One thing Bull could say for the Emprise—you weren’t in any danger of overheating during a long day of travel and fighting, like in the Hissing Wastes, for example. Working up a sweat felt nice in the cold, as long as you remembered to wipe down and stay dry. And fighting was always fun—killing bad guys, putting an end to their dirty plotting, all in a good day’s work.
It was another good fight, and Bull was happily relieving the world of some more Red Templars, when suddenly everything went wrong.
He saw the behemoth and roared a challenge, but the damn thing had already picked another target and started charging, and Dorian was framing a barrier on Trevelyan. The big mess of red lyrium and deformed flesh was almost on top of him when Dorian finally dodged…hit ice and went down, took a hard kick to the ribs, and went sliding off a sharp edge and out of sight.
The fight was a blur after that, Bull frantically carving his way through all these fucking red things that kept getting between him and the last place he’d seen Dorian. Finally, he reached the edge—it was a deep crevasse of rocks and ice, with an ominous red glow from the shadowy bottom.
He could see the shape of a body some fifteen feet below—a silhouette against the red light of a massive growth of crystal.
“Dorian! Dorian! Answer me, big guy!” Bull squeezed his eyes shut, trying to clear the bright glare of snow from them so his sight could adjust quicker to the dark hole.
A hand on his shoulder. “Is he all right?” Trevelyan crouched beside him, squinting. “Dorian! You down there?”
Bull was scanning the sheer walls of ice-covered rock, already stripping off his most cumbersome gear. “Hang on, Dorian!”
The hand on his arm yanked him back. “Maker, Bull, you’ll never fit down there, don’t be ridiculous…”
“Hey.” Sera, peering over his other shoulder, her voice dead serious and quiet, for once. “Fancybritches ain’t moving.”
He was lying down—rather surprising, as he wasn’t sure how he’d come to be there.
He couldn’t move, either, which was even more curious.
“I understand, my son. I know you think me blind to your point of view, but I want you to see that I do understand you. After all, you are not the first Pavus to be faced with a choice between your duty to this house and your own happiness.”
His surroundings were becoming clearer—his father’s study. And suddenly, Dorian’s stomach was ice as he realized why he couldn’t move.
“I shall not weary you with my own sorrows. I only want you to know that I, too, once had many hopes and dreams that I discovered were at odds with my position, my duty. I once fought with my own father with many of the words you now throw at me. In the end, Dorian, I took my place, and I fear I shall never be able to tell you how much it cost me.”
There was an eerie humming all around, and a metallic scent that sent shivers of panic down Dorian’s spine. He tried to move, to fight, but it felt as if his limbs were not responding. The restraints might disappear, and he’d still be helpless. Helpless and terrified and sick.
“And yet you turn and make the same demands of me? If you truly had to make a great sacrifice for House Pavus, I might have expected some empathy.”
A sigh. “My son, it is because I understand that I must insist. I know it is a bleak life, but I also know you will survive it, as I have. And I must insist that you obey me, as I obeyed my father, or all the years I have given to this House will come to nothing. Everything I longed for and gave up will become a meaningless sacrifice if you refuse your place now, Dorian.”
Dorian kept the tremor out of his voice. “I don’t seem to be in a position to refuse or accept anything at the moment.” The study around him was familiar, yet the ritual trappings were strange and horrifying, and he knew in his gut what it was all for.
His father finally stepped into view. His face was heavily lined; his eyes were in shadow. “Do not fear, Dorian. You will make the right choice—later. Now, I do this because I love you, my son. I can spare you the misery I have lived with. When you take your place in House Pavus, you will not be as burdened with your sacrifice as I have been. Perhaps you will even be happy. This is all I can give you.”
Tears blurred his vision, panic choked him, and all Dorian could see were bloody hands, his father’s hands, the hands that had shown him how to frame his earliest spells, the hands that had patted his head for every success in his studies as a child, the hands that held his face as his father’s eyes glowed with pride when Dorian was named Enchanter. Hands dripping red, metallic scent all around, everything vibrating lowly with that humming tune…
And Dorian tried to scream, but he couldn’t draw breath…
And it was all gone in a moment, and there was pain instead, as he struggled to open his eyes.
Bull had almost thrown himself into the crevasse and damn the consequences to his own body. Only Trevelyan’s stern order had backed him off, but he still felt the urge in every inch of his body. He kept his eyes fixed on Dorian’s still form, the red light around him pulsing so faintly—evil, evil shit. It kept tricking his eyes, making him think Dorian had moved. He hadn’t. Then he wasn’t sure if Dorian was breathing or not. He thought he could see his back rise and fall, just slightly, but that might be the red lyrium glowing…
“He ain’t dead.” Sera. Bull had her legs, holding her down into the hole so she could see. Trevelyan was raiding bodies and barrels and every nearby nook and cranny. He hadn’t come up with more than three feet of rope, yet. “Head’s bleedin’ pretty bad…shite.” She tapped to be lifted and Bull set her on her feet in the snow.
“He’s alive?” Bull pressed, breathless, unable to look at Sera. His eyes kept straining after the crooked shadow that was Dorian.
“He fell into the splits those shite crystals make. His leg’s jammed into one crack, looks shite. One arm’s stuck too, probably popped his shoulder out. Head’s bleedin’ a lot, but if he wakes up soon that’s all right, yeah?”
Trevelyan’s boots in the snow, stumbling. “Sera!” His voice got closer. “Sera, there’s nothing here we can use. You’re fastest—get back to camp. Get people, ropes, ladders, climbing gear, whatever we have. And healers.”
Bull heard Sera race off, light-footed even in the crunching snow.
“Let me go down there, boss.” His voice was raw and thin, and Bull couldn’t help it. “I can probably land on that flat edge of lyrium there…”
“And then you’d be just as stuck.” Trevelyan was trying to be gentle, but he was still just as firm. No arguing. “You can’t climb that rock face, Bull, and you won’t be able to hand him up, it’s too far. And then I have two fighters sitting around on top of red lyrium for Maker knows how long. Not happening.”
Bull ground his teeth until he felt like they might break. Then he punched the frozen ground. “Dorian!” But Dorian didn’t wake up.
“Come on.” Trevelyan pulled at his arm. “I need your pack. Got any healing potions?”
“Yeah, boss.” He shifted absently, handing it over, but all he saw was the red glow on Dorian’s still face. “Yeah, I got a couple. Here.”
Opening his eyes was possibly the most arduous task Dorian had faced in recent memory. He felt sleepy and sluggish, but it wasn’t that. There was sharp pain from more than one place in his body, but it wasn’t that either—sensations were sort of distant and fuzzy. The odd, humming vibration made everything else hard to focus on.
When he finally did get his eyes to open a crack, he saw his own hand—red. A red light and a dripping red wetness, and for a moment he nearly lost consciousness again, smacked in the face with sheer terror.
Then a snowflake drifted down and settled on his skin and slowly began to melt. Dorian blinked, and things began to come into focus—more snowflakes, first of all, but he wasn’t cold. He was almost strangely warm, actually.
He thought someone might be calling his name, but the humming made it all hard to hear.
He groaned softly and tried to move, only to gasp as bolts of pain shot through him.
“Oh Dorian, hold still, won’t you?”
“Ah, what am I saying? Of course you’ll thrash; you always fight, even when it accomplishes nothing but bringing you more pain.”
A familiar, beautiful, smiling face came into view—Rilienus, crouching into his line of sight. “Hush, darling. Be still. You need your strength.”
Unsure why, Dorian felt somehow that this much, at least, was true. His eyes drifted closed again of their own accord, and he relaxed against the warmth as the sharp pain faded back to a dull throb. He felt Rilienus sit down close to him. Dorian didn’t really know when it started, but soon he was listening to Rilienus hum a little song that was echoing somewhere in the back of his own mind.
His eyes blinked open as he sleepily grunted, “Hmm?”
“Shh. It’s just a dream; pay it no mind.”
The music was getting louder; rather tasteless and annoying, really. It made Dorian petulant. “More likely you are the dream,” he grumbled.
A light, airy laugh that had always made Dorian’s heart flutter. “Shall I vanish, then? Are you so eager to leave me, my dearest?”
Dorian frowned. Endearments from Rilienus had always made him feel so breathlessly happy, but that feeling, too, was muted by the humming song that wouldn’t stop. “You’re one to talk. You left me, as I recall.”
“Ah, Dorian.” Voice warm and knowing, and then Rilienus was lying on his stomach, looking him in the eyes. Dorian remembered him spread across red sheets, just like this—only the sheets hadn’t glowed. “I married, darling, but you were the one who saw that as an end.”
“Well, it was.” Dorian struggled to move his arm. Slowly, slowly he managed to lift it and brush fingers through his hair—or he started to. They quickly got stuck in something wet, and the pain came back. He let his hand fall again, and his fingers were redder than before. That…isn’t right…
“It was only an end to your fantasy that we’d live together forever, openly in love. But you knew it was a fantasy from the beginning. I really thought you’d surrender to reality when the time came. It was all rather shocking, you know, that you abandoned me after my marriage. What a terrible wedding gift.”
“Oh, forgive me,” Dorian mumbled. “I suppose I should have snuck into the bridal suite and given you a proper wedding night.”
A wry smile. “Well, it was empty for you. My wife certainly wasn’t there.”
Dorian felt sick, and that damn music was starting to make him dizzy as well. “Kaffas, don’t say such things. You knew I didn’t want to be your dirty little secret.”
A sigh—a familiar one. “Well, we’d have been each others’ if you’d married Livia. That was the realistic plan—secret lovers, and allies in society and politics. A thing like that between us, and we could have counted on a good five years of trust, I think, before something came along to make one of us betray the other. Think of it, Dorian! Five years of a solid ally in the Magisterium! We could have really done something with that.”
“What are you talking about?” Dorian closed his eyes again. Rilienus’ face was just too beautiful, and he wanted to throw up.
The voice continued, as light and warm as ever. “Oh, my darling, you really don’t understand, do you? You talk about Tevinter and the Magisterium, and to these poor savages you probably sound like quite the authority. But you haven’t really been in the Magisterium yet, have you? You’re not a magister, as you so often remind everyone. You don’t really know what it’s like.” There was a pause, but no sound. Dorian managed to crack one eye open and saw Rilienus shifting to sit on a smooth red slab, but his clothing made no sound of rustling that Dorian could hear. “It’s death to be without allies, Dorian. Even the Archon can’t protect himself without allies. They’re priceless beyond belief. A magister alone never lasts long. That’s why heirs are so important, you know. It’s so much less worthwhile to assassinate a magister who has heirs ready to step into his place. I’m rather shocked your father is still living, actually. Mine would not be, if I had embraced scandal and pariah-hood as you did.”
“Ugh, shut up…” He tried to shift, and pain reminded him again that he couldn’t.
“Charming.” Rilienus laughed. It didn’t sound so pretty this time. “Yes, being a walking scandal is thrilling, until your father dies for it. You’re easy to ignore right now—just an altus in the far-off South, doing something silly with the southern Chantry. Magister Dorian Pavus though—if he clings to his scandals, he’ll be killed for them.”
“Dorian! Talk to me, big guy, let me know—”
“You’ll be killed for things like that, you know. It’s all just a rumor right now—so ridiculous it’s considered rather poor taste to even repeat.” A laugh. “You talk of dirty little secrets. Come home and let them find out about him, and darling, you won’t last a month.”
“Rilienus?” Dorian slowly, painfully lifted his head, pulling his arm under himself and using it to prop his chin up.
“Come on, big guy, say something! Let me know you can hear me! Dorian!”
Trevelyan was lashing the bits of rope together—he’d unbraided them to make them longer, then tied potions into a little scrap of cloth. They’d break if thrown down, but maybe this way they could lower the potions to Dorian. The rope wouldn’t be strong enough to bring him back up, but it would be just long enough to carry some help down—if Dorian was awake to receive it.
“Did he move?”
“I saw his arm move, I know it.” He was pretty sure, anyway. Fucking shit one eye. The lack of depth perception and the tricky light were playing with Bull’s vision. He needed Dorian to speak.
“Dorian! Answer me!” Please, please, please answer…
Trevelyan heard it too. He sat up straight and shuffled over to the edge to look down. “He’s awake!”
“Dorian! I’m here, big guy!” Bull felt lightheaded with relief at hearing his Kadan’s voice. He’d been half convinced Dorian had already bled out. “We’re going to get you out of there, just hang on!”
“Bull, I—” A sudden fit of coughing. When it ended, Dorian’s voice was much quieter. “Bull, I can’t shout. Can you still hear?”
“Is he all right?”
“Shhh! He can’t yell, but I can still hear him. Stay quiet for me.” Then, louder, “I hear you! Keep talking to me, Kadan.”
He could barely hear the response echoing up the sides of the crevasse. “That’s good. Shouting makes my head throb terribly. I’ll talk as loud as I can. I…don’t think I can move, however.”
“You look like you’re stuck, big guy. Your leg and your arm are pinned in the…” Bull swallowed. “In between the crystals.”
There was a pause, a frighteningly long one. Then, “Vishante kaffas.”
So. Red lyrium.
That explained the state his head was in, at least. Dorian managed to raise his eyes enough to see the light of day at the top of the crevasse he was in, and he promptly felt dread settle in the pit of his stomach. There was no climbing that, even with working arms and legs. He was flat-out lying on red lyrium, and he wouldn’t be getting away from it any time soon. Bull was still talking to him, calling down a detailed update. It was at least an hour back to camp, though, even for Sera, and those following her back to help would take longer.
The first thing he turned to was magic. Dorian’s eyes flicked around, taking in the situation. His leg was broken and half-crushed where he’d fallen into the joints between the lyrium crystals. He tried to move it and it hurt exquisitely, but one good yank would do it, he thought. Then there was his arm. He couldn’t move it or feel much of anything; his shoulder was definitely dislocated. But if he could get his other arm around, he could lift it free of the lyrium.
He measured the distance above him. Could he hit himself hard enough with a force spell to rip his leg free and send him up that high? Bull would catch him if he just got to the edge of the crevasse. He’d probably compound the damage to his limbs considerably, but the most vital thing, at the moment, was to get the fuck away from this red lyrium. He carefully reached for the Fade, trying not to make his head hurt any worse…
“I wouldn’t do that, child.”
The cold, disinterested voice came from out of his line of sight, but Dorian didn’t need to see her to know.
“It should be quite obvious to you that the veil has been worn thin by all this…tasteless red stuff.” He could see her disapproving scowl and her dismissive hand wave in his mind. “You’re sprawling inelegantly on Blighted raw magic. Surely I do not need to caution you about opening yourself to the Fade at a time like this.”
“I think any demons I might risk attracting have already noticed, mother,” he mumbled.
She tsked. “Speak up and enunciate, Dorian. Honestly.”
“You still with me, Kadan? We’re lowering down some potions, all right? Help you mend that head wound. Dorian? Answer me if you heard me!”
He raised his voice as far as he could. “I heard! Proceed.”
The whole exchange prompted a sigh so blatantly disappointed that nothing else needed to be said, really. Not that Dorian had been eager to know what his mother might say about the Bull.
A little pouch hovered into view and rested on the crystal in front of him. Dorian reached out with his good arm and tugged it open to reveal two elfroots and a lyrium potion, which he ignored. The last thing he needed right now was more mana to connect him better to the Fade.
“There, that’s a good boy, little master. You drink that down, now, and all will be well in a moment.”
Still out of sight, the voice had shifted, aged, and become his old nursemaid—long dead, he knew, but when it came to the role of “mother” in his life, such as it was, there were two voices that shared the position.
“Rub a little on that gash, little master. It’ll help stop the bleeding, now.”
Sluggishly, Dorian obeyed, his head throbbing as he touched the wound. Then he drained the rest of the elfroot. Some of the pain faded, and he began to twist, carefully, trying to reach his dislocated arm and pull it free.
“What an incorrigible child. As if that would help.”
Dorian grit his teeth. “Pardon me, mother, but I would be a little more comfortable with my limbs somewhat less akimbo.”
“Just as you like, I suppose.”
A thin, old voice began to hum, singing along with the song Dorian was desperately trying not to hear.
“Easy, Kadan! Don’t hurt yourself. Boss thinks we can get you out of there when the others get back. We’ll get some slings around your arm and leg to lift them free, and—”
“What a brute,” his mother blandly commented. Mamie’s voice continued to sing softly, uninterrupted. “I thought I had moved beyond ever being shocked by your abysmally poor choices, you know, but you do have such a genius for disappointing me, child.”
Mamie’s singing carried on, hypnotically rising and falling with the thrumming of the lyrium.
“I really have no interest in your opinion. He cares for me a great deal more than you ever did.”
He could hear her smiling coldly. “At least I never lied to you, child. I never gave you platitudes or false affection.”
Dorian’s throat tightened. “Neither has he.”
The silence was long. Then—“Are you so sure of that?”
A rift opened, almost right on top of their heads, and Bull and the Inquisitor suddenly found themselves ass-deep in demons—and all Bull cared was that this was keeping him from watching over Dorian. He obsessively guarded the crack in the earth that held Dorian, beating back and shredding anything that crawled a little too close. It was a hard fight, with only the two of them; infuriating, because it took so long to deal with everything and seal the damn rift again. When Trevelyan finally did and the air cracked and was silent, Bull all but threw himself back at the mouth of the crevasse.
“It’s all right now, we took care of it! Dorian? You still with me?”
The answer was slow, and hard to hear. “…Still here.” That was all. Bull felt cold settle in his stomach. Dorian should have used a lot more syllables than that.
“I’m going up to that lookout point to see if I can catch sight of anyone coming.” The boss, wrapping a bandage around his left arm. “I won’t be long.”
“Right.” He raised his voice. “Boss is going to check if help is coming yet! I’m going to stay right here, okay?”
He heard something in answer, but it was too mumbled and indistinct to make out the words. Bull felt hollow inside, hung somewhere between trembling uncontrollably and a deadly, unshakable calm. His heart was dying.
“See the new crystals growing here, Dorian? They’re being fed by the pool of your blood.” A weathered hand, always with ink stains on the knuckles, pointed to the red surface beside Dorian’s head. “They’ll keep growing out of it, looking for the source. Ah, look there—your leg.”
Don’t look. Don’t listen.
“Ah, my boy, you should have moved your leg sooner. The lyrium has not far to go to reach your wounds. I think little shards of it are already inside you. Not good, Dorian.”
“What do you want?” he slurred. He didn’t need some specter of Alexius telling him he was poisoned. He could damn well feel it himself.
“Nothing, Dorian. I thought we might talk a little. We can sit quietly, if you prefer.”
“You haven’t offered me anything, yet. Aren’t you going to promise to get me out of here and save my life—in exchange for a little space in my mind to set up house?”
A gentle pat on his back. “No, no. I’ll make no offers. Have no fear.”
“Is that so? I’ve attracted quite an unusual demon, haven’t I?”
A thoughtful hum—Alexius always did that when Dorian suggested some new technique or theory or test. “I suppose I may seem that way. To me, you see, there is little purpose in making offers.” The aged face smiled almost-kindly at him. “The red lyrium has you already. Why should I give you anything? If I wait a little longer, I can take what’s left of you when your will to resist me is gone.”
Dorian choked. He drew in a shaking breath. “You won’t get far. My friends are powerful. They’ll kill me, and you with me.” Oh Bull. I’m sorry.
Another hum. “Perhaps. I think I can get away. Well—we shall see very soon, Dorian. Very soon.”
The first arrival of help heralded a sudden flurry of activity, everyone rushing into action. Trevelyan had run down to meet the people coming up, assessed what new supplies they had, and started giving orders before they even got back to Bull and Dorian. Now he was dragging Bull away from the crevasse so that the lightest and thinnest scouts—three elves—could have room to rappel down into the hole. They had all sorts of ropes tied off, gear in hand to fashion a hammock for Dorian, and the strictest instructions not to touch the red lyrium or the man they were rescuing.
Bull watched from a far edge—he could barely see what was happening. He saw them looping slings under Dorian’s leg to pull it free of the lyrium without touching him, and he physically shook, close to panic, as Dorian cried out in pain.
Some of their other companions had arrived and were rapidly talking with Trevelyan. “We can heal any injuries, Inquisitor, but if he’s been in direct contact with red lyrium all this time…”
Solas slowly shook his head. “I know of no method for purging someone corrupted by red lyrium. There is no healing technique to remove it.”
“The song is inside him, whispering, winding…”
A pause. Bull blinked his one eye rapidly, trying to keep a clear view of Dorian. Trevelyan sounded grim. “Varric?”
“I’ve seen that shit get into people in more ways that I ever wanted to, but I haven’t seen anyone get it out, yet. Bartrand’s still…I don’t know. Sparkler isn’t a dwarf…I don’t know if that’s in his favor, though. We’re resistant to the blue kind, but the red shit is something else.”
“It has the Blight,” Trevelyan agreed. “We don’t have a cure for that, except becoming a Warden. Something tells me Dorian won’t last the two weeks it would take to get him to our Warden allies.” He paused, probably glancing around while Bull forgot to breathe. “Anyone else? Cassandra?”
After a pause, the Seeker slowly began, “I do not know if this will help, but…the Seekers are incorruptible. Because of our vigil, we are resistant to the red lyrium’s poison. But the vigil is always the end of many months of preparation, and I do not know if it will even have an effect on someone who is already tainted. Still, given the lack of alternatives, perhaps we should try?”
“Do it.” Bull didn’t look away from the crevasse—they almost had Dorian in the hammock-sling-thing by now, almost ready to start bringing him up. “Prepare whatever you need for it. Dorian will do it.” Bull just knew. “He’ll want to try. And anything he tries, he does perfectly. He’ll make it work.”
A brief silence. Then—“The veil is very thin here. Making a connection with a spirit should be easier than usual…but the amount of red lyrium is a serious problem. Dorian is much more likely to encounter demons than a spirit that can help him. I don’t know that there are many benevolent spirits around here. The Blight drives them away.”
“I’ll find one.” Cole’s eager voice. “I can’t help from this side, but I can find a friend and ask it to come.”
Trevelyan agreed, and Cole vanished, but Solas added a caution, “Even if there is a friendly spirit near, it must be drawn by its matching attribute in Dorian. A spirit of wisdom, for example, cannot touch someone who isn’t wise.”
“Well.” Trevelyan sighed. “Dorian always tells us he’s blessed with every good quality known to man. I guess we’ll see if that’s true.”
“It’s true,” Bull breathed, watching Dorian begin to rise toward the opening of the crevasse. “He’s a good guy. It will be fine.”
Then they raised Dorian into the light and laid him gently on the snow, and Bull was right there waiting, his damned single eye swimming with tears and blurring the horrible sight of Dorian’s skin, cracked with red veins. Those beautiful eyes looked at him, and there was glowing red instead of gray, and Bull didn’t even hesitate. He gathered Dorian into his arms. He held his heart close to his chest, cradling Dorian’s head in one hand.
“Bull, no…” There was a faint gravelly echo to Dorian’s lovely voice. “You mustn’t touch me…” He sagged in Bull’s arms, grasping his larger wrist, pushing weakly but squeezing so much tighter.
Bull felt the world splintering at the sight of his heart so hurt, so smeared with something horrible and evil. But he didn’t let go.
He heard a quiet voice speaking to Dorian. “It’s all right…for a moment, at least. I saw what he was about to do and got a barrier on him in time.” Then, a tap to his shoulder. “Two minutes at most, Iron Bull.”
He managed to nod, eyes fixed on Dorian’s face. He heard the boss come over. “Bring him to the stretcher. We’re setting up a tent a little way off—away from the red lyrium.” He nodded again, gathered Dorian gently, and rose.
“Yeah, Kadan?” It was amazing he could get words out past the lump in his throat.
“I have to tell you…in case I…”
His grip tightened, but he didn’t interrupt. He wanted to. He wanted to hush Dorian and tell him it would be fine, he would pull through this. He didn’t want to hear any parting confessions. But he let Dorian talk, because it wasn’t about what Bull wanted.
Dorian swallowed, but the harsh echo didn’t leave his voice. “You are…Amatus. The best man. Worth anything. Everything.” Bull felt like he was dying. His heart was dying, and he knew he wouldn’t go on without his heart. Strong, elegant fingers with red glowing under the fingernails rose to touch his face. “I’m glad I fell in love with you.”
“Dorian…Kadan.” His voice broke there, but somehow, that was all he really needed to say.
The song was louder than everything, now—all the noise of half the camp suddenly relocated to this remote snowy ruin. It nearly drowned out Cassandra’s explanation of the vigil, or Trevelyan’s explanation of the precautions they would take, should the worst happen—and by the way, the worst was Dorian becoming an abomination. Lovely.
The only thing he could reliably hear was every breath of the Bull beside him, and every soft word of reassurance Bull gave.
That…and the music.
There was a tent set up in the middle of a snowy clearing, surrounded by white-blanketed pines. It was quiet, and that was the important thing, according to Cassandra. For all the silence, however, the tent was absolutely surrounded by soldiers. That was for the bad outcome, according to Trevelyan.
Cole appeared, alliterating something that Dorian wasn’t in any condition to parse. Solas, thankfully, interpreted. “He found a spirit in the Fade and brought it to this area. It’s waiting, but it cannot touch you of its own will. It is a spirit of faith. It can only respond to your own faith.”
He didn’t say anything to that. This was the best they could offer. It wasn’t their fault Dorian had never been a man of very strong faith.
Iron Bull brushed his hair back, straightening the no-doubt tousled disaster for him before he leaned down and kissed Dorian’s brow. “I’ll be right here, Kadan, watching over you. I know you can do this.”
His mouth twisted in a wry smile. “They should have brought you the faith spirit,” he slurred, and then Bull’s callused hand was slipping away as they carried Dorian’s stretcher into the tent.
Then there was nothing but a candle in front of him, flickering briefly in the rush of air as the tent flap closed, then stilling.
That, and Felix.
“There are worse things than dying, Dorian.”
The smile, the dark malevolence of it…
“Your impression of Felix Alexius is considerably poorer than your other performances,” Dorian grunted. He tried to focus on the candle and remember the words of a prayer—any prayer would do. Unfortunately, his patchy memory of the Chant was failing him.
“I’m getting lazy,” the shape of Felix cheerfully pronounced, sitting across from him. “Time’s running out, you know.”
“Did you completely miss the entire regiment outside, not to mention the eight-foot qunari with the ten-stone battle axe? You must be suicidal.” Maker…Andraste…something about no darkness in the Maker’s light…
“Don’t you worry your pretty head about that, Dorian. I have a clever plan, you see.”
We’ll meet in Redcliff and stop Father by contacting… “Kaffas, stop stealing Felix’s words. This is terribly rude.”
The shape of Felix didn’t seem to be listening. “Spirits don’t get Blighted, you see. Flesh does. Slowly, painfully eaten away by Blight—Felix knew the feeling well. Now you understand how he felt all those months. How it felt to die of this.”
It was like acid in his veins, like cold inside that burned on the skin. He didn’t wonder anymore why Felix always seemed feverish, weak, getting cold sweats and barely able to eat. He was glad, though—At least Bull won’t have to watch me waste away for months.
“As I was saying—you won’t be Blighted anymore, once I have you. That eight-foot qunari you brag about will think he has you back. That axe is no good in the hands of someone with all that trust in you.”
Come on, Pavus, focus. The Maker doesn’t want you to become an abomination. That’s not what he gave us magic for. Think about that—thank the Maker for magic. Anyone who made magic and then gave it to you must be a decent sort.
“Pity they couldn’t find you Hope. You’re a lot more hopeful than you are faithful.” The demon laughed with Felix’s soft, happy laugh. Dorian swallowed roughly. Something tasted terrible—metallic and sickening.
Blessed…something about “against the corrupt and wicked”…was that meant to be about Andraste specifically, though? “I’m attempting to pray, you know. It isn’t like Felix to interrupt.”
The demon grinned. “Yes—Hope, that’s you. Foolish hope, too. Hope you can summon enough faith for this, when you know perfectly well you’re not Cassandra. Hope that your romance with the horned brute will somehow last forever, when you’ve nothing but a string of failures in your past. Failures you haven’t learned from, by the way. You’re just as selfish as you’ve always been, just as doomed to fail with this one, too.”
Dorian grit his teeth as the words of another prayer slipped away into blankness. “I beg your pardon, but for someone who so recently played everyone I’ve ever known, you’re remarkably quick to forget what they did to ruin those relationships. Bull and I are better because Bull is a better man.”
“Oh good, have faith in him, then.” The demon slowly smiled. “Except that won’t work either. He’s good, but he’s not perfect. Even if he doesn’t betray you, he can always die on you. Like this one did,” the apparition gestured to himself, to the form of Felix he wore. “And, of course, he was a professional liar…”
“Not anymore,” Dorian bit out. His throat hurt terribly.
“He doesn’t really understand love, even. He can read you very well, though—he can show you love, if that’s what you want to see.”
“That’s not what he’s doing,” Dorian growled. He was supposed to be praying, damn it. He had to shut this thing up before it was too late. He could barely think past the horrible song…
“And anyway, with your track record, you really don’t deserve him. Always putting yourself first the way you do—you’ll ruin that poor beast if he does try to stick around.”
Snarling, Dorian slammed a fist into the ground and pushed himself onto his good leg with the arm he was able to use. “Shut up!” he snapped, seething, with the taste of blood and corruption in his mouth. “It doesn’t matter! He may not be perfect, but he can love, and he loves me. And he will probably go and get himself killed defending someone who doesn’t deserve it, but he won’t betray me, and it doesn’t matter if we don’t last forever because what we have now is real. And I may not be a perfect man either and I probably don’t deserve him, but I choose him. I will take care of him because what we are is real and it’s worth everything. I know I didn’t make a mistake by falling in love with him.”
Suddenly, Dorian wasn’t looking at a demon wearing Felix’s face anymore. He wasn’t looking at…anything, really. Everything was white, in a flash that must have been deafening because all Dorian heard was silence. And for one moment, Dorian was severed from everything, and the only thing that existed was certainty.
Then it was all back—the candle, the cold tent, the dark presence trying to worm its way through his mind…and Dorian’s broken body gave one powerful heave, and black poured from his mouth. Shaking, Dorian vomited corruption for several agonizing moments…then nothing. It was over.
Repulsed, he scooted back on screaming limbs from the puddle of black bile. At the same time, he heard and felt a shriek of rage—but it wasn’t here, it was in the Fade. And yet, the veil was so thin…
The next moment, the tent shredded as a rift opened.
Shouts of alarm and a sudden rush to battle, and Dorian mind-blasted demons to get them away, but he couldn’t stand on his broken leg or do much of anything with one arm. Then he was scooped up, and Bull was shouting for Trevelyan and unfortunately jostling Dorian’s injuries rather badly, though there was nothing else he could have done, so Dorian bore the pain and clung to Bull’s massive shoulder with his good arm and blinked tears of relief and joy from his eyes.
A demon leaped up in their path, and Bull roared. A flurry of familiar arrows bought him a moment, and Bull set Dorian down as gently as he could in the snow. Then he took his stand over Dorian and hefted his axe and split the demon in half. Dorian half-twisted and immolated a demon trying to dart in on Bull’s blind side. His hands burned; he didn’t have his staff, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
Bull stayed planted by him, tearing apart anything that got too close, until Trevelyan finally got the rift sealed. Then he was on his knees in an instant, searching Dorian’s eyes. Dorian laughed against the lump in his throat and blinked the tears away. “Get off your bad leg, you lummox. Do you want us both carried back to Skyhold on stretchers?”
Bull’s gray nose went a funny purple color as tears spilled from his lone eye and he wrapped Dorian in the warmest, most carefully crushing hug imaginable. “Kadan,” he half-sobbed, half-laughed. “Kadan. I thought…”
“Yes, well. I’ve disproved your morose theories, obviously. Now get me out of this horrible snow and find me a healer.” Obediently, but still sniffling, Bull picked him up with the utmost care. He wouldn’t let go, either, but insisted on carrying Dorian back to camp by himself.
Dorian didn’t object. A stretcher was no more comfortable, and Bull was warmer. And somewhere along the way, he leaned his head against Bull’s chest and closed his eyes and whispered, “Amatus.”
After everything, that was all he really needed to say.