Chapter 1: Preserverence
Pov: Cullen Rutherford, Commander
Whispers surround him as he stares in disgust at the lyrium kit in front of him. Unknowingly, he has bent over the desk, shoulders drawn tight with tension. He feels the rage rolling low in his gut, the twinge of fear, regret, despair, vying for dominance in his cluttered mind. They roll over his intestines and battle over old scars. So much blood. Screams. He opens his mouth as if to say something, closes it again. His hand hovers over the kit, shaking, he feels himself slipping – just a little bit, just a drop, it’ll be okay.
His mind roars as everything comes to a standstill the moment before his fingers touch the box. Then his hand closes over it and he flings it against the door.
Right then, it opens and a familiar shape lumbers through the shaft of sunlight. The Inquisitor ducks, the lyrium kit scatters on the floor with a loud thwack which Cullen wishes wouldn’t sound so pathetic.
“Maker’s breath! I-“ he starts, blinking to make out the qunari’s expression, “I didn’t hear you enter!”
The figure takes a step forward, gingerly avoiding the tools now scattered there, and closes the door behind him to give them privacy. The giant seems to fill up the entire room, especially now that he straightens his back and sweeps his gentle gaze over the tidily messy office, his horns almost scrape the ceiling.
Then his eyes catch Cullen’s. It makes his spine tingle.
“Talk to me”
An order, but there’s something soft to it, something deep down in the rumble of the Inquisitors throat. Worry? It makes Cullen’s heart clench.
He walks forward, intending to stand at attention before his superior, a familiar movement, something to hold onto. The blue glint of lyrium makes him avert his eyes.
“You don’t have to ..” Then his vision swims and his throat tightens. He feels the world spin as he grasps for anything to steady him, an anchor, he groans. His hand finds the wood of his desk, he clings to it.
“I never meant for this to interfere” he all but manages to whimper.
“I know that.”
The certainty in his voice makes Cullen look up. The qunari has not moved an inch, standing like a statue, dark and larger than life. Somehow, it steadies him. Seeing this creature of raw power, both physical, in influence and in character, have such faith in him, eyeing him calmly with those soft brown eyes, it makes Cullen straighten his back once more.
He manages a somber smile.
“Promises mean nothing if I cannot keep them.”
He withdraws his eyes to the bookshelf, finding the inquisitor’s gaze far more intense than he thinks he can take at that moment.
“Cassandra’s right: I should stay. I need to … I don’t know.”
And then the words start pouring out. He paces as he recounts the details, he’s sure he must look frantic. The circle, the corpses in the hallways, blonde hair matted with dried blood as he drags himself through the quiet tower. The memories overtake him, and before he realizes it he’s out of breath. He recollects Kirkwall, his wish to serve, to want to prevent what could happen again. His despair and his anger must be shining out his eyes, he thinks. He nervously runs a hand through his hair.
Then he looks up to find the man on the other side of the desk watching him with an unreadable expression. Desperate, afraid he has not convinced this man, he adds as a last note;
“Can’t you see why I want nothing to do with that life?”
A moment passes in silence and every alarm bell in Cullen’s body rings high and shrill. This is it, he’ll be dismissed, now the Inquisitor knows what he has done, what he has let happen, how unfit for duty he is-
“You have put your health and in extension your service to the inquisition at risk”
His heart sinks, and his inner turmoil turns what would otherwise be a simple statement into a condemnation. He does not meet the other man’s gaze.
“I know” he says softly, “I thought this would be better, that I would regain some control over my life.”
Then he feels the anger boil up again. Injustice, he had never been anything but a good soldier. Then why? Why isn’t he simply taking the damned stuff? Why does it all have to be so difficult?
“These thoughts won’t leave me … How many lives depend on our success?” he takes a few steps to move to the other side of the desk, his only shield from the unyielding gaze of the qunari.
“I swore myself to this cause” he says, mostly to himself, his voice low and sneering with disgust at himself, “I will not give less to the inquisition than I did the Chantry.” Just then, his vision swims again but he manages to catch himself against the bookshelf.
“I should be taking it!” he snarls. Then the hand he is leaning on forms a fist and some of his tension is released as it hits the wood and makes the books rattle. A small cloud of dust settles over him.
“I should be taking it” he whispers.
Behind him, he hears movement, and he glances over just in time to see the inquisitor filling up his vision.
“Look at me.” The words are infinitely soft, warmer than Cullen has ever heard the battle-hardened man’s voice before. The rumble continues, low enough to be a whisper, but he hears every word clear as day.
“You give enough, Cullen. I’m not asking you for more.”
He glances up into the large brown eyes of his superior and finds them crinkled in a soft smile. From this close, he can see every scar lining the black skin, the scores of healed flesh around his neck, the wrinkles from growing old too early. The same lines undoubtedly lining his own features.
“The inquisition can be your chance to start over – if you want it to be”
And something heavy releases between them. Defeated, still unsure, weary from years of struggle, Cullen glances down.
“I don’t know if that’s possible” he whispers.
Then he feels a warmth through the cloth on his arm. He glances from the qunari’s hand, almost enveloping his entire side, up the arm, about the size of his torso, to his eyes, still too intense. Despite the dim lighting in the room, he feels as though he is staring at the sun.
He lets out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.
Chapter 2: Strange Bedfellows
POV: Ritts, Inquisition Scout.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
They didn't hear the templars until they were upon them, hitting Eldredda with a well-aimed slash of a blade, shattering her neck before she crumpled to the ground. Ritts would never forget that last half-second of her life as her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. Open, as if to say something - but she never got the chance. Nor would Ritts have been able to hear it over the shouts of the templars as they rejoiced in the killing of an innocent.
“Kill all mages!” they cheered, and Ritts felt bitter tears in her eyes.
One of them turned to her with a haughty smile.
“How do you blokes say we take the mage’s stead, this looks like a fine picnic to waste, dont it?” Their heavy fereldan accents made them seem even more crude and uncultured than Ritts had already decided them to be, their armor looked worn and their cheeks were sunken.
“But it's an elf” one of them complained even as Ritts tried crawling away from the body of her partner, making sounds she would never be proud of. Somehow, the templars weren’t alarmed when she got to her feet, although one was watching her intently, she was certain that was for entirely different reasons.
She shivered, felt her gut recoil and pounced. She wasn’t entirely certain when she’d reached for her bow and managed to grab it, but nonetheless she clubbed one of the templars over the head with it.
The other two let out surprised noises; Quickly their swords were drawn and they were taunting her, but the words sounded like gibberish as hatred flamed through her head.
Fuck this war.
To hell with it all.
She moved to attack again, but the templar she’d clubbed had come to his senses and twirled, sword in hand, blocking her bow and snapping the string. It dangled uselessly from what was now simply a fancy stick, wooshed through the air as she aimed another strike at his head and hit the ground just as hard as the stick it was attached to when it was knocked out of her hands.
She cursed, snarled and kicked at the advancing men.
This hadn’t been the end she’d imagined. Thought she’d die surrounded by family, children, a loving wife, in a bed and have a ceremony afterwards. Not out in the fucking Hinterlands where no one would even find her body, much less give her a burial.
She kept her glare squarely on the templar closest to her, fought and kicked until the last second, unyielding and unafraid.
But then the templar in the back screamed and Ritts flung her gaze there along with the other two templars and all of their eyes widened as they saw a chain whip around him and in the next moment it was like he had snapped out of existence.
Had Ritts not been knocked to the ground she would’ve been able to see what the templars were now turning to face, whatever thing had just hurled a fully armed templar straight out of the air like he was a ragdoll. Ritts wasn’t certain she wanted to see it, had come to terms with dying at the hand of mere templars, didn't want to imagine what horrors what she presumed were bandits would do to her. Not that templars were much more than bandits these days anyhow.
She wasn’t blind to the opening to get back on her feet, however, and when she did, she had planned to dropkick one of the templars to the ground but instead she just stood there, feeling icy fear crawl up her spine.
Over the plains, down by road towards the fortress of the andrastian cult, there was a shadow sprinting across the difficult terrain as though it was nothing. Ritts’ eyes were pinned on it as it arched its back, twirled something from its hand and another chain flew forth and wrapped itself with expert precision around the templar closest to Ritts. He let out a strangled cry as he too was yanked out of the air and Ritts could scarcely believe there was no witchcraft involved as the shadow pulled out what looked like a toothpick and speared the incoming templar before he hit the ground.
It was only then she came to her senses and grabbed the knife in her belt, took the half-step she needed to stand directly behind the last remaining templar and quickly grabbed the front of his face, leaning his head back and slit his throat. He fell to the ground with a gurgle just as the shadow started to slow.
Ritts turned to it and managed not to gasp as she realized what it was. It must be him.
“I-Inquisitor” she stammered out. His face was stoic, regal, in a way she’d never seen a man be before. Not oppressive or judgemental, nor entirely devoid of emotion. The horns on his head were adorned with simple metal, not gold as she had heard, and his white hair hung over his shoulders messily.
He moved forward, past her, and she strained her neck trying to look at his face as he did so. The stories did say he was large, were all qunari this big? She shuddered at the thought.
The Inquisitor stood with his back to her for a moment, surveying the little tree, the picnic basket and the-
Ritts fought not to rush to Eldredda’s side. When the qunari turned to her with a thoughtful expression she understood her position with a rush of painful clarity.
“I-I should .. probably report back-” she said, but was interrupted when she heard what she could only describe as a rumble from the form towering above her lover’s corpse.
“This is a mage.” A statement that made her stomach clench, but she heard no disdain in his voice, not that he seemed overly upset she hadn’t survived.
“Eldredda-” she said before she could bite her tongue, and imediately she regretted it as she turned and saw three figures jogging up to the little picturesque plateau. A human, an elf and a dwarf. The human she recognized as Seeker Cassandra, and she shivered as the woman levelled her a stare that might break walls. “yes, I- think that was her name.”
“A-at least I’d heard other apostates call her that.” Ritts could’ve kicked herself. She decided to try and simply explain the situation, but somehow she felt tongue-tied under the gaze of the inquisitor who held hers as if by magic. His face was unmoving, he looked as though he was carved from stone had his hair not been blowing softly in the wind.
“The templars they, they attacked the apostate! I suppose I just … got … caught in the middle?” She fidgeted. The Inquisitor gave no acknowledgement that she had spoken, he simply turned to the small crate of food and wine Eldredda had brought and Ritts’ panic swelled.
“Looks like someone was having a picnic.” Another statement, no inflection that led her to believe she’d be in trouble but she knew the rules, there was no chance this wouldn’t elicit some sort of punishment - and she’d been found, and saved, by the Inquisitor himself, no less! This day really hadn’t gone how she thought it would.
“The apostate must've been hunting for uh - blood magic!” She was really grasping at any sort of excuse or explanation now. Behind her, she heard a snort and she turned with a red face to the dwarf, lips pressed together and a pleading look in her eyes.
The dwarf simply smiled and shook his head, gesticulating with his hand to turn back to the qunari behind her, and when she did, she found him watching her with one eyebrow raised, and, she could’ve imagined it, one side of his lips curled up ever so slightly in a smirk.
“So, the truth.” It was too late now, they already knew. She’d just have to make the best of the situation and hope the punishment wasn’t too harsh. At least she was still alive, right?
“I may have been .. uhm..” how was she supposed to say this, “passing time, with Eldredda.”
She looked up at the qunari, squinting against the sun over his shoulder and barely managing to see the smirk that still lingered on his face.
“I take it the templars interrupted your very friendly picnic.”
Ritts blushed. Her toes curled in her boots and a wash of embarrassment flooded her.
“We-” she started, wanting to argue, but realized quickly it would be in vain.
“Yes. A-at first she was just a mage who saw me and didn’t attack, b-but later we- ” her hands had found the hem of her tunic and she fidgeted with the worn edge that she’d promised herself for months to fix.
“So, are you going to report me?” she all but whispered.
The qunari’s smirk faded, which made alarm bells toll out over her mind, declaring her dead, or out of a job at the very least, but then his expression turned thoughtful and he shook his head.
“Varric?” He rumbled, although he probably didn't mean to, she realized. The dwarf started speaking, and it suddenly occurred to her where she’d heard that name before. She blinked before turning to look at him.
“Look kid, if you can talk an apostate out of her pants in the middle of a war you’ve got a gift” he looked pleased with her, “Use it. Make contacts, get information and help the inquisition.” He winked, then, and finished with a teasing; “Do that, and our lips are sealed.”
She looked back at the Inquisitor and saw the same warmth echoed in his eyes. She couldn’t help the small smile that played on her lips,
“A-alright. I can do that” she said, even as she doubted whether or not she could. These people seemed to have faith in her, and if it got her out of trouble …
“and … thanks. For going easy on me” she finished.
She kneeled in front of the Inquisitor, and from the ground she looked up and thought his horns might have reached the clouds if he stood on his toes. She held a hand over her heart and the qunari bowed, accepting her pledge of allegiance.
She felt a rush as they left her, much more peaceful than they had arrived, walking towards the cult, and a few nights later she heard how he’d vanquished the demons that had been spewing out of that place.
In the years to come, she fought for the Inquisition, with the memory of a black silhouette smiling down at her under a cold fereldan sun, looking no less ordinary than any other member of the Inquisition.
No gold, no fanfare, not even a horse in most circumstances - maker knows she wasn’t sure how any horse would be able to support such a weight.
And although she met many qunari as an agent for the Inquisition, none could ever again impress her, for she had seen the best, the most majestic his people could offer.
Thank you so much for reading!
I'm currently trying to get through every single quest in the game on a single save and realized I had skipped most of the Hinterlands, so I figured this would be a fun way to get into some combat :D
Chapter 3: Dragonslayer
POV: The Iron Bull
If anything gave The Iron Bull a rock hard erection, it would be this.
The air was alight with tension, with splinters and fire and sounds that circled him and made him vibrate with potential. His body acted on his own as a dragonling crept behind him and then an instant later it’s decapitated body writhed in on itself, blood splattering his exposed chest and he roared. A roar answered him, and he felt full hearing how that bellowing battle cry mirrored his own lust, his perverted sense of glee and purpose as he raised his axe and spun, charging at the Mother, the High Dragon of the Hinterlands, the Fereldan Frostback, and he thought he had never felt more alive.
The creature danced around the form, tiny in comparison, of Cassandra, shield raised and brows drawn tight in concentration. Maker what a delightful sight. A lioness taming a lion, he wasn’t sure what creature held more of his veneration.
He approached, the dragon’s tail sweeped into his path, and he admired the way the muscles bunched under gleaming scales as he vaulted over it just before it moved again and he let his axe dig deep into the left hind leg of the majestic beast. Blood splurted over him and left small, warm pin pricks all over his shoulder and arm along with the uncertainty of whether or not the ringing in his ears would ever fade from the earth shattering scream that followed his attack.
“Now!” Cried Cassandra and The Iron Bull felt the air around him fizz with energy as the creature was bombarded with magical projectiles, purple and bright and oh maker they hurt his eyes but as the Mother buckled and swayed he felt like his heart was about to trip right out of his mouth.
He forced himself to focus on his job, stabbed and slashed at the legs as he danced under the Dragon’s soft belly. His grip never slipped, his breath was ragged and his voice hoarse before he roared again and managed to slice a deep cut through the membrane in the left wing. He stumbled out from under it, adrenaline making him dizzy and giving him clarity all at once as he squinted up at the sun.
The dragon was barely standing, he could tell, its legs slashed and cut, its snout bleeding and its side seemed to be cracking and oddly dusty, as though it was fading away. Her strength was breathtaking, although in reality he had to admit that perhaps another sight was giving him more trouble breathing than her majesty.
Straddling the Fereldan Frostback’s neck sat the Inquisitor, hair loose and bloodied, the upper half of his armor abandoned at some point in the fight, holding on to a chain wrapped once around the great beasts neck. The qunari pulled, and The Iron Bull felt his throat go dry at the sight of that humongous body straining against a force with all his might.
Little flickers of green reminded him faintly of what this creature was, but in just that moment, none of that mattered to him.
Because then the chain ripped clean through the dragon’s neck, and Cassandra dove to the side before it crashed with a ‘thump’ to the ground with a yell. The great body stood for one, breathless moment, the Inquisitor heaving, body taut like a bowstring, the cold autumn sun falling over him like the most beautiful piece of art The Iron Bull had ever seen and he could have come right then and there. This man was utterly perfect in every way, powerful, dignified, kind, motivated, this man was-
Then the illusion broke as the body collapsed and the Inquisitor slid off with all the grace of a duckling, with a yelp that could’ve been fit for a chantry novice hearing a vulgar word for the first time and disappeared behind a flurry of wings and limbs finding a natural resting place amongst the dry grass and sooty rocks.
“Is everyone alright?” The Iron Bull heard the Inquisitor’s voice call out as soon the rumble had finished reverberating through the earth and he grinned. He goddamn laughed was what he did as he sheathed his axe on his back and jogged up to the corpse.
“Never better!” He all but managed not to roar as he searched between flaming yellow scales for movement. Cassandra got there before him, holding up a wing and enabling the other qunari to slide out from under the great beast’s torso. The Iron Bull felt another pang of fond admiration for this woman at her display of strength, although perhaps her new outfit consisting primarily of red and stained and sweaty had something to do with it. She gave him an incredulous look,
“That last breath of fire nearly fried us” she said but immediately seemed to regret it as The Iron Bull’s eyes went dreamy. She groaned and helped haul the Inquisitor to his feet.
Bull shivered when the other qunari sent him a look over his shoulder. A raised eyebrow, the slightest rise of the edge of his mouth.