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this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine

Chapter Text

If Dorian Parvus hadn’t spent his childhood haunting the halls – and ritual rooms – belonging to various magisterium members, he might have missed it. A quick look around the room saw Leliana and Josephine exchanging glances, Bull’s eyebrows rising, and Cole leaning forward toward the Inquisitor. Everyone else seemed completely oblivious.

It wasn’t that Mahanon had the same sort of poker face Solas did but the Inquisitor’s mask was very, very good. He was excellent at expressing positive emotions – happiness, concern, sympathy – but Dorian had only seen pain on the other’s face once and fear… that had only shown up in the presence of an archdemon. Understandable, really; after all, who wouldn’t be afraid of an archdemon? Even Bull had expressed doubts over their potential to come out of that alive and certainly no one had expected Mahanon to collapse, bruises everywhere and broken ribs, in the snow drifts not a hundred yards from where their ragged band had camped after the destruction of Haven. No one had really expected a Dalish elf to end up leading the Inquisition and to do it so well; soothing tempers, ferreting out information, gaining allies, and even turning enemies to allies. Dorian was loath to admit it but he even liked the big Qunari idiot after so many weeks on the road. Bull was at least a less prickly conversationalist than Solas, though Dorian tended to prefer missions in which Mahanon brought Vivienne alone instead. Listening to Bull call her “ma’am” and bow to her every whim never ceased to be amusing.

So, Mahanon didn’t have an amazing poker face but he did, at least, have a way of hiding his own doubts and troubles. So when Dorian caught the brief expansion of nostrils, the slight and ruthlessly cut off shake in his hands, and the expansion of Mahanon’s pupils – well, Dorian felt his stomach drop. It could only be bad news.

He waited for the elf to announce to the group what had gone wrong now but instead Mahanon simply folded up the letter, stuck it in the breast pocket of his coat, and continued on talking about the Red Templars taking over Emprise du Lion and how they planned on taking over the Keep and destroying the demon Michel de Chevin had warned them about. But Cole’s silent presence, closer to Mahanon than usual, never disappeared and the faint frowns on both Leliana and Josephine’s faces – Dorian assumed both women already knew what the letter had to say, after all Josephine handled about ninety percent of Mahanon’s correspondence – remained even after the meeting broke up. Dorian raised his eyebrows at them and noticed out of the corner of his eye Bull doing his best to look interrogative as well but neither lady volunteered information. As their looks continued, Josephine said, a bit of a bite in her normally cheerful voice, “If you want to know, ask him yourself.”

Dorian turned his eyebrow on Bull, who shrugged. “Well, fine then,” he spat and stood up, deciding to amble after their gallant leader. Apparently if Dorian wanted to know what was going on, he was going to have to find out himself.

He paused briefly to consider where Mahanon might’ve run off to, particularly if he was troubled. Dorian was used to seeing the man running around Skyhold, talking to people, sorting things out, never stopping. In fact, Dorian wasn’t entirely sure he’d ever seen Mahanon go back to his quarters. So Dorian summed it up in his head:

Mahanon liked animals, which meant the stables might be a good place to look, especially since both Dennet and Blackwall would leave him alone unless approached. He enjoyed doing every ridiculous thing he possibly could to help the common man of Fereldan and Orlais, though where that increasingly irritating tendency in the man could translate to in Skyhold Dorian didn’t know. After all, it wasn’t as if there were farmers losing their druffalo here. Perhaps if Cole weren’t still sitting in the War Room where Dorian had left him, the spirit might be a… person, for lack of a better word, Mahanon sought out.

And Mahanon really liked heights. Or rather, the elf enjoyed jumping down from heights. Dorian had caught him once dropping down the side tower’s insides by the indoor railings, swiftly descending from Leliana’s perch to Solas’s little artist gallery in seconds, rather than just using the stairs like any normal person might.

So, heights it was, and after Dorian found out what was going on, he’d take time to consider why he knew so little personal information about the man they were all putting their trust and belief into at a later time. Dorian sighed and shot another glare back at the War Room door, mentally cursing Iron Bull. Dorian was many things – charming, well-educated, highly magical, always the most handsome person in the room – but comforting was not a word even he would apply to himself. Bull, on the other hand, for all his appearance and rough manners, was an excellent counselor.

Dorian scrubbed his face briefly as he started the long hike up to the Inquisitor’s quarters at the highest point of the castle. When he got there, he found Mahanon actually lounging on the railing of his balcony, perched in a ridiculous manner that shouldn’t be possible, even if the elf was deceptively thin. Mahanon was actually lying on the railing on his back, stretched out, his arms pillowed under his head and his legs crossed. “You are the most bizarre man I think I’ve ever met,” he said, before he could stop himself. Mahanon didn’t even bother to acknowledge the insult and just waggled his elbow closest to Dorian in greeting. “No, Mahanon, I refuse to have this conversation with you one good wind gust from falling off the top of this tower and dashing all our hopes of ever beating Corypheus.”

Mahanon looked over at Dorian and rolled his eyes but complied nonetheless, sliding off the balcony gracefully and moving to take a chair at the small table nearby. Dorian realized the letter the caused him to do this uncharacteristically noble act was lying flat on the table, the words facing up.

“Do you know what it means to be a First in a Dalish clan, Dorian?” Mahanon asked, his tone of voice dry as dust, the same as it had been when Mahanon had told him, It’s correct everywhere, Dorian.

“Assume that, in this area if none others, I am ignorant and enlighten me.”

Mahanon reached out and touched the letter briefly. “Dalish clans only allow three mages in their ranks.” Dorian fought to keep his eyebrows rising at the pronoun and just let the elf talk as he ran his fingertips across a sentence in particular on the letter. “The Keeper, our leader, the First, who is the Keeper’s apprentice and next in line to lead the clan, and the Second, who is trained as a back-up, to the First. A Keepers’ responsibility is to hold and pass on what little lore remains, to provide guidance and support for their clan, and to protect us from the Dread Wolf.” Dorian watched Mahanon’s lips tighten briefly.

“You’re not a mage,” he pointed out.

“No, but my elder sister –“ Mahanon cut himself off and simply shoved the letter at Dorian. 

Ambassador Montilyet,

I regret that my help for your Dalish allies came too late to be of use. By the time my forces arrived in the area, the Dalish had been scattered or killed, and there seems little left of their clan.

I understand your Inquisitor must be feeling the loss of his clan. Please accept these gifts and my promise of future help whenever it is necessary.

Yours,

Duke Antoine of Wycome

Dorian stared at the letter in his hands and once again mentally cursed Bull who would at least know what to say, to do. He had experience with the Chargers, being the great big mother hen he was. Bull would know how to handle Mahanon and his grief.

“Speechless, I see,” Mahanon drawled and when Dorian looked at him, his face was in that same blank mask he’d worn in the War Room.

“I’m sorry,” Dorian blurted out, feeling like when he was a boy and had tracked mud across his mother’s floors too close to a party so the slaves wouldn’t have time to clean it up. Which was a ridiculous feeling, of course, because he was no longer a boy and the death of Mahanon’s clan couldn’t be reduced to a simple transgression involving mud of all things. But the feeling of helpless frustration and shame were the same and he didn’t have a clue how to deal with either. He took a deep breath and tried to gather his wits. “Why ask if I knew what a First was?”

Mahanon stared out into the mountains, his eyes lingering over the snow-capped peaks in the distance. “Dalish are nomads, Dorian. It’s a hard life. A small life. The biggest clan I’ve ever heard about was only about fifty people. Any larger than that and clans usually end up culled.”

“Culled? Like cattle?” Dorian tried to keep his voice light and even but this sounded a little too like the goings-on of his homeland for comfort. He hadn’t expected Mahanon, of all people, to live in similarity.

“In some senses, yes.” Mahanon leaned back in his chair and let his gaze go up into the sky. “Starvation gets some clans, as we live off what we can hunt, gather, or trade – and trading is rare. But mostly it’s humans that do us in,” he explained. “They don’t particularly like large groups of elves not under their boot heels. They’re afraid we might kidnap their good Chantry babies and sacrifice them in heathen rites or, worse, give the elves in Alienages ideas about freedom.”

“And that’s why the Dalish are nomads?”

“Well, the last time we settled somewhere, the Chantry held an Exalted March against us to root us out of the land promised to us by Andraste herself.” Mahanon pinned Dorian with his bright green eyes and Dorian recalled the wooden expression as they’d roamed around the Exalted Plains, killing undead and demons, and Mahanon saw the remains of landmarks or elven ruins.

Dorian held his hands up in surrender. “I did say early on I am unfamiliar with your people.”

Mahanon sighed. “No, it isn’t fair of me to take it out on you, Dorian. For all your heritage and the wrongs of your country, you are doing your best to unlearn what you’ve been taught and fix past transgressions.” He leaned over and tapped the letter roughly with his knuckles. “My elder sister is the First of our clan.” He licked his lips and looked away. “You remind me of her, a little.”

“I do?” Dorian raised his eyebrows in surprise and then smiled. “I suppose this means leadership skills, good looks, and the ability to be the most charming person in the room must run in the family.”

Mahanon laughed softly at the boast but there was a faint note of pain underneath. “You would say that.” He exhaled slowly through his nose. “But I suppose it’s a fair point as Ellana is all of those things.” Dorian, as much as he wanted to interrupt and point out that his words had been about the man sitting in front of him and not relatives Dorian had never met, kept silent and waited for Mahanon to continue. “Magical, like you, too.” His lips twitched oddly. “Magic runs in family lines, you said, yes?” Dorian nodded. “You’re right; I’m the first child in six generations along my mother’s line that wasn’t born a mage. But I meant you remind me of Ellana because you both have vision and drive. You both respect tradition and history but,” and at this Mahanon waved his hand in the air, a sharp cutting motion.  “You refuse to be caged by it.”

His stomach tightened hearing those words from Mahanon, a man he’d learned to respect greatly for his drive and vision. And underneath that faint touch of praise, Dorian felt wonder as well; he wasn’t sure he’d ever heard such a sincere compliment before. “I –“

Mahanon moved his hand back to the letter, cutting off whatever inevitably embarrassing and mushy thing Dorian would have said. “I tell you this because I know my sister and I know this letter is a lie.”

Dorian leaned toward the other man. “Well, go on, you can’t leave it like that!”

That earned him another soft laugh, more real this time. “The Keeper originally wanted Ellana to go to the Conclave. She’d be leading us in the new world created by what they decided and Ellana should have the information first-hand if it was going to greatly affect the future of all elves.” His eyes shot over to the corner of the bedroom, near the door, where Dorian could see the long bow Mahanon favored. “I talked the Keeper out of it; I was disposable, Ellana was not.”

Dorian wished he had the confidence to call Mahanon ‘darling’ the way he wanted to after hearing that. But even if he did, Dorian suspected Mahanon might associate it more with Vivienne at this point. “I think that’s the only time I’ve ever heard you be wrong before.”

Mahanon shook his head, his lips tightening into a hard line. “It’s true, Ellana –“

Dorian sighed. “Inquisitor, I only wish I had the time to teach you all the ways you are absolutely indispensable,” he murmured.

Those green eyes met his again and some of the hardness leeched out of Mahanon’s face, only to be replaced by surprise. “I’ll never cease to be amazed at their willingness to believe in the impossible.”

“Yes, yes, you’ve said it before; a Dalish elf is not the Herald of Andraste, has never met Andraste in the Fade. I’ve told you before, Inquisitor, I may not believe in that but I do believe in you. There’s no other man I’d rather be lost in time with,” Dorian parroted the elf’s words back at him.

The look he got in response was weighted and Dorian simply hoped he wasn’t found wanting. Finally, Mahanon shook his head. “No, that doesn’t matter. I came instead of Ellana and now.” He scowled down at the hand that carried the Anchor. “It is what is it, I suppose. Ellana stayed behind and she never would have had problems with bandits. She was better at all this than I could ever be. There’s something more going on than what this letter says.”

“And you want to find out what.”

“Yes,” Mahanon agreed. “I don’t want to leave this to Leliana or Josephine. I need to do this myself.” He made a disgusted noise and tilted his chin toward the letter. “Bandits.”

Dorian studied the man sitting across from him before nodding to himself. Whatever Mahanon’s faults were, instincts weren’t one of them. Of course, he was quite blind to the devotion he inspired and to the sheer number of people who would follow him off in an adventure to save – or mourn, Dorian allowed – his clan. “Where do we start?” he asked quietly and was rewarded with a soft and almost disbelieving smile that lit up Mahanon’s entire face.

Dorian’s heart skipped a beat at the expression and the sinking suspicion what he’d do to see that expression on the other man’s face again might get him killed – or worse. 

Chapter Text

“So you going to tell me what was in that letter yet, Vint?”

Dorian stared stonily across the bar table at Iron Bull. Apparently “start” meant gathering information from every resource Mahanon could get his hands on without actually venturing into the Free Marches to look for his clan. Apparently that might give away the game and let on that Mahanon finally had ulterior motives in his use of the Inquisition. “He asked me not to,” Dorian snapped. “Are you ever going to answer my question?”

Bull grinned, his scar twisting with the expression. “I’ll give you the same deal I give the boss.”

“Which is?”

“Information exchange.”

“You are impossible,” Dorian huffed but had a sinking suspicion he was going to give in. Bull could be stubborn when he wanted to be and it seemed like the Qunari was in an obstinate mood. “If you wanted to know, you should have been the one to follow him that day.”

“You’re too tense, Dorian; all wound up,” Bull drawled. “You might want to take care of that. I could help, if you let me.”

Dorian smacked himself in his face with his hand and groaned. “Please, for the love of the Maker and anything good you believe in, don’t.”

“Your loss,” Bull told him, his smug grin even coming through in his voice. “But I guess you’re hung up on the –“ Dorian concentrated, directing a small bolt of lightning toward Bull’s chest to shut him up. Magic was harder, more difficult to grasp, without his staff as a conduit and focus but Dorian had always been good at breaking the rules and practice made perfect. He still couldn’t gather enough energy to do more than a mild shock without a focus but it was good enough to make Bull jump. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the intended effect of actually shutting the big oaf up. “I bet that’s fun in the bedroom.”

Dorian gave up, shut his eyes, and prayed briefly that his entire life was a dream. “Please,” and he refused to believe that was anything but exasperation in his voice, it most definitely wasn’t a whimper. “Just tell me what the Ben-Hassrath knows about nobles in the Free Marches.”

“You've got to give a little to get a little,” Bull said and when Dorian finally opened his eyes he saw Bull smirking at him as if Dorian was the most amusing thing in the world. Dorian opened his mouth, stopped, reconsidered what he was going to say, and sighed. “You know I’ll find out. Leliana knows and she’s been sending out scouts toward the Free Marches ever since the boss got that letter. I could ask her or them. Or Josephine.”

“So why aren’t you bothering them?”

The smile he got in response was as angelic as was possible on a face as rugged and scarred as Iron Bull’s. “Because you came to me. I like it when my job’s easy.”

Part of him wanted to lash out at Bull for trying to play around when the subject was so serious; after all, Mahanon’s entire world had just come crashing down in the form of a letter. But Dorian held the words behind his teeth because he knew that Bull, if he realized the stakes, wouldn’t be playing. Or if he was playing, it wouldn’t be with Dorian, it would be with Mahanon and even then only to try and break the elf out of his mood. “Fine, I’ll tell you,” he finally allowed. “But you didn’t hear it from me and you don’t tell anyone else, especially not the people you write back to.” Bull’s head tilted to the side at that, considering even while he wore that infuriating smirk at winning the argument. Eventually, Bull nodded, presumably agreeing to Dorian’s conditions. “The letter was from an Ostwick noble. Apparently, the Lavellen clan had written to Mahanon about being bothered by bandits. Mahanon asked Josephine to handle it and the noble she’d appealed to arrived too late. The Lavellen clan, Mahanon’s family, is no more.” Dorian ignored the sense of satisfaction at seeing the smug smile slide off Bull’s face.

“He’s taking it well. Nobody who wasn’t in that room has noticed a thing.”

Dorian laughed bitterly. “Actually, he thinks it’s some sort of conspiracy, that something deeper is going on.”

“He might be right.”

“Mahanon usually is,” Dorian agreed. “What bothers me is that he refuses to ask for help and has hampered me with this ridiculous promise.”

“Which you broke a week after making it?” Dorian ignored the accusation, even as it came simultaneously from Bull and his own conscience.

“Are you going to give me what I want or not?” he snapped, briefly regretting the unintentional innuendo in his words. Thankfully Bull had at least that much tact.

“I’ll see what I can find out for you,” Bull promised, leaning back in his chair. Dorian was sure he heard the wood creak in response. “Tell the boss I’ll help however I can.”

“I doubt he’ll listen.” Dorian polished off his drink and stood.

“He’ll listen to you.” Bull’s voice was unusually serious as he looked down at his own drink. “He talked to you in the first place.”

“Right place, right time.” Dorian waved it off. “Get me the info as soon as you can. I’m pretty sure the waiting is making him anxious.” He looked around the tavern, contemplating what pressures the Inquisitor must have to face and how many times he’d seen someone ask Mahanon for something. It was a thrice-daily occurrence – at least. “More anxious.”

Bull nodded, his lips curling up into a small half-smile. “That I can probably take care of.”

“I’ll leave you to it.” He repressed any desire to ask ‘how’ since that way inevitably lead to madness and sexual innuendo. Dorian ran his hand along the pocket of his robe, where the letter he wasn’t looking forward to delivering was tucked. But he supposed he couldn’t put it off any longer, especially not when it had to do with family.

He took a deep breath and set his path away from the Herald’s Rest and toward the dungeons.

The dungeons were, of course, unoccupied except for one guest at the moment. Mahanon was usually fairly careful about trying to gain allies but, frankly, most of the people – beings – who went against him ended up dead. So when he’d sentenced Alexius to service, Dorian had been… gratefully surprised. He doubted it would truly fix anything, especially once Dorian told him the news he had, but he did appreciate Mahanon giving Alexius the chance to pick up the broken pieces of himself and return to doing something good. Things that didn’t involve red lyrium growing out of people and the bodies of Iron Bull, Solas, and Leliana lying dead at his feet.

Dorian nodded genially to both guards placed in Alexius’s lab – one of the Commander’s leftover Templars and one of Fiona’s trusted mages, though Dorian wondered how anyone brought up in one of the South’s dirty little mage prisons could hope to keep up with Alexius – and both glared back at him. He was used to it by now, since everything he’d done to help Mahanon had happened away from the rest of the Inquisition, either in the future or in the field.

Alexius was leaning over a book and comparing it to a summoning circle someone – the circle was too wobbly for Alexius to have done it himself – had drawn up. He had a faint frown on his face and Dorian ignored the wave of nostalgia at the sight. That exact expression had been one he had seen many times as Alexius’s apprentice.

Dorian cleared his throat, the easiest way to break Alexius’s concentration. The older mage jerked in surprise and looked up, his expression hardening as he saw Dorian. “Alexius.”

“Dorian.”

Dorian reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter. “I have something for you.”

Alexius studied him briefly, that hard look, the same look he got from everyone but Mahanon and his inner circle, still on his face and then reached out a hand. “News of Felix, is it?” Dorian watched him take a deep breath and steel himself.

“It’s from Felix,” he said simply and offered the simple and last letter Alexius’s son would ever write. He didn’t mention that, in addition to Dorian, the spymaster had likely read it too, since it arrived in Dorian’s library nook already opened. Alexius could figure that out himself. Watching Alexius stare at the letter and not take it made him blurt out, “Neither of us wanted to fight you.”

The rigid look on the other man’s face dropped away and all Dorian could see was grief. “But you did anyway. You – He – stopped me from saving him!”

Dorian shook his head. “I saw the future. The amulet worked, Alexius. You saved his body but – his mind, his soul, everything that made him Felix was gone. You lost him even when your plan succeeded.”

Alexius’s jaw clenched and he snatched the letter out of Dorian’s hand, turning his back to read it. Dorian took one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs and waited. After all, he knew the important line in the letter.

Until the Venatori, I was proud to be your son, father. I hope someday that – if not for yourself, then for my memory – you can return to being the man I loved and respected.

Dorian watched Alexius’s back carefully, watching and waiting for even the minutest reaction to the words Felix had penned, but none came. Maybe the grief had already run out of the other man.

“You don’t call me by name anymore,” Alexius said suddenly, still with his back to Dorian. His voice was quiet and blank.

“I wasn’t sure I had the right,” he confessed. “Whatever passed between us, I at least owe you some respect for our past and all you taught me.” Inwardly, though, he wondered what it said that both the men he looked up to as mentors and role models had such… destructive feet of clay.

No, he told himself, this isn’t the time to think about him.

“You’re the one working with my captor, Dorian. I should think that allows you some liberties.” At the jab, Alexius turned around, the letter tucked away out of sight. Dorian tightened his jaw and held his tongue on the insult he wanted to give in response when he saw the whiteness of Alexius’s face and the way his eyes seemed haunted.

“I know you tried to do your best for Felix,” he said after a moment of silence. “And Felix did too. But, Gereon,” and for  this he did use Alexius’s first name because this was something a friend, a student, would say, even if Alexius probably didn’t consider him to be either. “Maybe you should have asked Felix if he wanted your help. He told me, before –“ The breath caught in his throat as he remembered Felix’s serious face as he’d said that in the chapel and the shell, the husk, of the man who had once been a great friend in the future. “He truly believed there were worse things than death and that prolonging his Blighted life was one of them.”

“I don’t want your patronization,” Alexius spat and on another man, at another time, Dorian knew the tone of voice would be poisonous. Instead, the quiet voice, combined with the dark circles under Alexius’s eyes, was just weary.

“He was my friend too,” Dorian confessed. “Tevinter needs more men like Felix, not less.” He forced the words out around the lump in his throat, the ones he hadn’t managed to say to Mahanon earlier, when the elf had approached him shortly after Dorian got the letter. He figured the Inquisitor probably got the right impression, as he’d asked if Dorian and Felix had been lovers once. “I’ll miss him terribly. Is it so wrong I wanted to spend a little time with the only person in this castle who knew him?”

It took real effort to not look away from those burning eyes as Alexius judged him, his words, and his intentions. “Is that why you joined the Inquisition?”

“One reason, to be sure,” Dorian agreed. “It’s the right thing to do because to ignore what’s happening means the end of everything, Gereon.”

Alexius finally nodded. He gestured to the book he’d been perched over. “Come help me with this; your Inquisitor wants to know how connected the time magic is to the Fade rifts and if he could use what we invented to close multiple rifts at once.”

Dorian held back both a smile and a stab of hope that the man who’d mentored him wasn’t completely gone and got to work. 

Chapter Text

Dorian smiled at the amused expression on Mahanon’s face as they burst into the old Crestwood tavern expecting more bandits and only found two teenage lovers looking for a hideaway. “You couldn’t find someplace better than an old bar?” he asked and Dorian was pleased to see the way Mahanon’s shoulders were shaking as he towered over the two kids, still on their blanket on the floor. He hadn’t seen that in the last two weeks.

Since the Letter.

It was one of a few events that acquired capital letters in Dorian’s mind. Glancing at the other members of their small party, it seemed both Solas and Cassandra agreed with his relief at some of the tension leaving their leader. It was evident in Cassandra’s small upturn of lips and the way Solas’s eyes studied the shaking line of his fellow elf’s shoulders.

“There’s no place better!”

“My father’s going to kill me!”

Mahanon let out a real laugh. It was brief but sounded real and wasn’t the short, bitter laugh that he’d used since he’d gotten the news about the Lavellans. “Why don’t you go home, wait a week, and by then we’ll have taken care of the undead. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of… less illegal and potentially bandit infested places you can go then, okay?”

The two kids nodded and hurried to gather their things; the boy glaring at Mahanon, probably picking up on his amusement at the interruption. When the kids finally exited the pub, he turned to the group, rubbing his chin briefly in thought. “Either the mayor is wrong or lying about something.”

“The fort we captured was definitely a bandit stronghold,” Cassandra agreed, gesturing at the empty tavern. “But this place obviously hasn’t been entered in years.”

“I don’t like it.” The amusement slipped off Mahanon’s face, to be replaced by the lines of tension Dorian had just been so happy to see leave. Not those crow’s feet didn’t make Mahanon look even more attractive but Dorian much preferred him laughing. “Let’s split up and search the place. I don’t think anyone’s here but there might be something usable or more information. Solas and I will take the upstairs; Cassandra, you and Dorian take the downstairs.”

“Keeping our sole healer to yourself, hmm?” Dorian asked, teasing lightly.

Mahanon just blinked though. “It’s sound tactical sense. Cassandra can handle any enemies, holding their attention long enough for you to kill them while her heavy armor protects her. I can keep enemies off Solas,” he patted the dagger at his belt that he carried but Dorian had never seen him use. “But I don’t have the sort of protection with my armor she does. Solas’s barriers will give me the protection I need while I kill them.”

Dorian sighed and shook his head at the other man, tentatively patting his shoulder. “When this is over and Crestwood is freed from the Rift, the undead, and we’ve found Varric’s contact, I suggest a mission to recover your lost sense of humor.”

Mahanon’s eyebrows shot up but Dorian couldn’t tell if that was due to his touch or his words. After a moment of staring, the elf finally gave up and laughed. “I’m sorry, Dorian.”

“Blame the rain,” he allowed, stepping back. “That’s what I do.”

"Let's kill two birds with one arrow, then," Mahanon said, offering a smile to all of them. "I bet this weather will clear up if we take care of that rift. So we rid Crestwood of its problems and recover the sense of humors of two of us."

Cassandra snorted, shaking her head. "I'm not sure the Inquisition is ready for that."

"Yes, let's proceed," Solas put in, which was as close to a favorable answer Dorian could remember from the man. There were no veiled insults or comments about freedom, even. It was a genuine miracle.

Cassandra nodded toward the far side of the room, opposite a door, and Dorian followed her, glancing around the place. There really wasn’t much of interest left in the pub, beyond some spectacular spider webs and what looked like years of dirt.

“Are you helping him?” Cassandra asked suddenly, jarring Dorian out of his thoughts.

“What?”

“The Inquisitor. He’s been troubled recently,” Cassandra explained, reaching over to pluck an old yellowed menu off a table. “I noticed you’ve spent more time with him.”

Dorian considered all possible answers. He doubted Cassandra meant this the way many of the others in the castle would – Mother Giselle had a particularly ferocious glare, for one – and he was still hampered by his promise to Mahanon, even though he’d broke his word with Iron Bull. “Yes, I am trying.”

“Our Inquisitor is a particularly trying individual,” she replied dryly and Dorian had to laugh at the sliver of humor Cassandra usually kept tightly under wraps. Simultaneously, they both looked up at the balcony to study the elf as he walked, gaze keen as he explored the second floor of the tavern. Cassandra sighed and turned away. “You make him laugh, at least.”

“Who wouldn’t when confronted by my astounding wit?”

The look he got in response was wry and searching all at once. “There’s nothing here in the main room; let’s check back there.”

Dorian let her change the subject and led the way to the unlocked door. He raised his voice and called, “We found the dam controls!”

The completely unbroken dam controls. Mahanon was obviously having the same thought he was given the unsettled frown on the elf’s face when he saw them.

“We’ll talk to the mayor after we clear the Rift. I want to know why he lied to us about the controls.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

“And the bandits,” Dorian added helpfully. “Can’t forget the bandits taking over the tavern and the fort.”

Mahanon let out a small, almost imperceptible sigh and placed himself at the controls, his shoulder muscles bunching visibly under his armor as he pushed. Dorian was more concerned by the faint frown lines on the elf’s forehead and, even more worrying, his own desire to brush them away with his fingers.

Despite Mahanon’s preparation, the dam controls moved easily and Dorian felt the floor rumble and shake as the dam released beneath their feet. “Let’s go,” Mahanon said quietly before pausing. He met the gaze of his three companions evenly. “It’s not going to be pretty down there,” he cautioned.

“And regularly fighting demons is?” Dorian replied, because while he respected Mahanon’s compassion for their feelings about Crestwood’s dead but they just had waded through and permanently put down several of those dead just to get to the tavern.

Mahanon’s lips quirked up slightly but it didn’t destroy his still-solemn look as he turned and led the way out. “We don’t usually go tromping through mass graves,” he pointed out.

“I believe all of us are ready.” Solas’s firm response spoke for all of them as they trotted after the Inquisitor.

Dorian squinted up at the sky as they made their way around the road and down into the now… dry-ish town. The smell was the worst, a combination of rotting flesh and seaweed. It burned in his nostrils and Dorian choked on a gag. At least when fighting the walking dead, the adrenaline and magic in the air muffled the smell. This, this, though, was calm and there was nothing to stop him from breathing it in. “I wish I’d brought a handkerchief,” he muttered, cupping his hand over his mouth and nose. He saw Cassandra doing much the same, her face screwed up in disgust. In contrast, Solas and Mahanon were both expressionless, as if the smell of rotting wood and bodies didn’t bother either of them. Dorian looked closer and realized that Solas, at least, was using magic to filter odors. It was a subtle weave placed over his face and if Dorian had any interest in hearing his fellow mage’s condescension about it, he would have begged for the spell. Maybe later, he allowed, because it was a genius working of Fade energy.

As for Mahanon, Dorian figured it was sheer spite that kept him from noticing the surroundings. Or determination, perhaps, given the focused expression on his face as he surveyed the five or six remaining cottages of Old Crestwood.

“Those wisps…” Mahanon trailed off, eyeing the glowing spirits floating through the village.

“Not dangerous,” Solas explained, giving the answer Dorian expected of him. “They were likely pulled through here by the Rift. Once it’s closed, I will make sure they return to where they belong.”

Mahanon pursed his lips and looked down at his gloved hand. “Are they spirits of Crestwood’s dead?”

Cassandra sucked in a tight breath at the question and immediately began coughing. Dorian assumed it had to do with the question that defied everything the Chantry taught about death. Mahanon was fairly good at not reminding people he was a Dalish elf, beyond the faint look of distaste in the wrinkles around his eyes he took on whenever someone called him the Herald of Andraste. But that question, assuming souls passed easily back out of the Fade, showed the depths of his ignorance of human ways and human religion – both of which Cassandra was steeped in. Dorian himself couldn’t care less about religion, for the trapping of power associated with steering believers, but he couldn’t stop himself from the thread of belief he possessed. The world was simply less frightening if you believed there was something else out there and Dorian, like the rest of Thedas, weren’t stumbling around in the dark alone.

“No,” Solas answered and Dorian caught his eyes swiftly glancing toward Cassandra before putting his entire attention on Mahanon. “Once the dead move on, they stay that way. There is currently no way to –“

Mahanon snorted and waved his left hand in front of Solas’s face. “I think the rules have changed, Solas.” He paused, his frown deepening, as he tilted his head toward one of the dilapidated and water-logged huts. “Do you hear that?”

Dorian concentrated and realized he did; there was a strident and demanding voice coming from one of the houses. He reached for his staff, preparing for a fight. With all the Fade energy around, it had to be a demon. Mahanon was doing the same with his bow, notching an arrow, and Cassandra had pulled the mace she was using out of its holster. Solas, in contrast, looked wholly unconcerned.

He would, Dorian thought spitefully as he reached up to shove his dangling bangs out of his face, not that he expected them to stay there in this rain.

“I demand you do what I say!” the voice was saying as Mahanon easily kicked in a board to let them in more efficiently into the back of the house. In the middle of the room was a glowing spirit, trying – and failing – to command things to move. “You! You there!” the wisp called, floating closer to Mahanon. “I order you to tell me why nothing here heeds my commands!”

Mahanon’s eyebrows lifted and he looked uncomfortably at Solas. “A lost spirit!” Of course, Solas sounded enthused by the possibilities. Dorian was no circle enthusiast, like Vivienne, but he did at least have some sense when it came to approaching potential demons. “This should –“

“Silence!” The spirit commanded, cutting Solas off. Dorian hid a smile. “Let the other one talk.”

“Solas, spirits are your expertise.”

“Then tell me why nothing obeys!”

Dorian rubbed his forehead and heard Cassandra making a disgusted noise next to him. Apparently they were going to do a favor for a lost spirit. “This realm follows different rules from the Fade’s. Will alone cannot overcome what you see,” Solas was explaining and Dorian had to restrain himself from interrupting as that was not true. He glanced down at Mahanon’s left hand; the anchor was damn good at breaking the rules – when Mahanon willed it.

“Then what’s the point of it?” the spirit was asking, sounding thoroughly exasperated with both the situation and Solas.

“A solid form is both shackle and strength. It affects more than you imagine.”

“So…” Mahanon cut in. “Are you a spirit or a demon?” The question showed both sense and silliness and Dorian made a note to himself to stuff Mahanon into a chair in the library and force him to read some of the better texts on magic and the Fade before their next outing. The man was a marvel but his ignorance of magic – when he carried and used a magic brand – was more than a little appalling. That it would also require Mahanon to spend time with him was just a bonus. Not that Dorian expected anything to really come of it – if he wanted a tumble, Iron Bull was perhaps more likely to provide, given his subtle as a hammer flirting – but Dorian couldn’t help the attraction.

“’Demon’? Those dolts who would suck this world dry? I am called to higher things.”

“What is a spirit like you ‘called’ to do?” Mahanon asked, sounding far too polite for the situation.

“I lead armies, kingdoms, lords. I am imperial. I am command.”

“Or pomposity,” Dorian muttered, ignoring the wry look Mahanon shot him at his words.

“What of you?” The spirit asked, floating close enough to touch Mahanon if it were corporeal. “I felt your coming. Is there something alike in us?”

Mahanon immediately began rubbing the palm of his left hand, over the mark, as he shook his head and Dorian wanted to understand how a man could be simultaneously so good at leadership and so bad at recognizing his potential for it. He watched as Mahanon’s shoulder’s straightened, going tense, and Dorian resisted the urge to go back to his and Alexius’s notes so he could attempt to find a way to time travel to the point where someone made Mahanon feel so… worthless and utterly destroy them.

After all, Dorian had very few friends left, now that Felix was dead. It was the least he could do.

As Dorian turned his attention back to the conversation with the wraith, he realized that Mahanon was agreeing to go kill a demon for it. He suspected by now that every one of the Inquisitor’s closest friends had killed more demons than the average Templar in Thedas so the act wasn’t that unusual, just the source.

They moved away from the spirit, still looking for the entrance to the caves the mayor had mentioned.

“There!” Cassandra spotted, pointing toward a gentle incline that lead toward a cliff at the back of the village. Mahanon smiled at her gratefully, though he quickly lost the look when they realized the incline lead to a door in the cliff.

“Why are there pathways?” Cassandra asked as the four of them stepped into the cave. “Were there people living here?”

“Another mystery for the mayor, it seems,” Solas replied and even he – usually unflappable – seemed disquieted by the revelation.

“I have a feeling the mayor has a lot to answer for.” Mahanon’s voice echoed through the cave eerily and Dorian had a feeling creep into his stomach that there might be more than just a demon waiting for them. 

Chapter Text

Dorian stared at the fire Cassandra had started in their campsite and shifted against the rock he’d claimed as his own, trying to get comfortable. Over the fire there was a spit Mahanon was periodically turning with hanks of wolf meat. Dorian couldn’t say he’d ever – knowingly, at least – eaten wolf before but Mahanon had been worried about their supplies and the wolves had attacked with the Red Templars after they’d found that scout’s body. He’d been doubtful at first, only wanting to take the pelts for use, until Solas had insisted the wolves were not infected by the red lyrium. After that assurance – well, they had a nearby camp and dinner. Dorian had the sinking feeling it might be one of the better meals he would have in the next few days, if they met with Hawke and Hawke’s Warden friend tomorrow as planned.

At least it wasn’t raining anymore.

“How did you know?” he asked suddenly, looking at the elf tending the fire. Mahanon, despite being as dry as the rest of them – which mostly meant still a little soggy – looked a little more bedraggled, his dark red hair made a darker auburn by the dampness, hanging down in clumps over his face. What really marked him was the deep frown on his face; the one that had been there since they’d discovered the mass grave in the caves. Dorian suspected Mahanon had come to the conclusion about whom and what was responsible for the flooding before they’d gone back to the mayor’s house and found his note. Cassandra’s own reaction wasn’t much better but Solas seemed unaffected. Dorian, though he hated himself a little for it, found he couldn’t really be bothered about the dead of ten years ago, even when they man they had trusted for leadership had essentially betrayed his followers. He came from Tevinter, after all, and Tevinter practically invented betrayal.

And then later idolized it, he noted to himself, thinking of Andraste and several past Archons that had risen to their positions solely because they had betrayed or stolen work from their mentors.

“Know what?” Mahanon asked, coming to drop down next to Dorian on the ground. His boots even squelched and Dorian wrinkled his nose at the sound.

“About the rain.”

“What about the rain?” Mahanon reached down and tugged his boots off, turning them upside down and watching bits of water drip down and out onto the ground. He reached into the right one and came out with a bit of the same green lake weeds that had littered the ground of the beaches near Old Crestwood. “Finally,” he moaned the word out and Dorian had to swallow at the effect of the sound. “It’d been bothering me all day.” Mahanon leaned forward to prop his boots next to the fire.

“You knew it would stop. You said the weather would clear up if we closed the rift.” Dorian did his best to relax as Mahanon rested his back against the rock and let their arms touch as he settled right next to Dorian’s side. “And lo and behold, when we left that cave, it was sunshine and daisies in Crestwood.

“I did?” He tilted his head to the side before his gaze slowly drifted down to his left hand. “I didn’t – I did –“ He broke off, still staring at his hand. Quickly Mahanon shook his head and gave Dorian a tired smile. “Must’ve just been a coincidence.”

He noticed, across the fire, Solas was watching them and Dorian believed the expression on his face at Mahanon’s weak deflection probably mirrored the one on Solas’s. “You’re not a mage, Mahanon, so I’ll forgive you your ignorance on the subject but –“

“It is within a mage’s talents to use the Fade to control the weather,” Solas cut in over Dorian.

“I know that.” The tone was somewhat exasperated but Mahanon’s face was mostly puzzled and – oh. There, Dorian could see it. Like with the day in the War Room when had caught Mahanon’s distress, the fear the elf was hiding was in the way his eyes widened and his hands shook before he shoved them out of sight. “My sister –“ He snapped his jaw shut on the words and looked away.

“This is the first you have mentioned of a sister,” Cassandra said. She kept her tone even but inquisitive, a feat for someone Dorian had seen Varric make jokes about her interrogation techniques being more like torture.

Mahanon was silent for some time, the quiet awkward and heavy, as he got up to turn the meat. When he’d settled back down next to Dorian, still close enough to be a warm presence at his side, Mahanon finally spoke. “Ellana is eight years older than me,” he finally settled on. “Our parents died when I was young, so she took most of the responsibility for raising me until I joined our clan’s hunters.”

“When was that?” Cassandra asked, leaning forward and obviously taking this chance to get more information about Mahanon. “What do the hunters do? Protection? Food gathering?”

Mahanon sighed and reached up to rub his forehead. “Hunters do both of those things, yes. We establish guard perimeters around our camps, act as scouts to look for water sources while we travel, look for trail sign from other Dalish clans that may have journeyed in the area for safe passages or dangers. We’re responsible for the food the clan needs to survive, whether that means hunting meat or gathering fruits, vegetables, or other plants.” He paused, letting his fingers trail down his nose and drop away. “I suppose we’re a bit like Leliana’s scouts.”

“Spying included?” Solas asked, his tone slightly teasing. It was the first time Dorian had ever heard that tone from the elf.

But it made Mahanon laugh and he nodded ruefully. “To my detriment,” he lifted his left hand. “But yes, we do some spying. Normally not on things like the Conclave,” Mahanon explained to Cassandra. “But human parties or settlements that are nearby to evaluate if they might be dangerous.”

“I notice you still haven’t answered the question,” Dorian pointed out. “Neither mine nor hers.”

Mahanon rolled his eyes and made a noise that sounded like something Cassandra would make. “I was eight when I joined the hunters.”

“That seems awfully young for that sort of responsibility.” Dorian did his best to keep his horror out of his voice. There was growing up fast, as one did as the son of a magister in Tevinter exposed to all sorts of illicit, magical, and wild things, but then there was not having a childhood at all, as it seemed Mahanon did.

“When did your parents die?”

Mahanon tilted his head back and stared up into the night sky. Dorian tried to follow his gaze, to see if he was looking at a specific constellation but couldn’t. “When I was six.” His voice was bland and tired.

“I see now why you were so curious about Anthony.” Cassandra’s voice was unusually soft, something approaching gentle on any other woman, but when Dorian attempted to read her expression across the clearing, it seemed as full of vim and grimace as normal in the dim light.

Mahanon shot her a smile in response that Dorian saw out of the corner of his eye. It was a – nice expression, not unlike the smile he’d gotten a few weeks ago when promising to help. He ignored the stab of jealousy at seeing someone else receive that look. It wasn’t as if there was anything between them beyond a few hundred dead demons, a fateful trip to the future, and a fairly ill-advised attraction on Dorian’s part.

“Siblings are important. Before this, she was my world,” Mahanon admitted quietly. “I traded places with her. Begged to go in her stead so she would be safe.” He sighed and Dorian held his breath as Mahanon slumped further into his side.  

“You should tell them,” Dorian whispered to the elf. “They’d help, Mahanon.” He raised his voice a little, just enough he knew Solas would overhear, if not Cassandra, and picked up the left hand that was resting near his knee and held Mahanon’s wrist loosely. “This too, as I suspect it’s why you foretold the weather change.”  Dorian ran his fingers along Mahanon’s calloused palm, poking and prodding while Mahanon sighed softly and let him do it. The Anchor pulsed under his fingertips, the magic fading in and out with…

He swallowed as he realized the potent pulses were in tune with Mahanon’s heartbeat. This was – Dorian didn’t know how to describe it, even in his head. Mages could interact with the Fade, touch the Fade, and use it to manipulate the world and people around them but this

Mahanon was literally a living, breathing piece of the Fade. The magic, which felt like dreaming or the doors that led to a Harrowing, an access – no, he realized, an axis -- under Dorian’s practiced hands, was so deeply intertwined with Mahanon’s body and soul that his heart regulated it. He tried to ignore the possibility of the reverse being true as his eyes sought out Solas and watched the elf nod at him casually.

The power the Inquisitor had and didn’t even seem to realize… Dorian licked his lips and forced away thoughts about what he could do with the kind of power Mahanon casually carried around.

After all, that was probably what Corypheus intended.

“You might have realized lately I’ve been…” Mahanon began, startling Dorian out of his thoughts, and trailed off as he obviously searched for the right word.

“Troubled?” Solas offered and Mahanon nodded.

“I suppose that’s close enough. Troubled.” He finally tugged his hand away from Dorian’s inspection and wrapped his arms around his chest. “A few weeks ago I received news.”

“Bad news, obviously.” Cassandra leaned over, closer to the fire, and checked the meat, turning it briefly as she spoke.

“Yes.” Mahanon got up and turned his back on the Cassandra and Solas as he pulled the roasted wolf meat off the fire and began to divvy it up into portions for the four of them to eat. Dorian though could still see his face and noticed that Mahanon’s eyes seemed suspiciously wet and he suspected that if the light weren’t so dim, even with the fire, he might be able to see tear tracks. “There was – No, that doesn’t matter. The backstory isn’t important right now.” The elf took a deep breath and then just said it, going about imparting the bad news the nearly same way he did everything. “My clan was killed and scattered.”

The silence was heavy in response to Mahanon’s words. Cassandra’s face was turned up in a grimace even in the flickering firelight and Solas had his head bowed as he absorbed the news.

“I grieve with you, my friend,” Solas finally said softly.

“I as well,” Cassandra agreed, leaning forward enough to grip Mahanon’s wrist briefly as she took the offered food.

Mahanon nodded at them both, a small smile on his face. “I’m working on it,” he said and his tone was final, a suggestion to change the subject.

Dorian chewed on his food, trying to sort out how he felt about this development. On one hand, it would be easier to help Mahanon heal – and figure out what happened, as that apparently was an essential part of the healing process – with more people and it had been Dorian himself that encouraged it but – He had sort of liked being the only one that Mahanon had told. He certainly hadn’t realized he was the only one who knew about Mahanon’s family and his love for his sister prior to this conversation and part of him, deep in his gut, warmed at the acknowledgement of trust. Odd, he thought, rolling a well-seasoned piece of meat around his mouth, that the elf would apparently trust the Tevinter magister the most.

“Perhaps you can enlighten me about something, Inquisitor,” Solas said, finally breaking the silence. It hadn’t been uncomfortable, not that Dorian had noticed, but more contemplative. “You claim to have entered the hunters of your clan at an early age but wear the vallaslin of Sylaise. You walk the Vir Tanadahl not the Vir Atish’an.”

Mahanon reached up with his left hand to run his fingers along the tattoo covering his eye. When Dorian had first seen him, he had assumed it to be an ouroboros at a distance and had wondered what sort of elf would adopt a symbol of the Tevinter dragon. It certainly wasn’t the sort of slave marking that might be used by a master; no one would want to defile the dragon emblem by placing it on a mere slave. After the chaos of the open Rift and demons tumbling out into the middle of the Chantry had finished, Dorian had gotten a better look at the tattoo, evidentally called a vallaslin in elven. It was actually a figure of a branching elfroot plant, the roots originating on his cheek and branching up and around his eye. He suspected that it must have hurt quite a bit, especially considering the part of the plant tracing up over his eyelid.

“Ellana was the one who wanted to join the hunters,” he said quietly before sighing and turning to look at Cassandra and Dorian. “The Dalish worship our old gods, two of which are Sylaise, the hearthkeeper, and Andruil, the huntress.” He paused and Dorian realized Mahanon was looking at Solas, taking in his distasteful expression at the explanation. "To walk the Vir Atish’an, or the Way of Peace, is to dedicate yourself to Sylaise and become a healer. The Vir Tanadahl is the Way of Three Trees and it teaches us to hunt under Andruil’s banner.” His jaw clenched briefly as he considered Cassandra. “You asked me once if there was not room for one more in our pantheon. I think the better question is would you really want your Maker included with our gods? The gods who have been betrayed and locked away? Who can no longer reach us or hear us while we struggle to hold onto what little we have?”

Cassandra looked away at the question but still spoke. “I was unaware about the elvin gods you worship,” she said. “Still, ignorance is no true excuse, especially for a Seeker. Am I to understand you joined the hunters but chose a path of healing?” She gestured toward the marks on Mahanon’s face.

He gave her a crooked grin, all the fire present when he’d questioned Cassandra about the Maker gone. Perhaps now Dorian better understand why Mahanon’s shoulders had relaxed and he had smiled when Dorian had explained his own religious beliefs. It couldn’t be easy to be an elf in what was essentially a Chantry-led Inquisition, especially not after what happened to his clan. “Ellana was always better with a bow than I am, even now.” He saw Cassandra flinch at the use of present-tense when speaking of Mahanon’s sister. “Well, maybe not now.” He sighed and glanced up into the sky, toward where the Breach now sat closed but still present. “Not after all this practice. So she wanted to join the hunters as soon as she could. I, on the other hand, had a knack for herbs and herb lore.”

Cassandra snorted through her nose. “That explains why you can seemingly find and harvest every useful planet within a thirty meter radius. But it does not explain why you joined the hunters when it seems you might have preferred another path.”

“I don’t regret the choice, not really.” He reached up to rub the back of his neck and Dorian realized he was actually sheepish. Something embarrassed him about the explanation and it was simply adorable to watch a man who was usually collected blush and act somewhat shy. “Ellana was set to join the hunters until I was seven, when her magic manifested. So, a year later, when I could talk the our hahren and warleader into it, I joined the hunters where she couldn’t.”

“So you joined in your sister’s place,” Solas summed up and Mahanon nodded. “And you came to the Conclave in your sister’s place as well.”

Mahanon chuckled softly and looked back up at the breach, absently rubbing the palm of his left hand. “I used to be jealous of Ellana’s magic, you know.”

Dorian gently elbowed him. “Yes, amazing power is ever useful.” He paused, waiting for Mahanon to look at him. “But I think you’re doing marvelously, even as a mere mortal.”

To his relief, Mahanon laughed at the joke and shook his head. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I was jealous, yes, of what she could do but –“ He pursed his lips as if he was trying to decide how to phrase what he was trying to say. “I was mostly angry because the magic ruined what she wanted to do. I wanted to have it instead so she could be what she wanted to be.” He shrugged. “I was a child. When I was old enough for the vallaslin, an adult, I knew I had committed to the choice of hunter but –“ He paused and then reached up to tap his tattoo, just under his eye. “The Keeper and I decided it wouldn’t hurt to honor what might have been.”

“What were your parents like?” Solas asked suddenly and the three of them around the fire turned to look at him.

“I don’t really remember them much. I was too young. I remember a lullaby and the scent of mint from my mother and leather from my father. Ellana remembers more,” he explained and Dorian resisted the urge to do something he would regret later – like violence or, worse, touching – at the repeated use of the present tense. “Why?”

“I was simply curious at the sort of people who would raise someone so devoted to family.”

Mahanon waved away Solas’s question and dropped his hand back into his lap. “That’s a by-product of being Dalish. You of all people should know that. We have so little left we’d do anything to protect what’s ours. In retrospect, I’m glad I don’t have magic. I would have been a vastly different person after having been sent away.” He looked at Cassandra, his lips turned up lopsidedly. It was an expression that was an odd mix of wistful and determined. “I hope you and the others realize what you did when you named me Inquisitor.”

Cassandra studied him across the fire before nodding sharply. “Yes. You made all of us, the Inquisitor, yours.”

Mahanon smiled. 

Chapter Text

“Dorian, you said I could ask you questions,” Cole stated and Dorian muttered an absent “Yes” in response. His attention was much more focused on Mahanon as he frowned at the dispatches the requisition officer had handed him upon their arrival in the Western Approach. Hawke’s Warden contact, Stroud, had sent them there chasing demon-summoning Warden ghosts. They had spent the last three days searching the area and found a dragon, an amazing staff sealed up in time – and as much as Dorian adored his new toy, that experience had reminded him far too much of Redcliffe and he had immediately wanted to return to Skyhold and question Alexius as to if there was any connection between the failed experiment they had stumbled on and his mentor’s early research – but had not yet found the ritual area Stroud had described. In the meantime, Mahanon had them set camp near the draconologist and decided, maybe – to everyone but Bull and Cole’s consternation – they might take care of the dragon. He’d called a halt for lunch at camp, leaving the rations to Bull while Mahanon went over dispatches and the information Federic’s little fetch and carry requests had given them about dragons prior to engaging in the evening, when things weren’t so viciously hot.

The desert. Urgh, Dorian didn’t know why he put up with this.

At least it was better than feeling soggy, like Crestwood or the Storm Coast. He tapped his fingers against his leg and shifted his gaze to the Inquisitor’s left hand. Mahanon still was refusing to let Dorian (and, he suspected Solas as well, given that the elven mage had been left behind on this particular outing) conduct experiments with the Anchor and find out the connection to Crestwood’s changing weather.

“Why are you so angry at your father?” Cole said and the words blasted Dorian out of his preoccupation like a knife to his back. Or, he mused, blood magic from someone who abhors it. He kept his facial expression still and did his best not to visibly react at the question, so no one would notice, but Bull and Mahanon both had obviously heard it. He could tell from the way Bull was very deliberately poking the fire and Mahanon’s stiffened shoulders. “He wants to help and you know he does, but –“

Dorian looked directly at Cole, at the semi-hidden earnest expression on his face, and wished Solas was here so he could fob the spirit off on the other mage. It was all fine and dandy when Cole asked these sorts of probing questions of Solas. “I’m not certain I can explain it to you.” What he wanted to say was I don’t want to explain it to you. After all, why dredge up all that pain when, as a spirit, Cole could probably never really understand.

“You love him but you’re angry. They mix together, boiling in the belly until it kneads into a knot.” Cole’s words sped up as he talked more, the alliterations spilling out just as he spat out secrets and sorrows that weren’t his own so easily.

The bloody demon has me doing it now, Dorian thought and it was enough to break him out of his grief, at least enough to attempt to explain. “Sometimes… sometimes love isn’t enough, Cole.” His voice came out softer, more tired, than he expected and when he looked at the others, Bull was still “ignoring” the conversation and Mahanon was giving him a sympathetic, understanding smile. Cole, of course, still had a slightly confused expression on his face but backed away, perhaps sensing pushing now would only make the “knot” he felt worse.

“I want to help,” Cole said but he retreated toward Bull. Dorian let Mahanon distract him, gesturing him closer.

“I want you to take a look at this, Dorian.” He had his thumb at his mouth, chewing on his nail as he tapped the sheaf of papers with his other hand. “I can’t say I’m an expert in Tevene,” he rolled his eyes briefly and gestured specifically to a place on the paper. “But this translation can’t be right.”

“Happy to oblige. After all, I have a very talented tongue,” he teased, eager to shake off the pain of Cole’s question. He’d left that life behind, after all, and while he wasn’t exactly shouting his preferences from the rooftops, Dorian wasn’t going to let a little blood magic and betrayal stop him from living a life he wanted.

 “And I’d be happy to test that out for you, boss.” Dorian glared over at Bull, who was staring at them with an innocent expression on his face. Or as innocent as a Qunari flirt ever got, anyway.

 “That’s fine, Bull.” Mahanon clapped his left hand on Dorian’s shoulder and he inhaled at the surge of magic flowing – beating – out of the Anchor. “I trust you, Dorian. But this bit about a dragon’s armor doesn’t sound right, especially after the one we fought in Crestwood.” Dorian hummed a bit, leaning over to take a closer look at the ancient text side-by-side with the translation someone in the Inquisition had provided. As he puzzled at the translation, Mahanon tilted his head closer to him and sighed, his voice going quiet. “I also have something from Leliana I want you to look at.” He pushed the scroll to the side slightly to show a missive written in what he assumed was the spymaster’s hand.

“Which first?” Dorian asked, keeping his tone as quiet as Mahanon’s had been, though he didn’t doubt both Bull and Cole were catching on to something going on. Something going on beyond the fact they were about to go kill another high dragon, anyway.

“The translation. Leliana’s message will keep,” he muttered and stepped away and Dorian suddenly understood what the missive was likely about: the Lavellan clan.

Dorian focused on the translation but more of his attention was caught by the elf as he glided over to where Cole was settled on the edge of a rock looking out over the desert. “Keep staring like that, your eyes might fall out.” Bull’s voice broke his concentration – both on the translation (which was a terrible attempt at Old Tevene, who would translate larrus as “plating”? No wonder Mahanon had thought the text was odd) and on his musings about the Inquisitor.

“Not that anyone asked you for your opinion,” Dorian sniped and Bull just chuckled in response.

“I don’t get why you don’t just offer to pop his cork.” Bull made a clicking noise with his tongue. “You’d both probably feel better for it.” His grin twisted even more. “I’ve got some suggestions on ways to make him relax if you need them.” Dorian rubbed his forehead and groaned.

“You’ve been spending too much time with Cassandra,” Mahanon said, making Dorian start at the proximity of his voice. “You sound just like her.” He cleared his throat briefly in what was likely supposed to be an imitation of the Seeker. “Did you figure it out?”

Dorian nodded and tapped the translation. “Whoever did this mixed up the words and assumed they were talking about actual armor from a dragon’s scales, rather than a magical barrier.” He picked up the bundle of paper and parchment, making sure to include the letter from Leliana, and handed most of it back to Mahanon. “There’s a few things I want to double-check, however.” He raised the missive briefly. “My Old Tevene is a little rusty, after all.”

“Take your time.” Mahanon waved his right hand in the air as if gesturing away Dorian’s caution. “I wait to wait until near sundown anyway and we’ll have to set the traps to bait the dragon down regardless.”

Dorian nodded and went to find a comfortable place to sit in the camp. Not that there was much in the way of comfort available in the desert. Still, he thought, eyeing the way Mahanon was gently discussing something with Cole. I don’t think I’d trade this experience for all the luxury in Minrathous. He smiled to himself, a little appalled at the sap-filled direction his thoughts were going, and put his attention on the letter Leliana had sent.

Inquisitor,

You have not asked for this information nor have your spoken of your great loss. You listened to me shortly after the destruction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes so if you tell me not to pursue this any further I will listen to you in turn.

I have had one of my best scouts investigating the bandits who attacked your clan and found a connection to former mercenary troop. A majority of the band of twenty-five (or so Duke Wycome reported) were former members of the Free Marches mercenary troop the Red Iron. They are normally quartered in Kirkwall but following the destruction of the Chantry and the disbandment of the circles, my contacts report the Red Iron moved their headquarters to Tantervale and began taking contracts there and in Tantervale’s neighbor Wycome. Their reputation as sellswords and hired assassins precedes them. The Red Iron is known for doing the dirty work of whoever has sufficient coin.

I am still investigating if the Duke of Wycome has ever commissioned a contract from the troop.

Leliana

Dorian huffed over the words in the paper. While she hadn’t found evidence enough to accuse the Duke, it was fairly obvious Leliana was hinting at the man being responsible for the loss of Mahanon’s clan. Dorian, unfortunately, was not as current on the Free March gossip as might be good for Mahanon. There was a connection, many generations back, between the Parvus line and the Treyvalens in the Marches but beyond memorizing family trees, he had no knowledge or special insight to understand what Wycome’s motivations might have been to destroy the elves. He could, easily, picture a noble so arrogant as to assume he would get away with that sort of murder, even if the murder was of the Inquisitor’s clan.

After all, the Inquisitor – and his clan – were mere elves. In Tevinter, elves were barely better than furnishings, like most slaves, though the elves were perhaps treated more harshly as there were more restrictions on freedom, travel, and elves were – by law – all slaves, unlike even the soporati and other underclasses that labored in poverty before selling themselves. It was still a choice with the eventuality of helping a family; elves had no such luxury and half-breeds…

Better not to mention what happened to them, especially not in front of Mahanon or Solas.

Dorian sighed, rubbing the parchment between his fingers and wondered – not for the first time – how he had managed to end up in this mess.

“It can’t be that interesting, Vint,” Bull called over, probably noticing Dorian’s unease at what Leliana had uncovered. “Dragons are best experienced in person!”

“It isn’t the book, The Iron Bull,” Cole said and Dorian felt his stomach drop for the second time in the last half hour. “He worries, wonders, wavers because of the words, because he knows they hurt, harm, wound and he has no real answers. Only more questions and Dorian feels restrained… restricted –“

“That’s enough, Cole,” Dorian cut him off before the spirit could say more and sighed, looking over at Mahanon for permission.

“It’s fine,” the elf said quietly. “After I told Solas and Cassandra, it’s only fair I tell the rest.”

“This about your family, boss?” Bull asked, his voice going soft and careful in a way that was supremely Bull and supremely not. In Dorian’s experience, only the biggest of men either learned to throw their weight around, take up as much space as possible especially if it meant taking space from others, or learned how to make themselves smaller and gentler, so as not to scare other people. Bull was an odd mix as he made a great show of the former but – despite his semi-annoying flirtations (they would perhaps be less annoying if Dorian had any inkling that Bull was actually serious about them)  -- Dorian had learned over the past few months working with the Qunari that, ultimately, he was the latter type of person.

Mahanon chuckled softly and moved over to take both the translation and the letter back from Dorian. “I should have known you’d find out.”

“I knew but I also knew you wanted to keep it secret, safe, solid inside you until you knew what to do.”

“It’s fine,” Mahanon repeated, smiling easily at Cole. “Loss is – something I’m not unused to.”

“I hope I help.” Cole’s earnest tone was met with another smile and a slight nod.

“You do, Cole, thank you.”

“I bet Red’s got information for you,” Bull said, tilting his head toward the letter. Mahanon was holding it gingerly in his right hand, his fingers running back and forth over the parchment.

“She says that there’s a chance the man Josephine asked to send help to my clan was actually behind the attack in the first place.” Mahanon’s voice was quiet but blunt and he moved back to where he’d stowed his pack next to the horse Dennet had given him. Bull just whistled in response, leaning back to stare up at the sky.

“What are you planning to do about it?” Dorian found himself asking. He assumed he had been allowed to read the letter to help Mahanon go over his options and make a decision. Though what he did know about Wycome – no connection to either the Imperium or the Parvus’s, so inconsequential, according to his tutors – indicated that Leliana’s guess about the man was likely right. Wycome wasn’t known as the most welcoming of the Free Marches; rather the city-state was notorious for having the heaviest tax burden alongside some of the worst soil for food and farming. They relied heavily on trade and fishing but the Duke was also suspicious of strangers and required permits for travelers to cross his territory. It was possible, Dorian supposed, that the entire issue was a misunderstanding and he doubted the Dalish bothered much with government-issued permits or formalities such as Wycome preferred when traveling. But Mahanon had said his clan had written of bandits, not government officials…

“Investigate more, I think,” Mahanon said honestly. “I can’t very well accuse him without evidence.” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving a few strands sticking straight up. “Once I know for sure if Wycome was involved?” He shrugged. “I don’t know if there is anything I can do.”

“Don’t be like that, Boss.” Bull leaned forward to frown at Mahanon. “That’s what you’ve got your Ambassador for, right?”

“I’m sure Josephine could do and say all the right things but it wouldn’t bring back my family nor would it really be justice.” He sighed and made a face. “Besides, the last thing the Inquisition should probably be doing right now is indulging in personal vendettas or getting involved that deeply with politics. It’s bad enough we’ll have to eventually do something in Orlais, if Corypheus actually does intend to assassinate the Queen.”

“I knew Justice once,” Cole said and his tone was oddly plaintive.

Dorian exchanged a long look with Mahanon about that, before he settled on, “And what is Justice like, Cole?”

“Justice was righteous, reasonable, rectitude, everything about being fair.” Cole’s head tipped down and the large brim of his hat shaded his entire face. “But then Justice went away, for a long time, and Justice changed. Not the way Rhys and Evangeline changed me but –“ Cole broke off and pulled his legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them, an oddly human gesture of discomfort.

“I see,” Mahanon said softly, not pushing for more, and Dorian wondered if the other man really did. After all, he had walked in the Fade. Mahanon was Cole’s opposite, in a way, a human who walked through the Fade, where Cole was a spirit who walked as a human without possessing someone. Dorian had no idea how that had come to be but he supposed it might give both men and spirit special insight. “I don’t know what the right answer is,” Mahanon continued and looked up into the slowly-darkening sky. “I only know I miss them.”

The quiet, solemn words silenced the rest of the group as they settled in for the wait for the sun to drop further. Dorian dropped into a comfortable sitting position and decided to meditate. It couldn’t hurt to try and increase his connection with the Fade – especially if they were going to fight a High Dragon – and it might give him a chance to put his thoughts in order after… Cole’s unfortunate reminder.

He took a deep breath, in and out, counting to five with each inhale and exhale, concentrating just on the sound of the voice in his head as he relaxed.

At least until he realized that the sound of counting was not his own voice but, instead, his father’s. Dorian huffed a soft bitter laugh to himself. This was the first time he’d tried meditation – something his father had taught him when he was quite young – since he’d left Tevinter. Wonderful. He reached up to rub his forehead. Not only did he taint himself he managed to taint me as well, despite my best efforts.

“You’re not,” Cole said suddenly, breaking the semi-comfortable silence.

“Not what?” Mahanon sounded just curious and Dorian felt his stomach relax, realizing how tense he had been after briefly discussing his own past and the Inquisitor’s more recent woes.

“Tainted. Dorian, you’re not tainted. No more than anyone here.”

He sucked in a breath and carefully didn’t look at either Bull or Mahanon. Dorian could imagine the looks on their faces quite well without seeing it. “I know that, Cole, thank you.”

“Then why did you think it, Dorian?” The innocent curiosity in Cole’s voice just shouldn’t be allowed in anyone over the age of six.

“It’s not – I didn’t mean it like taint, Cole. Not like the taint from the Darkspawn.” He ran his fingertips along his moustache, briefly considering how to explain it. “It just means the activity feels bad because of… associations.”

“I don’t understand.” Cole looked over at Mahanon, like he might be able to wave his left hand and fix all the problems in the world. Dorian couldn’t blame the spirit for the belief, really.

“I don’t know exactly what you and Dorian are talking about,” Mahanon said slowly, reaching up to touch his tattoo – vallaslin, that was the word – briefly. “Sometimes things are hurtful because they remind us of bad things.” He paused and shot a quick glance at Dorian. “You told me a little about Rhys and Evangeline, right?”

“You found them and I was angry but you helped them and I was glad.”

Mahanon smiled and nodded. “I wanted to make sure they were okay because they helped you, Cole. But when you talked about them – you talked about how they were your friends. You also talked about what happened at Adamant and the Templars there.” Cole nodded slowly. “So does it sometimes hurt to think of Rhys and Evangeline when you think about Adamant?”

“They are my friends; they are happy,” Cole answered and Dorian intervened, trying again.

“It just means that sometimes… when someone hurts you, other things that you might like normally which remind you of the person who hurts you, also hurt.”

Cole’s hat tilted to the side briefly and Dorian fought the urge to squirm under the spirit’s assessing gaze. “I see. I will remember that, Dorian, thank you. I will be able to help more now.”

The group was silent at the afternoon passed into evening and Mahanon led them out to bait the traps to bring in the dragon. It was a comfortable silence, though, and Dorian appreciated it; it was the silence of the contented and busy, each member of the party knowing what was needed and simply doing their job to accomplish it. Dorian had experienced this type of silence before, but only in Tevinter and just before rituals Alexius had introduced him to while Dorian had been his apprentice.

Once complete and the afternoon sun had started to lower, Bull grinned. “Let’s go kill us a dragon!”

Mahanon laughed and shook his head. “This time you’re going to drink my choice at the bar, Bull.”