, but he hasn’t the faintest how to explain this is by far their best option. They’re blighted, for the Maker’s sake.

 The unbearable silence continues until Dorian’s skin feels like it might crawl off him.

 “I feared you had come too late,” Cassandra says finally. “And yet it appears you are a blessing from the Maker and His Bride after all. Returned to undo what never should have come to pass.”

 Adaar stares back at Cassandra with an immeasurable look.

 Dorian feels it would be inappropriate to speak up and point out that it’s very unlikely the Maker had anything to do with this. If He did, the Maker frankly has a sense of humour that ought to be taken out back and killed. Which would not be a new revelation, of course, but still. Dorian and Adaar are here now because Gereon’s gone mad with desperation and Dorian made a terrible mistake while trying desperately to stop him.

 In the end, Adaar doesn’t say anything, and looks to the Iron Bull.

 The Iron Bull’s expression is much less… hopeful and solemnly martyred than the Seeker’s. His expression is somehow even more unreadable than Adaar’s. His bloodied, one-eyed stare is intense to the point where Dorian feels somewhat like he’s being seen through entirely. Judged and damned.

 Thankfully, the Iron Bull’s stare is concerned more with Adaar than Dorian.

 “Is it to be, the Iron Bull?” Adaar says evenly.

  After several seconds, one side of the Iron Bull’s mouth quirks up, and he answers with a far too casual shrug. “Struggle is only an illusion, anyway,” he says, in a way that’s both merry and grim. “It’s your call, Boss, which world is salvageable. This one is a ‘fucking mess’.”

 Adaar stares, then nods. “Good,” she says.

 It’s all she says on the subject.

 “Now how do we get out of here? Where do we find Leliana and this Vint, Sidonius?”

 “I know the way,” Cassandra volunteers solemnly, and steps forward to finally guide them to the end of these blighted Redcliffe dungeons. “I will guide you through this, Herald.”