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Burning Hearts

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Chapter 1

They say if you needed a favor done, all you had to do was petition the Inquisition. Ask and you shall receive. But they say a lot about the Inquisition, not all of it the truth. Was the Inquisitor the Herald of Andraste? Was he sent by the maker himself? None, save few, truly knew the answer. He was a mystery to be admired, respected, even feared. And it was that fear that borne the actions of those who struck against him. Only two things were certain of the Inquisitor. One being that he was of Dalish origin and the other that he was most formidable in battle with a sword as long as he was tall.

 

 

 

It was finally quiet. At least for the moment. 'Rhen leaned against the heavy oak door leading to his quarters and allowed himself a small sigh of relief. It had been far too long since he allowed himself such luxury. In fact, he hadn't given much thought to anything since he found himself in Haven's dungeons. He glanced at his hand.  It didn't glow but 'Rhen could still feel the faint pulse of magic, his connection to the fade. Even after all this time he was still not used to it. 'Rhen had been a warrior all his life, his trust was in his sword. This, though? This was something else entirely. Magic was for mages and circles and... Well, others. What were the chances that he would be the one to end up with this. Then again, considering his luck this wasn't exactly surprising.  He pushed open the door and climbed up the steps, thoughts turning to events at Halamshiral.

'Rhen was no politician, that was Josephine's forte, and the song and dance he had to perform for the Orlesian nobility (on top of preventing an all out war) was more than a little exhausting. He was amazed things turned out as well as they had. The government did not collapse, Celene was still alive, and Florianne awaited judgement in the coldest and darkest cell in Skyhold. And yet 'Rhen would pay all the gold in Thedas to never return to Orlais. Everything was a game to those people, damned be the consequences. He longed for the simple days of his clan life and could not return soon enough.  There was one bright spot in all the chaos, though. One perfect moment. It felt foolish, but he wanted to tell someone, to shout from the rooftops, to revel in this happiness despite being wholly undeserving of it. But he couldn't. He didn't dare risk it. 'Rhen shook his head to clear his mind. No sense in dwelling on it. Instead, he turned his thoughts to Evelline. The corners of his mouth tugged ever so slightly upward as he imagined how much his sister must have grown since they parted ways. When he left the clan she was but 6 years of age. So full of hope and life, both vibrantly reflected in the green of her eyes.   If there was anyone he was fighting for, it was her. 'Rhen hadn’t known her long, but in the few years they’ve lived together, Evelline had come to mean everything to him. She was his reason for living. He didn’t have much time to visit as most of his travels took him out west past Orlais, and bringing the clan to Skyhold was out of the question. Especially after what happened at Haven. The further away from him they were, the safer they’d be. But he could at least send his keeper an update and finally send Evelline that wooden halla Blackwall had carved for him. It had been sitting on his desk gathering dust.  

'Rhen was so preoccupied with his own thoughts that he almost didn’t notice he had a visitor as he entered his quarters.  Few people ever visited him. Fewer still chose to stick around while he was away.

“Dorian!” he exclaimed, startled to see the mage sitting on his bed.  “I wasn’t expecting…” His voice trailed off as Dorian looked up to meet his gaze. It was ridiculously unfair that the mage didn't even have to try.  A simple look from him was all it took to make 'Rhen weak in the knees. He steadied himself against the railing, forcing himself to focus as his mind veered off to thoughts it shouldn't be thinking about.

“I apologize, Inquisitor.  But, as yours is the only space in all of Skyhold no one dares to intrude upon, I figured it was the best place to hide. I do hope you don't mind.”  You are incredible , 'Rhen wanted to say.  But that would be foolish.

“Hide?  From-?” 'Rhen paused briefly, his senses returning and brows furrowing in concern.  “Is your father here?” He didn’t remember inviting Halward Pavus to Skyhold. In fact, after the whole business in Redcliffe he had hoped he would never have to see the man again, if only for Dorian's sake. He was glad to help them reconcile, but wanted nothing more to do with the magister.

Dorian frowned in response, regretting involving the Inquisitor in his family drama.  But instead of dwelling on it, he put down his book and looked squarely at 'Rhen. “Worse.” he replied.  “Do you remember the last interaction I had with Mother Giselle?” 'Rhen froze, his heart suddenly pounding and his face flushed. Of course he remembered.  How could he not?  

“Of course.” 'Rhen acknowledged hesitantly.  

“Believe me, her trying to be civil is far worse.  I much preferred her backhanded remarks.”

'Rhen let out a small sigh of relief, though it was tinged with a hint of disappointment.  They had never discussed what happened in that alcove but it had to have been an acknowledgement, right?  They weren't 'just friends', or just a rumor. It was like being stuck in limbo that he wasn't quite sure how to get out of.  Though he wasn't quite sure how he stumbled into it, either. Dorian had been on his mind long before that, he just didn't think anything would come of it.  And then Redcliffe happened and there was a small glimmer of hope. And then that glimmer became a full blown fire that was certain to destroy him. “I’m sure she means well.” he replied, pushing off the wall and walking over to his desk.  He needed to break away before he said something stupid as his body became more acutely aware of the mage's presence.

“Yes.  Well. She can go mean well with someone else.”  Dorian’s voice trailed off as he resumed his reading, leaving 'Rhen alone with his thoughts.  He looked out the window at the mountains, breathing in the cold air and trying to compartmentalize.  It was just a kiss, it meant nothing. He knew that. Yet every time he saw Dorian, his heart felt like it would beat straight out of his chest.  And being alone together... Well. His mind was a runaway aravel of all sorts of thoughts. But before he could sort out his feelings for the mage currently occupying his bed, there was the matter of writing to his family.  He picked up the small halla carving and ran his thumb over the fine wood grain. Blackwall did an exceptional job. The detail was stunning, with inlaid eyes of lazurite and horns carved out of dragon bone it looked almost real.  Evelline loved hallas. She firmly believed they brought good luck and would often spend her afternoons with the clan’s herders, mostly to their frustration as she often snuck halla out for walks around the woods. He missed her terribly.  Maybe once this mess was over he could hand the Inquisition over to someone more capable than he and return to his clan.  

“Should I leave?” Dorian’s voice interrupted his thoughts, startling 'Rhen.  He thought for a moment before turning to face Dorian again. Surrounded by thick blankets of fur and finely woven Fereldan cotton, he was the picture of perfection.  One would have to be absolutely blind not to see it. Though it wasn't Dorian's appearance that drew 'Rhen to him. Underneath all that bluster, there was boundless compassion and caring that no doubt was hidden for self preservation.  Orlais was bad, but Tevinter must have been so much worse. The truth was, Dorian was a much better man than anyone gave him credit for. Certainly better than 'Rhen could ever hope to be.

“If you don't mind the cold, I don’t mind the company.” he finally replied and walked over to the fireplace to throw another log in.  It really was cold. The Frostbacks are always covered in snow, but with their approach into fall season, it was getting more so.

They sat in silence as the light outside slowly faded, broken occasionally by a small chuckle from Dorian.  Periodically, one of them would get up to light another candle or put another log on the fire, but for the most part the evening passed without another exchange.  'Rhen finished his letter and began working his way through a stack of letters and requests to the Inquisition. It felt never ending and, at times, completely irrelevant.  But, he was asked to do this and so he did. Building favor, as Josephine called it. He thumbed at his ring absentmindedly as his eyes scanned over a sheet of parchment, resting his head in the palm of his hand.  It was a letter of gratitude from yet another person he helped with he'd forgotten what. It was starting to become difficult to keep track. The pledge of support, though, would no doubt be invaluable. He yawned and stretched, glancing at the darkened windows.  How long was he at this? The sun had set some time ago and his room was now bathed in the warm glow of candlelight, sending dancing shadows across the walls. It was also quiet. He snuck a glance over the letter he was reading to check on Dorian.  

The mage was asleep, the open book on his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm of his breathing.  His hair was quite disheveled which made 'Rhen smile. Dorian was always a picture of perfection. To see him so relaxed was strange, yet endearing.  'Rhen had never considered domestic life. It's just something he never thought he'd have. He always pictured himself going out in some battle, or perhaps mauled by some bear.  But if this was it, he would gladly give up everything to have it. Maybe after everything was over... 'Rhen sighed and returned to the letter. He couldn't remember what it was about.  It was time to turn in. In his current state, there was nothing more productive he could do. His mind kept wandering off and his eyes were starting to glaze over. It had been a long day, as most days were, but he was getting used to it.  After almost a year of this, it was like being swept up by an ocean wave and eventually learning and mastering its currents, though more so out of necessity than want. He kicked off his boots and softly walked over to the bed. After a moment of hesitation, he carefully pulled off a blanket and a couple pillows and arranged them on the floor by the fireplace.  Too tired to notice the discomfort, he downed the contents of a small vial given to him by Adan and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning 'Rhen awoke to an empty room.  His body ached from sleeping on the floor, but there were additional covers thrown over him and the warmth they brought made 'Rhen hesitant to get up.  He pulled them tighter around himself and squeezed his eyes against the intruding daylight. It was still early, but he knew eventually someone would expect him.  Though it wasn't the expectation that finally pulled him out, but his unhappy stomach as it grumbled in discontent. He had forgotten to eat the night before and was paying the price for it. Keeping one of the blankets draped over him, 'Rhen stalked over to the water basin.  He broke the thin layer of ice and dipped his hands in. The frigid water sent shivers down his spine and after silently counting to three, he splashed it on his face. He swore loudly as the shock brought him to full wakefulness. The cold was one thing he probably would never be used to.  He shook the water from his face and ran his wet fingers through the mess of his hair, trying to put it into some semblance of order. With his boots finally on, 'Rhen was ready to head downstairs.

He was about to open the door when someone knocked.  He swung it open, half expecting the whole of Inquisition behind it, with Josephine’s worried face fronting it, but it was just one of Leliana’s messengers.  

“Message for you, Inquisitor.” she curtly stated, holding out a piece of paper.

“Ah.  Thank you.”

The messenger did not reply.  She simply put the note in 'Rhen’s hands, nodded in acknowledgement, and vanished back down the stairs.  It took a moment for 'Rhen to recover from the initial surprise. The interaction was so brief it caught him off guard.  He stepped back into the room by the window and flipped over the message. His name was written on the front in Leliana’s delicate handwriting.  Odd that she’d send a note rather than come up herself. Figuring that she was probably away at the moment, 'Rhen broke the seal and read the letter.

 

Inquisitor,

 

I was hoping we wouldn’t hear any more news out of Wycome.  However, such is not our luck. A raven came in last night bearing news from your Keeper.  I have to take care of some urgent business, but I have updated Cullen and Josephine on the matter.  Meet them in the war room so you can discuss options. This is something you should take care of soon.

 

-Leliana

 

'Rhen’s heart dropped to the floor.  Evelline.  

His clan was having issues with Wycome's Duke some time ago and he thought he'd dealt with it.  But if the Duke retailated... or worse...Corypheus. He should have known.  

No.  

Steadying himself, he took a deep breath.  If it was Corypheus, he would have known about it sooner and certainly not through a note.  But something happened in Wycome and 'Rhen had to know what it was. Hunger forgotten, he closed his fist around the note and made his way down to the war room.  When he opened the door, Cullen was the only advisor in. He was leaning over the table, his brows creased, looking solemn. 'Rhen had heard of his past, but by the way the shadow crossed over Cullen’s face when he talked about it, he knew there was more to it.  It seemed like everyone here was broken in one way or another.

“Inquisitor!” Cullen looked up in surprise as though startled out of deep thought.  “We weren’t … ah...oh! Josephine! Good, you’re here!” 'Rhen turned to see Josephine walk in behind him, looking more tired than usual.  The war was wearing everyone a little thin. She nodded politely at both of them and before joining Cullen on the other side of the table, she handed 'Rhen a worn piece of parchment.

“A letter from your keeper, Inquisitor.”

Unfolding the letter, 'Rhen read it out loud.

“Da’len, Thanks to the efforts of your Inquisition, Clan Lavellan is safe within the city of Wycome, and Duke Antoine’s mad efforts to destroy us have ended with his death.  For now, I lead both our clan and the elves of this city, while the human merchants have formed a group that deals with us fairly and honorably.” An audible sigh of relief escaped him.  They were okay. It was not as bad as he had feared. Relaxing a bit, he read on. “The other cities of the Free Marches listen to the false stories of the nobles who fled. I fear they will retaliate, but I am loathe to flee this city, as that would effectively leave the city elves to die for our actions.  If you have a path that leads to safety for our people, I welcome your advice. Dareth shiral. Keeper Istimaethoriel Lavellan.” 'Rhen felt his muscles stiffen and a look of concern crossed his face. This was something they should have expected. No human liked when an elf stepped on their toes. Any retaliation from the nobles would surely end in violence.  Josephine spoke first.

“I am certain we can negotiate peace between both parties.  I can send diplomats to the city.”

“Are you mad?” Cullen interjected.  “Those elves will be dead before any of your diplomats arrive.  We need to send reinforcements to fortify the city.”

“I’m sure that’s unnecessary, Cullen.” Josephine retorted.  “I know we can resolve this without further threats.”

"While I trust in your ability, I know their type."

The argument faded into the background as 'Rhen stared at the letter, trying to figure out what to do.  Wycome was far. It would take him days to get there and when he did, what would he do? His history with shemlen nobles wasn't exactly a shining example of good will.

“What are our options?” he asked, looking to his advisors.

“Cullen believes we need to send in soldiers-”

“Because it’s the only way!” Cullen interrupted, eliciting an angry sigh from Josephine.

“It is not, your worship!  I know people in that area!  I can have my diplomats resolve this without further violence!”

“Josephine, you know full well the marchers will kill everyone and apologize later.  We can’t take that risk!” Cullen argued back.

“Inquisitor?”  

Fenedhis!  Why did they have to settle so far?  Cullen presented a convincing argument, but 'Rhen thought the presence of soldiers would only be seen as a sign of aggression that would certainly escalate into chaos.  The last thing he wanted. Josephine, on the other hand, could talk her way out of any situation. If she trusted her diplomats, then perhaps that was the better option.  He looked to her in confirmation.

“Okay, Josephine.  Send in your people.”

Cullen shook his head in disapproval, but said nothing further.  The only option left to 'Rhen now was to wait and hope to gods everything worked out.  In the meantime, he needed to get back to work.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

 

'Rhen sensed the rift before he saw it.  Whatever this magic was, it sent a shock up his arm, making his fingertips tingle as green energy around them sprung to life.  

"Another tear." he commented, scanning the horizon for the telltale glow.  His whole body felt on edge, ready to strike. They had taken a few rifts down over the past couple days, but this one felt different.  More dangerous. "Be cautious," he added and reached to his side pouch for a draught of lyrium.  

"Has to be recent.  It wasn't on Harding's scout report."  Cassandra quipped and 'Rhen could hear the tension in her voice.  But she was right. This one was new.  He downed the lyrium with one hand while the other rested on the chain whip at his hip.  He didn't like being caught off guard.  

"There." Varric voiced from behind, pointing west over the sand dunes where the faint green glow illuminated the hillside.  

"Maybe we can just leave it for the Venatori to find and they can magic each other into oblivion!" 

"Dorian-"

"Yes, I know, I know.  Herald of Andraste and all that.  Alright. Let's go do your thing. Just do be careful.  I'd hate to be the one to tell our spymaster that you've perished in a fiery blaze of glory."

"Sparkler, if our dear Inquisitor perishes in a fiery blaze of glory, you can be sure we are next."

"Well, there is an unsettling thought.  Shall we try to not die, then?"

"Excellent idea."

"Ugh.  Both of you.  For the love of Maker, shut up."

"Worried I won't get to finish Swords and Shields, Seeker?"

"Falon'Din enasal enaste." 'Rhen muttered, rolling his eyes, and urged his hart towards the rift.  It didn't take long for the others to follow. As they got closer to the rift, his whole hand began to glow and emanate fade magic, drawn to the tear.  It was stronger than any he had encountered in quite some time. But with lyrium coursing through his veins, he felt unstoppable. He climbed onto the saddle of his still galloping hart and without skipping a beat, leapt off with the grace of a Dalish master hunter.  

In one swift motion, 'Rhen unleashed the chain at his hip and whipped it towards the nearest demon, yanking it towards himself as the chain wrapped around its neck.  It gurgled in surprise, clawing at the metal in futility, flying through the night air to its death. It only had a moment to panic as 'Rhen kicked it to the ground and implanted the blade of his sword deep in its chest.  It faded into green mist, absorbed back into the tear. With no time to spare, 'Rhen let out a bellow and charged at the pride demon, deftly dodging its charges of lightning. Don't think, just act .  He swung his sword with both hands in an arc over his head and brought it crashing down, slicing through demon flesh.  It barely stumbled as it turned its gaze on 'Rhen and let out a deep, menacing laughter. 'Rhen didn't pause. He deftly sidestepped an arm swing and landed behind it, this time swinging his sword in a wide arc in front of him, aiming for its legs.  It screeched as metal sheared through flesh. But it didn't fall. Instead, its massive form rounded on 'Rhen, both arms reaching out to grab him, hands glowing with electric energy. Somewhere behind him, 'Rhen heard a yell followed by a volley of arrows.  That momentary distraction was all he needed. Reaching up to the sky, he concentrated on his connection to the lyrium and the fade and pulled down. A blinding white beam struck down from the sky, hitting directly above the demon and felling it to its knees.  It howled in pain and rage, unleashing lightning in every direction and hitting 'Rhen square in the chest. He stumbled back, clenching his teeth, but managed to keep a tight grip on his sword. Enraged, 'Rhen raised it over his head and with as much strength as he could muster, backed by adrenaline and lyrium, brought it down on the kneeling demon with an earth shattering blow, sundering the earth below and sending flames up out of it.  That was enough to send it back into the fade in a green mist.

But there was no time to rest as more demons poured out of the sky.  Within seconds, they were surrounded. An awful wail filled the night air followed by a terrifying chill.  Don't think.  Just act .  That's all there was to do.  'Rhen spun around in a circle with his blade out, slicing through a number of wraiths and then fell into a defensive stance as one of the terror demons swung its claws at his face.  It shrieked as his blade sliced through its arm, and swung its other arm at him. 'Rhen was quicker. He swung his chain out towards a nearby shade and pulled it in front of him, right in the path of demon claws.  It vanished soundlessly as the terror demon screamed in frustration. Raising its eyeless sockets to the sky, it let out a blood curdling howl.  

"There's too many of them!" Cassandra shouted behind him.  "We must retreat!"  

Her words barely registered in 'Rhen's mind, the demon's hows still ringing in his ears.  He could feel fear creeping in at the edges but pushed it down, downing another vial of lyrium.  It was risky, but the extra boost of speed and strength was worth it. Rolling out of the way of the demon's claws, he re-positioned himself behind it and swung his sword directly at its head, cleaving it in two.  Which only served to slow it down.

"Inquisitor!"

He heard the warning just as an icy blast sailed past his head.  Despair demon. He'd almost forgotten. A faint blue glow sprang around him and he nodded to Dorian in appreciation, noting the look of concern on the mage's face.  No time for that. Reaching deep within himself, he tugged at his connection to the fade. In response, the glow on his hand sprang to life, filling his ears with a low hum.  

"Watch my back!" 'Rhen called out and reached out to the rift.  He pulled at its edges with the anchor, straining against the magic that refused to obey.  Just... a little.... more... There! The anchor flashed in a brilliant burst of light just as a set of claws impaled him from the side.  Searing pain filled his whole body and 'Rhen stumbled, eyes becoming unfocused. Then another. He twisted, shaking his head to clear it, and swung his sword in a wide arc, then falling again into a defensive stance.  Andruil, lasa ghilan... 'Rhen's step faltered but he caught himself.  Not today. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he charged at the demon, its split head leering at him with those eyeless sockets, dripping fluids from its face and arm stump.  It raised its other hand against him, but instead of the blade, 'Rhen hit it with the butt of his sword, knocking it backwards. As it was falling, 'Rhen sidestepped around it and swung his sword upward, shearing the head clean off.  It flew into the air and dissipated with the rest of the body.  

"Close it before more come through!"

Without hesitation, 'Rhen reached for the rift one last time and sealed the tear, plunging them into darkness.  The hum in his ears subsided and the night returned to normal.

"Are you mad?!" Cassandra rounded on him.  "You could have gotten killed. You could have gotten all of us killed!  What were you thinking rushing in like that?" Despite her anger, 'Rhen could sense the concern in her voice.  As the adrenaline and lyrium began to wear off, a weariness set in. Then a sharp pain at his side.  

"It had to be done." he replied, meeting her steely gaze.  

"You are the only one we have." she said, her voice softening.  "You are our only chance at survival. You must be more careful."  

'Rhen sighed and sat on the ground, his legs too unsteady to hold him up.

"I know.  I'm sorry.  I don't know... I don't know what came over me."

"Here.  Take this."  She handed him a healing drought and walked away, shaking her head.  She didn't look much better than him. And she was right. He was reckless.  He was more reckless than he'd been in a long time. His worry over his clan was affecting him more than he'd realized.  He uncorked the drought and downed the bitter contents.  

"Andraste's holy knickers, we made it!" Varick said, stepping up beside him, his crossbow slung back over his shoulder.  "But let's not do that again."  

'Rhen nodded in reply.  "Thanks. For saving me back there."

"Ah, don't mention it.  All part of the job. Plus, it'll make for a great story."

'Rhen chuckled, wincing at the pain in his side.  "Oh, good. Anything for the story."

"Alright, hero," Varric rested his hand on 'Rhen's shoulder.  "Let's get you back to camp before you bleed out on us. I may look strong, but these hands were made for writing, not carrying."  He gave 'Rhen a pat and extended his hand to help him get up. 'Rhen gladly took it, exerting his remaining strength to remain upright.  Thankfully, the healing drought was starting to work and the pain had subsided to a dull throb. He glanced over at Cassandra who was tending to their mounts, the sight of her injuries sending pangs of guilt through him.  But it was seeing blood on Dorian's face that really drove it home. The mage approached him with purpose, bandages and salves in both arms, an unreadable expression on his face.  

"Guess I'll leave you to it." Varric shrugged and walked off to help Cassandra.  As 'Rhen watched him retreat, he could have sworn he heard him say something about 'lovebirds', but that could just as well have been the wind.  He turned his attention back to Dorian who motioned for him to remove his armor. With no energy left to protest, 'Rhen complied without question, peeling off his gauntlets and chest armor.  The leather jacket came off without issues, but the shirt underneath was a bit harder as it stuck to his skin from congealed blood. But with a little effort and some water, it finally came off.  

"Fasta vass..." Dorian softly swore, prodding at the wound.  'Rhen looked down to finally see the damage. He shouldn't be alive.  The healing poultice had served to only dull the pain. The numerous gashes in his side were still bleeding.  Taking a small cloth out, Dorian poured some alcohol over it and began to wipe away the blood. He worked silently and meticulously, cleaning the wounds, applying the salve, and wrapping it in bandages.  All the while, 'Rhen couldn't take his eyes off his face. The angry red gash across the mage's cheek and nose bridge was like a knife to his heart.  

"I'm sorry." 'Rhen murmured, reaching out to Dorian's face, then, after hesitation, letting his hand fall back down by his side.  Dorian didn't reply, continuing his work. Every touch sent a shiver down 'Rhen's back and he found himself longing for more. He grabbed the mage's hand, stopping his progress.  "Say something." He almost pleaded. Anything to break the deafening silence between them.  

"What is there to say?  We are victorious, are we not?"

"That's not-" 'Rhen sighed and let go of Dorian's hand.  "Nevermind. Just... I'm sorry." He turned away, staring off at the horizon.  Why couldn't he ever find the right thing to say?  

"You scared me." Dorian finally said, his voice barely audible.  But there was an unmistakable hint of anger. "You almost died."

'Rhen winced, though this time not from his wounds.  "I am sorry."

"You run in like a madman, chugging lyrium like it's water."

"I know.  I'm sorry."

Dorian tied off a knot in the bandage, but his fingers lingered.  "If I lost you-"

Su an'banal i'min!  Ahn sulevem, ne...   Shedding the last remnants of inhibition, 'Rhen reached over and pulled Dorian in for a kiss.  It was messy and desperate, mouths colliding in a rush of adrenaline and desire. He had thought of this every day, needed it more than healing poultices and salves, craved it with every fiber of his being.  His fingers tangled in Dorian's hair, pulling him closer. His only regret was that he waited this long.

"That will never happen." he growled, breaking away for only a moment.  In the distance, Cassandra cleared her throat.

***

The unbearable heat of the day had woken Cassandra up in the most unpleasant sort of way.  Her smallclothes were soaked through with sweat and so were the sheets. For the life of her she could not figure out why Lavellan had to drag them all out here to Hissing Wastes.  He was acting recklessly, putting himself and everyone else at needless risk. The rifts were dangerous enough without the Inquisitor losing his head. Letting out a disgusted grunt, she rolled off the bed and started peeling off her clothes.  Suddenly, the Frostbacks didn’t seem so bad.

Rummaging through her sack, she pulled out a clean undershirt and a pair of cotton pants.  Finally deeming herself presentable, Cassandra exited her tent. The rock canopy they had set camp under provided an adequate amount of shade, but the brightness was still overwhelming.  

“I would be happy to never set foot here again.” she mumbled to herself.  Her only hope was that they would be done with this place as soon as possible.  Thank the Maker the days were short. As soon as her eyes adjusted to the light, Cassandra quickly glanced about.  Varric was still in his tent, seemingly unperturbed by the heat, Harding was hiding under the shade, shuffling through map scrolls, and Dorian was standing by the Inquisitor, making ridiculous hand gestures about what she could only imagine.  At least those two were on good terms, especially considering what happened last night. She was about to go wash her face and hands when the Inquisitor called her over.

“Cassandra!  A peace offering.” 'Rhen extended a small plate of food to the Seeker.  His Keeper had taught him early on that after having an argument, it was important to seek forgiveness and common ground.  Being able to forgive was a mark of strength. But being able to ask for forgiveness was what distinguished the truly strong of character.  Providing an offering didn't hurt, either. In his case, it was food. The gesture seemed silly now, but it was all he could think of.  

Cassandra looked at the plate in mild surprise.  The contents actually looked and smelled delicious.  She wasn't sure what it was or where he managed to procure the ingredients, but she was sure she didn't want to know.  The Herald of Andraste, a cook! Her stomach growled in anticipation.

“I suppose it’ll do," she commented nonchalantly.  "But do not think you can get off so easily.”

“Not for a moment.”  'Rhen nodded. It worked.  She tried to hide it, but he still saw it.  A tiny hint of a smile so brief he almost missed it.  

“Now we can all sit in a circle and sing songs of friendship and camaraderie!” Dorian exclaimed, putting his hand on 'Rhen’s shoulder and extending his other to Cassandra who only gave a disgusted noise in reply.

“Do not push your luck, mage.”

The rest of the day passed in relative ease despite the heat, and the discussion eventually turned to course of action come sunset.  The area, for the most part, seemed insignificant. But the Venatori had a strong presence here and that could not be allowed.  

“From what I gathered, they’re searching for some artifact in the dwarven tombs scattered across the desert.” Harding supplied.  “I’ve scouted ahead and marked their locations on your map.”

“If it’s important to them, it’s important to us.” 'Rhen agreed.  

“Dwarven tombs?”  Varric, who had finally joined them, looked at Harding, then at the map she was holding.  “Well, this should be interesting. Can’t say I’m too excited, though.”  

“I was hoping you could provide us with some expertise.” scout Harding quipped hopefully.

“On what?  People I barely know?  Or care to know?”

“Are you always this useless, or is it just when I’m around?” Cassandra asked, giving Varric a disapproving look.

“You know me, Seeker.  I always aim to please.”

“Ugh.”

“In any case, I think we should head north, first.” 'Rhen interrupted before the argument could escalate.

“I agree.”  scout Harding added.  “We could set up camp near the ravine there.  It would give us a good escape route as well as placing us close to the first tomb.”

“Then it’s decided.”  'Rhen concluded and collected the map from Harding.  As he was rolling it up to put it in his belt pouch, a messenger crow landed on their requisition table.  It wasn’t that unusual to receive updates from Leliana out in the field, so 'Rhen didn’t think twice about it.  It was after Cassandra approached the crow and was about to unfold the message that he remembered his request before leaving.  

“Wait!” he called out to her and ran to her side.  He hastily grabbed the message from her hands and quickly scanned it.  

It was an update from Skyhold regarding his clan.  Prior to leaving, he had instructed for all news from Wycome to be forwarded to him.  This was it. Except it didn’t say much, which did not bode well. His mind raced with possibilities before it came to a single conclusion.  As irrational as it was, he had to get back.    

“You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.” Cassandra commented, a hint of concert in her voice.  “Is everything alright? Is it Corypheus?”

“No, I- I need you to take over.  I need to get back to Skyhold.”

“What?  I can’t!”

'Rhen didn’t give her time to argue.  He trusted Cassandra to hold the group together in his absence, and he didn’t intend to be gone long.

“I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  he shoved the map into her hands, jumped on a horse, and sped off.  He had to know.

Cassandra stared in shock at the Inquisitor’s retreating back.  He was joking, he had to be! He couldn’t possibly just up and leave.  She inevitably turned to Dorian for answers, the two seemed to be close, but the mage looked just as confused as she was, if not more.  

“This can’t be good.” Varric voiced what they were all thinking.

“You can’t seriously think we can do this without him!” Dorian exclaimed.  “I mean, I’m good, but I’m not that good.”

“I agree with Sparkler, there.  Unless you’ve been holding out on us, Seeker.”

The initial state of shock was starting to wear off and the full implication of their predicament was setting in.  

“We go back.” Cassandra said with some determination.  She put the Inquisition together, but she was in no position to lead it.  But Lavellan didn’t exactly leave her with much of a choice.  

“My thoughts exactly.” Varric nodded, already on his way to pack his tent.

They were packed and on their way to Val Royeaux before sun down.  From there, a small boat would take them to Jader. And from Jader, Skyhold was a day’s trek through the Frostbacks.  Thankfully, they arrived in one piece without further incident. Though all things considered, that was little consolation.  As soon as they stepped through the gates, Cassandra made a beeline towards the war room, expecting a full explanation. What she found, though, was a very perplexed Josephine.  

No one seemed to know where the Inquisitor had gone off to.

A state of panic set over Cassandra as a million scenarios played through her mind.  They were doomed. They were all going to die. Corypheus was going to swoop down upon them and wipe them all out.  

“Are you sure you haven’t seen him?” she questioned Josephine again.  “He said he was coming straight here. And we weren’t far behind him. He can’t have just disappeared!”  

“I’m afraid I know as little as you.” Josephine replied.  Their questions, however, did not remain unanswered for long.

“I know.” Leliana’s calm voice penetrated through the panic as she joined them in Josephine’s office.  She handed a crumpled letter she was holding to Cassandra. Cassandra took it from her and read it over.  It took a few reads for realization to sink in. And as it did, her heart sank to the pit of her stomach.  

Ambassador Montilyet,

 

I regret to inform you that a contingent of soldiers gathered from other cities in the Free Marches attacked Wycome and slew most of the elves within, including all of the Dalish clan.

 

They avoided attacking humans when possible, and were willing to meet with us once their bloody work was done. They professed shock that Duke Antoine had been using red lyrium and insisted that all they knew was that the elves had rebelled and killed the rightful rulers of the city.

 

This has all been branded a tragic misunderstanding, and the nobles who now rule Wycome insist that they will repay the Inquisition for this horrible mistake.

 

I await my return to Skyhold at your earliest convenience.

 

Yours, Lady Guinevere Volant

 

“He’s gone.”

 

 

Translations:

Falon'Din enasal enaste - a prayer for the dead.  Used here sarcastically

Andruil, lasa ghilan - a prayer for guidance to Andruil, goddes of the hunt

Su an'banal i'min!  Ahn sulevem, ne... - To the void with this!  What is meant to be, will be

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

FEW HOURS EARLIER

 

  By the time 'Rhen arrived at Skyhold, it was already dark and most of the residents were either sleeping or participating in drinking contests at the tavern.  An activity which almost always resulted in someone getting thrown out. He returned his exhausted hart to the stable, thankful that Dennet wasn’t there to lecture him about proper equine care, and made his way up the tower where the messenger was waiting for him.  

“As you requested, your worship.” the messenger nodded and handed a sealed envelope to 'Rhen.  It was addressed to Josephine and sealed with a family crest 'Rhen was not familiar with. This wasn’t good.  The sinking feeling he had the entire trip back only intensified. But he had to hope. Maybe the Keeper had someone else write on her behalf.  That had to be it. With shaking hands, 'Rhen broke the seal and opened the letter.  

He didn’t have to read far to find out what had happened.  His eyes widened in horror as his worst case scenario became a reality.  He read the first sentence over and over again, hoping that maybe he read it wrong.  Or maybe it was all just a twisted nightmare and he would wake up and Josephine would tell him about the success of her diplomat.  But there it was, in writing. She had failed him.  

No.

He had failed them.

'Rhen felt sick to his stomach.  His fingers curled around the letter, nails digging into his palm, as a long forgotten yet still familiar feeling bloomed in his chest.  

“Your... worship?”

He felt hollow, empty.  Defeated. But he also felt angry.  Angry at Josephine because he felt like she betrayed his trust.  Angry at his Keeper for leading his people into a position of danger, and most of all angry at himself for failing to do the one thing he was good at, the one thing he promised to always do.

“Is everything alright, your worship?” the messenger prodded.  'Rhen turned to face him and as he did, the messenger took a step back, a look of fear on his face.  

“Get out.” 'Rhen hissed, pointing his now glowing finger at the stairs.  The messenger did not need to be told twice. Bowing his head low, he scurried away out of sight and out of danger.  

He never should have left his clan.  He should have refused when the Keeper asked him to go to the Conclave.  He should have been there for them when they needed him most. The anger burned hot in his chest, drowning out the physical pain in his hand.  The green glow cast shadows on the walls and made the crows nervous. He didn’t want this. Didn’t ask for it. This was no divine providence. In his anger, 'Rhen picked up the nearest thing and threw it against the wall.  Whatever it was, it shattered into a million pieces, sending echoes throughout the tower. But it gave 'Rhen no satisfaction. As the full brunt of his emotions took over, he fell to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably.  

He felt so lost, so useless.  And so incredibly hurt it made it hard to breathe.  There wasn’t enough air. He gasped between each sob, trying and failing to regain composure.  And the more he tried, the more it hurt. It became impossible to breathe. Flashes of memories swam behind his eyes, each one turning red and fading away in screams of agony.  He wanted them to stop but they just kept on coming, overwhelming him, intensified by the fire in his blood. He wanted to scream, but his voice refused to obey his commands, choked back by tears that refused to stop.  'Rhen didn’t know how long his fist had been pounding the ground, he barely registered the pain. But it was bruised and covered in blood.  

He needed to get away.  From all of this. From himself.  

Run away.

As far away from the darkness that threatened to swallow him whole as his feet would carry and his strength would allow.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

 

Weeks passed and the rumors of Inquisitor’s disappearance spread like wildfire through Skyhold, leaving Josephine in a state of panic.  She blamed herself for all this. And why wouldn’t she? It was on her suggestion that the diplomats were sent. Maybe she should have deferred to Cullen on the matter.  Then they wouldn’t be in this mess. Leliana had sent messengers and spies to all corners of Thedas. But at this point, it was all just guesswork. If the Inquisitor didn’t want to be found…  At a time like this… Her head began to really hurt before Josephine realized she was pulling on her hair. This was a disaster! 

She paced back and forth across her office, afraid to venture out.  She couldn’t handle the expectant looks everyone was sure to give. No amount of diplomatic prowess could smooth this out.  But deep down, she knew she had to face them. Without some sort of word from leadership, the keep would fall into chaos. Where were Cullen and Leliana?  Should she go out and handle this on her own? Should she lie? Be honest? For the first time in a very long time, Josephine was at a loss for words. Nothing had ever made her doubt herself like this before.  

“You’ll wear yourself out, Josie.” Leliana said, bursting through the door, pushing back citizens of Skyhold clamoring for confirmation.  

“Oh!  Please tell me you have good news!”  Josephine rushed to her, holding back her hair.

“Not so much.  But I have people posted by Wycome in case he decides to show up there. We’re also monitoring major roadways and all merchants.”  Leliana paused, leaning on the table. She was exhausted. This was incredibly inconvenient and frustrating. Not to mention selfish.  And poor Josephine was handling this terribly. She looked white as a sheet. “We’ll find him, Josie, don’t worry.” Leliana tried to smile reassuringly.  Though she wasn’t entirely convinced herself. They needed to formulate a plan of action in case word reached Corypheus that their only means of protection had decided to up and leave.  No one else could close the rifts, there was nothing they could do about that. But they needed to be ready for an attack. She had relayed that to Cullen earlier who should now be busy preparing his troops.  The mages were on standby, as well. They just needed to handle the civilians.  

“This is all my fault!” Josephine mumbled hysterically, collapsing into her chair and hiding her face.  

“Hardly.  No one could have predicted the outcome.  You did what you thought was best. That is all anyone could ask for.”  In an attempted gesture of comfort, Leliana reached out and put Josephine’s hand in hers.  It didn’t seem to help much. At this point, nothing short of a miracle would. And as much as she hated it, all there was left to do was wait.  “We do need to address this now, though,” she nodded towards the door.

Josephine groaned as her head hit the desk.  What had she gotten herself into? Too late for these kinds of questions.

“I suppose now is as good a time as any.”  

 

 * * *

Dorian stood at the back of the main hall when Leliana emerged with Josephine from the war room.  He had his suspicions, but this confirmed them. Naturally, the ambassador spun some tale about the Inquisitor being away on some important mission.  The last thing they needed was widespread panic. The advisors weren’t idiots. They knew what that would do to the Inquisition. But what was the Inquisition without the Inquisitor?  Though it wasn't the lack of leadership that bothered Dorian. Lavellan being gone hit him a bit more personally. More than he expected. And a tiny part of him wondered if it was his fault.  Had he asked for more than he should have? No. There had to be more to this. The Inquisitor didn't seem the type to run from his problems. In any case, there was little he could do at this point, short of running after him.  Which would be reckless and possibly even unnecessary. Not to mention desperate. And desperate was not how he wanted to come across. He didn’t want another repeat of what happened at Minrathous. With Leliana and Josephine positioned by the throne and the way cleared, Dorian pushed past the crowd and down the stairs to the abandoned library.  It was the only place where he could think somewhat clearly.   

He had only been down this way once, and only on accident.  The place remained untouched as though abandoned. Except for an opened book on the dusty table that he didn’t remember leaving out.  Flipping the cover shut, Dorian read the title. Magick and the Fade: A Templar’s Guide to Lyrium and More .  There were only three people who would be interested in such material.  One was too busy training others to read and the other was way too deep into Swords and Shields .  That only left 'Rhen.  He ran his fingers over the cover and for just a brief second he could almost taste the distinct hint of electric energy on the tip of his tongue.  Could almost feel Lavellan's hot breath on his...

No.  

Now was not the time for such memories.

His fingers lingered on the cover for a second longer before he pushed it aside.  It teetered on the edge of the desk before falling to the ground with a dull thud, kicking up a thick layer of dust.  It coated every inch of the surface, making the air heavy. This section had long been abandoned. Perhaps a place to hide away all the unpleasant things.  

It gave Dorian a rather familiar feeling in an uncomfortable sort of way.  Maybe this was not the best place to be. Brushing the cobwebs off the shelves, he glanced over the bindings.  Most of the books were old. Some he’d never heard of before. None were what he was looking for, even though he himself wasn’t sure what that was.  What did he hope to accomplish? Frustration began to set in, and as it grew, Dorian began to pull random books down, flipping through the pages, searching for what he knew not.  One after the other, each book ended up on the floor until Dorian couldn’t walk without stepping on one.  

Futile.  

What good was he if he couldn’t use his skills when he needed them most?  His chest tightened in anger and ever increasing frustration as he emptied the whole shelf onto the floor.  

Useless.

I’m disappointed in you, Dorian , his father’s voice echoed in his head, validating what he was feeling.  

Useless fucking everything!

He shouldn’t have let him go on his own.

“You promised...”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

 

Over a month had passed since the Inquisitor’s disappearance.  Over a month of not knowing if tomorrow was to be their last day.  But it felt like things were finally falling back into their normal rhythm.  Cassandra had taken a group to Empris du Lion to stamp out the red templars who had set up a human trafficking organization with the help of a local.  From the sound of the regular reports Leliana received, it sounded like things were going well. They had almost regained control of the area and were on the brink of capturing the Keep.  Though they could do little about the rifts. The only person who could, decided to go awol. Still, despite the challenges, Cassandra was optimistic. Another day and they would surely break through.  With passages through Orlais cleared and Gaspard on their side, having another foothold in that region would prove advantageous. Leliana allowed a small sigh of relief. Maybe they could do this after all.  The only thing that worried her now was the fact that none of her spies have seen the Inquisitor. It was as if he had vanished off the map, a feat not easily accomplished. Widening the search area yielded similar results.  Clearly, he did not wish to be found. Though that did not stop Leliana from trying. She wasn’t about to let his foolishness ruin everything they had all worked so hard for.  

“I don’t care if they’re exhausted.  Send them out again,” she ordered the messenger.  There was no time for rest. People’s lives were at stake.  The messenger did not argue, knowing full well the futility of it.  When he disappeared from view, Leliana leaned out the window, feeling the cold breeze on her face.  She was angry with the Inquisitor. When they were discussing leadership for the Inquisition, she had argued against Lavellan.  He was an unknown, with no history. Everything she could find on him went back only a few years. It was as if he just popped into existence one day.  But Cassandra had insisted, citing his willingness to help and him being the only one able to close the rifts. Cullen agreed. Though Leliana wasn't sure if it was because he believed in the elf or because Lavellan had chosen the templars over the mages.  Regardless of her feelings, however, this was a risk they had taken unanimously. And now they were paying for it. Perhaps taking the extra time to reach out to Hawke would have been worth it, since he showed up on their doorstep anyway. He had fought Corypheus before.  She made a mental note to approach the others with the idea.

She watched the fog sweep over the mountain tops for a bit longer, the view providing her with a sense of calm, and was about to return to duty when she noticed something moving through them.  Leliana squinted to try and make out who or what it was. It didn’t look like an army, but that did not diminish her alarm. She made her way quickly down the stairs to the courtyard to alert Cullen.  A worried expression overtook his features.

“Corypheus?” he asked quietly, pulling Leliana aside.

“I don’t think so.  But we should be ready for anything.”

Cullen nodded and returned to his men while Leliana made her way to the front gate.  She had the guards raise the bridge and posted four men at the watchtowers. With his men at the ready, Cullen joined her by the gate.  Time passed in quiet anticipation when one of the guards shouted down that the target was in sight. Without pause, both Cullen and Leliana rushed up the watchtower to see the threat.  A single horse made its way down the rocky path, carrying a limp body slumped over its back. It took a moment for them to see who it was.

“It’s him!” one of the guards shouted.  “It’s the Inquisitor!”

“Maker’s breath!” Cullen’s voice echoed.  “Lower the bridge!”

They both rushed down to draw the horse in.  The guard was right. Though the body was barely recognizable.  His armor, or what was left of it, was in shreds and he was covered in dried blood, practically glued to the saddle.  The only indication that he was still alive was the faint cloud of breath that escaped him when Cullen and Leliana pried him off the saddle.

It took hours of careful cutting and removing of armor to finally free the Inquisitor from his trappings.  It took even longer to remove the pieces embedded in his body. He looked like hell. His left shoulder was dislocated, his right arm was fractured in three different places, his chest sustained a huge gouge caused by what could only be guessed at, and his back fared no better.  And that was just the upper half of the Inquisitor. Kahlee was afraid of what she would find on his other half. No amount of magic would ever fix this up. She gave a disapproving sigh and went to get the bandages and something to set his bones, sending a messenger with a list of ingredients to Adan.  

“Clean his blood.  And for the love of all that is holy, do be careful.  We don’t want him to break any more than he already is” she directed her assistant before disappearing into the small room of supplies.  Thank the maker the Inquisitor moved them to a better space from that awful courtyard. Not only was the floor with walls and a ceiling a welcome change, but she was also better equipped to handle emergencies such as this one.  And boy was this a bad one. Kahlee picked out the necessary supplies and returned to the main room. Where her assistant was, of course, butchering the job.

“Maker’s breath, woman, have you never cleaned a body before??” she exclaimed in exasperation, and dropping the supplies on the nearest table rushed to take over.  

“I’m sorry, ma’am!  I thought-”

“You thought wrong.  Ugh. Go fetch me some hot water from the kitchens.”  This was going to be a very long night. What in the world possessed the man to put himself through this?  She took a deep breath, pushed the hair out of her face, and went back to removing armor pieces from the Inquisitor’s lower half.  A few minutes later her assistant returned with the water and she directed her to try and remove as much blood from the face as she could.  

“Ma’am?” the assistant asked quietly, afraid to break the surgeon’s concentration.  With good reason. Kahlee paused mid cut and looked at her assistant with a glare that could kill.

“What is it?  Do you need me to show you how to do that, as well?”  

The assistant looked down at her feet.

“No, ma’am.  It’s just, the mage, he was asking if he could help.”

Kahlee sighed and rubbed her face in frustration.

“What mage?  We have lots of mages.”

“The Tevinter, ma’am.”

“The…Tevinter?” her brows furrowed.  The Inquisition trusted him, but she still had her reservations.  Besides, that one would hardly qualify as a healer. “Tell him we don’t need him.  I'm sure he could put his talents to better use elsewhere.”  

The assistant nodded and ducked outside.  She wasn’t gone a second before the door flew open and Dorian pushed his way in.  He wasn’t taking no for an answer. He had heard the news of the Inquisitor’s arrival.  What he saw, though, he wasn’t quite prepared for. His initial reaction was confusion and shock.  There was no way the person on the table was the man he knew. Bruised and bloodied, the mangled body was beyond recognition.  The only things giving him away were the hints of white in his hair and the intricate silver ring he always wore on his left hand.  

“Your assistance is not necessary!” Kahlee expressed, giving her assistant a dirty look.  Though she knew it wasn’t her fault.  

“I beg to differ.” Dorian replied in exasperation, pointing to the Inquisitor.  “You will need magic!”

“That may be so.  But right now you need to let me do my job, which means no interruptions!  Now leave before I call the guards.” She gave Dorian a good shove, pushing him back out.  Last thing she needed was a distraught lover involved. Oh, yes. She knew. Everyone knew.  They weren’t exactly subtle. Of course, what they did on their own time was their business, but this was on her time.  And she wasn’t having any of it. “Out!” Kahlee ordered one last time before slamming the door in the mage’s face.  

Dorian stood in stunned silence with his nose a hairbreadth away from the door.  The surgeon was a fool for refusing his help. He had no doubt in her skills, but this?  What the Inquisitor needed was beyond salves and bandages. Fasta vass … This was infuriating and frustrating.  

And he was more scared than he had ever been.  There was a very real possibility that the Inquisitor would not make it.  Regardless of where they stood relationship wise, he had come to respect and care a great deal for the man.  Recklessly so. Dorian turned around and slumped against the door, trying not to think about what was going on behind it.  Though that was easier said than done. After weeks of not being able to do anything, he had to help. Leaning his head back, he rested his palms against the wood grain and tried to concentrate.  The fibers felt coarse against his fingertips, but after a moment, he felt a warmth surging through them.

He uttered a few words in Tevene under his breath, letting the magic slip through the cracks.  There was little else Dorian could do at this point, and breaking the door and forcing his help on the surgeon seemed like a bad idea.  But he could at least alleviate some of the pain and make the healing process go by quicker. Maker willing the Inquisitor survived.  

A small part of him wished he had stayed away from the Inquisition.  Life would have certainly been easier, if a little meaningless. But here he was, deeply involved and invested and hopelessly in love.  He tried to push the images of the Inquisitor’s broken body out of his mind, with little success.  

Festis bei umo canavarum...

He needed a drink.  A strong one. With the tavern full of anticipating crowds holding their breath and nervously staring at the door, Dorian opted out to wait in the lower library.  Maybe there was something in those ancient books he could use. Anything.

The quiet solitude of the basement library didn’t prove to be as welcome as Dorian had hoped.  Now that he was here, he wasn’t sure why he thought it would be a good idea. Nothing stood between him and the thoughts that crawled into his mind.  Thoughts he preferred stayed buried where he left them. Collapsing into the heavy chair, Dorian ran his fingers through his perfect hair in defeat. What could he do?  Waiting was the worst part. All those years studying in Vyrantium proved useless. He wouldn't have been able to do much even if the surgeon did let him stay.

He tried not to think about it, shoving his fears down as far as he could.  He had to at least try and help. There had to be a way, he just needed to find it.  Magic always had an answer. Through blurred vision he looked around the small space.  It had remained a mess from his last visit, with an additional layer of dust. Books strewn across the floor, shelves broken, it looked no better than he felt.  The lack of air was suffocating, making his chest tighten, his eyes sting.  

It had to be the air.  He couldn’t bear to confront the actual cause.  Popping the cork off a bottle, he took a swig. Of course.  It had to be the good stuff. It was sweet and warm and reminded him of summer.  Of a warm evening breeze, standing outside on a balcony...

Funny how tragedy always seemed to put things in perspective.  It was during summer that his father had found out about his...preferences.  A summer he would not, could not, ever forget. Up until that day he had trusted his father implicitly, looked up to him, even.  And for what?  

Pariahood.  

Dorian grimaced and took another swig of the wine.  This was definitely not his best idea, but it was preferable to the alternative.  Pretending to be fine while everyone expected him to fall apart really did get tiresome after a while.  Though he’d had all his life as practice. There were very few people who truly knew him for who he was.  Even fewer who accepted it. Well, really, just one. Luckily, it was the one whose opinion mattered most.  Less so was the fact that he was on the verge of death and Dorian could do nothing about it. It was killing him.  

* * *

Blood.  Blood everywhere.  It stained the dirt, his hands, his tunic.  He could taste it on his lips. Could still hear their screams and pleas for mercy.  But none came. He was their judge, jury, and executioner. Wiping the sword on the dead man’s shirt, he surveyed the damage.  What they had done was unforgivable. Yet, he expected nothing less from a shem. Filth. All of them. He spat into the blood and sheathed his weapon.  

His step faltered.  He blinked as his vision blurred at the edges and he stumbled.  Instinctively his hand went to his side. It was wet and when he brought the hand to his face, it was red.  

His own.  

He looked at it in confusion and then at the open wound as the red bloomed into a bigger stain on his shirt.  He didn’t remember being hurt. They had no weapons on them… Dizziness overtook him and he fell to one knee, clutching at his side.  

This wasn’t how it happened…

This was wrong…

All wrong…

His brows furrowed and his vision faded.  

And then the pain came.  

It hit him full force, knocking the wind out of him and toppling him to the ground.  It was crippling and he wanted to scream, but nothing complied. Not his body, not his voice.  He lay in his blood, motionless, staring at the sky as the world around him turned to blackness.  And suddenly, he was ok with that. He welcomed it. It was as if all the things that weighed him down were gone.  He wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore. Or anyone.  

Still, he felt a lingering sadness, for what he wasn’t quite sure.  As the last of the light faded, his last thought was an apology.

“Oh, no!  Don’t you dare and die on me!” Kahlee shouted.  Not this one. Not on her watch! Leliana would kill her if he did.  She pressed her fingers against his wrist to feel for his pulse and found none.   Andraste's ass! Pushing the hair out of her face, she rushed into the supply room and grabbed some smelling salts, however useless they were now.  She positioned the bottle by his nose, waiting with bated breath for any reaction. Something, anything to indicate that it was working. But nothing happened.  Frustration and desperation were starting to set in. It had been a very long night and she wasn’t ready to have it all go down the drain because this idiot decided to call it quits.  

His heart.  

She needed to kick start his heart again.  Looking frantically around and finding nothing, Kahlee clasped her hands together.  Considering the Inquisitor’s state, what she was about to do was probably incredibly ill advised.  But this was the last resort. All or nothing. With a deep intake of breath, she brought her hands down hard onto his chest.  There was a resounding crack, but to her relief, the Inquisitor’s body jerked upwards as he gasped for air. He slumped back down, but his pulse had returned.    Idiot… she muttered under her breath. Letting her arms fall to her sides, Kahlee let out a deep breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. The night still wasn’t over.  

Eventually, hours started to bleed into each other and she lost track of time.  It was only when her assistant returned with a pot of tea that she realized it was the next day.  Maker, she was exhausted. Thankfully, the remainder of the night was uneventful and she finished patching the Inquisitor up.  With all the blood washed away, he actually looked halfway decent. Though it will be weeks before he was functional again, and some injuries he may never recover from again.  At least he’ll walk. That was no small blessing. Kahlee accepted a cup of tea from her assistant and leaned against the wall, looking over her handiwork. With the covers drawn over him, he looked almost peaceful.  

“I need you to run a report to the superiors.  Let them know that the Inquisitor’s condition is stable and he should be awake within the next few days.  Until then, he is not to be disturbed. Last thing we need is complications.” she addressed the attentive assistant, who nodded in reply and quickly vanished.  

Once she was alone again, Kahlee kicked off her shoes and placed herself in the chair next to the cot.  The hard part was over. All that was left was the waiting.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

In life there was pain and in death there was certainty.  'Rhen didn’t want to wake up, but he knew he had to. He had been awake for some time now, anyway.  He just wasn’t quite ready to face life again, or the inevitable and endless barrage of questions that came with it.  But most of all, he wasn’t ready to face himself. With consciousness came the pain, the crushing kind, and with pain came the memories.  Of what they had done, of what he had done. And the regret that came with them. He lay in silence as the full force of what had brought him here weighed down on his chest.  Breathing was hard, his mouth was dry and cracked, and he couldn’t move. The only thing he could see were the bodies of his clan piled unceremoniously with the rest of the murdered elves outside the city gates, left to wild animals.  He clenched his jaw, embracing the physical pain it caused, as hot tears rolled down his face. Death would have been preferable.

He slowly opened his eyes.  Skyhold infirmary. The ceiling had become a familiarity to 'Rhen as he had spent many days staring at it while recovering from less grievous injuries.  He was back, then. With great effort, he managed to raise himself up on one of his elbows, his fingers curled tightly around the coarse sheets for support.  His other arm was bound to his chest, numb and useless. Every movement sent a jolt of pain through his whole body and it took every ounce of dedication and self control to keep himself from falling back into bed.  The room was empty and he wanted to take this chance to escape. To not have to face anyone for just a bit longer. Biting back the urge to cry out in pain, 'Rhen pulled his legs off the cot and leaning forward, fell to his knees, catching himself just before his face hit the floor.  A mistake, as a jolt of pain shot up his arm and to the base of his skull, making his head spin and his vision swim, sending him the rest of the way down to the floor. The stone was cold, but it felt good against his sweating palm. His whole body felt like it was on fire. Maybe for just a moment…  He pressed his cheek to the floor and closed his eyes. Silence. Blessed silence. He didn’t know how long he was gone or how long it had been since his return and part of him didn’t care. Nothing really mattered anymore. His quest was meaningless and his life felt hollow.  

No doubt they would want him to finish what he started.  But he just didn’t care anymore. Using what was left of his strength, he dragged himself to the door and pulled himself up with the assistance of the stool that stood beside it.  By the time he managed to get himself upright his breathing came in shallow gasps. 'Rhen tried to steady himself, clutching at his chest with his free hand and leaning against the wall.  But the more he tried, the harder it became. He bent over, gasping for air, tasting blood in his mouth. A small stream ran from his nose and down his chin, dripping steadily onto the floor.  He grit his teeth in anger and frustration as a string of curses escaped him.  

Weak .  

Wiping the blood from his nose with his arm, 'Rhen managed to pull the door open and stumbled outside.  The frigid air that greeted him was overpowering. He was only able to take a few steps before his knees gave out.  Why was his body so damn useless? And why was it so damn difficult to breathe? He clawed frantically at the now bloody bandages, trying to free himself, unsuccessfully.  

Pathetic .

He didn't want to be that little boy in the dark alley anymore.  He worked hard to never be that boy again. But his body betrayed him.  He hadn’t even realized he was crying. His arm fell to his side and his face turned helplessly up to the night sky.  

He was alone.  He hadn’t admitted this to himself until now.  But he was alone and broken.

Dull pounding filled his head as 'Rhen fell on his back, defeated, his whole body shaken by uncontrollable sobs.  

Falon'Din, ma ghilana mir din'an.

Let someone else save Thedas.  He was done.

* * *

Kahlee was on her way back to the infirmary from her break when she saw him.  Sprawled in the dirt in the pool of his own blood, looking as dead as dead could be.  Dropping the pitcher of water in her hands, she rushed to his side.  

“You stubborn idiot!” she cursed, checking for breath and once satisfied, looked over the damage he caused.  Every wound she had closed, he reopened and the splint she had wrapped around his right arm was damaged. “Where is that...ugh!”  There was no way she was going to be able to move him without causing further injury. Not on her own. “Don’t move!” she ordered the unconscious Inquisitor and stormed into the infirmary.  To her complete and utter lack of surprise, it was empty. She should have known better than to trust that girl to watch over him. Swinging open the door to the supply room, she found her assistant dozed off on the floor with a pile of fresh bandages by her side.  Kahlee was livid. Curling her hand into a fist she banged it as hard as she could against the door, startling the assistant into alertness. A look of fear crossed her face as she realized what had happened.

“Have you checked on the patient?” Kahlee demanded, her hands on her hips and foot angrily tapping.

“I was just...I’m-”

“Do you even know where the patient is?”

“In bed?” the assistant stammered, hastily picking up the bandages.

“Makers breath, girl!  He’s not even in the room!”

“But-”

“Get your useless self outside and help me get him back in!”

The assistant nodded and rushed past Kahlee, head bent low.  Kahlee herself grabbed the stretcher and quickly followed.  

* * *

The night air was cold but it helped Dorian clear his mind.  He couldn’t sleep. Nor did he want to. Only nightmares awaited him.  Plus, he was growing increasingly worried with each passing day. There was no word from the surgeon in regards to the Inquisitor’s condition and neither Leliana nor Cullen were forthcoming.  He had tried to get some information from the assistant, but she just gave him a terrified look and ran off. No one seemed to know anything or was willing to share if they did. Dorian sighed and pulled the blanket closer around him.  He hated the cold.

Suppressing a shiver, he tried to focus on the sounds of the night.  Anything to keep his mind preoccupied. It was quiet for the most part, the silence broken only by the occasional creak and the faint sound of the waterfall.  The war didn’t exist here. At least not for most people. He supposed it was better that way.

“He’s going to be alright.” said a familiar voice behind him, startling Dorian.  He swung around and found Cole sitting on the opposite wall, tapping his foot lightly against it.  “He’s going to be alright.” Cole repeated, looking out at the distant mountains from under the brim of his ridiculously wide hat.  “He will need you, he’s hurting. But he will be alright.” Dorian nodded and joined the rogue on the wall.

“Thank you, Cole.”  As strange as he was, he didn’t mind his company.  Any distraction at this point was welcome after spending countless hours in the library with nothing but books and his thoughts for company.

“You’re hurting, too.” Cole noted, concern in his voice.  “I can make it go away.”

“No.  Some things you can’t just...make go away.  Sometimes the hurt is there for a reason.”

“But I can make it easier.”  Cole couldn’t understand why some people wanted to hold on to their pain.  It made it harder for him to help. “I can help you.”

For a brief moment, Dorian considered it.  Part of him wanted to let go, to forget all the bullshit, all the garbage and pain in his life.  But that would be no better than what his father wanted to do to him. It would change him, and he wasn't sure he wanted to be the persone he would become.  He was about to reply when he heard commotion coming from the courtyard. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have bothered checking. But it was the middle of the night and the commotion seemed to originate from the infirmary.  Dismounting from the wall, he rushed down to see what was going on. Down below, the surgeon and her assistant were struggling to move someone onto a stretcher. Without hesitation, he ran to their side, but when he saw who they were moving, his heart dropped.  

“Fasta vass!  You are going to kill him!” he cursed, and pushing them both aside kneeled and placed both hands on the Inquisitor’s bleeding chest.  

“What are you doing?!” Kahlee protested.

“What I should have done the moment he was brought in!”

She was about to utter another protest, but she was exhausted and everything she had done didn't seem to help much.  As much as she hated to admit it, she needed his help, whatever form it came in. Dorian ignored her and began a healing chant he learned from one of the old dusty books while he was waiting.  A blue glow emanated from his hands, illuminating the Inquisitor’s pale face. He held the chant for a bit longer until a cloud of breath escaped from between the Inquisitor’s lips. He had stopped the bleeding, but the wounds still needed to be redressed.  Carefully positioning the Inquisitor onto the stretcher, he directed Kahlee to pick up one end while he got the other and they both carried him back to the infirmary. Dorian was so preoccupied with ensuring 'Rhen’s safety that it didn’t even occur to him to ask how the Inquisitor ended up in the middle of the courtyard, bleeding to death, in the first place.  In any case, he probably didn’t want to know.

“You can leave now.” Kahlee commanded after they had put the Inquisitor back in bed.  “I appreciate your help, but I can do the rest myself.”

“I am not leaving.” Dorian replied.  He wasn’t going to sit idly by any longer.  

“But-”

“This is not up for discussion.”  He grabbed the stool by the door and placed it next to the bed, Cole’s words echoing in his mind.  He didn’t care how long it took. He wasn’t going anywhere.

 

 

Translations:

Falon'Din, ma ghilana mir din'an - Falon'Din, guide me into death

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

The faint sounds of singing penetrated through the thick haze of 'Rhen’s mind.  It sounded distant as if part of some forgotten memory or a dream. Its lulls and swells beckoned him with a painful familiarity.  As he regained consciousness, the song grew closer, louder.  

Evelline …

'Rhen smiled inwardly with relief.  It was all just a bad dream. A nightmare.  He always had those and Evelline was always there to comfort him.  As she was again this time. How could he do without her. He opened his eyes and reached out for her.  But it was not his sister who greeted him. An elven girl, small and unfamiliar. Part of him knew it, somewhere in the back of his mind.  Still, it did not diminish the pain. 'Rhen’s hand fell back to his side as reality returned. It was just a dream.  Just not the one he was hoping for.  He turned his face away and closed his eyes, squeezing them to prevent the flow of tears.  There had been enough of that.  

“You’re awake!” the elven girl exclaimed, half relieved and half excited.  Before 'Rhen could utter protests, she was by his bedside, feeling his forehead, checking over his bandages, and generally being overly fussy.  

“I’m fine.” he managed to croak.  His voice was hoarse and his throat felt dryer than the sands of Western Approach.  

“Water!'' She seemed to pick up on his cues and, checking him over one more time, disappeared behind the wooden door.  She was gone but a second before the door flew open and her frantic face was beside him once more. “I shouldn’t leave you alone!  Ms. Kahlee…” 'Rhen watched her fret back and forth, sending him nervous glances while chewing on her lower lip. She paused, looked at him, then at the cot next to his.  He followed her gaze. What was an empty spot before was now occupied by Dorian. He looked a mess. His hair was in a disarray and his face was shadowed by stubble and what looked like a blood smear.  He looked older, worn out. “I’ll wake him!” the girl’s voice rang out as her footsteps approached the cot. He wasn’t sure why, but panic set in 'Rhen’s chest and he reached out to stop her.

“No!  No. Don’t.”  he begged, choking back dry spit.

She looked at him in confusion.  “He said-” she began.

“I- I promise I won’t go anywhere.  Just… don’t wake him.” 'Rhen wasn’t sure what terrified him so much.  Their confrontation was inevitable, he knew that. But it didn’t have to be now, did it?  “Please.”

“I have to notify the advisors, at least.” she voiced, pointing to the door.  “If I don’t, they’ll be angry.”

'Rhen sighed and closed his eyes.  That was another confrontation he wasn’t looking forward to.  The only favorable consequence of his actions was the numbness in his body.  The panic subsided slightly as he glanced in Dorian’s direction again. He did not stir, to 'Rhen’s relief.  “Help me up.” he commanded, motioning for the assistant to come closer. If he was to get through this, he needed to numb his mind, he needed to be his old self.  The old self before he was Lavellan. Pain and grief were something he couldn’t afford either of. There was too much to do and too little time to do it.  

“You mustn’t-!”

“That’s an order.”

He could feel the stares on the back of his head and hear their whispers as he limped through the courtyard on his way to Skyhold’s main hall.  How long had it been? Not that it mattered much. Nothing looked like it changed. He gave his surroundings a cursory glance before returning attention back to his feet.  The only thing that changed was him. One foot in front of the other. Barely holding together. If it wasn’t for the bandages, 'Rhen was certain he would fall apart. Ignoring the whispers, he leaned closer into the assistant as she helped him walk.  He was glad for her companionship. She didn’t ask him questions, didn’t engage him in meaningless conversation. She just carried him.  

Stairs were more difficult.  By the time they reached the top his whole body felt like it was on fire.  But instead of letting it drag him down, 'Rhen embraced it. It fueled him and his motivation for what was to come.  

“Thank you, for this.” 'Rhen managed weakly as they hobbled into the main hall, greeted by gasps of shock and surprise.  There were more people there than he was expecting. Judging by the masks, most were dignitaries from Orlais. Which, of course, meant rumors will abound.  Let them.  

“Take me to the war room.” he whispered to the assistant, who nodded in agreement, an expression of discomfort on her face equaling his own.  Seeing Orlesians at Skyhold was not that unusual since the Inquisition brokered a peace treaty between Celene and Gaspard. It was more of a nuisance as their manners irritated him.  They believed themselves superior to all others and it reminded him of the humans from his past.  

His past.  'Rhen shook his head slightly to dismiss his thoughts, letting his hair fall over his eyes.  He owed them nothing and they meant nothing to him. He had a singular purpose and it lay behind the door he was steadily approaching.  When they were finally able to push past it, he shut it firmly and leaned against it, breathing heavily. A small respite before facing the real challenge.  Half of him had considered just running for it. Though in his current state he’d probably get as far as the front gates before he expired. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone.  'Rhen glanced at the stairs leading down to the kitchen and the cellar and then at the door leading to Josephine’s office. Their ambassador was the last person he wanted to see right now.  But with his luck…  

“I don’t suppose you could go check for me?” he half smiled to his assistant, nodding towards the door.

“It will be alright.” she smiled back reassuringly and, putting his arm around her shoulder, guided him forward.  She was probably going to get fired for this. Or worse. She couldn’t say no, though. Not to the Inquisitor. He was a good person and had done much for everyone here.  This was the least she could do.

* * *

“Celene will never agree to these terms!  Not without a better offer from us!” Leliana argued, pointing to the parchment on the table.  

“I don’t know how else to say this, but we can’t offer better terms if we’re nothing but smoldering ash and dust!  You know this!” Cullen threw his arms up in frustration. He had enough of the Orlesian politics at the Winter Palace.  To have to deal with this again was something he preferred to have avoided. Unfortunately, this was an unavoidable necessity brought on by the course of events.  He was about to try and explain to Leliana again why his terms were the only terms when the double doors slowly opened. All three of them looked in the direction of the intruder with surprise and expectation.  None of them expected to see what was before them. They all fell into shocked silence as the Inquisitor stumbled into the war room, looking like death itself. Leliana was the first to come to her senses.

“Good.  You’re awake.” she said as if nothing had happened.  “This will make decisions considerably less difficult.”  

“I hope you’re here  to stay.” Cullen voiced in turn, crossing his arms over his chest.  “People seem to take us less seriously without someone in charge.”

Josephine was the last to break the silence.  She stared at him as though he had just risen from the dead.  And in truth, he may as well have, if the reports were to be believed.  More than anything though, Josephine felt relieved. She hadn’t slept well since the Inquisitor’s disappearance or his arrival.  Him being here now, awake, was a good sign. At least she hoped it was. There was still a chance that he just wanted to tell them that he was leaving for good.  

“I’m glad to see you well, Inquisitor.” she ventured, bowing slightly and extending her hands forward in a gesture of goodwill.  

“As are we.” Leliana interjected without breaking eye contact with 'Rhen.  “But as it stands, we do have important business to attend to. Business that has been sorely needing your attention.”  There were a million questions she herself wanted to ask the Inquisitor, but she knew that was better saved for a more private time.  This was a delicate situation and needed to be handled with caution as well as with authority. And asking questions was not the way. “Shall we?” she motioned to the war table.  'Rhen shook his head in reply.

“This won’t take long."  His voice cracked, throat dry from lack of water.  He coughed and cleared his throat before continuing.  "I am leaving Cassandra in charge of all outgoing missions until I return to full health.  All reports are to be forwarded to me in my quarters. I will also need an update on all that has been going on while I was… away.”  He took a step forward and winced as pain shot through his body. All things considered, this wasn’t going too terribly, though. “We all want the same thing.  Let's get it done,” he finished after catching his breath. 'Rhen tried to look as confident as he sounded. A task easier said than done when all he wanted to do was collapse in bed and never wake up again.  But he started this and so he needed to see it through. This choice was made for him the moment he stepped foot in the Conclave. The anchor was his burden and his alone. 'Rhen turned slowly in a feeble attempt to curb the pain and walked out the door, refusing to look back.  This was the best case scenario. No questions, no interrogations. No looks of pity. “Take me to my room.” he addressed the assistant. He was exhausted and in pain, but had no interest in spending another day at the infirmary. In any case, this was nothing that couldn’t be solved with a bit of blood lotus leaf.

His room was blessedly empty and with a little help, he finally managed to situate himself in bed.  He hadn’t noticed it until now, but there was a faint ringing in his ears. 'Rhen closed his eyes and tried to relax his muscles, but his heart was pounding in his chest, threatening to burst through and his head felt like it was going to split.  

“I’ll be right outside your door, if you need me.” the assistant’s voice penetrated through the high pitched buzz.  

“No.  Stay.” 'Rhen said after a moment of hesitation, reaching his free hand towards her.  “I don’t- I don’t want to be alone.”

“Of course.” she replied, sounding relieved and, moving the chair over, sat by the bedside, her hands folded neatly in her lap.  “Do you need anything?”  

“What is your name?  I’m sorry. I forgot to ask.”

“Ellana.” she responded, giving him a small smile.  No one had ever asked her before. Not earnestly. Silence enveloped them until 'Rhen spoke up again.

“Will you sing to me?”  

“Of course.  What shall I sing?” she replied, taken slightly aback by the request.

“The song you sang earlier.  Where did you learn it?”  

A pause followed his question and 'Rhen thought she hadn’t heard him.  He was about to ask again when she spoke.

“My mother taught me.”  There was a hint of sadness in her voice, but before 'Rhen could inquire further, she started to sing.  It was soft and warm and reminded him of home. He didn’t tell Ellana and he wasn’t sure how she knew, but this was his favorite song.  Evelline would always sing it to him after he woke up in sweat from a nightmare. He took a shuddered breath as the memories surfaced.  

I will always be there for you .  Those were his last words to her.  As Ellana’s voice washed over him, 'Rhen drifted off into dreamless sleep

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

 

This job was going to be the death of him.  He was certain of it. Adan had been patching the boy up since day one and quite frankly, he was getting tired of it.  And somehow, Maker knows, the Herald managed to show up at his doorstep in worse condition than before. A magnet for disaster, that’s what he was.  With no end in sight. Adan wiped the sweat from his brow and resumed the brewing of necessary tonics. Again. At this rate, he may as well say goodbye to sleep.  Or maybe, just maybe, while no one was looking, leap off the cliff into blissful oblivion. At least the smith had ceased his hammering. He’ll take small victories where he can.  

“Is it ready yet?” Ellana asked behind him, making Adan nearly jump out of his skin.  He had completely forgotten about the elf girl. It didn’t help that she was quiet as a mouse, sitting in a dark corner.  

“It’ll be ready when it’s ready.” he grumbled, waving his hand dismissively in her direction without turning to face her.  The process was a delicate one. He heard enough horror stories to keep caution. “Shouldn’t you be elsewhere?”

“Ms. Kahlee requested that I wait here.  She’s with the Inquisitor now.”

Adan grunted in response.  He saw the Inquisitor’s injuries.  It’s a wonder he was still alive. He wasn’t going to be the one to break the bad news to him, though.  Leave that to the professionals. His job was to make sure the lab did not explode and he was going to do just that.  He flipped the hourglass over and turned the flame under the embrium extract off. A few more minutes and he’ll be able to combine it with the amrita vein paste.  While the embrium extract cooled, he ground up the arbor blessing seeds to a fine powder and mixed it into the paste. At least the scent was pleasant. As the last grain of sand fell to the bottom, Adan combined all the ingredients and poured the viscous contents into a small jar.  “There. Now, leave.” he shoved the jar into the girl’s hands and returned to his table. The easy part was over.

The contents felt warm in Ellana’s hands and she could smell the flowery aroma with a hint of mint.  Overlooking his demeanor, she had to admit that Adan had impressive skill when it came to herbalism. She carefully placed the jar in the small pouch on her waist and, without further disturbing the alchemist, slipped out.  Thankfully, the main hall was quiet as everyone had gone to sleep. Ellana picked up the lantern by the door and made her way back to the Inquisitor’s quarters.  

When she returned, Kahlee was in the process of removing the bandages, revealing the angry red scarring tissue underneath.  It had been over a month since the Inquisitor returned and only now, looking at him in the candlelight did Ellana notice his eyes.  They looked hollow, almost cold. Maybe it was just the trick of the light. He never seemed to sleep. Sometimes, when she came by to bring food or water, she’d catch him staring out the window, holding on to a small wooden halla.  When he saw her, he always hid it. She tried asking him about it, but he never said anything. Though she had her suspicions. Ellana was no stranger to tragedy.  

“Here is the poultice you requested, ma’am.” she said, handing the small jar to Kahlee who took it without saying anything.  Ellana could tell she was tired, too. With the Inquisitor refusing help from anyone else, the work fell solely to her. She tried to help as much as she could and she liked to think it was making some difference.  But looking at the Inquisitor, bruised, broken, and barely alive made her realize otherwise. No amount of healing poultices could fix what was broken inside.

* * *

When nothing else worked, the one person Dorian could always count on was the tavern’s bartender.  He had spent hours trying to read a book before realizing he wasn’t getting past the first page. First sentence, really.  He even tried goading Mother Gisele into an argument. The legitimacy of the Chantry always seemed to ruffle the old hen’s feathers.  Especially when the Black Divine came into play. But not even that could keep his mind from turning on itself. Tossing the book aside, Dorian rolled out of the chair and stretched.  The alcove of useless books. He should probably speak to someone about that. Or maybe just take over as the librarian. Saving Thedas one leather bound tome at a time. At least with books one always knew what to expect.  Books and taverns.  

The Herald’s Rest was boisterous again and Cabot was in his usual apathetic mood, which suited Dorian just fine.  He slipped effortlessly past the drunk soldiers and sat at the bar. Though he hadn’t even managed to get a word out before he felt a small hand on his back.

“Drinks and insults, yeah?” Sera giggled as she planted herself beside him.  Dorian gave her a sideways glance but did not protest.

“Are we celebrating?” he asked, flagging Cabot down.  Sera was clearly a few drinks ahead of him and he wasn’t one to fall behind.  Let it never be said that an elf girl outdrank a Tevinter. Particularly this Tevinter.  Without missing a beat, Cabot filled a pitcher and placed it unceremoniously in front of Dorian.  

“What?  I need a reason?”

“True enough.” Dorian conceded.  “Cheers.” He raised the cup to Sera and took a sip.  It was awful, bitter, and burned as it went down his throat.  “I think the bartender is slowly trying to kill everyone.” he commented after the burning had subsided.  

“I know!” Sera laughed.  “It’s shite, innit? Gimme some.”

Drinking with Sera was easy and the conversation came naturally.  And the more they drank, the more ridiculous the conversations got.  It was exactly what he needed. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he felt okay.  Undoubtedly, the alcohol helped, but that was the point. However, as in all good things, it had to come to an end.  As Sera disappeared up the stairs followed by a string of profanities, Dorian was left on his own. Sufficiently inebriated, he decided to turn in for the night, as well.  Though try as he might, nothing brought him sleep. Of all the things, his mind wandered to thoughts of his father. The last conversation they had was unexpected, to say the least.  If it were up to him, it would have never happened to begin with. But as it were, Lavellan dragged him out to Redcliffe and… surprised him. No one had ever gone to such lengths for him without expecting something in return.  That day his relationship with his father was not the only thing that changed. The entire ordeal had put the Inquisitor in a whole new light, especially after he all but abandoned him in Redcliffe during the early days of the rebellion.  If anything, Lavellan made for an excellent friend. He would never admit it to anyone, but Dorian was glad for the chance to somewhat reconcile with his father.  

Thinking of family brought on a sobering realization.  He had recently overheard a rumor that an elven clan was slaughtered in some city.  There were no names and as terrible as it was, Dorian did not think much of it. Until now.  He remembered the conversation he had with Lavellan about his family and their move to Wycome and the uncanny timing of everything that preceded the rumor.  

It couldn’t be…  The thought of it being true...

But it all made sense.  Lavellan’s behavior at Hissing Wastes, his sudden departure, and his disappearance.  The timing. It couldn’t have been a coincidence.  

How did he not see this before?  

Cole knew.  Dorian assumed he was talking about the physical pain.  But this was what he must have meant when he said the Inquisitor was hurting.  How could he have been so blind? The realization was staggering and it left Dorian paralyzed.  What could one say to such a thing? Sorry for your loss, better luck next time! Condolences seemed inadequate.  More than ever it made him wish to be by 'Rhen's side. To offer some kind of support. Even in silence. But the Inquisitor still refused to see anyone.  

*** 

Since his return, ‘'Rhen’s mornings and afternoons have turned into an unending slew of paperwork and decision making, interspersed with less frequent bandage changing and more recently, physical therapy.  He was now able to walk on his own and his left arm was back to normal. He couldn’t say the same for his right arm. Kahlee had said he would never regain full strength, which meant his sword using days were behind him.  But what did that leave him with? He could talk to Harritt to see if the smith could fashion him something, but there was no guarantee in that. Not even his skills as an archer would be useful, as terrible as they were. 'Rhen sighed and shoved aside the myriad of letters strewn across his desk.  In hindsight, doing what he did was probably not the best decision considering his position. A fact he had to learn to live with for the rest of his life. But he was starting to get used to it. He had to. It’s what Evelline would have wanted, for him to keep going. And he was trying to. Gods, he was trying to.  With his whole clan gone, it was hard finding a reason to keep fighting, to keep going. He had tried the apathetic route, but that only left him feeling empty. And he was growing tired of the apologetic looks everyone seemed to be giving him. So 'Rhen did the only other sensible thing left to him. He put a smile on and told everyone he was ok.  He knew they needed to hear that. How could the people put faith in someone who couldn’t even hold himself together? And that was where he was now.  

It was starting to be easier though, getting up in the morning, going through the daily routine.  In fact, he hadn’t completely broken down in over a week. Evelline would have been proud. The next step was to venture back out into society.  Cassandra had done a fine job of keeping the Inquisition going, but it was time for 'Rhen to step back up. The burden was his and his alone. He was shuffling through the stack of papers again when the anchor started to flare up.  It had been doing that for a few days now. It didn't hurt much, but it was still cause for concern. He clenched and unclenched his fist as the tingling pain swept through his arm. Perhaps it was just a side effect of the stress. Still, not bad enough to concern anyone with, though.  But it did give 'Rhen an idea. The anchor was his connection to the Fade and he had some moderate control over it. If he could learn more about it, it might enable him to use a modicum of magic.  

Solas.  If anyone was an expert on the fade, it was him.  Solas was the one who originally stabilized the anchor when 'Rhen first acquired it, Solas was also the one who showed him how to close rifts with it.  Solas, however, was out in the field and thus out of the question. The alternative was-

No.  Not yet.  

There was that library beneath Josephine’s office.  He had been down there a few times before when he was looking for information on templar abilities and recalled there being a number of books on magic.  It couldn’t hurt to look. Venturing beyond the confines of his room seemed like an ill advised idea, however. Fortunately, the sun was already approaching the horizon and most people by now would be returning to their quarters, leaving the main hall deserted.  A perfect opportunity to slip out unnoticed and uninterrupted.  

'Rhen sat at his desk for a few minutes longer, watching the snow fall outside.  Before coming to the Conclave to spy on the Templar-Mage negotiations, he had never seen so much of it.  The climate in Free Marches tended to be more mild. Most of the time, when his extremities weren’t freezing off, he didn’t mind.  Today, though, was a bit colder than he was used to. But it kept him awake and thus, productive. After slipping into something warmer and putting on a pair of boots, 'Rhen lit one of the smaller lanterns and began making his way down stairs.  He was almost at the first door when he realized he probably shouldn’t just leave. He steadily made his way back up and finding a blank piece of parchment, scribbled a quick note. There was no need to cause further panic should anyone decide to visit him while he was away.  Satisfied, 'Rhen placed the note on his bed and left the room.

As he predicted, the hall was mainly empty except for a few stragglers who, thankfully, paid no attention to him and he was able to make it down to the library without difficulty.  It was quiet down there, not even a sound from the kitchen. The cooks must have turned in for the night. 'Rhen glanced behind him to make sure he wasn’t followed, then ducked into the small library, almost tripping over a stack of books.  He swore quietly and kicked the stack aside, wondering who else had been down here. Raising the lantern higher, he surveyed the alcove. It was in complete disarray with half the shelves emptied onto the floor. Books, some opened and earmarked, were strewn all over the place, covering almost every flat surface.  Not even the chair was spared. He grimaced and set the lantern on a stack on the desk. This was going to be harder than he thought. At least it was something to do.  

Lighting the rest of the torches, 'Rhen began sorting through the books.

The task proved to be more time consuming and arduous than he anticipated.  And consistently climbing up to reach the higher shelves was starting to take its toll on his body.  It ached in more places than he could count, making 'Rhen reconsider going back out into the field. If he was this tired from just moving a bunch of books around, there was no telling how he would fare from traveling.  And not to mention the fighting. He set another set of books on the shelf and letting out a tired sigh, leaned against it. It was starting to get hot. He had already shed a layer of clothing but that didn’t seem to stop his body heat from rising.  Giving his heart a moment to slow down, he removed his cotton undershirt and draped it over the back of the chair. The cold air felt good against his burning skin and moving his damp hair out of his face, 'Rhen resumed his task.  

“Need a hand?”

He was halfway through putting another stack in order when the interruption came, but the familiar voice stopped him dead in his tracks as his heart shot up into his throat.   Why now?

“Dorian!” he turned to face the entrance.  “What are you doing here?” He hadn't seen him since the infirmary but he hadn't, for a second, forgotten how piercing his gaze was.

“I could ask you the same,” Dorian replied, leaning against the entryway with his arms crossed, concern playing over his face.  There was something else there, too. He knew. Of course he knew.

“I...uh...” was all 'Rhen could muster.  He gripped the books in his arms a little tighter and turned back around towards the shelves.  Standing there, with Dorian behind him, he felt completely naked and it scared him a little. How much did he know?  He wasn’t ready for this. Not here. Not now. “I was looking for… something.” he managed after a pause, setting the books down.  Why did he even care?  

“In the middle of the night?”  

Pushing as many feelings down as he could, 'Rhen put on a smile and turned to face the mage again.  “The best time to find all the answers,” he replied.  

If there was one thing Dorian knew better than most it was how to hide one’s true feelings.  And Lavellan’s smile wasn’t fooling anyone. He didn’t expect to run into the Inquisitor at this hour.  Especially not here. But here he was, in all his shirtless glory, trying his best to look like everything was alright.  He looked different, and it wasn’t the haircut or the number of new scars riddling his body and face. It was his look. A look of a defeated man who was still trying, despite everything.  And Dorian couldn’t help but respect that. Any lesser man would have been broken beyond all help. “And have you? Found them,” he asked, stepping into the alcove. The opposite direction of where he should have been going.  But he hadn’t seen Lavellan since the night he spent at the infirmary and he couldn’t help himself.  

“Have you seen this place?” 'Rhen said in reply, raising his brow.  “You would be lucky to find anything.”

“Ah.  Yes. Sorry about that.”

“It was you?”  'Rhen gave Dorian an incredulous look, who shrugged in return.

“I was looking for something.”

“Did you find it?”

“No.”  Dorian replied after a pause.  

A heavy silence fell over both of them as each retreated to either side of the small library, neither knowing what more to say and neither wanting to say what was really on their minds.  They worked together for a while, returning the books to their rightful shelves until Dorian couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“I’m sorry.” he said quietly.

“It’s fine.  They’re just books.”

“Not about that.”

Dorian’s words stopped 'Rhen in his tracks.   He did know. And he had been doing so well today.  All the emotions that he had been carefully hiding away in the deepest recess of his mind started fighting their way back to the surface, threatening to bubble over.  His fingers gripped the leather bound tome in his hands as he tried to regain some composure. He had heard so many apologies, so many consolations. Why did this one affect him so much more?  

“I’m fine.  Really.” he voiced, not entirely sure who he was trying to convince.   Hold it together, damn it. Hold it together .

“You’ll have to deal with it eventually.  You taught me that, remember? The longer you hold it in, the worse it will get, believe me.”

Of course Dorian was right.  'Rhen knew that much. But did he have to be right now?  He hadn’t dealt with his emotions. He lashed out and then he closed himself off completely.  And he was fine with that. If he didn’t admit it to himself, it meant they weren’t truly gone.  So, why was it so damn hard now? He could feel Dorian’s presence, and if he could focus just enough…  He could forget about everything. He could make him forget. Even for just a moment…

The book slipped through his fingers and fell with a heavy thud to the stone floor.  He didn’t hesitate, didn’t give him a moment to think, to react. Closing the distance between them, 'Rhen pulled Dorian into a heavy kiss.  He didn’t care, not then. He just wanted to lose himself.  

The act took Dorian completely off guard.  It was the last thing he expected. He should have stopped it right then, but he couldn’t.  No matter how hard he tried, no matter how many times he told himself it meant nothing, he couldn’t forget their last kiss.  And he wanted it. Maker knows he wanted it. There was no stopping now. Lavellan’s intensity was overwhelming and Dorian was swept up in it.  A willing and participating casualty. His breath felt like fire on his skin and he wanted more. He wanted- no, needed all of him. His defenses crumbled as he returned the favor in kind.  It was hot, and messy, and needy, and above all, more than Dorian ever hoped for. He fumbled with his clasps, trying to free himself from his trappings, needing to feel Lavellan’s skin against his own, until both their clothing was on the ground.  Everyone else be damned. Clearing the table with one swift motion, Dorian pushed Lavellan onto in and, leaning over his slender figure, began kissing his skin starting at his collar bone.  

'Rhen shivered under Dorian’s touch as sensations he had forgotten overtook his body.  He wasn’t inexperienced. Oh, no. Quite the contrary. In his wanton youth, 'Rhen had frequented many brothels around Free Marches.  But he had never been with another man before. And it all felt incredible. His breath hitched with every kiss, with every caress. His fingers tangled in Dorian’s hair, pushing him lower as an ache spread through his groin.  His breathing became laboured as the mage’s hands and mouth did things he never thought possible. 'Rhen lost his mind completely when Dorian took his full length into his mouth. His back arched and noises he didn’t know existed escaped him as his body surrendered to complete ecstasy.  

And then it hit.  Out of nowhere, like a punch in the gut.

Guilt.

How could he do this?  To Dorian, of all people.  It felt wrong, like he was taking advantage of him, and it made 'Rhen feel dirty and shameful.  Guilt gave way to a flood of all the emotions 'Rhen had suppressed over the past few months. Anger for not being there for his clan, utter confusion in leading an organization he wanted no part of, his feelings for the man who now looked at him with great concern, and a crushing sense of failure.  

“I’m sorry.  I can’t.” he managed.  Pushing Dorian off, he threw on his trousers and withdrew from the library before the weight of what he had just done destroyed him irreparably.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

 

By the time 'Rhen made it up to his quarters and managed to shut the door behind him, his mind was racing with a million different thoughts.  There was no coming back from this. He ruined the last good thing he had in this miserable life. What was he going to say? How could he possibly ever look Dorian in the face again?  He clutched his shirt to his chest, his breathing coming in short, shallow gasps. Was this how it was going to be? Everything he touched inevitably always ended up ruined. It was absurd for him to think that there could ever be any happiness in his life.  From anything, or anyone. Not after what he had done. 'Rhen’s head spun as the memories of his youth surfaced. If they had known what he truly was, they wouldn’t have been so quick to proclaim him the Herald. Cassandra would have left him in the stocks at Haven to be destroyed with the rest of the town.  And it would have been just.  

But he tried!  Tried to atone for the murders he so senselessly committed, for all the innocent lives he cut short.  Because someone kinder than he was willing to give him a second chance. His Keeper had shown him that there was a different way.  A better way.  

Lies.  All lies.  

There was no rest for the wicked.

'Rhen’s hands dropped to his sides and he slid down to the floor, burying his face in his shirt.  The pain was unbearable, threatening to overwhelm his whole being, body and mind. Except this time, instead of pushing it all away, 'Rhen let it wash over him.  Every feeling, every emotion and thought that he had hidden away and refused to acknowledge rushed forward, reducing him to a sobbing mess on the floor. He stayed that way for what felt like hours until his mind finally drifted off into blissful oblivion.  

***

The next morning 'Rhen awoke to a new sense of calm and determination.  Last night had given him time to think about what truly mattered. Everything he had done prior was no longer relevant.  By accepting his position as Inquisitor, he relinquished his past and self to a cause that was bigger than him. Thedas was at war, with him at the forefront.  And in war, there were always casualties. He should have been better prepared for it. But he was naive then. Now, he knew better. It was time for him to set aside his personal feelings and needs and do what he was called upon to do.  Throwing aside the crumpled shirt, 'Rhen got up and walked over to the water basin on his desk. His body ached from sleeping on the floor and his eyes stung. Seeing his reflection in the water, he wasn’t surprised. His hair was disheveled and his eyes were red and puffy.  He looked a proper mess.  

Wetting his hands in the ice cold water, he raked his fingers through his hair, putting it somewhat in place.  At least it was easier to keep it neat since his haircut. Kahlee had to shave the side of his head to treat a nasty cut and Ellana had done the rest, proclaiming in comforting tones that this was going to be the new popular style among the people.  Who wouldn’t want to look like the famous Inquisitor? He gingerly touched the scar, another permanent reminder of his failures. But he had to admit, the haircut was good. Cupping more water in his hands, he splashed it on his face, the coldness waking him up completely.  It was time to finally get back to work. He had wasted enough of everyone’s time.  

After dumping the remainder of the water over the balcony, 'Rhen placed the bowl on top of his dresser, put on a clean shirt and pants, and returned to his desk.  All sorts of paperwork littered the surface, from letters from foreign dignitaries to reports from all the advisors and scout Harding, to hand written notes he had made throughout the past few weeks.  He began sorting through them until he came across a small envelope with Inquisitor written in Leliana’s neat handwriting. He felt the weight of it. Probably another amulet from another completed mission.  There seemed to be no end to them. The missions or the amulets. 'Rhen was about to set it aside when something stayed his hand. Something about this one felt different. He opened the envelope and let the heavy amulet fall into his palm.  The pendant was an entwined double headed snake sitting above what looked like a family crest and hung on a thin gold chain. 'Rhen didn’t need Dagna to tell him what this was. He instantly recognized the Pavus birthright. This belonged to Dorian.  In all that had happened, 'Rhen simply forgot to return it to him. He closed his fingers around the gold pendant, shutting out the memories of the night before. He remembered his intentions behind it. It was to be a surprise. A gesture of -

Of what?  Of love? The word rang hollow in his mind.  That gesture was now meaningless. Holding on to the pendant a second longer, 'Rhen dropped it back in its envelope and shoved it aside.  He’ll return it to its rightful owner later. Or have Leliana do it. Though he knew he had to talk to Dorian sooner or later. His behavior the night prior was inexcusable and could not go unanswered.  

He sorted through a few more missives before his eyes drifted back to the envelope.  It would probably be better for everyone involved if he got rid of all remaining vestiges of his relationship with the mage.  That way they could both move on. He picked it up tentatively and let the pendant slip back out into his palm. The sunlight glittered off the small gemstones encrusted in the crest and the snake eyes, refracting playfully onto the walls as 'Rhen shifted the pendant in his hand.  Mustering all the determination he had awoken with, he dropped it into his pocket and before he could change his mind, headed for the tower.

By the time 'Rhen reached the circular library, though, his resolve had nearly withered.  The speech he had given himself just this morning now seemed an impossibility. How could he put his personal feelings aside when it came to Dorian?  As he reached the top of the stairs and saw the mage’s back, his determination completely vanished.  

This was a mistake.  It was too soon. He didn’t have enough time to recover.  'Rhen was about to turn back before anyone could notice him, but it was too late.  A resounding “Inquisitor!” rang through the tower as one of his people shouted a friendly greeting.  'Rhen flinched. One glance in Dorian’s direction told him that escape was no longer an option. It was now or never.  He gave a halfhearted smile and a nod to the follower and stalked his way over to where Dorian stood with his arms crossed.  

“I don’t suppose you brought wine.” the mage voiced, his brow cocked with curiosity.

“I- no.” 'Rhen frowned.  It was difficult for him to read Dorian’s face.  He was exceptionally good at hiding his feelings.  He was exceptionally good at everything, in fact. Though that hardly mattered at the moment.  

“Then are we off to another marvelous adventure to the ass end of Thedas?  I am certain Corypheus is quite despondent without you meddling in his affairs.”  

'Rhen’s frown deepened.  Dorian didn’t want to talk about it.  He wasn’t that good at hiding it after all.  

“No.  I wanted to apologize.  I acted without thinking and took advantage of you.  It won’t happen again.” he blurted it all out before hesitation took hold of him again.

“Is that what you call it?” Dorian replied.  If he felt anything, he hid it well. “Silly me for thinking it was more than what it was.” he laughed.

“I’m being serious, Dorian.”  'Rhen was thrown off by the remark.  How could he joke about such a thing?

“As am I, Inquisitor.  Consider the matter forgotten.”  Dorian didn’t let Lavellan say another word.  He picked up a book from the small table nearby and turned away from him.  What else could he say? He wasn’t the one who was owed an apology. Knowing what he knew, Lavellan wasn’t the one who took advantage.  But no words came to mind to express the level of regret and shame he felt for his actions. All he could do was deflect with humor. “We’re both adults.  Things happen.” he quipped, turning to face 'Rhen with a lopsided smile. But the shadow over Lavellan’s face didn’t waver. Instead, he just nodded and disappeared down the stairs, his footsteps echoing with a painful finality.

There you go, breaking my heart...

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

 

    'Rhen paced back and forth across the room, wringing his hands, trying to calm down.  Every few paces, he would take out the pendant as if it contained the answers he needed.  He wound and unwound the chain around his fingers absentmindedly until he realized what he was doing, then shoved it back into his pocket and resumed his pacing.  Eventually, he found himself outside on the balcony with his elbows resting on the railing, the pendant hanging from his clasped hands. The entire ordeal had worn him out, his breathing shallow.  But even though his body ached, he felt like he needed to move, do something, or he would go insane from his mind running in circles. He watched the pendant sway in the wind and let out a tired sigh.  Ahn sulevem, ne...   'Rhen never believed in fate.  The thought of him having to endure his childhood because some being deemed it necessary was just too much.  Keeper Istimaethoriel had taught him that nothing was certain. He was in charge of his own destiny. His choices mattered.  Banal nadas , she would tell him.  Nothing is inevitable .  He let out a sardonic laugh.  What he wouldn't give now to have all his choices already made for him.  Because then it wouldn't matter what he did. Everything would turn out the way it was meant to be.  

    But what did that mean for him and Dorian? 

    He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his forhead into his wound fingers as his grip tightened around the chain.  Despite all his posturing, he wasn't ready to let go. But he didn't know how to hold on, either. He would rather face a thousand demons than the man he hurt.  

    The man he loved.  

    His chest tightened at his own admission, the realization only made sharper by the events of the night prior.

    All is not lost, da'len.  You must learn to let go of your past.  It is the only way forward .

    His heart filled with anguish and it took ever ounce of 'Rhen's strength to not completely fall apart.  

    Ir abelas, Amelan Istimaethoriel.  I have failed myself, and in doing so, I have failed you.  I need your guidance, now more than ever. But you cannot. And it is my fault.  It has always been my fault .  Freeing his hand from the other, 'Rhen reached for the markings on his face.  He had undergone the traditional Dalish tattoo a year after joining clan Lavellan.  It had been a difficult year, full of pain and regret, and so much hate. Hate that burned deep within his chest.  It never went away, but he had learned to manage it and, most times, overcome it. That was why he chose Sylaise. Not only as a symbol of home, but also to honor his Keeper without whom he would surely have died.  

    Now it was just a reminder of his failure, broken and misshapen by the scars that riddled his face.  Thinking about it brought out the anger that simmered beneath the surface and he scowled. Was it ever going to get better?  At least he still had purpose. After a moment of hesitation, he looped the pendant around his neck and, after hiding it beneath his shirt, stalked back inside his room.  His sword sat in the corner by the balcony and he picked it up as he walked in. It felt heavy in his hands, heavier than he remembered. Ever since he got back, 'Rhen had been hesitant to pick it up for fear of his own weakness.  Plus, Kahlee had threatened him that if he so much as glanced at it, she would confine him to his bed under constant surveillance. But he couldn't avoid it forever. The blade needed some polishing, but the edge, as he discovered, was still as sharp as ever.  He wiped the blood from his thumb on his pants and hesitantly lifted the blade, feeling its weight. The sword was an extension of him and it felt good to once again hold it, as if he had recovered a missing limb. After a moment, though, the tip dipped to the ground, the stiffness in his arm giving protest.  Most of the damage was in his dominant arm and even though Kahlee was optimistic, he had a feeling she was only doing so for his benefit. He grit his teeth against the pain, rolled his shoulder, and raised the sword again.  

    Fenedhis!   His arm and chest hurt like hell.  Though the anger only served to make him more determined.  He clenched his jaw and put his body in a guard stance. Feet planted firmly on the ground, bent at the knee.  Left foot forward, right foot back, providing support. Fingers wound tightly around the hilt, he brought it up to temple level with the blade angled diagonally and pointed forward.  

    His right shoulder screamed in protest and his arm shook.  It took every bit of strength 'Rhen had to not drop the blade.  He let out a low growl and tightened his grip around the hilt, taking a step forward and bringing the blade in front of him, holding the hilt at hip level and tip pointed at an imaginary foe's throat.  From here, he let the tip of the blade drop almost to the ground before taking another step forward and swinging the blade up over his head.  

    That was too much.  His arm gave out and the sword clattered to the ground behind him.  

    'Rhen let out a guttural yell and cursed loudly, nursing his arm close to his chest.  

    Again!   

    He flared his nostrils, sucked in a deep breath, then picked up his sword and fell back into the first stance.  One , he counted off, holding the blade at temple level.  Two , bringing it to the front.  Three .  Lower it.  Four .  Over his head.  His arm gave out again, followed by another string of curses.  

    Again!

    One.  Two. Three.  Four. He counted each move off in his mind.  His muscles ached and burned, but the more he failed, the more determined he became.  One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. Four. Again and again, until he couldn't lift the sword any more.  His fingers were slick with sweat from wiping his brow and he could feel it running down his back. But his mind, for the first time, was clear of thought.  Every ounce of concentration was given to the exercise and so he couldn't stop. He didn't dare to.  

    Again.  One. Two.  Three. Four.  His breathing became ragged, puffing out in front of him in a white cloud.  He became hyper aware of every fiber of muscle in his body as each lit on fire from the motion.  And when his body refused to follow directions, he downed a draught of lyrium and resumed. One. Two.  Three. Four. His hair was matted to his face, his body drenched in sweat, and his muscles twitched from overuse, but he kept going.  Each stroke blended into the next until he was just a blur of body and blade. But as his body started to give and his lyrum supply ran out, his movements became erratic, desperate, fueled more by anger than precision.  In a last ditch effort, 'Rhen let out a yell and swung his sword at the bed post, leaving a sizable dent behind. It felt good to hit something solid, so he swung again and again, sending splinters of wood in all directions.  Each hit sent vibrations up his arms to the base of his skull, blurring his vision and enraging him even more. With as much strength as he could muster, he swung the blade all the way around and embedded it deep within the post.  It refused to give when he pulled on it, so he pulled harder, bracing himself with one foot against the bed frame. With one final protest, the blade pulled free from its trappings, but the momentum sent 'Rhen tumbling backwards. With all his energy spent, he lost his balance and crashed to the ground, his sword flying out of his hands and smashing through a window.  'Rhen didn't hear the glass shatter as he twisted to brace his fall with his arm and felt the bone crack. His vision popped as unbearable pain shot through him.  

    Fuck.  Fuckfuckfuck!

    He rolled onto his back, holding his arm close, tears welling in his eyes.  He lay there for a bit, breathing through his teeth until he felt calm enough to inspect the damage.  He tentatively reached for the break, prodding at his flesh with his fingers.  

    Shit.  Definitely broken.  At least it didn't break through his skin.  Though it was starting to swell. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and tried to divert his focus away from the pain.  He needed to set the bone. He thumbed at where the break was and lightly tried to push the broken piece back in place. The act set his nerves on fire and he cried out, both in frustration and pain.  He knew what needed to be done, he'd done it countless times before. But experience meant shit when it came to it. Pain was still pain. He glanced over to his desk where a row of small vials sat. Pain tonics from Adan.  Up until then, he'd been frugal with his use. But he wasn't interested in testing his limits this time. Angling his body to the side, he held the broken arm close to his chest while he used his other arm to prop himself up and eventually stand.  It took considerable amount of effort and he felt short of breath by the time he was upright, but he managed to finally stumble his way over to his desk. He picked up one of the vials, uncorked it with his teeth, and downed the contents in one gulp.  Then, after a moment of hesitation, uncorked and downed another. He slid down to the floor and propped himself against the desk, waiting for the effect to kick in.  

    It didn't take long.  He could feel the cold sensation spreading from his throat to his extremeties, numbing his senses.  Soon, the pain in his arm was no more than a dull throb. As a bonus, the aches from his earlier practice vanished, but his mind felt addled.  Though, he hardly considered that a drawback.  

    After making certain the tonics had done their job, he pushed on the fracture again.  Lightly, at first, to test it. Then, with more force, until it shifted back into place.  With everything back where it was meant to be, his head dropped against the backboad and his hands fell into his lap.  Kahlee was going to kill him. He had finally noticed the window, too. How was he going to explain that? His sword was gone, as well.  Well. Harritt can get in line. That was if he didn't get to himself first. And at this rate, that was more likely than not. He sighed and closed his eyes.

***

    'Rhen awoke what felt like moments later to a dull throbbing ache.  The sun hadn't set yet and his room was bathed in the warm glow of early evening.  It was freezing cold. He shivered and glanced over to the fireplace. Not even a smolder.  A halfhearted groan escaped him as he tried to move. His body, however, was more than happy to remain in place.  The ache went deep into his muscles and bones, but he knew if he sat there any longer, he would be discovered by Kahlee and probably flayed alive and then fed to the dogs.  Alan'en felasil'aan...   Maybe he could bribe Harritt to not only give him a new blade but also something to secure his break.  He looked down at his arm. The swelling had gone down, likely due to the weather, but even though the bone was in place, if he didn't set it, it would break at first opportunity.  Not something he was eager to experience again. Careful not to agitate the offending arm, 'Rhen got himself up, thankful for the support his desk provided. Hopefully Harritt was in a generous mood.  

    He wasn't.  And he made certain 'Rhen was aware of it.  But, since 'Rhen had gone out of his way to save his family's hammer, Harritt gave in, albeit grudgingly.  

    "Here," the smith grumbled and handed him two pieces of sturdy metal to brace his arm with.  "I'm no doctor so you'll have to do the rest yourself." The statement was accompanied by a disapproving glance in 'Rhen's direction.  'Rhen only nodded in appreciation and walked over to Adan's station to secure the splint.  

    "You shouldn't fight with that, you know," Harritt commented from behind him after a while.  "You're liable to get yourself killed." 'Rhen grimaced, though Harritt was right. And this wasn't something he could fake his way through, either.  

    "Got a suggestion?" he asked.  Harritt mulled over his thoughts for a bit before he responded.

    "Well, there might be something."  'Rhen turned to face the blacksmith who was rubbing his chin in thought, his face scrunched.  "Maybe I can throw something together." He scrunched his face even further before adding, "with Dagna's help." 

    'Rhen nodded, securing the bandage in place.  The ache in his body was returning with a vengeance.  He knew he could only stave it off for so long, and he needed to ensure he had a reserve of Adan's tonics left for later.  Mala suledin nadas , his Keeper's voice rang in his ears.  And so he must. Let there be some justice in this world.  "Let me know when it is done." he voiced in Harritt's direction and, without waiting for response, exited the undercroft where he was met by Vivienne.  She held his sword in one hand with grace and expertice he had not expected from someone of her talents.  

    "Darling, the next time you decide to spar in your bedroom, do take care not to throw your weapons over the balcony."  She gave him a once over and raised an eyebrow at his bandaged arm. 'Rhen faltered and hastily hid both arms behind his back.  

    "Er... Yes.  Thanks," he bowed slightly.  Why? He didn't know. He didn't know Vivienne very well.  Quite frankly, he had forgotten she was at Skyhold at all. She mainly kept to herself and 'Rhen had not spoken to her since their arrival.  The way she held that sword, however... Maybe he ought to.  

    "Vivienne," he asked hesitantly, "your skills.  The sword." He floundered. What was the right way to ask?  It was difficult to find words with his head feeling like it was going to split.  "Can you teach others?"

    She looked at him, perplexed.  

    "My dear, you haven't a magical bone in your body."  She glanced down to where his hand would have been. "Aside from your anchor, of course.  But then, I am not the right person to approach about that. I would suggest the apostate."  She nodded in Solas' direction with an air of nobility that only she could pull off and not look pretentious.  

    "Ah.  Of course." 'Rhen managed in reply, hiding his disappointment.  Though, he wasn't entirely surprised by her answer. Silence filled the air between them and 'Rhen shuffled on his feet, uncertain how to proceed, until Vivienne spoke up again.

    "Do take better care of yourself, dear.  We still need you." With that, she handed him his sword and walked off.  Well, at least she didn't pry. 'Rhen glanced in the direction Vivienne had disappeared to, then hurried off to his own quarters before he ran into anyone else.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

 

"One." Evelline quietly whispers next to him, showing him the letters on her paper with her delicate fingers.  Her handwriting is perfect compared to his. Beautiful strokes in opposition to his choppy letters, barely legible.  "See?" She traces the word with her pen slowly and he knows it's for him. He's sitting in the very back in the corner so he doesn't block the view for other children and she sits next to him, occasionally leaning in and snickering at the crude drawings of animals on his paper.  He smiles to himself, her reactions warming his heart.  

"Sa ." he replies quietly.  She beams at him and points to the next word.  "Ta ," he says. Then, "too easy.  Give me something harder."

She thinks for a moment, then scribbles a number on her paper, a wicked grin on her face.  'Rhen frowns in concentration, biting down on his lower lip, and scratches at his chin.  

"Can I cheat?" he asks.  She shakes her head, her smile getting wider, and 'Rhen deepens his frown, though careful in a way to show that he's not serious.  "Alright," he says, "Noalan'en... " She nods enthusiastically as he prods her with his look for encouragement. "Noalan'en'nylan'avan'noa ?"

She claps loudly in excitement, prompting a stern response from the teacher who shushes both of them.  They both shrink, stifling a giggle before sending apologetic looks to their instructor.  

"Good job," she whispers to him, elbowing him gently, then goes back to her own work.  'Rhen smiles to himself and returns his attention to the front. He isn't particularly interested in learning Elvhen, but Evelline had begged him to come with her and he couldn't say no to her.  Not with those big green eyes of hers. She practically dragged him to his first lesson, but he's been coming of his own volition ever since. And every time they play the guessing game. She gives him a word in common and he has to tell her what it is in Elvhen.  Her knowledge never fails to impress him. How such a little brain can contain so much information is astounding to him. But, more than anything, it makes him proud. Without hesitation, he extends his arm out and pulls her into an embrace, holding her fiercely close.

I will always be there for you...

'Rhen awoke with a pillow pressed close to his chest, face wet from tears.  

Not again...  

He tossed the pillow aside in frustration and turned on his back.  Burying his face in his good hand, he tried to steady his breathing, taking a long breath in through his nose and then slowly letting it out through his mouth.  It didn't seem to help. He could still hear Evelline's laughter, echoing in the chambers of his mind, no matter how much he tried to shake it out. Though, if he were honest with himself, his efforts were barely passable.  'Rhen drew in a shaking breath and, after holding it for a few seconds, blew it out. There was no going back to sleep. Not tonight.  

It was still dark out, the moon shining in through the broken window.  So, he hadn't slept for very long. He sat up and rubbed the back of his neck in defeat.  These sleepless nights made him consider taking sleeping draughts, despite warnings of addiction.  In any case, he was already on lyrium and pain medication. What's one more?

'Rhen threw the blankets to the side and carefully climbed out of bed.  Every motion was a struggle and his body made certain he knew exactly what it thought of his exercises.  He groaned, but refused to cave, no matter how much the soft and warm bed called to him, not even after his bare feet hit the cold stone floor.  Though that alone almost made him reconsider. 'Rhen hated the cold. Always had. It didn't seem to matter how many layers he wore, the cold always penetrated to the core of his being.  He cupped his hands to catch his warm breath and rubbed them together for a momentary reprieve. The cold seeped in through the soles of his feet, sending shivers up his spine and he wrapped his arms around himself in a futile effort to stave some of it off.  At least the fire was still going. 'Rhen frowned.  

Someone must have come by while he was still sleeping to add fuel.  He glanced around the room, checking for other signs of intrusion. The shirt that he'd thrown carelessly to the floor was folded neatly atop the dresser, a decanter of water sat on the small table by his bed accompanied by a small cup, and the papers from his desk that he'd swept aside were neatly stacked back on top.  Must have been Ellana. No one else was so tidy. He checked his arm to see if she had fixed that, as well. And sure enough, a clean new bandage was wrapped around his arm with far more precision and care than he ever managed. How she had done all that without waking him was a mystery he wasn't quite comfortable with. He sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and sending a silent thanks to Ellana regardless.  She has been a rock for him these past few weeks and he supposed he shouldn't mind her intrusions. He noticed the pendant in that moment, hanging from his neck, glinting in the firelight.  

A chain around his neck...  This time placed there by his own hand.  'Rhen pressed it against his chest and clenched his jaw as the cold from the metal penetrated his skin.  He couldn't return it to Dorian now. How would he explain it? Sorry for fucking up your life.  Here's your amulet. By the way, I'm in love with you.   

Right.  No chance of that.  He breathed in and out again, slower this time, and released the pendant to swing freely, the cold it left behind still lingering.  Using his good hand, 'Rhen hoisted himself up and walked over to the dresser. He fumbled through the drawers, looking for something warmer, and settled on a wool undershirt and a sherpa lined jacket.  Then, after some consideration, grabbed another shirt. Satisfied with his selection, he walked over to the fireplace and carefully lowered himself to sit on the carpet in front of the fire. The heat burned his skin but he ignored it, instead focusing on stretching his muscles.  Pulling his legs out in front of him, he reached for his toes. The physical therapy he had been undergoing under Kahlee's supervision was helping, but he still wasn't back to his normal self. He wasn't sure if he ever was going to regain his peak shape again, but it didn't stop him from trying.  He still had a duty to perform, after all. Gritting his teeth, he pushed himself through the pain. Don't rush it.  You don't want to worsen the injury , Kahlee's voice echoed in his head.  No one expects you to recover so quickly .  That couldn't be true.  'Rhen had high expectations of himself.  He would be surprised if his advisors did not.  His followers certainly did, especially after not one, but two seemingly miraculous recoveries.  He huffed and reached for his toes with more determination.

After going through a routine of light exercises, 'Rhen walked over to the decanter and poured himself some water.  He hadn't realized how thirsty he was until the water hit his throat. He drank greedily, emptying one cup and pouring another, until the decanter was empty.  Bless Ellana and her foresight. He made a mental note to thank her in person. Perhaps a gift of some kind. What did women like? Flowers? Perfume? Or maybe a one way trip as far away from him as possible.  Somewhere warm, tropical. He rubbed his eyes and tried to shake off the stress that was sneaking up on him. Too early for that. Setting the cup down, he threw on the shirts and the jacket and made up his mind to be somewhat more productive today.  That stack of papers on his desk was getting a little too high. 'Rhen lit a few candles around the room and set himself to task.  

It wasn't as bad as he had feared.  A big chunk of the stack was letters he had already read and replied to.  He just wasn't very good at sorting, so things that were done ended up mixed in with things that still needed his attention.  And that was what he did for the first hour or so, just going through everything and separating them into two piles. Among the done pile, he ran into one of the first letters his Keeper had sent to the Inquisition, inquiring after his well-being.  He fondly ran his fingers over the lettering, glad to have at least something left of his clan besides memories. Something good. He looked around the room for a safe place to put it and found a keepsake box on the shelf behind him. It was small and ordinary, but it did have a lock and key attached to it.  Pulling it down from the shelf, 'Rhen folded the letter with reverence and carefully placed it inside the velvet lined box. Along with the letter, he also placed the small halla carving, running his thumb over it one last time. He couldn’t keep his family safe. The least he could do was keep their memory alive.  Once it was locked, he hid it back among the books and looked for a place to hide the key. It was small enough that it could easily be lost and his pockets weren't always reliable. It would certainly be lost on his desk and he didn't want to leave it in the lock. After giving it some thought, he unclasped the chain around his neck and hung the key next to the birthright.  It didn't guarantee safety, but at least it would be close to his heart. He tucked both items back under his shirts and resumed his work.

Hours drifted by and the next time 'Rhen looked up, daylight was breaking over the mountains.  He yawned and stretched, wincing slightly from the soreness. Ellana should be by soon to see him.  He got used to their daily morning routine. Looked forward to it, even. So, when she didn't show up, 'Rhen grew concerned.  Was it him? Did she get in trouble because of what he did yesterday? His brows knitted in concern. He was about to go look when his door flew open and Ellena burst through, a tray with food piled on haphazardly in her hands.  

"I'm so sorry, Inquisitor!" She placed the tray on a table by the couch and nearly ran towards him, checking him over, prodding at the scars and turning his arm over.  She motioned for him to lift his shirt so she could check the healing progress on his chest and sides and 'Rhen complied without question, without a second thought. "Oh!  That's pretty!" She commented, reaching for the pendant. It took a second for him to realize what she was talking about and before she could ask any more questions, he hastily pulled down his shirts and drew back from her touch.  

"It's nothing," he replied, placing a hand over his chest reflexively.  "What did you bring?" Without missing a beat, Ellana brought the tray over and set it in front of him.  Cheese, cured meats, bits of bread, and some fruit, accompanied by a cup of fragrant tea. 'Rhen smiled, relieved that no questions followed.  "You know me too well."  

"It's my job to," she smiled back in her genuine way.  "Plus, I like you."

'Rhen's smile faltered at her words.  They came out so easy, so innocent. And she noticed.  Her hand flew to her mouth.

"Oh," she cried out, hand still covering her mouth.  "Oh! No! Inquisitor!" She reached out with her other hand, placing it over his, comfortingly.  "Not like that! I mean, I do! But... Oh, I've said it wrong." She frowned lightly, her eyes searching for the right words.  "I think you're an amazing person and you're kind and you've done so many great things. And I like you for that. Just, not like that ."  She placed as much emphasis on the last word as she could, cheeks turning a lighter shade of pink.  And that was that. 'Rhen breathed out in relief. He had lost so much already, he wasn't sure he was ready to lose Ellana, too.  Their friendship was too important to him. He visibly relaxed and began picking at the food. Ellana seemed to accept his non verbal response and her smile returned.  

"So, what's next on our list?" she asked after giving him a moment to chew.  He paused, trying to remember where they were. They had missed yesterday's morning and so much had happened that he had forgotten their place.  

"Remind me," he said, putting another bit of bread and cheese in his mouth.  She pondered for a second before her face lit up and she put up her index finger in excitement.

"On dhea! Ea son ?"

"Oh.  Yes. Tel'ame, y serannas mar av'ahn.  Na? " 'Rhen replied.

"Son'ala! Serannas . That's thank you, right?"

"Or just thanks," 'Rhen nodded in confirmation.  Ellana was picking things up pretty quickly, much quicker than he did despite having a better teacher.  

"You said 'no' when I asked you.  Did you have another bad dream," she asked, leaning in closer.  'Rhen nodded again, but said nothing further on the issue and Ellana didn't press.  She knew better. He would tell her if he was ready. He rarely was, but he appreciated her understanding. 

"On nydha is good night."  He wrote it out on a piece of paper and passed it to her.  She read over it carefully, trying the words out with her mouth before saying it out loud.  

"On nydha ," she finally repeated when she felt confident enough.  "I like it."

"You can also say-" he pulled back the piece of paper and wrote down another phrase before passing it back. "Sule tael tasalal or sule sal harthir ."

"What does it mean?" she asked, looking over the phrases he wrote.

"Until we meet again.  Or hear from each other again."

"I like on nydha better.  But I suppose it wouldn't really work if the sun is still up."

'Rhen shook his head, slightly amused.  "No, I suppose not."

"How do I reply?"

"Sule melan'an .  Or just sule , among friends."

"Easy!"  She mouthed the words a couple times before saying them out loud.  "Sule.  Sule melan'an .  Did I get it?"

'Rhen smiled and nodded.  "You're a natural."

The rest of their morning passed in relative peace as 'Rhen finished off his food and tea and Ellana silently practiced the new phrases.  Until Ellana suddenly jumped up, both palms slamming on the desk.

"I forgot to tell you!  Lady Cassandra returned last night with the Champion and Ser Alistair!  That's why I was late! She just returned from the desert, something about the Wardens and demons-" 

“What??” ‘Rhen interrupted her, jumping up out of his seat.  “Why did no one tell me!” He had been waiting on news from Western Approach for some time now.  Something weird had been going on with the Wardens and now demons were involved? He quickly gathered himself and, after giving Ellana an appreciative nod, dashed out of the room.

Sule .” Ellana half smiled at the empty spot where ‘Rhen sat just moments before, then collected the tray and left.  

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 

    Dorian sorted through the books in the tower, reading and documenting each title with furious determination.  It was a mess. Who organized these? They should be fired and exiled for their crimes against intellect! It was embarrassing what passed for a book in the South.  Nonsense and propaganda. He really should speak to someone about this.  Not that it would matter. An ancient Tevinter Magister hellbent on destroying the world probably took precedence.  He was in the middle of shelving some books when he heard Lavellan’s voice coming from down below. Dorian froze as his heart seized at the thought of seeing the Inquisitor again so soon, the events of the previous two days still an open wound.  Though, thanks to years of experience, he managed to regain his composure. No sense in falling apart. Not publically, anyway. What would people say?

He couldn’t quite make out what was being said, but it sounded like an argument.  When he glanced over the railing, Lavellan’s back was to him, arms crossed, tension visible in the set of his shoulders.  Before him, Leliana was throwing her hands up in exasperation. Something must have happened. As their argument escalated, that something became more evident.  

    “Oh, sure!  That’s totally what I was thinking!” Lavellan’s voice carried up the tower, echoing in the rafters.  “Let’s break an arm! That sounds like fun!”

    “You should have waited!”

    “For what!?  I’ve been waiting for weeks!”

    “That’s rich, coming from you!  You disappeared on us without so much as a word!”  

    Dorian noticed the immediate change in Lavellan’s posture at Leliana’s words.  His body recoiled as if stung, then his shoulders sagged and his arms dropped to his sides in defeat.  One of them was heavily bandaged. Dorian frowned to himself. When did that happen? Lavellan was fine when he saw him yesterday.  At least, he had no visible injuries then. He didn’t hear Lavellan’s reply but Leliana’s features softened and she placed a hand on his shoulder.  Their conversation faded once again and Dorian leaned his back against the railing. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.  It seemed like every time he turned away, something happened. This time it appeared to be broken limbs. But what could he do? After yesterday, it felt like everything he did only made things worse.  And he could find no answers in anything. When he looked up again, Lavellan was heading towards him with Leliana by his side. Their eyes met for a brief moment before Lavellan’s dropped to the floor, hand over his chest.  Dorian watched them approach, unable to turn away or to suppress the whirlwind of conflicting emotions. He wanted to reach out, to pull Lavellan close and never let go. Instead, he nodded politely as the two passed, trying to ignore the scent of lyrium that followed.  It was strong. Stronger than usual. Dorian frowned. He remembered how much lyrium Lavellan took when they were closing the rift in Hissing Wastes. Vividly. This was stronger. As if he cleaned out the entire Templar supply in one day.   

Dorian shelved the rest of the books, his mind preoccupied with worry.  He was intimately familiar with self destructive behavior and the more he learned, the more he felt like the Inquisitor was falling down a deep hole with no way out.  And he somehow felt complicit, which made him feel even more guilty. He shoved a book into its place a little too hard and an Inquisition soldier passing by gave him an odd look.  Dorian gave him a half smile in return and the soldier rushed off. Big bad Tevinter mage. Seemed like he had that effect on everyone.  

Southerners.  

He tried to shake off the worry, but it followed him around like a wet Ferelden dog.  No matter where he went. The main hall, the courtyard, the gardens, the little chapel.  Nothing helped. He even considered going back down to the lower library despite swearing to never set foot there again.  It was slowly driving him mad. The easy solution, of course, was to talk. But that was easier said than done. It seemed like lately every conversation they had ended with Lavellan walking out on him.  And while one would assume experience bred familiarity and comfort, it did not do so in this case. It left Dorian more frustrated than he imagined possible.  

As he walked the ramparts, one of Leliana’s messengers approached him with a sealed envelope in one hand.  What could the spymaster possibly want from him? Cracking the seal open, he read through the note and it all made sense.  Of course. Another Tevinter magister fucking it up for everyone else. They couldn’t just sit at home, enjoy their parties, and leave the rest of Thedas well enough alone, could they.  He had heard of Erimond. Though in name only. The man was an idiot, even by Tevinter standards. And now he was binding demons to Wardens with blood rituals. Dorian couldn’t let that stand.  There were enough “evil” magisters giving his country a bad name. Whatever knowledge he had, he would gladly share it.  

 

***

 

“Adamant Fortress has stood against the darkspawn since the time of the Second Blight,” Leliana commented, turning to face the Inquisitor.  Her expression remained impassive, as though the argument with Lavellan had never happened. Dorian had to give her credit for that. She had gathered the advisors and the Inquisition’s inner circle in the war room to discuss the attack on Adamant Fortress, which made the small space feel a little too crowded.  Dorian had opted for the spot furthest away from the table, his back and one foot against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. He had already given Leliana everything he knew on Erimond. His purpose here was to observe and follow directions.

“Fortunately for us,” Cullen continued, leaning over the table, eyes scanning the markers scattered around the map, “that means it was built before the age modern siege equipment.  A good trebuchet will do major damage to those ancient walls. And,” he stood up and turned to Josephine, “thanks to our Lady Ambassador…”

“Lady Seryl of Jader was pleased to lend the Inquisition her sappers,” Josephine finished.  Though Dorian noticed she avoided eye contact with Lavellan, choosing, instead to make sweeping gestures and appropriately timed nods, her quill tapping against the writing board she was always carrying.  “They’ve already delivered the trebuchets.”

“That’s the good news.”  Cassandra said, stepping closer to the table, her voice tense.  “Erimond called the ritual at the Western Approach a test. He may already be raising his army of demons at the fortress.”

“The Inquisition forces can breach the gate, but if the Wardens already have their demons…”  Cullen paused and Dorian looked over in his direction. The Commander looked like he had seen a ghost, paling even more than usual.  Whatever happened during the Blight and in Kirkwall really did a number on him.

“I found records of Adamant’s construction,” Leliana took over, putting a hand on Cullen’s arm, as though knowing his thoughts.  “There are choke points we can use to limit the field of battle.”

“That’s good.  We may not be able to defeat them outright.  But if we cut off reinforcements, we can carve a path to Warden-Commander Clarel.  It’ll be hard-fought, no way around it. But we’ll get that gate open.”

“If you can do that, I can take a small strike team through while your soldiers hold off the main bulk of the Warden army.  Demons or not, Clarel will answer for this.” Lavellan’s voice sent a shiver down Dorian’s back, for no other reason than how cold and calculated it was.  

“There is one other problem,” Leliana voiced, straightening her posture and clasping her hands behind her back, fixing her gaze on the Inquisitor.  “Your injuries.”

“I’m not staying behind,” Lavellan replied with determination, meeting her steely gaze with his own.  “I’m done sitting on the sides, letting others risk their lives on my behalf.”

“Be that as it may, you are still in no condition to fight.”

“I agree,” Cassandra nodded, turning to face the Inquisitor, leaning back against the table.  “This is no time for foolish bravado-”

“It’s not bravado,” Lavellan interrupted, his voice cool.  “I’m well aware of my… limitations. Your concern is noted, but I am still going.”  He folded his arms over his chest and turned to face the rest of the group. Dorian stiffened as Lavellan’s gaze passed over everyone.  Though it appeared the Inquisitor made it a point to avoid him altogether. Which somehow felt worse. “Blackwall, you can take point. Solas, we’ll need your healing abilities.  And Cole, you’re quick with those daggers. I’ll stay in the back and provide any support I can.” Dorian watched Lavellan as he lowered his gaze to his left hand, curling it into a fist.  The anchor. Something flashed behind his eyes. Regret? Sadness? But it was gone as quick as it had come and his expression returned to that of impassible determination. “The rest will join your forces, Cullen, to provide additional support.”

“As you say, Inquisitor.  Give the word and we march on Adamant.”  

For the next few hours, Dorian busied himself with preparations.  Though he quickly found that there was little to do. He had his staff, his health and lyrium potions, his injury kit, and that was it.  He had switched to his outdoor robes, but that didn’t take much time, either. So he decided to wait by the gate. There was a buzz about Skyhold, an air of excitement and anticipation, that he hadn’t seen since Lavellan’s disappearance.  It was like the fortress was waking from a long nap. He watched the soldiers run around, preparing this and that, chatting animatedly amongst themselves. It seemed in such contrast to what they were about to do. Many of them likely would never make it back, yet it didn’t seem to deter them.  To command that kind of loyalty… And beyond that, the weight of that responsibility? It would crush any normal person.  

“They understand.”

Dorian nearly jumped out of his skin.

“They really should put a bell on you, Cole,” he said after his heart migrated back to his chest.  “You’re going to give someone a heart attack one day.”

“I’m sorry, I will try to be more loud.”  

Dorian blew out a long breath through his nose and relaxed back against the wall.  

“No, I’m sorry.  It’s fine.”  He looked over to Cole who had a serene expression on his face, or at least it looked serene.  Dorian couldn’t tell with certainty as half his face was behind a curtain of hair. “You know, I could probably help you with that,” he commented, nodding at the mess of dirty blonde.

“Is it wrong?” Cole’s brows knitted together as both his hands raked through his hair, his eyes looking up trying to see his own head.

“Wrong…?  That’s not…”  Dorian faltered.  Even after all this time, he still had trouble conversing with Cole.  Sometimes it was difficult to tell if he was being serious or not. In many ways, he was still like a child, discovering the wonders of the world.  In other ways, he was the most efficient assassin Dorian had ever seen. And that contrast was a bit unsettling. “It’s not… wrong,” he tried to explain, “it’s a fashion choice.  Or, a statement.”

“What does your hair say?”

“My-?” Dorian looked at Cole, perplexed.  He had never considered the answer. He had never considered the question, either. 

“Does it say you are handsome?”

“I… suppose it does.”  He blinked, not quite sure about the turn this conversation took.  They stood there for a while longer, watching the soldiers prepare, stacking crates on wagons, saddling and harnessing the horses.  It was organized chaos and behind it all, Cullen barked orders, like a conductor whose orchestra was war.

“It’s not wrong, but it isn’t right, either,” Cole said beside him, eyes staring off into the distance.  “It’s all tangled together.”

“It’s just hair, Cole.  Forget I mentioned it.”

“Wishing, wanting, tangled with darkness.”  

“Cole…?” Dorian frowned and glanced at Cole.  “This isn’t about hair, is it.”

“He wears it over his heart, but it hurts him.  I can’t help. It’s too bright.”

“Is this about-” He followed Cole’s gaze to where Lavellan was, heading towards them with Blackwall and Solas behind him.  He walked with purpose, adjusting the new armor pieces over his leather jerkin. Looking at him, you wouldn’t know the amount of injuries hidden under all that, the odd looking heavy brace around his right arm the only indication that something was amiss.  Yet no amount of armor could assuage Dorian’s underlying worry. ‘Rhen didn’t have his customary sword behind his back this time. Instead, a shorter blade hung by his side, its hilt an unusual length. He hoped the weapon was just a formality, but knew better.  Beside him Cole shifted and pushed off the wall to join the group. They were going ahead of Cullen and his soldiers to clear the path of any Venatori and rifts. It was a sound strategy and Dorian understood the reasoning behind Lavellan’s choices. Too many people and it became a liability.  Still, he wished he could go with him. He could at least say something. If anything happened, he would never forgive himself for leaving things the way they were.

“Inquisitor, a word,” he flagged Lavellan down before he vanished beyond the gate.  ‘Rhen paused, and after some hesitation, walked over to Dorian, waiving for the rest of the party to go on.  The act took Dorian slightly off guard, surprised that Lavellan actually agreed to a conversation. He searched for the right thing to say and eventually settled on the most obvious, besides the weather.

“What happened,” he asked, reaching for ‘Rhen’s arm.  He wasn’t sure what he would do with it, but it didn’t matter.  ‘Rhen instinctively pulled away, hiding his arms behind his back.

“It’s nothing.”  And then after some hesitation, he added, “I fell.”

“Is that why you’re taking lyrium?”  

“How-” ‘Rhen turned to him, startled.  Dorian silently cursed at himself. This wasn’t what he had meant to ask.  But, he was concerned.

“Templar, meet mage.”  He gestured from ‘Rhen to himself, raising his brow.  “You’re practically glowing, you know.”

‘Rhen frowned, then turned away, refusing to look Dorian in the eyes.  

“It’s not your concern.”

“You made it my concern when you agreed to let me stay.”  When you helped me.  When you made me care.  When you let me love you.

“What does it matter?  It’s a means to an end, and I will do whatever is necessary to defeat Corypheus.”

“No one is questioning your commitment here,” Dorian replied, shaking his head, his brows furrowed.  This was not going in the direction he had hoped. “However, you do know what it does to you, right? Surely Cullen has filled you in on the side effects-”

“What do you care?” ‘Rhen interrupted, anger flashing behind his silver eyes.  

“I-”  Dorian wavered, unsure how to answer.  It hurt to hear that Lavellan didn’t think he cared, but, no matter how much he wanted to, he struggled to find the words to contradict him.  It was incredibly aggravating. “Help me understand, then” he asked instead, his voice edged with frustration.

“Understand what?” ‘Rhen retorted back.  “How could you ever understand? You don’t know what it’s like to lose everything, everyone, because you weren’t good enough.  To have everything you loved and cared about torn away from you senselessly. You still have your family, a home. I have nothing.”

Dorian flinched and took a step back,  trying to keep his composure. The words stung, especially coming from the one person he trusted the most.  Lavellan was right, he didn’t know what he was going through. But he desperately wanted to. He was trying to.  Yet everything he said made things worse. It was like a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from. The best thing he felt he could do then was to walk away.  So much for leaving things better than before between them. He should have just let him go.

“Good luck at Adamant,” he said after the silence between them threatened to crush them both.  “Try not to die.”

“Yeah.” ‘Rhen pursed his lips, clutching at his chest with one hand and the hilt of his sword with the other.  He stood for a moment longer, face turned away, as if waiting for something, then turned on his heel and walked off.  Dorian watched him leave, frustration boiling over. This was becoming all too common. Was this how it was going to be between them now?  

Vishante kaffas …  

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

 

“Inquisitor, I presume?”

“Knight-Captain Rylen.”

“Good to see you, Inquisitor.  It is good you arrived when you did.  We’ve been seeing increased Venatori and Warden activity around the area and one of my men swears they’ve seen an archdemon flying around.  I told him to get some water and lie down for a minute before he lost his mind. You wouldn’t believe how many men I’ve had to remind to hydrate or they’ll  be lost to heat sickness.”

“What’s the status on Adamant?  Are the trebuchets ready to move on the fortress?”

“Ready as they’ll ever be.  I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“I’ll manage.  Tell your men to move out as soon as Cullen arrives.”

“Will do.”

‘Rhen ended the conversation by nodding and walking away.  He found that his patience for any kind of interaction was severely limited by the oppressive heat.  And sand. It somehow managed to get everywhere, including in places it had no business to be in, grating against his skin and irritating him beyond measure.  He shifted his body and rolled his shoulders and neck, as if that could make all things better, but eventually let out a frustrated grunt and strode over to a shaded bench.  The soldiers stared at him with a mix of fear and awe as he walked by, parting wordlessly as he neared. He acknowledged them only briefly with a nod before finding an isolated spot to occupy.  The shade offered only mild relief and he leaned his head back against the stone wall, closing his eyes and letting out a tired breath. They had made it to the fort with relative ease and he was lucky enough to be spared from any fighting.  And when it did come down to it, he didn’t get much of a choice. Blackwall had pushed him back while Cole made short work of their enemies. He felt useless and it discomfited him. He clenched and unclenched his fists, using the motion as a rhythm to slow his breathing.  He could feel the last remnants of lyrium coursing through his veins, giving him waning strength. At least he still had that. A mirthless chuckle escaped him as he remembered his conversation with Bull. He was nothing more than a glorified placeholder for the anchor. Well, if that was the case, then he had no reason to put himself through the heat gauntlet.  

He unstrapped the sword from around his waist and leaned it carefully against the bench.  When it made no indication of falling, ‘Rhen turned his attention to the rest of himself. The first thing to come off were the pauldrons.  Fur and leather were never intended for the desert sun. It must have been Harritt’s idea of a joke. He tossed them aside unceremoniously followed by his left glove.  He was about to unclasp the vambrace around his right arm, but hesitated. It clung to him tightly, providing additional support for his broken bone. Harritt had worked tirelessly to fashion this for him.  It was supposed to work in concert with the one around his left arm which was modified to fit the odd weapon the smith had constructed as a replacement to his greatsword. He had tried using it in the undercroft before leaving, Harritt and Dagna guiding him through the process, but it felt awkward, especially in his left hand.  But with little to no other choice left to him, he had to acquiesce. After a moment of hesitation, he removed both vambraces and set them beside the sword. He’ll put them back on when they are ready to move out. His greaves and sabatons were next. Once they were both off, he kicked them aside and stretched, catching a glimpse of a soldier whose gaze seemed to be transfixed on him.  ‘Rhen casually ran his fingers through his damp hair, casting his eyes downward, and proceeded to undo the clasps of his breastplate, then his jerkin, tossing both aside and revealing the doublet underneath. It was ridiculous how much padding was thrust upon him, as if he were some porcelain doll, threatening to break at the slightest touch. He sighed and singlehandedly undid the buttons of the doublet, shrugging it off and reveling in his ability to finally breathe.  As an added measure, he unbuttoned the first couple buttons of his undershirt to let the breeze brush against his skin and leaned back against the wall, enjoying the armorless freedom. Leliana would probably never let him out of his sight again if she knew. But she wasn’t here so he didn’t care. His body was flushed from the heat, sweat rolling down his neck and back and his throat felt dry. He realized he hated the heat more than he hated the cold. At least he could mitigate the cold.  There was nothing he could do about the heat, short of stripping down to his bare skin. And he didn’t think Rylen would appreciate that. The soldier still staring at him, however, might. ‘Rhen met his gaze, eyebrow raised in question and the soldier immediately turned away, coughing, face flushed. Though whether from heat or embarrassment, ‘Rhen wasn’t sure.  

Against his better judgement, he got up and walked over to the other man.  He looked younger than the standard fare but old enough to be out and about without supervision with that staff of his.  His robes were fashioned to accommodate the arid climate, revealing the deeply tanned skin underneath, his hair was cropped short and neatly combed back, and his fingers and wrists were adorned with gold rings and braces.  ‘Rhen bit his lower lip and his step slightly faltered as a need he had shoved deep down awakened and stirred in the pit of his stomach. He caught the man’s olive green eyes and half smiled, suddenly uncertain of his own actions.  His feet, however, didn’t seem to get the message. He was standing by the mage before his mind could reconsider.

“Your worship,” the soldier nodded up at him, voice steeped in an Orlesian accent.  ‘Rhen swallowed thickly, the need within him uncoiling and letting its hunger be known. He had starved it for too long and now it was rearing its ugly head.

Fuck.

“What’s your name, soldier?” he asked, planting himself next to the man and leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.  He tensed the muscles in his thighs in a vain attempt to quiet the hunger and glanced over at the mage.

“Alain, Your Worship.” Alain replied.  There was a sultry look in his eyes and in that instant ‘Rhen knew.  He felt like a predator when he approached, stalking his prey, eager to satiate his hunger.  Now, in this moment, he felt more like prey. Ready and willing. He clenched his jaw and tightly wound his fingers together.  Control yourself.

“First time?” he asked, breaking eye contact lest it would swallow him whole.  

“No, your worship.  Been doing this for a few years.  If it’s not one war, it’s another.  Though, better this than the meaningless power struggles.”

“The Dales?”

Alain nodded in response, matching ‘Rhen’s posture.  ‘Rhen shifted, more so out of need to regain control than discomfort.  That became increasingly more difficult as Alain leaned closer.

“The answer is yes,” the mage murmured close to his ear after a beat of silence passed between them.  ‘Rhen bit down on his lower lip as an electric shock shot through his body. The statement could have been in response to his question, he reasoned to himself, or an answer to a million other questions.  But, he doubted that was true. And if Alain meant what ‘Rhen thought he meant, what then? He risked a glance in the mage’s direction. The look he gave him all but confirmed his suspicion. It was what he wanted.  No attachments, no feelings, no questions. Sex for the sake of sex. And not even that. So, ‘Rhen took a deep breath and, with as much calm as he could muster, asked the preceding question.

“Want to fuck?”

The words felt like lead in his mouth, betraying his sense of composure.  Guilt scratched at the edges of his consciousness, but he did his best to ignore it.  It wasn’t wrong. It was just business. He felt Alain’s hand on his thigh before the man stood up and walked off.  ‘Rhen sat for a bit longer, working through his internal conflict, hands wringing together. It wasn’t wrong, he kept telling himself.  He watched Alain retreat and the mage, as if knowing, shot him a beckoning glance over his shoulder, arms draped languidly over the staff resting across his deltoids.  And in that moment ‘Rhen lost his internal battle to his basest desires and followed after.  

He caught up with Alain in a small alcove, well away from any prying eyes.  The mage had his back pressed against the wall, arms crossed in front of him.  Cast in shadows he looked almost dangerous. ‘Rhen clenched his fists as his heart quickened and closed the distance between them, positioning himself right in front of Alain, feet planted firmly on either side.

“Not a word.” ‘Rhen growled in a low tone.  Alain only smirked in response, raising his arms in concession.  Without hesitation, ‘Rhen grabbed both of them and pinned them above Alain’s head, holding them in place with one hand while using the other to press the man against the wall at his collarbone.  A small moan escaped the mage as his eyes hooded and his lips parted. ‘Rhen accepted the invitation willingly, the deep seated hunger overtaking him. He kissed Alain with ferocious intensity, hips grinding together.  And every time a hint of doubt, a hint of guilt threatened to invade his thoughts, he pushed harder.  

“Fuck…” Alain whimpered into his mouth and ‘Rhen could feel him struggle in his grip, feel his hips buck into him, desperate for more.  And ‘Rhen was in no state to decline. He released his hold on Alain’s hands and, giving him a nonverbal cue to stay put, deftly unbuttoned the mage’s trousers.  Taking the other’s lower lip into his teeth, he slipped his hand in and Alain practically melted into his touch, fingers digging into ‘Rhen’s shoulders. Letting the trousers fall around the mage’s knees, ‘Rhen brushed his fingertips over the soft skin of Alain’s cock, feeling it twitch beneath his touch, before establishing a firm grip, eliciting a sharp intake of breath.  

“Tell me what you want.” ‘Rhen ground out, voice strained, resting one of his forearms against the wall on one side of Alain’s head.  His other hand moved in deliberate strokes, giving just enough pleasure without promise of release.  

“Fuck...your mouth…” Alain managed, alternating between desperate sobs and moans as his hips rocked into ‘Rhen’s hand.  

“Say it again.” ‘Rhen demanded in a quiet growl, pressing his own hip against Alain’s to restrict his movements.  

“Fuck me with your mouth…” Alain pleaded, louder, head thrown back, nails digging into the stone behind him for solid support.  A primal groan vibrated in ‘Rhen’s throat as he dropped to his knees and obeyed.  

 

***

 

‘Rhen sat on the ground with his back against the wall, hands in his lap twisting a small piece of debris, his eyes staring ahead into nothingness as Alain put himself back in order and disappeared into the sunlight as per their agreement.  No questions, no strings attached. He wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand as a dull feeling washed over him, all too familiar, and he welcomed it, preferring it over the alternative. It was easy to slip back into his old habits, even after so long.  And it was comforting to know that he still could. But he also knew that it was a fragile lie that he told himself. The chain around his neck felt heavier, more constricting, no matter how many times he readjusted it. He wanted to cry and yell and laugh all at the same time but he couldn’t seem to find it in him to do any of those.  So he just sat there, grinding bits of sandy rocks into dust between his fingers until his fingertips felt raw. Eventually, the sun began to set and the temperatures dipped below comfortable levels. Not willing to risk being found in a place where he recklessly compromised himself, ‘Rhen finally dragged himself up and, dusting off his knees and behind, meandered back out into the main courtyard.  His gear was exactly where he had left it and Alain was nearby in a conversation with another group of mages. The man spared him only a cursory glance before returning his attention to the group. Which was perfectly fine with ‘Rhen. He wasn’t looking for a bosom buddy. He scouted the courtyard for Rylen and spotted him by the main gate, waiving at Cullen as the Commander made his way in with his entourage of soldiers.  ‘Rhen’s heart immediately jumped into his throat as his hand shot to his chest. He quickly turned on his heel, gathered his belongings, and, finding his assigned tent, disappeared inside. The shame of facing Cullen, or worse, Dorian, with the taste of Alain still in his mouth was not something he felt he could ever recover from. He rummaged in his sack for some mint leaves and, finding none, settled on a dried strip of meat.  As he worked it with his teeth, he slipped out of his shirt and tossed it aside, pulling out a spare. Before putting on the clean shirt, he checked the bandage around the splint and deeming it good enough, dressed himself and walked over to the small water basin. Might as well make himself presentable.

‘Rhen finally exited his tent when he felt he could face Cullen with some amount of dignity.  He found the Commander by the communal fire pit holding a quiet conversation with Rylen and was about to leave them to it when Cullen waived him over.  Running his fingers through his hair one more time, just in case, he joined them.  

“Inquisitor.  Glad to see you arrived.”  It seemed like Cullen wanted to say more, but opted to end his greeting there.  He scratched the back of his head and gave ‘Rhen a lopsided smile, though it didn’t seem to reach his eyes.  It rarely did.  

“You as well.” ‘Rhen nodded, stretching out his hands towards the fire.  “I trust the roads were clear?”

“Yes.  Thank you.”

‘Rhen’s lip twitched at Cullen’s gratitude.  He was hardly the one to thank. The others did most of the work.  He just occasionally waved his hand and made the rifts go poof. Silence settled around them before Rylen stepped in, evidently sensing the awkwardness.  

“The Commander and I were just discussing our plan of action.  We believe it’s best to wait until morning to attack. At least then you can see the blasted demons coming at you.”

“Sensible.  I agree.” ‘Rhen nodded, eyes still fixed on the flames.  They danced in the evening light, sending sparks into the air.  It reminded him of his younger days, watching a human settlement burn down, screams filling the night air.  Not his finest hour.  

“Well, we should all get some rest, then.  Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day for everyone.”

The rest of the evening, ‘Rhen wandered around the fort doing his best to avoid any and all human interactions.  It was easier than he thought it’d be since all the new arrivals, save for Cullen, had settled outside the main gate and quite a few of Rylen’s men joined Cullen’s to socialize over alcohol and spit roast.  He was still awake when everyone else had turned in for the night, too, sleep stubbornly evading him. So he climbed up the ramparts and settled himself on the makeshift wooden bridge above the main gate overlooking the camp and the sprawling desert.  He had thrown his doublet and jerkin back on to ward off some of the cold, but the night air still sent a chill down his spine. He stayed there the rest of the night, finally coming to terms with what he had done, until the sun crested the horizon, and the camp and fort stirred back to life.  A singular thought occupied his mind as he got ready for the coming battle.  

What was that mage’s name?  

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

 

The morning was quiet, blanketed by nervous anticipation.  It was in quite the contrast to the busy chaos of preparations at Skyhold.  The overcast skies seemed to reflect the general mood of the keep, dark and dreary as they were.  Though they weren’t the kind that promised rain. A blessing, considering Crestwood. Fighting in the rain wasn’t the problem.  It was the wetness of it all, seeping in through every pore and crevice, until no dry spot was left. ‘Rhen shifted in his saddle, checking one more time on his supply of ready lyrium.  He had opted to leave most of his trappings behind, including the sword Harritt had given him. They would only serve to slow him down. The only pieces of armor on him were the chest plate and the vambraces.  If anything, at least his horse appreciated the lighter weight. Impatience and anxiety tugged at him, and he checked his supplies again. He couldn’t fight, ‘Rhen accepted that. But he wasn’t going to rely on Blackwall and Cole to do it all, either.  Who knew what could happen in all the chaos. He thumbed at the handle of his chain whip, the other hand holding the reins steady. His horse brayed nervously beneath him, shifting in place from one leg to the other, as if sensing his anxiety.  

“Easy, girl,” ‘Rhen murmured absentmindedly, running a hand along its neck.  His eyes darted around his surroundings. This wasn’t like him. He wasn’t the nervous type, not when it came to battle.  But something ominous hung in the air, putting everyone on edge, and he didn’t like it.  

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”  

‘Rhen glanced over at Blackwall as the Warden pulled up short beside him.  He had an uneasy expression on his face and his posture was stiff, knuckles turning white from his death grip on the sword hilt.  ‘Rhen didn’t reply. There wasn’t much to say. Everything going to shit was the expectation these days. He could feel Blackwall’s critical gaze on him, no doubt judging his decision to go unarmed, but chose to ignore it.  And Blackwall was smart enough not to question it. A moment later, Cullen rode up to his other side. A grim aura hung about him like a curtain. And although grim was Cullen’s natural state, this morning it was even more so.  Dark circles under his eyes indicated that he hadn’t slept all night either. The burden of command weighed heavy on his shoulders. Cullen was sending his men to certain death and no amount of training prepared one for that.  

“My men will go in first and get those gates open.  The rest is up to you.”

“You can count on us,” Blackwall answered before ‘Rhen could even consider a reply.

“Warden Alistair has agreed to go with you.  He’ll be watching your back. Hawke will lead the assault on the battlements.”

“Didn’t think I’d be doing this again.” Alistair quipped, riding up beside Cullen.  He was in full Warden regalia, looking ready to face the next blight. “Especially not against my own people,” he added darkly.  “This is starting to feel like Ostagar all over again. Anyone getting thoughts of betrayal, tell me now. I would rather know upfront than be surprised at the last minute.”  All eyes turned to him while his own remained staring straight ahead. The parallels weren’t lost on ‘Rhen. Alistair and the Hero of Ferelden had made their first stand against the Fifth Blight at the Tower of Ishal.  Their survival there was legendary. ‘Rhen had read the accounts, especially since the Hero was an inspiration to his people. A Dalish elf raised to the highest of ranks with the highest of honors. How little things have changed despite it all.  

“Lucky for us, the betraying part has already been done.” Blackwall said, and ‘Rhen couldn’t help but raise his brow at him.  The look on Blackwall’s face was deadpan and his grip on the hilt had not lessened.  

“Yes.  Lucky us.” Alistair replied flatly, his own grip tightening on the reins.  

“Are we going to reminisce all day or can we get a move on?” Hawke pulled up ahead of them and stopped his horse, turning to face them.  He had an optimistically determined look to him, but ‘Rhen could see through the facade. Mostly because he knew what to look for. He had never seen Hawke not be serious.  Which was odd considering Varric’s account of the Champion. Though he supposed a giant hole in the sky and an ancient Tevinter magister would put anyone’s humor on hold. Particularly since Hawke blamed himself for setting Corypheus loose.

“Can we?  Reminisce all day?  With tea and cakes? That would be lovely.”  Something akin to a smile crossed Alistair’s face before quickly turning into a grimace.  

“I’ll tell the men we’re ready to march,” Cullen nodded, ignoring Alistair’s comment.  “See you on the other side, gentlemen.”

‘Rhen watched Cullen retreat back beyond the gates, passing orders to his men.  He sat tall in the saddle, back straight, exuding an aura of authority and calm he was missing only moments before.  The men followed without question, as they always did. He turned his attention back to the group as Cole and Solas joined.  He exchanged pleasantries with both but said nothing further, the remainder of the conversation drifting out of focus. ‘Rhen listened with a quiet sense of detachment, his own thoughts like the shifting desert sands, never staying put long enough to be given any significant amount of attention.  Except for one. Well, not so much a thought as an image. The look of hurt on Dorian’s face haunted him every moment he dared to be awake. He wanted to mend the rift between them, but his actions inevitably made it worse. At least he didn’t try to fuck his way out of his emotions this time. ‘Rhen grimaced to himself.  Not with Dorian, anyway. Nights were worse, when he had little to occupy his body and thoughts. Thankfully, any sleep he got lately was blissfully dreamless. He had started using a mix of blood lotus and elfroot leaves to alleviate some of the stress and the lack of dreams was a welcome side effect. His supply, however, was dwindling.  Elfroot was easy enough to find. The stuff grew like weeds even in the harshest conditions. Blood lotus presented more of a challenge as it grew mainly by a water source. Difficult to find in a desert. His foot bounced nervously in the stirrup, further agitating his horse. Clenching his jaw a few times, ‘Rhen checked on his lyrium again.  It was the only other thing that quieted his nerves. If he took some now, he would still have enough left for the assault.  

After chewing on his tongue in consideration, ‘Rhen reached back for the small pouch attached to the main carry bag.  He pulled out the small vial and downed its contents, tossing the empty bottle back in. When he looked up again, Cullen was giving him a sad but knowing look.  ‘Rhen looked away. A means to an end, he told himself. Cullen had warned him about lyrium use and, had the problem not been an ancient magister, he might have listened.  In the beginning, he thought that maybe him being an elf would make things different, maybe the side effects wouldn’t be as severe. How could he have known? He had never heard of another elven templar.  Or maybe the anchor would help. In truth, he had no idea how anything worked. What should have not made sense, did. His Templar abilities should have disrupted his connection to the fade, yet that connection was now stronger than ever, some days feeling like it was tearing his arm apart.  ‘Rhen leaned back in the saddle and slowly counted backwards from ten. When the lyrium finally kicked in, he relaxed, his foot calmed and his breathing slowed. He took the reins in both hands and urged his horse after Cullen’s.

“Let’s go.”

Things were a lot worse at Adamant than they anticipated.  The push-back from the Wardens was severe, worsened by the hordes of demons.  The fortress was overrun completely. ‘Rhen stood back while the forward team rammed the front gate.  It was a massacre. Those lucky enough to avoid falling bodies were crushed by thrown boulders. Any longer and there would be no one left.  But eventually, the heavy gate groaned under the constant barrage and broke, leaving an opening just wide enough to pass through.  

It was worse inside.  ‘Rhen had to sidestep a falling body thrown over the battlements by a demon as he entered.  Cullen rushed in behind him, face contorted in a mixture of frustration, anguish and fury.

“There is too much resistance on the walls,” he yelled, barely audible over the sounds of battle, pointing up to where the body had just fallen from.  “Our men on the ladders can’t get a foothold. If you can clear out the enemies on the battlements, we’ll cover your advance.” He disappeared back into the thick of battle, not waiting for a reply.  ‘Rhen glanced at the ramparts, quickly evaluating their situation. They were swarmed with demons and- Wardens fighting other Wardens? So, there was some resistance from within.  

“Here we go again,” Alistair groaned.  “At least there is no swooping.”

“The day is still young.”  ‘Rhen replied humorlessly, though his remark still elicited a sarcastic chuckle.  

“We need to help them!” Blackwall called out, pulling his attention back to the situation at hand.  ‘Rhen grimaced. He wasn’t thrilled about the detour, or the prospect of fighting Wardens. He would have preferred going straight for Clarel.  Taking her out would, undoubtedly, end this madness. But he couldn’t leave Cullen, or his men, high and dry. Not when the Commander placed his trust in him.  He preferred disappointing only one person at a time, and at the moment, that spot was occupied.  

“It goes without saying, but only attack if provoked,” he said, drawing out a lyrium vial and draining it.  His hand shook slightly as he stuffed the bottle back into the pouch and he squeezed it with his other hand before shaking both out.  “Let’s get a move on before we become target practice.”  

They made their way up each flight of stairs with methodical precision until they reached the battlements.  Up until then, ‘Rhen had allowed Alistair, Blackwall, and Cole to take care of any resistance they encountered, providing support only when necessary.  But the rage demon tossing soldiers aside like ragdolls? That one was all his.  

“Inquisitor, you must stay back!” Solas called out behind him, but ‘Rhen didn’t hear him.  He could feel it stirring inside him, that familiar feeling, bubbling up to the surface, and he welcomed it.  The lyrium sang in his veins, urging him on, threatening to consume him if he didn’t listen. He unhooked the chain from his hip and lashed it out at the demon.  It hooked into its flesh, turning its attention on the party. ‘Rhen’s mouth twisted into a smile and, as his anchor sprang to life, he yanked on the chain, bringing the demon face to face.  As it raised its flaming claws above him to strike, ‘Rhen dug the fingers of his left hand deep into its chest, grabbed hold of whatever was inside, and twisted, squeezing his fingers tighter around it.  It let out a terrifying howl and sunk its claws into ‘Rhen’s shoulders. He barely felt it as he called upon his connection to the fade, pulling at the fragments around the anchor until it complied with his request and opened a small tear within its flesh.  The rage demon froze, as if some part of it was trying to figure out what was happening and, before it could, it began sundering apart from the inside, pulled into the tear, until there was nothing left of it but a flake of ash. ‘Rhen uncurled his fist in satisfaction and let the remnants fall to the ground with a squelch.  

“That was...something.” Alistair remarked in wonderment, approaching ‘Rhen from behind with an incredulous look on his face.  “If you can do that again, we might make it out of here alive after all.”  

“You are getting better with that, Inquisitor,” Solas added with a nod towards the anchor.  “You continue to surprise me.”

“Yes, well,” ‘Rhen cleared his throat, his rage fading into the background.  “Now that we’ve established my competence, maybe we should keep moving.” He called one of the nearby Inquisition soldiers over and asked for the location of the next siege point.  The soldier pointed at the battlement walkway.

“Keep going in that direction, Your Worship, and through the door.  You’ll find them. But…” the soldier hesitated, fear overshadowing his features.  He wrung his hands together as if trying to decide whether he should continue or not.  Not in the mood for delays, ‘Rhen placed a hand on the soldier's shoulder, as comfortingly as he could manage under the circumstances, to encourage him to continue.  “Well, Ser, there is one of them giant ones, the one that makes you think funny thoughts and then…” he shivered, wrapping his arms around himself before continuing. “The other two, they make you feel hopeless.  Empty. Like nothing matters.”

“Despair demons,” Solas grimly stated.  The anxiety ‘Rhen felt earlier that morning returned.  The last time he faced a similar group he was at full strength and he still nearly died.  

“We need to approach this with caution,” he said, choking down the fear that was crawling its way into his heart.  

“Agreed.”  Blackwall stepped up beside him.

“We cannot wait, either.  These people need our help.”

“Thank you, Solas.  Helpful.” ‘Rhen grimaced, burying his face in his hand, frustration taking over.  Though he immediately regretted his remark and shot Solas an apologetic look, which the mage seemed to accept without question. 

“Alistair and I can hold off the big one,” Blackwall suggested, flexing his shoulders and bringing his shield up reflexively.  

“You just need to kill it before it kills us.” Alistair added, clearly agitated by this turn of events, though he offered no protests.    

“Blackwall-”

“No darkspawn has taken us yet.  No demon shall, either.” ‘Rhen met Blackwall’s eyes, steeled with determination, and backed down.  There was no standing against someone who made his living by taking a beating on behalf of others.  

“Fine.  You do that.  We’ll take care of the others.”

It didn’t take long to find the second siege point.  All they had to do was follow the sound of terrifyingly chilling shrills of the despair demon.  They walked in on a massacre. Bloody corpses littered the ground and a Pride demon was bearing down on a remaining group of soldiers, its maniacal laughter echoing across the battlements.  In front of the group, Hawke stood with one arm stretched out protectively around the soldiers, casting a spell with the other. Blood dripped from his forearm, but ‘Rhen didn’t have time to evaluate the cause.  Screams filled the air as it picked one of the scrambling soldiers up and squeezed, deliberately tightening its grip around the body, before tossing it unceremoniously aside, eyes scanning for its next victim. A chill ran down ‘Rhen’s back as his eyes locked with the demon’s.  It stared him down with a grotesque sneer spreading across its face, challenging him, daring him to attack. ‘Rhen gripped the dagger sheathed behind his back and took a step forward.

“Steel yourself, Inquisitor.  Do not listen to its clever lies.  Or it will find a way to twist you against yourself.”  ‘Rhen blinked, suddenly coming to. He had lost himself for a moment, all the ugly thoughts he had ever thought flooding to the surface.  Solas’ hand on his shoulder brought him back as a warm glow sprang around them. That moment brought the demon’s full attention on them and it stepped towards them.  

“Well, no time like the present!” Alistair called out in mock cheerfulness and charged ahead, followed shortly by Blackwall.  The demon had no time to react before both their shields smashed into it, swords digging into its flesh. Its arms flailed about but both Alistair and Blackwall deftly maneuvered out of reach, working in synchrony.  Behind them Hawke cast spells of support, distracting the demon long enough for the others to strike. With that situation handled, ‘Rhen turned his attention to the rest of their small battlefield. Careful observation allowed him to spot the Warden spellbinder hiding behind a short wall, his book open and his mouth moving, ready to cast some unholy incantation.  

“Cole!” ‘Rhen jerked his head towards the mage, wordlessly conveying the danger.  He didn’t need to explain. Cole vanished into thin air, reappearing moments later behind the Warden, daggers planted firmly in the mage’s back.  The Warden only had a second to register what had happened before a pair of bloody daggers slid across his throat, cutting off all cries for help.  Cole was back by his side before the body hit the ground. That only left the Despair demons. They circled around, looking for an easy target. ‘Rhen didn’t want to give them the chance.  He only had time to form the bare bones of a plan before he took action. Unleashing the chain, he shot it out towards one of the demons and once it securely hooked into its flesh, he yanked it towards himself while sprinting full speed at the second demon.  That positioned him right between them and without wasting a second, ‘Rhen reached deep within himself and called on the lyrium, pushing back on the fade and asserting reality within his surroundings. A blinding white beam of light burst out of him, stunning the demons and in that moment, ‘Rhen strengthened his hold on the chain, wrapping it tightly around his arm, and dropped into a low crouch.

“Now, Cole!” he shouted. 

Cole appeared above him, daggers dancing around him in a whirlwind.  He moved with inhuman grace, each attack calculated and deadly and ‘Rhen couldn’t help but watch in awe.  It didn’t take long for Cole to make short work of the demons and they dissipated without a trace, leaving only the Pride demon.  ‘Rhen turned to where Alistair and Blackwall were making their stand, but he needn’t have worried. The two warriors, with Hawke’s help, took the demon down without issues, looking no worse for wear.  Hawke was the first to approach him after they’ve all had their minute to catch their breath.  

“There’s one more siege point,” he said, leaning heavily on his staff, “but I haven’t heard anything from them.”  The Champion looked exhausted, but the look of determination in his eyes had not wavered.  

“We’ll look into it,” ‘Rhen nodded, choosing to ignore the steady dripping of blood from Hawke’s arm.  The cut looked intentional, but he was in no position to judge. “You stay here and help secure the battlements.”

“Will do.  And be careful, Inquisitor.  Something about this place feels… wrong.”

By the time ‘Rhen made it to the last siege point, it was too late.  The stench of blood hung heavy in the air and there were no signs of Inquisition forces or Warden resistance.  The only indication that heavy fighting took place here were the mangled bodies that littered the stone floor.  

“Poor sods, didn’t stand a chance.” Alistair shook his head.  ‘Rhen only tightened his jaw in response. He did a quick survey of the scene for any survivors and his breath hitched as his eyes fell on a familiar face.  A gaping hole occupied the area where a chest used to be and the lifeless olive green eyes seemed to bore into ‘Rhen’s soul. This is your fault , they seemed to say, this is all your fault .  ‘Rhen’s mouth twitched  and he curled his hands into fists, nails digging into his skin.

“No sense in standing around,” he growled through clenched teeth.  “Let’s get to Clarel before shit gets worse.”