Audra changed her position to walk beside Kieran. “Thank you for coming with us, Kieran. It’s very brave.”
“It’s fine. I like the Fade. In parts.” He looked up at her, his eyes searching her face. “Mother says you love Alistair a lot.”
Her chest tightened and she nodded. “I do.” The admission sounded so plain, so insignificant compared to the feeling inside of her. She couldn’t convey what they’d gone through over the years, what they’d given up as Wardens. What they’d seen together. She smiled. “You’d be horrified at the blood we’ve wiped off each other’s faces, if I’m being honest.”
Kieran made a face. “It’s better than letting your mabari lick it.”
“Oh Maker no, I love my dog too much.” She looked around, trying to judge how far they’d walked.
“It’s not very far,” Kieran commented, tugging at the sleeve of his tunic. “I think we got lucky.”
“I hope so.” She hoped that they would encounter little resistance. The sooner they were done in the Fade, the better. She could feel the magic from the Fade humming in her, and she stretched out her fingers. It felt wrong, as if something tingled along her skin. An undercurrent of power, as if she could access something great yet terrifying.
Audra closed her hand and continued the walk through the alien landscape, seeing the occasional demon cross in the distance. She glanced at Cullen to see how he fared. Of all of them, she worried for him the most.
He kept his hand on his sword, a frown on his face. She used to call it his “Mask of Diligence.” It wasn’t much different than when he’d been a Templar at Kinloch, except he moved with a confidence that he hadn’t had back then.
She couldn’t help but notice that he flinched any time he saw a demon. He stayed at the ready, his eyes constantly sweeping over their surroundings. He went out of his way to not look at Dorian.
Sighing, she reminded herself to give them a stern talking to. If I survive this.
“Look ahead,” Dorian said, and Audra looked up to see two rage demons and a desire demon blocking the way.
“That’s where we have to go,” Kieran said, stepping back.
“Stay behind us,” Audra told him, making sure she stayed between him and the trio of demons. She cast her eyes over the group. Hawke already readied his bow, ready to slow them with shots from their current position. Cullen pulled his sword free, the steel hissing as he drew it from the scabbard. The sound skittered outward, distorted by the Fade. Blue light bloomed over Anders as Justice growled. Solas took a solid stance, his form as firm as if he were physically present with them. Dorian drew his staff and started casting.
She nodded to Hawke to start the fight, and he took careful aim, letting an arrow fly. It solidly hit the rage demon, knocking it back. Burning the arrow away, it turned towards them and charged.
The battle had begun.
* * *
Cullen rushed forward to take on the closest rage demon. Not being physically in the Fade, he had little to lose, as it was most likely a blow would simply wake him up outside of the Fade. That would, however, leave the group without his protection. He would not let that happen.
Arrows from Hawke’s bow sped past him, and he could see them hitting the other rage demon. The mages focused their attention on the rage demons and casting protection spells. The desire demon hung back, which Cullen was fine with. Of all demons, desire demons were…
He forced a breath. No, I can’t think of that now. Raising his shield, he felt one of the mages cast a protection spell on him. He didn’t know which did it, but he could feel it come over him. He pushed the uncomfortable feeling aside and rushed at the first rage demon, using his shield to keep himself from its fire.
The scar on his back where a rage demon had burned him seemed to itch in sympathy, and he gritted his teeth. This is for all of the times I could not fight back. He would fight for Alistair, this time. He swung his blade, cutting into the rage demon. Pulling his sword free, he saw the other rage demon advancing on the mages.
He couldn’t keep them both back at once, but he’d be damned if either of these demons got to the mage line. Out of the corner of his eye, a black and red streak came out of seemingly nowhere, armed with two daggers. “Not today, asshole!” Hawke barked, drawing the attention of the other rage demon.
With Hawke keeping the other rage demon busy, it let Cullen focus on fighting his current target. He let out a cry and bashed it with his shield. It staggered backwards, then a spell hit it, freezing it nearly solid. Cullen took that opportunity for what it was and slammed into it again, shattering the ice and the demon with it.
He breathed a sigh of relief and glanced over to see how Hawke was doing. The demon hit the ground, hit by electricity, and Hawke pounced, jamming both daggers into it. They had to have some kind of enchantment on them, as they froze the rage demon. Hawke leveraged a savage kick and the demon cracked apart.
Cullen looked back at the mages to see they’d started to take on the desire demon with spells at range, and he stopped for a moment, staring at the mages. Solas casted in and out of focus, he assumed because of the Fade. Audra cast in a disciplined, straightforward way, as she’d always done. Anders had turned fully blue, no doubt letting the spirit inside him help him in the fight. It would have been terrifying except for the fact that Cullen’s eyes moved to Dorian.
The mage looked past him to the demon, casting a fire spell with an ease that Cullen hadn’t seen in a mage before. He followed it up with an ice spell, his body moving like a dance, his staff an extension of his magic. His magic an extension of his very being. Each move perfect, practiced, deliberate.
In that moment, Cullen realized what he hadn’t had the opportunity to see. It wasn’t just that Dorian was a mage; it flowed through him with an unrestrained grace, a joy, a power. No hesitation, no thought. Every mage he’d seen had some kind of almost reservation about them. A fear. Fear of Templars, fear of possession, he wasn’t sure. Dorian had no fear of that, no fear of magic. Confident, and as natural to him as breathing.
It was the single most beautiful thing Cullen had seen in his life.
Cullen’s heart beat hard in his chest, and he turned towards the desire demon, knowing that they needed to make it out of this in one piece. I have to tell him that I understand now.
He exchanged a look at Hawke who nodded, and they advanced on the final demon.
The desire demon looked from one to the other as they approached. Its eyes focused on him, looking into him. “You’ve seen my kind before.”
Cullen gritted his teeth and advanced on it, ignoring the taunt. He moved in, swinging his sword. It dodged his swing and turned away from him for a moment. When it turned back, it wore Dorian’s face. It’s clothes flowed into black and gold. A smile split it’s face and he… it… moved towards him with the same movement as Dorian.
“Don’t let it fool you, Cullen,” Hawke barked at him, dodging in with his daggers.
He didn’t know if Hawke could see what he saw, but he had to fight every instinct he had to keep advancing. Hawke flashed in with his daggers and cut the demon’s arm, drawing red blood.
“How dare you!” the demon said in Dorian’s voice, knocking Hawke to the ground with its hand. Hawke rolled away and got to his feet. He’d dropped one dagger, and the demon picked it up, holding it in its hand. “How barbaric.”
It’s not him. You have to attack. Cullen felt his hand shake and he looked over his shoulder. He had to anchor himself back to the real Dorian. The mage’s eyes were wide and he shook his head.
“Cullen, don’t listen.” Dorian’s stance stood firm. “Look at me.”
“Can he give you want you want?” the demon purred, pulling Cullen’s attention back. “Will he ever be happy with you, broken as you are?”
Broken. It hurt to hear it in Dorian’s voice, Dorian’s tone. The demon wasn’t wrong. He needed Dorian, but did Dorian need him? Damaged, afraid, a mess of literal and figurative armor that he didn’t know how to take off.
“You’ve only hurt mages,” the demon continued, sickening in it’s likeness to Doran, in the way it sneered. “You know it’s true. It’s a matter of time before you have a nightmare and you lash out at him. Before you hurt him.” The demon ran it’s hands over it’s robes. “But you could have me, and you’d be everything to me.”
“Cullen,” Audra warned.
He could have killed her, during her Harrowing. Swallowing, he turned his eyes to Dorian. He expected judgment, pity, something hardened. Dorian’s face was guarded, but a concern showed on his face. A care. It made Cullen ache.
The demon was right; Cullen had nightmares. He woke up tangled in the sheets, looking to attack something, anything. He slept so solid with Dorian beside him, but when would that change? When would he snap? When would he hurt Dorian?
Dorian flung his hand up, throwing a protection spell onto him. “Behind you!”
Too late, Cullen realized the demon had advanced and was on him, one arm wrapping around it’s neck as it deflected the spell. Hawke dashed in, slashing at the demon’s arm, but his hits didn’t land.
The demon leaned in close to Cullen’s ear. “You think I don’t know what you feel for him?” it asked, breath hot on his face. “I know what you were thinking just moments ago. About me.”
“You will not take him!” a voice roared, and Cullen recognized it as Anders… but not entirely. A shockwave hit both Cullen and the demon. It didn’t hurt Cullen, but it shocked the demon into letting go. It dropped Dorian’s appearance and Cullen took the opportunity. With a roar, he turned on it and beheaded it.
He dropped his sword and shield on the ground and took a deep breath. Feeling sick, he closed his eyes. They’d know. They’d had to have heard the demon, know what he’d been thinking. How he felt. He couldn’t look at them, especially not at Dorian.
A hand rested on his shoulder and he flinched. He opened his eyes to see Hawke beside him.
“It took Dorian’s form, didn’t it?” he asked softly, and Cullen nodded.
“Was that… was that Anders that just saved me?” he asked, trying to stay focused on Hawke.
Hawke smiled. “After a fashion. That was Justice.”
Confusion filled Cullen’s mind, not understanding why Justice would protect him. “Why…”
“Because you were defending us, and Justice… well.” Hawke chuckled. “No one wants you possessed. We’ll talk when we’re out of here.”
Picking up his sword and shield, Cullen stood and they headed back to the group. Dorian had strapped his staff over his shoulder, and looked at Cullen critically as he approached. “Are you alright?”
Cullen’s hands shook, every moment the demons had tortured him echoing in his memories. He sheathed his sword. “I’m… not injured.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.” Dorian sighed, moving to stand in front of Cullen.
Cullen swallowed hard, noticing the softness in Dorian’s tone. He noticed a bit of hair out of place, and he reached up to brush it into place.
He froze, realizing that he’d not only made such a casually affectionate gesture in front of everyone, but that he’d perhaps crossed a line.
“Your armor is going to get caught in my hair.” Dorian grabbed Cullen’s arm. “Are you fine?”
“He’s asking if the demon go to you!” Anders barked, pushing between them. The blue still crackled over his skin.
He shook his head. He didn’t want to explain his mental state, nor did he want to comment on the clear implication. Anders was physically separating him from Dorian because he didn’t trust him. “I’m not possessed.”
“Are you certain?” Anders demanded.
“Of course I’m certain! As if you are one to judge. Back off.” Cullen wasn’t sure who he was speaking to. “I don’t see you asking Hawke those questions.”
Anders shook his head. “Hawke has proven his ability against demons.”
Audra stepped between them. “Enough. If he says he’s fine, he’s fine. You have to trust that.”
The blue glow intensified then died out. Anders frowned. “We’ll watch you.”
“We’ve got no time for this,” Solas noted, looking back to Kieran.
The boy had stayed back during the fight, and looked shaken. Audra put her arm around him, protective. “Are you alright?”
He nodded. “It’s scary but I’m fine.” He stood up straighter. “It’s not far. This way.” Kieran led them past the dead demons, Audra staying close to him.
Cullen took a deep breath and steadied himself, unable to shake the feeling that the worst was yet to come.