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A Herald Named Desire

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"Adaar" spent the first week in Haven, when not in varying levels of unconsciousness, being completely terrified. He had only just barely remembered mortals being all funny about demons and had slapped a glamour on last minute when he had stumbled out of the Fade. (Again? Had he been here before? How had that worked? The giant green screaming hole in the sky hadn’t provided any answers. Everyone else had hmmed and yessed and nodded like important things were going about, and then there had been a Pride demon.)

Haven, see, was filled with Templars. He had no idea how strong his glamour was holding up, and should it fail? Templars. Templars all over the place.

Luckily Solas went out of his way to reassure him that he at least was spirit-friendly and would go on and on about the fuzzy gray area of demons and spirits and how it was more of a political stance and pretty much anything Adaar asked of him. Which Adaar did in great detail because he was apparently the ‘Herald of Andraste’, and while he wasn’t the brightest wisp in the Fade, he did know that not knowing something that everyone else did know was suspicious.

Solas liked to talk. He was so very, very lonely, and having people ask him his opinion of things made him feel needed and actually there, not background noise or really horrible old mistakes.

Adaar wasn’t one to judge. He was a demon after all. Didn’t really have any moral high ground to stand on.

Varric also liked to hear himself talk, and as long as Adaar didn’t say anything too committal, he didn’t notice his apparent lack of knowledge about damn near everything.

Adaar did know about Templars though, and Holy Smites, and how they killed all possible demons. Not that he was a demon, mind you, no of course not he was a mage, a qunari mage. From some mercenary group. Yes that one, sure, why not. There were several Templars in Haven one of which was the Commander of the entire army. There was also a Seeker which was like some kind of uber-Templar.

She was the one who liked to follow him around, glaring suspiciously at everything he did. He managed to not break down and cry in front of her, but only just barely.

All crying was kept to his rooms.

What he wouldn't give for a good old-fashioned possessing right now. That was a lot easier to hide. As is, he kept having to tuck his tail into his pants, winding it around one leg, and hoping people didn’t look too hard at his ‘hair’. Or at his clothing. He managed so far to get one set right. Everyone else’s just changed at random intervals (except for Sera’s), and he couldn’t figure out how to make his do that yet, let alone whatever Vivienne was doing with hers, but oh how he wanted to know.

Another major shock, him wanting, not reflecting wants. He suspected the screaming hole in his hand was making him more tangible in a way than nothing else could. It also made it really fucking hard to keep up glamours.

He was going to get smited so hard, he just knew it.

So, of course when they finally returned from Orlais, (which had been extremely distracting thank you very much, and he had probably forgotten how to pay for things correctly, so he may have just stolen them), of course Cassandra would look right at him and say “we should go get the Templars”, and Adaar was out of the room and across the compound.



Cassandra ground her teeth as Josephine tried to coax Adaar out from on top of the roof, promising him that no Templar was going to smite him or make him Tranquil or whatever terrified images he had in his mind. The council had decided on going to the Templars for aid, being two against one. Adaar’s potential vote had been rendered moot upon him fleeing. She had hoped that familiarizing him with Templars would make him less wary. Maker knows what sort of stories he was told about Templars; Adaar’s information seemed eclectic at best. Leliana personally suspected he was lyrium-addled.

"You are the Herald of Andraste, Adaar," Josephine said patiently. "They aren't going to kill you."

There was a mumbled response of "not the Herald." No one was quite sure how he managed to get up there so fast, but Adaar was apparently quite talented.

"You aren't going alone. Cassandra isn't going to let them take you away," Josephine said, hoping for reasonable.

Adaar made a snorting noise, and then by the sounds of it scooted further up the roof. "Why do I have to go at all?" he whined. "Why can't Cassandra do that whole spiel. She's good at it and likes Templars, and then you get the Templars, and I don't have to go near them, and everyone gets what they want and is happy."

"Because the Templars refuse to negotiate with us without you there. You don't even have to talk to any of them! Just act as a figurehead. You'll be fine." She gave a reassuring smile.



Adaar decided that they were all full of bullshit and were going to find bees in their food for weeks. He was currently using a column as cover. Because Templars were firing at him. Giant glowing red Templars. Who were actively trying to kill him.

This was exactly what he didn’t want to happen. The pure opposite of. If he had been in the Fade and some kind of perverse Aversion demon decided to have one on him, this was the sort of thing they would come up with. Except this wasn’t the Fade, and he couldn’t contest the landscape or get out or anything at all.

A Templar fired a giant chunk of itself at him, shard of something utterly wrong and twisted and distant eerie songs. It pierced right through the barrier and wall behind Adaar, who had previously been right there but had enough sense to throw himself in a different direction other than impending death.

The Iron Bull actually gave him a sympathetic eye. Before cleaving a Templar in two with that giant axe, that is, while grinning inwardly.

Adaar focused on his shields before glancing over guiltily at Ser Barris who was Very Suspicious of Adaar. So now he had two Templars watching his every movement.

He hated life.

After the current wave of Templars was dealt with, Adaar darted up the stairs to confront the Lord Seeker before screeching to a halt, just out of reach.

"That's an Envy demon!" he blurted out stupidly.

"Lord Seeker" looked very annoyed and then attempted to rip out his throat.



After Therinfal Redoubt, Cassandra and Ser Barris and Cullen and the Iron Bull seemed more relaxed around him. The Iron Bull had oh-so-casually asked if he was just that naturally good at spotting demons which of course Adaar was. Because he was a ‘mage’. And oh, yeah, of course not all mages can automatically tell demons apart, but uh, that was what Adaar had been good at. Back at his mercenary job? Never knew when some bandits were secretly demons! Those dastardly demons aha.

The Iron Bull definitely knew, but he was keeping quiet for some strange reason. But if he knew, then the Ben-Hassrath knew, and that was too many more people knowing than he ever wanted. He would be fine with negative people knowing, actually. Or just being back in the Fade without permanent danger lurking around every corner. He could stay clear of mortals and agree when some spirit thinks its so much better than this other spirit because its Domain was obviously superior to whatever lesser Domain had been chosen. Like nugs? Was there a spirit for nugs? There probably was.

Ser Barris kept following him around camp, or rather attempting to sneak around camp to watch him. Wanted him to be the Herald of Andraste, wanted a sign like so many others that the Maker hadn't abandoned them all, that He had sent someone to help. Ser Barris seemed to come around as well, probably because Adaar had allied with the Templars.

Which he had then gotten yelled at which made no sense because everyone wanted the Templars, except Leliana, but there were only so many wants he could fulfill and they went to the mages anyway but they weren't there anymore and everything was so challenging and difficult ugh.

Adaar ended up hiding under his bed for most of that. He wondered if he could just stay there forever while everyone else ran around, but no people were still wanting things.

Adaar finally put his foot down when Cassandra attempted to boot Compassion, or "Cole", out of the camp.

Compassions spirits were like the mabari puppies of the spirit world. Even demons knew that. Had to be one jackass of a demon to pick on a Compassion spirit, jeez.

Cassandra didn’t want a possible demon lurking about (which, rude, though understandable). She was a Seeker to kill all unclean things, and she wanted this camp to be safe. But he was so lonely and wanted a Fade friend who could understand that he was going through some really hard things right now. So he bared his teeth (and became more him?) when Cassandra threatened Cole with a sword.

“You do not know what it wants, Herald,” Cassandra said disdainfully, and Adaar had to not snort at that.

“Well you certainly don’t,” Adaar said angrily. “So far Cole has been a great help-” he could feel Cole’s growing approval from over here “-and if he wants to continue helping, then we are going to let him. So far we’ve been letting all sorts of people help, like that one Orlesian, because Orlesians? With the faces? That ain’t right. Or the lyrium smuggler posing as a Chantry sister. Sure she rates high up there on your morality scale.”

He hoped there wasn’t a morality scale.

He folded his arms. “He helped kill a demon,” he said gravely. “That warrants some consideration.”

Cullen didn’t want Cole around either, was on Cassandra’s side. But Leliana, wonderfully normally suspicious Leliana, backed him. “I agree with the Herald. If he proves useful, then let him be useful,” she said. That and she wanted a spirit around again, missed old friends. It wasn’t the same, nothing would ever be the same. But she wanted.

Which meant Josephine was the deciding vote. She hated that, he could tell from here without even really checking. She liked peace and de-escalating conflicts and Antivan chocolates and beds with actual sheets and walls that don’t smell of mold and floor that don’t have horse and/or dog shit on them.

Josephine had a lot of wants. It was really distracting, actually, made her difficult to talk to.

And he could, if he tried, find a want that she had and maybe wrap this around it somehow, that her wants aligned with keeping Cole. But she was so sweet and had been kind, and Adaar wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to do that. Also Solas would probably give him a Disappointed Look. But strangely, it was more of the former than the latter, and that was weird and new to him. He blamed the small green screaming hole in his hand.

He needn’t have worried though. Josephine backed Leliana, because they were friends, and because Josephine wanted to give strange people a chance before condemning them. So Cole was allowed to join the Inquisition.

Adaar then spent the next week running around helping Cole help people with ensemble in tow while the Templars got themselves ready.

They conquered those Hinterlands. Not a single person was left unhelped that week.

Chapter Text

Adaar may have stalled in closing the Breach. It wasn’t because he was afraid it would reveal himself as is. He’d already closed enough Rifts to know that at least wouldn’t affect his glamour. No, he stalled because if he closed it, he might not be able to get back. He was reasonably certain that he had fallen through it. All the soldiers had witnessed it, and though his memory was lacking, he recalled Fade and then not-Fade in a giant explosion of angry green.

But that was his job, and he would be hounded by Templars if he didn’t, so close the Breach it was. Besides, afterwards he would be done and could slip away and then find a nice Rift and try to figure out how to make it take him back. And then he could worry about the mark on his hand once he was safely home.

So once the lyrium was acquired from the dwarves, and once Cassandra managed to pull him away from said lyrium because it was singing and pretty and everything wonderful. Once those things happened, the Templars got all the lyrium with hardly any left over and headed to the Breach. They then proceeded to suppress so much magic that Adaar’s head nearly popped off, and then he close the Breach.

And it closed.

No demons shot out, no explosions or sudden screams. He didn’t even burst into flames. It was very anti-climatic. Which, good, he had enough excitement for a Curiosity spirit, he was done thank you very much.

If he was a smart demon, he would have left then. He would have ran as far as he could when nobody cared, but Varric had mentioned a party. A celebration. A time when mortals engaged in their desires, with all of those emotions floating about. And this was THE quality stuff, delight-after-almost-certain-doom. The sort of stuff guarded by the strongest demons in the Fade. Plus it coincided nicely with his Domain, with the finest foods and wines broken out, and the almost certain ‘we’re-not-dead’ sexcapades that would happen.

He could wait one more day before fleeing, right?



He watched from his vantage point as Cassandra ran around trying to find him. Haha she never checked the Chantry roof. He let himself absorb background desires, which was either okay and acceptable by mortal populations, or they didn’t notice and/or care. Which really, that was the main thing right there.

It was nice, almost pleasant to have everyone around him happy. It soothed some weird distressed part of himself that he had previously attributed to Templars. In hindsight this would be obvious that having desires around a Desire demon would feel right, but it had been a really stressful time. This was his natural reward for helping everyone and making them all happy.

Though as he sat there, he realized something. Here he was, watching mortals engage in their desires, and make no mistake, that was a wonderful rush. But, wine. Here and now, he had enough of a Form to drink the wine for himself. Would he enjoy it? Certainly others did, but some didn’t. Why did some enjoy wine and not others? His tail twitched as he thought. What about foods. Differing people had different tastes, he knew that. It was rather important information to tempt mortals with, that not everyone liked the same thing. But he didn’t know why.

Apparently that was some really good pie down there. And yes, it was lovely picking up the emotions surrounding the pie, but what if-?

Could he simply just go down there and eat the pie himself? What would that do?

He tilted his head in thought. Most demons he knew would kill for the chance to be in the world. Not like this with now literally hundreds of Templars watching. But in the world in general. Granted his perception had been greatly colored by said Templars, but it was a party. It would be okay if he had pie, right? ‘Apple cinnamon’ pie according to floating thoughts. It was very popular, and the lovely lady in charge of its creation had made multiple pies because she was thoughtful like that. There would be enough pie for him, if he went and got some. The thought made him giddy and swish his tail.

So he waited until nobody was watching before moving off the roof onto the snow below. He was still trying to get down normal mortal movements, and vertical movement was one of those weird topics mortals got so picky about. But when he started walking forward, warning bells chimed, and the happy furnace feelings faded away.

Pleasure ebbed out in increments as more and more people began to stop and notice. Something was terribly wrong. He moved over to where a scout was approaching Cassandra. There was an army, no banners, and now that the party wasn’t distracting him, he could sense it. Flickering angry wants, hurting wants, home-thinking wants, if-I-have-to-hurt-then-everyone-else-will-too hurts. And something that showed at the center, loud and fixated very much on him. Or the Anchor, the mark on his hand, wanted it back, would burn the world to get it back.

Wouldn’t it be nice if he just gave it back?

Adaar frowned, clutching at his hand. No, no, no. Something wasn’t right here, and it was with him. He had the thing the monster wanted. If he gave Thing to the monster, it wouldn’t destroy Haven, which is what the people here wanted. The monster really, really wanted the Anchor so why wasn’t Adaar doing anything about it?

He couldn’t think. His thoughts buzzed chaotically. He felt unbalanced, unstable as his inner self kept trying to act on that want and kept hitting some inner wall. Cassandra seemed to say something and then pulled him to the gates. They opened to a man who was nice enough to give the explanation of ‘angry army’ to the mortals so Adaar didn’t have to talk, let alone figure out how to explain complex emotional thought-reading without giving himself away as a demon. ‘Dorian’ said Tevinter supremacists, but no, there were so many others in the group as well who didn’t want any of this and yet marched anyway, bound by promises of safety.

So that’s where the mages went.

Dorian wanted to come here earlier, had tried and ran and pulled the Fade, slowing the world around him so he could make it in time. But he didn’t, and it bled into other emotions he couldn’t quite pick up. (He was not that kind of Tevinter, he would be a positive example, and Felix shouldn’t have died it didn’t make any sense).

The Iron Bull knew it had been too easy, knew something bad was going to happen, didn’t Seheron teach him anything? Wanted out, bleeding over to needing out.

There were too many conflicting wants, too much emotion and stimulus around him. But then there were Venatori attacking. And then there was a dragon attacking, that didn’t help everyone, which made everyone not want to die harder, which made him hurt more, and Bull was stuck in the past in another fiery place and Dorian had failed and Varric was watching the world end again and Sera was screaming from a burning Denerim ages ago and Cullen would never be redeemed and Leliana had failed everyone and Vivienne would die alone and forgotten and useless and-

Adaar jerked out of his thoughts when a hand touched his shoulder. He turned around, and of course, there was Cole. “One at a time,” he said. “Don’t be all at once. Be smaller.”

He could still feel the shrieking desires of everyone to not die, but he tried. Smaller, more immediate. One at a time, he took on buildings and Venatori. He stopped focusing as much on the glamour. If need be, he could explain it away later. (Or ask Cole to make them forget. Or he could learn how to make them forget.) He moved quickly through space, ushered everyone into the Chantry, all of the living people. He figured the dead could just lie there.

Roderick and Cullen could get everyone to safety, but it would require him staying behind. It made sense. He was the thing wanted. If he stayed, they might live. Cullen also had the idea of burying Haven and taking out the army with them, which bonus. Strangely enough, Cullen didn’t want him to do it. Cullen was… concerned? He didn’t want ‘Adaar’ to die, but he wanted the army not to die more. But it was okay, Adaar was a very lucky mage who could ‘Fade-step’.

Adaar took Solas, Vivienne, and Cole with him on account of how they were beings who could ‘Fade-step’ or actually Fade-step out of danger once the trebuchet was ready. Which was good because as it turned out, dragon. And then they weren’t there, and he wasn’t quite sure where they went. Too much made everything chaotic.

And then Corypheus, sneering down with complete disdain, focus held in one clawed hand. “Desire. You will give me back the Anchor,” he Commanded, with blood and compulsion behind it.

It didn’t work. Adaar found his head shaking of its own volition as he clutched his hand and the Anchor to his chest. Corypheus snarled and pulled on the Anchor. He screamed as he could feel his self splintering, fracturing around the idea of the Anchor that was inside of him. He should reject it. It was the only survivable path to reject it why wasn’t he rejecting it?

A promise, a price already paid in full, an agreement struck on bonds he willingly accepted into his being. Green and white and gray and pain.

Corypheus was furious now, wanted this so badly, couldn’t figure out how to pry the stupid demon off of his Anchor. Was it spoiled? Permanently corrupted by its presence and stumblings at closing pathways? He wasn’t talking; it was just a stupid demon, a lesser thing around his victory. He flayed at Adaar’s self, trying to strip away everything that was Adaar in order to get to the Anchor.

A light shot up into the heavens. The beacon, the remind of Haven’s wants, and while he couldn’t rescind on some forgotten oath, he could very much fulfill a single action. He didn’t have to move (which was good as he couldn’t move, was bound in place), but he pushed the lever, and the trebuchet launched.

Then things went very white.



Snow was cold. Snow was extremely cold, but his self had been greatly damaged, so it didn’t seem to be effecting him as much. He was a shuddering mess, weeping out viscous essence all over the ground, but it stabilized. He stabilized. He was lesser, but he was still there.

He was also underneath a lot of snow, but he was very malleable right then, so it wasn’t too difficult to move his battered stupid self above buried Haven.

Okay it was actually very difficult, but only because the act of moving was so hard, spacial displacement in a fixed state. He wasn’t sure if he even had a body right now, if he didn’t look any different than some wraith, held together by wisps and sheer spite.

Time skipped, and Adaar realized he had been ‘sitting’ in the snow for almost an hour. He would have to move again. He would cry, but his self didn’t really have eyes at this point.

Random moving would get nowhere. He sent out a faint tendril, seeking emotion. It was difficult mostly because at this point wants had bled into becoming needs, and need was Hunger’s thing. There was a flicker though, perhaps a faint bearings?

He still couldn’t get his self to move again. Too pained. Too lessened. Nothing there for even oaths to hold onto.

Still cold.

He wanted to go home. He would digest his own want if he could, but he wasn’t there enough for the want to count. He would digest the wants of the dead, but he couldn’t touch them. Probably because they were dead. Over half of Haven. Most of the civilians as they didn’t know how to fight but tried anyway.

Time skipped again. It was darker, and wind whipped at him. At him? Not through him? He hurt more, the cold now having seeped into his bones like knives. He looked down at frozen hands, one still glowing an angry green. Must have been some oath he took. He should probably work on figuring out what exactly he promised and to whom. They kept saying the ‘Herald of Andraste’ but he was pretty sure that Andraste wouldn’t make pacts with Desire demons. Just didn’t quite seem to fit the mythos he was told. Still was a hilarious mental image. He giggled, but that might have been due to stress. It was probably stress.

He staggered to his feet and clumsily slapped his glamour back on. The more he healed, the more he felt the cold, and the more he decided he didn’t like cold. He would rather have used magic to keep himself warm but the glamour was more important. He sent out a tendril again, got the faintest of bearings, and then walked.

It never stopped being cold.

Chapter Text

Never had Adaar imagined that he would have been happy to see a Templar, but when Cassandra and Cullen came running up, he fell over in happiness. Then he wasn’t as happy because he had fallen face-first into snow, and that was cold. It turns out no matter how cold you think you are, you can indeed get colder. This was information Adaar never wanted to know. He was an indoors demon. He was not meant for the harsh outside world with its winds and gritty sands and its bogs. His kind liked magical interior heating and soft bedding and tasty foods. This was the opposite of all of that. Cassandra ended up carrying him back, but nobody seemed to think this was strange, and Adaar was too tired to care. He just wanted to collapse into a pile of misery next to a fire. He was very much done, thank you.

So of course Mother Giselle insisted that a Healer see him.

A Mage Healer. When he was in a weakened state. And while he had, by now, gotten vaguely familiar with what people expected him to look like on the outside, despite the sheer number of dead bandits and mages and Templars, he had no idea what his insides were supposed to look like. Granted there seemed to be hunks of wet flesh and long dangly things, but he was pretty sure they were placed in the body in a very specific order. And while not the smartest Desire demon stuck in the cruel mortal world, he was fairly certain a mage Healer would be able to tell his wounds weren’t oozing properly or whatever mortals did.

So Adaar did what Adaar did best and ran off when their backs were turned. Solas was standing about oh so conveniently with wants to discuss with him about recent events. Adaar grabbed him by his arm and hauled him off someplace away from the camp and prying eyes.

And when he came back to camp, he could point them to ‘Skyhold’ which ‘Andraste’ had talked to him about. Whenever Healers were brought up again, Adaar manged to conveniently disappear. It was easy with everyone huddled together in a main camp area, and as long as he eventually reappeared, nobody seemed to care too much. Or maybe they assumed he had already received medical attention from someone by this point and just stopped pressing the issue.

Skyhold was a lovely fortress, weathered though it might be. It was old enough that he couldn’t quite feel the original inhabitants. Or he couldn’t quite feel the original inhabitants due to other reasons. Maybe they were really devout monks. Really devout because people who repressed their urges tend to end up- well, repressed. Adaar couldn’t tell what was exactly the issue with this place, but it didn’t really bother him. More immediate, pressing concerns like ‘not dying’ bothered him, as well as the fact that Corypheus seemed to have a hard-on to blasting him to the Void. Inquisition was against Corypheus, so he supposed it made sense for him to stay here a while longer. Even if he did manage to make it back to the Fade, Corypheus could just summon him from there and bind him in very un-fun ways.

He sighed dejectedly from his perch on one of the battlements. Home had been so close within his grasp, and now it was looking more and more like he might never make it back. Corypheus was so much more than the entire Inquisition combined. Who knew how long it might be until he was safe again? And the rest of the world as well, but his primary concerns lay with his own personal safety and not being peeled apart like an onion.

That was if they even could stop him. He was very powerful, both in magic and in sheer forces. This honestly seemed like a losing match to him.

At least he was healthy again, glamour full on and all, though his tail continued to be inconvenient. He probably could just remove the tail. It would be far more sensible, but his tail was swishy, and to his growing horror/delight he actually liked swishy. And the true crime of this was it didn’t matter how much he liked having a swishy tail, he would just have to hide it anyways because stupid mortals getting all offended with people having extra appendages. They didn’t seem to mind when people were missing appendages now were they? Downright discriminatory, that was.

He watched as even more people scurried in under the gate beneath him, some of which were obviously being allowed to be missing appendages. These ones hadn’t even been in Haven, which was probably why there were here now. Not a lot of people made it from Haven.

He was inexplicably filled with the urge to go find Cole. He wasn’t sure particularly why, but maybe he could go help Cole help somebody else. He stood up from his perching point when an exasperated grunt-sigh came from behind him.

“Hi Cassandra,” he said. There was almost some cheer in his voice. Being saved had really overridden a lot of his basic self-preservation habits, which was stupid, and he needed to get those back. It didn’t matter how heroically her saving him from the evil snow was.

“Please get down before you fall to your death,” she said in a tone far more exasperated than what was really called for.

Adaar wasn’t sure about this but hopped down regardless. Cassandra stepped forward, looking down upon all the people buzzing about. “They arrive daily from every settlement in the region. Skyhold is becoming a pilgrimage,” she said. She breathed out steadily, steeling herself for something which of course was making Adaar nervous. “Walk with me?” she asked politely before steering the two of them down the staircase. Something was obviously going on here, but she didn’t have wants tangled up about this. None he could pick up right away. There was a minor want of victory/faith/Andraste, but that was always there and quite frankly the other way he knew it was Cassandra aside from her unique vocal exhalations.

“If word has reached these people, it will have reached the Elder One. We have the walls and numbers to put up a fight here, but this threat is far beyond the war we anticipated. But we know now what allowed you to stand against Corypheus.”

He was still thinking about her varied vocal exhalations when Cassandra stopped walking. “We know now what led Corypheus to you,” she said in a very Important way.

Was he supposed to know this? Fuck. Did they know this? Did they know that he kinda knew this? How much knowing had they figured out, and how much knowing did they think he figured out. This was making his head hurt.

“His dastardly schemes?” he ventured. Cassandra shot him a look but then chuckled which told him nothing. Was it dastardly schemes? Fuck.

“Not just the Anchor,” she said, and okay so they were on that, alright. Did Solas tell them? How much did he tell them? He should probably go check on that soon. “But us. The Inquisition and our forces. And more specifically, you.”

Well that did make sense. He had the Anchor, thus Corypheus was after him. He was with her so far, figuratively and literally because she kept walking and had a very tight grip on his arm.

“Your decisions let us heal the sky. Your determination brought us out of Haven. You are that creature’s rival because of what you did. And we know it. All of us.”

Wait. Wait a moment. She paused at the top of some steps where, by sheer and absolute “coincidence”, Leliana was there with a very devious smile and holding out a sword.

“The Inquisition requires a leader: the one who has already been leading it. You.”

Cassandra smiled at him. Smiled.

Cuz you know. They need that Inquisitor! That’s, uh, that’s a need they have. And by the common layman’s idea of things, Adaar sure would seem pretty important wouldn’t he? And all heroic and noble and self-sacrificing. People love a hero who’s self-sacrificing. Except that wasn’t what he had been doing at all, and he has somehow deceived them, and then inevitably. Inevitably! They will find out because they are called the Inquisition! That’s what they do! The fucking Ben-Hassrath down there looking really concerned didn’t even try to deceive these guys. And when they do inevitably find out, should he proceed to become Inquisitor, they will be so maaaaaaad.

Cassandra of course noticed he was having some minor panic. Being the complete failure of a Seeker she was, she obviously didn’t connect this to any demon-related things. “It’s alright Adaar. We all talked this over with beforehand.”

Adaar glared at traitorous Leliana who just fucking giggled.

Okay, no. He had learned a bit by now after all his experiences, and he knew how to handle this.

“You don’t understand Cassandra,” he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking and failing utterly since that was his lot in life. “There’s- there’s things you don’t know about me, sordid past and whatnot, and then you will find out, probably, and then you’ll kill me, definitely.”

Cassandra rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to kill you Adaar.”

“But see you don’t know me!” he said quickly. “You don’t know my life. And if you did know the things I’ve done, the people I did, the really shady deals I’ve made in the past, you wouldn’t be offering this to me. I mean you so really, really don’t know, but I am actually the absolute worst choice you guys could have come up with. And I am not meaning this in some self-depreciating way, but logically I am absolutely the worst person you could have chosen. So I mean, I’m flattered-” and he somewhat was despite the one-way ticket it would be to certain death, because Inquisitor? Envy demons would shred the Fade to bits over this “-but you should be Inquisitor! You’re the driving soul of the group. I’m just the guy with the glowy hand.” He gave Cassandra his most winning smile while waving with said hand. Cassandra’s soul swirled in response, because she did like to be in charge, like to feel needed. And since this could go nowhere but terrible for him if they remained with their original plan, he gave her just a little nudge, a little push because she was honestly the best mortal for the job.

And for one glorious moment, she titled her head and considered it.

But then of course since Faith had already put its greedy hands all over her face, she just smiled and ‘gently’ shoved him forward to Leliana. And he should have started running off at that point, but his legs weren’t working anymore. Why weren’t they working? He was shaking and very alarmed and Leliana had given him the sword and now people were cheering for some strange reason.

He felt the Fade settle around this, watching. It going to be a Very Historic Moment. People would be discussing this for Quite Some Time. The Eyes of the World were upon him.

Worst possible outcome.

Oh no.

Adaar spent the next five days holed up in his room in a ball of anxiety, not even retreating for pie. At least they had given him the highest room they had, saying they noticed he liked high places. And wouldn’t that be a fascinating thing to explore and dissect, wants of his own, but nope! Adaar had to start Inquisiting everything. At least they did wait five days before shoving him into the job, giving him very sympathetic looks. Which were all of course complete heinous LIES because if they were really sympathetic they would take the job back.

Hawke came by with an ‘oh ho Wardens are being corrupted’ which pissed Cassandra off, and then he had to stop Cassandra from killing Varric, and then had to stop Cassandra from trying to find Anders by herself and strangle him with her bare hands. And then a lot of people had yelled at him like Corypheus was his fault, which he had taken offense to until it was pointed out that he had, in fact, recruited them (Sera). Or they were still trying to scrutinize his every move (The Iron Bull and Vivienne) or they were busy trying to keep people from dying in short or long term matters and blaming themselves for every single dead person, flesh wound, and papercut (Cole, Cullen, Josephine, Leliana, Blackwall).

So. Solas. He could talk to Solas. Except when he asked about how much Solas had told everyone, Solas just waved dismissively and said that he only told them that Corypheus wanted the Anchor. And then he gave him a sour look like everything was his fault. Which really, that was just bullshit. If there ever was to be some faulting going along, he knew damn well it wasn’t his, Ser This Mark is Totally Not Mine. So he sulked off, muttering about stupid pretentious elves, and naturally headed up.

And right in front of him was that nicely dressed man who had showed up at the gates. He had wanted to help so bad, and that didn’t work out, and had just lingered around like a forgotten kitten.

A very finely dressed forgotten kitten. Just because Adaar wasn’t used to having his own desires didn’t mean he couldn’t look at something and go damn. That is a thing mortals would desire. Desire demons couldn’t go very far without those basic abilities.

So they had a nice chat, and win for him, Dorian wanted to stay on and help fight Venatori. Double win for him since Dorian didn’t seem to mind his clumsy flirting. Look, he just wasn’t used to being the actual object of desire. It was always something or somebody else mortals wanted, and adapting after that was just basic Desire demon practice. Not that he hadn’t made sure his illusion looked attractive, but it was still uncannily different. He left feeling rather unnerved for some reason. But it was time to be Inquisitor and go do Inquisitor Things and then probably get killed by some random bandit because that would be just his luck.

They held the meeting off until the Inquisitor was on his way to Crestwood with Cole, Blackwall, and Iron Bull in tow.

“I trust no one is having second thoughts?” Leliana asked with one single raised eyebrow. “Aside from you of course, Cullen.”

He gave her a dark look. “Solas confirmed there is not enough lyrium in his blood for him to have been an addict, and he has repeatedly demonstrated not just foreign, but strange magic, things that should be by all rights not possible. And that’s when it’s not looking like blood magic!”

“Which he has yet to openly use,” Leliana said far too calmly causing Cullen to seethe.

“This isn’t Kirkwall,” Cassandra added. “Despite your experiences, most mages are not going to secretly be bloodmages.”

“You cannot deny that there is something wrong with him,” Cullen said. “I still believe the choice was made prematurely.”

Leliana shrugged. “He’s a hedge mage who has literally been in the Fade. Who knows what effects that could cause on his magic or his mind?”

“You yourself could find no record of an ‘Adaar’ ever existing. No mercenary groups, no contacts. No one has heard of him.” Cullen’s eyes narrowed. “And yet you are the one who pushed for him to be Inquisitor.”

“And here I thought you were warming up to him,” Leliana said evasively.

“He is the best figurehead. People are rallying, Cullen,” Cassandra said. “And regardless of his own doubts, even you cannot deny the state of the Hinterlands. He seems incapable of leaving a problem alone. He will do well.”

There was a moment of silence before they turned to Josephine. “Oh no,” she said crossly. “I have put far too much work into selling a Qunari mage to the public.”

Cassandra looked confused. “It’s only been two weeks.”

“And it’s those first few weeks that are the most critical,” Josephine said, fiddling with her papers. “Though it would be nice for you to share your information with us Leliana. If there is some major scandal in his past, it will come out eventually with this many eyes upon him.”

Leliana just gave a sharp smile and said nothing.

Chapter Text

Crestwood, as it turned out, was full of demons. Demons were in the water. Demons were in the corpses. Demons were just strolling around, poking at buildings, and getting irritable when the mortals tried to wave them off.

Scout Harding informed him there was a giant Rift under the lake.

Bummer.

He possibly could have just swam down there and closed the Rift, but ‘mortals’ needed to breathe.

Double bummer.

The natural solution was to drain the entire damn lake since that’s apparently the sort of solutions mortals came up with. The fort with the access to the dam ended up being filled with angry bandits. He did not end up getting killed by any of them, but not for their own lack of effort. There was a big one at the end with a very large maul, but the Iron Bull took him out. Some sad part of himself swooned over it, but he tried to nip that in the bud. He would not swoon over any random mortal that saved him from peril, he would not.

So they drained the lake, and then they climbed down to the bottom of the lakebed.

And because Adaar was a complete failure at everything, he ran right into a Command spirit.

“YOU THERE-” it began before stopping. Its facial area condensed in a squint as it looked at him and then to the mark on his hand and then back to him. Adaar froze. Was a Command spirit actually going to not be a douchenozzle for once in its life? Was it going to cover for him?

Command shook its head. “I ORDER YOU TO TELL ME WHY NOTHING HERE OBEYS MY COMMANDS!”

Adaar’s heart went out to the spirit. Not that he had one, but the sentiment was there. The mortal world was indeed very confusing. But if he answered directly, it would look suspicious to Blackwall over there who was himself squinting at the spirit. Granted he had giant bushy eyebrows and squinted at everything, but he seemed to be squinting extra hard.

“Um, Cole? You want to help?” he asked.

Cole bounded over like a happy puppy. “Maybe? My name is-”

“UGH COMPASSION DID I ASK YOUR NAME?”

Okay nope. Douchenozzle all the way through. This was why he rarely talked to spirits, always wrapped up with their own self-importance and denial of their own fallibility.

Adaar turned around and walked out. “Nope! We are done here. Come on everyone, time to go close a Rift.”

“YOU! YOU COME BACK HERE!”

It was a very long journey down, and then there were drowned corpses from the mayor. Classy guy that mayor. Then there were more angry demons, but at least there were no Desire demons. He hadn’t seen any so far actually, and he wasn’t sure if it was making him proud of his own kind for their great sense of self-preservation or sad and homesick. Probably both. The Rift took forever to close, and they were all tired by the end of it. Blackwall was particularly bad off as a Rage demon had burned off one of Blackwall’s eyebrows and a good chunk of his hair. That cheered Adaar up greatly, at least for a short time. They continued to sluck through water and mud and nug droppings and then through more mining shafts until they finally got back to the surface where of course there were a throng of skeletons and a stupid arcane horror.

And it had been a very long journey, okay, it really had been, and Adaar was tired but he was a good sport and fought anyway. Team Player he was. So of course two things happened in quick succession; one of the undead shot an arrow into his leg which distracted him, and then the arcane horror mind blasted him backwards into thick foliage.

Adaar's world was spinning in various shades of green. He blinked a few times in an unsuccessful attempt to clear his vision while the sounds of fighting continued in front of him. Right. Team Player, have to go rejoin the battle. Adaar tried to get to his feet. Tried. As he attempted to move forward, there was a strong tug on his horns which caused the world to once again lurch around him.

His horns were stuck. Naturally he did what any calm, rational being would do in this situation which was of course to panic and flail about and get himself more stuck.

There was a faint sound of a body hitting the ground and then the heavier footsteps of his companions approaching. Maybe if he angled his head downward?

“Hey boss are you-” the Iron Bull stopped and stared at him, with Blackwall and Cole coming to a stop close behind.

Adaar whined as the Iron Bull resisted the urge to laugh. Blackwall didn’t resist any such urge, the fiend.

“It’s not funny,” Adaar whined, tugging again. He wasn’t even sure how one horn got caught between two branches, but he couldn’t get it out, and then there were more branches, and then there was ivy, and this point his head was stuck at a weird angle from all the branches.

“Oh it’s definitely hilarious,” the Iron Bull said. Adaar felt his face burn and covered his face with his hands. “Doesn’t really happen to me often,” the Iron Bull continued. “Knew this one guy though, had giant curling horns. He was always getting them stuck back in Seheron.” There was a small pause before- “This the first time this happen to you?”

The Iron Bull still sounded amused, but there were also undertones of sympathy.

Adaar tried to nod but that failed of course. The Iron Bull just chuckled deeply. “No problem then. I’ll cut you out. You sit tight, boss.”

It was still an embarrassing situation, but Adaar found himself strangely enjoying the attention. Not from Blackwall who was of NO help, but from the Iron Bull. Adaar had decided that despite the whole Qun thing, the Iron Bull was a decent sort since he was nice to Cole. It was terrible that ‘nice to the Compassion spirit’ was his bar for judging people right now, and wasn't that a sad state of affairs. It was one of the lowest bars in the Fade but apparently not in terror death land. Adaar was still wary though after Cassandra’s swinging door of trust issues.

The final branch got cut, and Adaar stumbled out. He turned to thank the Iron Bull, but of COURSE Blackwall had to ruin the moment by blurting out, “There's an arrow in your leg!”

Adaar watched Blackwall and Iron Bull set up camp as he sat on his rock. He would have helped, but he still had an arrow in his leg which frankly hurt. He could probably get it out, call it ‘healing magic’, but he still couldn’t figure out what ‘healing magic’ was in comparison to ‘blood magic’. It was meddling with the body either way. Mortals were so picky.

He frowned a bit. Blood magic would be a great cover though for his magic. He was sure that was what some of them suspected. Adaar still couldn’t figure out how or why his magic was different than ‘normal’ magic, what made people give him strange looks. What was it that he was doing? In any case, it was probably too late now. If he stopped being ‘weird’ all of a sudden, that would be just as suspicious. Extra suspicion was just something he couldn't afford anymore as 'Inquisitor Adaar'.

Blackwall was still a giant suspicious bear of a person and as such was not being as helpful as he could be. He certainly wasn’t being a Team Player with Cole who was possibly his best friend in all of Thedas, and Adaar had to remind himself that kicking people out of the Inquisition because they didn’t like Cole would be a bad move and probably ‘abuse of power’ or something. Cullen had given him a lecture before they set out. Cullen had tried to tell Adaar that it was just advice, but Cullen knew it was a lecture and so did Adaar.

He was also still sore after the ‘Inner Circle’ had felt hurt at him for Haven, like it was his fault for Corypheus. At least he assumed they had felt hurt. Their general facial muscles were doing the hurt thing, but he was still bad at picking up emotions other than desire which was easy since then he could just read it in their heads. At the very least some of them hadn’t wanted it to happen with partial undertones of having not wanted to join up in the first place.

But after being made Inquisitor? He had no idea. Emotions were all over the place. He could probably ask Cole about his Domain's side of it. Cole would tell him.

But see Cole would tell him since Cole liked him. And not everybody did. His previous strategy was based solely around surviving to escape, but now he had no idea how long he would have to endure here. Different game entirely, and frankly, he may have shot himself with an arrow (a different arrow, of course) with not establishing the liking beforehand. And the more they liked him, the less likely they would to stab him or let him die or just generally be an unhelpful curmudgeon (Blackwall).

So. He needed to get on that liking business. Normal manipulation was right out. There were Templars everywhere and Seekers and other mages. Somebody would pick up on it. It might have been possible if he was better at that kind of mind manipulation, but it wasn’t never really his thing per se. That would have crippled him of course—if the arrow didn’t—were he some other kind of demon, but dammit he was a Desire demon, and giving people want they wanted tended to make them like you. Or seduction in regards to Dorian who had seemed nice so far. Adaar wanted to seduce somebody, if only for the familiarity of it. That’s almost certainly what this was.

After the camp was set up, Blackwall came over to snap off the feathered end of the arrow and then push it through. It hurt of course. Most things here did. Adaar cried a little before getting bandaged up and was given a healing potion to sip since they didn’t have any healers in Crestwood yet. It would take a few days for the Inquisition to send agents to set up base, and even then, it wasn’t like they had a lot of mages to begin with. Which was of course his fault somehow despite the fact it hadn’t been his decision.

Maybe that’s why Cassandra didn’t want to be Inquisitor. It wasn’t being in command. It was being a giant scapegoat for all the world’s failures.

Adaar hated sleeping in tents due to the fact that he didn't actually sleep. It was a mortal thing. Instead he got to spend large chunks of time feeling trapped and confined by some stupid sheets of cloth which he could burn if he wanted to. Also his leg still hurt, and it was supposed to have stopped doing that a while ago which was very distressing.

He sighed and fell back against his bedroll. What wasn’t distressing here? He wished he could sleep so he could visit the Fade. That’s how it worked for mortals, right? Well, not dwarves, and mages were special and so very shiny in the Fade against the backdrop of the duller dreams of non-mages.

He cast a small ball of light to twitter about the tent and tried to ignore how alone and alien he felt right now. He could probably summon a shade if he wanted to, but shades weren’t much for talking. Maybe a wisp? Adaar sighed. No. Not with all the Rifts in the area. They wouldn’t respond, and even if they did, he wasn’t sure he wanted to let some impressionable wisp think that coming across the Veil was a good idea. No he would just lay here and be miserable.

He managed that for about a few minutes before giving up. Mortals couldn’t sleep sometimes, so that would be his excuse. (It had been for the past three nights as well. He tried to blame it on nerves.)

The fire had burned down to mostly embers at this point. Cole was on watch since everyone knew he didn’t need to sleep. Adaar had been hoping for stars, but the sky was still overcast from the magical rainstorm that had plagued the area. It was cold and damp and the ground squelched unpleasantly when he walked over to sit down next to Cole.

“So! Cole. Have you been enjoying your stay with the Inquisition?” Adaar asked brightly.

Cole turned to face him, face barely visible. “Yes. It’s better now than earlier. They shouldn’t have wanted the Templars. They had their job, but they didn't watch the watchers.”

Adaar’s face fell a little. Ah right. Yeah that. The whole allying with the Templars bit. At least Cole didn’t seem to be taking it personally. “No. They shouldn’t have,” he said. “I don’t like them at all.” Understatement of the year.

Cole nodded. “Good. You don’t need them.”

Adaar laughed bitterly. “We kinda do. We don’t have enough other people to help out.”

Cole tilted his head, expression still unreadable. “It wasn’t your fault for being scared.” Adaar startled, but Cole continued. “Prisoner before, how were you supposed to know they listen to your voice? What if we had the mages, saved them from being bound? No Templars lurking in the shadows, always suspicious. But you didn’t know. It’s not your fault.”

Adaar didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what to say or what to feel. This wasn’t going how he expected it to, but then when did it ever? He didn’t think he had been feeling guilty over allying with the Templars. Had he? They sat in silence for a while, Cole having turned back to stare past the fire, Adaar sitting with all of these stupid feelings. Cole did say it wasn’t his fault, so he should probably drop the matter entirely. Just forget about it. Anyway, the mages also knew about Fade-things, so he would have been under the same amount of suspicion anyway.

The next day he hadn’t forgotten about it and wasn’t feeling any better about the whole thing. It was stupid and obviously not as important of his plan of getting the ‘Inner Circle’ to like him and therefore not inevitably betray him. He had read Tale of the Champion. Hawke’s friends had turned on him rather easily against some measly demons. Well except Anders, but he was already possessed so that couldn’t be taken into account. But Anders did end up betraying their trust in the end, and it was only through Hawke's amazing power of friendship that he got everyone to side with him and not devolve into another round of backstabbing.

The book's version turned out to be different than the accounts acted out in the Fade. He wasn't sure why that surprised him, but it did. There was also significantly less kissing in the book version. He wondered if he could ask Varric about discrepencies without it sounding 'weird'.

He shook his head. He needed to focus on his plan.

Sera had decided he was okay after all that people-saving in the Hinterlands. If he supported the Jennies more he would win her over to ‘wouldn’t immediately kill Adaar if suddenly demon’. Solas liked to hear himself talk and seemed to like him despite also treating him like a sentient fungus. Cole he was already spirit-friends with, and Cassandra also seemed to like him, weirdly enough.

That still left over half the Inner Circle and then his advisors.

So, the Iron Bull, Blackwall, Vivienne, Varric, and Dorian.

Adaar’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Perhaps pie and/or other favored food offerings to people? Thoughtful gift things? Hawke had given thoughtful gift things. His eyes darted around the few stalls at Crestwood. Dead fish was probably not a thoughtful gift thing unless maybe for Sera.

The shopkeeper hovering nearby seemed to take his look as some sign of disfavor. “I’m sorry your Worship, but we don’t have a good stock right now. It’s not our fault! It’s that blasted dragon is what it is.”

He was across the entire market, and yet Adaar could still feel that spark of interest vibrate through the Iron Bull’s entire being. Well, well.

Adaar put on his serious frown. “Having dragon problems, huh?” he asked. “That sounds terrible. You should tell me more about it.”

“Oh it’s a terror your Worship. Breathes lightning, it does, at anything in its path. It’s been eating everything from our herds to our food stockpiles, even the cheese! We may have survived those damn, dirty demons, but if that dragon keeps up, we won’t have enough food left to survive winter,” the shopkeeper said, obviously wanting the people with the fancy weaponry to go kill the dragon.

“That does sound terrible boss,” the Iron Bull said, having crossed the entire market. He was radiating desire at this point. Adaar looked at him, but the Iron Bull didn’t press any further, just gave him puppy eyes. There were a thousand logical arguments the Iron Bull could make here about why the Inquisition should take down the dragon, but he wasn’t saying any of them for some reason. Adaar found it weirdly cute. Blackwall had also appeared by now with the most put-upon, resigned face.

Adaar turned back to the shopkeeper. “So, you wouldn’t happen to have any of those lightning-resistant tonics, would you?”

Chapter Text

The nice thing about dragons was that they were were unbiased. A dragon kills everyone equally, regardless of race or gender or being a demon. As much as Adaar had wanted to avoid the spotlight of murder, it was for a good cause. That cause being, of course, getting into the Iron Bull’s good graces. Adaar had sent word to Skyhold to wait for back-up for the rest of the Inner Circle and in the mean time had completed some more quests around. Cole was beaming, and Adaar felt better about things. Eventually he did have to fight that dragon, but Adaar had still mainly sticked to being ‘barrier’ guy way in the back where he was unlikely to get maimed. Nobody minded, except Dorian and Varric, who frankly did not want to track all the way to a mud-infested field to fight a dragon.

The dragon gave out one ear-splintering shriek before it died. Naturally then Adaar looted its corpse. Blackwall gave him a look when he did that. Adaar was starting to feel like Blackwall was simply a lost cause at this point, but the important thing was that Adaar was going to do his best. That was what really won the day according to Tale of the Champion.

Besides, killing the dragon was part of conquering Crestwood. He hadn’t left any problems behind in the Hinterlands except for, according to the Iron Bull, another dragon, and he wasn’t going to leave any lingering problems behind here. Those would grow and fester and then the next thing you know, some uppity Hunger demon has eaten half of your demesne, and three Rage demons have come to complain about the stench.

The only thing left to do was talk to the Gray Warden contact. One damp cave and near-death experience later, they were all there with Hawke and one paranoid Warden named Alistair.

Hawke held his hands up. “It’s okay Alistair! It’s just us.” He gave a winning smile. “Please don’t stab the Inquisitor.”

Adaar nodded. “I would like to avoid getting stabbed. It’s one of my favorite hobbies.” Adaar had not been as successful in that as he would have liked. Sadly enough, he was getting resigned to the fate of his eventual demise in the mortal world.

Alistair sheathed his sword and opened his mouth before pausing, eyes darting to Blackwall who was in his full Warden armor that Adaar had got for him hoping it would make Blackwall feel better, which it didn’t the bastard. “You have a Gray Warden with you?” he asked, eyes brightening.

Blackwall coughed and shifted his feet. “Warden Blackwall,” he replied gruffly.

“You’re Blackwall?” Alistair smiled. “Uh, Duncan, my mentor, he spoke of you.”

Blackwall’s face did a very interesting contortion. “Ah. Yes. Duncan. Of course… Good man?”

The Iron Bull gave Blackwall a curious look, but Alistair seemed to miss it.

“I’m Alistair, of course. I’ve ah, already been introduced, so… It’s an honor to meet all of you! I wish it was someplace nicer.”

“I think we all wish it was someplace nicer,” Adaar said. “So. Fought the archdemon?” Adaar asked, wishing someone would explain what an archdemon is. Seemed pretty important, one of those things people tended to know.

Alistair nodded. “Yes, that was me,” he said in a voice of someone who was asked this all the time. “War, betrayal, darkspawn, all lots of fun, and made for excellent stories I’m sure. Nobody cares about that anymore. I answer to Warden-Commander Clarel now, just like everyone else.”

No explanation. Fuck. “So. Darkspawn and Corypheus. Connected in some way?”

Alistair nodded again. “When Hawke killed Corypheus, the Wardens thought the matter resolved. But archdemons don’t die from simple injury. I feared Corypheus might have the same power, so I started to investigate. I found hints but no proof. And then, not long after, every Warden in Orlais began to hear the Calling.”

Hawke narrowed his eyes. “That’s not the best-case scenario here,” he said, wishing his brother and friend were not actually Gray Wardens right now as they were probably being driven up the wall insane. “You know, this sort of information, I would classify that as need-to-know.”

“It was a secret!” Alistair said. “A very dangerous one. You know, I do actually try to keep a few of my oaths to the Wardens.”

Adaar felt very lost. “So. This Calling. Do you mind elaborating further on this?”

Alistair sighed. “Well… Wardens are tied to the darkspawn. We’re connected somehow… and eventually that connection poisons you. You get bad dreams, and then you start to hear the music. It calls to you. Quiet at first, and then so loud you can’t bear it. At that point, you say farewell and go into the deep roads to die fighting. ‘In death, sacrifice’.”

Hawke asked, “And every Gray Warden in Orlais is hearing that right now? They all think they’re dying?”

Well that wasn’t good.

“Yes. I think Corypheus caused this somehow. If all the Wardens die, who will stop the next Blight? That’s what has them so terrified. And I’ve seen a Blight. It’s not good. It’s the opposite of good.”

Hawke pursed his lisps. “It might not just be the fake Calling,” he said thoughtfully. “In the Deep Roads, there were some Wardens that being subtly mind-controlled by Corypheus. It was very clear that he was impairing their sense of judgment and might not otherwise have tried to free him,” he said, which was very important information and surely shed some light on the situation at hand.

Adaar wrinkled his face. “So… if all the Wardens are hearing this. Does that include you? Oh right, and you too Blackwall?”

“Unfortunately, yes. When I’m talking or fighting, I can almost ignore it. But whenever things are quiet, I can hear it. It’s like a song you can’t get out of your head. Damned annoying, frankly.”

Adaar nodded. “Ah. So like Sera’s theme song?”

Blackwall puffed up his chest. “I do not fear the Calling,” he said in his ‘hero’ voice, “and worrying about it only gives it power. Anything Corypheus does will only strengthen my resolve.”

Adaar didn’t think that was exactly how it worked, but then he didn’t know how Wardens worked either, so it was probably legit. “So they are all scared?”

“For good reason. No words can properly express how horrific a Blight is, and if Wardens hadn’t stopped it, there’d be no more Thedas,” Alistair said with a sad face. “Warden-Commander Clarel proposed some drastic things- blood magic and such to summon a massive demon army- to prevent further Blights before we die. I protested, maybe too loudly, and Clarel sent guards and… well, here I am. Wardens were gathering here, in the Western Approach. It’s an old Tevinter ritual tower. I’m going to investigate. I could use some help.”

“Ah, yes. Demons. Just… can’t trust any of them,” Adaar said.

Hawke nodded. “Or those dastardly blood mages. Yup. Any of them. Always… Always bad, never a single good one among them. Just… just bad,” he said, voice strangled.

There was a long and very awkward pause. Alistair sniffed while Hawke shuffled back and forth. Adaar scritched his head.

“So uh, we should probably head out to that,” Adaar said.

“Yup. Right away,” Alistair said. “The sooner the better. I mean, the more we wait on this, the worse it’s going to get, so the Western Approach should be our top priority.”

Adaar nodded. “Absolutely. I will get right on that.”



There were still a few Rifts left to take care of as they were going much faster with a full party, and then he would have helped every single person in Crestwood. Cole was very pleased, and strangely enough, so was Sera. Adaar noted this for future reference. Had he the option to go back, he might have waited helping everyone in the Hinterlands for Sera’s approval, which for some stupid reason, didn’t seem to work retroactively. It made absolutely no sense, because he had still helped everyone. Was it because she wasn’t personally there to witness it? Make sure he wasn’t cackling evilly all the while when he was returning lost druffalos?

Adaar still didn’t understand mortals. Ugh.

The Rift they were currently battling exploded out more demons, some of them dangerous close to Varric. A Terror demon screeched and pounced, knocking Varric over. Adaar panicked and instinctively flung out his left hand, trying to reach for the Rift to stun the demons, buy Varric some time.

Naturally, because this was his lot in life, Adaar missed. Adaar flung that energy out right into the open field, and it exploded, rupturing all of the demons with corrosive Fade energy. Every last one of the demons screamed in pure agony before shattering into essence.

Adaar’s heart skipped a beat. Every. Last. Demon.

Ha ha. Hahahaha. Wasn’t that curious. The thing on his hand could explode demons. He was a demon! And it exploded demons. Oh my. Oh dear. Oh no no no.

Solas’s stupid face beamed. “Is that new? You can disrupt fade essence?” he asked excitedly to the demon with the demon-killing mark on his hand.

“Huh?” Adaar vocalized intelligently, trying to cover up his internal crisis. “Uh. Hm.”

Solas nodded. “I had thought there might have been side effects after Corypheus tried to rip the Anchor from your hand, but since it hadn’t done anything before, I decided not to mention it.”

Adaar mouth moved a few times. “You didn’t- Why wouldn’t you- Right, so if it can explode… things, um, is it really safe to be on me?”

Solas shook his head. “Unfortunately no. It did try to kill you when you first received it and almost succeeded. Had it not been for my timely help, it definitely would have killed you. In all actuality, I am surprised you have been doing as well as you have.”

Adaar started inexplicably giggling.



It took a week to get back in which Adaar was able to keep his panicking to a minimum. He tried to think of positive thoughts! Like how Josephine who was amazing had been ordering all sorts of different pies because she noticed things like that, and frankly the Inquisition didn’t deserve her, and maybe she should take a day off for herself once in a while.

Adaar had finally gotten to try a few pies earlier. He learned that not all pies were made equal, but sour cherry pie was delicious. He’d probably punch a Hunger demon for one. Not a large Hunger demon, but maybe like a small Hunger demon. Definitely a Sloth demon. Sloth demons were so easy to steal from.

When they did finally get back, Adaar began to his ‘get people to like me’ plans in motion because emotional repression was the way to go. Adaar managed to coax some opera tickets from a visiting noble to present to Josephine. She greatly approved but for some stupid reason declined. Adaar assured her that Skyhold wouldn’t burn down in two weeks. Josephine argued that she was needed, so Adaar brought up that taking downtime is important for mortals and helps them be more efficient in their tasks afterward, and that Val Royeaux had all sorts of sweets and tiny cakes.

Josephine still was being stubborn, so Adaar sighed and then said that if she felt that badly about it, maybe she could work on getting connections there from nobles since there were a lot of nobles in Val Royeux, and that worked and she finally agreed to take the time ‘off’.

Adaar then gave his special order schematics to Dagna who was very enthusiastic about it. Afterward he went and asked Solas a bunch of questions. Solas, being the bastard he was, only wanted to talk about the Fade which frankly Adaar didn’t need a refresher course in. Adaar made interested sounding noises in all the right places though, having practiced active listening, and Solas’s approval steadily increased.

Cassandra wanted some people dead for noble reasons. Dorian wanted some people dead due to personal background reasons, but they were also Venatori, so win/win, especially if he brought along the Iron Bull who always loved to kill Venatori. Blackwall wanted darkspawn dead, which were in the Storm Coast, which also had Warden artifacts. Adaar nodded to himself. He might be able to lure Blackwall over with that alone. And as the bow would take some time to complete due to the special ingredient he wanted, he took a trip to the Storm Coast and then got distracted by other quests, because it was becoming a habit by this point, and it made him feel better to know he had cleared out an area and didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Which was of course why afterward, Adaar took Cassandra, Dorian, and Blackwall with him back down to the Hinterlands to murder people and pick up more Warden artifacts.

They all greatly approved, and they returned in good spirits.

As it turned out, Vivienne didn’t actually want anyone dead but did want some arcane tomes that were lost when the Circles rebelled. At least that was an area he didn’t have to ask stupid questions on. Not that it wouldn’t be interesting to get a mage’s perspective from this end on it, when the mage wasn’t aware that Adaar was a demon, but Circles were definitely an area he was familiar with. For obvious reasons, he would not be asking Vivienne any of this, because Vivienne was a genius and was on the ‘suspecting Adaar of something’ list.

One of the tomes, of course, was in the Hinterlands. Adaar cursed for a bit because he had just got back from there, so he went back by himself to go to the already cleared-out tower to pick up a book he was sure wasn’t there before.

Then it was all the way back where Scout Jim gave him a message that he needed to go to the War Room because Josephine had returned, and lo and behold, his advisers had decided to pile on even more areas for him to clear out, all the while giving him Significant Looks. And then there were distant missions with spies and politics and manipulation of delicate forces, all of which required an advanced knowledge of those subjects, and all of which they wanted him to decide on because they were all sadistic bastards who probably wanted to see the world burn down to the ground.



Adaar clutched his gift to his chest, feeling very pleased with himself as he walked up the tavern stairs. Being a demon, it was hard for him to come up with things for people that they weren’t actively or subconsciously wanting, since that’s how it just worked. Everything was reflections of the mortal world, no real original creations. But he had put together some creativity and some thinking, and he had come up with an original gift all by himself that he was certain Sera would like, even if she hadn’t ever directly thought about it.

He took a moment to bask in his genius and improvement in basic mortal skills and to pride himself on a job well-done before entering Sera’s room.

“I have a gift!” he announced happily, holding out the bow to her.

Sera rolled her eyes but took the bow. “Yeah. Like the other bows you’ve been giving me. Appreciate it though.”

Adaar shook his head. “No no, this bow is special! I had it made just for you. It has a special ability I think you will like.”

Sera squinted at him. “What like a fire thing? Exploding arrows?” she asked.

Adaar just grinned. “No. Bees!”

Sera stared at him. “…bees?”

Adaar nodded. “Yes, bees. You fire the bow, and then the bow makes the arrows explode bees at people.”

Sera paused. “You got me a bow that shoots bees at people?” she asked slowly. Her face slowly split into a horrific grin. “You are the best!” She grabbed the bow and started cackling wildly.

Yup. Adaar was a genius.



Adaar checked off ‘bow gift’ on his list of devious plans in his diary. He still had no idea what to do for Leliana or Cullen. Both terrified him, but terror was not conductive to a friendship-building atmosphere in the mortal world. He frowned. Nor was it really that conductive in the Fade either. Nobody liked Terror demons. Fear demons were alright sometimes since they tended to be knowledgeable and were able to be placated with scary things seen in the mortal world, but Terror demons were just downright unreasonable.

He sat down at one of the empty tables on the second floor, listening to everyone talk and drink and eat below. The Iron Bull preferred to stay here with all of his Chargers, but they were currently out on a mission to check up on Redcliffe.

He swung his feet back and forth, humming, when suddenly Cole sat down next to him.

Cole already liked him, but then, maintaining the approval and thus friendship of people was important.

Also he liked Cole. Cole made him feel less lonely - or honestly less stupid since it seemed that no matter how much he tried to learn there was always more that everyone knew that he didn’t.

“How goes your epic quest to help everyone in Skyhold?” he asked brightly.

Cole smiled back. “He no longer drinks alone,” he said happily, “and I helped another to be found hidden. Safe to be around people. They like him because they don’t know.” Adaar frowned for a moment, but Cole shook his head. “He’s not you,” he clarified before tilting his head. “Are you still hurting?” he asked.

Adaar titled his head inquisitively.

“Dull and docile. She was bound, and then they were bound. None of them wanted it, but no one noticed,” he said. Cole paused. “You can’t be what you are not,” he said unhappily.

Adaar flinched. “Can we not talk about it?”

Cole rocked a little. “I’m sorry. I would help if I knew how. It’s blinding.”

It took a moment, and then Adaar lifted his hand. “This?”

Cole nodded. “It’s hard to see you against it,” he said. “Other people are easier.” He paused. “Easier to see. Not easier to help. And some don’t want to be helped. I don’t understand that either.”

“I’ll be fine Cole,” Adaar said uneasily, but Cole just frowned, entire face pulling down in dejection.

Adaar scooted a bit closer. “This is good enough,” he said honestly. “Just hearing about what you’re doing and… and everything else, with everything else, it just really comforts me.”

“I don’t understand,” Cole said. “But if this helps, then that’s good.” He paused for a moment. “It’s hard to see you,” he said again, guilt in every word.

Should he? He didn’t quite understand either, but he had been watching Cole, trying to mimic what he did, so maybe? Adaar took a fortifying breath and scooted a bit closer. He hesitated a moment longer, but then he put an arm around Cole’s shoulders.

He didn’t know if it helped. That wasn’t his Domain.

They didn’t talk for a while after that, just listened to the ambiance of the tavern and Maryden’s various songs. Only a third of them was Sera’s theme song this time. Eventually the tavern started to clear out, and Cole vanished, most likely to help other people.



The Fallow Mire was the closest area they wanted him to go to. Apparently there were missing soldiers kidnapped by Avvar, and instead of using any of their own Inquisition forces, they just had to send Adaar down.

Blackwall was busy doing something for the Wardens. At least he said he was, but Adaar knew he wanted to finish his latest batch of wooden toys for children. Vivienne was likewise involved with the remains of the Circles. Varric wasn’t busy, but honestly he hadn’t seen Hawke in so long and was just so happy to talk to Hawke again, that Adaar just couldn’t bring himself to tear Varric away.

Sera normally hated gross outdoors, but she demanded to come along. Adaar figured it was because of the amazing gift he gave her, mostly on account of how she kept snickering to herself and occasionally muttering “bees” under her breath. The Iron Bull was back from the Chargers mission and was available, as was Solas who was interested in the applications of the Fade there and oh great apparently the Veil was thin there too.

He knew it was illogical, but he always had this nagging fear that exposure to the Fade would weaken his glamour.

Cassandra said she would come if she was needed, but Adaar used his magic demon powers to pick up on the fact that she didn’t want to come, and it had everything to do with the newest chapter of Swords and Shields that Varric had written for her. Thus Cassandra would not be coming. The only one left to check up on would be Dorian.

Even though their first personal talk went well, and even though Dorian had approved of the murdering of personal background characters that probably would never be explained, Dorian was still at best neutral towards Adaar. It was a shame since Dorian was charming and witty and very well-dressed, and Adaar maybe wanted to get a bit closer to Dorian.

He still didn’t know what he did exactly to make Dorian suspicious of him. It wasn’t wanting things, or a large amount of not-wanting things. Cole might know. It probably had something to do with a hurt since Cole tended to follow Dorian around like an upset puppy.

Dorian was in his usual spot in the library, glaring at the books. He had complained previously about the lack of proper information available in the Inquisition library. Maybe Josephine could arrange something? They were a large force now, something Adaar actively worked to forget on a daily basis because then he would need to curl up on the roof again.

“So,” Adaar said. “I’m putting together another team. Fallow Mire this time. There are some scouts that need rescuing, and I will need some help.”

Dorian looked over at him, one eyebrow elegantly raised. “And naturally you thought of me to trek around in another mud-infested cesspit of Ferelden.”

“Well. Yes. But actually this swamp has a lot of undead. Veil thin and whatnot, and it has a lot of ambient necrotic energy, and you are our most expert necromancer.”

Dorian lifted his chin. “I am quite magnificent, yes. Thank you for noticing.”

“Exactly. You are the perfect man for this job. Hopefully that will make up for the amount of mud we will be experiencing and inevitably the large amount of mosquitoes.” Mosquitoes never went after Adaar, but that wasn’t something he ever mentioned to others.

 Dorian tutted. “Why do they force you to complete these matters?” he asked. “Don’t they have people of their own?”

“See, that what I’ve been saying for a while now. But nope. Everything has to be done by me.”

“Still. All that mud. Can’t you find someone more Ferelden to run down with you?”

Adaar was growing very confused because while Dorian didn’t want to go, he didn’t not want to go. He wasn’t picking anything up from Dorian at all. This was really throwing him for a loop since literally all of his interactions since he got here were based around poking around in people’s heads. Perhaps Dorian had some sort of natural mind shield, except no, Cole could poke around all he wanted, and Adaar had picked upon on things from him earlier. This was very distressing.

“Not really, at least no other necromancers. I supposed I could learn necromancy I guess, and then that problem would be solved, but I don’t think there’s enough time for that before heading out, no matter what Leliana seems to think.”

“Thinking of picking up a specialty of your own, Inquisitor?” Dorian asked lightly. “I’m surprised you don’t have one already.”

“I could always learn more magic,” he said. Dorian’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, and for some reason, Adaar thought that that might not have been the right answer. Maybe if he had said something different, but there was no way of that happening now. He wasn’t Cole.

Why did he get the feeling that everything he said to Dorian was the wrong thing to say?

“There are other specializations offered, which are all strangely ones you guys already have. Wouldn’t they want me to have something more unique? You know, to diversify the team? That sounds like a better idea to me, but my advisers just keep dismissing my requests, which also seems odd to me because they made me in charge, but then I’m not actually in charge? They say urgent political matters need my attention and that I need to start thinking seriously about Halamshiral, but then just throw me outside to investigate more bandits or bits of rock. I think they just needed someone for everyone to yell at so they could sit back and twiddle their fingers and laugh knowingly,” Adaar babbled.

It won an amused grin from Dorian. “That is how leadership goes.”

Adaar nodded, and almost turned to leave before mentally slapping himself. “Oh. Right. So we are heading out tomorrow morning. Hopefully all the corpses will make up for it.”

Dorian hummed. “We will see, won’t we?”

Chapter Text

The Fallow Mire was swimming with undead in a very literal manner as it was mostly a swamp or bog or fen. He didn’t know the difference. He didn’t want to know the difference, but if things continued the way they were going, he would become intimately familiar with every variation of soggy ground.

Sera’s entire face was scrunched up into a ball of determination. She may be hating every second of this, but dammit, she wanted to shoot bees at something.

Meanwhile in the background, the Iron Bull apparently did have really strong blood because all of the mosquitoes were focusing their efforts on devouring him alive. This greatly improved morale among everyone else (except Solas who to be fair wasn’t paying attention) who were not being eaten by mosquitoes.

Dorian and Sera were doing a running commentary on how terrible the ground was, the bugs were, the general traveling conditions were, and so on. Despite the numerous complaints, Adaar still had yet to sense anything from him again.

But neither had Cole, who had occasionally given Dorian quizzical looks before turning away, seeming oddly hurt. Well at least it just wasn’t him. That made him feel oddly better.

He stepped on something slimy that burst underneath his foot with a loud squelching noise. He hoped it was a mushroom. He didn’t want to look.

“If we light these beacons, we should create a safe path for us through the swamp,” Solas said.

“After fighting hordes of undead.”

“That’s why it will become a safe path through the swamp.”

“Or we could not light the beacons and still have a safe-ish path but without fighting the hordes of undead.”

“I think you are missing the point here.”

“My point is not fighting hordes of undead. We only have so many healing potions, there’s angry Avvar ahead, and none of the scouts want to go into the bug-infested swamps. My point: not fighting hordes of undead.”

Unsurprisingly, they fought hordes of undead. Hooray.

Dorian had resurrected an undead minion from a collapsed undead corpse. Adaar decided to not think about this too hard.

“There appears to be more corpses here than in Crestwood,” Solas mused. “I take it you found mostly spirits and demons there?”

“There were still a number of angry corpses but pretty much yes,” Adaar said. He had stepped in something again which was sticking to his leg. He was vigorously not looking at this point. He had already made that mistake.

“Strange. There are roughly the same number of bodies and Rifts here,” Solas said.

Sera made snorting noises in the background. Adaar turned around, but she wasn’t paying attention to them. Apparently a bug had flown up her nose.

“It might have been the significantly larger Rift you found, allowing spirits to pass through safer into the waking world.”

“Or it could be the significantly greater number of corpses here,” Dorian said. His minion burbled thoughtfully whose head was hanging on entirely through necromancy and thus wobbled as it made noise.

“It makes no sense,” Sera said from behind them, having apparently gotten over her bug problem. “Don’t make sense. Couldn’t be this many people living here so then not this many dead things. It’s a bog. Who lives in a bog?”

Oh so it was a bog. Not that that changed anything. It had just been bothering him.

“Bog,” Dorian repeated quietly as if testing out the word for himself.

“Bogs preserve corpses. This is likely the accumulation of many generations,” Solas said.

Sera made a face. “Corpses have to come from somewhere. Still a bog. Gotta have people in a bog to die in a bog.”

Bog was starting to not sound like a real word anymore.

Solas sighed dramatically. “Inquisitor please close the Rift.”

Adaar giggled. “Can’t it just stay there? It’ll be fine. I’m sure nothing bad will happen.”

Solas rolled his eyes. “Look I know I told you the mark was unsafe-”

“At best. Your words were ‘definitely would have killed you’. It wasn’t like this before. It couldn’t explode demons.”

“But you are fine, are you not?”

“You mentioned lethality. You said you were surprised I hadn’t keeled over.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You meant that.”

“It hasn’t killed you yet,” Solas said as if that was supposed to make him feel better. “You wield the mark with great success. If it would have killed you, it would have been back at Haven when Corypheus attempted to remove it from you. It seems to have harmonized with your magic energy.”

Adaar gives Solas and then the Rift a suspicious look. On one hand, Solas was probably bullshitting about something, even if it was originally his favorite orb. That was his Thing. But-

This did give him an idea. Just something to plan for in the future, just in case.

He sighed and lifted his hand.

The Rift exploded. Adaar didn’t explode. He counted this as a major victory.

The angry large Avvar man shouted some kind of challenge. Adaar wasn’t paying attention, focusing his energy on barriers around everyone. As it turned out, his strike team didn’t mind him not leaping into the fray with the rest of them. In fact, they appreciated his focus on constantly spamming barriers to keep everyone safe, made them feel better about going into certain peril. Adaar had also branched out into hexing enemies, something he wasn’t sure if considered appropriate before, but after having seen Dorian inflict terror-induced madness into enemies decided that it was probably alright. The Iron Bull particularly enjoyed the hexes, but then the Iron Bull actually liked fighting alongside mages, something he would never admit, liked fighting next to raw energy. It made him think of dragons.

Meanwhile Sera had finally found targets that weren’t corpses or demons, neither of which responded to bees. Humans responded to bees though, and Sera’s mad cackling could be heard over the sounds of carnage. The two of them made quick work of the Avvar challenger dealing far more damage than everyone else, and afterward Adaar found the key to the room of soldiers. They greatly appreciated being saved, as most mortals do. Cole was very happy with this.

Afterward they decided to camp for the night in the ruins rather than trek back through all that mud again. Adaar crunched on some hard biscuits mostly to appease the group that he was eating something and partly to stall going into his tent for as long as possible. Adaar had managed to convince the group that as Inquisitor he should be allowed his own singular tent. He didn’t want anyone to notice that he still hadn’t figured out how to turn his body off like the others did. At least Varric wasn’t here. Dwarves were just creepy when they slept. If they were off, and they weren’t in the Fade, then were where they? Even the other mortals didn’t know.

Eventually he settled in, pulling out a deck of cards from his pack. There were only so many rounds of solitary card games one could play before going completely insane, and Adaar was well on the way to figuring out the exact number.

Nobody was happy when Adaar insisted they stay longer, but Adaar was determined to clear out the Fallow Mire so he would never have to return again ever. Skywatcher had volunteered to escort the soldiers to someplace safer. He had always wanted to meet an Avvar, or more specifically a friendly one that hadn’t challenged him to death over some missing soldiers and misplaced pride. He might have tried back in his Fade days, of which Adaar was starting to suspect were his last Fade days, but it was hard to get close with holdspirits nearby.

Holdspirits took their jobs seriously. There were very few places in the mortal world that didn’t actively detest fade beings, and fewer that would work with them and call them friend. As such there was a large amount of loyalty, and holdspirits defended their chosen family fiercely.

Or so Adaar had heard. He hadn’t been stupid enough to try.

In any case, it had been oddly refreshing to hear someone refer to him as the Herald of anything other than Andraste, and personally if it was his choice, he would rather have the Lady of the Skies on his side. He sincerely doubted the Maker had anything to do with this.

He recruited Skywatcher, something that made him feel happy. Most of the agents he recruited were more out of convenience as were his companions, but he actively liked Skywatcher, something that excited him. Not that he didn’t like his companions, some of them were growing on him, and some of them he already liked, but this was a thing right from the start.

After killing more dead bodies than Redcliffe had living ones and a horde more of demons and an angry abomination they found yet another bear which seriously? It’s a bog. What was a bear doing in a bog? Coincidentally, the bear attacked them. They attacked back as people are wont to do when being attacked by a surprise bear, and Solas blasted the bear back with the sheer power of the Fade.

Unfortunately, he blasted the bear back too far into the waters, which alerted once again every single angry corpse in the area.

After a very strained battle, Adaar watched as the Iron Bull mopped up the last of the wounded stragglers when suddenly Sera shrieked from behind him. Everyone quickly whirled around to face the attacker.

There by the edge of the water was a very determined and also very dead horse. It wasn’t attacking them. Rather it was pawing at one of the dead corpses. Adaar couldn’t tell, because he was not an expert on horse facial expressions, and even if he was, the flesh had long since rotted off of the skull rendering the finer details of emotive facial expressions moot, but the undead monstrosity seemed to be pouting.

“What’s it doing?” Sera asked, hand gripping her bow tightly.

“Well it’s not killing us,” Adaar said.

“Is that all you are concerned about? What can kill you?” Sera asked.

“Frankly, at this point, yes,” Adaar said.

Solas regarded the dead horse with intrigue. “Whatever spirit is trapped within must have great ties to the physical world.”

Adaar rolled his eyes. “Or it could be possessing a corpse. Corpses are easy to possess since they don’t fight back. Makes it a lot easier.”

Adaar had never tried possessing a corpse because he never wanted into murder cesspit world. Even if he did though, a corpse just seemed like the last thing he would possess. They were rotting and gross and usually had maggots, but then apparently he was ‘picky’ and ‘wouldn’t go far in life with an attitude like that’.

Jokes on them; he’s in the mortal world now. He would gladly switch with any of them though. Well, maybe not Envy demons just to spite them. Or some of the Pride demons because that would require the Anchor on his hand, and he didn’t trust a number of them with even more power.

Dorian looked wistful. “It’s in remarkable condition, all things considered. And it even has kept a sense of purpose.”

“Remarkable condition?” Adaar asked. “It’s dead.”

“Yes but in a very noble way.”

Sera and the Iron Bull were looking at Dorian in that same way someone might look at someone who had freshly sprouted tentacles from their eyesockets: abject and dawning horror.

“It’s possessed,” the Iron Bull said slowly.

Dorian waved a hand dismissively. “Not entirely. It has yet to start talking or attacking us, so whatever is in there doesn’t have enough sapience to be truly considered a spirit.”

The Iron Bull turned to look at Adaar for likely confirmation. He was looking to Adaar as an expert source. The Iron Bull trusted Adaar’s input on Fade things. Adaar did not swish his tail because it was trapped underneath his clothes, but dammit he wanted to.

“That’s probably the case,” Adaar said. He couldn’t pick up much from the horse, so whatever it was had to be weak. “It’s probably a strong wisp that got lost.” Wisps tended to do that. They were very impressionable, tending to believe they really were whatever they got stuck into. For some reason, they tended to be particularly attracted to cats.

Adaar turned back to look at Dorian. He had crossed the area and was currently petting the dead horse. The actively dead and rotting horse.

Adaar’s estimation of Dorian’s sanity greatly decreased.

“Dorian. It’s a dead horse,” Sera said.

“No it’s not. It’s a unicorn,” Dorian said in complete denial.

“That’s a fucking sword shoved through its head!” The Iron Bull greatly disapproved of Dorian’s statement.

“Semantics,” Dorian said. He sighed wistfully, gazing deep into its eye sockets.

Cole smiled. “It likes you. You are a safe.”

“That’s nice Cole, but we should really just get moving,” the Iron Bull said wanting very much away from the actively dead and rotting horse which Adaar was in complete agreement with. Dorian sighed but nodded, stepping away before resuming his normal face.

Dorian may have hid the inner recesses of his mind, and Dorian might have been a truly trained liar expert in hiding his true feelings, but Adaar had a suspicion. It was the kind of suspicion that led to invention of Sera’s bow.

His eye twitched slightly. It was so gross. There was an odor.

“There’s no reason we couldn’t keep it,” Adaar said.

“Oh for- really Inquisitor?” Solas asked.

“It’s not that big of a deal. I’ll be fine,” Dorian said exasperatedly.

“You’re right,” Adaar said cheerfully. “It isn’t that big of a deal, so it would be no trouble at all to take it with us.”

The Iron Bull and Sera disapproved. Adaar had no idea if Dorian approved, but he liked to think that he did.

Chapter Text

Adaar trudged back. He was looking forward to collapsing in a bath and getting the seventeen layers of bog off of him. As it turned out, there were very pressing missives waiting for him, several updates missions he would need to look over yesterday, and a private message from Leliana about a particularly ornery noble who was maybe thinking about donating a shitload of gold, maybe not, and if Adaar could persuade him to do so, that would be really nice.

It was from Leliana, not Josephine. Adaar squinted at it. Just what kind of ‘persuade’ was Leliana hinting at?

He sighed. It would have to be a quick bath then. Or a ‘bath’, just dissipate his form enough to get all the mud off, though he would still need to change clothes. “Why does everyone expect me to do everything?” he asked with a whine.

“You did solve the Breach with a wave of your hand,” Dorian said, ‘bog unicorn’ in tow. “You’ve gotten the poor populace confused now.”

In the end, the noble didn’t need any ‘persuasion’ to donate the money, which frankly Adaar was pleased with. He usually didn’t try to ‘persuade’ people to do things unless it was an emergency, like someone trying to make him the head of a massive country-spanning organization. And look how well that turned out!

The noble had been ornery, but mostly after a basic meet-and-greet, some handshaking, and nodding about how the noble was indeed a noble and thus an important person in whatever country he came from (Adaar didn’t check or really care), the noble’s desire for importance had been soothed.

Most of the nobles Adaar had met were along those lines. Wanted to be important, wanted to be remembered in history, wanted to do something really cool. All of which easily tied into donating to a massive organization. It wasn’t too different from the work he used to do, except instead of siphoning off modest amounts of life force, he just took money. And sometimes put a placeholder in the nobles he really didn’t like for future collection.

Adaar mentally went through his list of Inquisitor Things To Do, which was always updating, and figured he had time for a small personal mission.

The best person to ask was probably Cole, so he headed to the upper floor of the tavern. Cole was missing. That wasn’t too unusual; Cole was often busy doing tasks around Skyhold or vanishing into the Hinterlands for various reasons.

He had his hand on the doorknob before he caught something, a very interesting want. He turned to look at it, but there was a floor in the way. So, he walked down the stairs—like a normal mortal would—and then peered around to find the source.

As it was, it turned out to be the Iron Bull. He caught his gaze and grinned widely. “Inquisitor! Come, have a drink,” he said, waving him over.

He should have figured it was the Iron Bull as the want in question had to do with very horny thoughts about dragons. Adaar had been there in the field fighting dragons with the Iron Bull, so this was not new news. Not that Adaar judged; he had seen far weirder sexual desires in the Fade. As far as kinks came, dragons were actually fairly normal.

The Iron Bull seemed some level of intoxicated, but the gesture was still meant in friendship. Or not quite friendship. Information gathering? Very similar to his approach with Cole. And the Iron Bull had been friendly with Cole despite the fact that everyone knew what Cole was. Not that Adaar decided whether or not he liked a person depending on how they treated Cole, because that would be biased and petty.

“Alright,” Adaar said, walking over there even though that took more time, and settled down in a chair. Adaar had been hard at work at building up approval points and accepting his gesture would probably go a long ways. The drink was a clear, liquid-like water, and mortals usually had fond thoughts about alcohol though Adaar had yet to try. He eyed it curiously before taking what could be considered a reasonable swallow.

And Adaar abruptly spat out the entire thing, gagging. Oh it burned. It burned everywhere.

“Oh come on!” the Iron Bull said exasperatedly.

Adaar gagged. “Why would you do that?” He wanted to remove his tongue.

“It’s fun!” the Iron Bull said. Adaar’s estimation of the Iron Bull’s sanity levels greatly decreased. Mortals were disappointing him left and right these days. “Puts some chest on your chest.”

“Is that what happened?” Adaar asked, glancing at the very impressive chest on display.

The Iron Bull looked sadly at Adaar’s mug of poison. He was probably considering still drinking it which was very gross.

“Why would anyone want to do that?” Adaar asked in pain. And mortals desired it all the time. Mortals were insane. They made no sense. The Iron Bull took a long swig from his own mug, thankfully. Adaar’s eyes burned just watching.

The Iron Bull slammed the mug down and smiled at Adaar with very sharp teeth. “For fun. For competition. And more importantly, to celebrate dragons.”

Adaar did a celebratory fist pump (learned from Sera). “To dragons,” he said, “and to purposefully poisoning yourself for entertainment.”

Despite or maybe because of the snark, the Iron Bull laughed again, loud and vibrant. It did things to Adaar’s amorphous insides.

Keep it together. Ben-Hassrath, who knows you are a demon, would not be interested. Also, likely insane.

He looked around for a glass of water, some small rolls, anything to get the taste out of his mouth.

Adaar had decided to at least sit with the Iron Bull during his celebration and listen to him talk about dragons. Consequently, Adaar also knew a lot more about the Iron Bull’s thing for dragons. In lieu of alcohol, Adaar had opted for a nice fruit juice instead with far less burning sensations, even though those had quickly faded into a dull tingle.

After, Cole still had yet to show up, so Adaar decided on the second-best person to ask and decided to head to the library.

He did not make it far as a scout came running up to him with wide eyes.

“Please tell me a Rift didn’t open up in the cellar again,” Adaar said.

“No ser,” the scout said breathlessly. “We got a new arrival, and you will never believe who it is.”

Right there at the gates was the surliest looking elf Adaar had ever seen. He had white hair and lyrium singing through his skin and the most annoyed expression on his face.

It was Fenris. Fenris had come to the Inquisition and was now looking right at him.

Adaar held up the glowing hand, the one that made everyone go ‘oh hey you are That Guy Who Can Solve Our Problems.’ “I suppose you are looking for Hawke?” he asked. He didn’t need to because it was right there in Fenris’ mind with a very long list of complaints to be said to Hawke in private.

Fenris nodded.

Fenris. Was it rude to peek into minds to check discrepancies between the various versions he had heard of the story including the bits he picked up from Varric and Hawke’s minds? It was probably rude. Though if by meeting Hawke, thoughts and memories just so happened to surface, well then that would hardly be his fault now would it?

Adaar let his outer mind peel and sprawl across the grounds, flitting past people until he found Hawke. He was in Varric’s room at the moment, ironically complaining about Tales of the Champion and how Cassandra wouldn’t stop swooning.

“He’s probably with Varric at the moment,” Adaar said off-handedly. “It’s hard to separate them.” Always good to have a reason for strange leaps of intuition. Anything was better than his ‘it made a pinging noise’ excuse.

“Then proceed,” Fenris said. He had been traveling for weeks now, was very tired, was very angry at Hawke, and wanted to be done with all of this.

It was a short walk, and Adaar was filled with nervous energy. It wasn’t like he was a fan or anything of their romance. That would be weird. He just wanted to fact-check a bit.

Adaar had planned on knocking, but apparently Fenris had no such ideas. Varric and Hawke jumped as Fenris entered the room, startling, and then Hawke noticed exactly who it was. He shrunk backwards.

“Oh hi Fenris, fancy seeing you here,” Hawke said, failing at nonchalant.

Fenris gave him a flat look. A very awkward silence ensued.

“So I guess I wasn’t as subtle as I thought then,” Hawke said.

“That wasn’t an issue, Hawke,” Fenris said dryly. “Though I can see why you would believe me incapable of finding you. It was not as if you intended to join a organization heard of everywhere. Nor as if you joined as a public advocate with intent of letting the world know the Champion of Kirkwall stood in unity. How very sneaky of you.”

Hawke laughed nervously. “Okay, so this wasn’t one of my better thought-out plans.”

“None of your plans are well thought-out,” Fenris said.

“Ow.”

Adaar shuffled awkwardly. Should he go? He probably should go, right? On the other hand, the sheer amount of emotions and tangled wants were giving him a much clearer version of what happened. Tale of the Champion was full of lies. Also, Varric was full of lies, but he already knew that. Cassandra would probably have a field day if she knew half of this. Not that Adaar was planning on telling, at least not to her; Adaar had just won a bet with another Desire demon should he ever find them again.

“We probably should leave you two alone for a bit then,” Varric said with just a bit too much cheer. He hadn’t approved of leaving Fenris behind. Now that Fenris was here, Adaar thought it was a bit unfair as well, and that maybe there were some relationship problems they might need to work on.

But then who was he to know what a healthy relationship looked like?

Hawke blinked and then sat up straighter. “Wait, if you are here, where’s my dog?”

“I left him at the gates,” Fenris said.

Wait. Dog? The mabari dog? Shit.

“So. Update,” Cullen requested.

Josephine sighed. “Do we really have to keep doing this?”

“How can it not matter to you?” Cullen asked angrily.

Josephine looked at Leliana sullenly. Leliana, who was already done with this, was looking through reports in the background, giving the meeting as much consideration as it deserved. Josephine should have thought of that.

“He’s already the Inquisitor. We’ve talked this to death, Commander. And Cassandra also supports Adaar.”

“I believe his intentions are honest, but there is a danger as with any mage,” Cassandra said. “We are simply trying to sort out the matter permanently as I doubt Adaar would be forthcoming if asked directly.” She looked at Solas. “You have confirmed it is blood magic then?”

They had almost been done with these. Almost. Cullen had been growing to accept Adaar as leader, and then this.

Solas nodded. “Among other things, yes. I believe the disruption of local fade energy that Vivienne and I noticed is due to the Anchor. At Crestwood, Adaar was able to banish demons using it alone, a feat unheard of in current times. There are also numerous witness reports that during the existence of the Breach, impossible magics were performed, from spontaneous spacial displacement to the more outlandish claims of time manipulation. While some of those can obviously be dismissed, the Breach has also had lingering effects on magic still, which while you clearly are not be able to see, obviously many mages and researchers can, to the point where they have formed an entire new school based around the magical changes.”

Josephine suspected that Solas hoped more words would confuse Cullen and make him give up. She was certainly hoping for it. She sighed and began a quick list of dignitaries that were fond of ‘Tale of the Champion’. Hawke wasn’t staying forever, and she might as well utilize his presence to get more aid. A large party perhaps? Hawke might be willing to attend if she knew his favorite foods. And of course, she could easily lure Adaar in as well. Josephine suspected that he hadn’t had the opportunity to try nice things in his life so far.

“So that justifies it?”

“I am explaining it. The reports are there in front of you. You wanted a reason why Adaar is able to perform remarkable things, something to make him safe. You were not complaining about his ability to perform remarkable things when he closed the Breach . What new miracle will you find excuse to complain about?”

She needed to thank him for the tickets. Perhaps if she sent him a sampler box of chocolates? Adaar had quite the sweet tooth.

“So blood magic isn’t an issue?”

Josephine could almost hear Solas sneering. “It is a tool, like any other. All tools have the capacity to inflict harm or the capacity to do well. You claim that Adaar is a danger waiting to happen, and yet he has neither fled nor hurt any member of the Inquisition. Furthermore, despite his own misgivings on the matter, he has settled into the role of Inquisitor well. Are we not gaining the support we need?”

“Josephine is gaining the support we need,” Cullen said.

“In no small part to Adaar’s continued heroism,” Josephine said, not even bothering to look up. “Tales of him single-handedly saving a group of soldiers, vanquishing demons, killing dragons… He’s become quite the popular figure.” She nodded to herself. The Inquisition would definitely benefit from a public sighting of Adaar and Hawke in the same place. Of course! The dragon-slaying celebration. It would be perfect for the two of them and invite in some of the more adventurous nobles.

Cassandra breathed out hard through her nose. “I don’t like the blood magic either Cullen, but you know one of our favorite choices for Inquisitor-”

Cullen sighed. “Was a blood mage.”

“One you know and still respect,” Leliana said. “I know you have your misgivings, but you will have to let this go. There is too much at stake, and Adaar has picked up on your hostility.”

There was a pause. “So,” Cassandra said. “Blood magic. Hedge mage. The Anchor. Our latest guess was ex-Saarebas?” She was probably glaring at Leliana.

“Actually I have a different idea,” Josephine said with a raise of her hand. “It is possible he might simply be from Rivain. There are a number of small Vashoth communities that are similar to rural farmhoods who mostly keep to themselves.”

“A farmhand?” Solas asked incredulously.

“There are not many who employ kossith,” Josephine said. “Job opportunities are sadly lacking. With so few options, it is not surprising that so many of them become mercenaries. Or, occasionally, bandits. Some do not wish to fight however, but since no one else will take them in, they form their own tight-knit communities in remote areas. I understand they prefer to stay insular, fearing Ben-Hassrath or backlash from non-kossith.”

A short silence fell as the others thought about her theory, except of course for Leliana who still hadn’t learned how to share.

“It would explain a lot,” Josephine continued. “Rivain also has a positive view on magic and, ah, more non-traditional methods thereof. That sentiment is sometimes shared even by the kossith who live there.”

“Then what was he doing at the Conclave?” Cassandra asked.

Josephine shrugged. “He did say he was part of a mercenary group that had been at the Conclave. And as mentioned, many kossith become mercenaries, sometimes even to support their own families. The Conclave was supposed to be peaceful. Perhaps he thought to check up on a family member and used a fake name?”

They all looked to Leliana. She flipped a page and said nothing.

“So hi there,” Adaar said.

The mabari bared its teeth, hackles raised. Yup. Classic mabari.

“Hey, I’m not a threat, okay?” Adaar said. “I’m helping out.”

The mabari growled.

Adaar frowned. “I’m serious. I don’t want to be here, but I’m sticking around for some stupid reason.” He held out his glowing hand to the mabari. The dog whined.

“Yeah, I know,” Adaar said. “Believe me I know. But they need this, and I’m stuck with it because somebody keeps pretending he doesn’t know how to take it back.”

The dog went back to growling.

Adaar sighed. “He’s helping too. Kinda. I think? He’s kept me alive so far and helped figure out how to close the Breach.”

More confused whining.

“Anyway, I thought I would come tell you personally I’m not a threat. Not to Hawke or Varric at least. And I’ve kept Varric alive so far despite all of the demons and Venatori, so give me some credit.”

The mabari looked very disgruntled and gave a series of sharp barks.

“I’m not going to let Hawke die either. I’ll do my best to make sure he stays alive. I promise, okay?”

The mabari seemed somewhat soothed by that. It huffed and sat and then fixed Adaar with a glare.

“No I am not going to ‘bribe’ you with a bone.”

Even more whining.

“Ugh fine. Look, the head cook is Ferelden. You can probably extort all the bones you want from her.”

The mabari yapped happily and then bounded off.

At least he nipped that in the bud.

Eventually Adaar actually made it to the ground floor of the library. If he had used a dark corner without prying eyes to move directly to the library, then maybe people shouldn’t be constantly pelting him with problems, and also that he had been very good today with movement and frankly deserved a break.

So next step would be to find Dorian. Normally that was a chore, but something in his mind pinged, and he knew Dorian was up there. He felt that mind right there that was Dorian, swimming around in circles.

Adaar frowned. He hadn’t been able to sense Dorian since Haven. Adaar would have taken a bit longer to puzzle over this, but then the sheer amount of pained want slammed into him like an avalanche.

Dorian wanted Felix back. Felix, best friend Felix, who was dead, most likely tortured to death by the Venatori who had found out that he had been slipping Dorian information.

Adaar wasn’t Compassion. He didn’t know how to magically fix hurts, and he couldn’t give Dorian what he wanted which was his limit of knowing how to help in bad situations.

This was the worst time to ask questions. He would just ask another time, or wait for Cole, or never ask at all. The best move would be to just slink away and let Dorian have his emotions. He would definitely let Cole know when he returned from wherever. Dorian and Cole got along, and Cole was Compassion and would be so much better at it than Adaar.

It was just so pained.

But if he went up there, then there would be emotions which would get messy, and then he tended to get attached, and since when had that ever worked out for him? Ever? The smart answer would be to just walk away. Just walk off and come back later when Dorian wasn’t a mess and had his weird mind shields back up. Dorian would be suspicious, but then that’s how it always was.

But then Dorian might still be a mess and still have mind shields up, and then Cole might not know how to help him at all.

Just walk away.

Adaar hesitantly sidled into view. “You okay?” Adaar asked because he was stupid and never learned apparently.

Dorian was obviously not okay, but it opened up conversation. He ended up sitting next to Dorian, listening and asking questions about Felix because underneath the swirling maelstrom of hurt, Dorian wanted someone to know about Felix. Maybe that would help?

His mind was a mess. Incredibly lonely, missing a friend, missing and hating Tevinter in equal measure, hating the Inquisition for not showing up, upset with Adaar in particular for not showing up because something had been going on and Dorian didn’t want to fix it all himself but apparently had to, and oh yes Felix had probably been tortured to death by the Venatori. Best friend Felix. Really only friend Felix.

None of which Dorian actually told him. Dorian did talk a lot about Felix though.

They sat in silence for a bit after, Adaar feeling terribly awkward and uncertain if he actually helped Dorian at all. Maybe he could pass a note down to Cole, but Cole was just as confused as Adaar with the lack of open mind. Except for right now?

Dorian took a long breath, putting back together his ‘nothing wrong’ face despite the fact there were a great many things wrong whirling around in his head right now.

“I appreciate this Inquisitor,” Dorian said, back to his normal light tone. His shields were probably going to go up again soon. Adaar didn’t want them to. He liked the feel of Dorian’s mind, and he wanted Cole to help because fuck if Adaar knew how.

“No problem,” Adaar said lamely.

Dorian took a second steadying breath and then all of that outward composure was in place. “I presume you came by for something?” he asked.

Oh right. “This probably wouldn’t be the best time,” Adaar said as in the inner awkward continued to grow exponentially. “I can come by again tomorrow or something. I don’t want to trouble you right now.”

“You have listened to me prattle on,” Dorian said, and Adaar winced inwardly. “Go ahead.”

Adaar hesitated, and Dorian raised an eyebrow. He had been vulnerable, and that had scared him, and now he wanted to something to distract him.

Adaar sighed. “So I’m not sure how much you interacted with the renegade mages that were in Redcliffe, but you wouldn’t have happened to know a mage named ‘Trevelyan’, would you?”

And there was the awkward, right out there in the open for everyone to see.

“A friend of yours?” Dorian asked regardless. “Presumably a Circle mage, yes?”

Adaar laughed nervously. “He wouldn’t call himself that, but yeah he was in a Circle for a while. Real salty about the entire thing.”

“Dare I ask how you ended up meeting an apostate?”

“We helped each other out at one point,” Adaar said. “Got along okay.”

Dorian raised the other eyebrow. “And that merits enough for you to inquire after his health?”

Adaar opened his mouth to deny, insist, say Trevelyan wasn’t really anything at all. He couldn’t.

“I’m not entirely sure what we were,” Adaar said instead. “It was a bad situation, and we didn’t really have anyone else. After that all ended, we split ways.” In more ways than one. “It was just a really bad time, and I like to pretend most that never happened.” Or directly wipe the worst of it from his mind. It was not constructive to being Desire, so there was no need for any of it honestly, but Adaar had found it hard to part with those memories, even a number of the unpleasant ones.

Friends, bad times, and Redcliffe, all rolled into one package.

“Sorry. I didn’t know a Trevelyan,” Dorian said. “Though considering the circumstances, that might have been for the best.”

Adaar nodded. “I was actually hoping he hadn’t been. Bit less of a chance that he died that way.”

“You know, you are a leader of a massive organization with an extensive spy network. You could ask Leliana or Josephine to see if he’s alive.”

Adaar grimaced. “I don’t know. Wouldn’t that be weird? Does that classify as abuse of power? There was a meeting, but there was a lot to cover, and frankly I lost track of things.”

Dorian gave him a very skeptical look. “Let me know if you find him,” he said. He was probably going to project all over this situation.

Adaar did end up dropping an ask to Josephine. Not necessarily to contact Trevelyan as he doubted Trevelyan would feel safe in a Chantry-led organization (Adaar sure didn’t), but just to check and see if he was doing okay. Had a good place to sleep and food to eat and whatnot.

Besides, Trevelyan wouldn’t recognize him by the name ‘Adaar’, so it wouldn’t be worth making contact anyway.

Chapter Text

There was going to be a traditional dragon-slaying feast organized by Josephine that would appeal to crazy nobles who didn’t appreciate their own mortality enough as is.

Josephine had promised that there would be plenty of desserts and various types of tarts and pies. Apparently there were meat pies and fish pies and chicken pies. Adaar learned that day that it was possible for a mortal to survive on nothing but various kinds of pies alone. It made Adaar feel happier about the world, which was good because the world was a fucking mess.

Hawke was also going to be there as he had also killed a high dragon at one point, and he would be wearing his personal dragon-slaying party armor. It sounded very nice until Fenris told him it was literally armor Hawke found in the digestive tract of the high dragon he had killed and had insisted on keeping and wearing everywhere. It was apparently still a step up from Hawke’s ‘impersonating a Chantry brother’ days which were thankfully short and yet still almost managed to cause Sebastian to have a mental breakdown (and he definitely would have, had he ever found out about the striptease Hawke had done one memorable night in the Hanged Man).

Aside from snitching too many sweets from the buffet table, Adaar made sure to be presentable, give them all his best smile. At least only a few of these nobles were assholes. So Adaar told stories, gave minor flattery, stoked more egos. Of course it would be nice to do a proper hunt with so-and-so. (The man was old and in no condition for a fight. The man knew it, but he liked pretending he had one last good hunt in him. Had things been in a different location, he might have set him up with a Valor spirit for only a small fee.)

Did other-noble really fight off a nest of varghests? (There had been only three.) Do tell.

Yes, your adventures sound very exciting. (That one wasn't actually a lie, and the woman had a great story-telling voice.)

So it went well all things considering. Nobody died or was set on fire, and the nobles left with a favorable impression. Adaar always counted not being on fire as a general victory. But one person in particular was unhappy with all of this.

“I just don’t see why you play their stupid game,” Sera said.

“I just do what Josephine tells me to do. And apparently killing a dragon is a big deal. You liked it,” Adaar said.

“Yeah cuz I did it,” she said all satisfied. “Still all noble-rubbing and nose-polishing.”

Adaar had no idea what her words literally meant but understood the general feeling behind them. He shrugged. “It is pretty stupid, but then I don’t get the appeal of flinging yourself into certain death for shits and grins.”

Sera narrowed her eyes. “You were the one all heading the dragon brigade both times,” she said.

“The Iron Bull was heading it. I’m just barrier guy.”

Sera cackled. “Maybe you’d like him heading other things.” Sera emphasized this by waggling her eyebrows.

Anyway,” Adaar said, obviously changing the subject, “if Josephine thinks these things help, then I do them.”

Sera snorted. “So, what, if you thought throwing pies would stop Coryphinks you’d do it?”

Adaar thought for a moment. “Yup. That doesn’t even involve mortal peril for me.”

Sera got a very devious look. “What if I told you about a way to improve morale?”

Adaar only barely got out of trouble because he had built up fast reflexes from all the running. He and Sera shared a celebratory high-five.

“See that is magic used all proper-like,” Sera said, swinging her legs from their perch on the roof. Sera understood roofs. They were simply the best place to sit. “Like the bow.”

“Thought you didn’t like magic,” Adaar said.

Sera looked uncomfortable. “Well no. I don’t. It’s all weird, and I don’t like weird.”

“What we just did could be considered pretty weird Sera.” Hopefully Josephine would never trace it back to him.

“Well. Yeah. But it’s not scary. Like. Ugh. Words.” She paused for a moment, frustrated. “It’s weird, and it stays weird. And then it’s not supposed to be scary, but that’s shite because they think it’s scary. See their lies right in their faces. All gets pent up and never let out except then ahhhh fire everywhere ahhhhh.” She pantomimed people running with her hands. “And then there’s those that are always letting it out and don’t think that maybe people don’t want all up in their faces.” She stuck out her tongue. “Like Solas. He’s so magic he farts the Fade every time he steps.”

Adaar snickered despite himself.

She leaned back slightly, kicking her feet. “Dorian’s okay? And he should be scary, and he knows that? So he isn’t. And Widdles seems alright, and she’s as weird magic as it gets. Ugh. I don’t know.” She paused for a moment. “You’re not all scary magic weird either.”

“Well no. People stop wanting to be near me at that point.”

Sera scrunched up her face. “Don’t do that, make it all sad.”

Adaar shrugged. “I am magic,” he said in a gross understatement. “Kinda hard to separate me from it.”

Sera’s ears went flat. “Wouldn’t want that,” she said. “Don’t care how scary it is. Them Tranquil ain’t right.”

Wasn’t entirely what Adaar was going for, but that worked. “They really aren’t.”

There was a bit of silence before Sera perked up. “So. Done making things sad for the day. Wanna go steal pies from the cook?”

“Fine with me.”

Adaar had just wanted to get some books from the library. That’s all he wanted to do. It seemed impossible to travel from any point A to point B without someone deciding to get up and close in his personal bubble. Maybe just one trip without getting a random detour. Was that so much to ask?

“Do you have a moment Inquisitor?” Solas asked. “There are some things I wish to discuss with you privately.”

“I’m not dying, am I?” Adaar asked because that was the first thing that popped into mind with Solas wanting to talk to him privately.

Solas heaved a sigh like Adaar was being difficult. Solas wished he had never said anything about it having the potential to kill Adaar, the bastard. “No, but it does have to do with the Anchor. May we?” he said, not asked, and then walked off to Adaar’s quarters without so much as waiting for Adaar to nod. Rude.

Adaar followed because he was curious, though he was honestly tempted to just not follow Solas, however unwise it would be. (Haha ‘unwise’ Adaar was hilarious and no one got his jokes except Cole.)

When they finally reached his quarters, Solas turned to him. “I must confess, that while the mark is not killing you, it seems to have changed you a great deal.”

“No shit,” Adaar said because after a certain point, bad things happening to Adaar was just on par for the course.

“Since you have received the mark, have you ever been able to… return to the Fade?” Solas asked.

Adaar sighed. “No,” he said. And he had tried. Mostly he been able to make the room sparkle interesting colors. Or, in some instances, obliterate demons. The thing didn’t come with an instruction manual. “It seems to be keeping me here.”

Solas frowned. “It shouldn’t be doing that,” he said like he had found out a flower had merely started changing colors, ignoring the fact that the flower had also sprouted giant vines and was now attempting to eat people.

“Are you aware of any other changes? Influences on your own mind perhaps? Your… morals?” Solas asked.

“Don’t make this creepy Solas,” Adaar said. “And I’m almost positive no. Hard to be sure about these things completely, but I’ve pretty much always been this way.”

“That is not what I would have expected out of your kind,” Solas said dismissively.

Adaar crossed his arms. “And what would you have expected?”

“Perhaps that was worded incorrectly.”

Adaar shook his head. “No no. You don’t get to take it back now. What exactly were you expecting out of someone of ‘my kind’?” It was easy to tell that Solas was fond of spirits. It was also easy to tell that Solas was fond of little else. He had talked before quite angrily about mortals corrupting spirits into demons, which was something Adaar also felt strongly about, though Adaar would personally draw a line between demons and corrupted spirits (and also include corrupted demons). But of all of his talk of mortal preconceptions and respect, Solas had never actually said what he thought about demons.

Solas sighed and did at least look regretful. “Someone more vicious and less rational.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence of ‘my kind’.”

“You must admit there is reason for my assumption. Most people are small, petty. Yours are no different. But not you.”

Adaar didn’t say ‘I’m sure feeling petty now’ because it was never a good idea to piss off an ancient god.

“So your entire reason for talking to me in private was to see if the Anchor broke me into being a better person?” Adaar asked scathingly.

Solas did look apologetic, but that didn’t account for much.

“See, this is why ‘my kind’ rarely likes talking to ‘your kind’,” Adaar said.

“I do respect you Inquisitor,” Solas said, inclining his head. “And it seems I have disturbed you enough for one night.”

Fucking asshole god spirits.

The new agenda was going to be a trip to Emprise du Lion. It was a mountain covered with frost, snow, ice, sleet, and every other kind of cold-related weather phenomena. Adaar still had an instinctive gut-reaction of ‘please no’ to all cold-related things and was not happy about this. Furthermore, he had played just about as many card games with himself as possible and was slowly going insane from being cooped up in a tent all night.

Leliana had earlier approached him in private. Apparently a number of scouts had yet to report back, and there had been sightings of red lyrium growths in the area. Leliana stressed that red lyrium was very bad, not that anyone needed to tell Adaar. He had, indeed, read Tale of the Champion and also had a modicum of self-preservation instincts.

He had also been there at Therinfal Redoubt. He got it. Red lyrium bad.

So he needed a crack team to go with him up the terrible mountain to just take a look around. Being not a complete shitlord, he didn’t want to take anyone else into frigid doom, but he was not going to go alone. Furthermore, everyone just had that look of ‘for the love of everything good in the world do not pick me.’

There was probably going to be some approval loss no matter who he picked. Fantastic.

Adaar decided on Blackwall and Varric. Blackwall was sturdy, and Varric knew the most about red lyrium in the group. Well, except for Hawke and Fenris, but they could probably use some alone time for multiple reasons.

However since his kind was apparently ‘petty’, Adaar smiled at Solas and told him he would also be coming up death mountain.

Solas did not seem amused. Negative approval. Adaar did not give a single solitary fuck.

They weren’t even too far up the base when things started to get weird.

“Do you guys hear something?” Adaar asked nervously.

“Like what?” Solas asked.

Adaar titled his head. “…laughing? Like the creepy child kind.”

Varric frowned. “Creepy child laughing,” he repeated with a serious tone. “Not a good sign, Twinkletoes. That might be the red lyrium in the area. Same thing happened at Bartrand’s place. Might want to keep an eye out.”

“Fantastic,” Adaar said.

“Seriously though, you may want to be careful. It can really fuck with your head,” Varric said. “And if you are the first to start hearing things…”

Adaar did not want to be here at all. Unfortunately, there were rifts in the area, and that meant it was a place that he could theoretically be thrown at to fix. “Well let’s at least try to figure out where some of it is to report back. Dagna and Leliana can deal with it.”

As the day progressed, the laughter would fade intermittently before coming back again. By the end of day two, the others were starting to hear it as well, and the wind had started to take on a cruel tone, almost as if it was purposefully throwing things at them, tearing at their clothing and trying to push them off ledges. Varric advised not camping right next to a cliff, not wanting to risk all the snow falling down upon them, or next to a cliff drop for other obvious reasons. Instead, Blackwall constructed some kind of specialized lean-to in a specific area that he insisted would keep the snow off of them, or that if snow did pile up, it wouldn’t cave in and kill them all.

This did mean however that they all slept in one tent. Aside from many odious personal habits the others had, like various odors and pretentiousnesses, Adaar also had to pretend to sleep.

He preferred the Hinterlands. At least the bears were honest about trying to eat you.

It took a few extra days due to unexpected setbacks, but they finally came across one of the permanent campsites that Leliana requested they check in on.

“Well. We found the scouts,” Varric said.

There were five frozen bodies strewn across the campsite, though ‘bodies’ was a loose description. Chunks of flesh and bone had been torn out of them and long slashes in their skin, with blood caked across their mouths and under their fingernails. Not as disturbing as what might have been a makeshift altar constructed out of the spines of four of the scouts. The fifth one lay collapsed over, having either bled or frozen to death, a grin frozen on his face.

Almost delicately, almost like tiny little snowbuds, small particles of red lyrium poked through their skins.

This was not the best sign.

“We may want to proceed with caution,” said Solas.

“No fucking shit,” Adaar said.

“Do we have to check all the sites?” Varric asked nervously. “This paints a pretty clear picture. I’m not trying to weasel out of this. Just- red lyrium is not something you want to mess around with, and I don’t want to be near it.”

“Most people don’t, Varric,” Adaar said.

Adaar bit his lip for a moment and then sighed. “We- have to check more of the camps,” he said, hating himself for every second. “We need to see how many camps were infected or if we can find where the red lyrium is in the area. We do that and then we go back. I don’t think we’re equipped for anything else.”

While the details varied of what exact insanity fell, three other camps had at least the same general feel, one of which looked like it was attacked by a fourth camp. All of them showed traces of red lyrium, with the oldest camp showing more progressive stages of red lyrium on the bodies. The constant background laughing took on a particularly cruel tone when near them.

Adaar had been thinking Red Templars in the area. Adaar had been thinking some sort of stockpile. Maybe one scout accidentally got infected without realizing, progressed, infected another camp, and spread it to the others. Except that didn’t hold up. It wasn’t enough red lyrium to affect people that badly so that nobody sent out any messages to Leliana.

But then, they passed through some tunnels and came out near the summit of the mountain. Adaar froze.

There stretched out all across the peak were giant slabs of red lyrium, stretching far into the sky and screeching audibly. The air distorted and laughed, flinging rubble and what looked like bodies around. The lyrium hissed, and Adaar swore he could see it stretch just a bit further towards them, beckoning.

Adaar was distinctly reminded of a time when he had stumbled across a greater Hunger demon. It had been in the process of devouring a greater Pride demon who had been still twitching weakly. Its feeding maws were wrapped around Pride’s core, and yet still it had turned to gaze at him, small demon he was, tendrils reaching out to draw him in as well.

Adaar had gotten the fuck out of dodge, and he had no delusions the only reason he had survived was because Pride was a much greater meal, and Hunger had probably not wanted to risk the demesne dissipating before it finished feasting.

That was the exact impression he was getting here except there was no large corpse around for it to be distracted with. It was just the four of them.

“I think we’re done here,” Adaar said shakily. “Mission accomplished. Mystery solved.”

“Are you certain?” Solas asked. “There may be something else at work here.”

Adaar looked at him incredulously. “What else could be at work here? Scouts we have found obviously were infected with red lyrium. Here is giant fucking mountain of red lyrium.”

Solas nodded slowly. “Still, we should probably investigate further.”

Blackwall nodded silently, eyes just so ever glazed.

Something had gone terribly wrong. “We can’t investigate any further,” Adaar said slowly. “That would involve going into the red lyrium which would infect us.”

Varric rolled his eyes. “You sound just like Hawke,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m more of an expert at red lyrium than you are, and I say it’s safe. I know what I’m doing.”

The way he said that last part sounded almost… threatening. “But- but it’s not safe,” Adaar said. “It’s obviously not fucking safe. Did you see those scouts?”

Solas gave him a contemptuous look. “The scouts obviously did not know what they were doing. I would think us more experienced than mere scouts. We are prepared.”

Adaar looked at Blackwall in one last ditch effort.

“We can’t risk leaving this unfinished,” Blackwall said. “There might be more at work. We have to keep going.”

“Okay, no. We are heading back now,” Adaar said.

“Oh fuck you,” Varric said, now definitely hostile. “I am sick and tired of people not trusting me.”

“Are you really going to run away like a coward?” Blackwall asked, anger marring his features. “I thought better of you.”

And then Solas also turned, eyes glinting. Of course. Pride. Of course he would be easily affected. Shit.

They were all going to die. Or not die and become nothing more than farmland for red lyrium growths. They were going to go insane and tear each other to bits. He felt in in their minds, growing, just barely on the edge of hunger.

They were going to die. Unless…

Adaar hesitated. They might not forgive him for this. Not that there would be anything to forgive, but he knew how people thought, and there would definitely be a major scandal because someone was going to find out. In the long run, it might be wiser to just cut his losses, but Adaar had promised that stupid mabari he would keep Varric safe. And dammit, Adaar was starting to get invested in them despite his own better judgment.

He steadied himself. “Okay, team?” he said, getting everyone’s attention. “I am sorry to say this and only moderately sorry to do this, but I am making an executive decision. Like it or not, we are leaving and we will all be going back to Skyhold.” And then Adaar reached out to the corners of their minds and seized.

Chapter Text

It was by all means what should have been a very pleasant day, Josephine thought. The air was crisp, and the sun shone down on Skyhold, projecting what warmth it could. She had planned on sitting down somewhere secluded with a few nice snacks while working out the perfect wording to some of these letters. She had been going to make a day of it, just as soon as they wrapped up their current meeting.

Then the doors had flung open, and there, far earlier than expected, was the expedition group. They were all dirty and disheveled, and Solas had nasty scorch marks all across his left arm. He was also  missing his staff. To be fair, Blackwall and Varric were also missing their weapons, all of which were strapped to Adaar, who personally looked utterly done with everything. Adaar was injured, sporting bandages around a bicep, scorch marks of his own, and favoring a leg.

As he entered, there was a slight tinge in the air, and something snapped down from the other three. Varric cursed and clutched his head.

“Did something go wrong?” Leliana asked.

Adaar stared at her for a second. “Did something go wrong? Did something go wrong?

“Here we go again,” Blackwall muttered angrily under his breath.

Cullen’s eyes widened. “Were you-”

“Controlling them?” Adaar asked. “Yes. Yes I was. Do you want to know why? Because there was a titch more red lyrium than we expected. Like, oh for an example, the entire fucking mountain. And these guys suddenly thought it would be a great idea to start frolicking in the center of it and rolling around in patches of it.”

“I said I knew what I was doing,” Varric said with unusual hostility.

Adaar twitched. “So. Anyway! You may want to keep a close eye on these three, make sure they don’t get any funny ideas or try to escape to make out with chunks of red lyrium or some bullshit like that.”

“Was this all really necessary?” Solas asked coldly.

Adaar spun around to face them. “Yes! Yes it fucking was! I tried letting go after one day, and what did you do? You tried to knock me unconscious, Blackwall attacked me, and Varric?” Adaar glared down at the dwarf. “He got halfway back up the mountain. And what did you do when I tried to stop you?”

Varric sneered.

Adaar’s eyes narrowed. “You fucking shot me! That really hurt, Varric, and more than just my feelings.”

Josephine blinked. Oh… oh dear.

“This all could have been avoided if you had trusted us,” Solas said.

Adaar screamed into his hands for a moment before taking a deep breath and turning casually to face the rest of them. He unslung the others’ weapons and tossed them to the table. “They are suspended from field missions for a while. Just until the red lyrium mindfuckery wears off.” He paused. “Hopefully it will wear off. It damn well better wear off.”

There was stunned silence, and then Leliana raised her hand. “You said the entire mountain was affected?” she asked, voice completely calm.

“Yes. Yes it was,” he said, no longer half-shouting but still sounding no less frazzled. “All the scouts were dead. Via red lyrium. Some just seemed assimilated and others seemed to have gone insane and tore each other to bits. It was very gross. I am not an expert, but I would recommend just- just blocking off the entire mountain until we somehow figure out how to deal with that.” Adaar paused again before suddenly putting on an air of fake brightness. “Anyway! I am done for today. No Inquisitor-ing today! Just going to go my room and have some alone time. Anybody who tries to enter will be set on fire.”

Adaar whirled around and stormed out of the room.

“Bastard,” Varric muttered.

It had been a very long week. It had been very stressful. He was also starting to get tired of being shot in the leg. Granted, he probably could have handled that meeting more smoothly, but Adaar didn’t have two fucks to rub together at the moment and decided to care about things tomorrow. Present Adaar had all of his fucks depleted. Present Adaar just had had too much to handle. Everything—everything since stepping foot in this stupid world—had all lead to this moment of complete lack of fucks despite the consequences.

Adaar just could not give a single shit.

He was also thoroughly exhausted, having used most of his reserves to keep a hold of their minds, to keep them walking, not even removing the holds after the first time even when they passed into sleep. And fine Solas, just feign sleep, but you still have to walk tomorrow. And fine, stop eating, what did Adaar care about his stupid little hunger strike because Solas wanted to eat red lyrium. Bastard.

Of course by the time tomorrow rolled around, Adaar had recovered enough that his self-preservation instincts kicked in again, and he realized that maybe announcing in front of a good chunk of the inner circle that he had, indeed, mind-controlled his allies was not the best way to go about things.

So. Damage control. They might not be pitch-fork yet on account of how nobody came up to kill him. Maybe part of them recognized the extenuating circumstances. Maybe Leliana was the one holding them at bay.

There was a chance he might be able to reason with them. Yes, he did seize control of some minds, and yes, in normal circumstances that might not be the best thing to do. However, due to their readiness for murderification and the complete lack of the ability to reason with them, Adaar felt he had a fair argument in his favor. After all, the alternatives at that point had been the following: kill them and cut his losses; let them all kill each other and still cut his losses; get killed by them for trying to stop murderification; say nothing and let them walk into red lyrium leading to either their deaths or them being red lyrium hosts unable to be reasoned with.

None of these were good options, leading him to the only last option he had. Obviously.

He practiced a little bit, making sure the words were all in the right order since mortals couldn’t just glean intentions from minds like sensible beings. He then peeled, checking for an empty spot near Leliana’s tower since he did not want to face anyone else right now without her support (and she had been surprisingly supportive of him so far), and then he shifted his physical form over.

His clothing looked neat and tidy and very presentable and frankly holding this off would only be worse. Damage control. He could do this. Maybe he had built up enough friendship points for them to not kill him.

Adaar stepped out and sidled over. “Hello Leliana,” he said. “I’d ask how you are, but that would be blatant stalling.”

She looked amused at least.

Deep breath. “So. About my actions-”

“There’s no problem, Inquisitor,” she said. “We are happy that you brought them back safely and are keeping them under observation. I wish I could say they have recovered, but their behavior remains disturbing.”

Adaar stared at her for a good long moment. “What do you mean there isn’t a problem?” he finally asked.

Leliana smiled sweetly. “I’m not saying that some of the companions weren’t unsettled, but most of them understood the circumstances.”

Adaar continued staring at her. This wasn’t right. Was she trolling him? “Bullshit.”

Her face softened to something that might have been actual sympathy. “Adaar, all of the inner circle already knew that you are a blood mage.” She did not tell them that he was a demon, because she really didn’t want them to find out.

“It was to be suspected that you might have other blood magic abilities than simply casting from your own life force. Again, some are disturbed by this, but it wasn’t a shock, and that may have softened them enough to accept, at least in part, your actions.” She paused. “Mostly, I believe everyone was more concerned by the red lyrium itself. Varric was not- I believe Hawke wishes to thank you in private for getting him out when you did.”

“He was the worst affected,” Adaar said sadly. He did like Varric. Now that they weren’t all threatening to kill him and then yelling at him for not letting them eat red lyrium, some of the concern leaked back. He had stopped caring as much about the three of them after Varric had shot him.

“It may help you to know that our first consideration, Warden-Commander Surana, was in fact a blood mage, and that it was absolutely unanimous that if found, they were to be the head of the Inquisition. Also it was Cassandra who decided that you be made Inquisitor. It wasn’t a coincidence that we ultimately let the final judgment be in the hands of a Seeker.”

“I’m still debating with her judgment.” Adaar felt very odd. He wasn’t quite sure what to feel in all honesty. “…They’re seriously not that mad?”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are doing fine. Thank you for saving them,” she said. She pulled her hand back and slipped more into a professional mode. “Now. About the mountain...”

Adaar gave his full report, mentioning the scouts, what camps they had visited, what altitudes they had been at, where exactly the red lyrium was. They decided ultimately on quarantining off the area for now, at least until they hopefully found a way to safely get rid of the red lyrium. Scouts would be patrolling at lower altitudes, watching the situation and making sure no stragglers found their way up there. In addition, scouts would be quickly rotated out, and any scout acting peculiar would be relieved of Emprise du Lion duty.

He came away still feeling surreal. For some reason, he was mildly offended that he had put so much work into arguments on why it had been okay to control them, and instead he ended up being comforted.

He never got to say his arguments. Well. Should somebody ask, he was ready. And somebody was almost certainly going to ask or confront him or something.

Also Leliana was apparently actively covering for his demon-ness? This just didn’t happen, not unless they wanted something. Maybe Leliana was convinced he really was their only chance at victory? Some kind of arcane tactical planning based upon Fade presumptions and impressionable nobles to create a feedback loop of power? It was perfectly reasonable to just assume Leliana was doing this purely to aid the Inquisition. She was a talented spymaster used to working with what she had. Mortal interactions with demons or even other denizens of the Fade tended to be more murderous.

Well. Usually. There had been one other mortal who hadn’t acted murderous towards Adaar. But Trevelyan had been a single outlier. This would be mortal number two that really didn’t mind that he was a demon, so it was simply more plausible that the murderous, blackmailing spymaster just saw him as useful and possibly pliable.

…but people called Cole a demon, and some of them still liked him. Granted, Cole wasn’t actually a demon, at least not any more, and Adaar very much identified as demon. Some of them didn’t like Cole, but others did. Like the Iron Bull. Or Dorian. They liked Cole.

(And in Rivain and the Avvar lands and even sometimes with the Dalish, people tended to be nice to demons or spirits or gods, acted like they were actual people.)

He groaned, putting his head in his hands. It was just because most of them didn’t know he was a demon and thus didn’t know any better. They wouldn’t see him as a person. He needed to remember this. Trevelyan had been an outlier, an anomaly. An extremely depressed anomaly who probably just didn’t have the energy to care that Adaar was a demon, as opposed to literally every other mortal Adaar had ever met. He didn’t have an escape route anymore and needed to stay safe and stop pretending that maybe things would be different because that never helped, never worked, nothing.

Well, at least they would all be mad at him over the blood magic. That always put a dampener on things, and being yelled at was perfect for not getting attached to people.

It was time to be out and about.

He did not get yelled at by Solas. That was fine, Solas was an old god (not an Old God, just an old god, not that he was just any old god, and language was stupid). Solas had already described blood magic as a tool like any other, and thankfully he seemed rather okay all things considered. Still thought his actions were unwarranted, but he let Adaar know that he held no grudges no matter how wrong Adaar was in his assumption that Solas could be affected by red lyrium, honestly.

“Even if your actions at Emprise du Lion were unwarranted, it was very understandable to think we were under the thrall of red lyrium. Attempting to ‘rescue us’ was quite heroic even if completely unnecessary.”

Solas gave him the exact same kind of smile Leliana had given him. It was very creepy.

The only reassurance Adaar felt was that at least their violent urges seemed to have passed, but then Solas might have just been planning on sneaking out because that red lyrium song was still echoing in his head. He was going to need a special guard for Solas.

Blackwall, surprisingly, was also okay with Adaar. He mentioned that Wardens tended to employ unusual methods when stopping the Blight, and ultimately it boiled down to intent, and Adaar had obviously been concerned over them, which Blackwall appreciated, but maybe Adaar should consider a bit more valor in the future (ha!). They were trying to stop Corypheus, and sometimes that required risks. Adaar found it very touching, even if Blackwall was still not quite right all up in there. But again, less violent, no angry remarks. It had been the worst the first few days, but Adaar had thought that might have just been because exhaustion had built up as time passed. He had stopped them from physical contact, so maybe the effects would fade over time.

Varric… Varric was still upset. Still semi-hostile towards him, absolutely didn’t want to talk. Hawke ended up privately telling Adaar about Bartrand, more than what went in the novel.

He then thanked Adaar for getting Varric out no matter how Adaar did it. And Hawke had meant it, worry swirling in a maelstrom inside him. He didn’t want to lose his best friend.

Adaar made a discreet request to Cole for any possible aid he could give either of them. Cole agreed and then practically begged Adaar to promise that if Cole was going to hurt someone, Adaar would stop him. Blood magic would at least not kill Cole, keep him safe, maybe even give him enough time to fix himself again so he wasn’t a danger.

Adaar agreed, especially since previously Cole was just asking people to flat-out kill him if he should become a demon again. There were middle grounds of stopping someone. It didn’t always have to involve a blade and a quick end.

Cole then vanished, presumably off to go help Varric or perhaps feed that growing family of nugs he was keeping in the cellars, and Adaar turned to continue on his way.

Sera was standing stony-faced at the top of the stairs, mind buzzing in circles. She sharply gestured for him to follow and walked out of the battlements and towards one of the dilapidated towers.

Adaar trailed after her, reasonably certain where this was going, and sure enough once they were secluded, she whipped around to confront him.

“People don’t learn shite unless they mean to use it,” Sera said immediately, angrily.

Thank fuck someone was acting normal. He could continue to have a lack of faith in mortals. Relief settled into his form because this was nice and familiar, even if she was secretly concealing a powerful fire bomb just in case. Which honestly was good for Sera. Always have a back-up plan.

“Well, yes,” Adaar said, flitting through his various arguments for the ones probably most appealing to Sera. “Cassandra learned how to kill people and send mages and Templars into agony, Dorian learned how to send debilitating nightmares into peoples’ heads, the Iron Bull does have rudimentary re-education training- There’s not a single one of us that doesn’t know how to do terrible things.”

“People don’t learn shite unless they mean to use it,” she said again, eyes narrowed.

He tilted his head slightly. Arguments. Ethics. Logic. He never had to get Trevelyan to understand because Trevelyan never cared.

“Sera,” he said instead. “You know how to poison people, right? You know how to work poison into something so they won’t even notice. How to make it tasteless. You also know how to make it not deadly. Just enough to incapacitate, and that’s hard. Have to factor in weight and metabolism. But you know how to do that.”

She glared at him.

“You don’t simply go around poisoning people though. That would be bad. In fact, most of your life, you generally don’t poison people despite the fact that it took quite some time to learn. Just very, very rarely, you need to know how to poison someone a little or sometimes a lot.”

Sometimes more than a lot according to Leliana who could get a little murder happy at times.

“You could easily wreck so much havoc in Skyhold, and not just with your own skills. You have connections . All sorts of people listen to you and would willingly go along with whatever plan you wanted because they trust you. If you really wanted, you could fuck someone up for life.”

And honestly even more if she included more kinds of people in her ‘little people’ category. And that certainly was an idea for another time.

“And you know how. But you don’t because you aren’t a terrible person and usually you don’t need to poison someone. And presumably Cassandra doesn’t just look at a mage or a Templar and decide ‘it’s agony time’ or the Iron- wait, no, he does honestly like killing things.” He paused. “Well, he saves it for our enemies? And dragons?”

“So if I had been there, you would have used your mind shittery on me?” she asked.

“…yes. It would have been that or kill you, and I don’t want to kill people unless necessary and especially not people I care about.”

Sera stared at him. “At least you are being honest,” she said sharply. “So. What. Does it make it harder for stuff to fuck with your head if you know this?”

Adaar tilted his head. “I don’t think so? Well not directly.”

She was angry but-

Sera wasn’t here for herself. She wouldn’t ask for herself, probably. Mostly she avoided the creepy stuff her friends did because she wanted to be friends and so just ignored that Dorian raised the dead sometimes.

Dorian. Sera was here for Dorian. He didn’t know she was here, probably wouldn’t want her to go confront Adaar like this. They’ve had talks of course, brilliantly clear in her mind at the moment. Adaar is a blood mage, and that makes Dorian uncomfortable, and Sera knows because they’ve had such talks, and so she’s confronting him herself so Dorian doesn’t have to.

It was so blatantly clear in Sera’s head. Not Dorian’s head, of course, hardly ever Dorian’s head, which made no sense except-

Except Dorian told Sera. Offhandedly, but Dorian doesn’t like the idea of people messing with his mind either and has a small shield he can make to keep people out. That’s why Adaar—or even Cole—couldn’t normally read Dorian’s head, because Adaar was being actively warded out, probably ever since Dorian learned about the ‘blood magic’.

Okay. So. Dorian was scared of Adaar. Great. Fantastic. Wonderful. Absolutely how his interactions with mortals went. Victory all around, just what he wanted.

“So how did everyone already know that I was a blood mage?” Adaar asked. “Leliana didn’t say.”

Sera rolled her eyes. “How would I know? Something something casting source Fade friggery. Ask Vivvy if you want to know.” She jabbed a finger at him. “And you keep out of my head. Don’t want Creepy in there, don’t want anyone in here but me.”

Kinda hard to explain that it was impossible to not be in her head a little. It’d be like not having skin. It’s not really a choice people make. But otherwise-

“If this sort of thing happens again,” Adaar asked slowly, “with the red lyrium, or I don’t know, maybe some Venatori tries to control you to attack the group, what do you want me to do?” He quickly held up his hands as her fists clenched. “I mean it! I’m not poking fun. Would… would you rather I try to knock you out? I don’t think I can carry you for far.”

She hissed through her teeth, spinning in a circle and twitching one arm before snapping back to point at him again. “Don’t fucking care. You keep out of my head,” she said. She twitched again, almost like a full body spasm, before storming out.

Well for Sera that went pretty well, but hey, Dorian was scared of him, so. Adaar hadn’t noticed originally since apparently this had been an ongoing thing , but okay, now that he knew, he could just stop trying to flirt with him. Problem solved and could be further solved if Adaar just fucked off into the Fade, never to be seen again.

If only.

Adaar continued his rounds more on habit at this point. He had, after all, gotten what he had wanted, and Dorian had apparently been scared of him for a while now.

Maybe, maybe Dorian was just being reasonably cautious, but a constant ward was almost likely draining. In fact, the only times Adaar could remember Dorian without the shield was when they first met when Dorian had no idea and then when Dorian was mourning Felix and presumably in no state to ward Adaar off.

“So how were you not affected?” Cassandra asked. That was her main concern for some reason, not the blood magic. Adaar hadn’t been affected, and she would like to know why because red lyrium was an unstoppable corruptive force that ate people, and any resistance they had would be welcome, and she had already made peace with the facts about Adaar some time ago.

The facts about blood magic at least. Adaar was reasonably certain Cassandra had no idea he was a demon. She would probably be less than understanding about that.

Adaar just shrugged. “Honestly at this point I just blame all my weird shit on the Anchor. It’s been working so far.” Or maybe spirits/demons weren’t affected by red lyrium? Maybe it was because he was already expecting it? Except, no, because they were all wary at that point. Adaar knew jack shit here. “Well, I kinda was. I heard things before everyone else.” He tilted his head. “Not sure what would have happened if you were there. I mean, you are immune to mind-control, but does that also apply to red lyrium’s want-me effects?”

“I do not wish to test it,” Cassandra said.

“Me neither,” Adaar said. “Because if you aren’t, then I probably would just have to knock you out? And you are rather frightening. Don’t think I would succeed at that.”

Maybe via mind control, get Solas to cast sleep on Cassandra or maybe Sera if he had to? He’d probably be powerful enough to do it, but then there would be even more apologizing later. And it was one thing to just stop or move bodies, and another entirely to get somebody to cast spells, especially against allies. Or allies that you wanted to keep as allies and not die via friendly-fire.

Well maybe not for a Desire demon that actually wanted to be in the mortal world and thus studied such magic, but Adaar didn’t exactly do prep work for his extended stay here. Adaar had done zero prep work period because every time he got involved with mortals he was convinced it would be the last time for realsies, and yet it never was.

“I would like to believe that Emprise du Lion was the only source of red lyrium, but we can’t be too careful. We will need to find any possible sources immediately,” Cassandra said.

“Leliana’s already ahead of you,” Adaar said. “Though we still have no idea what to do with it. Emprise du Lion, I mean. I made it Dagna’s priority mission, but it’s hard to research safely. For multiple reasons. We may have put up a few extra guards outside the special research labs just in case.” And Leliana’s constant vigilant watch on the others.

Adaar paused as he felt a familiar presence start to move closer. Hopefully Cullen would just change course. What were the odds he would be trying to come right here?

In normal odds, next to none; with Adaar’s luck, he wanted to have some kind of buddy-buddy talk with Cassandra, the nature of which Adaar wouldn’t be able to tell over the swirling maelstrom of Desire.

Cullen had earlier informed him of his plans on quitting lyrium. Adaar had already known for some time and frankly didn’t want to be in his presence any more than possible. It doubled over sometimes, the desire into hunger, but then mortal emotions tended to do that, and that’s when demons tended to get into slap fights over who got to approach the mortal first, and Adaar would slink back and steal things while the other demons were distracted.

Unfortunately, since the mortal world was stupid, even perfectly normal, happy desires could kill people because why the fuck not, everything else could. Adaar had been a saint and had been staying away from Cullen. If this had been the Fade where proper people lived, this wouldn’t have even been a problem. Have your lyrium. No harmful effects, even if Fade lyrium didn’t quite sing as sweetly as lyrium from the mortal world. If this had been the Fade, Adaar could probably have asked around a bit to find a Desire demon who knew how to take entire wants from people's’ heads and then offered to Cullen to just have the entire addiction removed, no more wanting, possibly still a few lingering withdrawal symptoms but without the urge to get more of it.

But Adaar never learned those particular skills since past Adaar had the crazy and foolish notion he would never get involved with mortal affairs, hadn’t learned from all the other experiences, and now both worlds were just laughing at him.

Cassandra opened her mouth to say something just as Cullen opened the door to the smithery. Great. Wonderful. Adaar felt the urge to eat something with actual tangible emotions. Maybe Cullen. No, can’t eat Cullen, he’s the Commander, and also Adaar shouldn’t eat people. Cole would be disappointed in him or something.

Maybe if he found some evil Venatori guy who kicked puppies. He could eat his mind guilt-free.

“Ah. Cassandra. You are already busy,” Cullen said. He was hiding shakes. Lyrium withdrawal extra bad today. Cole would probably care. There was a chance Adaar might have if Cullen wasn’t broadcasting all out and about.

“It’s fine,” Adaar said, rising quickly to his feet. “I’ve got plenty of things to do.” Not a lie. There always were plenty of things to do.

Cullen quietly steadied himself with a hand on a wall. “I wanted to re-discuss things,” he said vaguely, and Cassandra’s expression grew stormy.

Fuck. Fuckity fucking fuck. Adaar stopped inching away. “Should I leave?” he asked, hoping the answer was a definite yes.

Neither of them answered which usually meant ‘no’. Goody.

“You are doing fine,” Cassandra said to Cullen. It wasn’t a lie to her because she had Faith in him, because Cassandra had problems not having Faith in things, because Cassandra had apparently at one point gotten very up-close-and-friendly with a Faith spirit.

Factually, however, it was complete bullshit.

Adaar continued to look between the two of them. Still no dismissal. Great. It was the awkward situation where they were simultaneously wanting Adaar to go away and also for Adaar to stay as a witness.

Adaar sat down, and then Cassandra sighed, and they started to explain to him and ended up just arguing with each other, almost forgetting Adaar was there.

An old argument. Cassandra had Faith in Cullen to pull through, to battle addiction and lead the forces. Her arguments were that Cullen was usually fine, and he’d gotten here so far. Cullen was on the line of thinking that he was getting far worse, and the lyrium withdrawal was distracting (ha) and made it difficult to focus on his work, and that any Commander of the Inquisition should be able to give it their all, and they didn’t have time to coddle him when Corypheus was planning on godhood.

Hot Mess Cullen wanted a good excuse to get on the lyrium. Hot Mess Cullen had some other emotion that Adaar couldn’t touch that wanted to battle through the addiction. Hot Mess Cullen didn’t know if he could keep up with the forces if it got any worse, and apparently it would. And sometimes it killed people because, as again, the mortal world was the worst world to live in. Adaar pointed out that it was Cullen’s decision, and then Cassandra said that they shouldn’t judge based upon the worst days, and then Cullen said it was the worst days they should absolutely judge on.

“Why don’t we get the other command staff in on this then?” Adaar asked. Cassandra opened her mouth, but Adaar moved forward. “No, if this is something you two have been arguing for a while, then it really should be talked about with fresh people. You can’t just ignore someone’s desire to resign, Cassandra.”

Chapter Text

Josephine, turned out, was concerned about the large number of issues of replacing a Commander right then and there. Not only would they need a new one, one with experience and one that they could really trust, but replacing a Commander would also cause social ripples. If it had been anyone other than the Commander, and had Haven not happened recently, then it might have been fine. As it was, all sorts of rumors would abound.

Leliana said that this was the perfect time to replace strategically, and that rumors didn’t necessarily have to abound if you caught her drift. Leliana also privately, and sometimes not-so-privately, detested Cullen.

Cullen hadn’t said much of anything on account of how he was developing a blistering migraine. Adaar managed to feel a little bit bad for him, at least until the hunger/desire/homesickness sprung up again for some forgotten song, and Adaar began to feel just a little bit hungry.

“Well, Inquisitor, it seems that you are the tie-breaker,” Leliana said, folding her hands elegantly.

It was a sad day indeed when all one could depend upon was one’s own enemies. He could see Cassandra already sighing.

“If someone wants to quit due to increasing, debilitating health issues, then they are perfectly allowed to do that,” Adaar said. “Cullen has made a strong case for why he is unfit to perform his duty, and I agree. I appreciate his contribution to this date, but he is not indispensable nor the only one who could hold this title. We will find someone else.”

Josephine sighed, tallied up more work in her head, and then tallied up ways to spin this to minimize damage to their reputation. Perhaps encouraging Cullen to use this as an example to other Templars, encourage more of them to quit and gather concrete sources of the best methods, collect aid. Plays at morality for appeal. Not that Josephine didn’t care—by all means, Josephine was one of the most compassionate people Adaar had ever met—but Josephine was all about spinning to social advantage.

It was one of the many reasons Adaar liked her.

“I suppose we could try reaching the Hero of Ferelden again?” Josephine asked. “No one else in recent history has pulled such an outstanding victory with so few people.”

“For most of the Blight, there were ten of us,” Leliana said. She really wished there had been more than just ten (or nine and a mabari). Would have been really helpful in the Deep Roads if there had been more than just ten people and countless hordes of darkspawn. Really fucking nice. She had thought that she had been sent by the Maker at the time, but really. Really? Really? No wonder even Alistair was willing to go along with all the blood magic.

The meeting quickly packed up, and one by one they all stood. Cullen seemed weirdly relieved. Well. Good. It was at least one singular want Adaar could grant, even if it was for someone he didn’t particularly care for.

He suddenly realized this could very well be the last time he ever saw Cullen. They stared at each other for a moment. “I know we haven’t always gotten along,” Adaar said, “but I truly do hope you are able to recover.”

Strangely enough, Adaar actually did. Turned out he wasn’t a complete selfish ball of spite.

Cullen inclined his head. “Thank you, Inquisitor,” he said, and then Cullen left.

After, Adaar went back to the roof of his quarters. It was a wonderfully private place where he himself could be as much of a hot mess as he wanted and not worry about ‘reputation’. He curled up into a ball, but that didn’t help. Adaar felt sick, kept rippling back and forth inside his physical form in an attempt to soothe himself. It was okay. He would be okay. Bright side! He wouldn’t have to be around Cullen anymore, and with a touch of encouragement from some of Josephine’s ideas, they could probably create a base somewhere for Templars attempting to quit. No more addicts all around him with screaming flashing signs.

This wasn’t a problem in the Fade. Desires don’t try to kill you in the Fade. Even death scenes don’t have to kill you in the Fade.

No no no. Problem solved. Must look at the positives. There were plenty of other wants and wishes he could help with. The thought alone grounded him a little. He didn’t feel better, but he felt less like he was about to start fraying apart at the edges.

And yet, Adaar felt himself recoil slightly. It felt demeaning, running around as such. He wouldn’t mind so much if he was getting properly paid, but it was significantly more difficult to eat coins.

His options were to either to work for free (people never worked for free, people payed other people, there were connotations for expected free work), start demanding proper payment (and wouldn’t that just end so well), or start secretly nibbling on nobles when they weren’t looking. Which was a problem, because despite how it seemed at times, nobles were a finite source, and if the ones who kept visiting the Inquisition kept having mysterious declines in health, people would get suspicious. More suspicious than they already were anyway.

He could also supplement via ambient emotions leaked, like back at Haven but hopefully without the surprise army. Paltry crumbs in comparison to what he could be eating, or stealing. He had had some great hauls in the past. Ah, Sloth demons.

Maybe if he stopped throwing up as many barriers in combat, stopped expending energy at such a high rate…

He frowned in thought and looked down at the Anchor.

…well. That was energy. That was his energy, a lot of volatile energy just waiting to explode Adaar into shiny green bits before he dissipated into nothingness, but it was energy. Maybe Adaar could figure out some way to eat it, or at least feed off of the massive amounts of energy it was putting off. Or at least stabilize it to where it was less of a spontaneous death risk. He’d ask Solas later when Solas wasn’t humming red lyrium chimes under his breath. Damn song worked fast.

He poked it with one finger and felt it crackle inside of him, felt the crackles through his self, his proper self and not just the puppet with which he was using to interact with mortals.

Desperation must be really getting to him if he was still considering trying to feed off of it.

Though, he could possibly just mildly feed off of the companions. They would hardly notice if he was very light about it.

Adaar frowned. No. No that was-

No he was raising their happiness, making them like him so they wouldn’t attack him. There was some level of- well, not friendship. He couldn’t rightfully call it friendship, not when Cassandra was all too happy to stab any demon she saw and wouldn’t take him well at all. Rightfully, only people who knew he was actually a demon and then also still liked him could be called friends, so that left probably Cole, and then he would hesitantly say that he at least got along friendly with the Iron Bull and maybe Leliana, but calling them actual friends was just not a thing he was going to do.

Solas was more of a work-acquaintance.

Regardless of status though, it just didn’t seem right to feed off of a service he was already benefiting from. At the same time, he wasn’t a spirit, he didn’t bow down to the whims of mortals and ignore any needs of his own self; Adaar was not and never would be subservient, and thus in mortals’ eyes, that made him a demon for the gall of thinking he was an equal and thus deserved a level of payment for services rendered.

And while coins were nice, and while they were lovely symbolic that his work was properly appreciated, and while he may be planning some nice favors for Josephine when he finally fucked off back to the Fade for good even if he had to cash in every last favor to do so, they still didn’t help him right now with regaining the energy he spent.

And honestly, he was starting to feel just a bit sharp around the edges lately. Just a little bit hungry, feel the old maws ache, empty inwards and pressure outwards, possible collapse except for the constant humming thread of foreign green inside him, threatening to consume him.

Adaar sighed and rattled slightly.

Maybe he’d just throw absolutely all dignity away and eat the lingering essences of dead people for a while. Dorian did that and nobody seemed to give a shit, and frankly, Dorian didn’t need to eat dead people because he was a real flesh human person and could get energy from normal dead flesh meats like all the other mortals did. Greedy was what it was.

And if he couldn’t get enough energy from the sheer havoc they spread across the lands, then he would start considering eating some of the more racist nobles.

The next morning, a proper time for people to be out and about and not ‘some unholy time’ or ‘why the fuck are you up’, he continued his daily Inquisitor business, which mostly meant pouring through more missives and business updates and scouting missions, and then various lessons with Josephine to bring him up to speed on every single noble that ever existed ever.

Adaar did note quietly that Josephine had not bumped up the bi-monthly discussion on ethics. Possibly to not offend him, or possibly because she didn’t see it as a problem. She did, however, continue to ask questions about his past which were always awkward, and Adaar answered as vaguely as he usually did while making sure to not contradict Leliana’s story she had outlined for him. They had agreed it made a good starting point, and that they were purposefully going to keep his wandering days after he allegedly left said settlement a ‘secret’.

Leliana had apologized, having originally planned on just having him around until the Breach was sealed, and then he could have gone wherever he wished, but due to the changing circumstances which in this case was the sudden and completely unforeseeable appearance of Corypheus, he would have to stay on.

Adaar had considered talking to Leliana about his actual past but then thought better of it. He already had too many problems with attachment issues towards mortals who were occasionally nice to him.

Never ended well.

After he got done with Josephine and had given her the artifact for their special project, Adaar had some free time to himself. He didn’t feel like doing his usual rounds to check up on everyone. He had gotten himself yelled at by one Sera, which was good! He had to stress that this was good and that people were acting normal. And, honestly, most of the people here didn’t even like Cole, and some were actively mean to him, like Sera, so he shouldn’t be getting attached to those people anyway, like Sera, because what kind of terrible people were mean to a Compassion spirit? Except for apparently Command who was a complete asshat.

Granted, there were those strange few spirits or demons that were mean to Compassion spirits, but everyone shunned those guys. Honestly. Lowest bar in the Fade. Didn’t stop the occasional bastard from tripping over it, but only an occasional bastard as opposed to most of the mortals he met here.

So instead, Adaar had sequestered himself back into the War Room as he found it a little bit easier to see on the map where everything was. He’d been through a good chunk of Ferelden at this point, and way over there in the Free Marches was Ostwick.

Adaar frowned. He still wasn’t entirely sure of why he hadn’t thought to check on Trevelyan earlier, before the Breach closed. There were plenty of memory triggers for such things, like the fact that there were rebel mages in the area. So why hadn’t he thought of him then?

It didn’t sit right.

He idly considered lighting that part of the map on fire, just a little, just a tiny spot of vindication for all the time he had been forced to spend there because goodness knows he hadn’t gotten any. Just enough scorching to say that a candle fell on it or something. Maybe he could get an actual candle and tip it over right there for authenticity’s sake. It would be really hard to prove it wasn’t an accident then, and was halfway considering doing so when someone tugged at the peripheral edges of his perception. Adaar quickly moved away from the area and waited for the Iron Bull to open the door. He faked looking back at the map, waiting for the door to open to ‘look up’.

Door opened, and to no one’s surprise, the Iron Bull was behind it. Also, alone. Adaar had made the mistake exactly once of not thinking other people could show up, namely Tranquil people who didn’t have desires and thus Adaar didn’t notice until they walked right into him. Gave Adaar a rather large fright.

“Hey boss,” the Iron Bull said casually. “Figured we could have a talk.”

The Iron Bull gave the appearance of someone going for a completely casual conversation. This was at complete odds to the whirling maelstrom of conflicting emotions and thoughts inside of his head centered mostly around a strong desire to not go insane, what was probably fear of going insane, and what might have been a weird appreciation of Adaar’s ability to stop someone from, when being insane, attacking others. This was topped by his extreme dislike of demons, and the person who could stop him was, indeed, a demon, and that he was very uncomfortable with this but the fact that Adaar had did it anyway despite potential fallout had wrapped around into somehow being some sort of weird approval of which the Iron Bull was greatly ashamed of.

Adaar stared at the Iron Bull.

“Look let’s not make this weird, okay?” the Iron Bull said, already being well-acquainted with Cole and having vague regret that his employer was a mind-reading demon.

“I think we can agree it’s too late for that,” Adaar said.

The Iron Bull sighed. “Mind if we go somewhere a bit more private? Got something I want to discuss with you.”

Adaar squinted. “Is it not about the mind-control thing? We can talk about that here.”

The Iron Bull shook his head and then gestured for them to leave the room. Weird, but okay. He was almost certain that the Iron Bull wasn’t planning on killing him, so Adaar followed.

In the end, the only private place that was soundproof enough was Adaar’s bedroom. Adaar perched on his favorite chair and folded his hands, and the Iron Bull leaned against the wall opposite of him.

“You do realize you have a shit disguise, right?” the Iron Bull asked with considerable concern.

Adaar mock-gasped, placing one hand over his mouth. “Really?” he asked. “Really? Is it really bad? Is it almost like I didn’t have enough time to cobble something together when there were soldiers running right at me? I’m glad I had time to slap a gray filter on myself and extinguish the flames. Throw some shapeless clothing on. I’m so sorry my current form isn’t up to par with professional work.”

The Iron Bull stared at him. “Look. The horns are one thing. Can’t really change that at this point, and no, Qunari horns don’t come like that.” He paused for a moment, looking as if in considerable pain. “…but you have a tail . Can’t you just-” he waved a hand about “-get rid of that?”

Adaar glared. “You are supposed to be Tal-Vashoth, right? For most of the general public and in pre-Inquisition work?” he asked sharply. “And yet you have very distinct horns, yes? Seheron’s a large place, and you were a pretty major figure there, Ben-Hassrath. Killed a lot of Tal-Vashoth, sure, but there were a number that got away. Surely your current job down here would be far more convincing if you actually chopped off your horns like most Tal-Vashoth, hmm? Cultural norms and less chance of recognition that way. And it’s not like there wasn’t a single moment an actual Tal-Vashoth recognized you and blew your cover, right?”

“That- okay, the number of people who can recognize me is significantly smaller than the people who might recognize that having a literal fucking tail isn’t a kossith thing,” the Iron Bull said crossly. “And someone finding out that I’m Ben-Hassrath is a little different than someone realizing that you are an actual demon.”

“I like my tail,” Adaar said. “It’s my tail. I put good work into it, getting the swish factor just right, and it’s one of the few things I have anymore from home proper. Also, I have to put up with everything all the time, and maybe I want a nice thing for myself, a nice demon thing that isn’t yours, so fuck off.”

It was indeed a very swishy tail.

The Iron Bull groaned and rubbed his temples. “Could you try to not just- you- at this point there’s an entire list, okay?”

Of course there was. Not sure how none of the other companions had noticed, but of course Adaar wasn’t passing for a mortal, not to people who actually knew what to look for (which apparently didn’t include Templars who were all terrible at their jobs. The Circle had greatly exaggerated the Templar’s abilities to detect demons which for some reason made Adaar feel unreasonably angry.)

Adaar’s eyes narrowed. “Wouldn’t you rather have me found out and gone though? I thought demons were one of your big things.”

The Iron Bull shrugged. “Everything’s weird as shit down here. Got bas-saarebas in my crew, got a Vint in my crew, working for nobles, working for a split-off faction of the Chantry, and the Qun and the Chantry don’t exactly have the best history. Nobody has a role, farmers are starving, Southern genders still honestly confuse me sometimes, and the ‘medical expert’ was trying to cure somebody through leeches. At least you got the sky to stop shitting demons.”

The Iron Bull was missing home horribly. Things made sense there, and Adaar could absolutely identify with that sentiment. Adaar was even working with his own historical enemies which in this case just so happened to be the Qun’s enemies. Maybe Adaar could convince Josephine to import some Par Vollen food items? Mortals seemed to like food from where they were raised as it gave them a sense of comfort and happy feelings especially when stressed.

“So do the rest of the Ben-Hassrath know?” Adaar asked.

“Red’s been checking the mail I send out,” the Iron Bull said. “So no.”

“I’m sorry, let me ask again. Do the rest of the Ben-Hassrath know?”

The Iron Bull sighed. “Look. I wasn’t shitting you when I said part of the reason I was here was to make people back home feel safe. As long as they figure people down here got it covered, they don’t get itchy to invade and take care of it themselves.”

“So they don’t have any idea?”

“Hopefully not.”

Wait.

“The rest of the Ben-Hassrath really don’t know,” Adaar said slowly. “That’s why you are so upset about the tail thing. You think they might send other spies, who would rightfully identify me as a demon and then realize you weren’t reporting me as a demon, and then that’s just bad news for everyone.”

The Iron Bull was currently regretting each and every one of his life choices. Granted, as a member of the Qun, there weren’t a lot, but those that he had made he was regretting pretty hard. “Yeah,” he said. “Bad news for everyone.”

“How much trouble would you be in exactly?”

“I don’t really want to think about that,” he said. “So instead, we are going to talk about your shitty disguise skills.”

A whole mess of trouble, apparently, with all possible outcomes just various levels of horrifically terrible. Either a bad spy or easily manipulated or having gone rogue or just not telling his superiors about the demon , all of which would result in either death or qamek. So now it wasn’t just Adaar’s life on the line but the Iron Bull’s as well, let alone the social and political backlash that would happen against the Inquisition if found out.

Adaar leaned forward. “Look. I understand that being found out would be really bad. But I need my tail. I really need my tail. I have a tail, and then I am grounded, and then I can swish it privately in my own room and then not feel as tempted to eat people.”

The Iron Bull nodded. “Not eating people is good. I think we’d all prefer if you didn’t eat people. I am full on board with the ‘not eating people’ plan. But couldn’t you just magic it away when in public and only have it in your room?”

“That takes more energy, and I’m already not getting as much as I’ve been spending.”

The Iron Bull raised his hands. “Was just asking. I don’t know how this magic crap works. If you need a tail to not eat people, then by all means, keep your tail.”

And there were minor thoughts of Seheron. Everyone had been under an insane amount of stress from the moment they arrived to the moment they left. Those that tried only to live only by the rules tended to end up walking single-handedly into Tevinter outposts for a quick end. Vasaad had not-so-secretly kept budgies and fed them bits of his own rations even if it meant he went hungry sometimes, and Gatt would go hack at trees when he got into a rage. There had been a considerable amount of foliage damage. Yet if it kept people functional and wasn’t too obtrusive, the others turned a blind eye. Everyone figured that everyone would return to normal once they left. Even the investigators didn’t look that hard for strange behaviors. It was Seheron.

“Alright. So, tell me what I’ve been doing wrong.”

The Iron Bull considered him for a moment. “I’m going to take a wild guess and say nobody’s been coaching you on these things.”

Adaar glared. “And who exactly am I going to ask these questions? Yes, let me just go right up to some Chantry official and ask why people keep stuffing plants into their face holes. I’m sure that would go over well. And yes, I am aware at this point about the whole mortal version of eating. Finally figured that out.”

The Iron Bull was silent for a bit, mind moving in non-desire ways that Adaar couldn’t pick up on. “Solas mentioned once that demons and spirits that got into this world tend to go nuts because they don’t understand it. It’s all alien to them.”

“Very,” Adaar said in a clipped voice. “It’s one of the reasons some see possessing mortals as preferable. They know what’s going on, and it’s easy to rifle through their memories to figure things out. However, you may have noticed that I am not possessing anyone.”

“So nobody’s been helping you figure things out? Not even Solas or Cole?”

“Solas likes to talk about the Fade,” Adaar said vaguely and didn’t bring up that it had probably been a while since Solas was last in the mortal world and had been running with his knowledge from Fade dreams to cover for himself. Wasn’t really fooling Leliana either. She didn’t know what he was, but maybe Solas shouldn’t have picked being from an obscure village that was destroyed centuries ago. Leliana inevitably found out all. Also the last thing Adaar was going to do was look even more stupid than usual in front of an ancient elvhen god. And also a spirit of Pride. And a physical, mortal-adjacent elf. Adaar had no idea what was going on with him.

“And Cole’s just barely less lost than I am. Also he can get away with not knowing things and asking stupid questions.”

The Iron Bull softened. “Look, this is shit we need to work on, but don’t beat yourself too hard over this. I’m pretty sure if I somehow ever ended up in the Fade, not that that will ever happen, but hypothetically if I did, I wouldn’t know what the fuck was going on either. Probably stand out like a sore thumb and be demon bait. I’d be at a complete loss.”

More likely the Iron Bull, on the absolute zero percent chance if he ever ended up in the Fade, would be more likely to somehow fall through a demesne and accidentally kill himself upon landing on another through the sheer power of belief that that’s just what happens after a fall of that height.

That was another thing Adaar had eventually figured out through people yelling at him to get off of roofs or to not jump out of high windows. Not that Adaar had ever had problems with such things. Maybe height-related deaths just affected mortals.

“Also-” Adaar paused for a moment, wondering how much information to share. “This… might not exactly be my first time here. I’ve been here twice before, but neither were for very long, and both times had a very limited selection of scenery. Neither were fantastic for my perceptions on your murderland anyway, and frankly, this time is only marginally better.”

“You are saying this time is better? Even as Inquisitor and with all the Rifts and your demon-killing mark on your hand and all the Templars?”

Adaar thought for a moment. “You know what? Yeah. This time is actually better than the last couple.”

He had Cole and Leliana after all. That’s one more than the last time, and then two more than his first little visit. Even if he was stuck in the Inquisition, he still had his own will to throw complete drama fits on things, and nobody was literally forcing him to do things. For all that mortals threw a huge fuss over possession, they certainly weren’t above trying to force demons to possess their own for any number of stupid reasons.

Or force them to do other unsavory tasks. Adaar didn’t fully remember because he had cut those parts out of him first chance he had gotten. In the end, it still hadn’t helped.

So Adaar was going to keep his tail, dammit, even if it meant his own demise. Some things he just refused to sacrifice.

The Iron Bull looked dubious. “That really doesn’t bode well.”

“Demon. Nobody likes us. Alright, correction—very few people like us.” So far exactly one person that Adaar knew of anyway, not including the number of people who liked demons because they just wanted to exploit them. “Also I think things were different somehow before with how things worked? How I worked, that is. But I’m not entirely sure.”

It was a brief slightly nagging feeling. Memories from Haven, of being stripped apart in such a manner and reforming. Everything else was about on par for the course, but that seemed off. He’s not sure he would have survived that the first time around, Anchor or no. He’s not sure he had such layers the first time around, was reasonably sure he had been just been completely confined to that one form.

And the second time was so different as to not even be in the same category.

A bit of awkward silence fell. Adaar decided on swishing his tail because dammit, the Iron Bull knew, so frankly he didn’t need to hide, and Adaar had had a lot happen recently, and so he was going to damn well swish his own tail if he wanted to.

The Iron Bull sighed. “Okay. So. Footprints. You do pretty good when wading through deep snow, but sometimes you seem to forget them. Like yesterday out in the practice field.”

Adaar squinted. “Those are important?”

The Iron Bull nodded.

“But the slush removes them,” Adaar said. “I’ve watched this! It’s all muddy and slushy and then no more footprints.”

“The slush eventually settles back in or people will step on them which will mess them up. But until then though, there’s footprints.”

“Okay but what the actual fuck? Why would you leave them if they are just going to get quickly covered up again?

The Iron Bull stared at him. “…are you aware of why people leave footprints?”

“They really like them?” Adaar asked hesitantly. “Shows progress or conquest over snow?” That certainly seemed to be the case with Sera. She cackled sometimes as she stomped her way through life. Nobody was going to forget Sera.

“Well, no. That’s not how that works at all, but uh, not sure what to do about that. Wait, how physical are you? How much are you here?”

Adaar shrugged. “Yes?”

“Cole doesn’t seem to have this problem. He leaves footprints just fine. And you yourself left footprints in the Fallow Mire.”

“Yes and it was very gross. I know everyone else was doing it, but I am never going to be able to unsee the things clinging to my form, so I just stopped doing that.”

“You- But I’ve seen you get hit,” the Iron Bull said in a very confused tone. “Back at Crestwood, and then you couldn’t get out of the trees.”

“Well yes!” Adaar said happily because that was a scene that had made sense. “They contested me and won because I wasn’t paying attention, and then I took damage.”

“So… you only get injured if someone else hurts you?”

Adaar thought for a moment. “No,” he said. “No there was that snow back at Haven.” Though that had been after Corypheus had attempted to unravel him, and then Adaar had gotten buried in a self-inflicted avalanche.

The Iron Bull made a series of strangled, confused noises. Adaar made his own confused noises.

The Iron Bull slowly put his head in his hands. “Okay. New plan. I have no idea what’s going on with you, but we are going to discuss some basic fundamental laws of physics.”

As Adaar quickly found out, mortals didn’t have a say in footsteps, and there were different types of ground and some didn’t have the same properties that resulted in footprints unless someone was tracking in mud from the outside. And yes, that’s what the phrase ‘don’t leave footprints on my good floor’ was about wiping your feet off and not that leaving footprints was impolite. And yes, some people applied more pressure to leave more of a mark which would, of course, stay marked unless acted upon by outside forces or the incredibly slow entropy of the world.

This all seemed extremely difficult to keep track of, but Adaar had been running with just mimicking what people were doing this entire time, so now he would just also watch and see if other people were leaving footprints and then leave his own regardless of how gross the ground was.

“So what do you normally do to recuperate and regain energy? Like back in the Fade?” the Iron Bull asked. “Since that also seems to be a problem.”

Adaar shrugged. “Steal from Sloth demons? Wasn’t as much as a problem in the Fade. There wasn’t nearly as much to push against. Sometimes reenact dreams and stories with a lot of strong desires and then feed off of that. Sometimes con a mage so I could steal energy from them. Not enough to ever kill them, no. I had standards. Not many, but some standards.”

“So before this you never killed anyone before?”

Adaar hesitated. “It was mostly self-defense? I didn’t kill for eating purposes. Sometimes you just have to kill a guy; I don’t think you have any right to judge.”

“I’m not judging.”

“You are a little.” Adaar actually had no idea, but then the Iron Bull huffed. Ha! He had too been judging him.

“Anyway, as important as this all is, I don’t want to push you too hard,” the Iron Bull said, tactfully changing the subject of Adaar’s culinary habits. “We can work on stuff every week. I know you already have a lot on your plate, so as absolutely important as this is, I don’t want to strain you too much further.”

Adaar tilted his head. “Maybe we could also talk about these things while out on field missions? Not a lot to do once the camp’s all prepared and before you all pass out. We could easily disguise it as discussing sciences.”

The Iron Bull nodded. “Sounds good to me. My recommendation now is we take a short practice walk over to the tavern, see how you do, and then call it a day.”

Adaar found footprints extremely stressful now that he had to focus on them and couldn’t just fake the idea of him moving about, just fake the image of his form doing things. It hadn’t been as bad as before, but exerting pressure required using energy, and he was already running near on empty after Emprise du Lion. Cullen had not helped things. Possibly Adaar could just try taking routes with less squishy terrain as brushing grass aside took far less energy. Granted footprints took hardly any energy at all, but the sheer consistent use over time would just take up so much.

He was definitely going to have to start eating the recently deceased like some lowlife Shade that hadn’t figured out basic concealment practices yet.

Cole seemed to be doing fine, but then Cole got to spend all of his time doing Compassion things. Adaar didn’t get to primarily do Desire things, and Adaar also still wanted proper payment.

Maybe Adaar just needed to get over himself, do whatever Desire things he could, and then just pretend Josephine was respecting him not only as a mortal person but also as a Fade person doing important tasks and services and just-

Adaar wilted internally. No. No he was a person, and people got paid, and he wasn’t going to do Desire things for free. Not unless he was directly benefiting in some other way.

At the tavern, the Iron Bull sidled him over to the Chargers who all greeted him with drunken enthusiasm. Basic introductions and outrageous stories were had, and approximately everyone, including a number of people who weren’t even in the Chargers, teased him about his reaction to alcohol. The Iron Bull temporarily excused himself and vanished upwards to his room, vague ideas/wants of giving Adaar something in his mind.

It- hmm. Adaar had been not-so-sneakily maneuvered right amongst the Chargers. The Iron Bull knew what he was, but he also knew what Cole was, and that hadn’t stopped him from trying to aggressively mother hen Cole.

Maybe Adaar could also just spend some more time in the tavern and feed a little on ambient drunken delight.

On the other hand, the tavern and all the Chargers were starting to make him feel homesick. Bright side and also to motivate himself to feed from at least somewhere on a regular basis, this would give him direct exposure to taverns and tavern-related memories, even the Herald’s Rest wasn’t that particular tavern that he had spent some time as. Maybe if he just thought of it like that, as inspiration, then the situation would be more tolerable, because honestly Adaar was being a complete diva about things and needed to get over himself.

But the camaraderie, all the banter- it made him miss the Fade more, particularly Valor. Weirdest and yet bestest friend Adaar had ever had.

Was Valor doing okay? Rifts were everywhere, and people pulled through came out damaged and warped. Solid proof that even demons could be corrupted and thus proved his point right against Solas. (He was going to have to remember that for future arguments.)

And even if Valor somehow came through fine, he would still be- Well, no. If Valor somehow got into the mortal world intact, he would probably consider it some grand holiday, just chock-full of life-or-death situations for realsies and probably never want to return to the Fade.

This was not making him feel better. What if someone actually killed Valor? Not just killed but killed, actual permanent death. And that would be just his sort of thing to get involved in too.

No. Bad Adaar. No he couldn’t control Valor’s nature, and he would be a terrible friend if he tried. He could try to point him in the direction of nice, good fights with friendly spirits or demons that would just do a duel to a death scene instead of a death scene, but ultimately he couldn’t dictate what Valor was because he wasn’t Valor, and he knew that from the start when he decided to befriend him. Or, rather, when he decided to accept Valor’s strange eternal pledge of friendship instead of doing what was probably the reasonable thing and just running the other way.

Still, he couldn’t stop imagining Valor’s essence scattered to the winds from some stupid Templar. This was not helping his constant high-stress situation. Adaar pretended he was swishing his tail, but it didn’t help.

He desperately needed more coping mechanisms. And more sources of energy.

The Iron Bull returned, holding something in his hands, and sat down next to him. “Brought you something as a treat. And no need for that face, it’s not alcoholic.”

The Iron Bull slid over a mug. Inside was a dark-colored liquid with little floating white bits. “What is it?” Adaar asked suspiciously, poking at the mug. It was hot. Eugh.

“It’s called cocoa.” And it was hard for the Iron Bull to get. He loved it. It reminded him of home. Dammit, that was Adaar’s idea for the Iron Bull. Now he had to come up with a new idea.

Adaar stared suspiciously at all the weird white floating bits.

“Venak hol! It’s sugary! You like sugary.”

Well. If it was a sweeter drink…

Adaar took a very cautious sip. Flavor exploded inside him, dancing along his tongue. Not just sweet, but warm and rich, creamy and silky and wonderful. Adaar looked down at what basically resembled watery mud.

Adaar took another very reasonable sip, and slowly tightened his grip on the mug.

“See, sugary,” the Iron Bull said and utterly pleased with himself. Adaar paid him no mind because he had something far more important to consider, and that was hot cocoa. He wanted to infuse his very being with this substance, to absorb it permanently within him as the mortals did, but alas Adaar was made of material far more ephemeral and was still unsure of what happened to few the substances he did put inside his own form.

He couldn’t just keep it though. It would go cold in this realm, slowly lose its flavor. He had to drink it now, but at what speed in order to maximize sensory input without sacrificing pleasure gained? It would die if he didn’t, all its flavor potential dead and meaningless as everything in the mortal world died, but the remembrance and impressions of the hot cocoa would forever cling to this mug.

“Boss?”

He would keep the mug then, after he was finished. He would keep the mug with him so he could observe those memories, remember this delicious, fleeting substance in this mortal world.

“You okay there boss?”

This had to be one of the most perfect overlaps of Desire and Hunger he could think of, fulfilling needs as a pleasure. In a perfect world, all such instances of Hunger could overlap with Desire for a more harmonic rendition of the Fade. Or, possibly, cause a massive war between Desire and Hunger leading to a massive collapse between such distinctions with only a few Hunger demons remaining after.

Maybe he could possess the cocoa. No, bad idea. No possessing things in front of people, not even delicious cocoa.

Adaar sniffed. “I like this,” he said primly. “Good choice. Could have this for dragon celebrations from now on, at least for me.”

The Iron Bull grinned. “Knew you’d like it.”

And the Iron Bull approved.

Chapter Text

While waiting for the new candidates for esteemed grand commander of the Inquisition to arrive, Leliana had forced them all (barring the three still recovering from a bout of red lyrium) out the door to do something productive. Apparently that meant going into undead-infested fields swarming with Venatori. It was at least a slight change of scenery from the undead-infested bog, and according to Leliana’s scouts, had absolutely no red lyrium.

Dorian patted Principissa’s rotting neck fondly who did its best impression of a whicker. Cassandra looked slightly ill.

Dorian personally didn’t mind that Solas wouldn’t be traveling with them as it meant Dorian got a brief reprieve from finding entire new ways to shove his foot into his mouth. Honestly. One must maintain some shreds of dignity, but he was confident that upon arrival back at Skyhold, he would accidentally say something terrible again, and it would all begin anew.

He was, however, traveling with Fenris, so it still remained a possibility. Fenris had apparently decided to give him a wide berth and generally ignore him, and Dorian didn’t feel inclined to violate his boundaries because Dorian wasn’t completely terrible.

Danarius honestly wasn’t even the worst Tevinter had to offer, sadly.

Dorian had earlier dropped a few discreet inquiries to Cole upon certain revelations about Hawke as the man was horribly unsubtle about his use of magic. The man seemed nice enough, but then plenty of such people did. People like Adaar who had demonstrated his ability to literally control others, albeit outing himself by saving the lives of three of his compatriots.

Regardless, Dorian kept up his small little spell around the two blood mages. Not that he honestly expected them to start enacting nefarious plots, but rather that it was a reasonable precaution, much in the same way that it was unlikely for him to be attacked by assassins or his father’s thugs at any given second, but that didn’t stop him from preparing against that either.

Dorian kept up a professional atmosphere as he was, in fact, able to work with well-intended blood mages. If he couldn’t after all, he would have been limited to just interacting with his father, Alexius, and Felix, and in the end that list had been shortened to just Felix. Who was in fact dead.

So they were all gathered at the first established camp, looking forward to a day filled with murder. Adaar was currently consulting a sheaf of papers with a concentrated frown. “Okay,” Adaar said. “I think if we really coordinate our efforts and maximize our time efficiency, we should be able to get everything done in two weeks.”

It was never a good sign when one heard the phrase ‘maximize time efficiency.’

Cassandra looked stoically ahead. Sera was not faring as well.

“You know,” Hawke said, “it’s not like those undead are going anywhere. We could just add on an extra week, take it easy.”

Adaar shook his head. “I’d prefer to just get this done,” he said. “And the sooner we clear out this area, the sooner we can all go back to Skyhold where the beds and good food are. There’s also that whole deal with the new candidates.”

Dorian was rather new to the Inner Circle strike team, not unlike Hawke or Fenris lurking behind him, but the expressions on all of the older members reflected the idea that this was not going to be a one-time experience. Dorian had hoped that Adaar being a boundless ball of energy was just limited to the Fallow Mire, perhaps by desire of not wanting to be in the Mire anymore than possible, or being influenced by all of the excess magical energy in the area. Solas had been talking at unprecedented speeds for an entire week afterward.

Dorian was however starting to get the idea that this was not going to be a one-time deal, that this was in fact the deal for all Adaar-related matters, and that the man just might not know how to slow down.

Cassandra sighed. “I think the man I am hunting is on the other side of those rocks.”

Iron Bull gave her a sympathetic look. “We could clear this out. Take a week, tops. Hopefully he’ll still be there.”

There was a slight scuffling noise from overhead. Dorian didn’t want to look.

“Inquisitor, please get down from there,” Cassandra said wearily.

“It’s fine. I think I can find a path for the rest of you. Or maybe get a rope? I have rope. Hold on.”

“Inquisitor this is really getting ridiculous,” Cassandra said.

“Look, dragons are terrible for rural livelihood. The peasantry couldn’t afford a massive civil war to begin with, and they surely can’t afford all of their livestock being eaten,” Adaar said.

Dorian wasn’t buying it.

“Have to think of those peasants,” Iron Bull said cheerfully.

“Exactly!” Adaar said.

And there was why.

“Look, if you really have a problem with it, then you can personally go and tell those peasants that we will not be clearing out the dragon and will be dooming them to starving come winter.”

“Sounds like solid reasoning to me!” Hawke said cheerfully.

Sera had started to throw flasks of fire at her enemies. Not an alchemical concoction that would then catch on fire, no, literal flasks of fire. The plan was to make their enemies panic, and to be fair, it was very effective. Unfortunately since they were all standing on dry wooden battlements, it was extremely effective, and there had been a slight miscalculation at how much fire one could fit inside a flask of which Sera was quite adamant ‘wasn’t magic’.

“Widdles and I worked on these,” Sera said after. “She’s alright. Bit weird though.”

“That explains it,” Cassandra said dryly, and indeed it did. Dagna was prone to perhaps going overboard with her projects in ways worthy of Tevinter, and quite frankly Sera was not much better.

Apparently Sera wanted to move beyond just setting her own self on fire which honestly Dorian still wasn’t quite sure how that worked, and Sera’s response was usually along the lines of how easy it was to tell if she got it wrong, so she just stopped getting it wrong, and there she was. Dorian was fairly certain that was also not how that worked.

On the sidelines, Cassandra and Adaar were meticulously slitting the throats of charred remains of Venatori just in case any were alive, though Dorian noted Adaar kept getting an odd look in his eyes, almost self-disgust? Adaar didn’t seem fond of combat, staying towards the rear of battles and focusing on rather thorough barriers and complex entropy magic, weakening their enemies. Perhaps he wasn’t fond of death up close.

Or it could be the smell. That was also a reasonable conclusion.

“Not planning on raising the dead, Dorian?” Cassandra asked stiltedly, not looking up as she slit another throat. She had made her distaste well known. Just his luck to be working with possibly the only Nevarran who disapproved of necromancy.

“Not unless you want that lingering odor,” Dorian replied. “Personally I don’t prefer that burnt flesh smell.”

Adaar slit the last throat, looking extremely uncomfortable.

“So I take it you are no longer interested in necromancy?” Dorian asked teasingly.

Adaar did a full body shudder. “I wasn’t that interested in it to begin with. No offense, but just no. Also if I do pick up a specialization, it’s going to be one that the rest of you don’t have. Doesn’t make sense to double up.”

“Another specialization, you mean,” Vivienne said, stepping over the fallen corpses, and looking flawless. She applied her own special barrier to keep her clothing free of blood and bits of bone when she was slaughtering her enemies. Not that Dorian was jealous.

“I can’t have a variety of interests?” Adaar asked vaguely.

“You know what would really help?” Hawke asked, wrapping up what was ‘absolutely normal’ arm wounds. “If you picked up spirit healing.”

Adaar stared at Hawke, blinked once. “That… probably wouldn’t work out,” he said in a strangled tone. “Just doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

Hawke nodded. “Anchor scares them away?”

“Or it could be the blood magic,” Cassandra muttered in the first show of not being comfortable with Adaar that Dorian had ever heard.

“Hey I can do some rudimentary healing,” Hawke said. “A friend taught me once. Kinda insisted on it actually. Threatened to bean me over the head if I didn’t considering all the weird scrapes and injuries I tend to get.”

Yes, plenty of weird scrapes and injuries in blood magic which he just halfway admitted to so doing. Fenris made an exasperated expression in the background. Honestly, very few people seemed concerned with Adaar, so why Hawke was pretending to be otherwise was anyone’s guess.

Also as of yet, Dorian had only noticed Hawke using blood to augment his spells. Adaar had proved the ability to literally control people. Bodies and minds were linked, and one could easily lead to the other. Dorian was not planning on dropping his shields anytime soon, regardless of Leliana pointing out that Cassandra was immune to such things and had been Adaar’s main sponsor.

Adaar was also ‘besties’ with Cole, a spirit of Compassion, and according to Solas cannot be so easily manipulated into hurting others without it visibly showing. He remained a spirit of Compassion who honestly thought highly of Adaar, and thus it reflected well on Adaar’s character.

Solas also detested tea and said nasty things to Sera and once lit his own coattails on fire. He was not an end-all-be-all source.

Adaar had also once in Crestwood chased down a lost chicken, in the rain, with demons pouring out of a nearby Rift, and had almost certainly used blood magic to get the chicken to stop trying to peck his face off. Granted he later had a great number of interesting things to say, but not in front of the grateful farmer.

He was also a mind-controlling blood mage.

He once made Josephine upset with handling a noble with less than his usual grace, and his response was to calmly apologize and offer to fix it, and then (with Dorian sneaking about like a five-year-old child in the background), go into a closet and cry his eyes out.

Mind-controlling blood mage.

And honestly it wasn’t even just the blood magic; Adaar seemed to fixate on things. Such things in his experience ended with the person being disappointed on whoever they were fixating, and then blood magic or murder tended to be employed.

Not that Adaar was the type to murder those who didn’t say nice things back, and he was as equally doting to the rest of the inner circle. Dorian wasn’t sure what type Adaar was at all, and that was the point of these endeavors; merely that one could never be too cautious in such things. Even the most well-intentioned, seemingly nicest people could end up doing all sorts of heinous things.

So Dorian had no absolutely idea how to feel about him.

Adaar was currently looking thoughtful thoughtful, twirling his dagger around in his hand almost hypnotically. “Maybe shapeshifting? I had a friend who was attempting to master that whole field. Part of some special plan he was working on. But I haven’t been able to contact him, which honestly is probably for the best. I really don’t want to know how he would react to me being the ‘Herald of Andraste’,” Adaar said, rolling his eyes.

“Was this Trevelyan?” Dorian asked.

Adaar frowned. “No. Another friend. I do have more than one, you know. I had an actual life before all this bullshit happened.”

“Not that any of us would know with how secret you keep your past, dear,” Vivienne said.

Adaar snorted. “If I tell any of you anything, somehow Varric’s going to find out because that’s what he does, and I’m not keen for him publishing all of those details. Maybe I like my privacy.”

Hawke laughed awkwardly and a bit sadly.

“Just tell him,” Fenris said in a tone that spoke heavily of regret. “Undoubtedly he will make up something worse if you don’t.”

“Nah I’m going to take my chances on this one,” Adaar said with a wry look.

Most annoyingly, Adaar was insistent on collecting every last shard seen via ocularum. When Vivienne asked if this was really worth his time, Adaar had went on a passionate rant on how if their enemies wanted something so badly, then Adaar was damn well going to make sure they couldn’t have it even if he had to burn down the entire field to do so, and the Venatori could go fuck themselves with a cactus.

Which was blatant hyperbole as Adaar panicked if any fires spread too far.

Later, after an extremely dead Claudius and the last off of his little kill list, they stopped for a lunch break. Some of them stretched weary legs, some of them just flopped into the river. Sera rummaged around in the packs before pulling out jerky and then flopped down next to him, complaining about her arms being sore.

The only one who wasn’t in some kind of rest was Cole who was somehow looking even more awkward than normal. After spending a moment turning in tight little circles, he apparently came to some kind of decision and started to walk over to Dorian.

Conversations with Cole always went in strange directions. Apparently as a side effect of his little wards, Cole was unable to read his mind and thus tended to flounder. This didn’t stop him from asking questions however, and the two of them had into an exchange of sorts.

Well, mostly. There were some things Dorian found himself just not wanting to explain to a Compassion spirit and as a result had to go sigh and toss more things into the big box of things Dorian Pavus had been wrong about. It was depressingly large.

“Need something?” Dorian asked pleasantly.

Sera frowned petulantly next to him. “You’re just encouraging it. Ain’t no way of telling what weird demon agenda it’s got.”

“Ah yes, the most dastardly of schemes no doubt,” Dorian said and then turned to Cole. “So what’s on the ‘demon agenda’ for today?”

Cole looked horribly distressed. “We can’t just have the one because then it would be singled out, not fair, has to be fair for comfort, and they could never figure it out anyway.”

About as much sense as Cole normally made. “And what, pray tell, does that mean?”

Cole quickly dropped something on his head. “I made flower crowns for everyone. I got you snapdragons; they’re your favorite.”

Dorian had no idea where Cole found these flowers, considering the Exalted Plains was mostly long grass and corpses at this point, but they were indeed his favorite. How Cole had figured that out without being able to read his mind, Dorian would never know.

“Thank you Cole,” Dorian said, and that seemed to appease him as he turned to Sera next who glared at him, raising her shoulders defensively.

Cole extended another flower crown, dandelions this time.

Sera squinted suspiciously.

“It’s just a flower crown, Sera,” Dorian said. “If you take it then he’ll leave.”

Sera grumbled but snatched hers out of his hands. Cole smiled happily and then trailed off to the next person. Sera held hers gingerly before grumbling, brow furrowed and ears flat, and placed the crown on her head.

People continued to have mixed reactions which honestly made no sense. Ah yes, the devious plans of giving people flowers they liked, surely the most clever plan that would result in Cole possessing someone. Dorian had no idea if it was intentional, but no one got lilies. Not that Dorian knew of any personal significance of lilies for current party members; Varric wrote only the trashiest of novels, and Dorian most certainly did not read them.

“No,” Fenris said.

Cole just stared at him, flower crown in hands.

Hawke nudged him. “Come on. Just wear it.”

“No.”

“Even Tad Cooper’s wearing one.”

Hawke’s mabari panted happily, indeed with its own flower crown. Apparently Cole was quite serious about everyone getting their own.

No.”

Hawke rolled his eyes and held out a hand. “I’ll keep it safe for him, okay?”

The only person Cole himself stalled over was Adaar, scuffling back and forth like earlier before hesitantly approaching.

“I’m sorry,” Cole said in a distressed tone. “I couldn’t find your favorites.”

“That’s understandable,” Adaar said with an odd look. “I mean, those would be pretty hard to find here.”

“So I tried to find his for you, but he liked yours the best.”

Adaar had that look of someone who had just walked into a tree. “…oh,” he said.

Cole held out a flower crown anyway. “These were the best I could find.”

They were all very colorful flowers in strange shapes, petals that curled back or furled in spiral patterns almost like their own bouquets, some that looked like stars or anemones. Dorian had absolutely no idea where Cole found them. Again, corpses and exploding demons and long grass and occasionally halla droppings.

Adaar, almost reverently, took the flower crown and placed it on his head, behind his own regal crown of horns. “Thank you,” he said. “They are very close, I agree.”

After their break, all of them now decked in flowers—and it was truly remarkable Hawke had talked Fenris into wearing his and Fenris looked no less intimidating—it was back to murdering demons and undead and even more Venatori. Adaar continued to be reluctant about closing Rifts which probably had to do with how afterward he tended to wince and rub his hand. Solas had said that he had stabilized the Anchor. Solas had also set his own coattails on fire, and no, that was not a thing Dorian was going to stop bringing up any time soon even if Solas wasn’t around, not after Solas had the gall to say that Dorian’s magical technique was ‘excessive’.

“These corpses have been dead for a while,” Hawke said helpfully, peering down into another pit of dead bodies. “Not as much of a smell.”

Fenris wrinkled his nose but said nothing.

“Okay there’s a smell,” Hawke said, “but let’s be honest; Darktown was worse. Also the docks, and let me tell you, that lingered.”

“If you are going to ask if I want to raise these ones, then no. Wrong state of decay,” Dorian said.

“Wrong state of decay?” Hawke asked. “How is there a wrong state of decay? Doesn’t necromancy hold the body together?”

“Oh it has nothing to do with magic,” Dorian said. “No, the real concern is maggots.”

Cassandra made a strangled noise from his left.

“Once made that mistake, of course. I had panicked and simply raised the nearest body, not realizing it was already decomposing. All went quickly wrong when it exploded into a fountain of maggots, spewing all over the area and my attackers. It was extremely gross.”

Though sometimes a fountain of maggots just does the trick. Dorian hadn’t been recaptured that day.

Cassandra gagged. Hawke looked intrigued. “So how did that work? Did they just erupt directly out of the skin, or-”

“Can we please stop talking about maggots?” Adaar asked loudly, looking about on par with Cassandra for uncomfortable.

Hawke barely seemed dismayed. “Alright then, how many can you raise at once? Can you have an evil undead army at your whims, ravaging the countryside?” Hawke emphasized this with finger wiggles.

“No,” Dorian said. “Unfortunately I am not quite at ‘evil undead army’ yet. Got distracted in my studies and missed all of the evil overlord classes.”

“If you wanted to focus on necromancy, then perhaps you should have apprenticed yourself to someone other than Alexius,” Fenris said without looking at him.

This was the first time Fenris had actually talked to him, or rather at him, and it was a beautifully calculated question. Dorian apprenticing himself to Alexius was perhaps one of the worst political moves that Dorian could have made. The Pavus family were proper Alti, stretching back generations, and had the ear of the Archon himself. Alexius was, or rather had been, a radical, and radical magisters who actually wanted reform were not well-received in the Magisterium. Tended to attract more assassins than most, and those that got too uppity were almost always ‘found guilty’ of forbidden magics and then dragged off and made Tranquil, usually by those who actually did practice such things.

So logically it was one of the stupidest moves one could take.

“Well I certainly wasn’t about to apprentice myself to Magister Titania, now was I?” Dorian asked.

Fenris snorted and then looked absolutely betrayed, as if how dare Dorian make him laugh.

“Don’t know if I want to ask,” Sera said.

“Titania?” Dorian asked. “Perfectly nice lady, mostly keeps to herself, fairly well liked in the Magisterium.”

“She fucks corpses,” Fenris said.

“She does fuck corpses, yes.”

“I have a cousin like that,” Cassandra said grimly.

“What? In her own home?” Sera asked.

“Oh no, she’s quite open about it, prefers public buildings,” Dorian said. “Walked in on her once.”

“Just finds dead people and fucks them?” Sera asked.

“Well, not immediately,” Dorian said. “She prefers them juicy.”

“How is she not dead yet?” Fenris asked him.

“Probably necromancy,” Dorian said. She was indeed a decade shy of a century at this point.

“And now it’s corpse fucking,” Adaar muttered under his breath. “Can’t have a nice conversation just once.”

Iron Bull patted Adaar’s back sympathetically. They had been getting increasingly close of late despite Iron Bull’s distaste towards magic. Apparently the mind control hadn’t scared him off for some reason, but then Iron Bull was contradictory that way.

“You could have gone to the Mortalitasi,” Cassandra said.

“And here I was under the impression that you loathed them. Did always wanted to see the Grand Necropolis though,” Dorian said wistfully.

Adaar froze, actually turned to face the conversation. “Wait. What do you mean you’ve always wanted to see it?”

“Well, I’m not an expert, but in this case I would hazard a guess I would want to visit at some point in my life.”

Adaar squinted. “So you haven’t been.”

“You’ve grasped the point.”

Adaar squinted further. “But your father is a magister,” he said slowly. “A very rich and powerful magister.”

“Yes?”

“What, he couldn’t be bothered for once in his life to take his kid there?” he asked.

“Why is this of concern to you?” Dorian asked.

But honestly Adaar was looking as if the entire thing was the greatest affront to his sensibilities of today. More than the corpse fucking, more than the maggots, even beyond his absolute squeamishness towards the dead. No, it was his father not bending to young Dorian’s whims at a trip to a building filled with corpses.

Later that evening, after they had finally stopped for the night, after Dorian and Sera had their bitch about nature session (usually joined by Varric who was of course missing), after theoretically they were all asleep, Dorian noted that it was dark inside Adaar’s tent. It was never dark as the Anchor refused to stop shooting out green light and made stealth with Adaar a pain.

The Inquisitor did have his odd nighttime strolls, claiming insomnia, and honestly Dorian should just leave things be. Curiosity was rarely well rewarded, after all.

As if that had ever stopped Dorian. At the very least, he could say he was making sure that Adaar didn’t fall into a Rift or hadn’t keeled over. Despite Adaar’s boundless energy, he had started to develop a pinched look to his features, a hungry glint in his eyes. Also the mark had slowly started to progress up his arm which almost certainly had something to do with it. Dorian wasn’t supposed to know that, but again, curiosity and having never stopped Dorian before. Some of the most important moments in his life came from terrible curiosities.

The night had a nip in the air that Dorian had unfortunately grown used to, though it was thankfully clear with some manner of light. Enough light to tell that Adaar hadn’t left an easy trail to follow. At times the man could be near impossible to track with the faintest hints of passage. Usually this meant he was up to something of which he thought others would disapprove.

Dorian could just go back to bed. Back in his multi-week camping trip in the Hinterlands, he had mastered the art of minor heating runes to keep his tent at a cozy temperature, and the little nip in the air was growing harsher.

He sighed and slowly made his way to higher ground. It would be easier to catch flickers of green light that way and was honestly the only hope of Dorian finding him. The grasses reached to his waist, and Dorian hoped none of it was stripweed. The last thing he needed was another bout of sneezing. Eventually he was high enough to have a proper view of the area, dark as it was, and after several moments he did notice the faintest flickering of green, too small to be a Rift, and what looked like the faintest orange glow.

A fire? Practicing fire? Adaar’s primal magic abilities were, to put it lightly, lacking, a complete contrast to Hawke who liked to rain destruction down from the heavens at any possible opportunity.

Dorian stared at the faint lights for a moment before sighing and slowly making his way down the hill and towards Adaar. Honestly. Someone needed to discourage him from his terrible habits, and Sera was most certainly not that person, and Cole didn’t seem to understand the concept of privacy yet.

Eventually the grasses parted into something more manageable, and as he drew near, he could see there in the ruins of a house was Adaar. And he could see Adaar quite clearly as there next to him, emitting all the light necessary to see by, was a massive Rage demon, currently examining coins of all things laid out on a ruined piece of furniture.

Adaar perked upwards, swiveling around to stare at Dorian.

Dorian stared at the Rage demon who was seemingly ignoring everything around it. “What-”

“Don’t tell Cassandra!” Adaar blurted out, looking less like someone dabbling in dark magic and more like a small child getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

“Don’t tell Cassandra what exactly?”

The Rage demon reared its head to eye him for a moment, brilliant light oozing from its face, before rippling and turning back to look at the coins, apparently deciding that Dorian was not a threat.

“Well, um, Sera got me thinking,” Adaar babbled. “Not this literal scenario. Oh no she’d probably be so fucking mad with me if she found out, especially that her thing inspired me. Don’t tell Sera either?”

The Rage demon perked up curiously, but Adaar waved a hand. “Not anger I’m looking to cause,” Adaar said, and the Rage demon huffed, smog spewing from the approximate area of a mouth.

Dorian hesitantly took a step closer. Sera’s operation of her Friends, coins on a rock, Adaar’s guilty look. “Are you hiring this Rage demon?”

“Little people! Well, she’s not so little, but the idea stands. Mortals are just not fond of demons you know, so they are an under-employed task force who already get more than enough shit from society. And I mean we’ve already got a precedent with Cole, so I figured I’d just branch out a little.”

“I was under the assumption that Cole was, in fact, not a demon.”

Adaar folded his arms. “As if that matters to the others. Honestly, most of them can’t even tell the difference.”

“Cole at least looks human. And ah, she is very obviously a demon. Whatever would your allies think?”

Adaar paused for a moment. “You mean the Templars?”

“Yes. Them. There’s a considerable amount of Templars in the Inquisition,” Dorian said dryly. He personally did not approve.

Adaar did not seem fazed. “This would be a different division. I’d keep them separate.”

“Them. You mean, more than one demon.”

“Don’t tell Cassandra,” Adaar said again.

The Rage demon continued to pay them no mind, instead twisting unnervingly around to look at the coins from different angles.

“And you are planning on paying her with coins?”

“It’s a contract,” Adaar said. “Anyone who does quality work should get paid. It’s something I feel strongly about.”

“And this is how she takes payment?”

Normally I take payment in the destruction of enemies,” Rage said, not bothering to look up again. “But I am already receiving such with my task.

“Murdering Venatori,” Adaar said helpfully. “Mixture of skirmish work as well as scouting for larger forces that she wouldn’t be able to take on her own. But she’s still getting paid with traditional money. There’s a standard wage for all of our skirmishers.”

Dorian was privately wondering whatever a demon would do with gold coins when the Rage demon oozed forward, engulfing the furniture and money inside herself. The wood was quickly reduced to charcoal and then ash and then just gone, while the coins melted until all that was left was a patch of molten gold.

The liquid gold traveled up her body until stopping in one of her approximate limbs. The Rage demon, eyes dripping light, observed it for a long moment before nodding. “I will require more of this. This form of payment is satisfactory.”

“Fantastic,” Adaar said before whipping out a map. “So, here is the location of the main recruitment officer to talk to. He can get you settled, make sure all the contracts are in order—not that kind of contract, don’t worry, just a paper one as a kind of a formality here—and you will be all set.”

The Rage demon nodded once before sizzling into the ground, leaving nothing but a charred circle where she was and completely ruining Dorian’s night vision.

Dorian just stood there for a moment, contemplating what he had just witnessed before conjuring up small balls of light to see by.

“You just hired a Rage demon,” he said, mind still trying to wrap around the situation. “With coins.”

Adaar waved a hand dismissively. “Honestly we’re at an advantage here. Fighting against Corypheus and Venatori and that whole Tevinter supremacy bullshit, and you know how demons hate Tevinter.”

Dorian actually had no idea that demons apparently hated Tevinter. This was not as far as he knew common knowledge despite what Adaar seemed to think.

“So then with the deal with the coins, I presume you aren’t binding them?” Dorian asked.

And in all honesty, he had meant it curiously. Those he had seen work with demons bound them first as basic precaution, not that he had actually meant anything by it. And yet as Adaar’s face went carefully blank, Dorian was distinctly reminded of how all his own conversations with Solas went.

“I had gotten the impression,” Adaar said in a deceptively bright tone, “that you were against that kind of magic.”

This was exactly like how his conversations with Solas went, Dorian feeling like he was blindly flailing about and somehow always managing to find the worst thing to say. It was quite a talent, but more than he didn’t actually want to anger Solas, he very much did not want to anger the man in charge of a massive organization and with dark, arcane magic at his disposal.

“Yes,” Dorian said carefully, “but you seem to practice such things.”

“I do,” Adaar said in the same tone, “but there’s a difference between temporary control of someone in order to get out a bad situation and horrifically stripping a being of all their free will.”

Probably not the time to outwardly wonder over just how much free will spirits had. Solas had strong opinions, and Adaar seemed to share them.

“But if it’s a task that the demon would already do, then some see it as a kind of insurance that the demon won’t take things out of control.”

“Oh there’s a difference,” Adaar said. “It’s the difference between someone offering to do something and then forcing someone to do something. For a very uncomfortable analogy, let’s take sex. In one case, it’s a pleasurable activity for all involved. In the other case, it’s fucked up.”

It was an extremely uncomfortable analogy, Dorian gave him that.

“Alright, let me ask you a question,” Adaar said. “Do you view Cole as a person?”

“I mean- yes? He definitely seems to be one,” Dorian said hesitantly.

“And thus your standards of not enslaving people with blood magic, that applies to Cole as well?”

“Yes?” Cole obviously very much was.

Dorian hadn’t noticed the slowly growing pressure in the area so much as he noticed it suddenly abating. A considerable amount of pressure. He had thought that had been mounting emotional tension due to conversational topics, but no, that had been actual pressure in the area, and Dorian was distinctly reminded yet again of the fact that Adaar had insane amounts of power at his literal fingertips.

This seemed to be even more of a sensitive topic with Adaar than it ever had been with Solas.

“Good,” Adaar said, tone returned to normal. “Good. Sorry if I came off a little strong there.”

“This means a lot to you,” Dorian said carefully.

“There’s already enough people who tell Cole to his face that he’s not a person,” Adaar said, eyes glinting, and Dorian couldn’t help but feel that his line was more of a deflection than an answer. “It gets tiring.”

Dorian refrained from mentioning that he himself tried to at least be friendly with Cole as it probably wouldn’t help. “So I presume your ‘anti-demon’ stance is something to appease Cassandra?”

Adaar didn’t so much as sigh as heave a breath. “I am not telling her most things, okay? Probably string me up for heresy.”

“Inquisitor, at this point, you are a practicing blood mage who has manipulated at least three people.” Dorian paused for a moment. “Possibly more considering our lady spymaster.”

“No I am not because that can sometimes be detected, and that would unravel most of our efforts,” Adaar said. “Also because I never asked, how did people know? I’m not exactly slitting my wrists here like- well, like other blood mages.”

“You mean Hawke.”

Adaar looked innocent.

“It’s not hard, Inquisitor,” Dorian said. “You don’t cast from the Fade. You can tell if you know what to look for.”

Adaar’s face flickered in some strange emotion for a split second. “Ah. Okay then.”

Dorian decided against dredging up how dangerous blood magic could be at this point. At least Adaar seemed to do it out of a misplaced sense of compassion, though Dorian could admit that even he couldn’t see any way to have stopped the possible disaster at Emprise du Lion in any other way. Even a sleep hex could only hold for so long, and even so, you would still have to cart them down the mountain, and all the scouts were dead via red lyrium so there wasn’t any back-up.

Not that Dorian had been analyzing the entire situation, trying to find another option. He had never liked thinking about situations with only one particular solution.

And what would have happened if Dorian had been there? He wasn’t about to assume that he would have been strangely immune to the red lyrium like Adaar apparently was, and theoretical him would not be able to drop his shields as you please in order for Adaar to control him. Possibly, Adaar would have been able to hex him enough for one of the others to drag him down the mountain.

Possibly, Dorian would simply have ended up very dead, though frankly it was only a matter of time. Such a line of work as attempted heroism did not have a long lifespan.

Adaar finally broke the growing silence. “So, along the same line of subject, and as long as we are alone, I’ve noticed your distaste for my blood magic.”

“As has already been brought up,” Dorian said.

“It makes you uncomfortable, and I understand that, though just trust me to find the one Tevinter mage who’s squeamish about blood magic.”

“For your information, Felix was also not a fan, though to be fair he was only barely a mage.”

“The point is,” Adaar said slowly as if carefully choosing his words, “I may be a bit aware of how uncomfortable it is to be on the low end of a power dynamic. And while I like to pretend I don’t wield major socio-political power because that’s the only way I can keep from panicking, or that we are apparently the only hope of not plunging the world into a disaster that would eclipse even the first Blight, that’s still a thing. So I don’t want you to be scared, but I don’t honestly expect anyone to trust me, and I’d rather fuck off than make you uncomfortable. I’ll just gorge myself on chocolate for a bit.”

Just once Dorian would like to have a conversation with Adaar that didn’t begin or end in severe awkwardness. Granted the conversation had already begun as such, but there was always the nice fantasy of it ending on a different note. “Look. I haven’t known you long enough to know what kind of a person you are. No, the blood magic is not appealing to me, but if a major thing like that stopped me from engaging in a bout of flirting, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in Tevinter.”

Would have mostly been restricted to the brothels, and even then that wasn’t a certainty.

Dorian paused for a moment. “I may have also been getting the impression you were more into Bull than me.”

“I- no? I mean he’s not interested, so no. And so that’s just not a possibility,” Adaar half-babbled. “I mean- he’s Qunari, and I’m, well, bas saarebas, so he just wouldn’t be attracted.”

Dorian could be reading too much into things, but Adaar did sound almost upset.

“Hypothetically, what if he was? Would you try to pursue us both?”

“I guess?” Adaar paused for a moment before a very alarmed, very horrified expression crossed his face. “Wait. Are you not allowed to flirt with more than one person at once? This isn’t another one of those weird social rules, right?”

Dorian blinked. “Well, sometimes? It depends on the people involved and which country you are in.”

Adaar nodded. “Okay. Okay that’s good then. So that’s still a go on the flirting?”

Adaar was a bundle of anxiety just waiting to explode into disaster, possibly literally via the mark, who apparently never slept and used blood magic and tried to befriend demons and give them living wages. He had given him an undead horse as a present (as well as giving him large puppy eyes), was one of the few people who didn’t regard Dorian with hostile suspicion and actually went out of his way to be pleasant to him.

He’d dated worse people before, and this was so far just flirting. Having high standards got one nowhere in Tevinter, and quite frankly it was a welcome change to have someone simply be nice to him. “For now.”

Chapter Text

Work never ended. There were letters to be send, invitations to be made, nobles to be flattered, and of course the never-ending preparations for Halamshiral.
 
Adaar had taken one look at the terrible outfits designed for the occasion and had made a disgusted noise worthy of their Lady Seeker, and then insisted that he would come up with better ones, refusing any and all new designers who offered suggestions.
 
Considering that Adaar’s normal attire consisted of a very revealing vest, pants, boots, far too much jewelry, and rope, Josephine had her concerns and was secretly going ahead on better designs on the side. To be fair, Adaar’s initial reactions were completely warranted, but while Adaar did dress up far more appropriately for official business, Josephine didn’t trust him to come up with designs that passed Orlais’ standards of proper decorum.
 
Most of the letters could be sent out as is, but others required a more delicate touch: subtle encouragements, reminders of possible blackmail, some just additional information that could be clearly communicated otherwise, but the recipients were a bit too enthusiastic about the Great Game.
 
Josephine slipped a strand of wheat into one letter, a pressed hawkweed flower in another, a tiny opal, a strand of murrey-dyed silk, a broken pair of spectacles. One letter sealed with a deep blue wax, one specifically in a vellum envelope, a letter addressed in Anderfels ink. She carefully gathered them up and placed them in the out-going box for the messengers and then sat back for a second. She would have to double-check that the chefs were cooking veal for Thursday’s dinner, a side of asparagus for tomorrow’s luncheon. If only Comte Brasseur wasn’t being such a pain.
 
She rubbed her temples. She understood the reasoning behind Leliana’s plans, and she could not argue with them. And it wasn’t her own workload that had been drastically increased as Leliana was scrambling to get everything ready. How they were supposed to pull this off in merely months was beyond her.
 
Leliana and Adaar had, unfortunately, started scheming. Both were disgusted with Empress Celene and even more disgusted with Gaspard, and as such they had decided that they weren’t going to support either for the Orlesian throne. Instead, they were going to make up a new candidate. Quite literally in fact. They had managed to place her as the heir of the recently deceased Marquise Leclair—and wasn’t that just  terrible, killed by a fever, so very tragic—a recluse who did own a large swath of land and who had been a staunch supporter of the Ferelden occupation. She would not be dearly missed.
 
Her ‘niece’ Jehanne Leclair had now inherited the estate, and Adaar had been hard at work at convincing random nobles of her existence. Not with blood magic, probably—Leliana was a terrible influence on Adaar—just mentioning her in conversation and somehow convincing more gullible nobles that they had already met her, had breakfast with her just yesterday didn’t they remember?
 
Leliana was helping, and there had been a great deal of forged and altered documents of late. Those same nobles had retroactively been corresponding to the new Marquise Leclair for years, that she had given them gifts months ago, and of course she helped them pull that merchant deal because here were the documents proving so. It was frightening on how effective it was.
 
Leliana may have also slipped forged documents into the Ben-Hassrath’s collection of dossiers on foreign nobility. How, Josephine would never know. Leliana had waved a hand dismissively and said she had allies in many places.
 
‘Leclair’ had already been by to pick up her mask. It had been enchanted with a simple illusion so no Templar could ruin the deception, and it molded perfectly to her face so Leclair could wear another mask over it, something necessary with the Great Game. She would be making her debut at an upcoming gala, of course with party attendants who already ‘knew’ her.
 
At least Adaar was a natural at charming people into giving them money which greatly helped in the funds area. He had been strangely skittish around her at first but had quickly warmed up. She enjoyed their little talks, someone who would drink tea and eat scones and properly gossip about all the terrible nobles they had to put up with, and wasn’t Arl Shaffer’s mustache so ridiculous.
 
Honestly, Adaar was a saint for putting up with the talk from various nobles. She tried to filter out the worst of them, figuring they needed no aid from such people, but some would always get through with snide comments and expressing their surprise that Adaar was so ‘civilized’. And unfortunately, the worst of the worst would be at Halamshiral.
 
Josephine had dedicated her life to diplomacy which was exactly why that one bann in particular had suddenly found his trade routes disrupted.
 
She just didn’t want to see Adaar hurt. He was too giddy at receiving gifts, so happy with talking to her, so surprised that she wasn’t judging him. There was always that tiniest flash of confusion before he smiled, sometimes over things so simple as a ‘thank you’.
 
She stood up, wincing and stretching her back. She knew better than to skip lunch no matter how much work she still had to do. She looked at the large stack of papers and allowed herself a single sob.
 
There was a nip in the air today, and just stepping near the open entrance to the main castle made her ears tingle. She walked a bit faster to get to the cafeteria. Due to Adaar’s successes in the Hinterlands, the local farmers had given the Inquisition a discount on foodstuffs. It usually wasn’t a large selection unless dignitaries were visiting, but today had some hearty stews and fresh bread due to the weather.
 
At first Josephine was dismayed over Ferelden cuisine, but she had to admit that it warmed a person up like nothing else could, and their chef was decent enough to not boil everything into an indiscernible mush like their last one had. She loaded up her tray and also some dried apples before finding a nice place to sit. Normally Adaar didn’t take most of the inner circle with him out on missions, and she found herself missing some of the company. Sera was charming in her own way as long as she stayed clear of the nobles.
 
Sera had also arranged for that same bann’s manor to be infested with termites. Josephine of course could not outwardly approve of such things, but Sera had found a nice selection of silks she had been interested in. Josephine had first been surprised over Sera enjoying finery, but apparently Sera loved the texture of silk.
 
Josephine nibbled at her apples, trying to make them last, and was reminded of how spoiled her life had been back in Orlais and her own estates. There was always some kind of fruit in season in Antiva, though towards the end of the month one would tire of whatever it was. At least it had been fresh fruit, some that were a pain to import to Skyhold.
 
She was jolted out of her thoughts as suddenly Blackwall sat down across from her, hands folded. He cleared his throat. “Josephine.”
 
“Warden Blackwall,” Josephine said pleasantly. “How are you doing?”
 
Blackwall grimaced. “I attacked Adaar.”
 
Josephine sighed in relief. “Yes, you did.”
 
“I tried to kill him,” Blackwall said, staring off into the distance.
 
“Yes.”
 
“It made sense at the time.” He frowned. “Ah, he’s probably upset with me, isn’t he?”
 
“He was understandably upset at first,” Josephine said, because there was no point in hiding the obvious truth. “But a few days after he returned, he became more concerned of your recovery. I’m sure he will be quite happy to see that you are doing better.” She paused for a moment. “You may however want to offer a full apology.”
 
He scratched his beard. “May want to do that, yeah. Probably for the best he left us behind on this one.”
 
From behind him, Josephine noticed Solas and Varric peering out from their respective tables, seemingly waiting for Blackwall to finish talking to her. She huffed. Just because she was the Inquisition’s prime diplomat didn’t mean she was the go-between for all issues.
 

 
“I’m starting to think,” Solas said slowly. “That attempting to commune with the red lyrium may have been a bad idea.”
 
Oh thank the Maker.
 

 
Varric scowled the entire time. “I’m not going to hold a grudge,” he said, grudgingly. “Red lyrium is bad business, but even Hawke didn’t think I knew what I was doing, so yeah, I might have gotten a bit temperamental.”
 
Varric had shot Adaar with a crossbow. In her book, that went beyond ‘temperamental’.
 
“I thought you hated the outdoors,” Josephine said instead.
 
Varric slouched, resting his weight against the table. “I do. Nature was a terrible idea. But Hawke and Fenris are out, and I’m stuck here with only Chuckles and Hero to keep me company. Not exactly who I would pick if I had the choice. I’ll ‘behave myself’ next time, even stay away from the red lyrium just so everyone will calm their tits.”
 
“I will pass this information onto Adaar when he returns,” Josephine said smoothly. Continued progress from earlier, though Varric was still taking longer to recover than the others. It was very heartening though as it meant that brief exposure could be recovered from.
 

 
Josephine managed to flatter dignitaries, soothe ambassadors, and settle some issues with a few of their trade route just in time for the meeting. Or rather just in time to prepare for the meeting, gathering up papers and letters, important updates, and most importantly, tea and cookies. She settled down in a comfortable chair, humming happily as she stirred sugar into a cup. Fereldens tended to use honey as a sweetener, but sometimes Josephine liked to indulge herself slightly with memories of home.
 
A few moments later, Leliana walked into the room, just shy of being actually late.
 
“Did you need something Josie?” Leliana asked, looking around the war room. It was of course missing everyone else.
 
“Don’t we normally have meetings when we give updates?” Josephine asked innocently. “Also I prepared tea. We may as well be civilized.”
 
Leliana sighed. “Missing Adaar already?”
 
Josephine’s eyebrows lowered. “Have some tea.”
 
Leliana rolled her eyes but sat down.
 
“There’s no point in these anymore,” Leliana said. “The main purpose for these was for others to critically examine every last step Adaar made or every scrap of his history, and those people have either given up or left the Inquisition.”
 
The tea.” Josephine arched an eyebrow, holding her own cup daintily in her hands.
 
Leliana glared at her but finally poured herself a cup. She was being quite stubborn about the whole thing; Josephine had specifically brewed Leliana’s favorite which of course the lady spymaster would be able to tell from the start.
 
“Also gossip is not the only thing meetings can be held for. There are other things we could discuss.” Josephine paused. “Part of our success has been playing to the faith of the Andrastian Chantry.” Josephine did believe. Belief was also a powerful thing to use, a common connection among many of the countries which made her job easier. “Are you certain attempting to convince everyone that Adaar was not chosen by Andraste is a good idea? It might ruin what small credibility we have gained.”
 
“You do yourself little credit,” Leliana said. “But Adaar has confided to me that he is very uncomfortable with those rumors, and I do not believe forcing him to be a figurehead of a religion he hates is kind.”
 
Josephine pettily thought that Leliana had not been showing much kindness to others of late. Then again, she seemed to have a soft spot for the Inquisitor. It was hard to not like Adaar, even if he could be a bit of a diva at times. He had this way of talking to someone as if all his focus was upon them, making them feel like the most important person in the world. It was extremely heady and almost certainly on purpose. Josephine approved.
 
In a weird way, Josephine also wondered if Leliana’s affection was due to Surana. Josephine was one of the very few who knew that Leliana had a scar, vertically on her left forearm. Warden Alistair apparently also had such a scar, as did all the heroes of the Fifth Blight. Freely given, Leliana had said fondly. Lyrium had been so expensive, and the darkspawn just so many. If donating a little blood could bring down an ogre before it smashed another companion against a wall, then she didn’t mind. Surana had been one of her dearest friends who had helped her out in some of the worst moments of her life.
 
Surana was another they were trying to recruit for Commander, but considering the fact that they couldn’t even find them for Inquisitor, it seemed unlikely. Still, Josephine had sent letters to known associates in hopes of finding them.
 
“That is true,” Josephine said sadly.
 
“We can find reason to convince others that he is the best hope for Thedas,” Leliana said, taking a sip of her tea. “Stabilizing Orlais should help.”
 
“By the time we’ve stabilized Orlais, I believe people will already be convinced,” Josephine said.
 
“We can always convince them more,” Leliana said mysteriously.
 
Josephine sighed. “This is another one of your secret plans then I presume?”
 
Leliana sipped her tea and waggled her eyebrows. Josephine giggled. It was good to see Leliana in a good mood; she had been too bitter of late. Too bitter since this entire thing started, far more jaded than the devious bard Josephine had known. Was it too much to just want her friends to be happy?
 
They talked for a while about normal plans, updating on the situation with Leclair, blackmail Leliana’s spies had uncovered to use against nobles, which nobles were all too happy to donate to the Inquisition and thus probably didn’t need a firmer hand, how their agents in various areas were doing, how many candidates had responded.
 
Finally though, Josephine had run out of other things to mention.
 
“I don’t suppose this ‘Sketch’ of yours found anything?”
 
“Still trying, Josie?” Leliana asked sadly.
 
“There are still a few remaining possibilities to look for, a few leads that have yet to report in.”
 
“We both know what happened.” She inclined her head. “You just don’t want to give Adaar bad news. If it helps, I could tell him.”
 
Josephine sighed. “No. If nothing else pans out, I will tell him.”
 
“We already have the witnesses.”
 
“He could have left beforehand,” Josephine said, knowing she was grasping at straws. “I don’t think Adaar will take this news well, even if by some of these rumors, Trevelyan was not of the most reputable character.” She paused for a moment. “Do you suppose Trevelyan is the one who taught him blood magic?”
 
Leliana shrugged. “Even if the rumors were all true, I see no problem with the situation.”
 
“But almost every last Templar…”
 
“I don’t much have sympathy for armored men willing to kill children, Josie,” Leliana said sharply. “Apprentices are not spared during Annulments, and sometimes not even the Tranquil. There are children as young as five. Trevelyan merely acted in premeditated self-defense and saved a good number of mages.”
 
The Fifth Blight, of course. Leliana had seen first hand the normal conditions for an Annulment, though the Templars were apparently quite lax about what was qualified for an Annulment.

Josephine sighed. “No, you are right. Merely that level of power is… unnerving.”
 
They may have continued down that line of conversation—Josephine had never learned exactly of what horrors Leliana had seen at Kinloch Hold—but just then the door slammed open with a resounding thunk, causing Josephine to bolt up startled. Surely there hadn’t been more red lyrium-
 
But instead, standing there in the doorway was a scantily-clad woman with an impressively large hat and boots longer than Josephine had ever thought possible.
 
“Helloooooo Skyhold!” the woman crowed.
 
Leliana’s face fell. “Isabela.”
 
Isabela gasped, hand clutching to her chest. “What, no round of applause? You’re not happy to see me?”
 
Ah. Her. “You’ve been attacking our ships,” Josephine said primly. Quite successfully in fact.
 
Isabela waved a hand dismissively. “Yes, yes, but I have repented and seen the error of my ways or something like that.” She swaggered over, hips swaying suggestively. “Though consider it a resume, a try-out if you will. I am very good at what I do—which you now know!”
 
“Don’t tell me you want to be Commander,” Leliana sighed.
 
Isabela snorted. “What? No. Ugh, being trapped in a hopeless position. Sounds so dreadfully boring. No, I thought I would offer my services as a corsair. So you pay me to attack Venatori ships.” She grinned. “Always did like getting paid for stealing. Warms the cold, shriveled cockles of my heart.”
 
Josephine pursed her lips. “I-”
 
“Wonderful!” Isabela said, clapping her hands together. “Now onto the most important business. Where is my bandanna buddy? We haven’t talked in ages.”
 
“Bandanna buddy?” Josephine asked. Oh right, him. “Hawke is out on a field mission right now. You just missed him.”
 
“No!” Isabela gasped. “Who else am I supposed to gossip with? This is so disappointing. Ugh.” She frowned. “Do you know when he will be back? I can’t stick around for forever. Crew gets antsy too long on shore, and it’s a bit of a walk back.”
 
“About three weeks,” Leliana said.
 
Isabela sucked her lip stud into her mouth in contemplation. “I might be able to stay that long.”
 
“Varric is still here though,” Josephine offered helpfully.
 
“Well that’s concerning,” Isabela said. “They get into some sort of fight? Hawke didn’t drunkenly shit-talk Bianca again, did he, because I thought he learned his lesson from the first time.”
 
Leliana heaved a breath. “Let me catch you up.”

Chapter Text

Hey chief. Let's join the Inquisition! Good fights for a good cause!

Ah, don't worry about the demons, chief! I'm sure we won't see many.

Sure they’re fighting demons, but there are plenty of other fights to be had.

It'll be fine, chief!

Adaar, the demon, was currently talking to Cole, another demon, all the while trying to hide the fact that he had just recruited three other demons in one week. Demons that would be working in the Inquisition, where he worked, often with a demon and currently for a demon.

Needless to say, the Iron Bull was not having the greatest of times.

The problem was that the demons were on the team. They were on the team , and you didn't go against that. Units had to work cohesively in order to function, so regardless of any issues the Iron Bull may or may not have with his boss and one of his coworkers, he would just have to get past those.

Also the Iron Bull had met demons. They fought demons almost every day, but Cole and Adaar didn’t quite act like those demons. The Iron Bull was still trying to piece this together, because mostly Cole seemed like a weird kid who read minds and just needed to get his head screwed on right, and Adaar was basically a weird adult who read minds and also needed to get his head screwed on right but couldn't afford the luxury of not knowing what he was doing.

Okay look, if you step on that piece there, that door closes, and then that statue over there drops its shield.

The Iron Bull wasn't sure how accidental it was, or how much it was Adaar covering for a position he thought he wouldn't be in, but Adaar was purposefully vague about his ‘past life’. Clues at times, most likely from Leliana, details about insular farmhood in Rivain, but the less he actually said, the more people would just assume, and if he had to change his story, then he wouldn't actually be contradicting anything in the first place. Let people come to their own assumptions which was honestly a tried-and-true method of a con.

Which was really needed because Adaar was still figuring out basic physics. And here he was, the Iron Bull, Hissrad, helping a demon disguise himself better. At the very least, he was getting insight into how at least one demon thought, and that information could possibly be helpful in the right hands. Recent recruitment of more demons gave him the cover of sending this information back to the Qun without betraying the fact that the Inquisitor was, in fact, a demon. Because the Iron Bull was under no delusions that there were some things the Qun would not accept in attempts to reassure them that the Southerners had things handled and that they didn’t need to step in with a slew of dreadnoughts.

Qun worked great for many people, but there were some that wouldn’t handle the transition so well, not after have been raised bas for so long. Krem might be able to do fine. Possibly Grim and Stitches as well. Not Dalish, too glib about not being a mage, didn’t take it seriously enough. Rocky, too unstable, and Skinner was never going to let anyone tell her what to do again.

For this group, Cassandra maybe, liked rules, possibly too Andrastian. Everyone else in their group? Dead, all the mages too weird or political or just damn stubborn, the rest of the group too stubborn or mouthy, so a number of them would likely be qameked into useful labor.

And Cole and Adaar were demons. So that would be a no for them.

If the Qun handed out trophies, the Iron Bull would get ‘worst Qunari of the year’ award and probably be submitted back into re-education, something the Iron Bull did not want.

Again, worst Qunari of the year award. If necessary, he shouldn’t question it.

Alright, no, that just locks Hawke in that cage. You're going to need to step back and undo this.

This wasn't quite stalling for closing another Rift. Seemed to cause Adaar pain. Made sense as the Iron Bull had seen the mark shred demons to strips of essence. Couldn't be good to have it on an actual demon. Solas was able to stabilize it for a while, but after the fall at Haven, the mark seemed to be getting worse again. Slowly, but the Iron Bull had watched, and the mark had slowly spread from vertically across only the palm of his hand down to the base now. Not sure if Adaar didn’t notice or if he was actively ignoring the issue; Adaar's way of approaching things he didn't like was to ignore them either passively or quite actively, taking great lengths to continue to ignore a problem.

Not the best technique there.

Alright well that drops three of the shields but not that last one, not in time for the statue to finish its cycle in time for it to actually unlock.

Adaar did honestly seem frustrated by the puzzle. Seemed frustrated with himself. Had to complete all these quests, had to aid the people around him, and not just because of some desire to please Cole. Didn't quite seem able to help it, and that pissed him off like nothing else could. Maybe he didn't feel appreciated perhaps? That wasn't the case with Cole.

Definitely needed more coping skills, some kind of stress relief. Unfortunately one of the Iron Bull's main methods of helping someone relieve a little bit of steam would not work in this case. There were just some places a dick simply should not go.

So if Fenris just phases through there, and I step through those bars- it's not my fault you two can't figure out how to Fade-step properly! It's not that hard. Looks like your fancy Circle educations weren't that helpful for actual applicable magics.

Fenris hadn't allowed the Iron Bull around Hawke without him hovering in the background. Didn't trust him a single bit. Understandable for someone who had ran with the Fog Warriors. Still walked like one too. Not usually, but would purposefully alter his stride when near him. Clever move of stating that he knew full and well who Hissrad was and where he had once worked. A veiled threat.

Dossier had mentioned Fenris' protective streak towards Hawke, wasn’t too illogical to assume the Qun might be angry about Hawke killing the previous Arishok. Not correct, but from a bas perspective, not illogical.

I'm not leaving until we finish this puzzle! No! I refuse to let it beat me. Look, Dorian's agreeing with me. We gotta solve this.

As their lessons had progressed, the Iron Bull had noticed that Adaar absolutely hated feeling stupid. Or possibly, he hadn't minded so much until after spending a year in the world apparently not knowing a whole lot of basic fundamental shit.

It made sense. Took little imekari years to figure these things out, nature of basic growth, tiny children still struggling to understand the basics of how the world worked. And there was also a reason Qunari tended to not speak in Trade around bas. Mastery was a big thing in the Qun, and looking incompetent was embarrassing at best.

Adaar asking Cole questions would go nowhere since Cole seemed only moderately less confused of what was going on. But the Iron Bull asking Cole questions, that could go somewhere, figure out what Adaar was missing in ways that might not hurt Adaar's pride.

Priorities currently were getting him to be self-sustaining. Cole didn't seem to have problems; Adaar did. Adaar had mumbled something about differences between spirits and demons when asked; Cole's fear was becoming a demon. Might be some dissonance there, one Adaar might not want to admit seeing how much he clung to Cole. Would be helpful if Adaar admitted what the dissonance was about,

There was a small bonus he was going for in this project. He hated demons. They terrified him which the Iron Bull figured was a very understandable reaction to demons. Mind-reading was both annoying and could expose sensitive information, but honestly he didn’t want anyone aside from himself in his head. He very much liked being in control of his own body at any given time and not going crazy and then killing everyone in sight.

He’d seen his share of demons and abominations back in Seheron, including a few that had the same kind of horns Adaar did. Dead giveaway, but the guy did only have a handful of seconds to slap on disguise, and it was hard to do one’s best work under pressure.

But the more he knew, the more he turned over and examined and discovered, the more information he would have to use against them. Basic training techniques. Fear could be overcome with knowledge. The unknown was far more terrifying than any truth. If he sat down and studied and asked and examined, figured out what the weaknesses were, what tells they had, how they possessed and how they thought, then he would be in a far better position to defend against them.

So later, a private moment, away from the others while Adaar stomped about trying to find glowing shards spotted from dead mage skulls.

"So how've you been Cole?" the Iron Bull asked.

"He's missing one," Cole said staring at Adaar. "It upsets him, but I don't know why."

"Can't dip into his head for that?" Real shame since that would help the Iron Bull figure out how to get Adaar to calm his tits about pretty much everything.

Cole frowned. "He's hard to hear," he said almost petulantly. "He hurts but only in flickers. How am I supposed to help if I can't hear? And then I do hear and I try, but he becomes only confusion."

"So this taking a peek and rummaging around in the head, it's only for hurts?"

"Or if it will let me fix them."

Same with Adaar except for Cole hurts instead of wants. Two did not form a pattern, but it was something worth keeping in mind.

Just then the the Iron Bull came to the sudden realization that Cole might know everyone's fantasies by this point, and hoo boy was that awkward.

Cole gave him an unusually sharp look. "I'm not a child. I don't- there are things I don't understand, but I'm not a child. I know what sex is, the Iron Bull. People think about it. A lot."

Alright, yeah, that would be a thing most people thought about on a regular basis. "So is that something you want?"

Cole shook his head. "No. But they all assume that, that I will want it, that I don't want it now because they think that I don't understand."

"You've got that confusion thing going on. Makes you seem innocent, and some might want to preserve that."

Cole stared at him for an entire minute. “I kill people,” Cole finally said. “Nobody minds that.”

“Fair,” the Iron Bull said.

The Iron Bull watched Adaar and Cassandra argue for a bit as Adaar had Fade-stepped up a sheer cliff in order to get to a shard which in turn nearly gave Cassandra a heart attack. Adaar had some impressively emphatic hand gestures, and Sera seemed to be trying not to laugh.

Angle the conversation towards his goal. "So this whole helping thing of yours, it's something you gotta do? Feed off of helping people?"

Cole frowned. “Why… would you ever phrase it like that?”

“I- uh-”

Cole looked judgmental. “It’s not inaccurate? Fulfill the need in order to be, but that’s just a really weird way of putting it.”

“Don’t know what got into me,” the Iron Bull said. Fucking confusing demons. That was how Adaar had been referring to it.

Cole was silent for a while, fiddling with grass. “I am compassion,” he finally said. “I must help the hurt. I forget myself otherwise.”

“So you could die?”

Cole hesitantly shook his head. “Maybe. Not at first. I had forgotten what I was, thought myself a real thing.”

Adaar probably wouldn’t like hearing Cole refer to himself like that.

“But before?” he tilted his head. “I found people. Forlorn and forgotten, lost in the nadir at the brink of despair. They could see me. Others couldn’t. Not like now, where people can if I want, they never could. I was too thin then, a fragment from fading away into nothing. But they saw me, and we would talk, and I would stare into their eyes and become real.”

He paused for a moment. “Then I killed them.”

Sweet Koslun’s balls.

“Ah,” the Iron Bull said succinctly.

Cole frowned. “I don’t do that anymore.”

“That’s good Cole. That’s real good. Making a better person out of yourself.”

Cole nodded.

After a bit of awkward silence, the Iron Bull pressed on. "So how did you switch over? Just 'fulfill the need' by helping?"

"I'm not sure. There were things I understood more back then, but I didn't want to be that. I changed. I made myself change. And then I simply was." Cole paused. "This isn't helping at all."

The Iron Bull really didn't want to ask any other demon around. The latest one had too many limbs. "Not your fault Cole." And ah fuck, the only other person he could think to ask would be Solas. Should make a bet with Krem how many sentences in it took before he turned the entire conversation around to make snide remarks about the Qun.

Cole tilted his head, looked at him considering, and then walked off, conversation over. Probably going to go look for hurts he could fix, and the Iron Bull was still no closer to figuring out how to get Adaar to not eat people for some weird definition of ‘eat’ that the Iron Bull was still unsure of.

Hey Boss, know you’ve been having some problems, but Cole took care of his hunger issues by murdering people. Just in case you wanted to try something new.

Fuck.

"Bridge's out," Sera said, staring across the river.

"Finally," Cassandra muttered under her breath, and then in a louder voice said, "We can send in a request to have this fixed Inquisitor." As much as Cassandra was a go-getter type, she had been wanting to slow down. Not because she was getting physically tired, but she wanted a break from trying to keep Adaar from doing crazy stunts to get various items.

Adaar stared at her, and then without so much as a glance behind him, ice branched out from the one ruined edge of the bridge to the other.

"Oh gee look. A bridge," Adaar said, still staring right at Cassandra. Her eye twitched slightly.

Dorian’s gaze swept once across the party. "We could still take a small break, wash up first.”

"No no, let's just get this over with,” Cassandra said.

"Well see, over there are Orlesian soldiers," Dorian said. "Who have been fighting Venatori mages who are mostly comprised of those that don’t turn their noses up at little things like blood magic. And here in our party are four mages who are in various states of being drenched in blood."

"Oh hey. I hadn't thought of that," Hawke said brightly.

Dorian gave him a look, the kind that spoke of withholding withering comments if only because Fenris was currently lurking in the background, and Dorian didn’t want to push his luck.

“Guess it’s break time again,” Adaar said, arms folded to likely keep himself from pouting. For a guy who had problems getting the energy he needed to keep going, he sure came across as a boundless ball of energy.

The good thing about fighting undead was that the Iron Bull didn't have to compartmentalize a single damn bit. Didn't have to not think about possible families back home, wonder if they had been pressed into service, think about how food inequality caused Southern bas to compromise their own morals just in order to stay alive. Undead made for satisfying kills, good clean fun for the whole team.

Sera had made a game of sniping other people’s kills, cackling as she did so. Dorian unleashed primal fire, and Hawke called fire and lightning down from the sky. Even Vivienne seemed to specifically freeze targets near warriors for that satisfying feeling of watching a frozen corpse shatter into pieces, and Adaar’s constant barriers made frontline combat a whole lot easier to avoid getting injured.

The Orlesian soldiers were skittish regardless, but Adaar held up the glowing green hand that let people know that he was the Inquisitor and thus the solver of everyone's problems, whether Adaar wanted to be or not.

The Iron Bull hung in the back, placing himself in a carefree stance and twisting his weapon back and forth in his hands.

Dorian gave him a very guarded look. Different kind of guarded than around Adaar, and the Iron Bull still wasn’t sure whether to gently tell nudge Dorian into finding someone else. Not sure if Dorian would trust him anyway. Native of Qarinus, second most popular raiding spot for the Qunari, had been in the area for at least a few of those raids (some very successful from the Qun’s perspective), reports unsure of some of the others.

Wasn’t Seheron, not close, but frequent raids did breed some understandable hostility. Bound and leashed probably would have been a nightmare scenario for Dorian growing up. Not sure if he would find it a comfort or not that he would he would likely just be killed.

Dorian sniped at him but not at Adaar. Well he did, but for different reasons. Did seem to be something personal to just the Qunari then.

The Iron Bull pulled his face into an easy smile and waggled his fingers at him. Dorian’s eyes narrowed, and he turned away.

Long after, they had hunkered down for the night in a place mostly clear of undead. At least they were being very thorough about clearing them out. Adaar seemed to hate having to leave Skyhold, though the Iron Bull wasn’t sure whether that was due to leaving a place of comfort or having to put himself in harm’s way.

"Just back off," the Iron Bull heard Sera say, muffled from inside his tent.

"Okay,” Adaar said, no strong emotions in his voice.

Sera sighed. "I already knew about the creepy shit. Everybody knew cuz Cullen kept making a fuss. Just different with it actually happening. Give me some time and space, okay."

Something quiet.

"Nah I figured you booted him out because he was a jack boot." She giggle-snorted at that. "Maybe they'll pick someone better this time. Won't be hard. Got some good people up for grabs this time. Hopefully."

The conversation quieted as he heard them walk off somewhere. He fiddled with his brace and painfully stretched out his leg while listening to the outside camp, keeping track of everyone’s locations.

With the increased group size, they were all doubling up in tents, though this did mean that watch hours were reduced for them all, meaning extra precious sleep. Adaar and the Iron Bull were currently sharing for a few reasons outside of their teaching sessions; Adaar didn’t sleep, and he didn’t like lying still for eight hours doing nothing. Which was quite reasonable; the Iron Bull wouldn’t like doing that either if he was incapable of sleeping.

After a short while, Adaar finally entered the tent and then promptly sprawled out across their shared floor like a dead fern. "This is taking forever."

Not sure if he was referencing buddying up with Sera again or his education, but the Iron Bull went with the latter anyway. "Well, learning generally does."

Adaar made a face. "Only here. Why can't I find someone who can just copy the information and then dump it inside my head. Like how civilized people do."

The Iron Bull thought about that for a moment. "Would make things faster."

"Yes, exactly! All of this," he said, waving his hands above him, "is just inefficient."

"Well, as long as we are here in the 'uncivilized' world, we are going to have to make do as best with what we can."

Adaar rolled his eyes. A learned gesture? Something that he subconsciously mimicked to fit in, or something on purpose to express sarcasm? His gestures seemed far more normal than Cole's. Possible demon versus spirit thing?

Seasons today. Rotational tilt of the world, mathematics to prove this, and no, Southerners scoffed at such ideas so this information wouldn't come up. The Iron Bull had planned to move onto something else, but Adaar asked questions anyway, asked after these proofs and then how far their sun and moons were away from the world. Not information he needed to know or that would ever come up in any setting aside outside of high scholarly research. But Adaar wanted to know. Or the explanations bugged him without a reason why. Both were pretty much the same thing as far as the Iron Bull was concerned.

"You seem real curious about the sun," the Iron Bull said after a few hours had passed, moons long since have risen, and having the topic stay firmly on point.

Adaar frowned. "It's not unreliable per se. I mean it’s up every day at exact hours, but it's not always there. There is always light in the Fade, unless you actively work to dampen it. It doesn't have a concrete source; it's just there." He tilted his head. "Which honestly always bugged me. Everything in the Fade has a source from the jackass who made it, and if they die, then it dies as well. Our best theory is that it's a byproduct of all the of the energy given off of the demesnes due to the diffusion factor of the light as it tends to clump near high-traffic areas."

Adaar almost certainly hated feeling stupid. Were there demon scholars? He’d figure that would be a particular kind, possibly one of the ones going for Wisdom from what little he had gleaned from their conversations. Not something he would guess a Desire demon would focus on, but then Cole liked hats, and hats had very little to do with helping people.

Weirdly enough, that made the Iron Bull uneasy.

"So are there places without light in the Fade?" the Iron Bull asked.

Adaar nodded once. "People don't go there," he said and then his eyes turned sharp. "They are people," he said, almost before the Iron Bull's thoughts had even wondered. He could do better, separate ‘wanting’ feelings around Adaar to hide his thoughts. Some of them, not all, because that would only make him suspicious, and the Iron Bull did enjoy having some semblance of privacy.

"Just curious here. Do you mind killing all the demons that come out of those Rifts then?"

Adaar stared at him like he was being stupid. He was getting that look a lot from him and Cole, but then that was the point of this, just like back in the early classes with him raising his hand so the other imekari didn’t feel embarrassed. “Do any of you mind slaughtering your way through Venatori and Tal-Vashoth and bandits and freemen and whatnot?"

"Point."

Adaar sat up. "They are barely even people anymore, just screaming torrents of energy that have been so badly shredded passing through those Rifts that they're more like fighting corpses who had been violently ripped open and with organs and shit dangling out and whatnot."

"So more of a horror thing then."

"Pretty much. 'Hope this never happens to you' kind of thing. So even less of an issue than fighting hostile demons we cross, which again, I can do. Personally I would prefer a bit less violence in trying to solve all our problems, but so few people are willing to talk here.”

“It is because death is unnecessary?” the Iron Bull guessed.

“Yes. And also permanent. Rather hard to get better from being dead,” Adaar said.

Context not by their group, rather hard for them to get better from being dead. Hostile demons had been definitely been more willing to talk, so it was a fair assumption he was talking about the mortal deaths in this case. Was it the death itself that bugged him, a constant reminder of what could so easily happen to him, or some weird sense of morals? Cole had them, so wasn’t a wild leap of logic that Adaar had them as well.

Qunari didn’t dream because Qunari didn’t dream, but the Iron Bull didn’t have any nightmares. Everyone woke in various states of fresh, which they had been for a while now. If he asked, Adaar would probably try to claim the Anchor scared demons away, which would be a strong argument if not for the fact that this was a newer development.

Adaar had a shit sense of time which didn’t help some of his lies. The Iron Bull grunted. Yet another thing to work on.

They packed up easily and then headed south, back to the Dalish encampment there. The Iron Bull was thankful that Solas had been left behind as Solas might start an incident with them, and Adaar wanted things to go over smoothly, as Adaar usually did.

He was currently fawning over the halla. At least he wasn’t trying to directly talk to them this time, something that had earned him some raised eyebrows among their group when they had first run into the Dalish.

“So you shape their horns as they grow?” he excitedly asked a Dalish elf who nodded.

“It’s considered an art form.”

“So do you use horn caps? Gentle carvings?”

Fenris raised an eyebrow. “I presume this is something you know about.”

Adaar looked flustered. “No?”

Vivienne seemed to be suppressing a smile. “Darling-”

“No!”

“Your horns do look familiar.”

“Oh and your hennin isn’t supposed to invoke looking like a Pride demon?”

The Dalish elf looked amused, glancing back and forth between the speakers.

This was unprompted. Adaar saw a chance to fix a mistake and was very convincingly covering it up by denying everything. Clever demon.

“You’d have to grow up specifically molding for that shape,” Dorian said. “For years I take it? Was this some teenage flight of fancy?”

“For your information, I happen to like looking like this and have no regrets. Regrets that I wouldn’t have anyway because there was no horn sculpting going on!”

“I can’t wait to tell Varric,” Hawke said, grinning madly.

Adaar sniffed. “We’ll find Hanal’ghilan,” he told the Dalish elf who seemed satisfied and walked off, shaking his head.

Sera did not look satisfied and folded her arms, glaring at Adaar.

“What?” he asked sounding very offended.

“I don’t want a repeat of the Druffy incident,” Sera said. “I still got bruises on my bruises.”

“Druffy incident?” Fenris asked looking very much like he did not want to know. Hawke beside him looked like he very much did want to know.

“Hey,” Adaar said. “We got that prize druffalo back to that farmer, and nobody died, so I would call that a win.”

“Because it chased us the entire way there!” Sera said. “Tried to stomp you into the ground. Want that to happen again? Because it’s going to happen again. Squish squish squish no more Adaar.”

“It’s not my fault animals don’t like me,” Adaar whined.

“I’ll say,” Dorian said. “You know, I camped out for weeks in the Hinterlands. Never met a single bear. With you, I’m happy if we get attacked by only three bears a day.”

“I bet it’s the Anchor,” Sera mock whispered at Dorian who snickered.

“Don’t call me out like this,” Adaar said.

“It does beg the question of when the Hinterlands is going to run out of bears,” Hawke said. “Like how many bears can there be? Is there going to be a terrible bear shortage in the future, devastating an entire ecosystem because they all ran after you?”

“Halla aren’t animals though,” Adaar said emphatically. “No more than Tad Cooper is.”

The mabari yipped happily at that.

“So I won’t have any problems because people can be reasoned with.”

“Or rams, apparently,” Cassandra said.

The Iron Bull said nothing because he was pretty sure that ram had been possessed. Adaar had figured out what people were by ‘pinging’ for strong desires, and if there was something, it generally indicated intelligence. It almost always worked, and Adaar had the basic shape patterns down well enough by now to figure things out on his own. Though there had been that one time Adaar had tried to seemingly bribe a tree until Cassandra got too close, which had then freaked out because it had actually been a sylvan. It then tried to murder everyone by impaling them with roots. And while eventually effective, it did turn out that setting a sylvan on fire didn’t immediately kill it, and that caused mayhem to the party.

Also rams don’t normally give unusually sound financial advice to farmers. The Iron Bull would think that would be a dead giveaway but apparently not.

Adaar had no problem figuring out Tranquil though, possibly a concept he was already familiar with somehow. Trevelyan connection perhaps? Dossier had said Trevelyan had been a Circle mage and had escaped during the Ostwick Circle massacre. Adaar had mentioned being in the world a couple of times before and had rated the experiences less than his current one, with a demon-eating hole in his hand and forced into the spotlight of the entire world. Didn’t bode well, but it did make sense. Demons weren’t well-liked in most places for understandable reasons.

Didn’t help Adaar’s perception of the world though, which to be fair was also understandable.

Fucking confusing-ass demons.

“-but word of mouth is the best way to increase favor in small rural life. Nobody listens to some random messenger spreading word of good deeds, but they will listen to trusty Steve who they have known for their entire life, and you’d be surprised how even a small discount stacks up. Able to fund for other crazy luxuries like medical supplies.”

“And what are the political winnings of returning this halla?” Vivienne asked sounding almost amused.

Adaar looked like a puppy. “They really want their halla back though.”

Easily manipulated. Might get salty afterward about appreciation, but easily manipulated.

As it turned out, it was very easy to talk the halla into returned to the encampment. Granted easy didn’t count much after the Druffy incident; the Iron Bull had been there. He had seen the carnage. He had witnessed with his one eye.

The talk still seemed like a one-sided conversation to the rest of them, but then Adaar’s talks with the mabari sounded just as one-sided. Adaar then spent some time apparently listening to the halla bitch about rude people and engaged in polite gossip with them. Honestly, that more than anything gave credence to the idea that halla might be people, because even a nug once tried to pick a fight with Adaar’s boot.

He’d think it would be a demon thing, but none of the animals seemed to hate Cole. If anything, it was the complete opposite, vicious wyverns laying their heads down in Cole’s lap.

At least until Adaar got too close. Then things got bloody again.

After working on a whole slew of favors for the Dalish and then recruiting a member as an agent because Adaar was very persuasive, they finished their rounds with closing up Rifts in the area. Hawke was currently twirling his staff about, staring at where the Rift had been.

"Ever notice how almost every kind of demon pops out of these?" Hawke asked. "Like almost every kind including some I had no idea that existed. Like really, a few years ago I could have sworn these demons didn’t exist? Not sure what’s up with that. But with all these demons popping out of these Rifts, you think you’d see at least one Desire demon. I thought those were supposed to be plentiful."

"Not any Hunger demons either," Adaar said almost hopefully.

Now that the Iron Bull thought about it, he hadn’t seen any Desire demons other than Adaar of late. Might be messing with the boss a bit seeing as that was his type of demon. Did demons feel kinship to other demons of their kind?

"Or Sloth," Dorian said.

"Well, maybe," Adaar said. "Sloth demons are too lazy to make their own form so they tend to just borrow other archetypal ones. So technically any of these could have been a Sloth demon, and we just wouldn’t know."

"Also not nearly as many abominations. Like hardly any abominations," Hawke said. "I mean you'd think after the Breach incident, abominations would be a copper a dozen. But maybe all the ones close keep getting dragged through Rifts?"

Adaar looked uncomfortable. "It's very likely," he said in a way that meant he was almost certain that was the case. Horror stories for demons, and there had been a shit ton of Rifts. "But not all of them. And we've found a lot of possessed undead. Though yeah, not that many possessed mages or other people."

Sera laughed nervously. "Normal people can't get possessed. Demons just go for mage-ys."

Adaar gave her a look. "No? They're just the easiest to find."

"No,” Sera said, obviously upset. “No no. Demons don’t go into normal people. Go for mage-ys or go for dead shite. They don’t go for normal people. Normal people don’t get possessed.”

"Well at the point where the Veil is that thin to see normal people and not just mages,” Adaar said, “demons can also see corpses or animals or trees, all of which are far easier to possess than mortals who might go 'no, I'm good thanks' and just follow the path of least resistance. I mean, demons don’t tend to be picky. They'll possess a pile of ashes if they can; they don't give a single solitary fuck. Well some do, but not most."

"No no no no. That's why you burn the bodies, keep them out."

"Obviously you've never met an ash wraith." Adaar was getting a bit too into it. "And really, without mages there being all bright and easy to see, it'd make everyone else a lot more perceptible. So the whole killing of mages thing makes no sense? Or making them Tranquil. So really, you guys should be thankful for mages who train up to not get possessed, and then draw them all away from you so you don’t have to deal with them."

Vivienne looked disdainful. "That's a rather prideful look on yourself.

"Oh believe you me, Pride's got nothing to do with it."

The Iron Bull forced himself to keep a straight face. Cole didn’t succeed as well.

“This brings me to a question,” Cassandra said slowly, looking at Adaar, who himself was trying his best to not look like he had upped the count to five demons this week.

“Ehhh?” Adaar asked.

“You never answered my question about the Chant,” she said, and Adaar discreetly took a sigh of relief. (Except he mostly likely didn’t need to breathe. How much of this was learned behavior? This was starting to bug him.) “Every time I try to ask, someone conveniently needs something, and you run off.”

Adaar looked over to where the Rift had been, looking for all the world like he wanted it to open up again and thus give him a distraction.

“You are doing it right now!” Cassandra said crossly. “You always try to wriggle out of conversations you don’t think I will like.”

“Well, yes,” Adaar said. “I don’t like having conversations that people won’t like.”

Cassandra frowned. “Is it that hard for you to be honest with me?”

Adaar looked like he really wanted that Rift to open. Even Hawke glanced back hopefully.

“Yes? It’s a conversation I don’t think you would like, and we’ve almost managed to recover from that whole Inquisitor thing,” Adaar said.

“You’ve made a good Inquisitor, and you are still attempting to distract me.”

Everyone was looking at Adaar now in various states of ‘sweet fuck this is going to go terrible’ to ‘I am actually curious to what he thinks about this’.

That Rift wasn’t opening.

“Well,” Adaar said. “Okay. You know what? Let’s rip this off like a nasty bandage, just get it all over and out with. My Opinions on things; I shall endeavor to be more honest with them in the future. So you want to know I think? I think it’s a shit religion.”

Cassandra looked like she had been expecting that answer but was still disappointed in him.

But Adaar wasn’t done because the Iron Bull suspected this had all been building up for a while now.

“No, I don’t believe in the Maker, but if he did exist? He’s one shit god, just saying." Adaar held up one hand. "Like, makes spirits, the ‘firstborn’ and then through no fault of their own, he decides he doesn’t like them and tosses them out. Makes mortals”—and here he held up his other hand—“except no, no good either, some of them decided to focus on other things, and how dare they, so that apparently damns the whole lot. Not just those few, the entire batch is no good, so throws up his hands”—with accompanying hand gestures—“and leaves. Doubly gets mad when people start worshiping gods who are actually there instead of him who had, in fact, fucked off. Eventually brought back by one lady who tried to convince him he was maybe a bit hasty with the whole abandoning his creations thing. And he was supposed to really love her? Except not enough to actually listen to her entire spiel, and the moment she died, he fucked off again, so how much did he honestly care? Not much I think.”

He shrugged. “Honestly if you guys even do get this guy to return, how long do you think it will take before someone sneezes wrong, and then he leaves in a huff again?”

“Look-” Cassandra started.

“Oh no. No no no. I have heard these arguments and Andraste intervening and how he’s not really abandoned everyone. I’ve heard them. Sweet fuck have I heard them, and I am good, thanks. It’s not for me.”

“But the spirits weren’t infallible,” Cassandra said crossly. “They corrupted the mortals first, convinced them to turn away from the Maker in anger over his favored people. Then the Maker left. Which is why listening to spirits too leniently ends wrong.”

Cole glanced over at her but didn’t say anything; Cassandra still wasn't a fan of his.

“Creation myth! They did nothing wrong at the time. Maker made them, he decided they were no good and then abandoned them despite the fact that they did nothing wrong. I’d be a bit bitter about that too, just saying. I mean, if that was the case, your god had already turned his back on them, so what did they have to lose? Though I mean to be fair, spirits are shit out of luck in most other places.”

Adaar began to tick off on his fingers. “Despite the Qun apparently being ‘everything has a purpose’, demons aren’t a thing there either, just stupid forces of nature which are even further down the list of being considered people than actual forces of nature. Things, not people. It’s somewhat better among the Dalish, but even then it’s a very wary relationship; can’t trust any of them, nope. Rivaini and Avvar beliefs are as far as I know the only areas where spirits are seen as not being completely terrible, and surprise, they don’t have nearly as many problems with demons. So maybe spirits get bitter sometimes about not being treated like people. Maybe sometimes they decide, ‘well fuck that, if I don’t get to be a person then why should I treat mortals like they are?’ because fancy that, people get told they’re a monster all the time, and then it gets to them, and then people get all shocked, all a-flutter over how they keep finding monsters.”

Sera rolled her eyes. “Maybe because they are monsters?” she asked contemptuously.

Cole said nothing, no discernible body language other than his hat tilting down ever so slightly.

Vivienne was giving Adaar an elegantly judgmental look, the kind that said ‘this is what happens when mages aren’t brought up right’, and Fenris’ lips were in a thin line.

Hawke’s gaze kept glancing back and forth across the party members, muscles tense.

Cassandra sighed. “The point was that they-”

Adaar held up his hands. “Don’t want to hear it. Don’t care. And this is why I didn’t mention anything, but you’ve got your fucking honesty now.” He smiled, and it really wasn’t pleasant. “I’ll try to be more honest with you in the future then.”

Cole continued to not say anything. Rarely did around these cases.

Dorian glanced over with concern apparent on his face at Adaar, but his posture reflected that he was already past it. Posture yes, but the mark had started crackling, and the air felt heavy. Adaar had his tells.

Afterward, Adaar had left to go to Var Bellanaris by himself. He didn't yell at them to fuck off which frankly the Iron Bull felt was generous of him.

Adaar was a demon, so demon, but a demon hearing people talk shit about demons-

The Iron Bull was going to have to do some serious compartmentalizing for this. He waited around for a bit before mentioning he'd go check up on the boss under the guise of making sure he didn't get eaten by demons even though if there were any demons, Adaar would probably be talking them into joining the Inquisition somehow through charisma alone as the Chantry wasn't exactly the most demon-friendly work environment.

Wasn't the best choice for a leader, but he'd make a great recruiter. In another life were he actually Qunari and didn’t have magic, he’d probably be given the role of teaching new viddathari. That'd be a nice safe environment for him that would best use his skills. The non-demon skills.

Though honestly demon interrogators would save a lot of hassle. Might be a shit idea though, not sure if demons could work with others easily. Probably be like trying to domesticate dragons.

(All things have a nature and must act according to their nature, and these things must come together to form order. Struggling against one’s own nature opposes the whole, hurts society and themself. If Cole and Adaar’s natural states were the desire to help-)

He wasn’t a priest. It wasn’t his job to question the Qun.

Sure enough at Var Bellanaris, there weren't any demons milling about aside from Adaar standing there, already looking right at him because Adaar had probably heard the approach of his mind or some shit like that.

"Hey boss," the Iron Bull said.

"Need something?" Adaar asked with a slight head tilt.

“Just checking up on you,” the Iron Bull said. “You seemed upset at the conversation earlier.”

Adaar blinked. "Upset? Why would I possibly be upset?" he asked, voice venomous. "'That is simply how it is.' Did you come here to talk Qun with me? Remind me that oh yes, you know, I am a demon, so I shouldn’t really be offended by any of this. Why, demons do fucked up shit all the time, so any personal grievances we might have are just completely unreasonable.” His eyes narrowed. “I’m well aware of your distaste for ‘my kind’ so I’m just fine without talking right now, thanks.

Yup, pretty deeply upset. Had to maneuver through this carefully because Adaar wasn't exactly wrong about the Iron Bull not liking demons.

(A whole versus individual basis. Demons were scary; Cole wasn’t. But what good were individuals split apart from the whole?)

"I mean, you're not wrong," the Iron Bull said, using half of that line of reasoning. "Not that fond of demons. Qun doesn't think demons are people." He tilted his head. "Qun doesn't think of mages as much more either though. But there's you, and there's Cole, and Dalish and Ma'am and Dorian."

"And Solas."

"Him too." He walked a bit closer. "It's not exactly easy. You can't just wave your hand and think differently about things. Well, not sure if demons can, but us mortals can't. Got all this knowledge built in over the years, bit hard to move past that. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Sera slips up with Cole. Sometimes she forgets he isn’t a person. To her, not saying Cole isn’t a person because-”

He paused, and Adaar's eyes glinted, and for just a fraction of a second, the Iron Bull swore he could see the demon behind the illusion Adaar had built.

“Hey,” the Iron Bull said. “It’s not easy, but people are slowly changing. Not saying they will for sure, but it’s a possibility.”

“So you came over here to say this?” Adaar asked. The Anchor still crackled, sparking and hissing like the rest of him. He didn’t want to be comforted; he wanted to be angry and lash out at someone who knew, throw things against the the wall because he could and because he couldn’t lash out against the others, couldn’t yell at them the way he wanted to.

But he could take everything out on the Iron Bull.

He shook his head. "No. It’s not at the same level, but I do know what it feels like for people to not see you as a person. To think of you as nothing more than a dumb animal that might occasionally do interesting tricks. It sucks, and I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

The fire went out of Adaar at that, shoulders drooping and just looking sad.

The Iron Bull watched him for a moment before hesitantly putting an arm around his shoulders. “I understand if you need to vent sometimes,” he said. “Can’t be too healthy keeping that bottled up.”

“I wish I could just really yell at Cassandra,” Adaar said, eyes narrowed.

“See, this is why I am upfront about being Ben-Hassrath,” the Iron Bull said cheerfully. “Don’t have to go skulking around with secrets.”

Adaar gave him a side eye. “It also ironically makes people trust you more.”

“That too.”

“It’s not like I can just tell people.” A touch of hostility back there.

“I wish I could tell you that you could, and that it would all be fine. But really? It wouldn’t. Maybe if you weren’t Inquisitor.”

And more of that hostility was back. “Really? With no position of power to fall back on? No excuse for why they shouldn’t run me through?”

“They haven’t killed Cole,” the Iron Bull said, and wow that was a low bar right there.

“Because I’ve vouched for him,” Adaar said. “Solas did as well, but Cassandra doesn’t listen to him often. And he’s a spirit, not a demon, so marginally more well-liked. Not much, but marginally. So like Sera said ‘squish no more Adaar.’”

He was probably going to have to learn the difference at some point because it kept coming up, and the way Adaar phrased made it sound like there were some complicated demon politics going on.

The Iron Bull patted his back sympathetically. “Well at the very least, you don’t have to hide your views on things anymore,” he said. “You can just go around saying demons are people and that Chantry sucks balls.”

Adaar mumbled something that might have been a ‘fuck Cassandra’, and the Iron Bull laughed. Lighten the mood, move past this.

“That’s the spirit!”

Adaar paused for a moment. “…did you just pun at me?”

The Iron Bull winked.

Chapter Text

It ended up being sixteen days, and then they were finished with the Exalted Plains, all quests done, absolutely never have to return here again for any kind of side quest ever. And unlike in the Hinterlands where every little quest seemed to generate approval, his companions didn’t seem to care about this area at all. It was a very uneven distribution of approval gains, Adaar thought, grumbling. Was it because it was Orlais? Did none of them like Orlais? Which was fair, but not even Vivienne approved of these quests. He did find another one of her books which would hopefully make up for the fact that he did come clean on his stance on demons.

Which was a stupid move, but honestly, Adaar had second-handedly shit-talked himself long enough.

Bonus: he had gotten a nice reminder of why it was dumb to get overly friendly to mortals, especially Sera, even if she was fun otherwise. It was a bad idea, and Adaar didn’t need to be considered a monster anymore than was already a thing going on.

The Iron Bull was nudging Sera in front of him, both laughing over having killed some more people. See? Bad idea.

Adaar consolidated, clinging himself to his form. The Iron Bull couldn’t even say out loud that a Compassion spirit was a person, so. Sympathetic, maybe. Definitely made Adaar feel better, but Adaar would rather be cheered up by someone who wasn’t in a constant internal warring debate over Adaar’s own personhood.

It was to be expected though. Honestly, Adaar wasn’t sure why he had felt so… disappointed.

Dorian meanwhile was sniping with Vivienne, possibly in a friendly way, possibly in a seething antagonistic way. Adaar had no idea because, of course, those damn mind shields. Vivienne was enjoying it though. Cat-and-cat, sharpen her claws against a rival, but in a friendly way? Like play. Go for hurt, but not going for hurt. She found Dorian entertaining to verbally spar against, and Desire could understand that. Well not for himself, but it made sense if you thought about it as sparring in general. Valor spirits loved to spar, going for hurt, for first blood, for the death, but usually not for the death. That was rude, and especially not against a strong rival. Then you wouldn’t have that rival around anymore.

It wasn’t like it was always like that for Valor romancing someone, but there was a special kind of romance that Valors did engage in over beloved rivals. Adaar didn’t judge. It wasn’t weirder than wanting to fuck dragons, and he didn’t judge people for that either.

The problem was this was rapidly becoming personal, and Adaar was wondering if he should just toss his no-feelings plan aside regardless of how many times that had smacked him in the face.

No, that was a bad idea. It hadn’t and wouldn’t work out. And it wasn’t that Dorian was a mortal; Adaar had actually never tried to seduce a mortal before, just Fade types. Adaar had some mental stumbling over how to approach that since mortals in general thought differently and were confusing and wishy washy, not picking something to be interested in, didn’t even sculpt their own forms. Dorian, however, seemed very interested in being a complete nerd, and that was an angle Adaar could approach from. Dorian was, to mortals and thus not reasonable people, too obsessed with history and necromancy and bizarre arcane theories and the like. Especially with necromancy considering his childhood dream and current profession. Thus Adaar was able to conjure up a Concept for Dorian in order to best figure out his approach here.

Dorian Pavus had never been to the grand necropolis. Dorian Pavus had always wanted to go, ever since he was a wee kid. Dorian Pavus was the son of a rich and powerful magister who knew about this strong desire and yet never once in his entire life, not as a birthday present, not a present for congratulations on some huge success, could ever be assed to take him there.

It had been upon that day that Adaar had realized that Halward Pavus was the literal incarnation of evil.

Adaar was currently in the process of Making Plans, the best way he could angle this that wouldn’t make it all about Dorian since that could make it uncomfortable. Adaar was also, unfortunately, a busy person, and couldn’t really justify taking a month or so to travel to Nevarra City to go see the Grand Necropolis.

But by everything he stood for was he going to make this happen. Adaar had been filled with determination.

At the same time, he should try to keep this light as possible because he knew himself and knew he tended to want far more than the other wanted in a relationship. And even when he had successfully kept things light, basic courtship/mutual seduction and happiness and giving people what they wanted, things ended rather quickly, usually after they felt they were sufficiently satisfied and decided to fuck off and move on. Honestly, expecting more at this point would be quite silly of him.

The only outlier had been a very friendly Rage demon. Those had been some good times. He never did find out what happened to them. Just up and disappeared one day. Considering the mortal world, they might have gotten bound and summoned or something, stuck on some task. Maybe dead.

That happened a lot.

But they were from the Fade, and Dorian was a mortal. So just rituals. Rituals! Just some mutual happiness. That’s it. Mutual romantic happiness that didn’t involve feelings.

The other Desire that Adaar used to hang out with would probably lecture him or something, would say something like ‘no this isn’t just mental quirks but being flat out illogical and refusing to admit things, and maybe he should work past his issues at some point’.

And wasn’t that just yet another mark against the mortal world, mortal language, unable to attach basic identity markers to words. ‘Desire’ and no one was confused which Desire demon was talked about. Wouldn’t even need those nicknames in the Qun if they wanted to do roles proper, just go ‘this Ashaad’ and everyone would be like yup, that guy, he’s an ass.

Well, Adaar wasn’t Love, so there stand-in other Desire. He didn’t have that auto-angling factor for such things, knowing instinctively the great blooming romance that could happen. He was Desire, and he was about wanting things, and Dorian was quite the catch. Anybody would be happy to get to flirt with Dorian, after all, unless they were all complete asshats and had such hang-ups about Tevinter and magic and whatnot. Adaar had just gotten there first, so when they inevitably realized Dorian was, in fact, quite a catch, it would be too late.

(Unless Dorian decided then to go for somebody else which Adaar wouldn’t be able to fault him on, but that currently remained hypothetical, and again. Wouldn’t last long.)

Dorian was incredibly dashing and did things like run from Redcliffe to Haven with hardly any stopping despite it being days in order to warn an organization suspicious of Tevinter, about evil Tevinter types coming to kill them, all while being Tevinter and having no idea if they would listen to him or not, or possibly throw him in the dungeons for ‘interrogation’ later.

Those were very reasonable fears, Adaar figured. As it turned out, Cassandra and Leliana did have such suspicions that he was a Tevinter spy and were less than pleased with Adaar deciding to keep him on. Apparently, Adaar’s voice counted for a lot, something he was not used to in the slightest bit. This only made Dorian even more dashing.

Further bonus of late, Dorian had managed to say out loud with his own mouth sounds that Cole was a person, and as best as Adaar could figure, he seemed to actually mean it. That was something Adaar could appreciate in a person. Adaar could forgive a lot of horrible missteps if someone managed to teeter over the lowest bar possible and go, why yes, this Compassion spirit seems of the person sort, as it was telling of the person themself.

But that led into yet another travesty of the mortal world. Dorian didn’t know what kind of a person Adaar was.

Everything was simply better in the Fade. Meet someone, get to know them a little, and then strip off that outer shell, letting the other easily read intents/memories, get a good judge of character. It didn’t take nearly as much time to get a feel for someone, and so if compatible and after enough time—or not that much time for the mortal equivalent of one-night stands though Adaar preferred actual courting here—they might have avatars engage in a bit of good ole-fashioned roleplay with favorite scenarios found (and Adaar had found and/or stolen quite a lot of quality shit over the years), or possibly forgoing with just strictly avatar interaction. It was somewhat reflective of the mortal world, but what wasn’t in the Fade?

Or there were those types that got more intense about things and went for some kind of direct entanglement. It wasn’t possession per se, but Adaar had inklings of suspicions that it was a variant thereof, that on mortal chaps would result in some direct possession action going on.

Adaar personally preferred strong distinctions between him and another person, and maybe Adaar was picky but he was allowed to be so.

Also why couldn’t Dorian just use the method Cassandra used to avoid blood magic? His method was rather excessive and Adaar would like to feel Dorian’s mind; Cassandra had flirted with some Faith spirit for immunity but could still be read. Why couldn’t Dorian have gone with that route since apparently that was a thing some mortals did?

Adaar side-eyed Cassandra who was in fact currently side-eying Cole who was currently happy because nobody wanted to be the first person to remove their flower crown. None had even started to wilt after two weeks. She didn’t trust a perfectly good Compassion spirit but was just fine with some stuck-up Faith spirit. Hypocrite.

Dorian and Vivienne continued sniping, Adaar still had no idea if that made Dorian happy, and Adaar felt himself twinge a little.

Just a basic, lowkey flirtation approach here, hopefully just stick to very light romance, no need to go much further than that unless Dorian wanted it to. Just engage until it was called off, and as long as Adaar kept that in mind going in, he could just focus on enjoying himself with as minimal stress as possible.

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Cole turned around and stared at him. Oh of all the things for Cole to actually pick up on-!

It was a very uplifting phrase!

Cole looked judgmental.

Well it was! The phrase itself was very uplifting outside of the original context and maybe he liked it, thank you very much. Maybe he thought it was inspirational.

“You can’t remove the meaning from the words,” Cole said sternly out loud, causing many people to suddenly turn and give him strange looks.

“Well I think you can, and I think it’s a very nice phrase,” Adaar said haughtily.

Cole greatly disapproved, about twenty levels of disapproval. Fantastic.

It wasn’t so much as they snuck out of the tent at night and more of they timed it until Cole was on watch (who had been helpfully suggesting he could take more shifts since he didn’t sleep and was happy to help, and Adaar wanted to encourage him despite having fervently strangled that similar part of himself a long time ago). Cole wouldn’t ask questions, thankfully, and the Iron Bull did not want to explain this one to the others. But if there was practically everything Adaar was missing here vis a vis how this fucking world worked, then he could blunder his way through his topics of choice first, and frankly this had been bugging him for some time.

The odor was apparent before they actually saw the body, which was annoying, so Adaar just turned that perception right off. There we go. Nice and easy right there. Just turn it back on after he had left.

“Still think we could just have used a ram,” the Iron Bull said, dragging the corpse into Adaar’s conjured light, which didn’t take much conjuring at all these days. The Anchor did that job just fine on its own.

“Unless their internal bits look exactly the same as your guys’, then no. I want to get this down.”

The Iron Bull had earlier explained the rate of decay, or the varying levels of rate of decay based upon the environment. Different scenes with slightly different rules and effects, but then fucking seasons came along and messed everything up. ‘Unchanging world’ his ass.

But Adaar had ice magic, so a lingering cold touch kept the body from much decay at all, and actually had to be banished for the corpse to become pliable again. And that wasn’t right. Corpses. Severed chunk that lingered after death. The person was dead, and leaving some freakish shell behind was just no. Ugh. And then people possessed these things. What was wrong with them? Probably a lot Cassandra would say, and she would be right but only in the sense that there was something wrong with people in general. There were many things wrong, and more wrong with mortals than Fadefolk who were reasonable and weren’t as rude to leave huge rotting chunks of gyhck lying about afterward dying. That’s true pettiness right there.

Adaar thought about it for a moment and decided if/when he did die in the mortal world, he would figure out how to be exactly that petty. He was starting to accept his inevitable demise, just a matter of when. Maybe he could explode instead though. Like literally explode. Go out with a bang.

The Iron Bull took out a knife, small and thin, and then sliced down from each shoulder into a point, and then the point down to the bottom of the torso. He grunted slightly as he peeled the flesh back. There was a bit more work to do with the stuff around the rib cage. The ‘diaphragm’. Helps with the breathing. Sure.

“This is gross,” Adaar said succinctly and settled down on the opposite side of the shell. He gently poked at one of the bits. It had a bad texture feel, all slimy and had a residue.

“You’re the one who wanted to have a personal look, boss.”

“I did indeed, and you have delivered. Okay so I know the intestines pretty well by now, since those tend to spill out everywhere with those gut wounds.”

The Iron Bull laughed. “Yeah that was hilarious.”

“That is definitely a word that could be used to described what happened.” Adaar didn’t know one could slip on their own intestines before. He sure was learning knew things every day.

Adaar stared down at the mess. “What I am not sure of is literally everything else.”

“If it helps, most people can’t identify what organ everything is either or even what most of them do, so you don’t have a lot of pressure there.”

“But what if I get stabbed, the Iron Bull? What then? What if someone tries to cleave open my insides? I haven’t copied this stuff.”

The Iron Bull had that wonderful expression of ‘I am realizing more and more that I have no idea how you work, and it’s bugging me’. Adaar was growing familiar with that expression by now.

“Well first step for that would be to focus on the bones first.”

Adaar huffed. “I didn’t come out here for the bones.”

“Yeah but-”

“I know the bones! That’s the ribcage. And there’s a skull. Not entirely sure what the names of the other bones are, but I know where those go. So flesh bits?”

“You know the bones, but not organs?” he was asking this as if it were a reasonable question. It was not, but then Adaar supposed his questions were just as unreasonable. He had to be some levels of diplomatic here because the Iron Bull was rather being nice about all his questions. Unlike some elvhen god who would rename nameless, but it was also likely that that hypothetical person might be covering for his own lack of knowledge about anything other than the Fade or elvhen related through acting and being pretentious.

It was a good cover. Also true.

“Flesh rots,” Adaar said. “Bones remain. And they’re the bits that remember things, so I’m familiar with them.”

“Well over here, the brain inside the skull is what does the remembering thing,” the Iron Bull said, not voicing aloud his thoughts along the lines of ‘what the fuck’.

“And it does a terrible job at it.” Adaar said. “It forgets moment of death, and then you have to talk to the skull for information.” Also another strike against mortality; leaving shells about made it possible to question one’s dead self, just run ramshod through all those memories and desires without asking permission first, rude. That could lead to some terrible practices. Why question someone when you could just kill them and then ask their corpse? Adaar wasn’t at great at that as other demons he knew, but some could just drain the entire collected memories from a skull.

Adaar paused for a moment. That was not information he was ever going to give Leliana.

“Ribs are also a main source of information. I mean, you’ve seen enough wraiths floating about, and they’ve got the skull and ribcage thing down.”

“Huh.” The Iron Bull paused, thinking. “Why do they do that?”

“It’s-” Adaar frowned, feeling suddenly self-conscious. “You know, form shit. Mortals seem to like talking to things vaguely shaped like themselves, so they try to do their impression. We don’t tend to get it right a lot of the time. I mean, illusions are one thing? But that’s talking to an illusion, not trying to address the actual person, so you’ve got to scrap together a form that makes sense, and then there’s archetypal forms summoned from the collective subconscious of both that particular type of person and then mortal preconceptions super-imposing upon forms, and it just gets complicated. Anyway, flesh bits. Explain.”

The Iron Bull gave him a look but then finally explained the flesh bits. There certainly were a number of organs in there, and he showed how they fall fit together, and what each one did for the body, like anti-toxin protection stuff and pumping blood through the body and that’s pretty much the actual feeding maw right there, the digestive part to make energy. Adaar rapidly came to the conclusion that he just wouldn’t be able to fake this and should cut his losses, probably instead come up with bullshit excuses for not letting people around possible abdominal injuries. He already healed it? But he implied he wasn’t a healer, which you know, he wasn’t. Not for other people. That would just not end well at all.

The various organs were eventually all explained, and the Iron Bull was for some reason putting the corpse back together before dumping it aside. Adaar gave him a questioning look, and the Iron Bull looked away, mildly embarrassed for some reason. He continued to stare at the dead person, some unknown bandit, lost in thoughts Adaar couldn’t touch. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Well this sounds ominous,” Adaar said.

“I’m not saying you would. I’m almost certain you wouldn’t actually, but if you were going to try to get in someone’s head, like really get into someone’s head, that whole possession or tempting bullshit, how would you approach it?”

Adaar felt himself drop. “No.”

“I’m not saying you would,” the Iron Bull said calmly. “Just as a curiosity. It could even be just me if you think I’m trying to dig around for weaknesses-”

Adaar held up a finger. “You can ask Cole this. You can ask another demon this; I’ve got a few around now, and I can point you in the direction of ones who would be rather friendly, answer all the questions to your heart’s”—desire—”content, but you will not ask me this.”

The Iron Bull looked at him, and Adaar could almost see something click into place. “Okay. Won’t ask again.”

Adaar curled around his form. “I’m going to head back now.”

The Iron Bull gave him some space after that which Adaar appreciated, even into the next morning. Did the Iron Bull feel he over-stepped? Adaar guessed it was something to be curious about, especially for someone who was looking for ways to defend against demons, know in advance the sort of things they would pull. But it was still a personal question that Adaar didn’t want to answer.

He milled about, watching the others pack up camp for the umpteenth time, Sera still attempting to bug Vivienne and failing as usual, when Dorian sidled up beside him.

“Another midnight chat?” Dorian asked. He didn’t sound upset, definitely that teasing-curious tone. Honestly, he and the Iron Bull were insufferable about knowing everything.

…Adaar shouldn’t be one to throw stones here, having the advantage of reading desires.

“Yeah,” Adaar said wearily.

“You don’t seem pleased,” Dorian noted. “So if not for secret clandestine love meetings, what are you and Iron Bull talking about into the late hours of the night that’s been leaving you in such a state?”

Certainly not how he would try to possess people. Bluh. “Science,” Adaar said. “And just about everything else. I don’t know a lot about that, or honestly many topics, and frankly it’s embarrassing me. There’s only so much of ‘haha yes but what do you think of that subject’ I can do before people start to notice.”

Dorian paused. “Oh Maker. You were doing that all the time. I hadn’t even noticed.”

“And I’m Inquisitor now,” Adaar said. “I can’t afford to look stupid in front of potential allies. I’ve got knowledges! Just… not about a lot of this higher science.”

The best places to sell stuff that he stole from demons without it being tracked back to him. Illusionary work, how to keep multiple actors running at the same time. How to steal from demons. What was worth stealing from other demons, and how to talk up the dreams or memories or information so he could make a tidy profit. How to find trustworthy sorts for mutual dream/story exploration. How to find the best dreams/stories for others to explore and/or fulfill their role in. How to shape other demesnes for him to sneak through and then steal from demons.

…how to eat other demons, but that’s something he hadn’t done in a very long time, and honestly he had been fresh out of wisphood and hadn’t quite grasped the concept that these other constructs of energy were other people, and you know sometimes people make mistakes about their identity and have to figure things out the old fashioned way, and that’s not that uncommon you know, making mistakes about identities because concepts and ideologies overlapped, and so what if it took him a couple of tries to get where he was today? It wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about! And he most certainly wasn’t by the way, not in the slightest.

“Well, you’ve being doing wonders with your expansive knowledge of rural farmhood life. We have so many peasants supporting us, and you really don’t get far without food.”

Granted most of Adaar’s knowledge of that subject came from cramming sessions with Leliana. He would give her a fruit basket, but then he’d already given her two so far, and he didn’t want to make it Weird.

“We need everyone we can get,” Adaar said, “so I don’t want to drive some scholar sort away because I don’t know how clouds work.” And still didn’t. That would be next, he decided. The weather. All of it. The entire thing made no sense at all. The only reasonable idea of this ‘Maker’ was that he was one giant-ass spirit, and this entire thing was his demesne, and he just got his rocks off by messing with people. “I also think we’ve been excommunicated by the Chantry twice now? I’m not entirely sure why Vivienne is sticking around. Unless she’s spying on us for the Chantry.” He paused. “No, doesn’t sound right. But anyway, we’ve got the Templars, and we’ve got a decent smattering of soldiers signed onto us. We still need some more support, and thus I need to look competent and whatnot.”

Unless Vivienne was planning on stealing his Templars. Maybe she wanted to be in control of them, bend them to her will when she finally put into motion her plans on taking over the Circles and remaking them in her image.

Yeah if she thought this benefited her long-standing plan, then that might be enough for her to stick around.

“Templars and your extra support,” Dorian said.

“I’m not worried,” Adaar said. “I have a dastardly plan. The plan is for Templars to do their darn jobs, which is supposed to be hunting down bwaha evil magic users. Well we are fighting endless hordes of Venatori, so they can just hop to it. No need for idle stragglers collecting dust. And then again, just keep the demons and spirits in a separate division. Nearly any other division, all secret like.”

“I presume you have conspired on this with Leliana over ravens?”

“We’ve got a good plan in place.” Leliana had approved over his plan and was already getting the finer details in place. “But we could always use more allies. I mean really, we are trying to pick a fight with a would-be god who already has cults and Red Templars and what have you supporting him. So gotta know stuff.”

Dorian sighed. “As much as it pains me to admit it, the Qunari do have an advanced grasp on science. As does Tevinter, mind you. Just don’t try to learn from any Southerners. There is no such thing as ‘humours’, and you might want to fire that healer. I’d offer my own services in whatever subject, but I have yet to see you take time for yourself in over a month, and frankly I’m concerned. Don’t wear yourself out too hard, hmm?”

Adaar nodded. “That is the exact opposite advice I have been getting from everyone else.”

“Well, we are officially ‘flirting’ now. That can make for an excellent cover, provided that people actually know about us. Might want to keep it to just the Inner Circle if you are having problems with finding allies.”

Haha! Adaar had finally clicked the romance option enough times for it to register. Now people would probably make really weird comments about their romance since that was the sort of thing that happened.

‘Might want to’ though. Adaar’s suspicions were aroused. Somebody sounded insecure. “Dorian. I am a kossith blood mage with a mysterious and indistinct background who hires demons. You can only improve my self image here.”

Dorian’s face had the briefest flash of shock before it became a wry smile. “If you say so, Inquisitor.”

Chapter Text

They were only half a day away from reaching the mountain pass. There had been cold snaps because nearing winter, a stupid season that would be filled with cold and snow and frost and all other sorts of unpleasantness. Dorian agreed with him on this, that winter was just dumb.

The plan was to stop early at a town near the base of the range where there would be an inn that had actual rooms and fresh-ish food and more semblance of privacy. Everyone was exhausted and focused on putting one foot in front of another, so Cole’s initial command went unheard.

“Stop,” Cole repeated, louder.

It took a moment, people stopping and looking confused. Cole was staring distantly ahead, head tilted at an odd angle.

“Ambush ahead,” Cole said. “Over that hill.”

“You can hear ambushes?” Cassandra asked disbelievingly.

“Yes?”

And once again, there were the Iron Bull’s thoughts swirling in frustration. Freaking demon could hear ambushes sure would have been nice back in Seheron with ambushes on a bi-weekly basis. Why couldn’t they have had a demon to detect ambushes? Demon interrogators? Slight guilt over that, finding demons so useful, grumbling internally. Sure would have saved a lot of lives though. It would also have saved a couple of his fingers.

Haha, the Iron Bull would come around eventually. They were useful, dammit, and should be included. And then paid. Because people got paid. He still wasn’t sure how this was a hard concept for mortals to grasp when they, too, liked getting paid. Except no, it wasn’t a hard concept at all because demons weren’t ‘really people’.

“Sneak around, get them in the rear,” Sera suggested.

“Can you tell how many or who are they?” the Iron Bull asked.

Cole was silent for a moment. “Venatori? Mages. They don’t care, want to watch everything burn, serves these Southerners right. Soldiers, just another job, just another paycheck. I can’t see them, echoes in thoughts, they didn’t ask for any of this, no choice, no chance, too afraid to try deserting with others watching.”

Even able to tell the ones scared and backed into a corner between the ones that were just assholes. So fucking useful. No, a strongly worded letter to the Qun wouldn’t fix anything, and he really needed to stop doubting the Qun’s wisdom.

“Cheery,” Cassandra said.

Adaar rarely got ambushed in the Fade. Only if he wasn’t careful from stealing from someone, and then he picked a very wrong someone. That had been after Valor though, so it all worked out, and then Valor had been ecstatic for a good time after. Such a fight! It really pushed his limits, made him grow a bit as a spirit of Valor, and Desire was such a good friend for bringing him quality fights.

But those were people who wanted to kill him. Apparently, some of these people didn’t want to kill Adaar, and that made him uneasy. “But there are some who don’t want to fight? They are scared?”

“Yes,” Cole said. “Three.”

This did not sit right with Adaar at all. “What if we just don’t kill them then? Those three?”

Cassandra sighed. “I’m sorry, Inquisitor. It’s an ugly truth, but there will always be people we fight who are pressed into it. That’s an unfortunate fact of battle.”

“Yeah that’s always a hypothetical,” Adaar said. “And there’s usually no way of telling, but now we know for certain these three don’t want to kill us and would rather fuck off. I don’t feel comfortable killing people who have zero vested interest in killing me.”

Cassandra folded her arms. “Do you have some plan in not killing them then?”

Adaar paused for a moment. “Ambush their ambush? Hawke has long-range destruction magic, so he and Cole can sneak off to wherever the mages are. Cole can point them out, Hawke kills someone else, bit more of a light show. We move in from the road, their attention diverted, and then Hawke can cast a basic sleep spell on the three. Everyone will just have figured they’d died during the chaos when they are paying attention to us.”

“And leave them to wake up in the carnage later,” the Iron Bull said.

“Well they won’t be dead.”

Everyone looked varying degrees of uncomfortable, even if for some of them it was barely noticeable.

“They wouldn’t be,” Sera agreed.

The Iron Bull looked thoughtful. “You’ll need a few to hit from the opposite end of Cole since they will already be expecting from the main road. I’d recommend Ma’am and Cassandra, both able to defend themselves up front and personal and do massive damage from afar. Adaar will need to be in the main group since they’ll specifically be looking for him.”

With the Iron Bull just a few steps ahead. He offered himself as personal bodyguard, and they couldn’t risk Adaar actually dying.

Nobody argued with the plan. Maybe they lowkey felt bad for murdering their way through Thedas, or maybe they could usually separate and compartmentalize but were having trouble with it right now. They split up per plan and waited for a moment for the others to get into place. After, Adaar and the rest continued down the road, the Iron Bull right in front of him.

And sure enough, just as they were turning around that bend, just as figures came into view, fire rained down causing some panic. Everything quickly went chaotic, the way battles were wont to do. To be fair, the Venatori were greatly surprised by their ambush being ambushed. The Iron Bull moved in, Adaar stepped back further and threw up those classic barriers, and watched the scene unfold, focusing purely on barrier work instead of entropy due to not wanting to risk skipping over someone.

Barriers were a good way of keeping his people alive.

Cole had somehow gotten into the fray already, focusing on picking targets next to the Iron Bull, not quite in his blind sight, and the Iron Bull would move between Cole and anyone who tried to move after him. It was unnerving seeing the Iron Bull fight as he tended to hack bits off, bits off of a person that would turn to just meat as they left, nothing of the person left. He still wasn’t quite used to people just leaving rotting flesh behind when they died, but for some reason, bits being hacked off was almost worse.

Cassandra and Vivienne were working fantastically as a team, Cassandra smashing down Smites, and Vivienne calling lightning before Fade-stepping next to Venatori mages and slicing them in half with her summoned blade. Dorian had also never gotten the clue about Southern mages staying in the backlines and tended to use the pointy end of his staff after a Horror spell.

And Dorian judged him for messing with mind perceptions. Hypocrite.

A stabby type managed to sneak up on Sera, Adaar barely noticing just as she rolled out of the way. Adaar strengthened her barriers, risking to pull at the man with entropy, slowing and cursing him. Sera stabbed the man with an arrow, grabbed a flask, and then proceeded to throw acid at the closest upright body.

Fenris was focused on taking down people too close to Hawke, and Tad Cooper was aiding the Iron Bull by going for those legs while people were distracted by the very large distraction.

So. It was all very chaotic. It was a well-designed ambush they had ambushed, and the Venatori were adapting their tactics as well as could be expected with Cassandra smashing the magic out of them.

So Adaar might have barely managed to notice when a mage who had apparently hidden right at the start had emerged. He twisted magic in his hands, and Adaar had the briefest second to react before a spell was flung at him.

It was, of course, a compulsion. Adaar was very familiar with the spell by now, the classic obey/adoration type of which people were so fond of using against demons and other untrusted folks.

But before he could so much as panic, before he could even try to throw some kind of rudimentary shield up, he found himself already casting, something so deeply ingrained he was barely conscious of it. His spell latched onto the other, connecting its length to the other’s own duration, and then Adaar let it hit him in full force.

Adaar became distinctly aware, one right after another, of four very important things.

One was that the man standing in front of him was beloved, blinding like the sun, and that Adaar would do anything for him.

Two, a mere fraction afterward that made Adaar pause and narrow, was that the man standing in front of him was not his beloved but in fact a very convincing impostor, and he must not let the man know that Adaar was onto his game.

Three, that before the man could realize that Adaar had seen through his clever ruse, Adaar must kill him as quickly as possible, with every scrap of power that he wielded.

And four, whenever Adaar had learned or maybe designed this spell, it had assumed that Adaar didn’t have nearly as many destructive capabilities at his disposal. So before the man could so much as blink, Adaar raised his hand. His left hand. The hand with the overpowered ancient elvhen artifact attached, which had previously displayed the ability to kill demons and explode Rifts. It was the most powerful thing he wielded after all.

As it turned out, the mark could kill humans, and the amount of energy Adaar could pull out of the Anchor was far more than he had previously thought possible. The man literally exploded, tiny shreds of flesh spewing across the area, coating the few people nearby with the late mage, and causing a general panic since apparently very few people were prepared for an exploding mage.

His spell snapped out, and Adaar had almost a moment of panic due to the death of his beloved, until the entire spell snapped out and no, that guy was just an asshole who just tried to compel Adaar. Well good riddance.

The Iron Bull took advantage of the confusion and lopped off another person’s head, and the battle was shortly finished after that. Adaar was too stunned by what just happened to be of much use, mostly staring down at his death hand.

After the last man went down, there was a bit of an awkward silence, most turning around to face him. Sera instead stabbed already dead people with arrows ‘just to make sure’ and because her coping method was to not think about weird shit. Thankfully Cole had already moved the three unconscious people off to the side, and Hawke and Tad Cooper were for some reason wandering off down the road.

“What, pray tell, was that?” Dorian asked.

“Magic?” Adaar asked, not entirely sure himself.

“Are you immune to blood magic now?” Fenris asked sarcastically. “He was attempting to compel you. I doubt it was for suicide.”

“Oh that. Oh no, that was a counter-spell,” Adaar said, and yeah that was the truth right there, just springing fully-formed in his head. “Just a twist on his, of which you can see the result.”

“So you cast blood magic on yourself,” Dorian asked disbelievingly, “to get out of someone else’s blood magic? Just”—he waved a hand—“like that?”

Well that was what Adaar did just then. “I mean, yeah? It worked, didn’t it?” He wasn’t entirely sure what Dorian was asking to be honest.

Sera had run out of bodies to stab with arrows, looked up and noticed they were still continuing the creepy blood magic talk, and decided to do yet another repeat.

“That certainly is an unique approach to the matter,” Vivienne said.

“Well I’m not going to try shielding,” Adaar said. “That takes more energy! Get into a long contest of wills, both of you sapping your reserves. This is a lot faster.”

“And requires far more delicate spellwork,” Vivienne said, “that could easily have resulted in disastrous consequences if you had made the slightest mistake.”

“Yes, as would most magic. And I have the spell down,” Adaar said lamely, unable to convey exactly what he meant which wasn’t helped by the fact that he still wasn’t entirely sure what was going on here.

“Of that I have no doubt,” Vivienne said.

“Your response to blood magic is to just blood magic your own damn self?” Dorian asked, seemingly not over it.

“I’m not sure what the problem is here,” Adaar said. Dorian refused to elaborate. Did he lose approval? They just had a moment earlier this day, dammit. Dorian didn’t like blood magic. But was it an on others thing? Did Adaar casting it on himself make the entire thing better or worse? Why couldn’t Dorian just use his words and communicate like other mortals did via their feelings?

Even the Iron Bull was better at communicating his feelings, and he kept actively repressing them.

“If we are done here, we should move on,” Fenris said, not fazed the slightest. His main two measuring sticks for general weirdness were Tevinter and Kirkwall which had left him permanently unfazed by anything ever.

Far down the road, off into the distance, Hawke called out, “I found a bit of his staff!”

They did end up getting to the inn on time, deciding to wash up there on account of how as it was close to the main mountain pass to the Inquisition. The workers were well used to seeing various people walk in, covered in all kinds of blech, and just not batting an eye at any of it.

Adaar was feeling more drained than usual which might have been the mystery spell; he still had no idea how he cast it. He knew the techniques of casting it, could explain what he did and what was going on, but he had no idea how he learned it, and until just that moment didn’t even know that he knew that spell period.

Adaar was quite used to panicking at this point. He would classify himself a panic champion, lording above many with his panicking capabilities. As such, he was able to keep things to a low burn panic, putting aside the shrieking chorus until they got to the tavern. He would dutifully wait until he was in his own room upon which he could have his full freak-out without losing approval points from Vivienne who preferred her leaders to at least try to look semi-competent in public.

It wasn’t an unfair want there. Adaar sure would feel discouraged if he had a leader figure that just broke down crying during negotiations. It’d sure make things awkward. He possibly could swing a pity deal, but that would be a one-shot thing.

Most people made a beeline to their rooms, with most people still buddying up with another person, and Adaar being allowed his very own room with no one else in it. Perks of being the world’s scapegoat. He settled in his, mind still racing, and hyper-aware of all the emotions flitting through the tavern. So, distraction? He peeled off slightly, peeking around the tavern and probably breaching some level of privacy, observe thought patterns because he was terrible.

Fenris was laughing at something Hawke said, so much more relaxed when not around suspicious individuals, fond of this ridiculous man. They finally had their own room, because if it wasn’t people barging in on their private conversations, then it was a very large beetle who decided it wanted to make friends with Hawke. Hawke didn’t want to make friends, and it had been a very loud and very shrill encounter.

They were happy. And there was a lot of happy, radiating off. Would they even noticed if he just reached out and-

No. He recoiled, sliding back into his form, and felt miserable. At the very least if he did decide to feed directly off of the living, those would be the last people he’d go for. He’d tried feeding on dead people, and it kinda worked. But it was like stuffing straw to patch a stone wall, temporary, and that made no sense since he had asked around a little, and that was a common method used!

The other demons simply weren’t having the same problems he was. And while it was a running joke, Adaar was pretty sure the difference was the other demons didn’t have a demon-eating hole in their hand.

Adaar glared at the Anchor. It crackled innocently, and then the events of the day that Adaar had been trying to not think about crashed down upon him.

He hadn’t known the spell. He had never thought once of the spell, and yet with the sheer familiarity in which he cast, he must have practiced and cast it before. He must have a lot for it to be so ingrained that he immediately did it with no conscious thought on his part.

He didn’t know the spell.

Adaar paused, a sinking feeling rippling through him. Or did he?

Weird memory problems, ones he had written off as possibly him purposefully forgetting, but that made no sense. Skills missing, memories missing, Cole commenting on things that Adaar simply wasn’t thinking.

For fuck’s sake, there had only been a few thousand PSAs about this, how to tell if this had happened to you, horror stories of why not to approach some mages.

Adaar, probably, was asunder. He was split, a chunk torn off, missing and somewhere else that wasn’t here with the rest of him.

Normally this didn’t happen to lesser demons. Normally that was a sign that a demon had pissed off some mage, a way of weakening and binding a more powerful demon, to splinter them and bind the splinters. Or sometimes a demon who had spread itself too far, created too many actors, might get attacked or dampened, and the actors would split. But somehow, someone decided to split a chunk off of Adaar because-

Adaar continued to look at the Anchor. Or maybe not someone. He hadn’t lied when he told Cassandra he had no idea what had happened. He had been in the Fade, minding his own business, then he was stumbling out of a Rift, mortals running up, and himself naturally panicking.

Maybe it was the Anchor’s fault. Maybe there were multiple things going on, and they were all the Anchor’s fault. Maybe it was the thing responsible for tearing him apart? Get the Anchor, part of him flung into the mortal world, part left behind.

Adaar’s memory might be compromised, but he couldn’t possibly fathom being a powerful demon. Even with missing memories, it didn’t add up to his previous life style. But if he really was split, then how was he starting to remember?

If it was the Anchor, if a chunk of him was in the Fade, if the Anchor connected the two, it might be slowly reforming Adaar. There was no way to tell if this splinter was strong enough to have a coherent identity. Hopefully not. That always made things awkward, having to argue with yourself to recombine. Not that that had ever happened to Adaar.

Probably. He banged himself against the wall in frustration.

Had he met Trevelyan at the Conclave? Was he summoned there by someone? Was Adaar responsible, or did he honestly try to help? He had no way of knowing, not unless he reformed more. There had to be a way of speeding up the process. Solas maybe? He could ask Solas.

His mind swirled faster, latching onto hundreds of terrible fates for all the people he knew before, a myriad of possibilities that he had no way of knowing weren’t true. Maybe if he just tried to open up the Anchor? He tentatively reached out and-

His arm exploded with pain. He hissed and snapped back, rubbing at his form’s hand. Well that didn’t work.

He frowned. It made sense that just opening it up wouldn’t do much, nothing more than the theoretical slow reemergence of himself. He’d probably need something to connect over, to draw himself together, draw from Other Him. A memory then? But how was he supposed to know what memories he had forgotten?

Aside from the Chantry explosion.

He wasn’t sure how many shots he could get at this considering the shooting pain all up his arm, all through his arm into his proper self which was never a good sign. He could probably hurt himself here, hurt himself real bad. Probably could shred off more chunks of himself, which, no.

Also it would hurt like a bitch.

He agonized, swirling around some. What did it matter? Either he would reform if he was right, or if he was wrong he would be just fine. Ugh. This world was doing just wonders for his self-preservation instinct. No wonder demons kept dying here all the time; this world drove them insane. But he desperately needed to know if he was split. It was a maddening, burning need to know, but how was he supposed to figure out what missing memories he had when they were missing in the first place?

If you were trying to get into someone’s head, how would you approach it?

Adaar quieted though the mark still hissed, and then tentatively, he tried again.

Pain again, making him feel like his arm was about to shatter with it, but he held on. He had met him at the Circle, both of them stuck; Trevelyan through law, and Desire through bindings. It had been a short moment of his life, all things considered. A time caught off-guard, forced into a role he didn’t like, but he had escaped well enough.

And it was hazy, and then just like that, it was not.

He didn’t know if all Circles did it that way—or had done it seeing as almost all the Circles had been burned to the ground at this current point in time—but at Ostwick, they figured the easiest solution was to just keep one of each type of demon on hand, trap them within the area, and keep the spell inscribed deep in a vault with the most impossible of wards.

Though demon wasn’t always the case. The Circle didn’t care if they actually were a spirit or a demon, just as long as they fulfilled that role come Harrowings. Their current ‘Hunger’ demon was actually Fortitude, though there were bets circulating on if Fortitude didn’t die, how long it would take for him to just come back permanently as Hunger.

Desire had placed his own bet of a nice memory of a heartbreaking viol performance he had once ‘found’ into the pool of three more times. Fortitude had been there much longer than himself, and he had started to come back riddled with holes, starting to fray around the edges. It wouldn’t be that much longer until he collapsed in upon himself.

Most of the demons had long since branched together their demesnes for easier travel, headed mainly by the longest and most powerful member there, Despair, who was the ultimate say in things all manners of this small spit of the Fade. Desire had gotten overtures to join but kept to himself. Desire wanted out and didn’t like the idea of staying long enough to get chummy.

Also Despair was a dick.

Vultures flocked to the area, interacting, sometimes bringing fresh material or bartering for the dreams found there. A number tried to slip through and go after the mages themselves, and a number might have also been bound for other things. Teaching methods? Spell components? So many mages in one place was like an inferno, dimming all the other dreams in the area.

But the vultures could leave. The Harrowing demons could not. No, their only way out was by successfully possessing a mage, upon which they would immediately die via Templar sword.

He had talked to Rage a few times. For some reason, Rage and Desire tended to get along, though why Desire had no idea. But it held true, Rage being friendly enough, careful around his demesne since they were a very stereotypical Rage demon, and Desire had spent quite some time getting the details of his garden just so.

Not that that was how it worked in the mortal world. Rage was naturally destructive to demesnes in general, nothing to do gardens being more vulnerable to flame in the Fade.

Rage was the one to explain how things worked here as well as some of the history of the place. While again, they had no idea if this was how other Circles worked—and if they ever got out this was not something worth trying to find out—but at Ostwick, not only were the demons or ‘demons’ bound, they were also compelled to try their best to possess the mage presented.

Apparently this was due back so many years when the Harrowing demons decided to go on strike. They might never be able to leave of their own power, but they might be freed and exchanged out if they just stopped showing up for the Harrowings they thought, or maybe the mages would be stupid enough to go down and try to tinker with the binding inscription upon which they could go with escape plan b and blast their way out.

That was not the solution the mages came up with which sucked balls. Apparently, though it was hilarious for about a dozen Harrowings, as mages neglected to mention that a demon had failed to show up. It did become less funny after the reveal as the Templars had decided that the mages had failed the Harrowings by default and killed them.

After that, the compulsion was placed into the wards. So that really backfired.

Desire watched, and demons died, and Desire remained in his corner alone, not wanting to know the bets placed upon himself. Twice now, once defeated but not killed, and once when he had been able to twist the compulsion inside of himself to stall, play a long game, just enough until the Templars got bored of watching and kill the mage already so Desire could slip away unharmed.

Something tread across his demesne, just at the border. It wasn’t Rage, and it wasn’t and probably never would be Valor coming to save him because how could he expect Valor to find him in this mess?

The thought hurt, true as it was, so he made himself sharp, snapped back the gardens, sent out an avatar to go talk to whoever had dared trespass-

The mark exploded, jolting Desire back into Adaar, and also exploded in general, wild energy reducing all the furniture in the room to splinters, shattering the windows, and shredding at Adaar’s arm.

It was there. He was there, back in the Fade, sundered in two just like he suspected. How much had he simply assumed he made himself forget? How much would he not even know was missing?

The mark still spat, an angry thing, while dread clutched at his core. But at least he knew now, and that was something. Curiosity satisfied.

Just then, Cassandra burst into the room.

“Inquisitor are you-” before her eyes registered exactly what state the room was in, his shaking form, and the mark currently trying to eat his arm in payback for having to be open so long.

Adaar grinned weakly. “We are probably going to need to pay for damages.”

Chapter Text

It was a simple enough explanation of ‘so I got a memory back from a few years ago’. It wasn’t technically accurate, since time didn’t flow the same in the Fade, but it did match the mortal world’s scale of time. So, really, it wasn’t a complete lie, but it also didn’t cover ‘so a chunk of me is missing’.

“So it has affected other memories than just what happened at the Conclave,” Cassandra said gravely.

“Yeah.” Adaar was not thrilled with this in the slightest, as he now got to question everything he ever remembered and didn’t remember and didn’t know he didn’t remember.

Yippee.

Cassandra looked down at his arm. The mark, the little fucking bugger, had carved its path halfway up his forearm.

“…even considering the circumstances and the information you could remember, perhaps you shouldn’t do that again.”

“Yeah.”

Cassandra looked at him sharply. “I am serious, Inquisitor. Even for the Conclave. I do not want to risk you.”

Adaar was honestly touched by her concern, but still he so badly wanted to remember. He almost opened his mouth, almost said something along the lines of ‘well wouldn’t you want to regain your memories that had been ripped from you?’

However, everyone else had rushed to see what had happened, so Fenris was in the room, and thus Adaar declined to say anything.

“If you don’t mind,” Cassandra said, “I would prefer if I stayed here for the remainder of the night. I am not sure how effective I could be, but in case the mark starts acting up again, you may want someone to suppress it.”

Adaar was starting to feel emotional now. Why couldn’t he just decide to dislike her and be over with it? She didn’t like demons. She didn’t trust Cole. She didn’t trust Dorian. Fucking complicated mortals and complicated feelings and complicated everything. “Thanks,” he said lamely.

Cassandra looked weirdly startled, but then looked over to everyone else who had managed to either find their way into his room or were hanging around the doorway. “Out. We shall deal with this tomorrow.”

Adaar had braced for the worst the next day, but luckily the tavern keeper was more than a few shreds short of a wisp and was actually enthusiastic about what had happened.

“You don’t know what kind of a tourist attraction this will make!” he said happily, and the worst part was that he was right. He waved a hand. “Don’t worry about the damages. I am going to exploit the shit out of this.”

So that ended surprisingly well, and then they were back on the road, up to the cold and miserable mountain paths that had too many bears. The newest theory was that the bears were actually Rage abominations who were springing out of Rifts, hence explaining their number and their general disposition. Cassandra was still reluctant to leave him alone for too long as the mark continued to sputter randomly despite having already sealed all the Rifts on the way down, and they agreed to have Solas look at it shortly after returning to Skyhold.

He’d fixed it up before, kept it from killing him the first time. And it was his fucking mark in the first place, so Solas deserved to help him out here.

Adaar thought about that for a moment. You know, maybe borderline antagonizing the guy who could keep him from dissolving via mark wasn’t the best idea. He should probably tone down the pettiness. He could also ask about that hunger thing going on, if that was a side effect of the Anchor because by all accounts this wasn’t making any sense.

Speaking of which, Adaar was drawing out the energy of the bears they killed along the way, and it was increasingly never enough. He actively avoided Hawke and Fenris now, at least when it was just them and not others around.

After days traveling along icy roads—albeit ones that had been recently widened to make travel easier—Skyhold finally came into view. Sera let out a sob of relief, and Dorian patted her on the shoulder in complete agreement.

“Frigging nature,” Sera said. “Whoever thought nature would be a good idea?”

“Mystery of the ages,” Dorian said.

Adaar just stared at Skyhold, not moving.

“Are you feeling alright Inquisitor?” Cassandra asked.

Adaar felt his emotions wilt. “I just remembered what going back to Skyhold means. Paperwork. Rude nobles. Being the deciding factor when Josephine and Leliana get into a slapfight of if they should kill someone or just socially humiliate them into no point of recovery.”

“Josephine is quite adept at the Game,” Vivienne said, approval in her tone.

“That is why I never did paperwork,” Hawke said. “So my advice is to just don’t. Laugh loudly whenever someone asks you a favor and then run off when they aren’t looking. I still managed to be Champion while doing that, and you are an irreplaceable figure here. They have to put up with you!”

Cassandra shot Hawke a scathing look because that was completely unprofessional and terrible advice, and he was being a huge scoundrel, and he was already taken anyway, so nothing could ever come from her massive crush.

“Set the paperwork on fire!” Sera said. “Set their breeches on fire. I can set their breeches on fire. They’ll never find them that way.”

Tad Cooper let out a series of barks.

“That is a good compromise,” Adaar said to the mabari. “I’m going with your advice.”

Tad Cooper thumped his tail happily, and Hawke frowned.

“I still don’t know how you can understand my mabari. I’ve been with him for years now, and I can’t understand him half as well as you do.”

Tad Cooper snorted and gave out a few grumbles.

“Well that was just uncalled for,” Hawke said.

In the distance, the soldiers started to run around frantically at their approach, and Adaar inwardly braced himself for a slew of missives and quests and more things to do. Honestly, he was starting to feel less busy running around and killing people.

Somehow though, they made it through the gates without being verbally pelted by soldiers, and Adaar sighed as he actually managed to reach the castle without someone running at him for something or other. Tad Cooper did have sage advice. It was reasonable to assume he was tired and then just request the day or also the next off for himself.

Just then, a door off to the side crashed open with enough force that half their party members jolted reflexively into defensive positions.

A woman wearing a very large hat flung her arms open. “Bandanna buddy!”

Hawke’s expression became one of pure delight. “Isabela!”

Isabela then proceeded to fling herself at Hawke who caught her in what had to have been a practiced move.

“Hi Fenris,” she said, still in Hawke’s arms.

“I see you are the same as ever,” Fenris said, a smile tugging at his lips.

Isabela leaned backwards to look at Cassandra. “We are very good friends,” she said with an unnecessary eyebrow waggle, before shifting so she was looking right at Hawke. “Also Varric moped the entire time you were gone. At least the time I was here for anyway. He was being boring , Hawke.”

They were indeed very good friends, but not in the way she was implying to Cassandra. Just the classic ‘best friends at first sight with the friendship spanning a decade now’ type of thing. There had been a lot of really emotional moments, like Hawke dueling the Arishok single-handedly to save Isabela who had returned because she also wanted to save her friend. Laughs and wild hijinks through the years, Isabela consoling Hawke when Fenris had broken up with him, Hawke finally getting Isabela that ship.

Not that Adaar was a huge fan of their epic friendship or anything, because that was weird in the mortal world. Not in the Fade, mind you. It wouldn’t be weird in the Fade and instead seen as just a natural pull to an emotional and meaningful friendship, and like being a fan of the entire story wouldn’t be weird either.

But this was the mortal world, so Adaar wasn’t a fan of their friendship because otherwise it would make it awkward to work with Hawke. Because being a fan meant playing a role in exploring the story and different facets of it since that’s how being a fan worked. At least Adaar had stuck to the background and hadn’t played one of the main roles, which tamped down on the sheer amount of embarrassing happening.

‘Oh yes hello Isabela, I happened to play you for a few years, absorbing your memories and actions in order to further myself before expunging them, and also because it was a great story, and now that you are here that seems really awkward meeting you in person.’

Freedom got that role instead, thank fuck. Adaar had wanted a background role anyway. Literally. He had been a few of the backgrounds, spawning minor actors as scenery flavor when needed.

…okay so Adaar was lying, he was a huge fan and couldn’t deny it to himself any longer.

Hawke finally put her down and struck a pose. “Alas, my trusty dwarf requires my immediate friendship. But then so do you. Are you here permanently or-?”

“No, but I have been hired!” She turned to waggle her fingers at Adaar. “I’m your new naval power.”

“We have a naval power?”

“Yes, and it’s me.” And back to Hawke. “I can’t stay much longer though. You know how it is, having to get back to such boring work of stealing and theft and robbery. But I can stay a couple more days before heading out. Just enough for us to catch up on old times and team up to cheat Varric out of his hard-earned money.”

“None of Varric’s money is hard-earned,” Hawke said, and the mabari barked in agreement.

The commotion seemed to draw a few others. Leliana seemed to just step right into existence, Josephine approached looking as harried as ever with Blackwall a few steps behind.

Blackwall opened his mouth before pausing, his face pulling into a confused expression. “Why are you all wearing flower crowns?”

Cole promptly put one on his head.

“Is everyone getting one?” Cassandra asked in a very resigned tone.

“No, just the companions,” Cole said. “No one else can wear one. They’d die.”

There was a very awkward pause, before Cole clarified, “The flower crowns. Not the people.”

“Thank you for clearing that up,” Dorian said. “I was actually concerned. Still not entirely sure how that works.”

“I found them because no one wanted to do the puzzle.” Cole frowned at Dorian. “I already told you this.”

As the rest started to walk off or continue in conversation, Josephine hailed him. Back to work.

Adaar’s first agenda was to talk to Solas about his mark who was rightfully, and thankfully, troubled by the latest drama of ‘Adaar and how the Anchor was eating him slowly.’ He promised to look into things, which shouldn’t take long as he had just finished up his last major task, and could consult whatever sources he could gather before attempting to even touch Adaar’s mark with magic. Adaar hadn’t gotten the chance to ask him everything before he dashed off, but fixing the Anchor would hopefully fix his consumption problems and the reformation issues. Both would be good.

Honestly Adaar couldn’t figure out which one he would like more now, either getting his memories back or the constant gnawing hunger.

Cole would hate him so much, but Adaar had started to catch nugs scurrying in the basement. Nobody’d miss some nugs if they died. It was still like trying to patch stone with straw, but a temporary fix was better than none.

At least Adaar was officially off of Rift duty for now. If only there was someone else in the world with the ability to close Rifts. Anyone at all. He’d recruit that person in a heartbeat. It sure would make his job a lot easier.

Adaar did have faith in Solas though. He had his bad moments—okay a number of bad moments—but he did care, and this was his mark in the first place.

The next step was talking to Dagna to see how that project was coming along.

“Ah yes, Inquisitor,” Dagna said happily. “I have come up with a solution to your red lyrium problem. Had to test it first of course, and I’m still working through the kinks of transport, but I have successfully and safely destroyed the red lyrium.”

Wait really? Adaar had had no faith in her whatsoever. It wasn’t personal, just that Adaar hadn’t thought this was something that could be destroyed period. “I thought that was supposed to be impossible? Did you, what, disinfect the red lyrium or something?”

Dagna laughed. “Oh, no, but that does sound interesting! No, I dumped it in lava, and it disintegrated.”

“Lava,” Adaar repeated.

Dagna nodded. “Yes, lava. We are really close to Orzammar, but I’m not allowed in. It took some work for the scouts to find some tunnels leading into the mountain, but I did tests, and lava does beat red lyrium.”

“I’m having a hard time believing it was that easy,” Adaar said. “The undestroyable ultimate corruption source? Just dunk it in lava and you win?”

“Honestly it took me so long to figure out what I was supposed to do with my trash on the surface,” Dagna continued, blatantly ignoring him and lost in her own ramblings. “Or what do you suppose surfacer crime is like? Carta just dumps the bodies in the lava. It’s really hard to retrieve them that way. All failed lyrium enchantments were just dumped in the lava, and there’s a secondary pulley system in case of invading Darkspawn so they can’t get into the city. Historically, that’s actually how Orzammar survived as it’s based around lava flows. So, since my recent tests determined that red lyrium is essentially Blighted lyrium, and we haven’t ever had any problems with lava contracting the Blight over the millennia of darkspawn corpses being dumped in there, I thought it was safe to try out.”

Dagna came from a very different world than the surface world, and it had made things difficult to adjust to, and Adaar could relate to that so hard.

“I guess we have a solution then,” Adaar said, still unsure of what to feel about the apparently laughably easy solution. “Well. Mostly. We still need to figure out transport for the red lyrium in Emprise du Lion without the people doing so going absolutely insane.”

“Well, not just there,” Dagna said. “Or that Templar place. We’ve been fighting a lot of Red Templars, and we probably shouldn’t be leaving those bodies around.”

As Dagna laughed, Adaar realized that was exactly what they had been doing, and that there were Red Templar corpses littering Thedas.

Shit.

Adaar thought of making use of Dorian’s offer about the fourth time Josephine summoned him, looked increasingly uncomfortable, and then gave him yet another thing to do.

Adaar finally just refused. “What is it Josephine? What is it really?”

Josephine fiddled with her clipboard, and Adaar grumbled inwardly for the limits of how much he could peek inside someone’s head. It sure would make things a lot easier if he could see everything.

“I just want you to know that we looked everywhere,” Josephine said. “We used every contact, contacted every witness, but I still wanted to make sure.”

“Okay,” Adaar said feeling uneasy.

“So I asked Solas if he could go into the Fade and verify it, perhaps check through the memories of the area if it was possible. Apparently it was difficult as the closer to the center, the more the memories had just dissolved? I wasn’t entirely sure what he was saying. But-” she took a steadying breath. “This Trevelyan that you had asked for. He was at the Conclave when it exploded.”

That couldn’t be right.

“If the memories ‘dissolved’, then how could Solas be sure?” Adaar asked. “And the Fade’s got multiple interpretations anyway, so he could be wrong there.”

Josephine looked pained. “I don’t know what to tell you, but Solas seemed very certain. He, ah, he sends his apologies by the way, if he hadn’t already told you earlier.”

This couldn’t be right. Trevelyan was alive because Desire had made it so.

Solas was a fucking elvhen god thousands upon thousands of years old who specialized in walking in the Fade and reading memories and events of things that had happened. There were probably hundreds of witnesses that Trevelyan was there when it exploded. Deluding himself was pointless.

“Do you need anything?” Josephine asked. “Someone to talk to?”

“No, but I appreciate the offer.” Adaar said, feeling resignment settle. “I’m just going to take the rest of the day for myself, alright?” He had been already planning to do that after all.

“Of course,” Josephine said.

Adaar quietly made his way back to his room and then shut the door. He stared at a moment before sealing it proper. He didn’t want anyone coming up here trying to comfort him or something. Not even Cole. And how could even explain it to Cole? Cole was a fucking spirit, and the divide grated at him right now.

Sure, Solas talked a big game about how spirits and demons were essentially the same thing. And maybe it was for some places, how it used to be period. But those words held meaning now, and there very much was a divide in places. Gray area, those who went one way or another depending on how they were treated by the dreamer, but Adaar had made his stance clear.

That’s what mortals did. That’s what all mortals did, at least until Trevelyan, and he hadn’t even thought of Trevelyan until Skyhold, might not have even fucking remembered he existed until then, self in pieces.

There had been that one lady who approached him in the Fade. She had been looking for power. Some magister wanting to get a leg-up on her rivals as magisters were wont to do. She had been going in for that con angle, try to strike a deal that would go sideways for him. Sometimes magisters were honest in their dealings. In theory. Adaar had never met one who didn’t try to backstab the demon shortly after, but then, he didn’t actively seek out mortals. They were always seeking him out.

Deal went sideways for her. Loophole clause, gave her the power she wanted, and then tore it right back and then some.

Distantly, Adaar noticed the wind starting to howl.

Another mage at one point, offering him a way across if he helped wreak vengeance on his rivals. Like, honestly. Just go get a Rage demon, you know? Refused to take no for an answer and tried to make Adaar help him, so Adaar helped him ‘wreak vengeance on his rivals’ all by himself. Just relaxed that lingering hesitance in the mortal’s mind, the part that wanted it done but didn’t want to do the dirty work for himself.

The mage died, of course. Adaar wasn’t sure how many he killed, or if he killed any, but ‘wreaking vengeance’ in the most direct manner possible doesn’t give for a long life span.

Another mage, looking to ensnare her love that had scorned her. Adaar had not been a fan. Apparently for ‘some reason’ the Love spirits were avoiding her, so she was going for the next best thing. She didn’t see the problem, because she loved him, loved him enough to want to run rampant over his rejection.

Creep. That lady hadn’t tried to bind him, but Adaar had took a more proactive approach there, because he wasn’t a fan of someone binding things, demon or no.

Okay so the guy had been temporarily compelled, but the compulsion twisted in a way she hadn’t been planning. The whole ‘have to be together forever until death doth us part’ type of thing, so naturally stab her first, which coincidentally broke the compulsion for the guy.

And then there had been that mage. A magister. First time he had been bound. Is that why he learned that spell, the anti-compulsion? Was he inspired after everything that happened with him?

His grip on everything tightened, pillars creaking dangerously and dust coming off the ceiling.

That magister had been clever though. He trusted in his own power and magic and riches. No, all he wanted was a bound demon to stare into the hearts of his rivals and tell him all of their weaknesses and wishes. All things considered, Adaar had had it easy, seeing how things usually went for summoned and bound desire demons as such people tended to want to fulfill their desires; as long as there was this attractive demon at their disposal who couldn’t say no, why not?

The magister still ended up very dead. The first mortal Adaar had ever killed.

Those were the ‘deals’ he struck. He had long since stopped helping, or trying to help, back before all such things. The divide had been made very clear for him by those mortals, and honestly he had been one of the types that mortals were supposed to like! He had switched over the first time to try to make mortals happy, from not just needs but also wants. That still didn’t make him any less of a monster, no matter him shoving himself in a role he thought would appease them, making him soft enough for them to calm down around.

And then he picked his choice, picked the opposite one that Cole did, the one Cole was running from.

Adaar could feel himself diffusing, but he didn’t care if anyone noticed. He felt hollowed out, like a binding gone wrong. Or right for that matter.

Because Trevelyan?

One deal struck in a series of backstabs that he had honestly meant. He could recognize his patchy mind now, skipping over details, skipping over disturbing large chunks and periods, skipping from fragment to fragment. But Trevelyan?

The Circle had fucked him up enough that every night he would run to a demon’s demesne, his demesne, because if he was a monster then why not throw in his lot with the others? And Desire kept him there because it was better than letting Despair chew more on Trevelyan than Despair already had.

They had been-

His form gripped himself, drawing in as much as possible.

What even had they been? Were they anything at all? Adaar didn’t remember, just felt torn asunder, literally torn, some missing chunk with the most important bits and memories there because what else here mattered?

One promise struck that Adaar had kept. The Templars were going to kill the mages there, but Trevelyan didn’t want to die, and Trevelyan also didn’t want Desire to be stuck there in an abandoned tower for eternity.

Desire had never told him that the sheer number of deaths would have weakened the Veil enough that he could have slipped through those bonds and back again, wriggle his way through and then back out into the Fade proper. Desire simply hadn’t wanted Trevelyan to die, and his odds otherwise were none, and Trevelyan was fucking stupid enough that he wouldn’t have made the deal otherwise, wouldn’t want to risk Desire dying if his freedom was guaranteed.

As if Desire had ever meant anything in comparison to him.

Heat began to crackle around him, licking up the walls, passing through him harmlessly, catching on wood, on drapes, on stone.

So all Desire had to do, Trevelyan said, was possess him, just temporary, just long enough for them to get out and leave. And they did, that much he remembered even if the rest of it was one haze, skips in memory no matter how hard he tried, and then Trevelyan was finally free of that fucking place, and Desire was free into the Fade, and Desire had agreed upon this, had willingly written it across the core of his being, it becoming law, the single positive interaction he had ever had with a mortal. And he fled into the Fade, afraid any further contact would sully it, would cause Trevelyan to turn on him just like all the others, and Desire wasn’t sure if he could handle that.

Probably. If memory served correctly. But what would he know, already in pieces.

And now Trevelyan was dead, and Adaar was stuck here, and the single deal Adaar had ever made had been torn from him months ago without him ever knowing.

Adaar felt the presence of Skyhold, the thousands of mortals running about doing things, being alive, running after their own petty and base desires. He could still feel the faint imprint of Trevelyan that had been left even after all this time. Small quirks that had never been his, minor turns of phrase, bouts of recklessness, bouts of crying as well, squeamishness towards maggots. Had there been an imprint left behind on Trevelyan? Did Trevelyan then feel drawn to desires? Or strange compulsions to steal things? Had he left any marks at all on Trevelyan’s life aside from getting him out?

Aside from botching healing him that is.

He suddenly felt very tired. What was the point of any of this? The Breach was sealed, the main threat to mortals and Fadefolk alike. They could find someone else to play puppet, because Adaar simply didn’t care anymore.

Most of the room was fire and ash at this point, stone pillars crumbled under his presence, roof long since having been shredded into slivers. All of it was information oddly disjointed and distant from him, some other room in disarray. Certainly wasn’t any room of his.

He couldn’t go back to the Fade of his own power, but there were places where the Veil was like wet paper, and if he found a Rift in such a place, then he could just fling it open wide and step home. That sounded nice, and then he could slither through the Fade until he found his missing piece.

Adaar dispersed then, as much as he could, and then slid down the walls of the tower and mountain into the valley below.

The first day, people were understandably alarmed. The second day, Leliana quietly and quickly began a search with her spy network. The fourth day, Josephine was covering, saying Adaar was out closing Rifts as the Inquisitor was wont to do. On day seven, Solas regretfully informed that none of the spirits he contacted knew where Adaar was. He wasn’t at the ruins of Haven, wasn’t anywhere in the known vicinity.

Adaar was just gone.

Chapter Text

Adaar knew where to go. He’d looked at that stupid war table more than enough times. Travel was so much faster when he didn’t have mortals slowing him down, or having to stop for food breaks, or having to stop for the night period. He didn’t risk going near settlements, but then, he knew where all the majors and moderate ones of those were too. See: war table.

Kinloch Hold was closer. Even the Blackmarsh was a bit closer, but Adaar figured his last bit on Thedas before returning home should be somewhere green. Seemed fitting.

The Anchor wasn’t happy with him, but Adaar was beyond caring at this point. Maybe it would kill him. He wasn’t sure if he entirely cared about that at this point. He supposed if he got across, he could find a better way to remove it. Find some Wisdom spirit that would go all wide-eyed over the damn thing, and then they could have it. Maybe have them give it back to Solas. There. Last act of altruism he would do. Make sure Solas got his mark back.

The Brecilian Forest spread out in front of him, lush and gorgeous in a way hard to describe to mortals. And soon he wouldn’t have to! Lucky him.

Maybe he could broker a deal for another Compassion spirit for them to just take this hurt away. Some of the more respectable ones wouldn’t, but there were a fair share of ‘shady’ spirits. Spirit didn’t mean good, after all. Just more pure, more focused on their thing instead of sullying themselves with concepts outside of their Domain.

Or it was a political stance on the approach towards mortals.

Or it was a corruption factor.

Or it was just a pure identity thing, gleaned from the ideas of mortals.

Adaar had stopped caring at some point of what it was. Maybe combinations of those. He just wanted home and then to forget and then take this mark off and go find Valor if he hadn’t died already when Adaar wasn’t looking. If he had then well. Maybe he could just drift for a while?

The Veil was as thin as he heard, and sylvans glanced by as he snaked his way through. There was that draw to greenery, to just sink himself in and forget here, but he snapped at that part of himself that wanted to linger. It wasn’t one of his sculpted gardens, ones he had poured so much time into getting the beauty sing just right, to entrance visitors and making them feel wonder and sheer awe at such beauty. And if he was tired of having an actor interacting with things, then he could just forgo one for a while in the Fade, simply be his garden.

The tug increased, but Adaar ignored it, weaving through the area, until- there. A wonderful Rift waiting just for him. He slid his self in front of it, reforming his actor out of habit. The Rift crackled, responding to the mark. It was far larger than most of the ones he had seen, just as he thought one would be here. Maybe Fadefolk were having no problems slipping through here without risk of horrific shredding. That’d be nice.

So, next step would be to just reach out his hand and open it.

Adaar lingered, form constricting.

He didn’t want to linger, he wanted through. He tried to pull the mark up, but it was like pulling himself through thorny vines, constricting him back and tearing at him as he tried.

He needed to go back to the Inquisition.

No, he didn’t, and he chafed at the thought. No he didn’t, and he wanted through. He just wanted to be home already.

He needed to go back to the Inquisition.

Adaar seethed, thrashing, tearing at himself to finally lift up the mark and tear the Rift open, tear it wide enough that yes, he could fit through just fine without any damages.

He didn’t move.

Horror seeped into his being. No, no, no . He willed himself forward, tried to angle it any way he could, but the vines had wrapped themselves around his very core, refusing to move.

He had sworn. Writ across his very being, he had sworn-

Adaar screamed, thrashing in some oath, words and promises refusing to let him move forward.

He had promised nothing! He didn’t remember any promise, nothing was promised, he could-

He needed to go back to the Inquisition.

A memory dawned on him. Once, way back at Haven, Corypheus had tried to compel him, to give him the Anchor, but Adaar literally couldn’t. Something had stopped him then, and something was stopping him now.

He needed to go back to the Inquisition.

Desperate, he tore directly at the Anchor. He had gotten memories before, after all. He dug in deep, focusing on this fucking compulsion, who dared command him- but the Anchor flared up in response, tearing far more at his weakened state, all along the lines that had torn at him before. He hissed at the sheer pain, but still he tried to grab those lines and tear them out, just be done with it already.

The Anchor had already rooted in him like a parasite, and he tore into his core. Adaar screamed again as pain exploded through him, finally recoiling backwards from the Rift, and collapsed on the ground sobbing.

He stayed there for a while, weeping essence and Anchor burning, but that same compulsion tugged him out of it. He needed to heal, needed to stay alive, needed to go back and fucking serve. It didn’t matter if he remembered or not because he was literally bound to this task, and his own desires on the matter weren’t to be considered.

He didn’t even know the promise. He didn’t even know who bound him. He just wanted to be done.

He could feel it now, knew what to look for as it tugged him away from that thought, just as he could tell now that memories had been torn from him. Had it affected him before? Did he just go along with being Inquisitor, play along with whatever his advisers said out of his own free fear and free will, or had this been clouding his thoughts?

How many of his ‘decisions’ had been truly his own?

He felt impossibly heavy. There was no use fighting against a binding. He could wriggle around one, maybe, if he knew the person and the exact agreement forced, but he knew neither of those things. Time to close the Rift then, he supposed, feeling leaden with that ‘choice’. He stared at it, stared right through it into beautiful green, could see in the distance demesnes swirling about. He saw his beautiful home one last time before he sewed the Rift shut.

His form seemed damaged at this point. Visibly, obviously damaged. He’d have to live with that, couldn’t just scrap it and make a new one because of Anchor. Maybe somebody would offer him some sympathy about it, and he could pretend it was directed at him being bound. That’d be nice.

He needed to go back to the Inquisition.

No shit. He got it at this point. Fucking oath didn’t want him time to mourn.

He slowly made his way back, numb with pain and resignment. Of course he was bound. Nobody trusted a demon unbound. Nobody cared if a demon got bound. Mortals, yes; Demons, no.

The Anchor continued to sputter madly. He’d need to get back as soon as possible, the mark slowly creeping up even as he watched. He could eat something along the way, keep it at bay perhaps a bit further.

He passed through the beautiful green, all the things he couldn’t be. But as he finally passed back out through the forest, his pain began to mingle with grief, and then that slid into anger, and then that slid darker still.

Someone had bound him. Someone was making damn well sure he was going to serve the Inquisition one way or another. He might not know who, and he might not know the exact details of the binding, but Adaar was eventually going to find out. And then one way or another, he was going to wriggle around until he found a loophole like he always did, and then he was going to make them pay.

Chapter Text

Keith Trevelyan, according to the Ben-Hassrath’s dossiers, was some nobody Circle mage out of Ostwick that came from a noble family but had been struck from the family tree as soon as they found out he was a mage. He’d been sent to the Circle young after found summoning wisps. The father had turned him in. Apparently had dallied a bit, making sure his kid had one last really good day at home and had promised to send the kid letters.

His father died months later. Successful poisoning from a rival house. Kid never found out.

Possible angle there, missing family. None of the other family members tried to reach out to him, which the Circle hadn’t let him know about. Apparently the kid was under the idea if he was a good enough mage and practiced his magic and followed the rules, he would be allowed letters from his father. Which, obviously, didn’t happen.

That’d be some grief there, some tangible desires for some demon to have an angle at. Not that the Iron Bull thought that Adaar had gone after Trevelyan maliciously, but there had to have been something for Adaar to notice. Or even if the guy had approached Adaar first, some reason for Adaar to be drawn to him, apparently hard enough for Adaar to take his death this badly.

The Iron Bull glanced out the window of his room to the ruins of the tower. Yeah. Pretty badly.

Trevelyan had apparently never got much further than summoning wisps, and a note from one of the senior enchanters expressed disbelief over him surviving his Harrowing. Maybe Adaar had helped him out? The information was spotty about Harrowings, but the Ben-Hassrath knew that it was something about sending mages into the Fade and having them fight or fend off a demon.

Maybe he had gotten Adaar. Maybe that’s how they met. Adaar had been pissed at the idea of tempting someone, even theoretically. If Trevelyan got Adaar, then he wouldn’t have tried hard at all. Adaar might have just popped up, went ‘no’, and then left again.

He frowned. Didn’t seem right though as a general concept. Demons were mind-readers, and the mage well knew if they got possessed they would die shortly after. Didn’t seem like very attractive demon bait, so it seemed unlikely they would pounce on a mage who was soon going to end up dead if successfully possessed. Had to be something more at work there.

Granted, Trevelyan and Adaar could have theoretically met after Trevelyan had left the Circle, after all of the Templars had apparently gone mad and killed each other off instead of attacking the mages, but the timeline made more sense this way.

After his Harrowing, Trevelyan had apparently taken to sleeping whenever he could. A lot of time spending a lot of time out and about in the Fade where the demons were.

Likely, that’s when they met, and then later, likely, Adaar helped Trevelyan somehow kill all the Templars. Despite Trevelyan being a shit mage, and despite Adaar not really being the strongest demon around. The working theory was that Trevelyan had hid how powerful of a blood mage he was, but it didn’t fit right with the Iron Bull.

Maybe they had outside help? Adaar somehow rallying other demons into aiding him? Even if Adaar was in the Veil, Trevelyan could summon wisps. Might not be too much of a step up to summon demons?

The Iron Bull wasn’t a mage. He didn’t know how some of this could work.

After, a bunch of mages accused Trevelyan of being a powerful blood mage and attempted to kill him. Trevelyan fled with mortal wounds, and yet still somehow, a month later, showed up to his family estate hoping for sanctuary before being kicked out and having the Templars sicced on him. Information was spotty after that, Trevelyan occasionally being seen at some village or another, but never staying in one place for long.

So Adaar had likely been possessing him at the time, only thing that made sense with Trevelyan’s survival, and sometime after, had un-possessed him. That went against everything the Qun had about demons, but Adaar didn’t seem to be a typical demon. Granted if he was here, he would go on a huge rant about misconceptions about demons.

If he was here. None of this was helpful for tracking down Adaar nor gave him a clearer idea of Adaar’s emotional state. Except that Adaar and Trevelyan had a definite history, and a positive one, at least from Adaar’s point of view.

He figured that was a reasonable assumption to make, considering Adaar had obliterated the tower he had been staying in and then vanished. It probably had only been a matter of time before Adaar to finally fly the coop. Still wasn’t sure what it was about Trevelyan that drew in Adaar this hard, but then feelings were illogical when it came to such things. The Iron Bull was the last person to judge someone for taking another person’s death this hard. After all, Adaar hadn’t killed anyone on their side, so all things considered, Adaar was leaps and bounds ahead of him.

At least the re-educators had made the grief stop, fixed whatever had broken in his mind. Wouldn’t be something he would recommend for anyone though.

What they were saying had 'happened' was that a Rift had opened up in the tower, hence the destruction. After, Adaar had left with a small contingency force to find more of those elvhen artifacts that Solas claimed stabilized the Fade in order to keep Skyhold safe. The force would, of course, go 'missing', with subtle hints of a capture, and as time passed, more information would be found. The ultimate fate would be unknown but presumed dead.

It’d still hit the Inquisition hard, but a martyr is better than a deserter, and if Adaar ever showed up again, it’d allow them to pull him back in easy with a clever story and probably even better publicity.

Though how they were ever going to find Adaar was beyond him.

He sighed and stretched out his joints, wincing and massaging at his bad knee, before going out into the day, preparing for another long meeting with Leliana and exchanging networks and intel.

So of course two hours later, Adaar showed up all of his own volition.

The Iron Bull had talked to Adaar exactly twice in one week, and the entire time, he had the uneasy feeling that Adaar was drilling a hole right through his mind, staring just past his eyes as if he could see into the core of his being.

That wasn’t how Adaar normally did his mind-reading. Normally didn’t have any tells for that at all, and it was pretty damn unnerving.

And that was it. That was his talk, basic questions over how the Chargers were doing, and then back to business. Adaar focused on getting everything that needed to be done, done, and otherwise not talking to people aside from meetings with Solas on how to fix his arm and keeping it stabilized. Adaar had done a nasty job on it and may or may not have lost permanent use of his left arm. It barely even looked like one anymore, just a hint of grey tangled with that sick green light, twisting upwards to the top of his arm.

The Iron Bull had even tried to angle in his old lessons for their second talk, but Adaar had waved him off, saying he had ‘taken care of it’ and that their lessons would otherwise be over.

It stung more than he was expecting. He’d grown to like their weird meetings. Instead, the tower was fixed quickly somehow? And Adaar carried on like nothing had happened in the first place. If anything, Adaar was being far more effective and diligent than he was before. The Qun would approve of his changed behavior, so technically, the Iron Bull should approve. Adaar always had his shadow now, always left proper imprints when he should, no missteps at all over mortal behavior, and the Iron Bull wasn’t sure, but the tail might actually be gone.

Qun would be hard-pressed to look past his disguise now. The Iron Bull supposed he should feel proud for Adaar having come so far, and his own life and job were as safe as they could be.

...he’d rather have the other Adaar back.

“So who’s buying this whole ‘Trevelyan wasn’t really a friend’ thing? Cuz I ain’t buying it,” Sera said, perched on top of the couch.

She and the Iron Bull had the same idea around the same time and had met going to the other with said idea. He was sitting on the couch itself on the other side of Sera, clear view of the room and the window. Cole was in a corner, back pressed against the walls, Blackwall on a stool against the door, Dorian and Varric against one wall, and Cassandra standing by the other.

It made it pretty crowded for them all fit in Sera’s room, but it was for a good cause.

“He doesn’t know if they were. That’s why it’s sadder for him,” Cole said.

“Shouldn’t we do something? That’s what people do when bad stuff happens,” Sera said. “And it’s stupid. He’s the Herald, running around trying to make everyone happy. He shouldn’t have bad things happen to him like that. I mean he’s creepy weird and can plbth with people’s heads, but this ain’t fair.”

Cassandra sighed. “I don’t want to pry, Cole, but if it’s affecting him this badly- is there anything more you can pick up?”

Cole shook his head. “The Anchor’s too loud,” he said. “It’s hard to get anything from him at all, and then just reflecting refractions.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Blackwall said.

“It’s worse seeing,” Cole said sadly.

“You’re the resident helper,” Varric said. “You got any ideas?”

Cole shook his head. “It’s too hard to see,” Cole repeated. “I’ve tried looking harder, but I get it wrong. I just see me in a dark place with a knife in my hand.”

“That’s not concerning in the slightest,” Dorian said.

“What if I get it wrong? I can’t undo it for him if I get it wrong.” Cole hugged his knees.

“You’ve been doing a decent job with us so far and haven’t ‘undone it’ or anything, right?” the Iron Bull asked.

There was a very long and very disturbing pause. “Well not to Dorian.”

A number of them looked, understandably, alarmed. Cole hugged his knees tighter. “It’s just sometimes the words don’t come out right. A choice picked, but the words don’t come out the way I thought they would, and I still don’t know what some of the symbols mean.”

“It’s making less sense than usual,” Sera said, scooted further away from Cole, but it said a lot about the situation that Sera didn’t go much further than that.

“It’s hard to comfort him when he keeps avoiding us,” Cassandra said. Apparently they had all gotten about one talk with Adaar before he avoided them except for those on the command staff.

“I tried to corner him in the kitchens once, but he”—Sera waved a hand about—”and then couldn’t find him again. Weird magic shite.”

Cole frowned. “No that’s wrong.”

Sera looked cross and opened her mouth but Cole continued. “He already feels… trapped?” Cole rocked a little. “Approaching makes it worse, just another reminder, stuck, can’t leave, has to stay.”

Another silence fell. “Then why did he come back?” Varric asked. “I can’t blame him for fleeing. Hero’s a painful business to be in.”

“Maybe he felt guilty,” Blackwall said. “Or maybe he realized if Corypheus wins, there’s nowhere he can flee that the Venatori wouldn’t conquer eventually.”

They tried brainstorming after that but ultimately got nowhere. After a while, the Iron Bull looked over to where Cole had been sitting, but he was no longer in the room.

Josephine had said nothing in regards to his spat earlier. His room had been restored, somehow, but not entirely. Different rugs, different curtains, different desk. He knew she could have gotten furniture that resembled the ones he had before, so this had to be on purpose.

Apparently she’d been feeling guilty for not having tried to stay longer with him and felt that by keeping the room changed, it would make him feel better.

It kinda worked actually. Sweeping it all under the rug would be worse. The metaphorical one anyway. They did place rugs over the worst of the gouges after having tried to fill them in.

His emotions were a haywire mess, flipping from fury to grief to numbness at the blink of an eye. People probably wanted him to talk and open up, but what was he supposed to say? ‘Yeah I have been literally bound by magic into aiding your stupid mess’ or ‘yeah so I had possessed this one guy a while back and apparently I’m still not over it’. So, the Iron Bull was right out because past possession thing, and he’d be damned if he talked to Solas.

After all, Solas was a very powerful ancient elvhen god who wanted his mark back. Keeping Adaar around would be high up in his list of priorities. He hadn’t gotten anything from reading him, but Solas could very well hide such things from Adaar if he wanted to. Solas was near the top of his suspect list, right along with Leliana having another mage bind him.

Leliana had pushed for him to be Inquisitor after all, and he knew that despite how much she cared, she wasn’t shy about going into very nasty work ‘if it was necessary’.

Everyone else theoretically could have or had someone else bind him. Even if some of them were horrifically unlikely (Sera somehow having already found out and had a Jenny bind him seemed stretching matters into incredulity; Varric having Hawke bind him pre-Haven was on similar levels), Adaar didn’t think he could rule anyone out.

Except for Dorian. Adaar had poured over his memories, over and over and over again. Dorian had shown up right as Haven had attacked, and there had been no time for Adaar to have been bound. They had constantly been on the move, and there were zero gaps in memories. Corypheus had tried to compel him before Dorian had showed. Despite the fact that Adaar had only a few glimpses into Dorian’s mind, there simply was no way for Dorian to have bound him since Dorian’s mind had revealed that no really, he had just arrived and had never met the Inquisition, had wanted the Inquisition to take the mages’ offer but that never happened.

Dorian had also said he was uneasy with any kind of blood magic, even the most simple, most life-saving kinds. While mortals lied all the time (and Fadefolk to be fair here, everyone was prone to lying), Adaar didn’t doubt Dorian on this one.

But how was Adaar going to wriggle out of this? Obviously after finding out, the person was going to end up quickly dead, but there were almost always safeguards in such bindings to stop that sort of thing from happening.

No point in binding a demon if the summoner dies in the first five seconds.

Adaar was convinced Cole would kill somebody for him. Unless it was Solas who bound him. Cole seemed to think that Solas hung the sun and moons, refused to think Solas had done anything wrong in his life ever, and if it came down between him and Solas, he was pretty sure he knew whose side Cole would be on. It stung. Fine, it more than just stung, hitting that core part of him because Desire would never be anyone’s top priority, but he knew it was true regardless.

He’d find someone else then if it was Solas. Not Leliana. He couldn’t put it past that she might possibly find it useful. Her ruthless streak had only gotten worse after Haven. He liked Leliana, and the thought made him miserable, but even if she didn’t do it, Adaar didn’t feel like he could trust her.

Maybe the Iron Bull? He had that Qun thing though, and while saarebas were mages and not demons, Adaar was pretty sure ‘saarebas’ was an all-encompassing term in Qunlat. A noble sacrifice sure, but still best keep them on a leash.

Granted, the Iron Bull wasn’t doing anything of the like with Dalish, but this was ‘stake of the world’ shit. He was a nice person, but then again, so was Leliana.

People tended to justify such things during these sorts of circumstances.

Now Dorian would be on his side, Adaar felt like. Dorian was possibly the most sympathetic person here, but Dorian also didn’t know he was a demon.

If. If it was Solas, then Adaar would request Dorian’s aid in this, reveal everything. Rejection was nowhere near as bad as being literally bound. But unless that was the circumstance, then Adaar really didn’t want to reveal his nature.

That had always gone terribly wrong, and Adaar didn’t feel he was stable enough to get another nasty reaction from a reveal. Probably worse in this case since the whole romance thing. Not that romance had ever worked out for him before. Except for Rage. Who was probably dead.

And he still hadn’t found a sign of his best friend Valor. Who was probably dead.

And then the single mortal Adaar had ever found who had been actively nice to him was dead.

Oh look, there went his mood again.

He stared at his rooms, nice and open with a good view of the sky. Trevelyan would have hated these probably. He hated heights, something that hadn’t been adopted by Adaar after the merger apparently. He’d make such a fuss in some weird alternate timeline if he somehow had the Anchor and was made Inquisitor. Trevelyan wouldn’t have balked and would have run face first for the mages and would have been able to tramp around in as much nature as he wanted. Get dirt all over his face and then probably find out he was allergic to all of it and then still refuse to not roll around in leaves or something.

Adaar curled himself up in a corner, gently placing the seething damaged side down. At least that’d get cleared right up soon, what with Solas and all. No more weird pains. He’d thrown morals aside on the way back, feeling the Anchor’s growing consumption of himself, and had thrown what he could at it, leaving bone-deep exhaustion and apathy among the people in his wake.

He’d mostly gone back to killing small animals instead of draining people when he had reached Skyhold. Honestly, it might have been for the best he tore it this badly for Solas to get his head out of his ass and work on fixing it, not just whatever patch job he did before. He’d apologized. He hadn’t elaborated, but he’d done a lot of apologizing before vanishing off into his books for ‘research’.

A presence pinged at the start of his outer self, and Adaar wanted to shred this room all over again. He wanted to be alone.

“Can I come in?” Cole asked from a distance.

Oh goody. Compassion. He couldn’t yell at Compassion without being an absolute monster. He still had some standards after all.

Adaar opened the door, form still against a wall and cradling the arm. Cole hesitated before entering, gaze flickering about without settling on anything like he was wont to do. He eventually settled by sitting on the desk, legs swishing slightly. Ah Cole, still slowly learning socially acceptable behaviors. Adaar would prefer him to not learn honestly. Just remain Cole, sitting on desks, not ever quite looking at people when talking.

The room remained quiet for a while, and Cole’s facial expressions would shift between confusion, frustration, and determination. He really was set on doing his help thing.

“The words are hard to form here,” Cole said slowly. “And I need to get them right the first time.”

“Take your time,” Adaar said, fully knowing that frustration even if he didn’t struggle with it as hard as Cole seemed to.

Silence settled with not much noise aside from the wind and a couple of chatty birds who hadn’t picked up on the emotional mood of the scene.

Cole’s face finally settled on determined. “I once knew a mage named Rhys.”

Oh this wasn’t going to go well at all.

Cole began to fiddle with his hands, rocking a bit more. “I was a demon then. Not what you call demon, words, different meanings, words not forming the same word in someone else’s head.”

“Yeah that’s dumb,” Adaar said.

“I was confused, dark and hungry, scrambling to keep me alive. And there were hurts, mages swallowed by despair.” He hunched in on himself. “It wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was doing was wrong. I knew. I didn’t care. They would die, and as they died, I became the most important person in the world to them, and that made me more real, kept me from fading to nothing. I wanted to be.”

“No one could see me, and those that could wouldn’t remember. I wasn’t even a thing then, just some parasite. Except Rhys.” Cole breathed the name, eyes going soft with wonder. “Rhys talked to me, remembered me. He thought I was a person then. I don’t know why he remembered when no one else would, but I clung to him. He was everything.”

Adaar wasn’t sure if he wanted to listen to this.

“When Rhys left, taken by Templars, I followed. I planned on killing anyone who hurt him. And then there was Adamant and the Fade. Things got complicated then.”

Another pause. “I didn’t stop murdering people because it was wrong. I stopped only because it made Rhys upset. The wrong feeling came later, but Rhys came first. He was everything.” Cole’s voice hitched. “But then Seeker Lambert came and showed us I wasn’t a person. I hadn’t known before, but Rhys was there. Rhys found out.”

Cole hugged himself. “So I hid. I waited until he was gone, couldn’t see it in his eyes, didn’t want to know if I was still a person to him, didn’t want, couldn’t risk him looking at me like that. And then I killed Lambert because he was evil and because he tried to kill Rhys, tried to kill mages. I shifted the knife to- not the hurts, but the source of the hurt because Rhys would have wanted. And that is why I became, why I am a spirit. Not because it was wrong, though it was wrong and I understand that now, but all for him.”

This yanked at something deep and barely knowable in him, breath already shaky. He buried his head in his arms, or as best as he could, not wanting to look at anything around him.

“I don’t know if I meant anything to him. I changed for him, and I fled in fear. I don’t know if any of this helps; I don’t know if I can help. I shouldn’t hurt, can’t hurt, makes other hurts harder to hear.” Cole paused. “But your hurt seems like this? I haven’t tried to help this way before, I’m sorry if I got it wrong. I can’t help you the way I know.”

Adaar couldn’t answer, the pain too sharp, drawn right up to the forefront where he never wanted. He ached, with his stupid form crying all over itself, shaking until its eyes burned and throat felt raw. It was gross and undignified, and crying was a Trevelyan thing, and that thought only caused everything to ache harder.

Eventually, Cole tentatively asked, “Was it like that for you?”

Everything hurt, and Adaar felt wretched. “Yeah.”

“I understand you,” Cole said. “It’s okay to grieve, even if you don’t know if you mattered back.”

He had that part down fine without any help, thanks. He tentatively looked over at Cole who was currently staring at his feet.

“…did it help at all?”

Adaar would have preferred it if the Anchor had exploded on him again in all honesty. But something seemed to have been pulled free from all that, somehow. Adaar didn’t understand it in the least. He didn’t want to understand it either. “A bit. Thanks.”

Cole nodded, more to himself than Adaar. “Good. I’m glad.”

The silence stretched on a bit longer, Adaar and Cole both just sitting there in shared pain. It was the least fun way Adaar had ever had of bonding with someone. But for some inexplicable reason, he hadn’t lied. Maybe something something processing emotions bullshit that Adaar had never liked.

He considered opening up further to Cole. The entire mess was more complicated, but he had been unfair to him. Somewhat. Possession wasn’t quite the same thing, was something more altogether, but Cole was Compassion. He just wanted to help.

And if Cole had someone like a Trevelyan, then would Cole want to talk about him more?

Another presence pinged as it approached his outer self. Adaar drew himself inward, not wanting to deal with anything, not wanting anyone to see him this much of a fucking mess, and also cursed for the interruption.

Voices drifted from the hallway, and Adaar peeled himself back off to check. It was the Iron Bull. And Dorian, he could feel that from the Iron Bull’s thoughts, both doing some kind of awkward thing, not sure if they should back out of coming to comfort Adaar if the other person was there. Dorian and Adaar were ‘dating’ and Dorian seemed to be broken up over Adaar being broken up, but then the Iron Bull was also close and one of Adaar’s best friends, and neither of them wanted to put themself over the other when it came to-

Adaar rolled his eyes at these stupid mortals. “You can come in,” he said loudly.

They paused, looking at each other, before shuffling into the room, and Adaar titled his form’s head to look up at them. Cole remained up on the desk.

Dorian glanced from Cole to Adaar and back again but remained silent, probably not wanting to stumble over his words and make things worse somehow. Adaar appreciated the thought regardless.

“Yeah he helped,” Adaar said, voice hoarse. “He already beat you two to your dastardly plans of trying to cheer me up.”

Cole shook his head. “I didn’t do that. That’s not what you needed.”

Well Cole wasn’t wrong. Adaar didn’t feel happier in the slightest, even after all his emotions had leaked out of his face.

“Glad Cole was able to help,” the Iron Bull said, but he and Dorian lingered, eventually sitting down on the bed.

Cole fiddled with his hands. “I don’t want to try finding him. I don’t want to see if the threads form a pattern.”

“Oh fuck no. I don’t think what’s left of our emotions could take that at this point,” Adaar said. “Just leave Rhys be in his weird limbo of maybe being alive or not.”

Dorian looked weirdly guilty at that. Adaar had no idea why. He’d already been looking for Trevelyan in the first place, wasn’t Dorian’s fault he also suggested Adaar try to track him down.

“It hopefully goes without saying,” Dorian said, “but if you want to talk, we’re here for you. You don’t have to of course, but the offer is open.”

“I really do appreciate it, but not right now. Probably not any time soon. Already”—Adaar waved a hand at Cole—“got a lot of talkings in, and that’s about as much as I can handle for being open with feelings right about now. Kinda just want to move on from this emotional feelings session, but I’m not exactly feeling up to being around a lot people right now what with all of them wanting me to be better and happy and whatnot.”

“Understandable,” Dorian said. He probably did considering everything that happened with Felix. At least Trevelyan got a very quick death. It’d have been over a blink of time, wouldn’t have had to feel a thing. He supposed if every mortal had to die, that wasn’t the worst way to go. Sure beat being tortured to death after being found out as a traitor.

Adaar took another shuddering breath. Too many ghosts in this room.

“Do you want to be alone?” the Iron Bull asked.

Adaar’s ability to process emotions and the like had already been worn out. “I don’t know.”

“Do you want company?”

“No clue.”

“If you want,” the Iron Bull said slowly, “we could just play Wicked Grace or some other card game, possibly get some food sent up here, have Josephine make sure no one tries to come over here. All low stress. You can ignore everything outside the room, and things can resume tomorrow."

Adaar still had no idea how he felt about that, but then his emotions had started to drift over to numb again. Or he had temporarily lost the ability to identify any of his emotions. Whichever. He wearily nodded.

While the Iron Bull went to take care of things, Dorian lingered and drew up a cheat sheet for what trumped what for Cole who tended to get distracted by the cards and the symbols they contained. It hadn’t ever seemed to stop him from enjoying it though. The Iron Bull returned with fresh fruit and sweets, and Dorian quietly dealt out the cards.

It probably wasn’t any of them who bound him. Definitely not Dorian. But the mark still occasionally sputtered, a constant reminder of the other half of his emotional state.

Adaar just decided to pretend that Dorian and the Iron Bull were here to comfort him for both things. And Cole as well, since while he had mentioned Trevelyan, Cole hadn’t brought up the binding at all.

Chapter Text

Objectives: Unfortunately, aid the Inquisition to the best of his ability. That had been made clear, but what the ‘best of his ability’ was still hazy. Recruiting demons hadn’t been a no, leaving was. There was a possible angle: try to figure out exactly what the oath contained and if there were any side clauses.

Find out who had him bound and then make them pay, no matter who, no matter what their reasoning, no matter if they seemed like a friend before, and then tear them to pieces.

Recruit more demons (and spirits). Recruit a lot more demons (and spirits). Recruit enough demons (and also spirits) that anyone who didn’t like demons (and, again, spirits) would just up and leave, because his life was on the line here.

Increase all remaining party member’s friendship points by a lot. It was no longer about making them like him so when they inevitably found out, he would have enough time to get away, because he couldn’t leave. If they decided to kill him, he couldn’t get very far. Solas might try to stop them, Cole and Leliana as well, but they were in fact a minority. His main threats were Cassandra, Sera, Fenris, Vivienne, and maybe Blackwall.

Hence flushing out those that didn’t agree. Or, possibly, slowly build up their tolerance for demons. Either way worked.

Cole had helped comfort him. Adaar felt, while not happier, a bit better in a non-happy way which didn’t make sense to him. Despite what he had been calling himself, he was still Desire just wearing a fancy disguise. Even thinking of himself as ‘Desire’ was now a bit odd, a slight stumble over the name.

He had been here too long. Not that he hadn’t tried to leave, and that soured him again.

Adaar had run it over and over in his mind, and had determined the absolute safest person for him to be around was Dorian which was rather obvious due to the zero possibility that Dorian was the one who bound him, even if there had been that awkward talk about demons.

Okay, Dorian said a lot of offensive things, but he had been apologetic and said Cole was a person, so he’d take that any day of the week. The ironic part of this was that Dorian might still not feel safe around Adaar. Life sure was a blast.

But currently, the main objective was the one the longest coming, and fuck was he tired of the entire business. Solas had to immediately restabilize his arm once he had gotten back and then needed more work to figure out how to fix the complete mess it had become. Which was fair because Adaar hadn’t attempted to rip it out of himself before, and that just required more work for Solas. It hadn’t stopped the Anchor from spreading further, tendrils reaching up to his chest now, most of left arm a mere outline of light that could no longer interact with the mortal world.

It looked pretty nifty actually, and frankly, Adaar could move things around without his form’s stumpy little arms. He could even could call it magic. Nobody had batted an eye so far. Granted, there was a limit to what he could do without having a more physical manifestation out and about, but again, didn’t care. He probably would later and curse at his stupid past self for ruining him like this, but present Adaar was doing the complete lack of most emotions, and he still had his other arm, so he was probably good to go, right?

Solas was currently trying to hold Adaar’s Fade arm and failing horribly. He had a concerned expression on his face, which was good, because somebody should be concerned here.

“So can you fix it?” Adaar asked.

Solas was quiet.

Ah. “Okay so it is going to kill me then.” Or Adaar could just start ravaging countrysides or something. His quota of caring had plummeted recently for some unknown reason, just getting saltier about mortals.

Solas looked downcast. “That’s… not it.”

Adaar frowned and waited for Solas to continue.

Solas was quiet for a moment, obviously stalling, before he continued. “There is one thing I can do, and it would fix it. Not stall it, not patchwork, but I assure you, this will be irrevocably fixed.”

“Irrevocably?” That was a very curious word choice.

Solas looked almost… guilty? “Originally, I hadn’t quite lied. It was fixed, but this?” Solas gestured at Adaar’s arm. “That would have eventually happened.”

Adaar startled.

“But we should have had years,” Solas said quickly. “It shouldn’t have progressed this fast. Between your and Corypheus’ actions, it has destabilized far beyond what it should have.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me this before?” Anger flashed through him.

“Because we should have had time, enough time for me to get the orb back,” Solas explained. “With that and a few weeks to prepare, I would have been able to transfer the mark back into the orb. You would have been fine. As things currently stand, I could attempt to remove it, but it has attached itself to firmly to you. The attempt would kill you.”

“Yeah I figured,” Adaar muttered darkly, having already tried that. “So what is your solution?”

“The opposite,” Solas said. “Not patching it, not calming it, but permanently binding the mark to you.”

Adaar stared down at the swirling light. It still held a distinctly hostile feel, and Adaar wasn’t sure about any of this.

“That sounds like a shit idea, just saying.”

Solas sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Despite your earlier claims, the mark has changed you. Not in the manner we earlier discussed, but on a very fundamental level. I don’t know what other changes could occur, but yes. Further change is likely.”

Fantastic. Just what he loved to hear. “So why didn’t you try this before?”

“Because it would have permanently bound the mark to you,” Solas said. “Again, irrevocably, with no chance of getting it back. If or when you die, the mark will die as well, and that magic will be permanently lost from this world. Hopefully you can see why I didn’t want to do this. So much has already been lost. Can you fault me for wanting to keep whatever scraps I find alive?”

Adaar could unfortunately understand. After all, this was Solas’ mark, his magic. “You are willing to do this?” he asked hesitantly.

Solas looked him in the eyes. “I do not wish you dead, so yes, I am willing to do this. Even if I were not, without you, I would not be able to get the orb back. You would die, and I would lose it regardless. Neither of us seem to have much choice in the matter.”

Unless Solas removed the mark and left, trying to just steal the orb back from Corypheus himself.

Or. Or Solas might be willing to risk if he had already bound Adaar, gave him a great motive right from the start. Or even if hadn’t, despite all his talk, he would be inclined to bind Adaar himself or have him bound. As helpful as Solas had been, Adaar wasn’t entirely sure to trust the ancient elvhen god of treachery here. It just seemed like very poor decision making skills.

…But if his choices were death or possible binding, then what kind of choices were those really?

“Fine,” Adaar said wearily.

Still Solas hesitated. “There will be a few side effects, of which some I am uncertain and some that I am. You should be able to wield the mark with more ease, though from what I’ve heard, you’ve already been able to do so.”

Adaar tilted his head, and Solas clarified, “You exploded a man.”

“Ah yes. That I did.”

“It is surprising the mark isn’t emitting more destructive energy, destabilized as it is, as what I heard happened back in the inn.”

“It has been. It’s just been directed inward, and I’ve been shoving energy at it to calm it down,” Adaar said.

“Ah.” Solas paused for a moment. “That is unexpected, but then much that has happened has also been. As for the other known side effect…” Solas trailed off. “You said you were slowly regaining lost memories from the Fade, yes? If I do this, it will sever your connection to those permanently. Anything you have yet to receive will remain lost, unless you were somehow able to walk in the Fade and just so happen to stumble upon those memories.”

“Yeah that seems unlikely,” Adaar agreed. Fantastic. Any memories he had of Trevelyan would remain lost forever. “Is it possible to open it one last time and try to draw things through? Like whoever was there at the Chantry?”

Solas’ lips thinned. “Not without risking your immediate death, no.”

Great. This day was going just lovely. “Well, like you said, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.”

He should probably be taking this harder. It would probably hurt later when his emotions were fully back online, but as is, Adaar was simply too tired from everything to care anymore.

The process went with zero fanfare. Mostly Adaar sat for a few hours while Solas did something to his arm with magic that felt tingly. The sensation spread through his form, and then through all of him. If he concentrated, he could notice the Anchor’s tendrils sinking further and further into him. Gently this time, not like how the binding oath had torn. Weirdly enough, the Anchor didn’t shift to his core, instead just staying in his arm. If anything, it felt oddly soothing.

Solas ended up doing four shots of lyrium, and by the end, his pupils were dilated to almost impossible sizes, fingers tapping repeatedly against the desk as he worked. Adaar himself had to ignore the beautiful chiming lyrium gave off, something that made some part of him resonate in return. Dorian occasionally peeked down from his place in his alcove, and a few other people ‘just so happened’ to stroll by, all with various expressions of worried to hopeful.

Adaar could tell the moment when Solas was finished, as he could feel the tendrils lock into place. It wasn’t so much as the Anchor settle into him than a sudden inverse, and the Anchor was consumed. His left arm was still an outline of light, and the weird vine spirals slid through his entire form invisible to mortal eyes, but that was it.

It was rather anti-climatic actually, considering how many near-death experiences Adaar had endured from the damn thing.

Solas settled back in his chair, clearly exhausted, as Adaar swished around his left arm, watching it go through solid objects.

“I assure you,” Solas said. “You are completely safe. I give you my word on this.”

“Thanks,” Adaar said lamely, considering the long process. He truly did believe Solas. If anything, he could tell all on his own. No gnawing feeling, just a slight hum.

Solas slowly got to his feet, half-bracing himself against the table. “And now I shall head to the cafeteria to eat something before I pass out.”

Adaar waved goodbye with his Fade hand.

At the very least, it was rather nice having everyone congratulate him or express their happiness on his arm getting fixed. It warmed his non-existent heart.

The next day, Adaar poked around in the library when Dorian wasn’t there, trying to figure out what subjects their books were lacking. He wasn’t sure if giving Dorian books was stereotypical or thoughtful, but Dorian did keep two books strapped to his side at all times. He probably had a large library at one point, and being reduced down to just two books probably sucked, especially since books were horrendously expensive.

Mortals couldn’t even take their libraries with them. That was a sad thought, but then again, it was harder to tear chunks of information or memories out of a mortal, so maybe it evened out a bit?

…It didn’t even out at all. It just sucked.

It wasn’t like he could give Dorian a dream or a memory or present him with direct increased arcane power through the abstract nature of the Fade due to his present state. And even if he could, Dorian would probably recognize ‘oh hey that’s a demon thing’, and then he would probably break up with him, and that was the opposite of what Adaar was going for here.

At least Adaar could still be given knowledge. He had hired a spirit-type librarian a few weeks ago to just give him mortal world related knowledge directly. It was hard and took a while because the Anchor kept doing shit, but eventually he got the gist across. The spirit wasn’t technically an expert but one of those that who enjoyed collecting knowledge of the mortal world. Why Fear spirits tended to go for libraries was beyond him.

“You’ve drifted off into thought again,” Dorian said, still halfway curled up around his tome. Adaar had shown him the hidden occult library in the deep basement, and Dorian had acted like a giddy schoolboy. It had become a mutual spot of theirs as the library had other people in it.

Other people. Ugh. People were bastards. And not just mortals, people . Fear was nice enough at least, and they needed a permanent librarian, not just a mage who got opinionated about proper organizational systems who was also off on field missions half the time.

“I’ve got those Commander interviews this weekend. Gotta pick the next hapless bastard.”

“Work never ends.”

Adaar reclined against Dorian’s manly shoulder, which was difficult to do without knocking his horns into something. Dorian shifted his arm, and then it turned into more of a snuggle thing. That felt nice and warmed his inner core. Victory snuggles on account of his arm being fixed. For a given manner of fixed, since the Anchor was now attached to this particular actor’s arm, he couldn’t spin up a new one and shed this one for good. If he wanted an actor out and about to talk to people, it had to be this one.

“Hopefully if we pick someone actually decent this time, that’ll lighten the workload for everyone. Delegation and whatnot. Josephine keeps stressing about picking someone ‘respectable’.”

Dorian laughed brightly. “She might be afraid you’ll attempt to hire a Valor spirit or the like.”

Adaar carefully did not let that show any visible signs of stinging. “I wish,” he muttered instead. His Valor had actually studied tactics, mortal ones and fade ones. He had gone for a very large approach to Valor ideals, weaponry and magic and strategy all in one. But Valor wasn’t here.

Though he was already doing the hiring demons plan and, since honesty was a thing for her, told Cassandra of such. There had been a fight, but Leliana had backed him on it.

Cassandra and Vivienne had given him another lecture on why he couldn’t trust demons. Adaar pointed out there was already precedent with hiring Cole. They then pointed out Cole was a spirit, upon which Adaar laughed at them for finally admitting he was a spirit, not a demon, and then had ran off before they realized he had spun the situation around and thus avoided the argument.

Josephine had gotten that harrowed look whenever such things happened. ‘Cultural sensitivity’ was the angle she was desperately trying to spin. Adaar was from ‘Rivain’, and Rivain had positive dealings with spirits, so cultural sensitivity. This would not endear them to ‘polite’ members of society, and unfortunately Rivain was too far away to be a fully useful ally (though of course they were still making overtures, maybe recruit a large number of Rivaini mages due to their familiarity with Fadefolk). Polite society wasn’t endeared with Adaar to begin with however, being a kossith mage, and they now had three letters of ex-communication by the Chantry despite the fact they had yet to elect a new Divine.

Adaar was planning on keeping all of them. He had them framed and placed in his redecorated room. It did his soul some good. Trevelyan would be so proud of him.

Probably Valor too honestly. Not that Valor ever seemed to care one way or another about religion, but the idea of picking a fight with the Chantry itself. He still had no idea why Valor, the valiant sort, had hung around him, Desire, who tried to skittle around every fight he possibly could.

They snuggled for a while longer, Adaar reading over Dorian’s shoulder, and the two of them chatting and discussing arcane magics which Adaar found honestly fun. It was something he strongly knew, and he always liked actually knowing things at this point, and honestly some of the things Dorian did were interesting. Meanwhile, Dorian was very interested in Adaar Fade-stepping through solid objects, and Adaar still wasn’t sure how to explain that without giving away that he was a demon who could, in fact, temporarily shrug off his form.

He was giving it his best attempt though. Who knows! Maybe Dorian could learn to do it anyway. Apparently some mages could shapeshift and turn into a swarm of insects which honestly just gave so much to think about. Was the consciousness split among all the insects? What happened if some of them got squished? If someone could do that, what was stopping them from separating part of the swarm and creating themself their own duplicate? Could a mortal learn how to fuse into another mortal?

Adaar had to find a mortal shapeshifter to pester them with questions, though he felt that was an unlikely thing to happen.

Silence fell, and Dorian got that look on his face, the one where he wanted to ask something but didn’t know how to go about it without sounding offensive. He had mostly seen that look when Dorian was talking to Solas or sometimes Sera or Cole. At least Dorian tried, and Adaar wanted to give him credit there.

“Considering all the demons you have been recruiting,” Dorian began, and yup, things were going to go sideways.

Dorian sighed. “I apologize, I’ve been attempting to find some way to ask this without it coming off as horrendously offensive.” He often did. “I tried looking through various sources, but there are no sources aside from incredibly biased ones and possibly oral accounts, which obviously I do not have access to.”

“How bad is this going to be?” he asked. Dorian seemed like he honestly wanted to learn, and Adaar didn’t want to discourage that.

Dorian looked guilty. “I merely wanted to ask someone who wasn’t a spirit or a demon because I don’t want to offend them, and you seem to know of such matters.”

Fuck, that was his disguise. “And you don’t want to ask Solas because he’s a dick.” Adaar only kept asking him questions because it wracked up those approval points like nothing else, but he was feeling like he was running out of conversational topics Solas would answer without just standing there, giving basic greetings. It was pretty weird.

“No, I don’t mind that. Or I do, but he can be a dick as much as he pleases as long as he answers the question so I know and therefore I myself can attempt to be less of a dick in the future.”

This was definitely making him feel better about things.. Adaar pulled back with only moderately banging Dorian’s arm in the process (a step up from the past few times), and looked at him while inwardly bracing. “Okay. Ask your question.”

“How… do demons have free will?”

Be patient, Adaar. He’s actively trying. “I thought you said Cole was a person.”

“Well, yes. Obviously.”

“But without free will.”

“I didn’t say it made sense,” Dorian said, waving one hand. “Hence the question. I know my background has colored my perceptions, but this is something that is just taken for granted back in my homeland.”

Adaar sighed. “Well you did warn me.”

Dorian looked apologetic. “It’s not like there is some invisible, magical butler with the collective knowledge of the entire world to whom I can pester and ask questions about all sorts of random topics and thus attempt to research this on my own.”

Adaar sighed again, an even heavier sigh. “That would make things so much easier.”

Dorian had come with honesty though, approached kinda like some young wisp that was still trying to figure things out and hadn’t put together that loudly screeching the entire time wasn’t the best way to endear yourself to others. Sometimes it was hard to be the better person and not swat at wisps. Sometimes it was really hard.

And it wasn’t like Adaar didn’t have his heaps and bounds of ignorances. Dorian meant well, and frankly, he’d pick that any day over someone who was almost always right but refused to budge on the things he was wrong about.

This wasn’t vagueing. This was absolutely about Solas.

For a moment, he continued to look at Dorian. It felt… odd. Nobody had actually asked him this before, not without meaning it as a sneer side comment, and again, Trevelyan didn’t have any questions of the sort. It didn’t make Adaar feel uneasy per se, but the script was all wrong, especially when in his eyes the answer wasn’t difficult at all.

Adaar could be a Supportive Boyfriend though, and mortals did seem dumb as all fuck. He had asked around if that had been really blood magic, that no really what counted. He had gotten a lot of snickering, and yes. Mortals were dumb as all fuck. But Adaar could try to be a better person and not throw stones, and from those brief glimpses he once had, being a better human being in a moral sense was something Dorian Desired greatly.

“So, I guess explain your weird Tevinter views on lack of spirit free will, and we’ll go from there.”

Or rather in general, since it seemed to be a depressingly popular viewpoint. And maybe if he figured out how and why mortals thought this way, he would be better at explaining otherwise? Be able to argue directly with their arguments. It probably wouldn’t work most of the time, but if it won him just a few more arguments…

Dorian looked uncomfortable, which was good. “As I understand it, spirits cannot help but be their aspect. Cole has no choice but to be compassion, even when it would hinder him. They are their aspect with no choice to do or go against otherwise.”

“Well.” Adaar said, off to a great start. “You know, I’m actually going to spin this right around. How do mortals have free will? There’s eating, personal hygiene, socialization, sleep. All very important in various amounts, and without such things, people start losing their minds, attacking each other and going delusional depending on what they are lacking. In fact, these needs are so important, they draw spirits and demons over to see what’s going on if they aren’t met.”

Dorian didn’t say anything, just looked at him with curious intention.

“But most of mortal lives are built around these needs,” Adaar said, and this was something he knew, had once poked around in before grumbling over somewhere else because simple needs were dull and boring. “You spend, what, a third of your life asleep? How many hours eating? And how many people devoted to harvesting and making food for people to eat so they can do other things? It’s what, about twenty out of a hundred that don’t have to devote their jobs to food? Twenty-five out of a hundred if we are feeling generous, and this is on top of normal artisan goods like clothes and baskets and metalworking and other things required for civilization. But this absolutely isn’t a choice. Mortals gotta eat, gotta sleep, gotta talk to people, gotta not get skewered with swords. So in that way, mortals don’t have free will over those things.”

“So it’s a matter of self-sustaining behavior?” Dorian asked.

Adaar looked sheepish. “Well I tend to go with the eating metaphor for, uh, reasons. But yeah, Fade people have to do their thing. It’s not quite the same, but at the same time, it’s not all they are. There is nothing about hats that has to do with Compassion, not unless you are really grasping at straws, and Cole is able to pick what hurts he wants to focus on. He’s not over there trying to talk down Venatori like maybe some would, or focusing purely on healing people.”

“No, he’s just murdering his way across Thedas,” Dorian said dryly.

There was so much murder going on, honestly. Adaar was a bit disturbed that Cole seemed more okay with all the murder than he was. Blackwall, Cassandra, Leliana, Solas, Varric, the Iron Bull, even Dorian… all down for rampant slaughter.

It was so hard to find proper civilized people here, aside from Josephine.

“Multiple interpretations of a thing,” Adaar said. “So it’s self-preservation and identity and job all wrapped up in one, but again, they can choose their way to go about it and approach it and whatnot, or whether or not they want to possess or even interact with mortals at all, or what stories to fixate on, or is it stories in general with partial cleansing so they can contain the general knowledge while moving about, or do they focus on one story or even one person in particular? Or even forgo stories and have it all be about their own interactions.”

“And what to fixate on in general? Does Wisdom go for more common knowledge or for ancient ones? Do they focus on the Fade or the mortal world, and aside from this need, this can be something so delightful in a way I don’t think mortals can fully comprehend. And in the beginning, they choose their Domain, choose their very identity and what they will devote themselves too. That’s more than most mortals will ever have.”

Cole seemed a bit happy with the self mind-wiping to remain ‘pure’. He did it more than most of the spirits Adaar had met, and it probably had everything to do with Cole’s previous murder spree. As opposed to his current murder spree. Fucking Templars.

Adaar paused. “This is making sense, right?”

“Yes actually,” Dorian said thoughtfully. “It’s certainly a different approach than one I’ve ever heard. And again, thank you. I just couldn’t find this information elsewhere.”

Adaar felt that weird funny feeling again. “I’m just happy you listened.”

Now that Adaar was in no danger of randomly keeling over dead, Dorian could breathe a sigh of relief in the semi-privacy of the upper library, leaning against a bookcase.

The inner circle was still hovering, waiting and watching to see if something else would go wrong because honestly Adaar had the worst luck. Vivienne was planning on later consulting with Solas about the various processes he’d used to date, just in case.

Meanwhile, Sera had an unusual stroke of courage, asking Adaar to poke her with his Fade hand for ‘research’. As it turned out, it went through people as well. Shortly after, Sera was disappointed that no, Adaar couldn’t rephase his hand into existence like Fenris who apparently was ‘not being a sport’ and refused to help with her devious pranks.

She was warming up to Adaar again at least. Dorian figured that it was simply by Adaar showing strong emotions, something that made him much more of a person in Sera’s eyes. Despite Adaar’s strong feelings on demons, he had also warmed back up to Sera. Adaar was, after all, a complete bleeding heart.

Dorian paused for a moment at that thought. The Iron Bull and his terrible puns had been rubbing off on everyone in the worst ways, though he could grudgingly admit the man did have his charms.

Adaar had been far more physically affectionate of late, but not in the ways Dorian had figured he would be; Dorian was no stranger to being a port in a storm, and for Adaar’s case, it seemed to be a hurricane. Honestly at this point, Dorian wouldn’t have minded giving Adaar some more physical comfort if it meant he felt better. But no, no naughty touches. Just snuggling, which Dorian more than didn’t mind because one, it was very pleasant aside from the odd bruise or two via horn damage, something they were working out.

And two, Adaar’s possible best friend (or something more) was dead, and he was in complete devastation.

At least Dorian still remembered Felix and hadn’t had their fondest moments ripped from his mind but still leaving the deep emotional connection. At least he still had that. He wasn’t sure how Adaar could properly mourn Trevelyan, and thus he didn’t want to bring it up, afraid false comparison would leave Adaar even more miserable. The thought of being left with all of the grief for Felix but with no idea why, not knowing for certain that yes, Felix had been his best friend?

And what Dorian supposed to say? ‘That’s rough, buddy’? He did want to help but was unsure of how to go about it, and Cole seemed to have that covered.

Normally he liked being the center of someone’s attention, but not like this. Honestly, Dorian wasn’t sure why Adaar was attracted to him, aside from his dashingly good looks. All Dorian had done so far was make a number of offensive remarks and given Adaar basic physical comfort.

Instead, Adaar had said that he felt safe around Dorian which just left him completely flabbergasted. Why Dorian would never know.

Instead of actually attempting to process this, he decided to work instead. He curled up with a pile of ciphers which Leliana had deigned to trust him with, considering that Tevene was not the most popular language in the South, and there was currently a backlog for her dastardly spy business.

Ciphers were rather soothing work, simply a matter of applying different techniques until getting them right, the difficulty of which depending on the kind of cipher. If they used a running key cipher, they were simply fucked without the source to chart the changes.

He had just started to get absorbed in his work when suddenly a book was dropped on the desk in front of him, startling himself out of his thoughts. In front of him loomed a very large, very upset looking Fear demon, and then Dorian was considerably and understandably more startled.

It is broken,” the Fear demon said. “Fix it.” And then it simply slid through a bookcase and was gone without any further clarification. Fantastic. Hopefully it was one of theirs.

Dorian gently picked up the book and thumbed through it. No damages of any sort, no oddly printed pages, spine in perfect condition.

He was going to have to ask Adaar more questions, wasn’t he?

“Why are you making me do this?” Adaar asked. “It’s not like I am… an expert in justice or law or anything.”

Almost the exact opposite in fact.

“In this case, a background in different country laws isn’t necessary,” Leliana said smoothly. “While familiarity is obviously preferred, the important part is the judgment itself. Judges can, in fact, change the law as suited based upon what they think. As Inquisitor trying to fight against an impossible demi-god with a massive army threatening Thedas, seeing you as an ultimate authority would inspire people to take us seriously.”

Adaar waved his arms about emphatically. “What authority figure? I’ve just been following your orders. And why do people think I’ve been doing a good job anyway?”

“Because you have brought peace and stability to western Ferelden to levels unheard of since before the Orlesian occupation,” Leliana said smoothly.

Adaar blinked. “Oh. Well. In that case, I guess maybe?”

“And the lands we have moved our influence in Orlais are now free of warring soldiers and demons,” Leliana continued. “We have secured the dangers of Emprise du Lion and now are the only people with a way of dealing with red lyrium. While we are still working out on the finer details of transportation, our current focus on moving small amounts at a time with a rotational guard system has been effective as to this point.”

Okay, so maybe they had somehow been doing well. Suddenly, a thought came to mind. “Wait. Where do Gray Wardens get their money?”

“You want to sabotage their source?” Leliana asked in a matter-of-fact tone.

Adaar was growing increasingly concerned about her. Right. High suspect on the list, though his repeated attempts at looking as far into her mind as possible had failed. After all, Leliana might not have wanted to bind Adaar but would have seen it as a necessary evil.

“No, like. Where do they get their money? If they don’t do politics, and their only thing is killing darkspawn, and nobody pays for their services. So then how do they get money? They have it. I’ve checked. Gray Wardens get paid. Not a lot, but they do get stipends on top of their gear.” Which was the Inquisition’s current methodology, free food and board and field kits while paying what stipend they could. It was Symbolic, okay? People get paid. “So where does the money come from? Does it magically spring into existence?

Leliana actually paused. “I honestly have no idea.”

“This is going to bug me now,” Adaar said.

Suddenly a scout ran towards them, stopping breathlessly before saluting. “Your Worship! A greater hunger demon has been spotted in the outskirts of Crestwood and has eaten a tower.”

“Eaten a tower,” Adaar repeatedly flatly.

“Yes Your Worship. Wasn’t one of our demons, but it was one of our towers.”

“Well,” Adaar said, “you have to give them props for determination I suppose.”

“I’ll send our best Templars on it,” Leliana said smoothly.

Templars actually being useful for something. Who knew?

Adaar judged some people. Okay, technically he recruited the three people they thrust at him, Denam made to work with the Templars and Movran (who had been his favorite) assigned as a ‘diplomatic adviser’ to Abernache. And then there was that scoundrel mayor who Adaar had no idea if he had done a bad because the Blight would have infected and killed everyone. He did drown people, which might have been bad? Maybe it was the covering it all up? Adaar just decided to go with the theme and recruit him into community service, clearing some of the more war-torn lands of dead bodies, helping rebuild buildings and the like.

Honestly, recruitment just let him skip past ‘if they had done a bad’ aside from obviously Denam, and just put people to use. His decisions were well-liked, some saying poetic justice, which okay good? That hadn’t been what he was going for since he very much wasn’t a Justice, but you know, whatever worked he guessed? Looking competent was better than looking incompetent.

Apparently people paid attention to his judgments since he got some approval from those, so that was a double success?

He stretched his limbs after his judgments and went to the next order of business. Frankly, choosing a new Commander was another thread that had been left unresolved for too long. It was finally time to pick the new person.He had a private room set aside, just him and Josephine since Leliana was currently busy trying to arrange some highkey assassination Adaar wasn’t supposed to know about. A number of the applicants were ones she sent their way regardless, thus already coming with her recommendation, though there were others that had submitted their own applications.

He entered the room which was at least not too drafty. Josephine was already there with clipboard in hand. He settled down behind the desk, deciding to look at the rejection letters before moving further.

Aveline was a no. Surana still couldn’t be found. The Iron Bull had been flattered, who had been asked considering his experience in a leadership position of a mercenary company and then his years of experience on Seheron, but had said he worked best in a small, skirmish based capacity.

Adaar was severely disappointed, but it probably was for the best. The Iron Bull wouldn’t have the time to travel with him if he was doing Commander duties.

He breathed steadily before gesturing for the Josephine to open the door and let this begin.

The first man was an older Ferelden vet from the Fifth Blight, rather promising, and they had a good discussion. Unfortunately, the man was a bit twitchy on the magic deal, so that was a con.

The second was a Nevarran commander who had experience leading parties against more interesting types, like dragons. Or possessed boars. Apparently, the woman would take a dragon any day over a possessed boar since normal boars were nearly unkillable; possessed boars just slaughtered everything and everyone in their path. She also had to clear a forest out of sylvans due to increased merchant deaths, and had general experience, personal and tactical, with dealing with the more odd problems in life. Many pluses all around, though Adaar did note it counted more as skirmish work, the type the Iron Bull had which were his reasons for not considering the job.

Hrm.

The next two applicants were not quite as qualified, and Adaar began to suspect most of the good commanders didn’t want anywhere near certain death, or possibly were already in high demand defending their own scrap of the world and thus had prior loyalties.

This was not the main problem. No, the main problem came with the fifth person.

“Sera. What are you doing?” Adaar asked.

Sera was currently wearing a ridiculously large fake mustache and a pair of bloomers on top of her head.

“Hon hon hon baguettes,” she said, before Josephine quickly yet gently escorted her out of the room.

Adaar began to have a bad feeling. This was increased when the next person who stepped into the room was a very confused looking Blackwall.

They stared at each for almost an entire minute before Adaar tentatively asked, “Are you here for the try-outs?”

Blackwall looked confused, looked around the room, and then looked less confused. “So I take it there aren’t really free cakes here then?”

Oh good. Sera.

A literal golem showed up. An actual, literal golem who apparently once worked as a shopkeeper. The golem had no idea what he was doing here but had received a ‘letter’ requesting his presence.

Sera appeared again, this time in a parody of Cassandra’s armor while still wearing the mustache, and managed to dodge Josephine for an entire minute while reciting dirty limericks in Nevarran. Adaar had to admire her commitment here.

The applicant after that was a possessed cat . As much as he enjoyed seeing a fellow Desire demon at long last, Desire wasn’t a good commander, nor would people be willing to take orders from a cat.

“We do have some nice refreshments in the kitchens. The cooks love cats and would be happy to spoil you rotten,” Adaar said. The cat sniffed, jumped off of the chair she was sitting on, and padded off feeling very content.

Then the next person stepped in, and Adaar had to bite his lip.

“I’m Orlesian Cullen,” Hawke said helpfully. Adaar glanced at his armor which, while highly decorative and stylized, did manage to cover at least the essential bits—and by essential bits, basically his crotch and nipples—and was otherwise many layers of gauze silk. Hawke twirled a feather boa seductively, and Adaar motioned for Josephine to halt before she belted Hawke over the head with her clipboard.

“Please proceed,” Adaar said.

Hawke fished a wooden kazoo out of somewhere and then began a strip tease, complete with accompanying music.

Josephine blatantly ignored Adaar and chased Hawke out of the room. Various people could be heard giggling in the background.

One Mage’s Collective liaison.

One spirit of Honor who was turned down after the reveal that Honor was upset with the sheer amount of political and physical assassinations going on, and Adaar was not unhappy to see him go.

“Where are we finding these people?” Josephine asked frantically, after they turned away a very confused scullery maid. “Do they even know what they are applying for?”

“Sera,” Adaar said.

“She wouldn’t send spirits this way,” Josephine said exasperatedly.

Adaar paused. “True. Then I’ve got no idea.”

A spirit of Valor next, which Adaar almost dismissed outright since it wasn’t his Valor, and Adaar was petty. But no, Valor didn’t have as much strategical experience as their first two candidates, and Adaar politely turned him down as Inquisition Commander but did offer a minor officer position heading some other spirits and demons.

Valor accepted, and at least that was something so far.

A persnickety Templar who caught Word of all these demons lingering about, surely the Inquisitor would want to know. Josephine played the cultural sensitivity card. The Templar didn’t care. The Valor spirit who was just passing out looked at the woman with a very confused expression. Valor was, after all, currently radiating light from underneath their armor. The Templar didn’t seem to notice.

Ah. Must have been a Templar from Kirkwall. Josephine forcibly escorted her out as well.

A rather disheveled dwarf stood in front of him who belched loudly.

Adaar looked down at his papers and then up at the dwarf. “Oghren, is it?”

“Don’t wear out the name ya sexy minx,” Oghren said with a wink.

Oh good. Josephine in the corner started to pray for patience.

“And you are here seeking the position of Commander?” Adaar asked. Hopefully he just wandered into the wrong place. Maybe Sera had told him there would be free cake here or something.

“Sure am. Got some great attributes if you know what I mean.” He then waggled his eyebrows.

Please let this end. Adaar gestured with a hand for Oghren to get on with it.

Oghren straightened his pants with a grunt—please no—but then let them go and went into an almost professional position. “Well, I was one of the best and proudest members of the Warrior caste over in Orzammar for many years. Eventually ended with the Warden and helped them out around the Blight and was left in charge of holding the line at Denerim while they went off to kill the archdemon. I would like to point out that I did so successfully. I then joined the Wardens, and shortly after darkspawn tried to siege Vigil’s Keep. Yours truly was again responsible for holding the line, directing troops, whatnot, and we had minimal casualties. I’ve gained a few promotions over the years to Warden-Constable and have led many successful expeditions into the Deep Roads since.”

Huh. That… actually was a lot of experience. He glanced at Josephine who looked similarly baffled.

Oghren then scratched his crotch and leered at Adaar. “You know, you kinda look like one of them sexy oiled demon wenches if you squint right and have a healthy imagination.”

“Out!”

After Dagna got excused even if she did have some innovative ideas of strange arcanist weaponry, Adaar just folded his arms while looking at Sera, not-quite wearing the ‘Orlesian cosplay armor’ Hawke had.

“Used the wrong kind of glue for the mustache?”

Sera stuck out her tongue.

“Why?” Josephine asked desperately.

“What? You ain’t enjoying yourself? Didn’t make this fun?” Sera asked with an evil grin.

“Okay, yes, this has made things so much better, but why did you have to invite Oghren ?”

Sera frowned. “Who’s Oghren?”

“Ah shit. That means he’s an actual candidate.”

They took a recession as it was food time and Adaar desperately needed a break and also something else.

“Please?” he begged the Iron Bull. “You are more qualified than most of the candidates.”

The Iron Bull laughed. “I’m flattered, but you said ‘most’. Means you know there’s a better pick.”

Adaar whimpered. “I went over it. The most qualified person is Oghren. I don’t want to pick him. Maybe I could just claim a personality conflict? But Leliana was the one who suggested him. Apparently he’s an old friend.

He buried his head in his arms, and the Iron Bull patted him on the back.

They went back at it, and more people streamed through.

The current one was yet another Templar. Fantastic.

“Ser Barris,” Adaar greeted politely and then shuffled through. Ah yes. He was one of the ones who officially submitted his own paperwork. Okay.

“Inquisitor,” Barris greeted. “Lady Josephine. I am here for your consideration of the new Commander.”

Adaar folded his hands in a professional manner. “You seem very competent from what we have seen, but we are hoping to branch out from traditional Chantry associations. We are now up to four ex-communications, the latest one received today, and the connotations have been scaring off the other allies we are hoping to attract. This is absolutely not a no, you understand, but merely something of a minor concern.”

“I understand,” Barris said before pausing. “I am not entirely sure of the finer detail, but shouldn’t there be a Divine in order for us to get ex-communicated?”

“Yeah that’s something I’m still trying to puzzle out,” Adaar said.

“It was by popular vote of the next highest officials,” Josephine put in smoothly.

“Learn something new every day,” Adaar said. “Please continue, Ser Barris.”

“I would like to point out in this instance that the Templars left the Chantry,” Barris said. “Though possibly not for the right reasons.”

“Could you clarify that?” Adaar asked.

“I was given to the Templars at an early age,” Barris said. “I always believed in the ideals, that Templars were supposed to not only defend against magic, but also defend the mages themselves from those who would try to harm them. And this is why the Templars shouldn’t exist anymore.”

Adaar raised his eyebrows.

“They have fundamentally failed at their purpose on every possible level,” Barris continued, “and I do not think change can truly come. Now, the title of Templar will always hold too many negative connotations for mages. While there still should be some infrastructure for safety against magical abuse, and for mages against fearful commoners, I do not believe Templars should be in that future.”

Barris gestured to the papers in front of him. “As of yet, I have successfully led many excursions investigating magic prior to the Mage Rebellion, both dealing with magical forces when need be, and protecting innocent mages from witch hunts. You were there for me defending Therinfal Redoubt, and after, many Templars began to look to me for leadership. As that is one of your primary bulk of forces, they would already respect me and follow my commands, important for proper leadership.”

“As you can see, I have submitted information of my successful campaigns in the past. You are also facing Red Templars, of which I have directly faced and understand more than most of your other applicants. The other bulk of the enemy forces are Tevinter mages, and my experiences lend to fighting against them. I am skilled in directing against hostile magic while also ensuring that innocent mages are left untouched. There are the hostile demons from the Rifts, of which I have studied and can instruct the troops on how to best deal with each kind.”

Adaar tilted his head slightly. ‘Hostile’ demons. “You’ve put a lot of study into them. Envy demons are notoriously rare.”

“I’ve always taken my duties seriously,” he said before shifting his stance somewhat. “I would also like to inform you that while I am uncomfortable, I am willing to work with your more… ‘untraditional’ forces you have been hiring, though I may require an adviser on how to best direct them.”

Josephine raised her eyebrows at Adaar. “We will consider your application,” Adaar said, because he had been told he couldn’t hire anyone on the spot.

In the end, of course, it wasn’t much of a consideration at all. Leliana was fond of Delrin Barris’ plans on integrating Templars out of existence, Josephine was ecstatic as he came from a prominent noble family with many notable knights in their history and would be well-received by the public, and Barris admitted he was willing to work with demons so Adaar was all for that. All the while having strong qualifications and many good points as well as being just likable in general. While a great personality wasn’t high on the list of traits to look for, it was still an important one Adaar felt. Likable people were listened to and respected more and also just nicer to work with.

A good workplace environment went a long way towards success.

So Delrin got a promotion, a number of handshakes all around, and an increased paycheck. It would take a week for him to catch up on the plans, settle into his role and whatnot, but he was ready to go.

Adaar was actually looking forward to working with him.

Chapter Text

For the first time in a long while, Cassandra Doubted. She felt sickened by this knowledge. This entire time. Maker, this entire time the order had known and had done nothing.

"So uh. Did you... not know that you had been possessed?" Adaar asked, sitting next to her at the table.

"No!" Cassandra said angrily, fingers digging into the book.

"Ah. Hm. Okay then."

Cassandra glared sharply at him. "Could you tell?"

"Maaaaaaaaybe?"

Cassandra's stomach was in knots. If it was that obvious...

"Hey. I'm a lot more familiar with the Fade," Adaar said, giving her a concerned look. And he would be, wouldn’t he? "I would have said something, but I honestly thought you knew?"

Cassandra had known nothing, neither being stripped of her emotions, nor the possession. "So this, all of my faith, is it fake? Was something I was made to be?"

Adaar tilted his head. "I honestly can't tell you. I mean, you would have had faith before, but that kind of thing would draw it to the forefront, even after the spirit left. A side effect of possession. I guess yeah then. Your faith was probably amplified, but at least it was the faith you already seemed to have?"

That barely helped. "And my abilities? They are also a side effect?"

Adaar shrugged. "Maybe? I've got no clue; I ain’t exactly an expert here." He paused for a moment. "Though what would have happened if you had been possessed by Valor? Honor? Would that have given you different super powers? Seeker powers vary, so does it depend on the person and on the particular spirit?"

Cassandra found that at some point, the book had dropped from her fingers. She had wanted to be a Seeker. She had wanted this but had never questioned it, that a simple vigil and prayer would have given her such abilities. They had obviously come from the Maker, His blessing upon her.

She had been a fool.

Adaar gently put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, uh. Look, I'm all for spirits and demons and whatnot, but what happened to you was fucked up."

Cassandra snorted. "Not the Tranquility?"

"Well I mean that too. But consent has to be given?" Adaar looked genuinely distressed. "I mean it can be coerced or tricked or bribed and whatnot which makes it only dubious consent at best… but anyway for people- I guess for non-Tranquil people, the person has to agree on some level. And even if some part of you did, that's still skeevy as fuck. And not just for the Seekers, here, also for the spirit. That is not something a good spirit would or should do."

Cassandra hadn't expected Adaar to be this supportive or distressed over her. She had thought by his general animosity that he wouldn't have cared, would have been more fixated on the order hiding the cure all this time. "I... will need time to process about what I have learned here. For many reasons."

If the corruption was this deeply rooted, into the Seekers themselves who were designed to seek out such corruption, then should the order even be rebuilt? Could it be redeemed? By Cole's comments about the White Spire, could any of this?

"Of course." Adaar gently squeezed her shoulder. "Though if you need to talk to someone later, I'm here for you."

 

Being subtle was never Hawke’s strong suit, and not just with magic. Initially, he came to the opinion if some well-known, ridiculous yet charming figure suddenly had accusations thrown at them of ‘aaaagh mage’, people might side with the charming figure first. It’d honestly worked a couple of times, which was more than enough for him to justify it.

Life was short and brutal, so there was no sense in letting it sit around and be boring. Hawke should have had enough excitement, good and ill, for multiple lifetimes, but he wasn’t done yet, and he was also hoping at lancing this one old wound.

“Inquisitor!” Hawke cheerfully announced, strolling into the war room. And yes, it was just Adaar. Good.

Adaar was currently staring at papers in resigned dejection, but quickly looked up when Hawke arrived. “Ah. Good. A distraction. Please take as long as fucking possible talking to me because if I have to stare at one more missive trying to intuit the inner workings of the entire known world, I am going to explode.”

That was one of Adaar’s specialties, but Hawke didn’t see the big fuss about it. So what if Adaar could explode people with his hand? Hawke could also cause people to explode, just in a different method. So could Dorian or Merrill or Anders. Adaar wasn’t special.

“Can do,” Hawke said as he closed the door behind him. “So, I want you to teach me some blood magic.”

“You… want me to teach you… blood magic,” Adaar asked in a half-strangled tone.

“I’m always looking to broaden my horizons,” Hawke said. “But not blood magic as a whole. Just one particular finicky spell, and I was hoping you would know how to cast it. I’m mostly self-taught which comes with disadvantages.”

No amount of accidentally banging into door frames was going to teach him the finer details of blood magic. Just the basics.

“I- ah. Hrm.” Adaar looked increasingly awkward. “I… don’t normally teach people blood magic as a general rule. Or details.”

“Just a single spell!” Hawke said. “Circles do it all the time. The one where if you have a chunk of someone, like hair or blood or their clothes or something, you can use that to find that person. I’ve been trying for years, and for some reason, nobody I talk to conveniently knows it.”

Or sticks around long enough to teach a person how to use it.

Adaar looked relieved. “Well unfortunately, I don’t know that one. But I’m sure there are some demons that might. I could try to find one who knows?”

Adaar was peculiar. At least he turned out alright. Hawke had some mild concerns after hearing the Templars had officially joined the ‘Inquisition’. Hawke felt they were rather understandable concerns, and maybe when Varric sent him a letter asking him to show, Hawke had already secretly been scouting things out and had been for a while. He could be stealthy when need be. But no, Adaar didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter, all roped in. Things were definitely progressing in a different direction now that he had the power to use it.

This was good, because Adaar honestly seemed like a nice guy, and Hawke would hate to have to kill him. It wasn’t personal of course. Rather, Hawke had done a lot of things for the Mage Rebellion, and he wasn’t about to see his efforts wasted. Hawke hadn’t wanted to kill him at the time, per se, but he also didn’t not want to kill him. He’d been neutral on the idea of killing Adaar.

Honestly, he had thought this would all go a very different route. Hence why he hadn’t told Fenris, since in his original plans, the whole trip wouldn’t have taken more than two weeks. But then there was the whole stalling and considering things, and then the joining since well, Corypheus was his bad.

…he hadn’t told Varric of his plans either. Just didn’t seem like the smart thing to do there. Varric was one of his best friends, but he was also mired in stagnation, keeping the status quo so he could have his good times. Now Hawke was all about the good times, mind you, but Hawke also firmly disagreed about that status quo part.

But now that he had gotten to sit down and get to know Adaar and his heretical beliefs, Hawke was glad he decided to give him a chance, and that things had gone a different route than initially planned.

“Nah. Fenris would raise a fuss if I asked an actual demon how to use blood magic,” Hawke said.

Adaar giggled nervously.

 

There was nothing like piracy while also being able to feel like a big damn hero, Isabela thought to herself. The Venatori ships tended to be laden with goods, the mage healers she had taken in were doing wonders for general health, and it was always surprising to see how many rescued slaves were up for a spot of piracy themselves.

She’d picked up letters and packages at port, but among them was a small, wrapped box from the Inquisitor who apparently had been found. Isabela hadn't had a chance to talk to him, but Hawke seemed fond of him, and by old rules from earlier days, that made him a friend by default.

Later that night, after an actual dinner and bad ale, after she had read through letters of distant friends, she finally opened it and frowned.

Books? She shrugged, picked one up and then almost dropped it.

Old Rivaini philosophy, predating the Qun invasion. She thumbed through it, brow creasing. Poet-saints. Another she recognized from the title alone, the writings of a Tevinter Archon and his frustrations with running Tevinter, personal meditations and inner peace. The last was a collection of varying philosophies to battle, from Orzammar berserkers and Nevarran reavers to Antivan crows and Anderfels battle meditation.

Did Leliana tell him about this? Someone had to. Hawke maybe? But she had never gotten the chance to sit down and discuss philosophy with Hawke. Too personal for one thing. She hadn't talked anyone's ear off about differing philosophies for some time actually, not since…

A suggestion from that Compassion spirit?

Isabela gently traced the spine of the book she was holding. This was a part of her she hadn't indulged in some time, and regret twinged.

Regardless of how he found out, this was a thoughtful gift far above any of the ones Hawke had ever given her. Well, Hawke tried, but hadn’t thought basic gift concepts through, something that somehow ended up being endearing rather than annoying. She had a ship now which could cart around all her possessions. Maybe she could start collecting books again at least.

She searched, but the Inquisitor hadn't left her a letter. Maybe he thought the gift was self-evident enough?

 

Adaar had been faring well with the lost of his physical arm. The consumption had ended, of which Solas was still worried. It shouldn't have happened that fast. And if his calculations were off on that, what else could he be wrong about?

He hadn't lied about Adaar being safe. Which also meant the Anchor was still safe, albeit forever bound to this person. He’d already gone to lengths to safeguard them both, and now he would have to further his efforts.

Even if it had thrown his plans in a disarray, but he had time to plot still.

Adaar had unfortunately grown on him. Getting attached to anyone would only make things worse in the long run. Part of Solas was still concerned about any other changes, things he could have overlooked, further alterations to Adaar's being. But another and much larger part of Solas was fascinated with the entire process.

In an ideal world, Solas could merely examine Adaar over time, wish him the best of luck, and then acquire a new Anchor. However, as things were, that would prove challenging at best. Suicidal at worst, for the Deep Roads were nowhere near as safe as they once were.

So many changes. So many things that were partially or completely his fault, and now all that remained were mere shadows in a ruined world.

He carefully hid his secrets around the spirits in Skyhold. And in the meantime, he entertained Adaar's many questions.

"You have to have some tips on Corypheus," Adaar said. "That's all right up your alley."

"He is an aspiring god. Our best chance is to kill him before that can happen."

Adaar snorted. "But that's not possible, right? Him becoming a god?"

"Why do you think that?" Solas asked, folding his hands together.

Adaar almost imperceptibly shrunk in on himself. "Because... uh. It shouldn't be possible? Like gods and then... not gods. Completely different categories of beings with no crossing betwixt them."

"Coherent as always."

"Rude and uncalled for," Adaar said. "But 'aspiring to godhood' aside, that's not something that can actually happen, right?"

Solas tilted his head. "What is your definition of a god?"

Adaar blinked. "You know, that's actually an interesting philosophical question, but I'm not sure I'm the expert here. But there has to be more than just being all powerful and getting worshiped."

"If that is what carries you through the day, then so be it," Solas said.

"Don't mess with me like this," Adaar said, fully uncomfortable now. Was it the cults that bothered him? He had been adamant about putting them down, of which Solas personally approved. Was it the notion that without his consent, he could be elevated into a position of godhood?

Unlikely if still possible. And good for him otherwise. Solas had long since had enough of those that quested after godhood and worship alike. He had witnessed the corruption it had done to those he had once considered friends.

And what of them now? He hadn't meant for any of this, had foolishly and recklessly acted. Had they dwindled down to people again, or had isolation from the unchanging world driven them into insanity?

"I've heard one of the Avvar gods is a glorified, ascended bear," Solas offered. "Though that might not fit your definition of a 'god'."

“Yeah that doesn’t fit the typical description.” Adaar paused. “For gods in general or for them since they tend to refer to all Fadefolk as gods, but then that’s definitely getting into different definitions and meanings category. Unless the bear was possessed, in which case it’s more likely?”

“So you view abominations as more likely to be gods than others?” Solas asked.

Adaar frowned in exactly the same manner as he did the previous time, upon which their next meeting was held over tea.

“We have already discussed that what quantifies as a god differers from people to people,” Solas said politely, and Adaar seemed to be soothed by that. “So then, what is something you consider a marker of godhood?”

Solas himself had his own opinions on the matter, opinions that differed from majority opinion of his time, and had only the fuzziest knowledge of what popular opinions were today. Especially among those who didn’t adhere to the Chantry doctrine. It was rather easy finding out what the Chantry believed, but almost anything else here. At all.

“A foot in both worlds?” Adaar more asked than stated. “Like, for a random example, a Tevinter god.”

“Yes, them.”

“Powerful spirits or demons or the like, but also really big dragons. A combination state being- okay yeah a bit like an abomination I guess? But-”

“Adaar,” Solas said. “Believe me when I say you are over-complicating things in your head.”

 

Among Delrin’s duties of transitioning into his new role, there was also becoming more personally acquainted with the Inner Circle. It was only natural, as for the next unforeseen while, they would all be working together quite closely. Josephine was sweet, and Leliana was somewhat terrifying, though that seemed to be a shared sentiment among the others.

And then there was the Inquisitor.

“How have you been settling in, Barris?” Adaar asked.

“Please, call me Delrin.”

Adaar paused for a moment. “That’s fair. I call everyone else by their first name. It’d be weird to single you out. So how you have been settling in, Delrin?”

"Don't you call Blackwall by his first name?"

Adaar blinked, as if the realization that Blackwall might not be in fact a first name had just occurred to him.

“Anyway,” Delrin said. “I’ve been doing well. Hopefully I can finish settling in within a fortnight. Among other things, I’ve been going through the process of finding the more trustworthy Templars to delegate and organize the others. The less trustworthy are being assigned exclusively to fighting the Venatori, and the others are providing protection services. I am still in the process of finding an adviser for your… other forces.”

The demons were primarily in Leliana’s division. Demon abilities of mind-reading came in handy when it came to spying on their enemies. There were still a number in his, and while it seemed like a large force, in reality it was smaller than any other group they had.

“I’d prefer if I focused primarily on this work for now before hosted social ventures.”

Adaar nodded. “Yeah I remember. You don’t like uppity nobles.”

“Which is most of them,” Delrin said dryly.

“So how did you end up as a Templar?” Adaar asked.

“My family were respected nobles of Ferelden,” Delrin said. “And I was an extra heir. It is customary for noble families to give such to the Templars as a show of piety to the Chantry. It is common enough, as well as others being recruited out of Chantry orphanages, and then others who join out of their own personal desires.”

That had been something that had never occurred to Delrin when he was much younger and still in training. He simply assumed all the other recruits were given one way or another.

“I have to admit. You seem more… reasonable than almost any other Templar I’ve met,” Adaar said.

“I would like to think it is purely of my own virtue,” Delrin said, “but in reality, a good part of that may be because I never served in a Circle. I’ve spent all of my time in long-distance patrols, being sent out to deal with strange sightings, and the like.”

Delrin wondered how much Adaar felt Templars were a personal issue. It certainly seemed as if it was, which made some sense as Templars did span all of Southern Thedas. Delrin had heard the arvaarad were crueler though, and those were more likely the type Adaar were familiar with. He didn’t seem to look down on Southern mages, so he may have an instinctive reaction to any authority figures attempting to police mages. Which unfortunately was not an unwarranted response for the Templar order. He’d known corruption was widespread, Templars sitting by and refusing to do what was supposed to be their duties, while instead whinging about the lack of respect and their own personal glory.

Rather like nobles in that regard.

All the same, the more he investigated, the deeper the corruption went. Delrin had initially allied with the Lord Seeker, hoping if anyone would be above such things it would be him. That hadn’t ended well. And from what he’d heard of recent events, it wasn’t just the Envy demon. That was a souring realization.

“I will not say it as an excuse, merely as an attempt to understand where a number of the Templars are coming from,” Delrin continued, “but among the Templars in the Circles, the Chantry teachings of the dangers of mages is… exasperated beyond reason. Templars are made to believe that they must kill any mage at any given moment, and thus they should not get attached to any of them. It is far simpler for the mind to decide that mages aren’t people, and thus if they kill a mage, then they aren’t killing a person. And thus they do not have to deal with guilt. And for those who in another life may have been decent people, they do not wish to be consumed by guilt, and thus they hold doggedly to their ideals.”

“The dangers of mages?” Adaar asked neutrally.

“It is a simple fact,” Delrin said. “But Templars are made dangerous as well. As are knights and experienced soldiers. Very few people have the luxury of spending their entire life training in martial skills. By that advantage, raised soldiers are far more dangerous than your average person to the point where others will never be able to surpass that head start training. And I presume any apothecary is also dangerous by their required knowledge of poison, but we let them out and about regardless.”

“Did you just equate apothecaries… to Templars?” Adaar asked. “Did an apothecary traumatize you as a child or something?”

“You do not speak of much of your own history, and thus I do not have to speak of mine if I don’t want to.”

“Fair enough.” He leaned back in his chair. “So what are your ideas for grand reform?”

“I don’t know,” Delrin said. “Other than this is obviously not working, and thus it’s time to explore other solutions. The Inquisition may give a good of opportunity as any, especially if we can somehow recruit more mages. I’m sure some of them have their own ideas on how things can be run.”

Like the Mages’ Collective. Delrin was aware it existed. A number of Ferelden Templars did, even if some were bought by lyrium for silence. Delrin had always figured, and used the excuse when need be, that there were far more pressing matters to attend to, especially for an organization that seemed to police its own well. It made sense that they would if they wanted to remain relatively hidden, and there was always something worse going on that Delrin could persuade his commanding officer to focus on instead. Either by ideals, or for one of them in particular, that more dangerous tasks would yield to stronger personal glory.

The conversation shifted, and they chatted about other things. Delrin felt he may have passed some hidden test or two which was a sigh of relief. Adaar was pleasant to talk to even if he was more eccentric than the rumors said. Hopefully this would all work out.

 

Adaar looked guilty. Good. He should be.

“It’s not like they’re people,” he protested lamely. “I very much didn’t pick people.”

“You killed hundreds of nugs,” Cole said frostily.

“I needed the energy!”

“There are always better ways.”

It had been a hard lesson for Cole, but one that he had needed to learn, one that had been important to learn. It still felt bitter inside, but he kept it there as a reminder.

Adaar wasn’t the same as him, but that was no excuse.

One of the nugs squeaked angrily at Adaar.

“See! They don’t even like me.”

“Maybe they would like you better if you didn’t kill them.” He sighed. “I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed.”

Adaar hunched in on himself.

“You are helping, right?”

“Yeah I’ll help,” Adaar said reluctantly, now hunched and slouched and all wilted. It stung, because Adaar had been wilted for some time now, hurts still writhing even with Cole’s help.

Still, there was no excuse for killing nugs. And now Adaar was going to help them. Not because he could atone for such a thing, because that was something you couldn’t atone for, but to at least help those he had hurt.

Nugs were not made for the cold. They went where there were people because they were friends who snuffled curiously. There were people in Skyhold, so the nugs came and then grew sick as winter approached.

Krem liked nugs. He knitted plush ones, gave them wings. The Chargers teased him but not cruelly, a friend way, and it made Krem feel happy. And he liked knitting, something he said was soothing, but Cole was uncertain about this since Krem swore far more when he was knitting.

Adaar would sit with the nugs for now while Cole picked up the sweaters.

Krem was currently sparring with Rocky, so Cole waited. Krem had told Cole that he could pick up the sweaters at any time, but he secretly liked giving the sweaters directly, the knitted nugs, a scarf or shawl, liked to see faces brighten up or the Iron Bull give the nugs funny voices. Today was no different, Krem feeling happy that Cole came to pick up the sweaters directly (and Krem remembered Cole outside of seeing him. A number of people here did, and it was unsettling and uplifting at the same time.)

Cole returned to the basements some time later (hopefully not too long, but time was a slippery thing that he was still trying to balance upon) carrying the first sack full of sweaters. Adaar was trying to hold a few of them from scurrying off with minimal success. He was the Anchor now, blinding as ever, but the Anchor refused the mortal world.

It also made it hard to grasp things.

Other nugs were milling about, rubbing their faces, snuffling curiously at the world so large to them, something that resonated deeply within Cole’s being.

And Adaar had been killing them.

A few others were nibbling angrily at Adaar’s boots. “None of them ate each other,” he announced.

Cole began to fish out the sweaters in silence. The nugs squeaked happily and ran to him because they knew he was a friend and wasn’t going to kill them and harvest their energy.

Nugs were not complicated. Too many things were here, with the Inquisition, with Solas and schemes, with soldiers and spirits. But nugs weren’t complicated and instead soothed, and for a moment Cole could rest his soul.

They dressed them in quiet, Adaar fumbling as he held his with magic and tried his best to get the sweaters on. Things were harder with only one arm.

“They still don’t like me,” Adaar said after a while and several biting attempts.

“You don’t like them,” Cole said. “This isn’t about them liking you. You killed a lot of nugs. You need to do penance.”

“I’m going to be helping nugs for a while then,” Adaar said. He didn’t sound sour or salty, but Cole couldn’t see inside him to be sure.

“You don’t have to feel the hurt,” Cole said, and Adaar glanced over to him confused. “The hurt isn’t needed. I am drawn to it, because I am me, but all that matters is what helps. You can feel bitter and help regardless. It’s not for you; it’s for them.”

“Ah,” Adaar said. “Learning all sorts about compassion-y things today then.”

A nug continued to chew angrily at his boot, and Adaar stared down at it. “So it also doesn’t matter to be remembered for you then?”

“All that matters is the helping,” Cole stated again.

 

Harritt said it couldn't be done. Templars said it couldn't be done. Vivienne was currently saying it couldn't be done. Dagna was of the opinion that it could be done, and only the lack of creative thinking held people back.

Well, and safety concerns, but those weren’t nearly as important.

"While he was somehow able to enchant a spell onto the bow, what you are asking for is simply not possible dear."

"Exploding bees!" Sera said empathetically, gesturing to her schematics. Dagna felt she had a fair point, and the point was exploding bees.

"Trying is more fun than succeeding," Dagna said brightly. "Maybe it's not possible, but maybe it is!"

Vivienne gave her a look. It was one very similar to the ones Dagna had received from a number of mages in Kinloch Hold, especially Irving. Particularly at the start. Annoyance, exasperation, and just that hint of 'but how could it be made to work'?

"If you are set on this," Vivienne said, "why don't you ask the one who helped design it?"

Sera hunched in on herself. Dagna patted Sera on the shoulder. "It's for research."

Sera continued to scuffle about in the background as the Inquisitor was summoned. He was strange and fascinating and let Dagna poke his Fade arm with various tools, which in Dagna's mind made them friends. He had such a different magical perspective than the Circle mages Dagna was used to talking to and was happy to share his knowledge. Shame about his friend, but Dagna was curious on how he blew up an entire tower. Did the stone dissolve or was it merely crushed into fine dust that blew away on the wind?

These were not appropriate questions to ask, but they burned at the back of her mind, begging to spill out from her lips. That's why she always kept other questions at hand.

The questions still threatened to bubble out anyway when he entered the room, Fade arm glowing as always. Did it make it hard to sleep with a constant light source? It had to make it difficult for stealth missions. Did it tingle? Itch?

"I'm not entirely sure what's going on since the messenger had barely any idea." Adaar said. “But I’m here for it.”

"Your gift is nice!" Sera blurted out. "I like it. All sorts of fun, but it got me thinking." Sera presented her artful sketches, and Sera was such a talented artist. "What if the bees then explode into more bees? Viv says can't be done, but pfffft to that."

Sera didn't like magic until it was fun, or if she could handwave the magic away. There was a difference between chemistry and alchemy after all, one that Dagna didn’t think Sera fully understood.

"I'm not offended Sera," the Inquisitor said. "I believe there’s always room for improvement."

Bee-lieve. Dagna snickered, and Sera perked up a little at that, looked marginally less guilty.

The Inquisitor tilted his head thoughtfully and was silent for long enough that Sera was starting to deflate. "Well. I can't see why not. You'd have to loop the original spell with a transmogrification base, and then carefully bind that into the wood."

"That sounds terribly unstable," Vivienne said.

The Inquisitor snorted. "Well of course. A stable base focus isn't going to hit with enough force to unravel the layers for a proper explosion!" He paused. "But no shooting arrows directly into combat with that one, especially not with allies around. Treat the bow more like firing those grenades of yours."

"All words that make no sense," Sera said. "But it's workable, right?"

"It might take some time to wing up some plans with Dagna," he said. "And a deserted field for the inevitable tried and failed bows ...and maybe using magic to fire trial bows at a distance. But it should be possible."

Everyone else kept telling Dagna to not try breaking the laws of reality, but the Inquisitor was a good enough sport.

Maybe if she asked nicely, he would let her poke his Fade arm with more tools again.

 

Dorian had been expecting something more like a single pressed flower, lingering touches out of sight, hidden notes proclaiming sweet nothings. That was the height of romance he had achieved, moments to be savored and hope they would sustain.

He of course had read all the Southern trashy romance novels he could get his hands on and have wistful and foolish thoughts. And yet now that he had someone who flaunted him in public, Dorian had no idea what to do.

Take, for example, this. There was a small stack of books of varying ages, all at least somewhat old. One was of history of ancient Ferelden, two were on advanced necromancy, and one was detailed skeletal anatomy of various animals.

"How expensive were these?" Dorian asked, having by now gotten well acquainted with the depressing cost of books, especially outside Tevinter.

"Not that bad," Adaar said.

Dorian raised an eyebrow.

"Look. I got lucky with the necromancy books because some bookseller didn't read Nevarran and had thought they were bad poetry. I got those dirt cheap. I should feel bad, but I never claimed to be perfect."

"Don't get me wrong, I greatly appreciate these, but I am curious as to why."

"You like books and history and necromancy," Adaar said with an odd expression. "I give people gifts as a general thing. We are dating, so that is an additional reason to give you gifts. I am trying to make you happy?"

This was not the normal experience for many matters, and Dorian was feeling pleasantly charmed and also off-guard. "And here I was thinking this would be moonlight strolls, bad poetry, and flowers."

"I can totally get you flowers if you want."

Dorian smiled though slightly hesitant. "Surely there are better use of Inquisition resources."

"What? Oh no I’m not using those," Adaar said. "Ethics? And just managed to get our latest luxuries of wheat products. Why does everyone have to eat so much? Right, combat, requires more energy. No you’ve got wages. We pay you. We pay everyone. I mean, not a lot, more of a stipend since we also provide food and clothing and shelter and field kits, but anyway. This includes me. I’ve got wages. I can buy those flowers my damn ownself, thanks."

"Inquisitor-"

"No no, I am getting into this flower idea," Adaar said, looking animated. "Do you want to know the latest flowers I gave out? There was some banquet, and Josephine had been stolen by other nobles, and I had to present flowers to some asshole we hated. I just picked flowers that looked nice and that I knew all meant unterrible things, but no. Instead I somehow swore a temporary allegiance with said man against a mutual rival house. Which. It all worked out in the end, but still."

Dorian laughed. "Those pesky double meanings will get you every time."

"I know, right?" Adaar asked. "So as long as you aren't critiquing any deep meaning in the flowers, we will be good to go."

Adaar smiled and actually looked happy. Being showered in flowers and other gifts wasn't exactly the worst thing in the world.

"Who am I to complain?" Dorian said, half hugging his pile of books to himself and feeling oddly giddy.

Books though. Ah right. “Somewhat related, can you think of any reason a demon would be picky about books?”

Adaar frowned. “Not that I can think of unless- wait how old were the books? Because if they were new, that’s the problem.”

“Okay. But why?”

“Not enough residual emotional and memory imprint of past people handling and reading,” Adaar said.

“Oh. That does make sense, doesn’t it,” Dorian said. “But it’s not like we can be too picky with the books we get, at least not right now.”

“Try breaking it to him gently,” Adaar said. “Maybe offer a nice creepy book on massacres as a condolence present. A used one, of course.”

 

“So how you doing now,” the Iron Bull asked in the safety of Adaar’s tower. “Still got hunger problems?”

“I mean, a bit,” Adaar said, swishing his Fade arm. “Not nearly as much though, which is encouraging. I might be able to survive on just corpses now? Do the proper demon experience.”

Weird and unsettling, but it wasn’t like they weren’t going to kill people anyway. Might as well get some additional use out of their deaths, and the Qun was in theory about not wasting any possible resources.

“Gonna try the other bit?” Adaar looked puzzled, so the Iron Bull clarified. “Like Cole with his shit, or those Rage demons with their thing.”

Adaar laughed with a tinge of bitterness. “I don’t think it can translate across, and it’s not the same thing.”

The Iron Bull scritched at a horn. “I mean, it might. With a bit of creativity. Steal shit and barter for better shit, right? And it doesn’t double-dip into that serving aspect I know you dislike. It’d be all about you.”

Adaar folded his arms. Kinda. There was a bit of clipping with the Fade one, passing slightly into his physical arm. “I just don’t see where the energy source aspect comes in.”

The Iron Bull shrugged. “Other demons do it. It’s worth a shot at least. And hey, even if it doesn’t work, it’s not like you didn’t enjoy it. So you win either way.”

“True,” Adaar said, and for a sheer moment the Iron Bull could feel disturbances in the air.

“Maybe you could also take up gardening? I don’t think it would do anything, but it might make you feel better.”

Adaar started poking his Fade hand with his other one. “Yeah but it wouldn’t be me. Unless I split, which no thank you.”

“What?”

“Like split? Half of me somewhere else, half of me in the garden.”

“What the fuck.”

“Like a starfish? Tear off a limb and you get a starfish and a dead limb. Or if you tear it in half just right, you end up with two starfish.”

“What the fuck."

“If it helps, you can usually still rejoin afterward. Does that make things better?” Adaar asked hopefully.

“This might… take a bit to get used to.”

“Yeah mortals don’t really do that.”

Bit of an understatement right there.

They sat in silence for a bit, wind constantly whistling in the background of Adaar’s tower. He’d been more outgoing lately, even spending time with the Chargers, which was good. Probably. There still seemed to be this slight barrier between him and others that wasn’t there before. The Iron Bull didn’t want to push it, let Adaar recover in his own time, even if he did miss some of their old discussions.

Adaar glanced over just as he thought that, and the Iron Bull huffed. Of course.

“You know,” Adaar said slowly, “I was told by a very reliable source that I shouldn’t completely trust Southern knowledge, which is where I got my information. So I mean. If you wanted to talk about stuff more, I’d at least come at this with a better head start. Though I don’t understand why you find it all so entertaining.”

“I don’t get to talk about intellectual stuff often,” the Iron Bull said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love killing things and drinking with my crew.”

“But you miss talking to people who value your intellect and thorough education?” Adaar asked. “Enjoyments you’ve been missing.”

“Yeah that. Like an itch that hasn’t gotten scratched.”

The possibilities of ‘scratching that itch’ jokes flew one right after the other in his head, but he decided against voicing any of them.

He nudged Adaar. “Also I like hearing you shit-talk everything you think is dumb in this world.” Varric and Sera did the same, as did Dorian.“And hearing about weird metaphysics of the Fade.”

Not initially. At first, it was necessary to understand Adaar, figure out where he was coming from so he could explain things better. But then that curiosity kicked in, that need to sit down and examine and take something apart until he figured out exactly how it worked.

(Adaar was a demon, and he shouldn’t enjoy talking with him nearly as much as he did.)

They got onto the topic of Skyhold, some forgotten fortress out in the middle of nowhere that Solas had probably ‘found in the Fade’. Adaar said that complete with airquotes.

“My tama was nuts for old history and architecture,” the Iron Bull said fondly. “She’d love this place. Some old ancient fortress nobody’s heard of, abandoned for centuries? People wouldn’t even be allowed inside until a proper archeology crew thoroughly examined every stone.” He paused for a second. “There, uh, might have been more of a focus on that than what was supposed to be on the standard curriculum. But who are you going to tell?”

“You know,” Adaar said slowly, “that might be one of the few things going for this place.”

“Architecture?”

“And other things,” Adaar said. “Art too. Books. Wooden carved toys that Blackwall makes. See, Blackwall at some point is going to up and die.” Adaar made a stabbing motion. “Even if he doesn’t give those toys away in time, they are still going to exist. He will have made something, and that will forever linger even if no one remembers him or the toys. That’s not how it is in the Fade. Unless you pass on that lore or knowledge or song, if you die, everything else disappears as well. There’s no permanent architecture in the Fade, so it’s kinda fascinating.”

“Because all the architecture is secretly demons,” the Iron Bull said. They’d had this discussion before, lightly touched on. “Deep dastardly demon secrets.”

“I don’t think so,” Adaar said. “Or I guess it’s just basic logic that a shit ton of mages forget, and honestly I prefer it that way. Like if you kill a ‘demon’ in the fade”—and Adaar mimed stabbing again—”but the landscape remains, they just got duped. Because that ‘demon’ was just an avatar, some spun thing for people in interact with. Don’t get me wrong, getting ‘killed’ still really fucking hurts, but it’s like getting a limb lopped off.” Adaar paused. “A limb that can regrow. Starfish. They forget that the demon is the avatar and possible backup actors and the landscape and the items you find. The massive stable areas are either created by really fucking big demons or a combined joint effort. Those are formed by multiple demons hooking up and staying there for a while for whatever reason. Markets or combined dreams or diplomatic zones.”

Huh. “Do you feel small then?”

Adaar shrugged. “I mean a little bit, but this isn’t just me you realize. I’m still bigger than this, but just not manifested and hence not visible.” He paused for a second. “Cole’s the same way.”

“Yeah that’s really weird,” the Iron Bull said, but at least it wasn’t as weird as the starfish metaphor.

Adaar shrugged again. “You guys are all really small though, just saying.”

Was that how it worked for all demons? He wasn’t actually sure about this. Did it vary based around how the demon crossed into the world?

“So how does the Black City fit into all this?” the Iron Bull asked. “Pretty sure that’s been around for a while.”

“Look,” Adaar said. “I don’t have all the answers. I doubt there’s more than a handful of people out there that know for sure. But think about it. A bunch of magisters see a beautiful shiny place and just have to go there. Make so many stupid decisions but it doesn’t matter! They have to go. They fuck up, Blight happens, and then later there’s some broad who goes around saying that’s just because they listened to the wrong gods. Maybe if they listened to the right god, it’d become shiny again and everyone can go there because who doesn’t want to go there?” He nodded to himself. “Just saying, it sounds exactly like some really powerful Desire demon who keeps sending fake messages to a handful of people so everyone wants them and they can just feast off of that power.”

“That’s certainly a theory,” the Iron Bull said. “And pretty sure it’s blasphemous almost everywhere.”

“Haha yes,” Adaar said with a green fist pump. “More blasphemies for me!”

The Iron Bull snorted.

“Anyway,” Adaar continued, “I don’t know why people don’t talk to you about intellectual shit.” Adaar paused, and looked as if he was about to fiddle with a bracelet before realizing his other hand was incorporeal. He sniffed and settled on shifting his position an attempt to recover, much like a cat. “You know, I mean, I’d be happy to talk to you more about things since yeah, this is actually kinda fun now that there’s not the pressure to do it. But Dorian’s also been craving smart people to talk to. Or I guess people in general, and he likes history and architecture and whatnot.”

Dorian was still somewhat wary of him but had been warming up, even if it was only through Adaar’s presence. And knee-jerk defensiveness aside, the Iron Bull would like to get to know him. If things were different, he could see himself maybe offering to buy him a drink one day down the road.

“Might be worth a shot.”

Chapter Text

Josephine and Adaar had squirreled themselves away in a private and hidden alcove that courtiers hopefully wouldn't find them in. Hopefully. Some of the courtiers were both persistent and skilled. While the alcove was musty, it was also soundproof, which in the end trumped Josephine’s personal desire for someplace with fresh air.

"I think we can just call her support a lost cause,” Adaar said while helping himself to more scones. “Aaaaand not a huge loss there. She was a complete dick.” They had started out on what could be called polite gossip, though that would be by Orlesian standards. But of course, all things eventually lead to politics these days, even in gossip sessions.

"There will be a party hosted in Val Royeaux in a few weeks," Josephine said. "We can recover some of our lost support there, especially with the, ah, more eccentric nobles who are only intrigued by the sheer number of blasphemies the Inquisition is committing. Actually at this point, we may have gained a number of potential allies who find what is considered taboo appealing."

"Whatever works," Adaar said.

This was on top of Leliana's approach to recovery. Which was blackmail. Copious amounts of blackmail on all their main opponents to be discreetly employed when necessary.

"And this is when we pull the switch job, right? Not that thing with the opals." Adaar asked. "Sorry. There's just been so much work; it's easy to get all the things mixed up."

"Yes, then. Though recovering and gaining support will still be your essential task." The actual job itself were in other hands. She fiddled with her cup for a moment. "Though, in addition, if I might ask a favor. I know you are busy, but I have been attempting to expand my House's influence. Namely, restoring it and opening trade routes again."

"And something's gone terribly wrong because Orlesians."

"Yes, because Orlesians," Josephine said. "The courtiers carrying the documents were killed and the documents lost. There is a comte who knows the details of what happened but is only willing to meet with me as long as you are there as well."

She knew, of course, that Adaar would say yes. She'd known before she asked, before this meeting, at the time she received the letter itself.

"Of course," Adaar said.

As always. As easy as when this first began, even if then it was more out of lack of agency on his own behalf than on his own willingness.

Still, there was no hesitance, and their talk had been too light. “How have you been holding up?”

“Nothing would get done if I dwelled on my emotions, so I’m not doing that,” Adaar said. “Talk me through the party instead. When exactly is the art master going to show up? Just so I know how to schedule my time.”

Josephine sighed inwardly, but if Adaar didn’t want to talk, then Josephine was not going to push.

 

“So. Horsemaster Dennet,” Adaar said, sidling in next to him with that look on his face that always meant he had found some bizarre new mount that he expected Dennet to just already know how to deal with.

“What is it Inquisitor?” he asked wearily.

“Yeah. So. We are getting some nuggalopes in a few days.”

“…what? Nuggalopes?”

“Yes. Nuggalopes. Apparently they are a real animal that really exists. Why is a mystery that shouldn’t even exist in the first place. Anyway, they are coming in, so I thought I would just let you know.”

Dennet stared at him. “…what do they even eat?”

Adaar made an exasperated noise. “Why would I know? You’re the horsemaster. That’s your job.”

“See Inquisitor, the important part of that title is horsemaster. Nuggalopes are not horses. They are an entirely different kind of creature.”

“Look, if you can secretly fawn all over the bog unicorn, then I’m pretty sure you can deal with a few nuggalopes. Besides. You love the challenge. I know you do.”

Maybe Dennet did love the challenge, but being exasperated about new mounts was part of his routine, and he didn’t appreciate the Inquisitor tromping all over it.

 

“Yeah I can look into this Venatori business,” Adaar said. “Just add it into my things to do in Val Royeaux. Ugh. That’s going to be a busy week.”

“Hopefully things with Josie will work out,” Leliana said worriedly. She’d wanted so badly to look in further, but there was only so much time, so many resources, and the Inquisition was stretched thin enough already.

“And with researching Calpernia, and hoping we don’t fuck up with the gala, and the constant hyperfocus of others on our ‘respectability’.” Adaar began to fiddle with a cup on Leliana’s desk. “I still can’t see why we have to focus on Orlais so much. Nevarra’d be a far better ally, and they’ve got troops not currently slaughtering each other off, and they hate Tevinter. Meanwhile, Orlais is a cesspool.”

Yes but it was her cesspool. “Because Corypheus has forces in motion to seize Orlais the moment chaos falls, though what forces we are still trying to figure out,” Leliana said. “And while Orlais is not likely to ally with us, the last thing we want to do is fight Orlais as well as the Venatori.”

Adaar groaned. “Fucking logic.”

“We have also already committed this far, and I’m curious to see if we can actually pull this off.”

Adaar’s eyes narrowed. “That is also a good point. It’d certainly be the con of the age, right?”

And would only succeed now through many applications of alliances, blackmail, assassinations, fake assassination attempts, and all kinds of treacherous backstabbing. But she had long before this come to the realization that sometimes, the most terrible things had to be done in order to ensure victory. It gave her no pleasure, sat sour in her stomach, but she had ironed herself to where most things didn’t ruffle a single feather, and had moved on. As a bard in Orlais, fighting with Surana in the Blight, as the Divine’s Left Hand, and then now.

Nothing would matter if Corypheus plunged the world into darkness. After, perhaps, she could deal with a moral crisis with some of the darker things she had done and was currently doing. Now, however, was not the time.

“It certainly would be.”

 

"I'm not even a member of your 'Inner Circle'," Briala said.

"That doesn't mean you aren't an essential part of our operations,” Adaar said We both have a lot banking on this 'Leclair' business, and it's good to catch up and see how things are doing. And how you personally are doing."

"Your reputability has taken a hit," Briala said. “That’s not helping.”

But she wasn’t judging. Adaar had strange arcane knowledge at his disposal; the mask proved as much. Briala secretly had an entire eluvian system. She felt that trumped his illusion mask.

He paused for a moment. "I'm still sorry we had to do this disguising you as a human."

"There are no perfect solutions," Briala said. It was an unfortunate, harsh and bitter truth, but as things were, this was simply how it had to be. She had worked on her people’s behalf from next to Empress herself which had failed miserably. It was time to explore other options. Revolution had been one, but the idea of ruling herself...

At the very least, if she won, Halamshiral would be ruled by an elf once more. Secretly, but that idea filled her with giddiness.

"If this is what it takes to enact widespread reform, then so be it. One day, maybe not soon, but one day there will be openly be an elf on the throne."

“One day,” Adaar repeated, something flickering in his eyes. Personal feelings? Curious. "Anyway, if this all backfires and plunges Orlais into widespread chaos, well then. It might be easier to rebuild from the ground up."

Briala gave Adaar a sour look. "It's my country. And it’s currently in widespread chaos, and the ones being hurt most are certainly not the nobles responsible.”

“Unfortunately true,” Adaar said sadly.

 

He’d been supportive to Sera. He said even the best plans could go south at any moment. He’d shown up that nob and did political shit and now he had to serve the Inquisition. And Adaar said it wasn’t really her fault, and he was happy to continue to work with the Jennies, and she shouldn’t beat herself up too hard.

Sera wasn’t used to getting support. She was used to yelling. She’d been pretty certain there was going to be yelling because things went wrong, and that’s what happened when things went wrong. People yelled at her. Except none of that happened, and now she felt all weird.

And he was too weird. And magicky. And probably frolicked with demons. Too many demons everywhere now. Cole was bad enough, but it left her alone when they were both in Skyhold. So. If they just stayed all over there in their own spots, and she didn’t have to be near any of them…

Adaar was all ‘blah blah demon rights’, and no? But he was also wallowing through mud to fight some hill-people over there for some little no-one soldiers, and then wallowing through more mud to clear out wolves for farmers, and then wallowing through even more mud because elfy elves said so.

There was significantly more mud than Sera would ever have liked, and Adaar agreed with on this.

Ugh, why did Adaar also have to be nice? It made everything complicated and knots everywhere. Well she’d show him! She could do the support thing too, just he wait. But not demons. Never demons, but something else.

And something else was waiting sneaky-like in the middle of a hallway during his rounds. She jumped out of the rafters in front of him with a loud thud, and Adaar just looked at her. He wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t ever surprised, and it just wasn’t fair. She’d get him one day, him and Vivvy.

“Cancel your plans, we got things to do,” she said.

Adaar frowned. “Look I have to-”

“Nope. Not going, other stuff now,” she said, and dragged him off by the one arm, him making half-hearted protests the entire way.

She dragged him to a balcony, cuz he liked balconies. And that was half the problem here.

“What are we doing exactly?” Adaar asked.

“Free time,” Sera said.

Adaar gave her a blank look. See? Concerning.

“Hobbies! Something other than lessons and inquisiting and frocking too and fro. What do you like to do?” Wait, ground rules. “Other than creepy shite. I ain’t watching nothing like that.”

Adaar gave her a blank expression. “Uh…”

Sera poked him gently. “This shouldn’t be a stumper. What do you like to do? Other than demons and pies and boning Dorian.”

Adaar’s face flushed. “We haven’t boned!”

Sera frowned. “What. You embarrassed of him? That don’t make sense. You flaunt him all the time.”

“No! I just-” Adaar took a breath. “It doesn’t feel like the right time. We haven’t even had a long whirlwind romance yet. I haven’t wooed him proper.”

“Ugh. You two are all weird. You can bone and woo at the same time.”

This wasn’t helping though. “There has to be something. Everyone likes something. Cooking? Stabby-sewing? Books?”

Sera liked books, but all book requests went through Dorian now because of that demon.

Adaar made an expression. “Ugh, no, not books.”

“What’s wrong with books?” she asked defensively.

Adaar rolled his eyes. “They are just… flat. There’s no interaction. You can’t yell at the story, or be the story, or interact with it in any way. It’s just unsatisfying.”

Sera folded her arms. “Yeah, but I thought you-”

And then, the idea came to her. “Hold that thought,” she said, and then yanked him off in a new direction.

“It’s time,” Sera said, throwing the door open. Cassandra’d been sleeping. Lame. She weren’t sleeping now though, yelled as she rolled to her feet.

“Wh- Inquisitor?” she asked, suddenly looking over to Adaar. Dorian stood just behind with a very confused expression.

Cassandra shook her head in an attempt to clear it. “Time for what?”

Sera snorted. “You know,” she said, and yanked Cassandra by her arm out of the room.

There were many secret nooks and crannies in Skyhold. This one was helped be more secret, favor from Dagna. The room held a table, four chairs, and a single guttering lantern.

Sera leaned forward towards the other three, sitting hesitantly in their own chairs. “Okay. Look. I know. I’ve seen it in your eyes. No one wants to admit it. That’s okay. It’s weird. We all know it’s weird considering, and nobody can ever know. Nobody.” She paused for a beat. Dramatics. “But we are bound together in this now. Sworn in. Anyone breaks this… don’t think I need to elaborate, yeah? This is of the upmost secrecies. Only hidden locations, only with no people. And snitches get stitches, and you don’t wanna know where these stitches will go.”

Dorian began to protest, but Sera just stared him down. “I know, Dorian. Don’t think you can hide this from me. I can see it in all your eyes, already been over this.”

No one talked, so Sera took the initiative. She pulled out the book from her bag and thunked it down on the table dramatically. Dorian immediately hid his face with his hands. Cassandra blushed into a tomato, and Adaar began to slowly sink under the table.

“We don’t have to go over the romance jousting bits,” Sera said, making Cassandra let out a single sob of sheer embarrassment. “But you can’t hide it, not from me. Despite everything, the great historical inaccuracies, the terrible descriptions, the completely nonsensical fights, you’re still fans. You’ve been thinking about it, about the book you read, about the people in front of you.”

Sera looked between the three. “My favorite subplot was that Orlesian party heist.”

“But they’re here,” Dorian whined in a pained voice. “I can’t. It’s too awkward with them here. It wasn’t weird when I didn’t personally know them.”

“From what I’ve gathered,” Adaar said in a voice that really tried its best to be smooth, “there are only passing similarities with what actually happened. So the characters in the book are fairly divorced from the people in the world.”

“I… can attest to that,” Cassandra said. “Having recently interrogated Varric for all inaccuracies. It… took a while.”

Adaar shrugged, but he didn’t seem bored. Perking up a bit even. See? Yelling at books. “I, uh, I think I got a bootlegged copy or something, because the one I read didn’t exactly match up with the main one out in circulation?”

Dorian looked over at him. “You too?”

“Bootlegged versions? What do you mean?” Cassandra asked.

“Well in mine,” Dorian said. “‘Tad Cooper’ wasn’t a mabari but instead a dragonling Hawke had found and insisted on raising.” He paused for a second. “Most of it matches up, but there seemed to be considerable edits.”

Sera laughed. “Sounds like Hawke did it.”

Cassandra leaned forward. “You have a copy the Champion personally edited?”

“Uh-”

“Where?”

“I don’t have it upon my person,” Dorian said. “It’s back in Tevinter.”

Cassandra made a noise of pure anguish.

 

Look. The Inquisitor may have been a kossith mage with a glowing green arm who recruited demons, but Harding could relate to one thing.

“All I’m saying is that sheep are dumb as fuck,” Adaar said over a plate of diced potatoes in the back end of the tavern. They were supposed to be talking about her recent trip to the Emerald Graves, but they had gotten sidetracked. “Yeah, wool’s great for your dumb cold climates, but surely a better animal could be designed.”

“That’s what dogs are for. To help herd the sheep,” Harding said. Because Maker knows sheep needed all the help they could get. She leaned forward, propping her chin against her arm. “What kind of livestock did your farm keep?”

“I am not a farmer and never have been, and anyone who says otherwise is spreading all sorts of gossip,” Adaar said, gesturing with a fork.

Harding snorted. “Okay fine. What animals have you theoretically been raised around?”

Adaar said nothing.

“I’m not going to tell Varric.”

“Ears. Prying ears everywhere,” Adaar said. “Also, if there were any animals, which there weren’t, I wouldn’t have spent a lot of time around them. Even before the mark, animals didn’t much care for me.”

“So farming then?”

Adaar glanced at her, and he did that thing where you would swear he saw into the very depths of your soul. Not in a terrifying way like the spymaster, the One Who Knew All, but still in a disconcerting way.

She almost had him. Come on. “I swear I won’t tell anyone.”

“At some point in my life, I may have tended a garden,” Adaar said. “Upon which, aside from aesthetic design choices, there were a number of fruit-type foodstuffs that could be found.”

“Do you ever miss it? Home?” Harding asked.

“I thought you liked being a scout,” Adaar said.

“Absolutely. I love seeing new and fascinating places!” Harding said happily. “I’ve never traveled so much in my entire life. But still. A good home to return to where you know that squeaky floorboard and that goat that knocked his head too hard and now walks funny. And then just those five random trees out in the middle of the field that would seem like a good picnic spot, but the area is a breeding ground for fire ants.”

“Yeah,” Adaar said with a hint of longing. “I do miss home sometimes. But home doesn’t have all these interesting people milling about, so that’s something.”

“Or fascinating ruins.” Harding paused. “That I know of. That’d be something.”

“Maybe Avvar ruins. Some old shrine to Imhar the Clever.”

Harding frowned, brow lowering. “How do you know about Imhar? Isn’t he some obscure Avvar god?”

“Oh look at the sun I have a meeting and must leave immediately.” Adaar then immediately climbed out a window.

 

“Hopefully you realize you have the worst taste in hiring people,” Fenris said. “And stand.”

Adaar made a noise of disagreement.

“An altus when we are fighting Tevinter. A loyalist mage when you are a blatant apostate and loathe the Chantry. A literal Ben-Hassrath spy when you are Vashoth and loathe the Qun. A Jenny when you are the powerful organization overstepping all rules and bounds.” Fenris raised an eyebrow.

Adaar sighed. “Yeah I can’t exactly argue with you there.” He tapped his fingers against the table. “Somewhat related, you seemed to already know a bunch of shit about Dorian, or at least some shit about Dorian, back in the Exalted Plains. How or why do you know these things since you haven’t been in Tevinter for over a decade. Just seems weird.”

Nineteen versus eighteen. Adaar shoved the small pile of coins his way.

“If you are asking if we have previously met, then the answer is no,” Fenris said flatly. “Nor was he important in any particular manner other than he was an altus from a house that hadn’t long-since destroyed itself from existence. Thus House Pavus was a potential rival for Danarius, no different than the many other potential rivals of Danarius, all of which I kept track of.”

Fenris still unfortunately knew the names of all of the magisters from the year he left, which ones were in ascendence or lowing to disgrace, and all of the underworkings between them.

He wasn’t exactly thrilled that he still remembered all of these details over a decade later. He was rather sore about it actually.

“Ah, right yeah,” Adaar said. “That was a stupid question. Bodyguard, so of course you’d keep up on every last gossip and power move and alliance and whatnot. Overhearing all the possible scandal and weaknesses in order to know when to best strike against them. Huge chunk of the job right there.”

“...yes.” That was indeed how that worked.

But the way Adaar said it...

“Okay so I will definitely concede on all those hires being possibly poor decisions, but what about Hawke?” Adaar asked, flipping a card, and changing the subject. “I hired him too. And you.”

“Hawke is included in this list.”

“He’s a great mage,” Adaar said. “Wonderful backup. And aren’t you supposed to be on his side?”

“Just because we are married does not mean I am not distinctly aware of his faults.”

“Is it a respectability thing? He’s charming! Nobles love him and throw money our way. Okay, yes, he doesn’t seem to take things seriously, and he did do that strip-tease...”

Fenris looked up. “Oh, so he did do one recently? That’s good. I was starting to worry.”

Adaar blinked. “Beg pardon? Is there some significance to his strip-teases? Should I be looking more into his portrayal of ‘Sexy Orlesian Cullen’?”

“No,” Fenris said before stopping in a frown. “Wait.”

“I’d try to tell you it was tasteful, but it really wasn’t. Hilarious though. Really brightened my day.”

“Orlesian Cullen,” Fenris said slowly. “A Chantry brother. Seneschal Bran. An Orlesian noble. A Chantry mother.

Aveline had to bail him out of jail for that that one.

“Does Hawke only strip-tease parodying people or things he hates?” Adaar asked curiously.

“Possibly?”

They sat in silence for a moment considering it.

“I’ll have to ask him,” Fenris finally said.

“So if it’s not strip-teasing, then why would you say he’s a bad hire? Or is this really more of a ‘please stop taking him out on missions’ protective thing?”

Once Fenris would have liked a Hawke who didn’t constantly draw attention to himself. Then the group had such a Hawke for months on end. Fenris found he far preferred this one.

That hadn’t stopped him from being sick with worry and rage and hurt when Hawke had disappeared. They had had a very long talk after about trust and Hawke’s tendencies of throwing himself in any possible sign of danger, especially a Chantry-led organization, regardless of Varric’s vouching. Though at least the Inquisition held no more ties to the Chantry, only a small relief at best.

Hawke would get himself killed one of these days. All Fenris could do was try to prevent that as long as possible but without trying to stop Hawke from flying where he pleased. And plucking feathers out of larger birds in order to irritate them. And generally making an entertaining, hilarious ass out of himself.

“You read the book,” Fenris stated dryly.

“What? What book? Oh that book? Ahahaha of course not,” Adaar laughed awkwardly. And then after a beat, “yeah okay so maybe I did, but who hasn’t read it? I’m pretty sure almost everyone here has.”

“Fantastic,” Fenris said dryly. “Your strategy is a good one. Don’t let Varric know any of your personal information.”

He was unfortunately getting used to it. At least Varric twisted and edited things in order to make a ‘better story’. Thankfully, he also left out some more private and sensitive information.

“Hey, twenty!” Adaar said. “Give me money.” And the same pile of coins were pushed back.

 

Adaar did seem to care, foolishly misguided as he was.

Vivienne watched the Templars. They were a necessity in order to soothe things, though they ran unchecked for too long. There would need to be corrections, overhauls, and they would never find their way into her fingers if she voiced any of these things. So of course she didn’t. She was, after all, the model loyalist mage, a reputation hard worked for, and one mostly true.

If such a reputation suited her own ends, well.

So she watched as Adaar tempted to juggle demons and Templars alike. It was a catastrophe in the making, and it would be easy to claim that Adaar simply didn’t think in long-term goals.

“So, masks,” Adaar said. “It implies we are matching them at the Game and should be respected as much as any Great House. It’d help some of the more inexperienced conceal their emotions. Help, because vocal emotional cues, you know? It’d also present a unified front with allowing specific detailed tailoring for each individual in a more diverse fashion, a very slight reminder that we’ve got more allies than they do.”

“On the other hand,” Adaar continued, “no masks, which is a blatant and bold power move that we are above the Game and are there as our own authority. There would have to be less distinct tailoring for the group, but I mean, of fucking course all uniforms would be utterly form-fitting. It’s a lot harder to steal and disguise yourself as Inquisition if you don’t fit right in the uniform.”

“Of course.”

“But you are the expert here, longest player of the Game, so I’d appreciate your input on our ultimate direction.”

Vivienne raised an eyebrow. “And you can’t be overthinking this?”

Adaar gave a betrayed look. “Is this some kind of test? Because there is no such thing as overthinking fashion in Orlais.”

“I apologize, darling,” Vivienne said smoothly. It was a common enough affectionate nickname, and in no way was it a play on his name. Vivienne was, of course, above such things.

She thought carefully about his question. It was a good one, and the entire situation required the utmost delicacy. The Game was more than etiquette and feuds. It could destroy a House or an organization or a movement with a single misstep, and rivals would dedicate themselves to destroying everything the other held dear. She doubted anything Josephine or Leliana could do would fully prepare him for Halamshiral. And that was the crux of it. He simply had not been raised, branded, and consumed by the Game. Even if he could get every step right, the majority would never see him as an equal.

For many reasons.

“No masks,” she said. “Play by their rules as much as possible, don’t get a single step wrong, but the Inquisition is greater than Orlais, and we must present as such.”

“Gotcha,” Adaar said. “And again, I appreciate your input here. The entire goal is to win.”

Busy, busy Adaar, running to and fro far more than usual, not slowing down to contemplate or think, drowning himself in work. Vivienne would know nothing of that either, and all her alchemical formulas and compounds were stored in secret places. She was so close she could taste it.

Vivienne politely bid Adaar goodbye and watched him head to the War Room, something he never would have done of his own unprompted decisions before all this.

Adaar could have known Trevelyan at best for a year, since the Ostwick incident only happened a year before the Conclave. They certainly didn’t meet in the Circle because Adaar was kossith, and kossith were not taken in. Yet another thing on a very long list.

There simply wasn’t enough time to build up that strong of an emotional reaction, though Vivienne could still be wrong. This still didn’t stop her from researching to see if an enthrallment could last post-death of the blood mage, and oh Trevelyan had been a strong one, hadn’t he?

 

"It's all set up now," Adaar said.

Even if he smelled wrong, Adaar had promised his loyalty to Hawke, which Tad Cooper felt was very important. His human was terrible at looking out for himself. He had attempted to communicate this to Hawke in the past, but Hawke didn't listen very well.

"That was fast," Tad Cooper said. His nose scrunched up in suspicion. "You did do a proper job, right?"

"Ugh." Adaar waved a hand. "Of course I did. I worked it out with Leliana and Josephine. You'll have intermediary brokers for all your purchasing needs. The bank accounts are all trustworthy and accepted in all of the Southern countries. Everywhere the Andrastian Chantry touches. You can of course pick your own intermediary, if you don't want one of the designated ones."

It was a secondary design to the banking system, brokers for those who didn't have traditional grappling limbs for all wanted purchases, or those people wouldn't sell to.

Unfortunately, Tad Cooper was among that group even if proper Fereldens knew that all mabari were trustworthy.

He hruffed. "I will stick with a designated aid."

Adaar tilted his head. "Not Hawke?"

Tad Cooper's ears lowered. "He is my human, you understand. He is perfect and everything wonderful in this world, but I do not want him questioning my purchases."

"Don't want him questioning the sheer amount of kaddis you are planning to buy?"

"I like going out in different colors. Hawke does all the time, and I see no reason why I cannot as well." He sniffed. "On another topic, I would like to extort high quality dog chews from gullible Ferelden soldiers. Which ones are the most susceptible to puppy eyes?"

Adaar just gave him a look.

Tad Cooper's hackles raised. "I do not think you are one to judge here."

"Yeah, but you want me to get in on your schemes. I am going to be an accomplice in such things. I have to consider morality from my side, you know."

Tad Cooper looked unimpressed. "As if."

Adaar waved a hand. "Okay, fine, seriously. You are insatiable, you know that? There's a small group that just came back from patrol in Orlais who are currently in the cafeteria. You can use your mabari charms all over them."

He whumped his tail happily. "I give you my appreciations, demon. I am off to go manipulate the populaces."

 

"There's an actual Bianca?" Hawke had asked, horribly betrayed, and Fenris' expression had only mirrored his. Even the mabari looked wounded.

Varric couldn’t quite blame them. This was the sort of thing you usually mentioned to your adopted family.

And then things quickly went to shit because nothing works out well in life. Bianca had always been too curious for her own good, and some mistakes you just couldn’t come back from.

And dammit, it'd be easier if Varric didn't still love her. If either of them could just move on and not stay mired in a hopeless relationship. It was something hard to explain to others, especially Adaar as they trudged away afterward, heading to Redcliffe for the evening.

"But if you two love each other, then just fuck the rules. Be together! Shitty ass decisions aside," Adaar said fervently.

Ah youthful idealism. "Sometimes, it doesn't matter what you want," Varric said. "Things just don't work out."

"But you both love each other!"

"Yeah, but arranged marriages,” Varric said. “Those complicate things as well as restraining orders. Wrath of terrifyingly strong great houses. Assassins."

It wasn't a happy thought. He would rather have the fantasy world where they were together. But sometimes, fantasies just remained fantasies. And after many long years, it was an arrangement they had gotten sadly used to.

Varric patted Adaar's lower back, managing to just miss his butt. "I appreciate your support since she did just make terrible life decisions and inadvertently helped Corypheus fuck over the entire world."

But eh. Nobody was perfect.

"That has nothing to do with this!" Adaar said. “You are both being fucking idiots about this.”

It turned out to be a long argument that nobody won, but Varric got the distinct impression that he had mortally offended Adaar on the deepest, most personal level. It was good at least to see Adaar passionate about things again at least. Everything with Trevelyan had gone to shit, and that was only part of the problem, wasn’t it.

Once, a dagger was worth eight silvers. A war axe was only six while a bow was seventeen. For a quarter of a dagger, a discerning individual could teach a guy how to make a nasty toxin or a basic bomb in Kirkwall.

Twelve deathroots, or twelve mabari crunches, could get someone a map of Ferelden, a wonderfully detailed map which took ages to make. Paintings ran a bit higher than a map but less than a basic health potion or first aid kit, both of which were worth only twice the price of a deathroot. Ale was two coppers, wine eighteen, while elfroot was fifty-five. A weed someone could just yank out of the ground almost every place in Ferelden was worth more than alcohol.

Fourteen sovereigns would get someone a manual of detailed bardic secrets, the ins-and-outs, all the essential core details to get someone started into bardhood. Three manuals could buy someone a place on an expedition to the Deep Roads.

A flask was a silver. Eight flasks for a dagger, thirteen for a good gold ring. Fourteen gold rings to get a poison to melt the flesh from a person's bones, but nowhere near enough to get a single serving of Antivan brandy. Eighteen rings for basic apostate robes while Circle mage robes only cost five.

Ten elfroots to get briefly touched at a brothel. Seven beautiful paintings for standard service, and one dingy apostate robe for premium service. Ten elfroots were worth the price of a decent set of armor, while demonic ichor, presumably hard to get, was worth half that price.

A backpack could run anywhere from sixty silvers to twenty-two sovereigns in Ferelden, seven times the worth of the average diamond, while relic armors and weapons could run over a hundred, piece by piece, while in Kirkwall such only went up to thirty, probably due to the high death rate.

This was once. Now everything was sovereigns. A basic grip alone cost what used to be ten really nice nights at the Blooming Rose, relic armors were worth at least a hundred times what they used to. Two hundred sovereigns for your basic cheap horse, two horses for a bed, half a horse for an axe. Twenty sovereigns for elfroot now, for a weed found everywhere, and only twice that for rare quillback leather.

Varric didn't even know how much books cost anymore since the last book merchant he found was only selling armor and weapon schematics, and that fourteen silver gold ring was now worth over a thousand sovereigns, which was to be fair only twenty-five deathroots.

The longshot of this was that Varric no longer had any idea how currency worked, and he was in the Merchant's Guild.

"So Adaar, I've been busy," Varric said, fiddling with his cards, "but how much are we getting paid again?"

"A stipend."

"I know, but how much?"

"Not as nearly as high as standard wages," Adaar said, "but then food, lodging, and field kits are all provided for. So your basic military or Warden-type stipend."

"Okay, but-"

Tad Cooper made a series of barks that probably meant something along the lines of 'stop talking and bid already'.

It had already been a chaotic night of Wicked Grace and bad alcohol decisions. Hawke had insisted Adaar stick his Fade hand into Fenris just so he knew what it felt like, and it wasn’t funny to be woken up at unholy hours in the morning by that sensation, Fenris.

Sera had attempted to bet a weird ‘squiggle dagger’, drank all of Hawke’s alcohol, and then had been quickly been lost under the table for some reason. Cole apparently divined information from people ages away by looking at cards, and Josephine and Adaar had teamed up to hustle people for every coin they had. It was a hard fight between them and the mabari, but they were currently winning, and everyone else was just struggling to get by.

Varric slid a silver into the pile of coins, hoping to glean some knowledge from it and failing.

“I’m out of coin,” Hawke said mournfully. Tad Cooper had won the last from him earlier.

“I just bet three oddly-colored rocks,” the Iron Bull said. “Just think of something.”

Hawke tapped his fingers against the table before a moment before casually reaching into his armor and then tossing a folded piece of paper.

Varric sighed, not even needing to look at the contents to know what it was. “Hawke, for the last time, you can’t bet the Bone Pit. That’s a gamble no one is going to take.”

“Please?” Hawke asked desperately. “Somebody please take this. Nobody’ll buy the deed from me. I’m cursed.

After a long silence, Adaar held up a coin. “I’ll give you a silver for it.”

“No!” Varric, Fenris, Cassandra, and Josephine all said at once.

“Don’t do this,” Fenris said, looking over at Adaar. “You will regret it until your dying day. Don’t take pity on him for his own poor decisions.”

“Do you even know what the Bone Pit is?” Varric asked. “Look, just trust me. Let Hawke suffer. Save yourself while you still can.”

Tad Cooper barked his own troubled agreement.

“Oh come on,” Hawke said. “You are all traitors.”

“We are just looking out for Adaar,” Varric said. “He deserves better than the Bone Pit.”

“Actually I might go with this,” Adaar said slowly. “No yeah okay, I’ll buy the Bone Pit for a silver. I’ll do all the official fancy paperwork tomorrow.”

Hawke threw the paper at him, which of course was a failed attempt since papers weren’t well known for their throwing capabilities. Adaar plucked it off the table and slid it next to his cards.

“Whatever are you going to do with a Bone Pit?” Blackwall asked worriedly.

Adaar fiddled with the paper, eyes disturbingly thoughtful. “I’ll think of something.”

 

There were a lot of spirits and demons starting to show up these days. Couldn’t throw a dead cat without hitting one or the other, and more likely than not, the dead cat would also be a spirit or demon.

Blackwall stuck to the stables. Not many went lurking about there. Most of them would spook the horses which tended to spook them. He carved, something to keep his hands busy and his thoughts quiet. Time passed, and of course before long someone was at the door.

Poor Adaar had been through a lot lately, losing an arm and a friend, and who knows what would come of the ‘solution’ Solas had offered?

“Ah Inquisitor,” Blackwall said. “What brings you here?”

“A few things,” Adaar said. “We are heading out soon to Val Royeaux. Got some business shit to do there, but there’s also going to be a gala with free food and drinks and little cakes. Josephine and I have a scheme to win some unlikely support.”

“Josephine’s a crafty woman,” Blackwall said fondly. And far above him. “Are you asking me to come along?”

“Well, you and everyone else. But if you mean you and Solas and Varric, yeah. You guys seemed to have come down from the red lyrium thing, and pending complete apocalypse, there shouldn’t be any red lyrium in Val Royeaux anyway.”

“Fingers crossed,” Blackwall said brightly. He’d rather not approach red lyrium again. Having finally, truly come down from the effects, he was shaken to the core that he had been that easily manipulated, his thoughts and intents warped so easily.

A whickering came from a nearby stable. They both peeked out and noticed Cole, gently stroking a horse and talking soothingly to it.

“I swear if it was just him alone with a bear, that bear wouldn’t even think about attacking him,” Adaar said with a strange sour note in his tone. Jealousy, perhaps.

“He’s a weird one,” Blackwall said.

Adaar’s face stiffened slightly, barely noticeable.

“I’ve, ah, had some time on my hands these past few months to think about things,” Blackwall said, looking back at Cole. You’d honestly think he was human. It unnerved him, but all Cole was doing was comforting a horse of all things. “I've been too hard on Cole. He's odd enough and confounding, but there may be some good in him after all. The least I can do is support him while he sorts himself out.”

He paused for a moment, hands still holding wood and knife. “I can’t say I’m comfortable with the growing number of demons, but Cole seems alright.”

“One down I guess,” Adaar said.

“…why demons?” Blackwall asked. Adaar looked sour, but Blackwall pressed on. “It’s destroyed what little we could have had with the Chantry and is alienating others. I’m not- alright, I’m judging a little to be honest, but why?”

“Why not?” Adaar asked. “Demons and spirits hate Tevinter, and almost no one will work with them, and those that do are usually planning on stabbing them in the back. And nobody plans for demons. Real demons, not those twisted broken shells that fall out of Rifts. Fancy that, when approached honestly, Fadefolk aren’t nearly as mwaha evil as mortals would like them to believe. Rivain’s worked with them for centuries, and you don’t have crazy twisted abominations running about willy-nilly. Treat people like people, and then you’ve got people.”

He almost sounded like Sera for a moment, except for the fact that the topic was demons. Oddly enough, they were his version of ‘the little people’, weren’t they?

“You want to give them a chance,” Blackwall said slowly.

“Fuck chances, I want to rub it in the world’s face when it works,” Adaar said. “And again, Josephine and I have got plans. And for those that we do lose, are turning our attentions to also courting Nevarra as a main ally. It’s pretty close, and they aren’t that put out about things.”

“I can’t disrespect that,” Blackwall said.

Adaar looked confused. “So you… are okay with things?”

“No,” Blackwall said. “But that’s on me, and I might need more time to think about things. I’ve never seen, well, good behavior from demons, but then I haven’t met many mages, and I firmly believe they should have their chance. Cole just seems to want to do good, so I suppose it makes sense there might be other spirits and perhaps demons who feel the same.”

And if a demon could do good and then become good, then surely there the smallest chance for Blackwall yet.

He frowned, brow scrunched up as he thought. “I might be wrong, but the Wardens take in a number of interesting folk over the years. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure there has been more than one Warden who might not have been as much as mortal as the outside world was led to believe. There might have been a possessed corpse of a Warden several years back that the Hero of Ferelden recruited. Not sure what happened to that one though.”

Adaar didn’t say anything, just stared at him.

“Again Inquisitor, this is on me,” Blackwall said awkwardly. “I’m not comfortable with it, but I’ll try to work things out.”

Adaar looked a complete loss for words. He fidgeted for a moment before saying, “I- appreciate your support, Blackwall.”

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

The last few weeks had been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he’d been busy enough that he had been able to just not think about things. That had been nice. And he’d honestly had a few good times. But it was exhausting to maintain the illusion of pleasantries when engaged in constant paranoia. He was still little closer to finding out which fucker bound him except for being able to cross Sera and Blackwall off the list, finally being able to get 100% confirmation proof that they had no idea he was a demon rattling around inside their skulls.

And then there was Trevelyan.

Adaar simply did not have enough self to contain every single emotion running about right now. Adaar ended up researching, just, you know, just researching in general how long it would take in mortal time for someone to get over a dead person. And then when that proved depressing even further, tips on how to make this process faster, as well as general tips on ‘I am stuck in a miserable hellhole and am attempting to distract myself from my crushing despair.’

‘Try to find a good support network.’

Well, thanks, but he couldn’t trust most of his ‘support network’.

‘Attempt funeral rites, as those can help move on-’ they didn’t even have a body. And the area where he had died was currently covered in about a dozen feet of snow.

Try contacting his family? Definitely not in that case, because if Adaar met Trevelyan’s family, he was likely to throw morals aside and just eat them.

Instead of these things, Adaar decided to just continue to immerse himself in work, continue to stay busy. The problem with that was they were about to set out to Orlais, and traveling didn’t evolve a lot of busy work. There wasn’t much going on, and that left time to actually think and process things, his two worst enemies at this point.

Maybe he could just use the time to go over again every person, everything he knew, and then ways he could try to bring up ‘Adaar binding’ thoughts in people’s brains in a way that coincided with Desire.

Adaar was also lugging a few heavy books on law. He figured he should know at least some of the basics if he had to judge people, and it was something to do during the night. So far he didn’t have any spirits or demons that were familiar with every scrap of law, and he couldn’t just glean the information the old-fashioned way through law books because people normally didn’t get super excited reading these things, just existential dread.

He packed things for the trip as well as his stay there. Unfortunately he couldn’t get away with conjuring whatever wardrobe he needed since people got suspicious about that if he didn’t bring along spare sets of clothes.

This meant he had to get clothes on his body the old-fashioned way, and that was difficult lately.

He won the fight with the pants as well as the boots. Jewelry? Sure. But the vest proved a lot more difficult because this one for cold area climates had actual strings and straps. That was difficult to do with one flesh arm. It did not take long for him to decide to just fuck it. Nobody else was in the room. Nobody else was even remotely nearby.

Normally, he used tendrils to search, expand beyond his own perceptions, occasionally yank his coworkers away from murdering him over some red lyrium. Basic shit. He could use them as they were to manipulate the world, but it was a bit harder when they were in that nebulous state.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t physically manifest them, just like a manifested actor.

Tendrils were easy to manifest. No bones. No attempting to figure out strange internal fleshy organs. Simple as falling, and he was dressed within moments.

Adaar was big on symmetry. He still was, but Adaar was very much not symmetrical right now. It shouldn’t have been a big thing considering everything else that was going on. It really shouldn’t have, but it stung regardless. He had to look flawless and put-together, two things that Adaar had never once been in his entire life.

So it was asymmetry time, trying to compliment and balance color and weight and accessories. He spent time doing minor adjustments and tweaks until he felt everything was appropriate for someone of his unfortunate social status. Then he picked up his bags and headed outside.

It was the crisp hour of the morning, made less crisp by Adaar vigorously cheating on how much environmental effects applied to him, and made his way to the stables. He liked to go early so he could enthrall his mount in secret to stop trying to buck him off and trample him to death.

Fucking animals. Though Adaar did have some small twinges of guilt. He wasn’t the best, and the mounts constantly fought against him. As best as Dennet could figure, two of them had already suffered some brain injury or other. Adaar would maybe have more twinges of guilt if the mounts didn’t continue to try to kill him.

The Iron Bull was already there. Adaar hesitated, but nah he already knew Adaar had to do that to even touch an animal without it trying to kill him.

The Iron Bull glanced over as he approached and blinked. “You’re looking pretty good today boss.”

“Thanks.” At least that was a success.

The Iron Bull was holding a folded piece of strange paper and didn’t seem… enthused.

“I’m guessing there’s a problem,” Adaar said. There was always a problem. He had more than enough problems, and yet sadistic life continued to chuck more his way.

“Uhhh. Depends on how you classify problem,” the Iron Bull said slowly. “To some, it wouldn’t be a problem at all.”

Adaar gave him a slight, encouraging nod to continue talking.

“Well. We’ve been more successful than probably anyone thought we could be.”

“Our own selves included.”

“Yeah actually. Well, the point is, success, and somehow Leliana turned out to be an old friend of the Arishok. I swear she knows everyone.”

“She didn’t know you,” Adaar said contrarily.

The Iron Bull didn’t say anything in return, just stayed with that closed-off expression.

“So,” Adaar said slowly. “So what does the Qun want. We’ve got demons. They aren’t a fan.”

The Iron Bull half-shrugged. “They aren’t the biggest fan of mages either, think they are barely a step up from demons. Apparently there was a debate trying to decide who was worse: the Inquisition or the Venatori. But old friendships and centuries-long grudges won out. So. They are tentatively offering an alliance, pending a mission to see how you do.”

Adaar snorted a laugh.

“I’m serious.”

Mortals. Mortals! He tried to stifle his next laugh but failed spectacularly and then continued to fail.

It wasn’t funny for the Iron Bull though. Adaar gestured at the paper. “What, you think this is serious? Not some devious trap?”

“Normally, yeah,” he said flatly. “But not in this case. Apparently the situation is bad enough they are willing to team up with the enemy and whatnot.”

No, something else. “You seem reluctant.”

“The offer’s genuine. It’s just… been a bit,” the Iron Bull said awkwardly. “I got used to them being over there is all.”

The Iron Bull didn’t want the Qun over here. He’d been actively not thinking about it to the best of his ability, but he had really gotten into character. Or, that was his excuse, and now he wasn’t sure if any of this was an act or not.

He was worried and shamed, because if there was one thing he really didn’t want to be... The Iron Bull truly wanted to want the alliance. But he didn’t.

He was worried and shamed, because if there was one thing he really didn’t want to be... The Iron Bull truly wanted to want the alliance, seemed to think he thought it really would be beneficial to the Inquisition in the long run.

But he didn’t.

The Iron Bull handed him the letter to look over which was thankfully written in Trade. Adaar was also nowhere near as good as Cole or other Fadefolk at picking up impressions, but he tried regardless, see if the Arishok wanted to fuck them over or not.

Adaar got nothing. That didn't necessarily mean anything, since as just mentioned, Adaar's impressions perceptions were shit.

It didn't matter. The Qun was perhaps the only place worse than Tevinter, which was worse than the Andrastian Chantry, and he'd cut ties with that organization already. Well to be fair it cut ties with the Inquisition repeatedly, but Adaar wasn't broken up about it. He didn't throw a small party for himself any time he got a new excommunication letter.

Maybe the Qun would be better in the long run, but Adaar didn't care.

Adaar chose to refuse.

Adaar said nothing.

“Boss?”

Adaar attempted to refuse again.

“Tentatively,” Adaar said instead, and then felt so very tired. “I don’t trust this.” And at least that was his own. “We’ll see how this ‘mission’ they have goes.”

Fuck. Everything.

Adaar stewed on the way there, now with brand new things to be upset over. Ah, trusty life continuing to fuck him over every day in different exciting ways as always. He engaged in banter when it arose since maintaining ‘friendships’ was really important for his longterm health, and at nights, he gave his best attempt to read these law books and inevitably ended up wandering off into the fields instead.

Thankfully, on the day they reached Val Royeaux, it was already late afternoon, just barely late enough to call the entire thing a day while giving everyone maximum ‘not work’ time. Nothing to do with him, but the rest would have pitched a fit otherwise.

They rented an entire suite at some fancy inn because they had important appearances to make when doing noble shit, and renting anything else would have been the bad kind of scandal.

“This is all stupid,” Sera announced later, having broken into his quarters late evening.

Adaar tossed the book onto the bed without another thought. “About the job?”

Sera made raspberry noises.

“You get to steal something,” Adaar said. “From a rich noble. And then she gets publicly humiliated.”

“Still stupid we have to do this. All ruined because politics.” Sera decided the place to sit was the table he had been reading at. Adaar leaned back in his chair to look at her.

“I’d say it’s at least better than killing people, but honestly, people are probably doing to die anyway through some convoluted means. Still though. Public humiliation. And this was one of the nastier ladies with a number of complaints levied against her by Friends.”

Sera made raspberry noises. “I thought we talked about this. All work and no play.”

Adaar tilted his head. “Oh no, this is play for me. I get to help publicly humiliate someone, but for a good cause. I never get to publicly ruin someone for a good cause. I get to fuck someone over and feel like a hero at the same time, and then people will go ‘good job Adaar fucking this guy over we have done the right thing’ and I can have my giggles later.”

Sera tapped her fingers. “Isn’t that half our new plan or somethin?”

“I know! Isn’t it great? I’ve got some side projects to hit extra targets at this party,” Adaar said, actually feeling a bit chipper.

Sera narrowed her eyes. “You’ve done this before.”

“Huh?”

She pointed a finger. “Nuh uh, no backing out. You’ve conned people. Before Inquisition, that’s it. You don’t got an identity, you’ve got identities. You’re proper disreputable, not just blah scary mage and kossith and whatnot. This ain’t politics to you at all,” she said more to herself than anyone else. “This is shits and giggles. You’d play even if you didn’t need to. And not bard-wise, all ooooh intrigue and shite, but because shits and giggles.

Well. She wasn’t exactly wrong per se.

“Was this your plan then?” she asked, perking up more.

“Me and Josephine. Not Leliana, actually. Hers involved more murder, and that’s no fun.”

“At least you never lost your snerk, I can give you that,” Sera said.

“I’ve got a fun part,” Adaar said, “but I really thought you would like yours. I mean, stealing right out from underneath his very nose in a high-security place? That’s exciting!”

Sera’s brow went down even further. “You’ve done that too.”

“So have you!”

“So then why not tell people?” Sera asked. “Like really. This ain’t worse than the demons. What’s worse than the demons?”

That part was harder to explain.

“What, you secretly murdered a whole bunch of innocent people or something?”

“No!”

“Didja accidentally burn down Kirkwall a couple of times? Had an affair with some king or other? Get way too into killing shit? Cuz that’s most of us right there. Like, really. So far all your ‘dark secret’ shite,” she said, complete with airquotes, “has been done by us one way or another.”

…she really wasn’t wrong on any of those parts, but she probably wasn’t considering Cole.

“And Varric? You can give him all the facts, but he’ll think it boring and make up completely different stuff.” Sera threw a small pillow at him.

Yeah but how could Adaar translate half the Fade shit he pulled into plausible mortal shenanigans?

She rolled her eyes and then looked at her fingers before frowning.

“You know. You should try to do that game where you stab between your fingers, but like, with your green hand.”

“The intangible one?”

“I know, right? You’d be the greatest.”

And that was the current limit for Sera to talk about half-serious things for the day.

As it turned out, there were assassins after Josephine. That was a huge bummer and didn’t bode well for the future. Leliana, of course, wanted to assassinate her way to the contract and destroy it, while Josephine wanted to resolve things peacefully.

Since it was Josephine’s problem, Adaar figured the nice thing to do would be to go along with her solution.

Then Adaar snooped around for Leliana in hopes to find out more about this ‘Calpernia’ person who was supposed to be important.

Adaar located various important items through the infamous ‘pinging noise’ which his companions continued to thoroughly mock him for. But he’d been going with that for a while, and when he finally abandoned that shitty excuse and pretended he found things by normal methods, people honestly got disappointed. He made Hawke frown. Dorian had given a single ‘ah’ of disappointment. Sera had just scuffed dirt with her shoe.

So pinging noise was back, as was the mockery, but hey.

There was some friendly Orlesian with high quality dracolisk mounts she was willing to sell at a decent price to the Inquisition. Naturally they had to go inspect them first and also formally greet said lady for niceties purposes.

“Yeah, they hate me,” Adaar said, as one of the dracolisks screamed at him, throat puffing out in a threat display.

“I’m so sorry-”

“I wouldn’t take it personally,” Blackwall said, patting her arm. “They all do.”

They talked pleasantries as Adaar on whim strolled through. They all seemed in decent health at least. He’d gotten better at telling after eating hundreds of nugs, how to get a general feel for how alive something was.

He wondered if Dorian had that same thing, considering he fed from the recently deceased. ‘Entropy’ magic. Did mages start picking up these skills the more they pursued an area? Could Dorian just naturally feel the press of spirits around him when he went into battle, pick one on a whim to funnel into a dead body and just somehow half-tell that one wasn’t going to fuck him over?

Required all sorts of trust. Spirit healing too. No wonder they were half-forbidden schools of magic, barely tolerated.

Adaar paused in his tracks. Wait. He hadn’t heard screeching from that stall. Was it dead? He swiveled back to inspect it. While some of the others had some acid damage, this one was ridden with it. Curious.

“Hey?” Adaar asked, peeking in, and then shushed the two dracolisks on either stalls putting up a ruckus. Honestly. Intolerable rudeness.

There was indeed a dracolisk inside, about as healthy as it seemed it could be. It was smaller though, and its legs were turned just a titch too in. It looked up at him, tongue hanging out the side of its mouth and dripping acidic saliva on the floor. Ah. That was why.

“Sup,” he said, and the dracolisk made a churring noise before standing up to see him proper. Or rather, it tried, and banged its head against a wall. It yelped, shook itself off a bit, and then pressed its entire head right into Adaar’s chest, nuzzling him affectionately, and still dripping saliva.

Oh no.

There was shouting from the distance, and then the sales lady skidded into view. “Sorry about him, Inquisitor,” she said. “He’s… not the brightest we have. Runt of the litter, I’m afraid.”

Maybe that was why. It was too stupid to realize he was a demon, or that demons were threats. Or maybe that there were threats in the world at all. Instead, it thunked its tail quite happily against both stall walls.

“I-”

“Shush, I’m inspecting him,” Adaar said primly.

The dracolisk stared up at him with big loving eyes and approximately half a thought.

“His name is Dave,” Blackwall said, reading a paper attached to the stall.

“That’s a terrible name,” Adaar said. He scratched behind one of ‘Dave’s’ horns. “So who do you want to be?” Adaar asked. “What do you want to do?”

The dracolisk paused, head tilting. Deep in his heart, he knew. He was still a dracolisk after all, and he wanted to be the fiercest dracolisk ever! Hunt down the mightiest prey and have the fiercest roar!

Adaar was a Desire demon. And while his thing was clawing your way to what you wanted most, he knew a lost cause when he saw one. Some dreams would just never come true.

…but the dracolisk didn’t have to know that.

“How about ‘Valiance’?” Adaar asked, and the dracolisk continued to slobber acid. “That’s a proper name.”

“I’m certain you can find a mount more dignified,” the lady said. “Literally any other mount here, or even elsewhere.”

Absolutely, but Valiance was the first animal that hadn’t tried to attack him. Or even be on guard around him. No, instead, Valiance was still making happy churrs at him and returned to nuzzling Adaar’s chest.

“…I’ll keep my old mount for noble business,” Adaar said firmly. “But I am absolutely taking him.”

Their current blacksmith did decent work crafting specialized armor for all of them. While he complained about all of them insisting they had to keep with their ‘style’, Adaar completely understood. Sometimes you had a look going for you, and that look could only be dragged out of your disintegrated shell.

Armor also had a tendency of, you know, getting bent or damaged. Weapons could break or snap or simply get lost in a field of grass after being disarmed and thrown across said field by magic or a snickety revenant. At least Adaar had managed to talk one (in secret) into just scuttling off and waiting for everyone to pass by. Sometimes a Pride demon just ended up possessing a corpse. Adaar wasn’t sure why mortals had to have fancy terms for particular demons in a corpse when the rest were considered a copper a dozen, but whatever.

So it was agreed upon that they could use some extra specialized blacksmiths, and Leliana (whose judgment in people Adaar was seriously starting to judge), knew of one she had met back in the Fifth Blight, some guy named Wade, supposedly a master blacksmith and whose finances were dealt with by his husband Herren. They actually knew how to use dragon scales to make armor, and the Iron Bull had nearly died when he heard that.

As the Inquisition had stocked up on a lot of dragon-related crafting material by now, the Inquisition had set up a meeting in advance. Adaar just hoped these two wouldn’t be secretly serial killers or something. ‘Ooooh look at the strange kossith with a Fade arm, quick kill him for ingredients.’

The shop was in an ornate alleyway with a fanciful engraved sign marking it. Adaar just stared at it for a moment before sighing and stepping inside.

There was no one immediately at the counter, but he could faintly hear what sounded like an argument based upon tone of voice. Indeed two people and-

Wait that couldn’t be right. That couldn’t be right at all. Adaar wanted to press himself against the counter and try to peer into the nearby room, but fucking decorum had to be maintained.

“Hello?” Cassandra called out, already impatient.

A deceptively plain-looking man in a fancy suit came out. He gave on single blink, the faintest hint of shock, before he recovered. “Inquisition I presume? I’m Herren.”

“I’ve got the glowing green arm to prove it,” Adaar said casually and innards buzzing.

“Do they actually have decent materials?” came a faint, wounded voice from the other room.

“I’ve been systematically collecting all sorts of materials, so yes,” Adaar said. “I hear he’s worked with dragon scales before? Because we are sitting on a number of them by now, and theoretically they make decent armor, but few people can apparently work with them.”

“It wasn’t my best work,” Wade said mournfully from the other room. “Such drab coloring. I may never recover from my sins.”

Herren took a deep, steadying breath. “Do you trust any other blacksmith to work with this?” he called out back.

There was no response except a single sniff.

“All sorts of cloth, leather, and various metals and magic stones and sigils to work with,” Adaar said smoothly. “And Leliana spoke highly of his work. Lasted all through the siege of Denerim without damage against a terrifying number of darkspawn.”

“Finally we can put some of these scales to use,” Cassandra muttered.

Herren folded his arms. “We will need to strike up a formal business contract in advance to make sure you actually pay him. While pre-supplying resources will naturally lower the costs, he is particular about the resources he uses.”

“If you are going to make long-lasting armor, then it needs to have style!”

Adaar slid over the various schematics. “Most of my strike team is finicky about style because they are nerds. As such, they prefer their armor to look more or less along these lines.”

Wade finally poked his head out. “A challenge? A chance to redeem myself? Give those here.”

He snatched them quickly and disappeared into the back room once more, giggling.

“Right. That’ll be extra,” Herren said dryly.

“We could do calculations, set up monetary formulas in advance for market price of materials as well as the style of-” Adaar paused for a moment before turning to Cassandra and the few others lingering about. None of them looked enthused. “Do you want to just head out and go frolic in shops or something? This may take a while.”

The room was cleared in a moment. Finally.

Herren walked over and firmly locked the door before whipping around. “And what is that?” he asked, gesturing to Adaar’s form.

“Three seconds!” he hissed quietly. “I’d challenge anyone to come up with something better in three seconds with soldiers already running at them.”

“Ah. In that case you did a decent job,” Herren said. “It’s still terrible.”

Adaar couldn’t argue that. “Are you the, um, original?”

“Have I been around since the Fifth Blight you mean?” Herren asked dryly, raising an eyebrow. “Yes. And you don’t need to be quiet, Wade already knows.”

“Oh.” Adaar blinked. “I um-”

“I wouldn’t deceive him on this,” he said snippily. “We are married after all.”

“Oh,” Adaar said again. “I just- if you’ve been here a while… I have only met one other Desire demon since I’ve been here, and I was kinda hoping to figure out where everyone went.”

“Only one?” Herren frowned. “That is strange.”

“Concerning, more like. I’d like to think it’s because we are smarter than to get involved in all this ongoing bullshit, but let’s be honest here. We really aren’t. Uh. Does Leliana know that you’re a demon?”

“No. It’s not something I’m open about,” Herren said. “For reasons you undoubtedly understand.”

Adaar giggled half-hysterically.

“I apologize for what I said earlier,” Herren continued. “I didn’t think you would actually cheat me.”

Desires stuck together after all. Probably since others were reluctant to deal with them because of stereotypes which were rude and hurtful.

“Just giving me an excuse to get them out, yeah I got it.”

“I still want that legal contract though.”

“Of course. It’ll also make bookkeeping finances easier from our side.”

Once again, Wade’s faint voice echoed. “Does he have any Fade materials? Oh Herren do ask him.”

“Actually, yeah,” Adaar said. “Kinda. Some stuff that got altered from being too close to Rifts.”

“Oooh. Now that is rare. And that will cost extra, Wade,” Herren said loudly with all of the undertones of someone involved in a long, ongoing argument that was thoroughly going nowhere.

Adaar felt Wade retreat further into the building.

“Some kind of disagreement you two are having?” Adaar asked.

Herren sniffed. “I love him. I'm not going to enable him to work on over-the-top projects that take up all of his time to give away for free leaving him destitute with no food to eat. Which is exactly what would happen if I didn’t remind him that he needs money to actually work on these projects.”

“Gotcha.”

Here in front of him was an Desire demon who was actually married to a mortal who knew. Who honestly knew and they were still married and they were together and a couple. That was impossible. According to everything he knew, all the information exchanged around in the Fade, that sort of thing just didn’t happen.

None of this felt real.

Herren tilted his head slightly. “You have a mortal you are interested in,” he stated more than asked.

“Probably obvious from thoughts, yeah.”

His eyes narrowed. “No that’s… not it. Actually if it wasn’t for your, understandably, terrible disguise, I might not have been able to guess. Whatever it is going on with your arm is too loud to hear over.”

“What, really?” Cole had mentioned things similar in the past, but still.

In that case, while Herren could tell, this gave the possibility that some of the Fadefolk he’d talked to might…not have realized he was a demon. Huh. If they didn’t know, then that could have been for some really confusing conversations.

“No, I was able to tell from your wistful expression,” Herren said.

He’d been getting so much better about Fade stuff. Normally when he had to argue about basic personhood, he was argued over and over, all arguments dismissed out of hand. It had nothing to do with listening or an actual dialogue and everything to do with trying to prove him wrong. That was simply what happened, an understood rule of both worlds.

Then some dashing person, with a smile that made him nearly walk into bookcases, listened, and Adaar’d been feeling funny in his center afterwards.

Validated, that was it. Dorian had listened like what Adaar had to say actually mattered.

(The Iron Bull already knew, and he had this belly laugh and a chest you could just flop your face into. That had simply been written off of the possibility since he knew. But also he was pretty sure if the Iron Bull was interested, there would have been some sign by now, so. Probably just a Dorian scenario.)

(He’d thoroughly gotten over that short-lived crush on Cassandra though. Been burned too many times. It just wasn’t meant to be.)

“…yeah. There might be somebody.”

“You never know,” Herren said softly. “I mean likely, considering mortals, it’ll end terribly, but there is a chance, no matter what back home says.”

I wouldn’t deceive him on this.

Likely, it’d be short-lived anyway. Inevitably something or other would happen, and then things would end. There already was that wedge about ‘blood magic’, and maybe some deception on the nature of Adaar, or things would progress too far and then Dorian would get bored of him and wander off anyway. He needed to keep realism in mind so things wouldn’t sting as badly when they happened.

…but what if?

“Well. Let’s start working on those contracts.” And then, if they were willing, grill Herren and Wade after on all the details of their relationship.

Chapter Text

“The woman in question is Marquise Margareta,” Josephine said to the special team around the table. “She has invited us over under the guise of pleasantries.”

“And will then attempt to destroy us on every political level,” Vivienne said. “As is due and proper in the Game.”

“So, we are going to destroy her first.”

The high society part of Val Royeaux was almost overwhelming with the sheer amount of hidden desires, scandal, backstabbing, and deal-making that infused every last stone to the point where it made Adaar almost dizzy. Adaar still clung doggedly to Cole’s old advice. Just focus on the job and ignore everything else because hoo boy was there a whole lot of else going on. At least it wasn’t like at Haven where it had been distressing, to say the least; instead it almost gave him a second hand high.

The party itself was at, of course, a fancy estate with open balconies and sheer curtain instead of sensible windows. At least the outer perimeter was, and the inner core of the building had doors four feet thick, opened via complicated dwarven locks. And by complicated, the devices responded through ‘keys’ which were heavily enchanted stones which could only be wielded by two separate peoples wearing their own secret runes to activate their keys from dormancy, with both sets also having a distinct magical signature that could be traced by yet another item.

The guards didn’t come in twos but in fours, all with form-fitting armor, and all of whom were encouraged to know each other by voice and even by posture alone.

For the party, the Marquise’s priceless collection of art was on display, all inside magically enchanted glass of course, for both resilience and heat-detecting alarms should anyone get too close.

In a way, her own security system was another display of sorts, drawing in those crazy nobles who oooohed and aaaaahed over magic. Despite the hostess’s plans of ruining them aside, there was a legitimate possibility of drawing allies from some of the guests if only because the Inquisition had a very large collection of demons and wasn’t that just fascinating?

That was Adaar’s job as well as that of Vivienne, Leclair, and Josephine. Drawing allies, and thus at the same time, drawing attention in a party filled with passive-aggressive one-upmanship and treachery. A party filled with layers upon layers of interactions.

It was honestly like those few times he attended parties hosted by Pride demons, where not attempting to outdo the other guests was considered rude and not properly engaging in social propriety.

Adaar kept to the balconies to scam the ones who lingered there (while sadly ignoring the plentiful buffet) while Josephine targeted the art critics, Vivienne curried favor for the Circle, and Leclair curried favor and perfidy alike. A very important part of the Game was not only having high standing and power, but also having worthy rivals to try to end you at every turn. If you didn’t have any rivals, then how important were you really?

Hopefully Leclair would walk out of this with at the least the hostess, in ruins, dedicating herself to ending Leclair (and most likely the Inquisition) at every turn.

Orlais was weird.

“The bint’s even watches her servants. Same deal as with guards,” Sera said. “And a real bitch about it. Can’t go home, can’t send letters or gifts without thorough security, and quitting’s harder.”

“Of course there is a small flaw,” Dagna said. “And that is the system itself. Obviously she didn’t design it. It’s dwarven after all! A more obscure magical lock based system than the ones the nobles back home use, but then I had a lot of free time on my hands when I was still living in Orzammar. Enchanting was the closest thing to magic after all, and I studied these systems thoroughly.”

“The gala is part soiree and part art show,” Josephine said. “She loves to show off her collection, and there shall be some of the finest art historians in Southern Thedas attending.”

“And we,” Leliana said, “have the perfect forgery. Just good enough that a glance won’t catch it, but a thorough look by a suspicious art critic would.”

“A painting then?” Cassandra asked.

“No. A diamond.”

“And why should I support your ‘Inquisition’ when it is damned by the Maker?” the baron asked. It was actually in private and thus not a direct power move to destroy public image. This gave the actually possibility it was a legitimate question.

Adaar swished his champagne glass, which he had steadily been pouring out bit by bit into the various potted plants when no one was looking.

“You are a well-educated man,” Adaar said, knowing the guy did graduate from the University of Orlais. “Tell me, do you know of any other organization rallying against Corypheus?” Adaar shrugged. “He’s a Tevinter magister, and I doubt upon gaining his supposed godhood that he isn’t going to turn around and re-conquer Orlais as Tevinter is wont to do. With the unfortunate current state of affairs, Orlais is already ragged from the civil war and will prove no threat to him.”

The man inclined his head.

“So. He wins, and you’re screwed honestly,” Adaar said. “Maybe you could use your resources to abscond to some place safe, but how well off will you be there? Either it would get conquered as well, or you would pretty much be attempting to survive in a nasty little bog. You donate to me, and it helps further our efforts.” Adaar smiled. “And wouldn’t that look nice, being a donor to the organization who saved the world? Certainly makes for good boasting material at parties.”

“But that is the question,” the baron asked. “Can you actually save the world?”

“Can you afford risking the chance we might not?” Adaar asked sincerely. “Again, there is no one else fighting against him, everyone else caught up with their own understandable problems. I would also like to point out that in the areas we have been allowed to do our work, order has been restored, and all sorts of pesky problems have been dealt with. Even the Exalted Plains has finally been put to rest. Has anyone else had the amount of success we have had? I’m sure if the Maker has damned the Inquisition that we would have failed some time ago. If the Maker would damn anyone, I’m fairly certain it would be Corypheus and not us.”

“I shall consider this,” he said, which frankly was as much as Adaar could hope for.

The exhibits would be shown in an inner gallery which would only be opened when it came time for the showing of the collection. The gallery had guards stationed both at all doors and inside the room itself. The Marquise was very rich after all, and very paranoid, and could afford to have so many guards at all times.

However, the pieces themselves were not stored in the gallery proper but brought up beforehand for events such as these. Her vault had even more protection in place, but it also had fewer guards, the Marquise not trusting anyone else with her prized collection but only her most loyal and skilled servants.

All items were moved in guards of four, just like anything else, with her personally watching as each batch of items were moved, door sealed shut every time the next group of pieces went up the stairs.

But that was the thing. That was when the door would open with access to the vault, and then it would shut with not a single guard in there. It was a ten minute time frame for anyone who was somehow able to sneak in there during such transitions. And of course, all storage containers were sealed with alarm runes that would only not activate to someone wearing a specialized rune to counteract that one.

Or, you know, you could have some kind of master key rune developed by a very enthusiastic dwarf with too much free time on her hands.

“I’ve heard that somehow, you have your demons well-trained?” asked Comte Poncet in mock curiosity. This time it was in front of other people, and absolutely a power move. “Barely any accounts of destruction. Do you implement, ah, special training sessions, or do you prefer to bind them to keep them safe?”

Not fear, but guile. The man knew exactly how Adaar felt about demons then, and this was an intentional attack.

Adaar flitted through the man’s mind with ease.

“I actually don’t require either,” Adaar said politely. “It’s all been a success, and honestly, I’ve had far better loyalty than most hired mercenary crews would get you. Especially if you actually check credentials. Tell me, how did things work out between you and the Silver Guard? Didn’t you lose that entire shipment of fire opals? And how much did that personally cost you?”

Of course it cost him nothing, not actually though publically it cost him at least three arms. The man made quite a tidy profit from ‘losing’ said shipment in his own schemes. It was of course a shipment to a comtesse who just so happened to be standing right over there, listening in. Aw dern.

So did the man have bad decisions in mercenary companies, or was he willing to admit out loud that he scammed that woman and thus ruin his reputation?

The man looked as if he had just inhaled an entire lemon, and he said nothing. Reputability points lost for him and gained for the Inquisition.

Hahahaha.

The thing is, guards are fantastic at noticing people, especially in narrow hallways, as that is kind of their thing. But there are always exceptions, and one of those exceptions could be a spirit standing next to an elf, using his innate powers to make sure no one notices them. It was draining for Cole to extend his forgetting, but he didn’t have the same expertise that Sera did for stealing things without triggering any number of non-magic alarms. And those were also heavily employed.

They had to press themselves against a wall from time to time, but they got there just as the first few items were being carried upstairs.

The door opened, they slipped in, and then the door shut, sealing them inside. Sera fished out a glowstone and the key and quickly surveyed the room.

“Don’t suppose you can’t sense which box the diamond is in, Creepy?”

Cole shrugged.

“Frigging useless demons.”

Thankfully, between one beat and the next of the party, Adaar had some downtime as it would not do to be on time for the next segment.

“Are you holding up okay?” Dorian asked in a private alcove. And Adaar knew full-well it was private due to his unique checking abilities. Adaar did not sit on the balcony because despite private area, he had to use societal norms when out with nobles, and he hated it because balconies were fantastic.

“They are terrible people, and I hate them,” Adaar said. “Especially the man who kept asking if I really did have an orgy with Desire demons. Not that there is a single thing wrong with being a Desire demon, okay, but honestly.”

“You seem to have won a few allies at least.”

“And hopefully a couple more before the party is over,” Adaar said, thinking about his next step. Leclair was faring far better than him due to not directly being in the Inquisition as well as having a human disguise. Not that her own innate skills and copious amounts of knowledge and possible blackmail material didn’t also greatly contribute to her successes, but nobles were nobles, and half of them already ‘knew’ Leclair from various functions and were looking to catch-up (and cover for their own ‘memory weaknesses’.)

Leclair was having a lot of fun with that, which Adaar was glad for. There were a number of nasty noble she personally hated herself, most of which were Chevaliers, that she was slowly and thoroughly ruining.

Gaspard was still beyond them, but the Winter Palace would be their (hopefully) ultimate victory and secure Leclair’s throne.

Granted, everything could get fucked over when inevitably the next Divine was elected, but maybe a series of ‘accidents’ could just keep happening. For forever.

No, that was unrealistic. Damn.

“Such an absent hostess would have been a disgrace in Tevinter,” Dorian said. “One must be present at all times at their thrown party as a social nicety to all assassins currently trying to kill them. Honestly. The gall.”

Adaar sighed. He just wanted to stay sequestered over here with Dorian. “If you excuse me, I must rejoin the gala and mingle with those nasty little worms and convince them to give us massive amounts of money.”

Dorian tipped his wineglass to Adaar. “Best of luck.”

Adaar lingered for a slight moment before giving him a hopeful look. “I don’t suppose it would be too much to ask for a kiss for luck?”

Dorian smiled then, warmly and almost shyly, and the effect was akin to being smacked over the head with a large club.

Real diamond secured and fake one in place, Sera and Cole waited for the vault to open, or first for people to approach so Cole could do the hiding thing, and then the vault to open. Apparently hiding people for too long made Cole get all weird, and then he had to curl up in a corner, twitching.

The plan was not that. Which was good, because Sera wanted to be around Cole as little as possible, and she didn’t like seeing him get all weird and twitchy.

The minutes ticked on by, and the vault door remained sealed. And continued to remain sealed. Sera’s guts twisted in worry. Was there a problem going on? Some noble puked all over someone else’s dress or something? Some other thief trying to abscond with some other priceless artifact? Cuz normally Sera would be all cheering for that, but it was real inconvenient right now.

She fiddled with the diamond, over and over. Lady had a bad fall and had to be carted away and the whole thing shut off? Fire break out somewhere?

“It’s only been seven minutes,” Cole said softly, causing Sera to jump. “I’ve been counting.”

Sera huffed and clutched the diamond to her chest. Okay fine then. Three minutes to go, and then the anxiety could kick in.

Hawke had so far managed to fend off most of the nobles, keeping to the background since the party was boring as he didn’t have any diabolical part in it. Instead he had been spending the party with Fenris and Varric, quietly mocking all of the nobles, though currently the two were talking to each other and not people watching.

Hawke didn’t get to steal anything or shove a noble off a cliff or attempt to wrangle a wyvern which made the entire thing downright boring, and Hawke had been vigorously threatened by Josephine to keep it that way. The feather pink boa had been thoroughly banned.

At least he didn’t have to mingle like Adaar, who was busy exuding charm as if he didn’t hate all the nobles around him. He’d developed a small clique who were perhaps too much fascinated with all things considered anathema by polite society and had therefore approved upon principle of Adaar and all of his strange magics.

“People these days have no appreciation for such things,” one of the nobles was saying. A few of the others tipped their glasses in approval.

Hawke wondered if Adaar could honestly pull off demons as being a fashion trend. That would certainly be something.

“My own mother wanted me to get rid of a cursed amulet,” a lady said, “that strangled whoever wore it. The lengths I went to to get that, and she just couldn’t appreciate haunted jewelry.”

“The Chantry made me burn down a haunted manor,” another man said mournfully. “At least they don’t know about the Favans estate.”

“Isn’t that the one that drives everyone insane who enters?” Adaar asked curiously.

“You know your haunted lands,” the man said approvingly.

“And if it’s not the Chantry,” Adaar said, “then it’s the locals complaining about ‘oh Maker the noises I overhear’ and ‘surely someone could set this place to rest’. As if it’s not private property and the only way you would be able to hear the wailing of the damned was if you unlawfully snuck in.”

“Hear hear,” a lady said.

“You sound personally familiar with these problems,” the manor man said. “Do you own any cursed property perchance?”

Wait.

“Oh yes,” Adaar said blithely. “It’s an incredibly haunted piece of land that dates back ages. Tell me, have you ever heard of the Bone Pit?”

Fenris and Varric suddenly swiveled to look over at Adaar, one of them accidentally knocking over a pitcher in the process.

The lady gasped. “Oh, isn’t that the haunted mine? The one where any owner if they don’t pass it on soon enough meets a grizzly end?”

Wait what?

“The very one,” Adaar said. “And they want to fill it in! To destroy it once and for all.  No appreciation whatsoever for horrifically cursed properties where thousands upon thousands of people were slaughtered.”

“Ugh, I know,” manor man said. “You’ve been fending them off I hope?”

Adaar sighed. “To tell the truth, with all this Inquisition business, I simply haven’t had the time to properly watch over the Bone Pit, you know? I may be forced to just cut it as a loss, maybe sell it to the Provisional Viscount for him to legally destroy it. It would be possible with enough explosives.”

It was probably too late to fetch Anders then.

“Oh how terrible,” the lady said. “Surely there must be some other way.”

The manor man looked as thoughtful as you could while wearing a mask covering the majority of the face. “Out of curiosity, how much would you be willing to sell the Bone Pit for?”

Hawke glanced back and forth between the two in horror, while Varric and Fenris’ faces lit up with terrible glee.

“For a proper discerning connoisseur?” Adaar asked. “Twenty thousand royals.”

“Holy shit,” Varric said.

“That’s very expensive,” the lady said admirably.

“Oh yes it’s terribly expensive,” Adaar said.

“An insult to presume otherwise,” the interested noble said, whose interest had definitely been piqued.

“This can’t-” Hawke reached out barely, just to feel at their minds, feel if anyone else was in their minds. But no. “Varric,” he whispered in horror. “Varric that’s not blood magic. He’s not using blood magic. I can’t believe it’s not blood magic.”

“I presume an additional requirement is for the buyer to properly attend the estate?” the manor man asked, ignoring Hawke’s growing inner crisis.

“Of course,” Adaar said. “That’s the entire purpose of the exchange after all.”

For a brief moment, the group was silent in contemplation, the most intense, loaded silence Hawke had ever felt.

“I could buy it,” the lady said slowly. What the actual fuck. “I will want to have a tour to view the property first of course.”

“I shall also throw my lot in,” a man said.

A noble who had not been part of the group but had been listening in with abject horror gently nudged the man. “You aren’t… concerned about how owning the Bone Pit for any great length of time only insures great tragedy to befall upon everyone the person ever knows?”

“Well that means the curse is legitimate, does it not?” the man said brightly.

Hawke began to whine, while his devout and loyal friends began to cackle with terrible glee.

The noble group then broke out into a squabble, arguing amongst themselves and chatting with Adaar about prices, when tours could be arranged, insurances and the like.

“The entire cost plus an additional fifteen percent,” the manor man said loudly, quieting the others around him. “If you sell it to me now and not to any of them.” When Adaar said nothing, the man continued, “You would be hard pressed to find a better deal.”

“I really would, wouldn’t I?” Adaar said, oozing self-satisfaction. “Very well. Twenty three thousand royals. We can officially sign the paperwork tomorrow at the central bank.”

Hawke made a sound of pure betrayal as Fenris had to hold onto the table to keep from falling over too hard and while Varric wheezed for air.

Adaar glanced Hawke’s way with a sweet, absolutely evil smile and waggled his fingers at him.

The art gallery finally open, Adaar and Dorian watched the proceedings from afar. The art critic with the mustache compensating for at least five different things had indeed noticed the fake diamond. Maybe he had had a subtle tip-off from Leclair and her revenue. It would never be said, of course, but it would be known, secrets and gossip passed around, and Leclair would gain points with the art side of Orlais.

No matter how this played out, the lady’s name would be in ruins, since if there was only one thing she prized more than her collection, it was her security system. The goat had been thoroughly got.

And there was Hawke and Varric, angling their way. They stared at each other for a moment before Hawke said, “Well played. I don’t know whether I want to kill you or congratulate you, but well played.”

“Even if the proceeds do go the Inquisition,” Cassandra said, slipping beside him. In the background, a considerable amount of yelling had started to happen. Ah. The fake was found out.

“Why would they?” Adaar asked. “I mean, if I had used Inquisition resources to do so, then by all means yes. But I bought it with my money, and thus all those delicious royals go to me. And not just for greed’s sake; I had many lectures on the dangers of not separating personal funds with business ones.”

“So what are you going to do with all your money?” Varric asked.

Adaar hmmed. “Maybe buy more cheap shit and sell it to nobles for exorbitant prices, because that was a lot of fun.” The Iron Bull was right. Adaar wasn’t sure if he ‘fed’ from that at all, but fuck if that’d been so much fun.

He’d missed that. It felt right.

“Obviously donate some to the Inquisition,” Adaar continued. “And then lavish gifts upon you all. Especially Dorian. Hey Dorian can I lavish you with gifts?”

Dorian sighed dramatically. “The things I put up with.”

Everything went down wonderfully. There had been yelling, tears, cries of betrayal. Three separate people had gotten stabbed. Leclair had won the respect of the art history side of Orlais and had also made a dedicated personal rival to further her own position in the Game. He wasn’t sure how much she would stick to the Game after ascension or whether she would try to also dismantle that. There were so many problems to fix in Orlais that it was theoretically impossible, but it was her Dream to accomplish, and who was Adaar to tell anyone otherwise?

Except for Valiance. Sweet, dumb Valiance.

For now though, they had to stick to the Game to advance. It’d almost be fun if it wasn’t for all these dumb human nobles around. Dorian excluded of course, though Adaar wasn’t sure how much of a noble Dorian was if he ‘only by a technicality wasn’t in exile’.

Everyone met up back at their private fancy inn later with their own private fancy rooms. An entire wing actually, with a central living room area hub. It was horribly expensive, but they had to use such rooms when out on noble business if they didn’t want their reputability to get completely shredded to ribbons.

“How’d you manage to find it?” Adaar asked curiously to Sera who was currently stacking muffins in the shape of a penis.

“I did it. I beat you,” Sera said triumphantly.

“Beg pardon?”

“I listened to the pinging noise.” There wasn’t a hint of mockery in her voice.

Adaar blinked. “You… you heard the pinging noise.”

“Took a bit to get the hang of. Real weird. Gotta triangulate and whatnot, but I figured out how to listen.”

Adaar stared at her.

“And… how did you swap the object out?” Dorian asked.

Sera scoffed. “You can’t think about it that hard, or it don’t work. You just do it. Like bees in Cullen’s training dummy, back when he was around. Don’t think, just do.”

Vivienne raised one elegant eyebrow.

“What?”

“Well I’m proud of you for learning how to listen to the pinging noise,” Adaar said awkwardly. “It does take a lot of practice.”

“See I can figure this shite out on my own,” Sera said. “Like archery or alchemy. Who needs teachers? Pffft.”

Adaar was starting to suspect that Sera wasn’t exactly a typical mortal.

Sera and Vivienne shortly after retired to their separate rooms, leaving just him and Dorian.

“Can we do that thing where you read a shitty romance novel and we pretend to critique it but are actually overly invested in it?” Adaar asked. “I need to purge the snobbery out of my system.”

“You aren’t supposed to say that out loud,” Dorian said.

“Which part?”

“The invested part. They are all terrible novels,” Dorian said, already gently leading him towards Dorian’s room.

“Oh wait a second,” Adaar said and then quickly went to his own and fished through his dresser. Aha!

He darted back, carefully making sure he was fully corporeal because honestly it was hard keeping track of things when he got excited. “Tickets! There is a chocolate tasting festival. And while granted chocolate is definitely my thing, I’m pretty sure you also enjoy them, and it might be fun?”

Dorian gave him an awkward look.

Adaar bit his lip. “…did you also get tickets?”

“You like chocolate!” Dorian said almost defensively. “And you keep getting me all these nice things. I thought it would be only fair if I attempted to return the favor from time to time.”

“Sera has informed me I’m a hard person to shop for,” Adaar said. “Well… if we’ve got four tickets, I suppose we could give two to someone else? Who else really loves chocolate?”

Josephine had abandoned all dignity with the first minute and had dashed off in a different direction, giggling like a tiny child, while the Iron Bull remained at their side, keeping a good eye out for wherever the hot cocoa might be.

The entire trip could have almost been considered a date if not for the Iron Bull’s presence, who was by the way amazing at detecting from a glance all the best samples.

Honestly, the Iron Bull’s presence should have made things awkward considering the almost-date, but it all ended up in just dumb fun instead.

Chapter Text

Sera had dragged Dorian and Blackwall shopping for cloth. Not clothes, just bolts of cloth. She liked to collect them, said she liked ones with a good feel, and then hoarded that away with the rest of her strange personal effects.

“You gotta use your cheeks,” she said firmly. “Face cheeks I mean. Other kind gets you banned.”

“What for?” Dorian asked.

“Testing the fabric!” She pffted at him. “Can’t use hands. Always doing things with hands. Hands get used to that, can’t feel as much. Don’t use cheeks for arse, so they are better at feeling, yeah?”

Sera shoved a bolt of a silky material his way. “Go on. Try it.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be as good at this,” Blackwall said cheerfully.

Sera stuck her tongue out at him. “That’s what you get for stealing all the beards. Whatever. You’ll just have to trust my judgment. My cheeks don’t grow anything.”

Dorian felt the fabric between his fingers, and then self-consciously brought it up to his face.

“Huh.”

“See? I’m know what I’m doing sometimes.” Sera busied herself with feeling various cloth while Blackwall kept a look-out to make sure the store clerk didn’t notice Sera rubbing her face on everything. Dorian had no idea if that was the sort of thing that was frowned upon, but it seemed likely. “They don’t teach you this in Vint school.”

“No, that was not a covered topic,” Dorian said. “They replaced that with ‘Treachery and Backstabbing: Slaughtering Your Way to a Higher Standing’.”

“Make quick work of your enemies then,” Blackwall said with just a hint of uncivil. They behaved themselves in front of Sera, who Dorian surmised had by now  adopted them.

“And allies,” Dorian said. “Though that’s usually due to blood magic. People rarely suspect their own friends to attack them after all.”

Sera turned to him. “What, did that ever happen to you?”

It had been a lovely day in the library at the Alexius estate. Dorian had finished his usual duties and thus was studying in his free time, pouring over tomes. His father disapproved of him studying necromancy, but then his father disapproved of everything Dorian did, and Dorian was determined to learn one way or another.

Felix had approached him brightly, and Dorian, ever the fool, had not thought to question why one hand was hidden, not until there was a knife in his ribcage.

They both made it through of course. Magister Alexius was able to track the woman responsible for the attempt. Dorian was rather glad of that since the whole experience had been a bit startling. It was an entirely new experience of trying to incapacitate an assassin without killing them when they were your best friend, and you had a dagger in your chest you had to fight to keep them from removing and thus gushing out all your precious blood. It was a complete coincidence after that Dorian found himself on guard when he was alone with only one person.

Felix wouldn’t stop apologizing for months.

“No,” Dorian said, lying through his teeth. Why did he lie? There was no reason to lie about this. He wasn’t covering for anything. “But it’s happened to people I know. Always a shock. Sometimes they survive.”

Sera and Blackwall both gave him concerned looks, and Dorian felt uncomfortable.

It wasn’t like it had been just him. It was a tactic occasionally used. Not at all common, but not unheard of. And here Dorian had gone and ruined the mood. Great job Dorian.

Sera returned shortly after to busying herself with testing out various fabrics. Blackwall inched closer to Dorian with that distinct face of someone who very much wanted to ask a question but was uncertain how it would go, something Dorian was intimately familiar with at this point from his own personal blunders. He wished Blackwall wouldn’t as Dorian didn’t want to ‘open up’ as a general thing, and if he ever did, Blackwall would not be on the list.

Blackwall coughed for a moment. “So uh, you hear things about death mages, about how they are obsessed with the dead.”

…he didn’t. Dorian’s eyes narrowed into slits. “And what, pray tell, are these things you’ve been hearing about me?”

“Not about you! Just you know, in general, about activities necromancers get up to sometimes. I was just curious was all; I’m not judging if you are.”

That was nice of him, since Dorian was absolutely judging.

Later, the thing Dorian was judging Adaar on was his love of heights. Dorian was not a fan of heights, well aware of the limits of mortality, but Adaar had decided they were simply the best thing out there.

To be fair, it was a romantic alcove with a beautiful view of many gardens, gilded roofs, and the ocean, and the sunset cast the scene into such vibrant color. It was also private which Dorian was thankful for. Yes, he did enjoy being flaunted publicly, but despite what Adaar continued to tell him, idle gossip killed, and Dorian very much preferred Adaar alive and well.

“I thought it would be nice to view all this before we trek a few weeks through mud, slush, and snow,” Adaar had said, and Dorian couldn’t find it in himself to disagree.

They had a small vat of hot chocolate, kept warm by a minor enchantment, and a mug grasped in each of their grimy hands.

“You keep taking me out to different places,” Dorian said.

“I’m trying out different dates,” Adaar said. “Gotta experiment around with this shit. I’ve got a checklist, been taking notes on how things go.”

…Adaar had a literal checklist of different romantic dates? That probably shouldn’t have been as endearing as it was.

“If you are trying to figure out what I like, you could just ask me,” Dorian said teasingly.

Adaar paused for a moment. “…yeah that would have been a great idea of me, wouldn’t it. Yup. Sure would. So. What kind of dates do you like?”

Okay, well, put like that. “I’ve been enjoying myself so far,” Dorian deflected, quickly covering up for the fact that no, he didn’t know what kind of ‘dates’ he liked as he hadn’t exactly been on many ‘dates’.

They ended up snuggling, something downright scandalous back in Tevinter, while holding hands even. They had through experimentation figured out the only way to make it work was for Dorian to recline against Adaar since otherwise, horns had a tendency to get in the way, and despite all their trial and error, injuries would and did happen.

Dorian was not used to physical affection be anything other than a lead in for sex. Meanwhile, it seemed like for Adaar that the two were almost separate ideas entirely, if only because there had been more snuggling than Dorian ever thought possible.

Dorian found that he really didn’t mind.

As serene as this was, he couldn’t help but feel tense. Maybe it was because there currently was no engaging dialogue going on which brought to mind that certain topics could be discussed. This was after all a private area with no eavesdroppers, and if Dorian were to tell the Inquisitor anything, surely now would be the time.

Dorian didn’t exactly know how things went in Southern relationships, what gets said when, or when to reveal what was likely crucial information to any full-fledged romance.

He was willing to have sex with Adaar. He would rather like, at some point, to have sex with Adaar, and the slight possibility this might not just be foreplay had started to drift indulgently into his mind. The fact that it might not be made him reluctant to initiate anything, but maybe Adaar was waiting for him to initiate things, and everything had become like a dueling stand-off with neither wanting to make the first move.

Point was, Dorian had no idea when to tell Adaar that the last time he was with someone for any length of time, his father sent people to kidnap him who also slaughtered off a number of the guards, and that after escaping and poking around, young Abrexis had been ‘promoted’ to a small commanding position in Seheron.

He hadn’t made it. And while this had been the worst deterrent his father did as for Dorian to stop whoring himself out to the male population, it hadn’t been the only time something had happened.

This was likely Important Information to tell someone. But when? Before sex? After sex? Upon what point of intimacy level do you warn a person that your father disapproves of you seeing men and will go to great lengths to make sure this doesn’t happen?

Granted Abrexis had been a minor mundane lordling, and Adaar was an Inquisitor, protected by a spymaster who defined the definition of ‘paranoia’, and was surrounded by a small horde of mind-reading spirits and demons. Should his father’s hired henchmen pop out of the mud yelling, they likely wouldn’t survive ten seconds. Even if they were blood mages since apparently Adaar had counter compulsion spells.

Dorian quietly shoved his thoughts away from that as he didn’t want a pesky little thing like the morality of blood magic to ruin this.

Come on. Just tell him. Be an adult for five seconds Dorian. He took a steadying breath. He could do this. “Adaar-” he began, moving away from Adaar to face him directly.

“Look-”

They both paused for a second, and maybe Dorian could have recovered, but Adaar was currently looking at him as if he was the most important person in all of the Thedas, and that can floor a person.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” Adaar said, sounding as floored as Dorian felt. “Did you- did you want say something?”

“Did I interrupt you? If you had something-”

“No it’s fine,” Adaar said. “What did you want to say?”

“I-”

Come on Dorian. Be an adult. “…nothing of consequence. Please, share your thoughts.”

Another stunning job, Dorian. Fantastic as always.

Adaar hesitated, opened his mouth, and then hesitated again, before waving a hand. “Nevermind. It’s not- important.”

They both sat there for a moment, wind gently brushing against them. Eventually Adaar awkwardly asked, “…want more hot chocolate?”

Dorian thunked his head against the door of his room. Okay so, that went well. Failed to tell Adaar about the mortality rate of past paramours.

And ah yes, that was his old nemesis come knocking: Anxiety.

It was just his anxiety. Dorian had done tests, and no, he was not constantly beset by a persistent demon of Anxiety. Things would be so much easier if he was, but such was his lot in life.

No, anxiety, Adaar was ironically one of the safest people for Dorian to get involved with.

No, his father was unlikely to kidnap Adaar and subject him to blood magic rituals.

No, this was a well-guarded area with a twitchy strike-team, thus if anyone did try something, they would likely get slaughtered by Cole. Cole was always good for that.

Dorian should probably just go to bed. Sleep was a lovely thing after all, one of those required needs, as pointed out by Adaar. Without it, people started getting funny in the head. He wished his mind would follow along with this idea, but apparently not.

He paced for a while, gave up on that, and then tried sitting on the bed and controlling his breathing, before giving up on that as well with a sigh.

He considered his options. He could a) talk to someone, maybe Cole, about these problems; b) just tell Adaar already; or c) place alarm wards around the room and drink to quell the growing anxiety.

Dorian went with option c.

The stay was nearing its end. Adaar was not looking forward to going back as it meant more time alone with his thoughts, with paranoia and tired mistrust of his supposed allies, and also the fact that soon he would have to jump through whatever hoop the Qun threw at him for a fucked up alliance.

He had to ally with the Qun. He had pushed around it in his spare time, but he Had to ally with the Qun. As far Adaar could figure, whatever binding he had was for him to try his best to support the Inquisition in the manners he deemed best. He thought demons would be able to help, so regardless of the middle finger, he could recruit demons.

He had unfortunately considered the possibility the Qun could be an asset, and now he was stuck shooting for this alliance.

The only silver lining was this meant it was almost certainly not Solas as Solas loathed the Qun with every fiber of his being. Adaar supposed he could be playing some really long twisted game which was why Solas wasn’t off the list completely despite the fact that Solas had told him personally that allying with said Qun was a terrible idea and he shouldn’t do it.

Like, if Solas really didn’t want him to ally with the Qun, and he’d done it, he could just alter the order, slap on that conditional. Solas was likely skilled enough to do it without Adaar noticing as he was, in fact, the ancient elvhen god of treachery. Also freedom and wolves and pride, but that treachery was a bit of a concern.

How an elvhen god of treachery and pride also became, or maybe started, as one of freedom was something Adaar didn’t know, as Solas wasn’t prone to thinking about such things, and Adaar didn’t know if it would be Rude to ask. Yes, Solas loved to hear himself talk, but Solas also was an elusive fucker about certain topics.

On the bright side, he would be out of Orlais and still having to smile at fucking chevaliers and put up with a great deal of insinuations and insults and people still treating him as if he wasn’t a person, a sneeze up from how he got treated as a demon. It had been honestly disheartening to find out just how much people looked down upon kossith. Adaar had figured on at least some level of mortal solidarity, but then Adaar had been a silly demon in the Fade ignorant of even more ways mortals were just shit.

Adaar personally wished all of the chevaliers a screaming, agonizing death. He felt unclean in their presence, their thoughts floating around him.

Some asshole had even switched a very important fork on him while the host very purposefully decided to serve venison, meat that required two hands to eat. While this would be a mere slight elsewhere, in Orlais?

Adaar simply switched the fork right back, stole that guy’s fork, and tsked at the poor noble who didn’t know proper serving etiquette, and that was just what Adaar got for going to second rate parties. Adaar then proceeded to invisibly hold the knife via ‘magic’ and eat just fine, thanks.

Leclair was currently somehow buddying up to Gaspard in what was going to be the backstab of the century. Leclair had managed to regain power back, and Gaspard was scrambling for allies especially as the Chantry was in favor of Celene. A distant well-connected Marquise on the rise would do well enough, and it would give Leclair momentum to use his resources for her own personal ascension.

Meanwhile, Herren and Wade were going to go work directly at the Inquisition’s headquarters. Wade would only be working on personalized armor now after all, with the best ingredients Thedas had to offer. It would be for a world-saving organization currently watched by all the countries. A chance to have his expertise shine and be known to everyone watching and work on projects that previously could only have been the stuff of dreams.

Wade was really happy about this, and that made Herren happy for finally getting his beloved’s dream to be realized. If this also had the benefit of having Herren at the Inquisition where Adaar could pester him with advice, then you know. Things happen.

Between that and selling the Bone Pit and having a new pet and that nice date with Dorian—the one with the chocolates, not that failed disaster on the balcony—Adaar had managed to keep a grasp on his sanity by the skin of his teeth.

This last day was wrapping things up including gathering all of the mail, delivered here where it was easier instead of couriers trying to brave the Frostback mountains.

Adaar carefully gathered up the numerous letters that had been delivered to their suite to go deposit them in the makeshift war room—a constant state of affairs—where he, Leliana, and Josephine could pour over them. Right after, of course, Leliana checked to see if any of them contained deadly poison or traps. As it turned out, there were only two today, one to Josephine, and one to Adaar.

Adaar didn’t even know if he could get poisoned. It was a contest, a strong intent to kill him. So in that case, yes, but if Adaar just snorted some random poison he found lying about, would that work?

Well, it wasn’t something he was about to try out for research.

They quietly sorted through the mail first in various stacks because organization was key to minimal frustration. Some were from businesses, some from current allies or upset rivals, some from possible allies-

Adaar suddenly noticed a fancy envelope with the seal of a stylized horse.

Oh haha no they didn’t.

“Uh, Adaar?”

He grabbed and swiftly opened the letter, ignoring the people around him, and poured through the contents.

“Josie, hush.”

He read it, and then he re-read it, and then he started giggling for no reason at all.

“Well I wouldn’t have expected them to support us,” Adaar said in a weirdly cheerful tone, inwardly vibrating in anger. How dare they contact him? Filthy traitors, casting out their own kin. “I suppose it was nice enough for them to publicly denounce us, send a memo. Maybe they got inspiration from the Chantry.”

Adaar tossed the letter down, and Leliana carefully picked it up.

Josephine looked sympathetic. “Adaar-”

Adaar left the room.

Sometimes, Adaar would just be in the Iron Bull’s room, usually because he had a question about how the world worked. After the first time when the Iron Bull almost had a knee-jerk reaction to Stranger in his safe area, Adaar would keep a low, green glow going, enough to be faintly noticeable from under the door. It was still somewhat annoying as sometimes the Iron Bull liked just being able to go to his room without wondering if someone was going to be in there, but Adaar had stopped doing it after he got the news about Trevelyan’s death, and then he found he missed it from time to time.

Seeing it now flickering from underneath his room’s door filled him with a strange mixture of unease and relief. The door then opened for him which was a creepy kind of polite.

Adaar was currently half-curled up on the bed like a cat. He wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be possible with spines and how bones and ligaments and joints were supposed to work, but then. Well. Demon.

The Iron Bull shut the door behind him, walked over, and sat down on the bed next to him. “Hey boss.”

Adaar didn’t so much as push himself up as uncoil into an upright position. He’d been slowly doing more demon-y shit near the Iron Bull. Maybe he was feeling more comfortable around him. He didn’t know, but it was weird.

“This about Trevelyan?” the Iron Bull asked.

A rune suddenly pulsated on the closed door, and all ambient sound vanished. Another rune on the window, brief glow barely visible through the thick curtains.

That would be a yes, then, by Adaar silencing the outside world, as he was wont to do whenever demon or personal information was involved.

“So what’s going on?” the Iron Bull asked.

Adaar just laughed, half bitter. “You know, y’all have a lot to thank him for. I wouldn’t have wasted a single second on any of you. The only reason I have given any of you fucks the slightest chance is because of Trevelyan, so.”

Was he actually opening up about this? Bitter and angry maybe, but that might be good for him. “He trusted you.”

The air shifted around them. “Maybe not from the beginning, but he was straight up friendly. First mortal who had ever done that. Honestly at that point, I thought those stories of mortals who weren’t completely horrible were just that. Stories? So there’s Trevelyan, and that’s one good mortal. Maybe there could be more. But not Trevelyan, because he is very much dead,” Adaar said with a fake chipper tone.

“I am in no way saying this to be dismissive,” the Iron Bull said softly, “but in a sympathetic way.”

Adaar said nothing, so the Iron Bull took that as a sign to continue. “A lot of us have lost someone recently. Dorian lost Felix.” Adaar looked downcast at that. “Cassandra lost Galyan. Leliana lost the Divine, a mentor figure. And that’s only recently. Almost everyone has lost at least one person they hold dear.”

“Vasaad.”

The Qun taught that, aside from also demons, the Fade was the Land of the Dead. The Iron Bull didn’t know if somewhere a trace of Vasaad lingered, or Trevelyan, or Felix, or any number of ghosts.

(Spirits and demons could become convinced they were a person. Was this the source of that belief? Was it a both deal? How long did the dead linger if they did, or was it a mere passageway to elsewhere? The Qun was unclear as more research was needed, but such dangerous research meant it was slow going.)

The Iron Bull winced. “Yeah. Vasaad. But the point is, a number of these dead greatly changed the lives of those left behind. It’s terrible that Trevelyan is dead, but people can understand.”

“See, and that’s stupid,” Adaar said. “That’s just really fucking stupid. Mortals. You all die. Death isn’t inevitable in the Fade. You play your cards right, you can last thousands of years. All of you are doomed to death by your own existence. You’re going to die. Dorian’s going to die! You are all dead people walking.”

He stopped for a moment, pausing after saying that as if he just now realized that Dorian’s death was an inevitability.

“We know,” the Iron Bull said softly and also quickly because didn’t want Adaar to dwell right now on the fact that yes, at some point, Dorian was going to die. “Huge part of any mortal culture is trying to deal with this inevitable and arguing what happens when someone dies.” He hadn’t previously thought that this might be harder for a race who were by definition ‘not mortal’, and he kicked himself for this oversight. Bad Ben-Hassrath. “Do you want to talk about him?”

“Dorian did that with Felix,” Adaar said slowly before snorting. “No. No I’m good, thanks.”

He didn’t seem good, thanks. The Iron Bull had no other way to describe it than a sensation in the room itself, a very particular kind of pressure differing from other pressures, and the only way he knew what this pressure meant was due to their repeated talks.

“Are you afraid I’ll judge you?” he asked cautiously.

“I’m a demon. You already know I’m a demon. Why would I be afraid of anything else?”

“Because you get nervous if you seem too demon-y,” the Iron Bull said. “Like you are afraid you’ll scare me off.”

Adaar raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not necessarily saying I don’t get weirded out from time-to-time”—okay, a great deal of the time, but the Iron Bull was getting used to a permanent state of being some level of weirded out—”but I can put aside my own issues when need be.”

Adaar said nothing, so the Iron Bull continued. “I’m going to hazard a guess here, based upon your own previous reactions to things and also what the Ben-Hassrath have collected about Trevelyan-”

“You have dossiers on everyone,” Adaar said flatly.

“We try our best.” The Iron Bull had no way how to tactfully bring this up or if these sort of topics were taboo to talk about in ‘demon society’ and especially considering Adaar’s earlier reactions to the subject. “Obviously this would have been a temporary thing considering current standings, but did you… at any point… possess him?”

Adaar just stared at him, and the Iron Bull held up his hands. “Not judging. Just a legitimate question.”

Adaar stood up, still quiet. The pressures fluctuated in the room as Adaar walked around in tight circles, sharply turning at the end of each pace, not looking at him. Not angry, not quite, but agitated. Thinking. Already meant a yes on that front otherwise Adaar would have just said no. Finally, Adaar just looked over at him.

“You say you aren’t judging,” Adaar said flatly.

“I won’t lie. I’d be judging if you were still possessing him,” the Iron Bull said. “But you aren’t. That, uh, goes against everything the Qun says about demons, and what the Chantry says as well, and that requires a lot of perspective changing.”

Adaar barely perceptibly titled his head.

It was like the faintest sheen just fell off, rapidly unraveling in a swirling fashion. And there in front of him wasn’t a strange looking not-kossith.

There in front of him was very much a demon.

The few Desire demons the Iron Bull had seen back in Seheron (because where there were magisters, there were inevitably demons) had always been a lavender color. He’d never seen a green one before, but that was probably due to the weird magic in the Anchor.

He had flames licking from his crown of horns, and there were talons and faint scales, iridescent for the most part but shifting into near black on his limbs and long, segmented tail (and some weird part of him eased at seeing that Adaar still had a tail). Black smoke sifted around the room, the same that had around the Envy demon, the same that Cole sometimes emitted after he appeared suddenly; and he was very definitely a demon.

“Oh yes,” Adaar said, and now his voice was off. Or rather back natural for him, a slight reverberation. “I did very much possess him at one point.”

This was absolutely a power move. To be fair, it was kinda working.

Adaar’s eyes narrowed.

“One step at a time, boss,” the Iron Bull said as conciliating as he could. “I’m guessing it’s even worse for you then. I imagine possession is intimate.”

Adaar looked downcast. “Yes, and no. It wasn’t for very long.”

“Was it to get him to escape the Circle? Before the Annulment?”

Adaar snorted. “I don’t know why I bother trying to be secretive around the professional spy.”

“And you can read minds,” the Iron Bull said. “I’d say that tilts the playing field in your favor.”

“Yes,” Adaar said softly. “He wouldn’t have survived on his own. He… was under the assumption that I’d be stuck there if the Annulment happened, and I may have not challenged that assumption. See, and I’m not sure you’ll believe this, he wouldn’t have agreed otherwise. He wouldn’t have wanted to risk me.”

“Possessing him put you at risk,” the Iron Bull said. “With a bunch of twitchy Templars around.”

“But it worked,” Adaar said firmly. “We got out, and then we split.”

“Whatever it you did sure seemed to.”

“Yes,” Adaar said slowly with a slight frown. “Possession normally works fine.”

Something didn’t sit right. “I was referring to the other thing.” Adaar just looked at him blankly, so the Iron Bull said, “the massacre? The Ostwick Circle massacre?”

You could almost see the information processing in Adaar’s mind. “…I’m guessing you aren’t talking about an Annulment because slaughtering off an entire population of mages doesn’t get filed under ‘massacre’.”

Well, he wasn’t wrong.

Adaar’s tailed swished back and forth. “So. You know how I’m missing some memories? Right, yeah, that’s a chunk I don’t really recall very well. I mean, I remember us talking, and me possessing him. The rest is a bit of a blur, you could say.”

It did not take highly trained Ben-Hassrath techniques to realize there was something very wrong going on here. “How about you tell me the most you remember.”

“Okay well. I told you that bit,” Adaar said. “Since we knew something was going to happen. But our plan had nothing to do with a massacre?”

Adaar shimmered, a faint layer sweeping around him, and there was a middle-aged looking man, albeit one with a glowing green arm. “This is Ser Imbert. Or well, mostly. He didn’t have a glowing green arm. Frankly the Anchor disrupts all of my potential glamours, but I have them, and more importantly, I had them. That was pretty much our plan. I’d possess him, Trevelyan that is, and the next day, I’d disguise us to look like one of the Templars, and we would just- walk right out of the Circle.”

The same unfolding happened, and he was the green demon again. “I know something went wrong. Trevelyan got injured. I tried to heal him when we were a good distance away, but I’m not excellent at healing, as it turns out. Well it works, but it’s very noticeable that it’s unnatural healing. So I freaked, and then I split off. And that’s what I remember happening?” He looked uneasy, tail swishing in sharp flicks. “I’m going to take a wild guess and say something else happened.”

The Iron Bull stared at Adaar, the demon, who had no idea about anything that took place and might have been at least 50% responsible for what happened. His day sure was holding all sorts of interesting twists. “Well for starters, it sure seemed like Trevelyan killed off all the Templars in the Circle.”

Adaar stared blankly at the Iron Bull.

“See,” he continued, “apparently a few of the mages got a tip-off that there would be an Annulment by one of the three friendly Templars in the Circle. Trevelyan told them to wait two days and then escape with as many of the youngest children as they could during a very specific night, and that ‘we would try to figure something out’.”

“What.”

“On that specific night, Trevelyan encouraged the rest mages to secretly bar themselves into a safe area. Soon after, the Templars all went mad and started killing each other off. Interesting thing to note though was after a while of this, the mages noticed that Trevelyan was missing in their numbers and was in fact found later standing in a room full of dead Templars.”

“What?”

“One of the mages then freaked, accused Trevelyan of being a malifacar and an abomination, which I’m guessing she wasn’t wrong on that front, and attempted to kill Trevelyan with a spear of ice. It pierced right through his chest, definitely hitting the lung, and would normally be a fatal blow. Trevelyan however somehow survived and ran off.”

“What?”

“Does that match up with the injury Trevelyan had?”

“I- I mean yes but-” Adaar shook his head. “But this makes no sense! You don’t understand. Trevelyan was barely a mage.”

The Iron Bull inclined his head. “I’ve heard that doesn’t mean much when it comes to blood magic.”

“It does a bit,” Adaar said. “Look, blood magic is complicated and dumb and I only just figured out what you stupid mortals don’t realize- the point is that even if Trevelyan was a blood mage, which he actually wasn’t! He still wouldn’t have been able to mind control an entire tower full of Templars into killing each other off. Even combined with me! Like by our powers combined, we were maybe a decently strong mage. That was it. We simply weren’t sitting on that kind of power.”

“I get that,” the Iron Bull said, trying to squash down on his alarm that his demon employer didn’t even remember this. Oh, hey, killed off a tower full of Templars, doesn’t even remember doing so. “But the evidence is damning. You two did something.”

“Did we summon a friend?” Adaar asked, more to himself than anyone else. “Someone powerful who could have? I don’t think I knew anyone like that, or well, not someone who would use that particular style. And if I somehow managed to summon multiple someones, that would have weakened the Veil enough those fucking vultures would have popped right through which would have been damn noticeable. It just doesn’t add up.” Adaar gave him a questioning look. “What, was this common knowledge or something?”

“Well the Ben-Hassrath knew,” the Iron Bull said. “Oh, and probably many of the rebel mages and rogue Templars. That sort of thing gets noticed. A number of nobles from the Free Marches and then elsewhere. Pretty much the entire population of the city-state of Ostwick. A slew of bards. They may have spread a few stories of their own. I mean I’m not saying it’s as common of knowledge that some crazy guy blew up a Chantry in Kirkwall, but word did get around.”

“It makes no sense,” Adaar repeated. “And we already had a plan! A really good plan.”

“Trevelyan didn’t want you to die,” the Iron Bull said thoughtfully. “A whole bunch of mages were also going to die, ones that he knew personally. What if the plan changed?”

“They didn’t want to die,” Adaar said distantly. “I- I would have been able to pick up on that. I’m not a good person though, and honestly, mages do have a shit lot in life, but they take that lot and they hurt demons with it so it makes it harder to sympathize.”

He reckoned it would.

“But Trevelyan,” Adaar said. “He was a Good person. One who was fucked up in the head because the Circles are fantastic that way, but if he felt that through me… And I would have just gone along with it if Trevelyan honestly wanted to.” Adaar looked lost. “Did we actually do something? But what the fuck could we have done?”

“Whatever you did, it was a hell of a plan,” the Iron Bull said.

“And then they attacked us! The ungrateful bastards.”

“Did you ever contact him again?” the Iron Bull asked.

Adaar hugged himself. “No. After fucking up with the healing, I didn’t want to face him. Too much of a coward, I suppose.”

“Like what people normally expect abominations to look like?” the Iron Bull asked softly.

“Kinda,” Adaar said. “And just around that area. So, coverable, but really would want that to remain covered, and I guess avoid contact with too many people.”

Adaar went very quiet, and somehow the Iron Bull knew where his mind went. “There’s no saying if that was involved for him going to the Conclave,” the Iron Bull said. “He already had a reputation, and even if he didn’t, he might have gone to spy for some other group. There’s no way of knowing, so don’t beat yourself up about it. That’s not the best way to honor his memory.”

“I don’t know what is,” Adaar said. “I don’t- he was never supposed to be dead. That was the agreement.”

And Adaar was supposed to be in the Fade.

His emotions looked like they were about to spiral in a very bad direction.

“I can’t keep up with processing everything,” Adaar said, and yeah he was definitely going that way. He laughed then, half-hysterical. “Maybe we killed a whole bunch of Templars! And everyone already knew this about Trevelyan except for me apparently! That sure must have made things awkward for Josephine. And he’s dead and I’m-” He stopped, breathing out deeply, with the faintest twitch.

“Stuck?”

That was a full on hysterical laugh. “Sure, let’s go with that.”

He stood there, silent now and eyes downcast, fire licking around him harmlessly, and drawn in on himself.

“…I don’t really have much I can offer here,” the Iron Bull said, slowly getting to his feet, “but do you want a hug?”

Adaar flopped weightlessly against his chest. He still had flames licking around him, but they gave off no heat, and the Iron Bull put his arms around him. It was at an awkward angle due to their horns and Adaar coming up to his nose, no good way to comfortably rest against each other, but it was at least a hug.

Josephine had thought Adaar would summon her and the other advisers soon. She hadn’t thought he would summon everyone. It made the makeshift war room a tad crowded, and everyone had varying levels of a confused or worried expression.

Adaar clasped his hands together in front of him as best as he could. “Before we begin, I would like to remind you all that I have done you some less than ethical favors.”

That wasn’t a promising opening.

“I could list them in great detail, but I think people would prefer if I didn’t.”

A few of the people coughed awkwardly.

“This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip or something I’m dangling over your heads, but merely a statement since I want a favor that is far less than ethical. If you would prefer to not, then that’s fine, and I won’t judge you for walking out.” He paused. “Though I will be judging a little if everyone walks out right now in all honesty.”

“One of my specialties is unethical favors,” Hawke said cheerfully.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm.”

“Does this relate to Trevelyan?” Josephine asked.

Adaar was silent for a short moment. “Yes. I’ve been doing some thinking of-” He paused again, eyes distant. “He’s dead. I can’t do anything about that obviously; dead is dead. But he had wishes, things he wanted. Maybe I can’t somehow undo his death, but I can take upon his wishes and desires as my own. So. There’s something I want to do that could be considered the Wrong Thing by many parties and the Right Thing by other parties. And then there’s something that’s downright unethical and 100% petty.”

“Is this the petty thing?” Sera asked hopefully, looking as enthusiastic as Hawke, and practically bouncing on the balls of her feets.

“Yes.” Adaar paused again before saying, “I want to completely destroy House Trevelyan. I want to ruin them to the point where they can never recover, not in a decade, not in a hundred years, forever fallen into disgrace and then out of memory of the entire world.”

Ah. Well. That figured. “You will need our resources,” Josephine stated.

“I will, especially since the only nod to ethical behavior is that I can’t have the Inquisition doing this, not officially. That’d look bad,” Adaar said. “It has to be from other sources. So, you people. I’d also like tips on how to go about this. Obviously striking at their finances and leaving them destitute will go a long ways as well as ruining their reputation, but I feel brainstorming never hurts. If anyone doesn’t want to participate, that’s fine.”

Well. Everyone coped in their own way, Josephine supposed, but spending time in Orlais had her fingers itching to destroy someone. Everyone had their hobbies.

Nobody left the room, and Adaar seemed slightly heartened by that.

“Their current stance is against the Inquisition,” Josephine said. “Ergo, they are allying themselves with the Chantry and have been fervent supporters for many generations. Striking at that would ruin a great number of their current alliances and leave them scrambling to find others. Of course, most of the major powers that aren’t fond of the Chantry or Orlais have been allying with us.”

“So make them unpalatable to the Chantry. The Chantry doesn’t care about pesky things like fraud or slaughtering people, mainly demons and mages and non-humans all being lesser.”

“The Chantry does care about fraud,” Hawke said suddenly. “If it’s being done to the Chantry. They were stealing funds. Embezzlement. This entire time! Really quite tragic, so of course the Chantry is going to have to take that back, and you get your reputation ruiner all in one.”

Adaar pointed at Hawke. “I like the way you think.”

“Of course that’s not going to be all their money,” Hawke said. “Of course they’ve got money stashed away, but at that point you could just. Ya know. Steal it.”

“That gets into scam territory,” Varric said. “They might get reimbursed otherwise. So maybe throw a couple of scams at them, see which one takes, and then steal the money they have remaining.”

“And then steal their valuables,” Sera said. “I could do that direct. All I stole this year was a shiny rock. I wanna steal more shite.”

“If we want to leave them ruined forever, we will need to employ all possible angles,” Josephine said. “If someone commits only one case of fraud, that might be suspicious. It’d be more believable if there were multiple targets that were ‘discovered’, possibly through a helpful anonymous source. That also has the benefit of leaving them with even fewer resources and allies.”

“Jennies,” Sera said. “For that discovery bit. I got that covered.”

“We could also dig into their past,” Barris said awkwardly, likely unused to being a participant in such schemes. “Every noble family has current relatives or ancestors that they would like to keep hidden.”

“I can connect them to a Tevinter magisterial household,” Dorian said. “It’s not much, but it’s something. Another thing to denounce before the Chantry I suppose.”

“Really?” Barris asked. “Which one?”

“My family actually,” Dorian said. “We’re distant cousins, mutually not talking to each other.”

Well that was quite a coincidence.

“I really think Chantry-related fraud is a good angle that could be exploited,” Hawke said. “If you want a harder strike at their reputation, just make it a bigger fraud that has been going on for quite some time. The Chantry gets titchy about such things.”

The Chantry also got ‘titchy’ about people blowing up Chantry buildings, but nobody politely mentioned that.

“They’ll still have some allies left over regardless,” Adaar said. “We need to sever those alliances.”

“If you give me a day, I’ll know how to easily,” Josephine said. She looked at the remainder. “Anyone else?”

Blackwall coughed awkwardly. “You seem to have this well-covered. I’m not sure many of us have much more we can add.”

“Not as of now,” Leliana said. “If you give us a few days, that should help us think of possibilities.”

Josephine stared at her. “Really Leliana? Nothing.”

Leliana’s eyebrows lowered just a hair, which by her body language expressed absolute shame. “I’ve… been busy lately with everything that’s been going on.”

“It’s okay,” Adaar said. “I understand. We all have off days. And thank you everyone for contributing. I think we stand a good chance at obliterating them from history.”

“We can only hope,” Josephine said.

Chapter Text

The Iron Bull wasn’t looking forward to this, and he very specifically was not thinking about any implications of him not looking forward to this.

He was worried. He couldn’t put his finger on why (without thinking of the implications, which he wasn’t doing), but he just knew something was going to go terribly wrong. It was that same itch just before something new would go wrong back in Seheron. Granted that had been a near constant thing, and this was likely just paranoia.

(The Ben-Hassrath were infamous for sniffing out such things and knowing where to strike where it hurt.)

The Chargers would be going with a few others to the Storm Coast that Adaar had picked for minimal tension: no Dorian, no Cole, and definitely no Solas who had voiced more than a few things about what he thought about all of this. To be fair, a number of people did, just not as in much explicit detail.

Even Fenris, who normally kept to himself, had made a disapproving remark to Adaar including ‘didn’t we have a talk along these lines?’

This had caused some minor friction between Fenris and Krem who had been slowly bonding over how Tevinter sucked, but why was it the only place in Thedas with good food, and what the fuck was up with Southern Satinalia?

(If the Iron Bull had to kill Hawke, he would need to take down Fenris first. He’d been trained as a bodyguard, but years away had relaxed his senses to more hidden threats. Tasteless poison would do the trick. Hawke was a powerful blood mage; he knew the truth, of course, as there had been witnesses at Kirkwall as much as Hawke played up being the fool. Not as twitchy as Fenris, snap his neck when his back was turned. Toss both the bodies down that hole in the prison.)

But he wasn’t looking forward to this, and deep down he knew that somewhere along the lines, he had fallen. Not completely—he wouldn’t be able to ignore it half the time if he had—but he knew, and the closer the date inched to when they would meet at the Storm Coast, the more it sunk into his bones. And the worst part was that he couldn’t even blame Adaar for all of it.

Some of it though?

Some of it absolutely could be pinned down to the day he met that fucking demon.

Hissrad had watched, half-flabbergasted through the ceremony, too shocked to do anything. After he sought out Leliana to confront her in private, because he knew she had to have been the one behind it.

“You said the plan was for this to be temporary,” he had said. “You didn’t say you were going to make him into the Inquisitor.”

“We had no idea how large the Inquisition was going to be need to be initially,” she said, steel in her voice, “or how far or long we would need to extend our reach. I gave you my best judgment at the time.”

“Poor move not planning ahead,” he said, and she didn’t argue. “Also, what the ever loving fuck.”

“Who best to sniff out lies and the true intentions of the heart than a Desire demon?”

“In theory,” Hissrad said. “Mostly what you did was give him anxiety. He’s been spending his time hiding since the ceremony. You should have done what the initial plan was and let him ‘sneak off’ after.”

“And he would have died,” she said, eyes flashing. “Corypheus would strip the mark from whatever makes up his body and then either bind him or kill him. He is safe nowhere, not here, not even in the Fade, until Corypheus is dead.”

Silence fell then. He couldn’t dispute that. “Still, as Inquisitor? I’m not sure how much he knows about the world. He keeps avoiding questions when asked about topics and running off before the person realizes.”

Leliana hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe someone should teach him then.”

He was going to hate this.

Adaar was no fonder of the cold than that time he almost froze to death after a mountain fell on him. He finally figured it out, which frankly shouldn’t have even been a puzzle to begin with. He had just been the Fade’s greatest idiot and had taken self-inflicted damage like the biggest dumbass there was. The scene set had been set with cold damage to inflict upon everyone in the surrounding areas via avalanche. ‘Everyone’, of course, included him, and then he nearly died while trying to find someone to rescue him.

That said, this was exactly that kind of thing he needed to do in privacy, and nobody liked the freezing cold. Not even him, even if he currently wasn’t taking damage from it.

It still sucked.

Adaar refused to bind, and people would yell at him for this, hence isolated frozen hellscape of the mountains. He needed to know how to do a spell and had sent an inquiry. Now maybe, maybe if a ‘respectable spirit’ had answered, he could have taken it in warm, cozy Skyhold. Instead, Adaar stretched out his hand and reversed what he normally did for closing a Rift. Just a little bit. Just enough to make a safe tear in the Veil. He’d seal it later.

A Pride demon stepped through, almost unfolding larger and larger until she was three times Adaar’s height and built like a small mountain herself. Adaar took those immediate attraction feelings and shoved them into the repression closet. Yes, he was a weak, predictable person.

“So this is the mortal world,” she said, voice echoing around him. She gazed out into the distance, and even Adaar could admit something magical about how much there there was with no edges, even if staring into the Rift made his insides coil unhappily. Fucking homesickness. “The first half of your payment.”

“And in return for you contractually agreeing to not slaughter and/or mind control your way through the world,” Adaar said, nudging a box half his size. Some demons just wanted to be so typical about the whole thing, but she had agreed to merely keep things to ‘basic’ extorting and deception, unless someone was actively wishing harm against her. It was the basic ‘play nice’ summoning contract used for those who would feel responsible if whoever they summoned got up to mischief.

Normally spirits used it should they summon another of their brethren, but Adaar would use some standards here as a representative of the Inquisition and also because he wasn’t a fan of needless slaughter and/or mind control. It was also a strong legal contract that he didn’t have to come up with, and one often used enough it wasn’t an insult, merely a mutual acknowledgment of responsibility.

Pride smiled—a frightening thing that caused Adaar to firmly bolster the repression closet door; he seriously he had a problem—and opened the lid.

“I don’t know whether to keep it for myself as a present or to sell the fortune,” she said. She eyed him, all six eyes glinting. “How much lyrium are you sitting on?”

Templars had a tendency to die. Dead Templars didn’t use lyrium. Other Templars went into rehab, who then may have wanted to use lyrium but weren’t allowed around it. At the same time, they would occasionally find Templar supplies and be able to confiscate them since by technicality the Templars were their allies. Such supplies often included lyrium, and the rate of people using it was dwindling quickly. For the most part, this made for good storage.

For the most part. He may have ‘accidentally’ had a repeated, ongoing accounting error in regards to the lyrium supplies, and now he happily bribed demons and occasionally spirits while keeping a small portion for himself because he wasn’t some ascetic here.

“An amount,” Adaar said. “Enough to do proper business with.”

“This is satisfactory,” she said, holding out a clawed hand already glowing with the knowledge he needed. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

Adaar smiled. “Keep us in mind should you ever decide that you want to flip Tevinter off and join the Inquisition.”

There were many things the Iron Bull was worried about on this mission.

“There’s no need to worry about your contact,” Adaar said. “In regards to me. I got this.”

“Uh huh,” the Iron Bull said.

“Okay to fully test this out, I’m just going to switch back real fast,” Adaar said, and then he looked like a full demon again. It was always a disconcerting feeling, like when vision finally corrected a perceived illusion. Ever since Val Royeaux, Adaar had gotten even more comfortable around the Iron Bull with his demon-y ways. It was both vexing and strangely touching.

Adaar squinted for a second, and the air rippled strangely around him for a second, before he smiled. “Great!”

The Iron Bull raised an eyebrow.

“So… what do I look like?” Adaar asked.

“You look the exact same, boss,” he said.

Adaar nodded, gesturing for him to continue, which gave the Iron Bull pause. “Wait. Huh.”

“See you remember that I look like a Desire demon, so it doesn’t quite work? But as long as I maintain the spell, your contact shouldn’t be able to quite piece it together. I’ll just look ‘weird’ in my obviously-not-a-kossith form but still not connected to ‘demon’.” Adaar then beamed, pleased with himself, and honestly the Iron Bull was somewhat impressed. And relieved.

“How much energy is it taking you to maintain that?” the Iron Bull asked, and the air rippled once more around Adaar.

“Look we are going to be killing plenty of Venatori, so I wouldn’t worry about that,” Adaar said. “I’ve got that death harvest thing down. And that’s efficiency in resources, right? That sounds right anyway.”

Adaar then swished his tail happily, and for a moment, something weird happened in the Iron Bull’s chest, but he put it aside. “Good plan, boss.”

Leliana had confronted Hissrad after the first attempt at sending through a proper letter to the Ben-Hassrath higher-ups. It was in private, and Hissrad assumed she was planning on killing him.

“The agreement was that letters would be overseen by me,” she said. She sounded neither mad nor upset, mostly neutral with the faintest undertone of tired.

They both knew he was going to send through other letters regardless. That was how things worked, and he had underestimated her when attempting, which was sloppy of him. He of course hadn’t asked if he could tell the Qun that the person that could close Rifts was a literal demon who was allowed to run about anywhere he pleased. She would have said no, of course. He supposed he could try asking now, before she killed him.

“No,” she said.

“He’s got a tail,” Hissrad said flatly. “How do more people not notice the tail?”

“Constantly hidden,” she said.

“He doesn’t even look kossith.”

“More of a concern than a tail,” she said, “but I think you forget almost no one in the South has seen much of the Qunari. As far as most know, some Qunari might very well look like that.”

“Some people are going to notice. It’s an inevitability.”

“Oh absolutely,” she said. “And people can be persuaded to remain quiet.”

Hissrad knew he wasn’t the first spy to grace the Inquisition’s ranks. That first spy never reported in. Nor the second.

She was trained as a bard and would likely use some poisoned needle she inevitably had on her body. He would need to make sure she couldn’t get in too close. It’d be a contest of speed in this.

“I think you misunderstand the situation we have going on here,” Leliana said. “This isn’t a span of ten years, or even five. This is a short, brief moment when I need his true identity quiet, because right now there is exactly one person in all of Thedas with the ability to close the Breach. Ethics and morality aside of the personhood of demons, most would not understand letting a single demon roam free in order to seal the Breach, as well as smaller Rifts, and thus halt the growing demon infestation. We need those closed desperately, and he is all we have.”

The sad thing was, Hissrad could understand that. But it wasn’t about Hissrad. “The Qun wouldn’t agree.”

“I think we both know how I feel about the Qun finding out,” she said. “And I would encourage you to not try to tell them in the future.”

It was a gambit for her, and they both knew that. There would always be spies, and the more that died, the more fervently the Qun would try to invade the Inquisition’s ranks. All it would take was one letter she didn’t notice, dropping her guard just once. That, too, would be an inevitability, should Hissrad decide to tell his superiors, and should Hissrad not die of ‘dysentery’ or other unfortunate deaths.

He spent some time contemplating. It was a slow thing, (but then it usually was in the cases he saw in Seheron, a gradual wearing away in bad company until some triggering event), but eventually, he decided to keep his silence, at least for the moment.

It was strange to Adaar finding just how many things seemed more appealing than going down to the Storm Coast and striking up a deal with the Qun.

Paperwork was more appealing. Talking to Orlesian nobles who kept making pointed remarks about how ‘strangely educated’ he was was more appealing. He found he would even rather talk to Mother Giselle about religion than he wanted to go talk to the Qun. It was a sad day when Andrastianism seemed like a better religious deal. You had to honestly try for that, but the Qun somehow managed despite its ‘everyone has a place’ talk.

Others found the idea similarly unsavory and were happy to tell him so at great length, and then Adaar found himself being forced to defend this shitshow. (It was that or explain why he really was going along with it, and that- Well, that was a beast of a conversation to have. Hello yes I am a demon and am bound into this, please don’t tell anyone.)

“Leliana swears by the contract, and I trust her judgment.”

“For the most part, the alliance is a formality, and it will be long-distance exchange of information. Except in extremely rare scenarios, we won’t actually be directly working with them.”

“We have unfortunately set precedence of accepting allies willing to work with us, and up and until the Qun backstabs us or tries to invade, should they agree to work with us and stop what everyone can agree is a much greater threat, then we will simply have to work with them.”

It was one of those funny situations where people didn’t like it, but for the most part they didn’t directly disapprove which frankly spoke of how terrified everyone was of Corypheus pulling a win. Better the enemy you know.

And on the day they set out to the Storm Coast, he reminded himself of all of these things. Justifications, even if he was bound, because at least that would make it easier. Just smile at whatever representative, jump through those damn hoops he was always jumping through for mortals, and then later savor some cocoa to make himself feel better.

The Iron Bull had run through the inventory, and then run through it again. All weapons, armor, and assorted gear were in prime condition for the Chargers. He had drilled them as thoroughly as he could. Yeah they were an unruly bunch of bastards, but they were his unruly bunch of bastards, and the Qun wouldn't-

There was good reason in requesting them. A force small enough for surprise while large enough to get the job done. It made sense. And the Qun was likely interested to know how he had been training them, make sure he had done a good job without giving away any secrets.

Adaar elected to bring Hawke who was basilat-an, and Fenris who was familiar enough with how the Qun worked and also wouldn't cause a diplomatic incident. Whether or not this was also a power move, bringing along the person who killed the previous Arishok with a single spell and then also his lover, was anyone’s guess. Which likely meant it was on purpose to make Adaar feel better without him causing a direct scene. Cole wasn’t here, after all.

And the Qun, of course, sent Gatt. He couldn't pretend this test was purely for Adaar anymore.

“We are only offering this because the greater evil is Tevinter,” Gatt said in a clipped tone. “It was a hard decision and only the Arishok’s past acquaintance and vouching for your spymaster tipped the balance. That and Hissrad's reports."

"Who?" Hawke asked.

Adaar didn't roll his eyes but looked like he very much wanted to. "The Iron Bull's title in the Qun."

The Iron Bull nodded inwardly. Yup. Demon boss knew. Red probably knew. The squirrelly demon kid also likely knew. At least Red couldn't read minds. Probably. Though she did now have a large number of mind-reading demons reporting to her. That wasn’t a comfort, but then he supposed he shouldn’t judge. One of the philosophies of his branch of the Ben-Hassrath was what people thought and said was what they did.

Gatt talked, and all the Iron Bull could do was dissect his words, looking here and there for some clue of what the test was going to be, judging how Gatt did his presentation. He came off a touch too strong earlier to really pull off the classic routine. ‘Oh yes, our superiors are somewhat out of touch, but do not worry as I know how things actually operate out here.’ The Iron Bull had used that routine a lot in Seheron. Many Ben-Hassrath did. People liked to believe that they were either an exception and given trust others wouldn't get (I'll just tell you that I'm a spy, no point in hiding it) or they liked the appeal of a more 'worldly' Ben-Hassrath, one they could feel a bit safer confessing their true thoughts to.

Krem didn’t get it. Krem didn’t sense the trap. Why wasn’t he more suspicious of it all? He was a terrible Vint, blindly trusting Qunari. It would be the death of him.

“We’ll be fine chief,” Krem said, rolling his eyes.

“Alright Chargers. Horns up.”

When Hissrad approached his previous commanding officer, it was with hands up and in easy viewing distance. He carried no weapons, and the only armor he wore was vitaar.

Vitaar wouldn’t stop a properly thrown javelin though. Should he attack, Hissrad would only have a split second to react.

“You can stop there,” Salit said, and Hissrad diligently froze. Or ‘Salit’, since that was his title no longer. He had that wild look in his eyes. Paranoia. Granted they all had that at this point.

“I know it’s not procedure,” Salit continued, spitting on that word, “but I will give you the option of leaving.”

Sentimentality.

“You can’t just leave,” Hissrad said, voice catching on a break he didn’t intend. A dash of genuine would only help, he supposed. “I’ve been here for five years, sir. Five years, and you’ve been here longer?”

Two years. That was the maximum recommended stay for Ben-Hassrath in operation. Any longer drastically increased the rate of soul-sickness. Or Tal-Vashoth.

“Turn back,” he said again, and this time his hand was close to his javelins.

“They said they’d work the rage out of me,” Hissrad said. It was true, after all, and Salit knew it. “That’s why I was assigned here. Because I was already a bad day away from being qamek-ed, but they figured I could be useful here. Give me a chance to prove myself, and once I got the rage out of my system, I’d go home.” He shook his head. “All I get is angrier. I’ve been here for five fucking years, and all I am is worse. But then it never really was about me getting better, just about the right place for me to leave enough damage to make me worthwhile.”

“There is no efficiency in wasting resources, in wasting people,” Salit said, sad and angry at the same time. And then he just looked tired. “They are never going to reassign you, Hissrad. This is the most useful place for you to be for them, even if it kills you in the process. You have to see that, right? You were one of the brightest.”

He did see that, actually.

“You were the first person to help me with that,” Hissrad said. “People had tried to help before, but you were the first person to succeed. Meditation never helped. ‘Working the rage out’ never helped. You understand that, right? I was told I was a wild thing, unable to be helped, and then you happened.”

When Salit remained quiet, Hissrad pressed his advantage. “The only thing the Qun has told me that I was good for was mindless labor, and then it sequestered me here for five years. You’ve helped me when no one else would. Sir, I’m not exactly feeling the homeland loyalty at this point. I stayed- we stayed because of you, because of your guiding influence. And if you feel like leaving, then I don’t feel like staying.”

He stood there for a good long while, staring at Hissrad, eyes narrowed, before finally his hand began to drop.

“Good,” he said. “The Qun doesn’t deserve you, and you deserve better.”

It took three hours before Hissrad found the right opening. He made it as painless as he could. Even if he had gone Tal-Vashoth, Hissrad hadn’t told a single lie, and he could at least give his old officer that much.

And then he picked up the body so all could properly identify what became of him, and he returned to the Qun.

Their group was going to make it out alright. They were fine. The Chargers though?

“There's still time to move them back,” Adaar said, staring transfixed.

“...yeah.” And it was defeat, some checkmate Adaar hadn’t even known about.

“Your men need to hold that position, Bull,” Gatt was saying.

“They do that, they're dead.”

“And if they don't, the Venatori retake it and the dreadnought is dead. You'd be throwing away an alliance between the Inquisition and the Qunari. You'd be declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth.”

The Iron Bull was angry and pissed and wanting.

Adaar had to do what was best for the Inquisition.

Gatt continued talking, a buzz of noise, while the Iron Bull wanted, bright and beautiful and mesmerizing. It had been fake at the start, a way to gain trust, but oh it had become real. Not just to the Chargers, but to him as well. He loved them all, and he hated that he loved them because in that moment, he cared not for alliance or for Qun but only for them. At that moment, he didn’t care about the results, didn’t care about the dreadnought, didn’t care about what this would make of him because he just wanted them all alive.

But it wasn’t his choice to make, and the Iron Bull looked to Adaar, wary and uncertain.

The alliance would benefit the Inquisition far more than the Chargers would.

But the Iron Bull wanted. He wanted, and Adaar loved him, and he needed to do this, it was him, it was the greatest concept he had ever found in the Fade. And Adaar liked the Chargers. He liked them, fuck the Qun. He needed to tell the Iron Bull to sound the retreat, but his voice was held. He inwardly screamed, thrashing against the binding, and every second was another slipping by with the Venatori approaching. He needed to do this, he needed-

No wait he knew this. He had learned from watching that fucking magister of all things.

Adaar quickly reached into himself, into his core, into his thoughts and perceptions, and twisted. All at once, things became clear.

“Sound the retreat,” Adaar said calmly.

And Iron Bull looked out at the Chargers weighed against the lives of far more, took a demon’s device to save his heart’s desire, and he blew the horn.

Gatt barely spoke to Iron Bull on the way back. It wasn’t that he didn’t care because Gatt was an old friend. He knew the symptoms well enough; Gatt was still in some state of shock, having not fully processed what he just did. He himself seemed to be along the same. His Chargers were alright though. There had been a few close calls for some of them, but they were all alive.

Everyone was bustling about at Skyhold as they normally did. The familiar routine of it was strangely jarring.

“It is my duty to inform you that there will be no alliance between our peoples,” Gatt said stiffly. “Nor will you be receiving any more Ben-Hassrath reports from your Tal-Vashoth ally.”

Adaar gave Gatt a cold look almost worthy of Vivienne. “I don’t do loyalty games,” he said, voice clipped. “I don’t jump through hoops on demand, and I certainly don’t risk my people for an organization that as you pointed out sees us only a step up above Tevinter. I had no assurance you wouldn’t pull these kind of mind games again, that in the end, we wouldn’t lose more people in the long run in order to ‘prove ourselves’ to you. I have a responsibility to the people under my command that I won’t throw away their lives needlessly, and it is one I do not take lightly.”

Gatt said nothing.

“It truly is a shame the Qun wasn’t willing to work with us,” Adaar said. “An alliance would have benefited us both.”

“It’s a shame you proved you would sacrifice a few against the many,” Gatt said, also glancing towards Iron Bull. He supposed it should sting.

Adaar’s eyes narrowed. “A forced sacrifice, and as pointed out, one I had no guarantee you wouldn’t repeatedly have me make.”

“You under orders to kill me, Gatt?” Iron Bull asked out of warped sense of curiosity. Sometimes they were given orders. He had been proactive in the past.

“No,” Gatt said. “The Ben-Hassrath have already lost one good man. They'd rather not lose two.”

‘Good’, part of him wanted to say, as Gatt walked away. Good for Gatt. A strong sense of integrity would aid him, and the Qun was a good life for many. Another part wanted to know why not? ‘His soul was dust’ already, but then that was a joke, wasn’t it, because the Ben-Hassrath didn’t have souls.

There was a high turn-over rate for Ben-Hassrath. It wasn’t talked about, but Ben-Hassrath defected more often than others.

He had defected.

Shortly after he excused himself. He wanted to sit and think in private, but instead he made sure to celebrate with the Chargers even if everything was still in a haze of surreality. Some of them knew what this had personally cost him, and Krem definitely knew. The last thing he wanted was for them to blame themselves.

After he sat on his bed in his room, staring at his hands.

He didn’t regret it.

He should regret it.

He didn’t, and how dare he not feel guilty over this many dead?

The Qun knew what he had been keeping in a tiny box in the corner of his mind, and that was what he was. He had strayed some time ago because otherwise he wouldn’t have listened to Adaar’s order and would have let the Chargers die. The test would be over for Adaar, and Hissrad would have been pulled out, and the Qun would do its best to keep whatever spies they could in.

A knock came with no sounds before. He found he really didn’t want to talk to him right now, something nasty bubbling under the surface.

Demons in his head. Wasn’t that the big warning in the Qun? They would lead you astray. Too many spirits, too many demons, too many bas saarebas, and it got to him just like all the parables said it would. They find that offer you can’t refuse, clever clever demons. And yeah, a good deal of that was on him, but the other part?

“Come on in,” Iron Bull said neutrally as he could manage.

Adaar slipped inside.

“Hey boss,” Iron Bull said, and he himself wasn’t quite sure which ‘boss/bas’ he meant.

“You’re mad,” Adaar said, eyes narrowed.

“You do this on purpose?” Iron Bull asked. Adaar held no love for the Qun.

“How… could I possibly have arranged all that?” Adaar asked. “That’d be quite the set-up.”

“You get in people’s heads. You’d know what Gatt wanted, know the safer route, the plans he had.”

“That’s really not how that works,” Adaar said.

“Really? Because our last trip to Orlais hints otherwise,” Iron Bull said angrily.

Adaar stopped, blinking once, as if it had just occurred to him. Normally Iron Bull might find this endearing, but now it only found it infuriating.

“You made it clear what you hated and what you didn’t want to have happen. Was I just collateral damage then?” he asked. Or. “Or was this simply about your deal and my desires, about wants against what was needed?”

Silence from the outside. Adaar looked at him as if he was a particularly annoying insect, and oh that didn’t help anything. “You weren’t the only one wanting things there. You do realize that? You aren’t the singular focus of Thedas. Not all wants and desires come purely from you. Gatt really wanted that alliance, Iron Bull. I wasn’t fucking lying back there. It was head games. They test you by risking a good deal of theirs. They weren’t playing by their supposed ‘rules’. It was hypocrisy, and yes, I honestly did what I thought was best for the Inquisition.”

They stared at each other in silence, both equally pissed now.

Did he though? Or was he lying? Or was it Iron Bull’s corruption, twisting Adaar’s mind further. Solas claimed that spirits could be twisted by people, and if there was one already disinclined…

(But there was no place for them in the Qun, so how could he blame them for so heartily rejecting it?)

“It wasn’t though,” Iron Bull said. “Tactically, it was a bad move.” And he hated himself for saying it, felt it tear at his heart, but it was. “You can’t win this by just wants alone.”

“Fine,” Adaar said, and Iron Bull could swear he saw the flames around him. “I’m so sorry for saving the Chargers. I’ll keep your words in mind for any future decisions related to you in particular. After all, it’s your decision.”

Adaar span on his heels and almost walked out the door before crashing just to the side of it. He staggered backwards before reorienting himself.

Iron Bull frowned, and felt concern start to replace anger. He slowly pushed himself up on his feet. “Boss? Uh-”

“Fuck off,” Adaar hissed, anger and pain alike, and this time for a sliver of a second, Iron Bull did see fire. Adaar twitched before successfully opening the door and walking out, the door for some reason softly shutting behind him.

Iron Bull stood there in the silence. For the second time this week, he had really fucked something up.

Chapter Text

‘Sour’ didn’t even begin to cover it.

Nor ‘hurt’.

Or ‘betrayed’.

It-

He-

Adaar busied himself with the fallout. He had expected Disapproval from Leliana but actually hadn’t gotten any. She’d been saddened by the lack of alliance, but she didn’t blame him. She had apparently figured it could have gone either way and had been more interested in giving it a shot.

Josephine had been breathing sighs of relief. The Inquisition had attempted to ally with the Qun who had proved to be unreasonable. She decided to spin it, and thus the Inquisition looked open-minded without actually allying with the Qun, which would have greatly upset a number of their allies. Granted they had still pissed off the Qun who now may or may not trust the South was under decent management and be more inclined to invade, but you know. You win some, and you lose some.

Adaar didn’t eat nugs. He could respect Cole’s strange love of the vermin. Instead he felt- not hungry, not quite. Perhaps sick, if sick was a thing a demon could be. Insides twisted and wrong, and everything seemed too bright, too harsh, too loud. And then the inside twisted coils was twisting the outside. Things kept twitching and shifting their supposed positions. And it wasn’t exactly the mystery of the universe to figure out why because it all happened after he fucked with his perceptions to get Iron Bull his heart’s desire.

Who then told him everything about Adaar as a concept was wrong.

So mostly he laid on floor, sprawled out everywhere in abject misery.

Just misery about the coils thing. Nothing else going on at all.

(What else could he have expected?)

And then the sun was up, and he had to do work because Cassandra was the greatest traitor in existence for throwing him into this position.

So he sprawled across the desk instead of the floor, idly looking at the papers he was supposed to be reading in front of him. This was probably why. She just didn’t want the paperwork. Selfish asshole. He idly shuffled the papers around with a finger before he noticed something and frowned. He straightened a little then and flipped through them. He didn’t have yesterday’s papers. There was no question of if there were papers from yesterday (handed to him through Josephine), because every day was paperwork day, but they weren’t here.

Something was amiss.

He carefully headed to Josephine’s office, sometimes accidentally brushing up against a wall when things began to angle weirdly in front of him and sometimes on purpose to keep himself steady. But he made it to her office with no horrible accidents.

She wasn’t there.

Well shit. If it was anyone else he wouldn’t be worried, but Josephine was the sort of person you had to trick into accepting vacation time. He tried to extend his senses before wincing and needing to sit down in a chair, feeling like all his insides were about to spill out everywhere all over the floor, and this was Josephine’s office. If he was going to spill his insides out everywhere, it would be in the room of someone he didn’t like.

Someone who would remain nameless. Just some random person.

He attempted to brace himself against a desk with an arm before clipping through the desk and banging himself against the hard wooden surface because he had been an idiot and had tried to do that with his Fade arm. He cursed, audibly and repeatedly, and then switched to bracing with his physical arm.

He would like to blame that on the sickness, but no. He kept forgetting which arm could actually interact with physical shit.

She was normally an easy person to find, forever feeling guilty about missing better surroundings from her court days, but this time it took actual searching only for him to realize she was still in her bedroom. She was alive—so she hadn’t been murdered off by assassins yet—but her mind seemed wrong and almost sick for some reason.

The answer to that, as it turned out, was that because she was sick.

“Oh Josephine,” Adaar said.

Her eyes were puffy and red and heavily bagged. Her nose was also puffy and red, and her skin was sweaty and had a bad pallor sheen to it. Adaar didn’t even know mortals could sweat that much and had thought he had seen the limit of sweaty humans with Blackwall, but here was he, proved thoroughly wrong.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t know you weren’t working today,” Adaar said.

“No, no. I am,” Josephine protested, pushing herself into a sitting position. “I just need a moment to collect myself.”

Something was seriously wrong with her. And not just physically. Maybe she was a workaholic. It couldn’t be healthy. And it wasn’t even that she liked working to that extent, though she did enjoy it on some level; she merely felt compelled by some other domain to such ridiculousness. Well, he wasn’t going to stand for it.

“You need to rest and get better,” Adaar said, but nope. Now Josephine was standing all wobbly. “I know you are normally very busy, so the rest of us will simply have to try to up our game.”

“I can’t possibly-”

“You can’t help anyone like this,” Adaar said, “and stressing yourself out will only make it harder to get better and back to your normal level of efficiencies, so don’t even think about trying to work through it for others’ sakes or some bullshit like that.” He paused for a second. “Also, I’m going to tell Leliana you are sick, and if you don’t behave, she may barricade you into this room.”

“Mblegh,” Josephine said. She then sniffed grossly before leaning against Adaar who patted her on the back. He didn’t care. He couldn’t catch mortal ailments. He didn’t seem to be in Thedas the same way Cole and Herren was after all, so he was probably safe. “You are a good friend.”

“I think just about anyone would want you to rest up and not infect everyone else with whatever you have,” Adaar said. “So there is a selfish element involved.”

“Still a good friend,” she mumbled. And then she threw up all over his shoes.

After a brief corporeal shimmer where no one could see him to get the vomit off, Adaar had summoned everyone to the war room meeting and then divvied up the various tasks Josephine took upon day-to-day. The hope was that all of them together could more or less make up one inexperienced version of her. Also everyone else did have duties of their own, even if none of them matched the sheer bulk of what Josephine would do.

And not ‘Josephine and her attaches’; the attaches had already been covering for a great deal but had their normal jobs. This was purely just Josephine.

Most were assigned to entertain various nobles based upon how interesting and likable they might seem to Ser Whoever and Bann So-and-so. Vivienne was put in charge of overseeing a large number of tasks, decorations, food, and the like because the Orlesians were here, and Vivienne was the backup expert on everything Game-related. He trusted her judgment implicitly. Dorian and Sera were given a different task. Occasionally nobles would show up as malcontents or spies or to set up and loudly go on and on about how terrible the Inquisition was. They were to be the party crashers, the subtle hexes, the pranks. Of course one could spin the social situation right back around; Dorian would be tackling the likely harder cases, Sera the weaker ones, and Adaar those few that needed a special touch.

Cole and Iron Bull would be guarding Josephine. She still had assassins after her, and this might itself actually be a botched poisoning attempt, and if it wasn’t, well, she certainly was weak right now, wasn’t she? A prime target for assassins. Thus they would be swapping out on a day/night shift. Cole had things to make and projects to prepare for when he was guarding as well as being (probably) immune to disease since he was a spirit. And okay, Adaar seemed a bit less corporeal than Cole, but Cole still trumped Herren, and Adaar didn’t know if Herren could get sick either.

Iron Bull, meanwhile, might be immune as he was a different race than Josephine, but Adaar was hoping he’d get sick anyway. Adaar had already run into several walls at this point; let Iron Bull suffer some.

Adaar could have hexed Iron Bull as well, something to make him just unlucky, but that could easily spin out of control. His bad luck could affect others that Adaar didn’t want to hurt, which normally might be a risk Adaar would take here because boy he was feeling all sorts of spiteful, but Iron Bull spent a lot of time with people Adaar cared about. So simply sickness it was.

…okay sickness and one minor hex.

It also wasn’t a great time since people had heard Adaar was going to be in Skyhold somehow and were now wanting him to personally settle various matters as  apparently the institution mortals took their cross-country disputes to before the Breach was the Chantry, but the Chantry was busy. Much too busy to deal with any other matters, thanks, and now that the Inquisition somehow was pulling through with a solid reputation, mortals were more and more deciding to go to the flaming eyeball people.

Adaar had tried to say no. Leliana had told him the correct answer was ‘yes’. She then went on about how he was settling into this better than expected, he was doing a good job and should feel Proud of himself, they shared a laugh at the joke, and then she pushed him into the throne room with various people waiting. Adaar managed to not fall on his face and counted that the first major success of the day.

The disputes were annoying but not terrible, Adaar figured. Better than actually judging people. He hated that. He wasn’t a Justice spirit and always felt awkward when casting judgments. Like really. Shouldn’t they get an expert in here, let some Justice figure out whodunnit and what the sentence should be? Adaar had yet to recruit a Justice spirit yet, but there was always hope, you know.

But aside from judgments and flattering nobles, sometimes people wanted to join on special. As in, they wanted to talk to him first before joining. Which was sometimes annoying, but then, half of his ‘inner circle’ talked to him first before joining. Also more and more they tended to be spirits or demons in disguise, or not in disguise sometimes, which he had even a harder time disputing. If there was some mythical demon employer who was nice to demons in theory he’d want to chat to the person face to face too. Make sure there wasn’t secretly bindings or whatnot going on. And usually he just sent such people to a recruiter anyway since he was a very busy person, but sometimes he felt indulgent.

“I’ve got, uh, references in places here in the mortal world. Contacts. Whatever,” the Desire demon was saying, and he was trying his best to not be biased. She seemed oddly familiar for some reason. “Do warrants for my arrest count? Because I have those too in some cities. And if you think about it, an arrest warrant is just a fancy letter of recommendation, right?”

“Absolutely,” Adaar said. “So what did you do?”

“Well a number of things, but the longest I’ve been in one place was running a gang in Kirkwall,” she said. “The name’s Hanker. Also, benefits? If we sign on, do we get rights? Like can I sue someone who tried to kill me?”

Oh that’s why she seemed familiar.

Tale of the Champion.

Adaar thought about it. “I mean. I can’t think of a reason why you couldn’t.”

She fingergunned him. “Nice. Anyway, I wanna sue Hawke. On account of how he tried to kill me and all, and I wasn’t even trying to kill him at the time, so that’s just rude.”

Hawke was brought in, Fenris and Varric trailing behind with worry on their faces. That worry was replaced with incredulousness as the situation was fully explained.

“She can’t sue me! She’s-” and then Hawke cut off for a second, glancing between Adaar and Hanker and back. “…supposed to be dead.”

“Nice save,” Fenris said.

“You ruined a perfectly good illegal gang,” Hanker said in a drawl.

Adaar coughed.

“A perfectly nice group of people having fun activities? Anyway I was just minding my own business in my secret hideout which took my own money to get and then Hawke there and his band of yahoos come in and kill my people and then try to kill me.”

“You were dead!” Hawke protested. “This can’t be the same demon. I thoroughly killed everyone there.”

Varric nudged Hawke.

“Thoroughly killed everyone who tried to kill me first when I broke into their hideout. That’s legal, right?”

“Technically as it was our home, we had the right to defend our property,” Hanker said. “Or the humans did. So that was illegal, yes. Also I put out a decoy like any sensible demon would. I mean ‘dying’ did hurt. My feelings, at least. Regardless I’m less interested in getting any kind of revenge for the attempted murder and more interested in all the shit you stole from me.”

“This is why you don’t make deals with demons, Hawke,” Fenris said, and there had to be some in-joke there because despite not making a logical kind of sense, Varric cracked up.

“How did you run a gang in Kirkwall if you don’t mind me asking?” Adaar asked, fingers steepled together. “Did you have a glamour on, or-”

“Oh no,” Hanker said and then waggled her eyebrows at him. “I just told people that was I an escaped saarebas, and that’s why I looked like that and also was unfamiliar with their weird customs and whatnot.”

Adaar leaned forward. “You have tail, madam.”

“Sometimes kossith have tails,” she drawled. “Though I can’t fault most people for not knowing.”

“Your head is on fire.”

“Oh yes that’s a mage thing,” she said. “Sometimes mages are always on fire.”

“How many people believed you?”

She shrugged. “About half? Which frankly was enough. I wasn’t, ah, running around near the Chantry or anything like that, just in the underworld. A number of demons there can go unnoticed for some time.”

“So. Do you have proof of evidence that you would like to submit that Hawke stole your stuff?”

He had; Adaar could in fact see it plain as day, but Cassandra had beaten him over the head about customs and ‘we can’t just use truth spirits as lie detectors’ which was frankly bull.

She smiled and held out a very familiar book.

“Fuck,” Hawke said. “Damnit Varric, why did you have to publish all my crimes?”

“Killing demons and stealing their shit didn’t use to be a crime,” Varric said.

“There was more stolen than what was in Tale of the Champion,” Hanker said, “but Varric was kind enough to publish it for me, and I’ll go for what’s in here.”

“Why is this so important to you?” Hawke asked. “You could just steal the money. Make another gang. Nothing’s stopping you.”

“I don’t know; I guess I thought it would be really funny if a demon took a human to trial,” she said. “Also you did hurt my feelings. You know what, I would also like a formal apology from you as well as your people who ‘killed’ me.”

“Direct recompensation and an apology is about the best you could ever hope for,” Adaar said to Hawke. Like he didn’t know much about Justice things, but this wasn’t even a direct tit-for-tat since nobody was dying.

Hawke relented, and Hanker grinned, tail swishing once.

And then Adaar thought about kossith and how they don’t have tails and previous conversations he had with people on those lines.

There went Adaar’s mood again.

Hanker declared Adaar a ‘decent enough sport’ and did sign in. She did indeed have a good number of contacts, primarily in Kirkwall, but also in a number in other major cities in the Free Marches, including Ostwick.

Adaar was still learning the intricacies of the mortal world, in this case about when to refuse a request through paperwork, or when to see someone and refuse them in person.

At this point, he had a stamp for refusing to build a Chantry on Inquisition grounds because boy, that’s what everyone fucking wanted to do with his garden space even after he built a garden there. And now he had been forced to see two groups about that same issue once again. Well, he hadn’t been forced to, but ‘the Chantry’ (a spirit Chantry) and ‘the First Children’ (a demon Chantry, points for a better name) both really wanted to build some kind of a chantry on Inquisition grounds, the first as it was a sign of penance and forgiveness and so on, and the latter as it was a sign of creativity and industry which they claimed was essential to salvation. Adaar found it a lot harder to say no to fellow Fadefolk, but he had already established a No-Chantry-In-My-Garden precedent here, though if these groups would like to build some things, he could try finding some suitable land for them.

Even if it was for the fucking Chantry. He would support his fellow kin even if they decided to make the worst decisions in belief systems because if they wanted to, then fine, ugh. And at least it wasn’t dealing with the Orlesian Chantry. He had that small comfort.

He would of course acquire such land in the very same methods of how he made some money through selling the Bone Pit. Just shuffle around until you have what you need. Of course the mortals in the party found out about it all and were shocked over it all, except for surprisingly Sera.

“Dunno, that’s the first dumb bit that makes sense,” she had said. “You should be Andrastian. So. Good of them I suppose. Doesn’t stop them from being all wrong.”

“How does demons being Andrastian make the slightest bit of sense?” Blackwall asked. “You would think being a demon would be the exact opposite of being Andrastian.”

She shrugged. “Elves aren’t allowed to join the Chantry either,” she said conversational-like. “All ‘blah blah godless heathens’ and ‘humans were made better than elves’. Still Andrastian elves though.”

Blackwall looked exceedingly uncomfortable.

“Chantry does bits we don’t like, support it anyway,” Sera said with a shrug. “Andraste is for everybody. Not that hard. Faith, yeah?”

Sera had earlier said that demons didn’t count as people. Huh. Like. She was still being awful, but that was a kind of growth, Adaar supposed.

“People have never made sense in the history of people, and I don’t think demons and spirits are excluded from that,” Adaar said. “Point in case, there are qunari demons. I think mostly because everyone keeps telling them they can’t be qunari and a demon, and spite gets to you.”

Sera nodded. “Spite’s powerful motivator. Dumb tho. Should be Andrastian.”

Still a kind of a growth. Maybe a shitty gold star for trying.

“I still think the Maker’s a shitty god,” Adaar said.

“Fallible,” Sera said, and Adaar wondered if she had picked up that word from Dorian. “He’s a fallible god, but it’s not called ‘Makerism’ it’s called ‘Andrastism’ because it’s about a lady lecturing some god and winning that lecture. That’s in the texts. Andraste was right, Maker was wrong, and then shite happened and now we are hoping we can get Andraste to get his ear again. Though don’t see why he has to be infallible to be worshipped. That’s just a really weird idea for a god.”

Some of the disputes were more honest. And then some were some noble trying to steal his neighbor’s cows. Cow fraud. This was what his life had become. Cow fraud. And the problem was that he was getting invested in cow fraud because of the various emotional undercurrents and drama going on with the cow fraud as well as more of a mercantile bent. Cows were worth a good chunk of gold. Cows were a strong resource, potentially could breed more cows and thus more wealth, and just one cow greatly aided a peasant family. An entire herd was something to be proud over. The bigger the herd, the bigger the person’s metaphorical dick.

Adaar had to remind himself to try to sort out the situation and not simply take the cows for himself. And he knew he could, but good will was another precious commodity, and he was hoarding that.

He would need a lot of it for the eventual reveal that would have to happen at some point.

Or.

The other possibility was something he read in Tale of the Champion. Flemeth did it, and she was probably just a really talented mage or abomination or spirit or something. The point was, if she could do it, Adaar couldn’t see any reason why he could not. She had a backup self for when she died. Adaar could make a back-up from him not connected to the Anchor and then die, and then the backup would be free to go live life away from the Inquisition.

He’d be away from being bound and cursing that he was never good at long cons—always went for short thieving missions and barter—because he always got too attached and was now wondering which of these weirdly lovable fucks was the one doing it?

But Dorian was here. And Cole and Herren and Valiance and Josephine.

He’d be able to fully ignore Iron Bull though. It was hard to fully ignore Iron Bull when the guy worked for him.

What Adaar wanted to do was gorge himself on chocolate (Iron Bull showed him that) and flop on Dorian’s shoulder except he couldn’t do that without bruising Dorian, and he didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea of what was going on. Also he had promised to hold down the metaphorical fort for Josephine, so he kept seeing people instead of moping. Which turned out to be the best thing he ever did.

The visitor wasn’t even marked down on his daily schedule, and Adaar at first thought, you know, assassin, as any reasonable person did these days. It didn’t help that they were completely covered head-to-toe in thick, leather garb and a strong metal mask.

Adaar considered the pros/cons of pulling through a squadron of Rage demons to protect him, but he couldn’t feel any hostile intent. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t any hostile intent, merely that the person didn’t want to kill him. Plenty of people didn’t want to attack him and yet attacked him anyway.

The visitor half-staggered forward and in a strange rasp said, “It is said the Inquisition takes in all sorts.”

There was a strange sense about them that didn’t feel Fadelike. It felt slicker, oilier. “Yes,” Adaar said slowly, “as long as they are committed to the goals and principles of the Inquisition and won’t backstab various other Inquisition members, then the Inquisition is happy to accept the aid of anyone willing.”

Cassandra made a fuss about that, but then. Well. If she wanted the Inquisition run a certain way, then she should have thought of that.

The stranger then took off their mask.

Adaar paused.

The stranger looked at him.

He looked back.

“So,” Adaar said with a blink, “I was um. Informed your species wasn’t intelligent or talking.”

The darkspawn shrugged. “It’s complicated.”

It figured that ‘they are all insentient beasts’ was a lie and he never should have bought into it. “Are there more of you like you?”

“Yes. Some want to hurt your kind. Some want to hide. Some want to help, but it is hard to help.” The darkspawn gestured to themself. “Mostly because of the Blight. It is hard to ensure there are no accidents.”

Yeah that would be a problem. “So what is the difference between you and a classic darkspawn?”

“We were severed from the Call,” the stranger said. “In the silence, we found ourselves.”

“…the call of the Blight,” Adaar said, thoughts spinning in his head. “I want to try something. Come with me.”

“So you hear nothing? Feel nothing?” Adaar asked, needlessly, because it wasn’t there. No wants, no thralling. There was even less there than there was in Adaar’s head.

The Messenger (as he claimed his name was, and who was Desire to judge for a name like that? A proper name, even) looked at the red lyrium and shook his head. “It is silent.”

There was red lyrium everywhere these days. Including Emprise du Lion which might just have been pure red lyrium at this point. Sure they had a system, but it only worked in small doses, and had to be rotated, and there was still considerable danger despite all their precautions.

And the Messenger wasn’t lying. He Wanted to help the same way Cole Wanted to help, and it was like a gift from the universe had fallen into his lap.

“Yeah I have a job for you. You and any friendly darkspawn who wants to get paid helping people,” Adaar said.

The Messenger may have smiled. It was honestly hard to tell. Not because of how his face looked but because he had put his mask back on.

Chapter Text

Here was the thing, Dorian thought to himself, from a balcony watching various nobles mingle. Tricksters made for great fun characters in stories. Zazikel got up to all sorts of things when the other Old Gods’ backs were turned, and those stories were still told today despite being the first country to turn to the Chant because heritage was why. You cannot erase our history, and kindly go fuck yourself with a cactus for presuming they’d stop telling those stories.

The problem was in person, trickster characters could be aggravating or annoying. Or intimidating.

Okay fine, Dorian was making excuses as Sera was the Maker’s gift to mankind. Maybe, just maybe, he was a bit wary of Hawke and his complete openness to blood magic combined with that trickster mentality. Sure, Varric trying to get Hawke to keep hiding it at this point was a complete mystery as to why even try, but Dorian, initially, hadn’t known blood magic was in the mix. No version of Tale of the Champion had mentioned that detail. And Dorian would try to reassure himself that no, Dorian spent lots of time around blood mages in Tevinter, and not all of them ended up killing people they didn’t like in their basement for power, or their slaves or political enemies.

…some of them just used their blood magic to torment the unsavory kid, because it so rarely left evidence. And then Dorian had been forced to punch some teeth out in self-defense and then get in trouble with his father who told him to just not be unsavory in the first place.

That was when they first started talking about it though. Blood magic. Both the in theory acceptable kind by Tevinter standards, what the laws were around that, the history of blood magic in Tevinter, and then the theoretically unacceptable kind in Tevinter. And how knowledge of the first only gives temptation to the latter, so the Pavus family didn’t do that.

Just you know. His father ended up doing exactly all of that, former and latter. As did Alexius. And so maybe he was a bit wary now when Hawke said things like “if you want to cause a distraction, I know a great spell to make people think they are on fire. Just think though.”

Dorian gave him a stare.

Hawke shrugged. “Varric’s not around.”

“You know,” Dorian said dryly. “I was under the mistaken assumption that there would be less fragrant abuse of blood magic at every conceivable opportunity outside of Tevinter.”

Hawke laughed and then got serious looking. That was worse than Hawke acting the fool. Dorian preferred Hawke to act the fool. “So where did you pick up that little trick by the way? The anti-blood magic one, making you immune or some shit like that.”

“See, you shouldn’t in theory know about that unless you tried something,” Dorian said. This was the opposite of reassuring. Dorian was not reassured.

Hawke shrugged. “Can you blame a guy for wanting reassurance that if he needed to kill someone at a moment’s notice, he could? What if you went all mwahaha evil and tried to hurt Fenris? What if Adaar did? What if you wanted to ritualistically butcher through all my friends and use their hearts in an evil lab experiment? People say I’m paranoid, but then they haven’t lived in Kirkwall.”

Dorian wanted to say Hawke was being overly paranoid, but then what a thing to say, coming from himself, who lived and breathed paranoia. One did not survive being an altus without that character trait.

“Then be sensible and just set me on fire if you need to?” Dorian asked. “I have seen your elemental magical expertise. I’m sure you could manage it.”

Hawke looked reassured, and Dorian reflected on the fact that he had just reassured the blood mage on how to best kill Dorian if need be.

The Inquisition was a strange place.

“It’s not common magic,” Dorian said, “mostly as Tevinter isn’t fond of people learning how to defend themselves against blood magic, but I had assumed such knowledge would be at least a bit more widespread in the South.”

At Hawke’s blank stare, Dorian elaborated. “Adralla? Everything I know came from what remains I could find of copies of her journals. A brilliant magister from some bygone age, yes, but infamous for fleeing to the South to pursue her research against blood magic. Though in theory she had already found a counter to every possible form of mind control, even against Somniari.” Dorian hadn’t found those particular journals, but a scholar could dream of finding them one day. “I thought her litany at least was in common knowledge in the South, or I had hoped. Her life’s work to make some level of warding against blood magic that literally anyone could use, even a dwarf?”

The spell Dorian used was modeled after the Litany. More of a script of the Fade than anything else, constantly running just on him. Draining, yes, but then no one could mind control him to walk off the fourth floor window. Or worse. He didn’t normally keep it running all the time, but see living and breathing paranoia while in the company of known blood mages.

Hawke snapped his fingers. “Ahhhhhh. Right. Her. I didn’t recognize the name at first. But you think the South would be reasonable for people wanting to defend against blood magic and do research into that. Well. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but she may have been assassinated by the Southern Chantry for her research.”

“What?”

“Oh sure there’s no evidence,” Hawke said. “Just you know. She never got much further into her research after getting crammed inside a Circle. And yeah there’s a litany. Kept under lock and key at all times so no one can study it. Only brought out if it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Why?”

“Because the Circles,” Hawke said simply. “What, you want mages to all learn how to defend themselves against blood magic? Mages with nothing better to do than to study a lot? What if, Maker help us, they figure out how to break active ongoing blood magical effects. Why, then the entire system of phylacteries would be ruined, wouldn’t it? And then one of the only forms of control the Chantry has over Southern mages would be gone just like that. No, best to make sure no one learns how to do such a thing and stamp out any new research against blood magic.”

Huh.

“That’s… certainly a theory,” Dorian said, still musing it over.

“One of them unfortunate ones that makes too much sense?”

“And one best not repeated in earshot of the lady Seeker.”

“You sound like Varric,” Hawke said. “All ‘think of your own safety Hawke’ and ‘dragonlings aren’t pets Hawke’. But like ideally if there ever was a time to tell her my theory, it’d be around now, when she’s still all rattled from the whole ‘we knew how to cure Tranquility the entire time’ thing. Maybe it is best she thinks on these things.”

A spot of silence fell for a moment. One of the nobles started screaming at another, and a duel shortly broke out.

Hawke leaned forward. “So wanna hear my theory on how Adaar is a dragon?”

“What?” And now Dorian was starting to sound like one of the parrots that lived in the corner of the estate.

“It makes complete sense,” Hawke said seriously, and Dorian was going to get him back one of these days for all the times Hawke had to be trolling him. Not about the blood magic, but this. “He hoards things. He’s either bi or pansexual, which are very draconic traits as we all know. His magical knowledge is both talented and also strangely selective. Oh sure he ‘says’ he’s a merc, but he hates killing people, and you will not last long as a mercenary that way, believe me. His biology is weird as best as I can tell, and he poses as a ‘kossith’, you know, the race in theory related to dragons. He refuses to let anyone know anything about his past, and at this point I’m wondering if he’s ever been to Rivain.”

“So you jump to dragon? That’s naturally where your mind goes?”

“I’ve seen dragons turn into people before! They can do that. You know, legally it’s entrapment if he’s a dragon, and you don’t tell me.”

“And how, pray tell, would I know if he was a dragon?”

“Aren’t you two banging?” And it was forever a shock how easily people down South spoke of such things. “No, huh? Not planning on or just haven’t gotten there yet? Anyway, if he is a dragon and you two do have sex, you absolutely should-“

“Are you jealous? No, no you just want to be a dragon.”

“Hey,” Hawke said, sounding offended. “It’s not just me. Tad Cooper would also like to be a dragon. That’s how we bonded, over wanting to be a dragon. I promised him if I ever found out those deep magical secrets, I’d make sure to turn him into a dragon as well, but Fenris also made me promise that’d I’d figure out how to turn back if I do, and you know I’m getting the feeling you aren’t as into dragons as I am which is frankly insulting because everyone should love dragons.”

“Oh you can’t be into dragons too much if you are from Tevinter. That has Connotations of Old God worship.”

A blatant lie, of course. You could pry dragons away from Tevinter from their cold, dead fingers.

“Tevinter is a shithole. Ugh. What about shapeshifting? Does anyone at least know anything about shapeshifting?”

Dorian hummed thoughtfully. “Well. Magister Rochus has been caught halfway between man and mosquito for over a decade now.”

Which was true. Not that Dorian was prone to saying true things about Tevinter, but it was always nice to shake things up, keep people on their toes.

“And he hasn’t figured out how to change back?”

“Oh no, he knows now,” Dorian said. “But way in the past right as he was on the brink of discovery, a rival handed him the cure. That wouldn’t do, so then he made it into a fashion statement. A number of his apprentices followed suit, actually, though with less of stable success. I saw one explode at a party. Got gunk all into the punch bowl which frankly was rude and uncalled for.”

“You know, I’m having a hard time buying this,” Hawke said, the sound of a very jaded man. “Biology is complicated at best. That can’t be stable.”

Dorian snorted. “Corypheus isn’t that strange looking for a magister, you know. There’s a reason people took his appearance for granted and didn’t think anything more of it.”

“So Solas. Can I ask a question?”

“Of course Bull. I understand this is a difficult time for you right now, and I just want you to know, we are all here for you. Including me.”

“Well you might not be after the question. So like. Hypothetically. If say a spirit does you a favor, like say, Honor, completely out of their own free will doing their special thing, like defending your honor or some shit like that, but then they get hurt somehow in the process, how much of an insult would be it be to tell them that the favor they did was a bad decision. And that they shouldn’t factor in their special thing in making decisions in general because it’s unwise and shit.”

Solas placed a hand on Iron Bull’s shoulder. “You have asked me a great deal of stupid questions over this year in regards to spirits and the Fade. That may have been your stupidest one yet.”

“So pretty bad then then.”

“Yes. Yes it would be ‘pretty bad’.”

Adaar had stopped hiding in closets when he wanted privacy. Dorian didn’t know if it was because someone had walked in on him or if Josephine finally explained that wasn’t the purpose of closets aside from storage. Adaar instead would either be in his room or on the roof of his room. It was a change, but then he had been through a number of slow changes at this point. More confident. And more sad. Especially lately, but he was hoping he could find Adaar in a decent enough mood because he wanted to talk to him about Bull and everything going on there because Bull was also sad, and that just didn’t seem right.

He had waited until past evening when in theory Adaar’s schedule was more open.

Bull wasn’t supposed to be sad, nor Adaar. Bull was supposed to be a jovial oaf that constantly lurked in the background with a friendly wave and a terrible pun. But he wasn’t as familiar with Bull, and maybe if he could try to nudge Adaar into forgiving whatever trespass there had apparently been….

Adaar was sitting at his desk, or rather half-lying on his desk while slouched in a chair, staring at a piece of paper.

“Are you alright?” he asked. It was a dumb question, but sometimes one liked to have their appearances after all.

“You know who Ser Virgil was?” Adaar asked instead, and that wasn’t what Dorian thought the topic was going to be.

“A Templar, I presume,” Dorian said slowly as he walked over to where Adaar was.

“Yeah. A shitty one, too,” Adaar said, picking at the edges of the report. “Probably hurt a whole bunch of mages. Probably killed some. Almost definitely killed some. I mean that that’s why the Templars broke off; they were mad they weren’t getting to kill enough mages. Kinda hard for me to sympathize you know. So, likely all around a shit person. He’s dead though. If he had plans for redemption or to hurt more mages or anything at all, that’s gone. Him and a bunch more Templars he was leading in this skirmish. And I mean. At least they died actually fighting threats instead of murdering and/or abusing small children. So I shouldn’t be upset by this. All proper vengeance and whatnot. And I wanted them to die. I want the entire Templar order to die and just be done with because for the most part? Awful people. All sympathy points gone when what they want with freedom is to murder more mages indiscriminately.”

That was where Dorian was at. One of the reasons he never tried fleeing down South before was because he had heard horror stories of the Southern Circles. And it was sobering to find out not only were they right, in some cases it was even worse than what he had heard.

Adaar paused for a second, and he looked the exact same way after whatever between him and Bull burned to the ground. “…and a large number of demons. I recruited a good chunk of them personally. Some had definitely killed someone before, but you know, we need the help, and now they are dead.”

Ah. “They wanted to help,” Dorian said.

“Yeah,” Adaar said, voice thick. “They did. I sold them on this, but- I mean I don’t regret it. Corypheus has to die. He has got to be stopped because otherwise he’ll just go on hurting everyone. And I’ll go recruit some more people, and then they’ll die too likely, but just. I don’t care for when people die, you know? Usually, at least, there are always exceptions, but death is so final. Anything else a person could be or make of themselves, anything they wanted to see happen, just gone. Winked out of existence just like that. And I am partially responsible for their deaths. Maybe they would have died some other way if they hadn’t been in the Inquisition, but they are still dead.”

This was a whole new level in awkward because Dorian didn’t feel quite the same way. Death and life were cheap. If you had a good death, well then, you just about won the system, didn’t you? He preferred to stay alive as long as possible, but you only got one true death because necromancy didn’t count.

Dorian very much doubted that Adaar had been an actual mercenary. Hawke was right about that much. Most mercs understood the cheapness of death, but Adaar had always seemed scornful of it. Probably viewed him the same way he himself viewed a number in Tevinter, and that was weirdly relieving. Adaar was a blood mage perhaps, but one who abhorred both power and death, and thus the chances of him to start killing people to get what he wanted was slimmer. Not impossible at this point in Dorian’s life because he thought he knew safe people before, but slimmer still.

(He seemed decent, but then Magister Alexius had seemed like a decent man, and that was even before he decided to take up blood magic as well as drastically unstable time magic. Dealing with that on his own hadn’t been the pinnacle of fun.

And now Dorian was being petulant. He survived, after all. Felix hadn’t, nor Alexius in the end.)

Instead Adaar hated Templars and wanted them to die. And then they died, and now he was upset about it. Was it because they died in a way for him, under his orders?

Maybe he was a dragon, a small voice that sounded like Hawke’s in his head said.

No, no he wasn’t a dragon. There are many more reasonable assumptions to make about Adaar. Dragon was far down on the list.

So it was on the list then?

Dorian shoved the voice out because this really wasn’t the time. “You only get the one death,” Dorian found himself saying. “Or so my House says. We have had a long history of stupid people who never knew when to quit yelling on how the Magisterium was being corrupt, and unsurprisingly the mortality rate of our House is a chunk higher than some of the other ones.”

Adaar didn’t say anything, so Dorian awkwardly pressed onward. “I’m sure many of them were terrible people, but you didn’t conscript any of them. You’ve allied and paid just about anyone who could be paid. They chose to fight, and at the very least, they died doing something that might matter. Even if some of their motivations may have been heinous, they wanted a better world and were willing to die for it. And if we win, then it’s not for nothing, and their lives do matter. And if we lose, then it’s still not for nothing, because then at least the future world knows that we didn’t idly bend over and let it happen.”

“That’s a very different view,” Adaar said slowly.

“I’m not trying to be a glory hound,” Dorian said. “I’d like to keep my pretty little head intact for as long as possible.”

“Yeah when we first met, you were yelling at Cullen for a plan for his revenge plan,” Adaar said, and he sounded a bit more cheery at that. “Accused him of thinking like a blood mage. Even if they would be ‘good deaths’.”

“Dying should be the absolute last resort, not the first,” Dorian said. “I even went through some processes to get a simulacrum, and those are not pleasant, all so I could have that extra layer of defense.”

Not pleasant at all. Most sane people do not go get a simulacrum, but then sane people don’t try to say unpopular things amongst the Magisterium, and that never stopped Dorian or his ancestors.

See Father, he could absolutely still do the family pride thing.

“No I get what you mean, I think,” Adaar said, and then he finally looked over at Dorian. “…you’ve got a simulacrum?”

“An arcane spirit of Valor actually. I had to get into so many fights in order to convince them that we would be a match,” Dorian said. “But did they want magical fights? Fisticuffs? No, no they said they’d seen enough of those, and they wanted to me to verbally debate every last blighter in the Mintrathous Circle before they would agree to it.”

Which, frankly, was getting off easy with the task required to get a simulacrum. One necromancer he knew had locked herself in a house, completely alone, for several months while enduring all sorts of self-inflicted torture before she finally attracted a spirit of Fortitude.

“…I can see you as compatible with Valor,” Adaar said in a strangely grudging tone.

“On the demon side, apparently it’s with Desire,” Dorian said, and Adaar made some kind of sound between a cough and a snort.

Right. Adaar had modeled himself after one on purpose. Well.

“Anyway, just being maudlin. Thanks for listening,” Adaar said, still sounding so sad.

“Of course.” And then because he wasn’t a complete idiot, “I know the Templar Order has its own traditions for funerals, but perhaps you could make some kind of memorial for the spirits and demons who have died?”

“Yeah,” Adaar said slowly. “Yeah that’d…. That’d be real nice. In stone, because that lasts near forever. Maybe find a large wall in the basement of Skyhold, carve out all the names.”

“And enchant it so it can’t be carved over.”

“Dagna could help with that.”

A brief period of silence fell, and Dorian knew that wasn’t everything.

“Do you want to talk about Bull?” Dorian finally asked.

“No,” Adaar said. “I appreciate the offer, but no.”

“Fair enough,” Dorian said. “But if you ever do wish to talk, I’m always here.”

Adaar glanced up at him (the greenest eyes, and those crackled with the Fade now) and opened his mouth before hesitating. “Maybe someday,” he said.

The next day brought somewhat better news for Adaar. The daily briefing was more strained today, as it was day three of no Josephine, and they were all feeling it.

“You’ve eliminated the House of Repose?” Adaar asked. “Wait no sorry. You’ve eliminated that it was the House of Repose?”

“I wish,” Leliana muttered before giving a curt nod. “They have yet to make a move. This is just poor timing. Josie is recovering and sends that she hates lying in bed. On the bright side, this is the most rest she’s gotten in a while.”

“I don’t know how she manages all of the nobles,” Delrin said, sounding haunted. “This is exactly what I didn’t want to be end up doing again, but at least it’s for a better cause.” He paused for a second. “We can’t just send Empress Celene a letter about the assassins? Do we really have to play the Game?”

“Well we are trying to rig everything so Marquise Leclair ends up as Empress of Orlais, so that’s a no,” Adaar said.

They had been ramping up their attempts at turning otherwise neutral houses against each other, with some success. At the end of the day, ‘Leclair’ would look like the safe, reasonable option, and not a hated enemy by someone or that so-and-so. Establishing her would prevent civil war, and nor was she too deep into the Game where people would see her as an actual threat. A decent stepping stone for the next person gunning for the throne.

Until they realized she knew far more secrets than they thought and had far more forces at her disposal.

Adaar was weighing his own options. Did he let Celene and Gaspard die? Or did he find some way to publicly disgrace them to the point where they would never regain power in Orlais? But even then, they would forever be a threat to Leclair. As would many people, but especially those.

Adaar might have to make sure they died. At the very least, they were terrible people, so the guilt would be minimal. There, but minimal.

“Onto complaints,” Cassandra said stiffly. “A number of the nobles take issue with the number of demons here.”

“Has anyone attacked anyone else?” Adaar asked.

“Not yet.”

“Then I fail to see the problem,” Adaar said. “ I mean, they also take issue with the fact we are paying elves as well, and you know, maybe nobody notices the nonhostile abominations and demons that were always around because they weren’t being hostile.” It was so hard to resist the siren song of snideness. No Adaar. No snipping at important allies. “Sorry.”

“As already mentioned, I prefer this,” Cassandra said, radiating upsetness and generally giving Adaar mixed messages. “We won’t get anywhere based on lies. But do we really need a sloth demon?”

“Excellent for guard duty,” Adaar said. “Nothing gets past them. Draws enemies into their wake and eats them, and hardly anyone can steal from them.”

Except for Adaar, ahahaha, master of stealing from sloth demons, his greatest specialty which would never come in handy in the mortal world.

“Speaking of demons,” Leliana said slowly, “we have been getting rumors of something that could either go well or terribly for us. In the far South, we keep getting reports of people mistaking someone for the Herald.”

“How?” Adaar asked. “Do they have a glowing hand too?”

“No,” Leliana said. “But. Apparently, whoever this person is can also close Rifts.”

Adaar felt like the floor fell out from under him, but in a good way. “Are you serious? I’m not special? Fantastic! We finally fucking find someone else can do this too. Ugh, it kept worrying me that if I spontaneously died, that’d be it for the state of the Veil.”

“People could rally behind this other person instead of us,” Leliana continued. “If whoever this person is even slightly more popular in the eyes of the Chantry, that could go badly for the Inquisition. However, I don’t want to assume that. They could be anyone, though it’s hard to think of a person that the Chantry would dislike more than you at this point.”

“Well this is an easy fix,” Adaar said. “We find this person, whoever they are, and try to get them to work with us. Bring them in asap.”

“It’ll take our scouts some time to track this person down, but we will find them,” Leliana promised, though she still sounded reluctant.

“We are bringing them in,” Adaar said, because he had to tell Leliana things like this now which wasn’t a huge source of worry or anything. “We aren’t killing them and dropping their bodies in a ditch because they pose a ‘threat’, okay?”

“…fine,” Leliana said. “If you insist.”

Hopefully they’d be friendly.

Adaar had been very, very sad. About a number of things. Dorian was… well, to say he was used to that seemed unfair, but Adaar had already been mourning Trevelyan (and also mourning becoming Inquisitor), and Dorian was used to a worldstate in which Adaar could get sad.

Bull though.

Bull?

Bull was not supposed to be sad. Bull made terrible puns, and Dorian hadn’t realized how constant his presence was until he wasn’t around. Granted it had only been a few days of Bull pulling guard duty for Josephine, but Bull had a very noticeable presence in a room.

Dorian would go to the tavern, and he wouldn’t be there. Or worse, he would be, but he would be moping, and that had to be some kind of sin against the entire universe. And the worst part was that no one had fixed this yet, not even Cole. Wasn’t this supposed to be Cole’s entire thing? Helping the hurts? Was this not some giant flashing hurt easily seen from three countries away?

Normally Dorian would try to nudge Adaar Bull’s way since they were besties or something along those lines, but that past tense was there for a reason. He wasn’t sure what kind of breakup they had after the Storm Coast, but it had been a bad one, and Dorian had begun to realize that Bull might not necessarily be a constant in this relationship.

You dated in with Adaar. Accepting his various courting gifts (far beyond the point where most people would have gotten on with it already) came with Adaar’s Bosom Buddy. There Bull would be, cheerfully in the background, part of package and parcel of the whole thing and offering overtures of friendship due to their mutual relationship to Adaar. They had even gone on a date with Bull.

…was that a normal thing to do? Dorian wouldn’t know. Dorian’s entire knowledge of how things worked in places other than Tevinter was next to none, other than Satinalia was a very different business, and people attributed divine status to Andraste for some reason. Perhaps it was supposed to feel weird. Maybe Dorian was supposed to be jealous of this incredibly close friendship the two of them had, and perhaps he was, but only the sense that he wanted to be as included as Bull was included.

He had the sense that Adaar confided to Bull in a way he never quite confided to Dorian. They shared an intimacy he didn’t have, and he wanted that.

His mind reminded him that it was a bit selfish to want that same intimacy when he was still on the fence about the whole blood magic deal, and he was going to have to pick one way or another.

Well. First steps first. He had to fix this, or they would never go on a date with Bull again, and Dorian could unpack that sentence later. Bull had retreated to his room, and Dorian was going to follow, and he was going to try to use words or something.

It took Bull a few moments to answer after Dorian knocked, and then he slipped inside the room. It was more chaotic than he had expected.

“Can I help you?” Bull asked.

Dorian held out a bottle of wine, because he had one coping mechanism for his own problems, and though it was a shitty one, it was the only one he had. “I come bearing condolences for you being kicked out of the Qun.”

Iron Bull gave him a very dry look. “Considering some of your previous comments about Qunari, I have a hard time believing you are genuinely upset.”

“Well, if anyone else got off their ass and came to comfort you, then it wouldn’t have to have been me.”

He got a single laugh at that. Iron Bull was kind enough to not bring up his more racist comments in the past. Dorian was trying to be better, but man, being a good person was hard.

“I mean, yes, I do believe the Qun is shit,” Dorian continued. “But Tevinter is also awful, as any number of spirits here are happy to remind me at a moment’s notice. Doesn’t mean I still don’t love and miss my shitty homeland. So I can understand from that angle.”

Iron Bull looked sad again, so Dorian awkwardly pressed on. “It sucks being exiled from your home, and regardless of my feelings on the Qun, I’m sorry that happened to you. Do you want wine?”

Bull took the wine. Dorian drank out of his own bottle.

“It was a long time coming,” Iron Bull said eventually said, rolling the wine bottle in his hands. “Should have seen the signs earlier.”

“I confess, I don’t actually know what happened between you and Adaar,” Dorian said. “Other than it was bad, and now you two are maddeningly not speaking to each other.”

“I might have ruined things,” he said with a wince. “I think I might have insulted him on just about the worst way to insult him, and I don’t know if that can be taken back. Can’t blame him for being mad at me.”

Mad.

‘Madness.’ Ah yes. That would be an element as well.

“You were upset, I imagine,” Dorian said. “Entire world got shook around by the ankles. People say things, lash out. It’s unfortunately normal.”

“Sure,” Bull said, and yes he was probably assuming that whatever happened was an a sign of oncoming madness.

…Dorian didn’t know how to fix this. He couldn’t see inside Bull’s head. Cole could, and Cole actually knew how to help people. Dorian certainly didn’t.

“And you and Adaar are friends,” Dorian said. “All friendships have bumps. I once accidentally set Felix’s research on fire. There was another time he didn’t bathe for two months straight, and yet our friendship remained.” He stabbed Dorian under the thrall of blood magic one time. “I’m certain if you give him a week to cool off, he’ll calm down and then it’ll be back to your normal friendship bracelet ways.”

“Sometimes you say something that you can’t take back though,” Bull said. “And Adaar? Sure he can be forgiving. He can also hold a grudge with the best of them.”

That couldn’t be, because if that were the case, then Adaar and Bull might not get back together. Bull might not constantly be lurking in the background like the world’s most hideously patterned curtain. And that thought was disquieting. Ergo, no matter what happened here, Dorian would fix this because this was simply unacceptable.

Chapter Text

Adaar had gotten an offer to go to Kirkwall to meet with some old magician or whatnot. He then promptly burned the letter because he was pretty sure that entire city was haunted and would eat him if he stepped foot inside it. Adaar also received the standard allotment of ‘come help me’ letters, various death threats, and then that mixture of someone who wanted him to come save him but still found time to curse him out and tell him exactly what they thought of him, his life choices, the rumors surrounding him, and exactly how much of a shitbag he was. But if he could still use his forces to come help him, that would be grand.

Some people did not think things through tactically.

Admiral Isabela had also sent him a letter, sending her congratulations and a ‘highfive’ for not allying with the Qun as well as her condolences for not being able to highfive him in person, but she was busy raiding ships and stealing shit. Adaar knew how it went.

Josephine was still sick but starting to get well enough that it was hard to keep her in her room where she could get better, and Adaar had to remind her that if she infected a noble with sickness, that noble would get upset, spread rumors, and then ‘everyone would know’ that the Inquisition was a plague zone, leaching out the health of mortals for the demons or something like that. Josephine had given a stern look that said Adaar wouldn’t be able to keep her cooped up for much longer, and at the very least, perhaps she could get reports of what was going on so that when she returned to work she could fall back into things without missing a single step.

Josephine communicated a lot in that look. Adaar was suitably intimidated.

And then there were updates on House Trevelyan.

If Adaar were in the Fade, he would likely have bartered something deemed interesting enough to a spirit of Vengeance. After all, one of the cruelest things you could do to a dead spirit or demon was to go and destroy any record of their existence. See, you could try to find a way to have something of yourself remain, even if it was only in the memories of many, in trying to shape memories and dreams to have an imprint of yourself, or more commonly simply in the memories of living spirits or demons, of your interactions and conversations and particular flavor of dickery.

So. You could hire someone and get them to destroy all of that. Normally these were the sneakier spirits of Vengeance as it took subtlety to destroy memories while leaving the person otherwise intact. These were the types that actually knew how to sneak into a demesne and destroy and/or steal things without the target knowing, which were skills people got antsy if they found out you know how to do that. Which was very reasonable and why Adaar rarely told people he was, you know, a thief.

Of course in the mortal world, this was near impossible. House Trevelyan was semi-famous, or perhaps semi-infamous, and had been around for a while. They had land, which they had touched, and you couldn’t get rid of imprints the same way in the mortal world without completely destroying the object itself, and it was very hard to obliterate vast chunks of land from existence.

But obscurity? Ruination? The tiniest of boring footnotes in history? That was acceptable.

Friends were already scouting out the area, and Varric’s people had begun to progress on the paperwork needed for this scam. They were a richer House, known only for charity when it would improve their House image and not a copper more, adamantly supporting the Chantry for as long as the Chantry had been around making a right mess of things, and all of that was going to help tremendously for their scheme.

Things that did not help: when demons or spirits started to get into a squabble in front of mortals. And not just a verbal squabble, but one that was rapidly about to come to blows.

Yes, mortals got into squabbles all the time. Yes it was an unfair double standard, but dammit, that’s what it took to win here.

It wasn’t even a fight between a couple of Faiths. Nor between a spirit and a demon over the spirit/demon dichotomy. Nor between a spirit of Justice and a spirit of Mercy, and good luck getting those fuckers to get along. No it was two spirits of Fortitude. Fortitude! They should know better.

There was of course a crowd when Adaar reached the courtyard. And yup even a few of the companions: Sera, Dorian, and Cole were standing about, and then Varric was sitting on Hawke’s shoulders so he could see over the crowd, all of them watching. Great. If two spirits got into fisticuffs, he’d never hear the end of it, and it would likely be thrown in his face as how this entire project was ‘doomed to failure’ because two of exactly two assholes. He walked out calmly because people lost all confidence in leaders that didn’t look like they had complete control of a situation and pulsed the mark, causing a beautiful (and distracting) flash of light.

Good. All eyes were now on him.

Adaar dealt with the panic of all eyes now being on him by pretending he was Vivienne really, really hard.

“What is the nature of this dispute?” Adaar asked in his best frosty tone of ‘this had better be good’.

Neither of the Fortitudes was looking at him. Adaar must have succeeded with that tone. Haha. He was getting this.

Adaar allowed himself to outwardly soften just a little. “I presume this is interdomain conflict? Arguments over the true nature of preservation?”

“Maybe,” one of them muttered.

Adaar raised his eyebrows and gave them his best Vivienne look.

“Yes,” the first said.

Adaar was not surprised. Some found it more difficult to befriend in their Domain than out of it. There was a certain tolerance you gave to people who weren’t your Domain as they didn’t fully understand. The basics of Fade diplomacy. It was something people learned how to do if they decided to interact with others, that the noble goal in your mind wasn’t the same in another’s mind, that their course was not your own. And thus it was understandable if they didn’t fully ‘get it’ sometimes. This wasn’t as extended to the in-crowd who absolutely should be able to get it, ugh, and some types of spirits tended to be more argumentative than others. Like Justice or Faith.

“If you have an argument, you will do it in private without coming to blows and without disrupting the peace and operations of the Inquisition,” Adaar said.

They weren’t quite there yet, but that was fine.

Adaar stepped forward. He managed to do this gracefully and not topple over when the ground seemingly shifted under his feet. He really had to work on this perception problem, which was frustrating because it felt like he was constantly just fixing the latest problem when behold, a new one fell from the heavens. “Why are we all here? What is the singular cause we have all united under?”

“Fuck Tevinter,” the other Fortitude said.

“Fuck Tevinter,” the first Fortitude agreed, and there were nods and verbal agreements in the crowd, mostly from the Fadefolk and some from the mortals.

“Exactly,” Adaar said. “So for now, we can put everything aside to focus on thoroughly fucking over Tevinter.”

Sera, still lurking in the background, called out, “Or fuck ing Tevinter amirite?”

Varric highfived her. Adaar managed to keep his Vivienne expression intact through sheer force of will alone.

The crowd finally dispersed aside from the companions, the two Fortitudes slinking off in embarrassment, and Adaar allowed himself a sigh of relief.

“That seemed too easy,” Varric said, climbing down from his vantage point.

“Well neither of us had any money on the fight being broken up, so you aren’t getting paid,” Dorian told Varric.

“Yeah you could have waited,” Varric whined. “I had five sovereigns on the blue one winning.”

“Pffft. Big and burly had it for sure,” Sera said. “Bored though. I’m out. Gotta see Widdles about something.”

“Yeah one of these days the Tevinter card isn’t going to work,” Adaar said.

“Demons hate Tevinter?” Hawke asked.

Why was this always a surprise? Always! “Oh you know. Binding, enslaving, stripped of any scrap of free will, and unlike mortals, no certainty that one day the sweet embrace of death will release them.”

Hawke coughed awkwardly. “Okay but like. Aside from the bound ones, aren’t there some demons working for Corypheus?”

Adaar snorted. “Yeah, and there’s some elves who support human nobles or prey on other elves. And there’s dwarves that fuck over other dwarves, and mages that help Templars hurt other mages. So statistically not a good number, and nobody likes those guys, but any group has their fair share of assholes. That shouldn’t be used to justify anything, and-”

“We get it,” Varric said quickly. “So there might be some. Any idea of what kind?”

“Well, not weak ones,” Adaar said. “Not worth dealing with, easier to just bind them. But some stronger ones that don’t care, maybe like a really big-”

Adaar paused, feeling odd. Funny. Kinda disoriented, like he walked into a weak electrical barrier.

“Adaar?”

It was this weird blank thing right there, like there was something that should be obvious but just for some reason wasn’t.

Someone waved a hand in front of his face, and he swatted at it. “Anyway, yeah we can expect a few assholes.”

“What about spies? Like how do we really know all these demons are loyal?” Varric asked.

“That’s a bit rude Varric,” Adaar said. “How do we know the mortals are loyal? Spoilers, some of them aren’t.”

“Indulge a writer,” Varric whined again. “You know so much, and you have no idea what kind of writing fodder this makes. Solas won’t help me with my writerly schemes, and the ideas keep stockpiling up.”

Ah well that changed things. Adaar shrugged. “Well, we do have a lot of partial mind-reading people, and with enough overlapping Domains it’d be a wee bit difficult for Corypheus to slip in somebody I think. Not impossible, but difficult. And I think mortals can think things without emotional tie markers and thus be able to truly hide some thoughts, but I’m not sure a spirit or a demon can, so the thoughts would get sniffed out by someone.”

Adaar actually had no idea on that one.

“And there’s no way to shield your thoughts?” Varric asked.

Adaar snorted. “Well, yeah there’s a way, but that’s considered super rude and kinda suspicious if you shield your thoughts for too long. Like what are you planning? Everyone just has that low level mind-reading communication in the Fade, so it doesn’t have the same connotations of ‘invasion of privacy’ that mortals have.”

“…hiding your thoughts around spirits is considered ‘rude’?” Dorian asked.

Adaar reminded himself that he liked it when people were patient with him on basic ‘everyone knows’ type information, and that maybe he should have the same courtesy in reverse, especially when Dorian was trying.

“It’s okay!” Cole said quickly. “I understand. I don’t think you are rude.”

“But. For almost all the other spirits here…” Dorian said.

“I think Fear likes you?” Cole offered. “You know, that Fear who lives in the library?”

“Since when?”

“You are also a Tevinter mage,” Adaar said. “Which. Doesn’t help anything. Especially with you hiding your thoughts somehow.”

“I don’t believe the conspiracy that you’re here to bind us all,” Cole said, and Dorian just groaned.

“Fantastic. Wonderful. Great.”

“Fear might just like you for your necromancy though,” Adaar said.

“I thought- Cole doesn’t like my necromancy.”

“I don’t,” Cole said with a shudder.

“Other spirits have made comments along those lines.”

“And I’ve also got reassurances that at least you are a necromancer,” Adaar said. “It’s called a mixed perception amongst the community.”

“Just don’t bind anyone,” Cole said.

“I’m not going to bind anyone!”

“If you say so,” Cole said.

Hawke reassuringly pat Dorian on the shoulder. “It’s okay. Adaar and I understand.”

Dorian didn’t look thrilled with this.

Dorian wasn’t sure if he was underthinking or overthinking the problem. The Adaar problem. The problem of Adaar and his damn niceness.

This was likely one of Dorian’s great stupid decisions, but if he couldn’t ask an expert on the field, then well. He could just go drown in alcohol he supposed, but that wasn’t helping with anything, and it was a sad day when his single coping mechanism didn’t help things.

So it was to the library to one of the few spirits/demons Adaar talked up other than Cole and who apparently didn’t hate him, which was news to him.

Fear was absorbed in an old book. His head tilted up as Dorian approached, many spider legs twitching. “Yes?”

“I have questions,” Dorian began awkwardly.

“Of what?” Fear asked in a half-challenge.

“Of, well, fear. I have been having some issues in that area,” Dorian said. “You seem the expert on the subject.”

Fear made a scornful noise. “I will not be able to help you with your mind shielded as it is. I don’t do slapdash jobs.”

“I can drop the shields for the conversation, but I will require your word you will tell no one of what you find out.”

“Provided you aren’t planning on harming the Inquisition,” Fear said, “then yes, I will grant you confidentiality.”

Dorian knew most of the people in the Inquisition thought he was a snake; he simply hadn’t thought the Fade side would also think the same of him. Ah well. “That is fair.”

Fear thought about this for a moment and then casually tossed the book he was reading out the window. “I accept your agreement. Come.”

As Fear led him to one of the small side rooms in the library used for study or research, Dorian found himself warring inwardly again. This was a foolish, risky decision, and yet Dorian was tired of his own mind. Dorian would like a few mere moments of peace, thanks.

At the same time, he struggled with himself before finally dropping the sustained spell, almost feeling like he was disrobing.

“Well that’s not promising,” Fear commented.

“Ha,” Dorian said dryly.

“What are you looking for? Advice?” Fear asked.

“Mostly I would like to stop being paranoid about Adaar,” Dorian said.

Dorian was fairly certain that had Fear eyes, he would be narrowing them. As is, he was doing a marvelous job of giving off that impression sans actual eyes. “I see your kind a lot. You want Fear to end. You have to understand, I am biased by my very nature. I see no problem.”

Dorian almost protested, but Fear held up a single finger. “The problem is that you aren’t listening to yourself. What is Fear but a biological need to survive and have what you care about survive as well?  One fears darkspawn, so they fight or run when they see them. One fears fire, so they flee burning buildings. One fears rejection and so strives to mingle themselves further. It makes one reflect on what is truly important to them, what they need, and what they are willing to abandon. It is unpleasant, but being killed far worse so. Historically, blood magic has always been a bad end for you. Always. And now you are trying to ignore all that history in favor of a kind face.”

“People don’t always react well to fear,” Dorian retorted. “Terrible things have been done because people were ‘afraid at the time’.”

Fear snorted. “And people don’t do terrible things in the name of love? When their precious feelings are hurt? Because they are Wise and know better than others?”

“…point.”

“Perhaps your methods of survival are no longer necessary here,” Fear said. “But you must acknowledge and thank them for keeping you alive so far. If your fear thinks you are ignoring it, it will never quiet when you want it to. Part of you, right now, doesn’t want to be hurt again. It has recognized a pattern of blood magic and abuse, and one not unfounded. Your own feelings about Adaar are inconsequential to longterm survival.”

“So then how do I convince myself otherwise?” Dorian asked.

“You are still acting as if you are in Tevinter,” Fear said. “Thankfully, we are not. Different areas have different rules, different atmospheres, different genres. Be patient with yourself, and test to see if precedent holds. I won’t say prove otherwise, but test.”

“Test?”

Fear gestured at Dorian with one spider leg. “You have dropped your shields, and nothing terrible has befallen you at this very second. Perhaps try spending more time without your shields on, as you are only helping convince yourself that your fear is, in fact, quite necessary. Challenge Adaar as well. Tell him he’s wrong. Tell him whatever idea he has planned for you two won’t happen. See how he reacts. If poorly, break it off, because that won’t bode well for the future. That’s basic relationship advice in general.”

“What if someone does use blood magic though?” Dorian hated to feel like he was whining. Almost everyone else walked around with the same fear and yet pushed through and made friends regardless.

“Then prepare for that eventuality,” Fear said smoothly. “The same as preparing for any eventuality. You already have some of Adralla’s teachings strapped to your side. If blood magic can be disrupted as the connection is being formed by any layman, then I’m sure you can find something that will disrupt blood magic after it has been set. Or. Do you already know something along those lines? I see no issue with a weekly dispellment, just in case. As is, there is no blood mage, no god powerful enough to enthrall an entire populace all on his own, not without making them into little more than golems. If you cannot trust that your compatriots are all here more or less of their own free will, trust at least that we would have long since scattered to the winds. You are not the only one afraid of binding, after all.”

Right, spirits and demons would be more wary of that. Were wary of him and his necromancy.

Was this what Adaar felt though? Everyone afraid of him and what he could do even if he wouldn’t? Even before Dorian had to throw the ‘spirits are only amorphous constructs of the Fade’ into the big box of things Dorian Pavus had been wrong about, he had never bound with necromancy. He had always contracted. It wasn’t a matter of morals sadly but of ease. If he wanted complete control over a body, he wouldn’t use a spirit at all but pure necromantic magic and pilot the body on his own. For other tasks, he contracted to spirits wanting a quick peek into the mortal realm, and they hadn’t ever seemed as afraid of him. Some of them were enthusiastic even and would pester him when he was sleeping, wondering if he had found a particularly interesting corpse for them to be in.

Mixed perceptions, Adaar said.

Dorian understood though because he could. Even if he didn’t use such magic, he technically knew how to force a spirit nearby into a corpse and then for them to do his bidding. He had a considerable amount of power over spirits, had sought out and studied and learned such magic because it was both a challenge and a fascination.

He didn’t want to force anyone do to anything though.

And maybe. Maybe there could be a blood mage similar. Surely so much would be easier with blood magic for Adaar, to get more donations, to get people to aid him, to forcibly fix the many problems he was thrust into. Perhaps Leliana might even counsel him as such. And he might yet still. There was a considerable amount at stake after all.

And for some reason, Dorian thought further. The first time Dorian witnessed Adaar used true blood magic, it was to skitter around a binding, despite the great personal risk of damaging his mind that way.

Lately Adaar had been acting odd. Walking into things. Sometimes blanking out for a short bit. Confused aside from overwhelmingly depressed. Ever since the Storm Coast.

What had happened there?

“Honestly you should probably push around a bit anyway,” Fear continued, not apparently picking up on these wandering thoughts. “Even if he wasn’t a blood mage, he is a person in considerable amount of power over you. I honestly would be more far worried about that than blood magic. It would be so very easy to ruin you if he grew displeased with you with social connections alone than any amount of magic. Blood magic is illegal and he may not want to risk the repercussions of that; destroying you socially isn’t illegal and something he could get away with with no problems at all. The same is true of dating anyone in a position of power.”

“Thanks,” Dorian said dryly.

No, don’t be an ass, Dorian. Especially since it was true. The blood magic was merely personal, but in truth any possible Inquisitor would have a dangerous amount of sociopolitical power.

And that was a weirdly relieving thought. It wasn’t because Adaar was Adaar; it was because he was the Inquisitor. And one day, hopefully, he would survive to no longer being the Inquisitor.

“Thank you for your help,” Dorian said more genuinely this time.

Fear seemed caught off guard. “I… you’re welcome. Do come back with updates. I don’t have my Fade soaps anymore, and I miss the drama.”

Tal-Vashoth’s souls were said to turn to dust. But then, Ben-Hassrath didn’t have proper souls to start with.

Adaar hadn’t stopped by since to see him. The only time Iron Bull saw him was at official meetings, where Adaar was at least there professionally polite.

Outside of meetings, well. Iron Bull was the only mortal assigned to guard Josephine. And then Iron Bull found that ale soured in his tankard and that food tasted like ash, but only if it was just his. He tried sharing the food once; the Chargers didn’t seem to notice a difference, so whatever magic was on him alone.

From what Solas indicated earlier, this could all be considerably worse, and Adaar might be letting him off light. And at least it was just him; Iron Bull could respect that.

He held by his statement though though. Making decisions based around wants was not a great way to run an organization. But maybe… he could have found a more diplomatic way to phrase that. And it wasn’t as if Adaar ran everything; he focused on being the spokesman, the honeypot, talking people into joining. And that he was good at. And such a position required a balancing of wants; Iron Bull knew that as he had done that himself from time to time.

They could have allied with the Qun, and Adaar might have actually found a way to spin it to the South. But neither Adaar, nor himself, ended up having the stomach for it.

One purely selfish decision. One that not even just Adaar made because he himself made that same decision based purely around a want when he followed Adaar’s orders over the Qun.

When did he lose his path? Was it when he didn’t write to the Qun what Adaar was? Or maybe he’d gone Tal-Vashoth when Dalish needed a place to stay, and he offered to take in a bas saarebas without even a basvaraad to watch over her? Or maybe it was later, when he realized he didn’t want the Qun to invade South even if it could make everything run more smoothly and orderly, because he didn’t want to see these people die?

Part of his mind wanted to say it all started with Krem, but technically he hadn’t acted outside the Qun with Krem, so it didn’t logically follow.

He knew he should feel guilty. Even if the dreadnought had been operated by the smallest crew as a contingency, which was likely, more lives were lost. Adaar could have saved the dreadnought and still turned down the alliance on morals of the trap.

Mostly though, he was really tired of the people he worked with dying again and again and again. He knew that was a breaking point for him. The Qun knew as well. That was why he snapped back in Seheron; Vasaad was the breaking point of too many dead friends, and so of course that is what his test was, to see if he still retained the rationality over selfish emotion.

The Chargers were all still alive. He should feel bad. He didn’t though, and he couldn’t even blame that on the demons. What good were demons everywhere if he couldn’t blame all of his problems on them? When your boss was a mind-reading demon who could mind control people if he so desired, and yet you couldn’t even blame your bad decisions on him?

But for just once in his long, miserable career, everyone he knew walked out okay. Everyone was still accounted for, and that didn’t happen. He found himself counting their heads over and over, waiting for the numbers to not match up, but they all remained alive.

Part of him wanted to thank Adaar even as part of him still pointed out with cold efficiency that that had surely been the wrong move for both of them to make.

With Adaar otherwise ignoring him, Iron Bull had gone to Leliana for any sense of direction or stability. Bas didn’t understand; bas, for the most part, never grew up in such stability, of always being something greater than themselves. He was severed and panicking and needed to be part of anything at all. She had been surprisingly sympathetic. She had also immediately worked him into her fold of spies. He already knew how she worked her system as he had been sending reports to her as well as the Qun. And now it would be just her.

“You know there’s going to be more spies,” Iron Bull said.

Leliana sighed. “I know. And I won’t be able to get them all, even with our Fade friends.”

Iron Bull grunted. He had passed along the information of how to hide thoughts around demons to the Qun. It was difficult, but as long you detached all emotion, or at the very least the emotion that particular demon focused on, they didn’t pick up on it. Or most didn’t. He hadn’t been able to test with some of the higher ‘ideals’ like Honesty or Justice.

“If they think critically and are able to find a willing convert, they might try Tranquil spies,” he said. “But I’m not sure the Qun would touch a Tranquil, even with their magic dead.”

“Now that’s a thought,” she said.

“I know, right?”

“Regardless, sooner or later, this is going to come out. It might be best tactically to control when and how Adaar’s status is revealed.”

“Yeah he’s going to hate that,” he said.

“Then again,” Leliana said, “I might see how long we can run with this, out of curiosity’s sake. Envy was only discovered by us after all, and that was around people theoretically assumed to be professionals.”

Iron Bull wanted to make some remark on that, on how that had to be a gross sign of incompetency, but then he wasn’t sure the arvaraad would recognize a demon posing as a person if they had time to make a half-decent disguise. That was perhaps the main danger of so many cultures attributing to demons the same intelligence of animals; if there was an intelligent one that acted like a person, then surely that person couldn’t be a demon.

A nastier demon than Adaar could wreck some shit like that. Envy had and nearly had done even worse.

“We could even start some of the rumors ourselves in disreputable tabloids,” Leliana said. “Around the same rumors of his various love interests and his secret children, and oooh that rumor that he is secretly the Tevinter old god Zazikel made manifest.”

“And Dorian’s his new chosen high priest, yeah I’ve heard that one.” Iron Bull thought for a moment. “Make up an entire list of crazy theories about Adaar then? It’d be easy to ‘disprove’ his status as a demon as well. There’s elvhen binding traps for spirits.” Dalish had once caught a demon in one back in a gig in Orlais. “Make a fake one and have Cole agree to get ‘stuck’ in it while Adaar walks out just fine.”

“In Orlais, perhaps. One of our enemy fronts, perhaps during some party? An insult to the Inquisition due to our alliances, but one easily weathered.”

Leliana didn’t only have fake allies spreading the Inquisition’s and Leclair’s praises in Orlais; she also had a few fake enemies. Strawmen for a number of arguments, or more people to have victories over. Even with spirits getting paid, they didn’t necessarily require the same upkeep costs as mortal troops who required food, shelter, and equipment. (Though some of the spirits and demons did require food. Iron Bull didn’t get it.) Regardless, the more spirits and demons they had, the less the operating costs were, and Leliana had been funneling that towards their crazy operations in Orlais even though those were completely unnecessary.

But Leliana was a patriot of a sorts. Of both Orlais and the Chantry, and she would die seeing them changed.

He once would have died to see Seheron changed. And then he was treading water in a foreign land, and now he had nothing. Or no, that wasn’t exactly true.

He still had his Chargers.

Dorian decided to prioritize fixing what happened with Bull later. And this, the crux of his caution, fell into two parts: abuse of power and abuse of blood magic.

And it fortuitously happened that the topic came up all on its own. He and Adaar were walking to the underground library when Adaar crashed into a bookcase.

“Adaar?”

“Sorry,” he said. “Fucking camera angles changed on me all of a sudden.”

Sometimes Dorian did not understand the words that came out of Adaar’s mouth. And no, it wasn’t because ‘he was a dragon’.

“Did you use blood magic on yourself back in the Storm Coast?” Dorian found himself talking.

Adaar winced.

“Ah,” Dorian said.

“I’ve already said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well I don’t want you risking a concussion, but apparently we don’t all get what we want, now do we?”

Adaar said nothing, so Dorian pressed onward. “Why? Why did you cast in on yourself?”

“It’s not like I did it for shits and giggles, okay? I normally know what I’m doing.”

Dorian waved at offending bookcase, and Adaar’s eyes narrowed. “See. You and Bull, neither of you- ugh.”

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” Dorian asked.

“Because I knew all of you would be nasty about it?” Adaar said sharply, and this time Dorian winced. “I know I messed the spell up, but none of you are skilled in- well Hawke’s a blood mage, but he doesn’t seem to know intricacies of mind-related blood magic, so there wasn’t a point mentioning it, unless I wanted insult to injury to more insult. Bull already had that covered.”

“If I seemed… nasty about it before,” Dorian said slowly, “it’s only because I’ve seen cases like these where it goes terribly wrong. I know full well how badly someone can hurt themselves with blood magic. I’ve seen mages convinced they know what they are doing try to alter a few small things and send themselves into comas, or render themselves drooling vegetables.”

“If it helps, I don’t normally try to ad lib such magic, but it seemed like worth the risk at the time,” Adaar said, half-hunched in on himself.

He was worried about Adaar’s health and state of mind, but he was also slowly starting to form an unpleasant suspicion.

“What even were you trying to do? To get around?”

Adaar gave him a flat look, and so Dorian continued, “the first time I saw you defy Cassandra’s wrath and perform that kind of blood magic, it was to skirt around a compulsion, no? And then I fussed at you because see previous statement of blood mages accidentally destroying themselves. Did one of the Venatori hit you with something?”

“Look it’s fine now,” Adaar said, and did not answer the question. “I’m trying to figure out how to fix it. I’m just. Busy all the time. And I thought I’d have more free time, but I’m constantly playing catch-up with Josephine down for the count, and then even if I do find some free time, someone will find an excuse to take it from me.”

He sounded frazzled, and whatever was going on with him likely wasn’t helping.

Dorian sighed. “Then look. Just claim you need me for a date or something and nobody will raise any eyebrows. And then you can do research on how to fix yourself safely. Just promise me you will be careful? I have seen it all go badly before, and I don’t want to see that happen to you. I… care about you deeply.”

“…you’d do that? But you don’t like blood magic,” Adaar said, sounding lost.

“I don’t. But. I’d rather you be well and not walk into things. You’ll end up breaking something that way, either the furniture or yourself.”

“You’re a good person, Dorian.”

All in all, it went well. But Dorian had already been over the reports (as written diligently by Bull). None of the Venatori had cast any magic on Adaar. Granted Bull could have missed something.

In some crazy hypothetical world the Ben-Hassrath spy could have missed something fairly obvious, and then someone could have cast blood magic on Adaar for him to skirt around.

Because the only other explanation for this was that Adaar had to skirt around pre-existing blood magic on himself, and that? He didn’t like thinking of that, but he’d been raised in Tevinter. He knew the signs. Adaar hadn’t even given an explanation for why he returned that one time after leaving upon news of Trevelyan’s death. And Dorian was getting the sinking suspicion that it might just be because Adaar might not have had much choice in the matter. Or that one time when Adaar had seemed dangerously affronted when Dorian asked if he bound spirits.

The problem with voicing his suspicions is that if Dorian approached Adaar with them and they were true, whoever had him under some blood magic spell could have had a contingency clause to kill anyone who found out, or drag them back to the mage who had done it. It would require some powerful blood magic, but the Inquisitor would be someone worth the best.

Granted, he could be just a paranoid fool. But Fear had told him to not dismiss himself so lightly, and there was no harm in researching if there was a way to dispel ongoing blood magic on someone else, now was there?

Chapter Text

Not many in the Inner Circle knew the other half of what Adaar was up to. Vivienne evidently did.

“I don’t think you know what you are doing, darling,” Vivienne said.

“About what? Politics? Proper decorum? Balancing?” Adaar asked.

Vivienne did not give him a chuckle.

“The Circles have been around for almost a millennium,” Vivienne said smoothly. “A long time to have something suddenly vanish from. People do not do well when stability is taken from them.”

“I mean, slavery was also around forever and was a huge chunk of ‘stability’, and every place with a scrap of decency outlawed that as well,” Adaar said.

“Who will teach new mages?” Vivienne asked sharply. “Who will teach them safety and control? A young mage’s first danger is themself, not anyone else. What systems will be in place to find each mage and teach each one? How will they be funded? People refuse to aid so much as a neighbor if they think their neighbor isn’t worthy; do you honestly think they will rally together and fund education for people they fear? You can try to destroy the physicality of Circles, but the idea of them remain. You don’t think people won’t make new ones? Make more Templars? That the order will die out and the Chantry, who has full knowledge of how to make more, simply won’t recreate the Order anew but now more tightly leashed to themselves, fearing these events happening again?”

The questions seemed right and wrong at the same time. There were points, but Adaar still felt it was all wrong somehow in a way he couldn’t quite place. It didn’t help that he hadn’t normally been one for being vocal about mage freedoms, other than the freedoms of a certain Trevelyan, so arguing about mages wasn’t one of his strong suits he felt like.

Then again if he was good about arguing for demons, surely more people would listen to him. And that was a sad thought.

“The fear of magic is at an all time high,” Vivienne continued. “Loyal mages will demand the Circles rebuilt, and if we are very, very lucky, the populace will demand them as well instead of all of us dead . Instead of just the elderly, the young, the sick, and the Tranquil, all those who could not defend themselves in this war.”

“If you think I’m wrong about everything, then why are you here?” he asked but not unkindly. Because he was curious. He was really curious. If he were a mortal, it would keep him up at nights, probably.

“Because whatever terrible plans you have for mages that you naively think will work and will end in our own funeral pyres, that is still better than what Corypheus is planning,” Vivienne said dryly. “Marginally.”

It didn’t match. Or it almost matched, but something didn’t quite click. Sentimentality versus survival, she claimed, but she wasn’t survival. Not fully. Some things were worth the risk. Like Bastien.

...who was Bastien?

Vivienne continued. “I still desire the chance to meet and control my fate, and you darling are stubbornly changing everything without thinking of consequences.”

“May I ask a favor?” he found himself asking out of the blue, and it gave her pause. “After all this is over, you’ll be remaking the Circles, right?”

She gave him a considering look.

“You already said it was going to happen ‘anyway’,” he said. “And you want to control your fate. Don’t tell me you don’t have plans to make them first so you can make them in your own image, to reduce some of these scenarios you are thinking of.”

“What is your favor?” she asked.

“Harrowings. You want stable Circles, find a different method,” he said. “You are an intelligent woman, and you know that repeatedly summoning demons, trying to force them to possess someone, over and over for hundreds of years will only weaken the Veil to wet paper and attract the very attention of the demons you fear who do want to possess people. If you make Circles, I’d recommend more smaller ones with a different method for testing resisting temptation that doesn’t require the summoning of demons. You’ll have happier spirits and safer mages that way.”

“It’s worth a thought,” she said, which wasn’t a promise either way.

“I’m sure you can come up with some other way of testing,” he continued. “And really. Sending people that far into the Fade? That much lyrium is a huge chunk of money for each mage, so it’s even more cost-efficient. And I think we both know the test is bogus anyway.”

“Bogus?” she asked now with a slight smile on her lips.

“If a demon did possess a mage in the test, half the time nobody would notice,” Adaar said dryly. “So it’s really the shittiest test I could think of.”

And she knew it as well. Harrowings were purely about controlling the mage populace, not about any real test of strength against demons.

“You disapprove of Circles,” she stated. “Loudly.”

“I can’t also attempt to steer my own fate?” he asked. “Yes, I hate them. I think they are a terrible idea. I’m going to try out this ‘free mages’ thing and see what systems they have for teaching mages and whatnot and try to make sure Circles don’t ever come back. But I am going to put eggs in every basket I can.”

And he was. His other gift to Trevelyan. He wasn’t sure how he could destroy Circles once and for all; that seemed nigh impossible. But he could try, and just in case, he could try to make them as least horrifically awful in case he was a colossal failure at getting them gone. It would still be some improvement of a sort.

But no Circles was the dream goal.

“I suppose at the very least, I can appreciate your strange brand of practicality,” she said, and Adaar felt he had gained back some grudging approval points with his request that he had lost with being so blatantly anti-Circle.

“I may disagree with just about every last politic you have,” Adaar said, “but I do respect you. Best of luck.”

Were things different, he might find it easier to work with Vivienne. But Trevelyan came first, and though it might be impossible, it wasn’t going to stop him from trying.

It’d been Adaar’s idea, actually, the skirmish that got a good number of people killed. Or rather his idea he had presented; he’d remembered it from when Valor had been enthusing about tactics way back when. They had won it, but of course there had been a cost. There was a cost to each battle fought.

See, mages rarely talked to each other when demons whispered to them. It was something they all lived with, and they didn’t start making hand signals of ‘oh dear me some demons are talking in the area’. So why not weaponize that? Get annoying spirits, loud demons, demons of despair, as much of a distraction as you could, and set them on the mages in the area. Distracted people did not fight as well in combat, or at the very least, were less likely to notice things in their peripheral perception. Distractions in combat could be deadly, and it was mostly safe for their allies in the Fade. Mostly.

The Venatori mages had been distracted, Templars and assorted forces moved in. They got off some really nice blows at first, but combat was combat. Some of the mages pulled through the demons in the Fade to bind them, force them to fight for them, and those ended up being struck down.

They also turned blood magic against the Templars, and their ‘anti-magic’ tricks didn’t work against blood magic. The Venatori had been learning this from previous skirmishes and were adapting strategies. The Templars were still overall more efficient than perhaps normal soldiers as smites really shook up a mage, but they were starting to lose their edge against the enemy forces.

Most of their Fade allies participating in the battle survived. Most of them.

Adaar knew that Dorian knew anti-blood magic methods, but those only worked for a mage, he found out. They were still working on trying to adapt it so a spirit could use it. So far all that happened was the demon or spirit lost any and all ability to cast magic. Which figured, since Fadefolk seemed to use a version of blood magic as their main source of magic, which they adapted to teach to mortals how to draw from their own lifeforce. Stop someone from being able to draw upon themself, and you got a pretty useless mage.

And then there was the Litany of Adralla, which could disrupt blood magic affecting the mind at least and stop people from starting up more mind related blood magic. Though how effective it truly was was unknown as it was hardly ever used for some reason which Adaar thought to be a major oversight by everyone who was terrified of blood magic.

To be fair, it wasn’t also widely known to be a thing except in some Circles, but even then, why not have a daily reciting of the Litany if everyone was so worried about thralls and such?

The original Litany had been in the Ferelden Circle, which Dorian claimed to be far more effective than his own magic, and having that might help with his Fade troops and his mortal troops and their efforts against the Venatori. Adaar wrote after it. He got a letter back stating it was no longer there, having been long since taken by the Hero of Ferelden and not returned.

Fuck.

He also got some angry comments insisting Adralla wasn’t a ‘magister’ what was Adaar thinking, no, she had been a bard. A bard who worked with the Chantry and the Templars to make the Litany, that was the real story going on here, and if Adaar could so kindly not mention lies in his next letter, that would be appreciated.

Adaar believed Dorian here. Ah, cover-ups.

Adaar had never sat down and really thought through everything with the Fade and the mortal world and Fadefolk being prone to blood magic automatically, and could you really call it blood magic if there wasn’t blood involved? Did that actually make it a cousin of blood magic without being true blood magic as a mortal would think? If the Litany was designed for mortals, would it still work as effectively if a Fadefolk did use it for whatever reason? Or were they unable to be helped by their ephemeral nature?

If Adaar got his hands on the Litany, could he break the binding he had? Surely it couldn’t be that easy, but there was no problem in trying, right?

Maybe someone else had a copy. He could write around. And according to Delrin’s new spirit adviser, an army must evolve their own tactics to defeat the tactics of the enemy. If the Venatori relied on blood magic, it would behoove them to find what wards there were, so it was the perfect excuse. And so Leliana sent out yet another letter to Surana, hoping for their eventual response.

Valor felt they should still look into other methods, find other writings from Adralla. She wasn’t his Valor of course, but a Valor. She took the guise of an old, battered woman, which was symbolic of someone who had lived through that many fights to become old-aged. A bit more style than most Valor spirits had.

Again, his was special and the greatest of all Valor spirits, but others could be fine as well.

Having Valor also helped with some disgruntlement about the chain of command. A number of Fadefolk didn’t think a mortal should be a Commander since mortals could not fully be either valor or command and thus saw Delrin and any other potential mortal substitute as being unfit. Others simply wanted reassurance that if someone was going to be in command, it should be a professional, and who to know better than a Valor aiming for tactics and strategy?

Not that humans couldn’t be valorous or compassionate or any other possible domain. It was culture shock, likely, as well as not fully understanding how mortals work. Adaar could sympathize; just a year and a half ago, he was just as clueless as they.

Or maybe more so.

Look, most of these guys had some knowledge of the mortal world since they usually had been interested in it from the start, and he only had scraps of that.

Bull probably also had a lot of culture shock, seeing as the Qun had a disturbingly similar system of organizing people according to their roles.

Bull was also a tit and was beneath Adaar’s notice.

Delrin and Leliana met with Adaar for the next phase in the mage plan, both of whom were heavily on board for different reasons. Delrin was also feeling the recent losses, but not as hard as Adaar. Probably that whole ‘I’m a mortal and thus used to the idea of people dying’ thing.

“I’m sorry for your people,” Adaar said lamely. Part of him was. Part of him was still singing ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead (from one of his favorite Fade musicals; nothing in the mortal world matched up), and then another part of him was lecturing himself over that part since they still died for him, and then there was a snide part thinking that maybe they should all die off.

It was all still complicated.

“I do not fault you if you aren’t,” Delrin said diplomatically. “We had potential once. I cannot fault anyone for condemning our order after what we chose to do with our freedom from the Chantry.”

Which was polite talk for ‘we killed a bunch of innocent people with it’.

“I’ve looked into the Avvar,” Leliana said. “They have rites to remove an unwanted spirit or demon from a person. If we can convince them to share this knowledge, we can pass this along to the Mage’s Collective.”

“They can do what?” Delrin asked.

“I know,” Leliana said. “There has been so much kept from mages in an effort to control them.”

“Possession is one of the big fears,” Adaar said. “That would go a long way to repairing our relationship with them.”

Vivienne was right about one thing. They’d slap those Circles back up regardless. But if there was a much juicier alternative that was allowed, then the Circles would become obsolete and would die out regardless. And Ferelden was a great place to start that wasn’t already pure mage freedom. The Hero of Ferelden had been a mage and had asked Queen Anora for mage freedom. Ten years later, and nothing had fully come of that aside from the decriminalization of the Mage’s Collective. Not that there hadn’t been an attempt, but the powerhouse that was the Chantry still trumped a Queen.

Or. It had. Chantry didn’t hold the same weight it used to.

“There is also Rivain to consider,” Leliana said, nodding towards Adaar, “but the Alamarri roots the Avvar share in Ferelden are the best bet. For people dissatisfied with the Chantry, they are likely to turn to their own roots than seek out new ones. Coincidentally, old tales of wolf spirits as protectors of Ferelden have been in higher regard lately, guardians who scare off more hostile spirits.”

Delrin smiled. “Also tales of Dane the werewolf. Those were actually outlawed in the barracks I was trained in. They thought it ‘promoted making deals with demons’ and such.”

There were also retellings of Gwaren when werewolves ravaged the streets. Some of the more pro-Chantry Fereldens were getting gung-ho about that story, probably preparing themselves for the ‘inevitable demon invasion’ as if they weren’t already living in one. Except instead of being more worried about the creepy corpse demons coming out of Rifts, or of the demons being bound by Corypheus, they were worried about the ones who actually wanted the world in one piece to play around in and couldn’t do that if Corypheus badtouched it.

“I must confess, I am surprised that this matters this much to you,” Leliana said, glancing over at Delrin.

“I’ve turned apostates into Circles before, back when I believed the Circles were the safest place for mages,” Delrin said uncomfortably. “I preferred to focus on actual problems, but I have perpetuated exactly some of these crimes, and I do not feel it right to ignore that. What of yourself? You aren’t a mage.”

“It’s not right,” Leliana said simply. “And Surana told me horror stories about the Circle, stories I have unfortunately heard time and time again from many people. Also I do not know what plans the Divine had, but she was adamant before she died that mages should be cherished.”

Ah yes. Divine Justinia, someone Leliana mourned and thought highly of. And perhaps Leliana’s largest blind spot because the Divine sure hadn’t seemed mage friendly from the growing information Adaar collected. Top hits included ‘can we just make a mage not a mage because that would be Swell’, ‘the mage rebellion in Kirkwall is probably worth an Exalted March’, and ‘oh sure elf rights, but make sure you have your country under control, Celene’.

Granted that last bit wasn’t about mages, but it didn’t paint a picture of a benevolent lady. It painted a picture of a woman all about power and using the picture of benevolence to further that power. And there was nothing wrong with wanting power or even the pursuit of it; but when you took your wants and fucked over everyone else’s dreams and lives? As if their wants for things like ‘being able to legally romance someone’ and ‘being alive’ didn’t also matter?

With the mages and Templars gone, the Chantry had lost its power, hence probably the real reason for the Conclave, to convince both sides to come back to more or less the same arrangement they had before, probably with vague promises to ‘do better’. He wasn’t sure how there would be a compromise considering one group wanted to kill the other group, and the other group’s entire stance was ‘we don’t want to be killed, thanks’.

It was all a scam to regain her power base, and Leliana didn’t seem to see it because feelings were in the way. Which made Adaar sad. It always sucked when you were blindsighted by people you loved and thought you could trust.

Thankfully, that degree of blindsighting hadn’t ever happened to Adaar.

“Are you certain you can keep Skyhold from collapsing if I take the week into Redcliffe?” Adaar asked.

“We all miss Josephine,” Leliana said, “but it would be best if you personally met with them, both as the Inquisitor himself and also a mage.”

“I’m just happy they agreed to meet with you,” Delrin said. “They used to be more open, but they went deep underground once the war broke out. I would offer to go with you, but my presence would likely be a detractor.”

“I mean, it doesn’t have to be,” Adaar said. “You don’t have to go waltzing about in Templar armor. That’s the main giveaway.”

“I still might be recognized, and while they know of the alliance, I’m not sure having a reminder around would help.”

“Fair enough,” Adaar said.

Adaar would be taking along other rebellion-minded mages. Namely Solas, Hawke, and Dorian. Adaar didn’t actually want to take them along, as he could travel faster without forced ‘sleep periods’, but people got antsy if he didn’t have protection wandering out into the great, big world full of horrors that could kill him.

And he agreed. What was he thinking? Being slightly inconvenienced was better than being dead! All of this constant peril was having a bad influence on him.

Solas and Hawke were easy to find, but Adaar hated searching for Dorian. It was the one time he couldn’t just scan for everyone and go ‘oh there they are’. One day someone would notice that Dorian was his weakness or something and go ‘aHA’ and yank back the curtain of glamour and then everyone would know he was a demon and then presumably kill him.

And see? Even thinking that didn’t hold the same weight it used to.

Adaar grumbled about his failing survival instincts as he wandered around, still sometimes crashing into something, trying to find where Dorian was. Not the library apparently.

Maybe he also got sick and was vomiting out his internal organs in his room? That was distressing to think about, but Dorian didn’t turn out to be in his room either.

Adaar sighed and almost left until he saw them: the ticket stubs from the chocolate festival. Dorian had kept them for some reason. Huh. On impulse, he picked one up and then nearly dropped it as the secondary layers glistened into his perception.

Warmth. Affection. Caution. Uncertainty. Five hundred different and unique layers of anxiety. Excitement and apprehension over public affection, not used to being doted upon, and how could that make any sense when he was a noble who surely dated some other nobles in the past? Couldn’t some of his rich love interests, laden with money, have doted properly upon him as you do in a relationship?

Tevinter sucked.

Adaar fought with the impulse to steal the tickets away, to hoard them with other precious items to trace over when no one was looking. Dorian’s mind was so warm. Aaaand full of anxiety. Adaar needed to remember that, maybe check-in before dragging Dorian off to some public show of affection, except no he had liked that. The tickets were very clear that he thoroughly enjoyed the public display of affection. He just also got freaked out over it at the same time.

Adaar traced the stubs for a moment, but they had obviously meant something to Dorian. He gently put them back into place and then left the room.

He eventually found Dorian in the underground library, pouring over some tome and taking notes. Dorian jolted when he saw him for some reason but smiled regardless, genuinely.

They had already done one ‘fake date’, but Adaar hadn’t made a lot of progress. Mostly he figured out how to undo it, but he was reluctant to undo the perception shift he had made, afraid it would cause him to slam right up against that binding and then bad town times for him.

Solas and Hawke then took three minutes to find upon which Solas pointed out he could have used a messenger. That’s what messengers were for. Please let the messengers do their jobs. All of them were down for meeting with the Mages’ Collective though, and the next morning they all set off to the Hinterlands.

Adaar had hoped the space would help in regards to someone who would remain nameless, but no. No it just gave him a lot of time alone with his hurt thoughts.

Nothing catastrophic happened for a change, and they got to Redcliffe safely. And then the Mages’ Collective liaisons actually showed up at the arranged time. That was the big shock there, that they were still willing to meet with him and this wasn’t all some trap, but boy, were these two an unhappy couple of folks.

No, they didn’t like the Templar alliance, which Adaar understood.

They were also rather wary of all the demons as well. Mages and demons historically didn’t get along.

They were also concerned that just recently, Adaar tried to ally with the Qun which was just as bad, if not worse!, as the Templar alliance. The Inquisition sure didn’t seem mage-friendly to them. Also how did Adaar keep the Templars from killing all the demons?

Adaar wondered that himself honestly. Why the Templars didn’t think of severing themselves with the Inquisition. Maybe it was because he killed their leader? Twice, since once it had been a demon impostor? Oh wow that’s some irony right there.

“We are willing to help you,” the representative eventually said, “since we too do not enjoy the idea of a world under Corypheus, but first we would like proof you do care. I am tired of people using mages, promising rewards, and in the end giving nothing.”

“Yeah that sounds about right,” Adaar said. “Understandable.”

“The cure,” the other one said, challenge in her eyes. “For the rite of Tranquility. We know there is one and that you have knowledge of it. Share with us this knowledge, and we will ally with you.”

“Temporary possession,” Adaar said easily. “As it turns out, being possessed isn’t impossible for a Tranquil, just incredibly difficult. If you can coax a spirit to possess someone, it restores their connection to the Fade even after the spirit leaves.”

“Huh,” one said.

“Convenient,” the other said.

“What? Oh right, all the spirits in my employ,” Adaar said. “I’m not actually sure a spirit on this side of the Veil would work? Though to be honest, I have no idea, but there isn’t a lot of information on the finer details. But I do think they have to be on the Fade side. There are also some side effects for an undetermined amount of time: lack of control over emotions and potentially some over magic as well. Our resident Seeker worries these are permanent, but I think the ex-Tranquil just needs some time to readjust to having emotions and magic again. We also don’t know if there are different side effects depending on the type of spirit or demon that temporarily possesses the mage, like for example someone being possessed by Faith being more drawn to Faith after, or someone possessed by Rage being angrier.”

Cassandra, after all, more or less had control over her emotions. And even if she wasn’t exactly the poster child for stability, other Seekers didn’t exhibit the same problems.

“I’m sure you have spirit healers that will be able to work with this knowledge,” Adaar continued, “but if you like, we do have allies in the Fade with little interest in being in the mortal world as they are worried that mortality might be catching, and they prefer to stay alive.” And they were smart cookies who would go a long way. “They might be safe bets for temporary possession if you struggle finding friendly spirits of your own.”

By the look on their faces, they weren’t prepared for Adaar just handing over the information. Perhaps it didn’t put the Inquisition in the best bargaining position, but for once it wasn’t about bargaining or deals being struck. Adaar might be a simple thieving demon who somehow ended up with a private army and a spy network and a castle and a boyfriend and at least three separate cults devoted to him, but Tranquility had never sat right with him, and people should know how to fix it.

And hey. It might promote friendlier relations with the Fade, and that was something Adaar was all about, as well as expanding the mage freedom movement in dead Trevelyan’s name.

Maybe if he could try to swing this ‘mage freedom’ business into better diplomacy with the Fade, there wouldn’t be as many bound demons shoved into books or cups or forced to ‘entertain’ some asshole’s guests. And also fewer mages taken advantage by demons, so everyone was a winner. Except for the Chantry, of course, but he didn’t care about them.

At least this alliance had gone over without something blowing up, Dorian idly thought on the way back. Things just seemed to blow up around Adaar. Not that Dorian minded not being allied with the Qun—it was a relief actually—but Dorian had thought that at least one person would die.

When Solas and Hawke were out in the vain hopes of catching something to eat instead of hardtack once again, Dorian sidled over next to Adaar on the log by the fire because he was going to enjoy every single second of privacy he could with him.

“Varric had bet it would take you longer to ally with the mages, you know,” he said smoothly.

“That had a betting pool? How many betting pools do you guys have?” Adaar asked.

Dorian decided not to answer that last question. “He thought you wanted to play it more smoothly in your grand game of recruiting every last bystander who isn’t the Venatori or already with said individuals,” he continued. “Anyway, you won me money, so I am endeared to you.”

“I’d say I live for everyone’s approval points, but I think I started veering away from that with my demonic recruitment drive,” Adaar said dryly. “Varric’s probably right though. I might have taken longer, but Trevelyan would have wanted this.”

Adaar gave him a measuring look, and Dorian waited patiently. Adaar didn’t often talk about Trevelyan.

“I’m primarily a selfish bastard,” Adaar eventually continued. “I mostly care about me, and then people I like.”

“And spirits and demons.”

“Okay yeah those too.”

“And peasants. You seem strangely preoccupied with peasants.”

“Peasants do a very important job in this world and don’t get enough respect for their hard work of keeping everyone alive.”

“Have you considered that maybe it’s simply you are nowhere near as selfish as you claim?”

Adaar huffed. “Am so. Anyway. Trevelyan? The Circle fucked him up badly. As much as I don’t like the topic, he was… kinda easy bait for any unscrupulous demon who happened on by, and all of that was purely because of what the fucking Circle did. But he cared a lot. About everything. He wouldn’t have waited, you know. In some better timeline, he probably would have hopped the fence and gone to recruit the mages regardless of how threatening Cassandra is with a sword drawn. Like kind of that exact courageous, dashing, reckless hero type I keep falling for.”

“That’s what you consider your type to be?”

Adaar looked at Dorian. “Yeah?”

Wait a moment.

“…oh,” Dorian said succinctly.

Was Adaar blushing? It was definitely Adaar because Dorian wasn’t blushing. That was simply heat from the fire.

“You don’t talk about Trevelyan himself often,” Dorian said, changing the subject back to the original.

Adaar shrugged. “Look it’s probably a stupid fear, but. Well. Trevelyan meant a lot to me. And I don’t want anyone mocking that.”

“I can understand that,” Dorian said softly.

Adaar glanced over at Dorian, and Dorian swore he could feel the few inches they were apart from each other, like static on his skin.

“Anyway, I’m the Inquisitor I finally realized, and they have to back the moves I make,” Adaar said. “And if they don’t want to, then maybe they should have thought of that before they gave me the fancy sword. So I go ally with some mages, they are kinda honor bound to make it go well.” Adaar paused. “You know it’s probably a recipe for my imminent death, but I think… I’m getting a bit more comfortable with being in charge. I can change things. Or massively fuck up things for people everywhere for generations to come.”

“Well. You will,” Dorian said. “That’s just what happens when you have power. Even the most benevolent, wisest ruler in all the land will mess up somewhere, because no one is perfect. Sooner or later, you will make a bad decision. Sometimes it might even seem like a good idea at the time but have untold consequences. And you might also make good decisions as well as bad decisions or even just neutral decisions with no net gain either way. You can only hope to do more good than harm in the long run.”

“Maybe if I’m lucky, the Templars could be my bad decision,” Adaar said.

“Or perhaps that turns out to be a neutral decision, something with little consequence in the future. I… would rather have had you at Redcliffe, but with the state of red lyrium as it is? Perhaps it’s better that some of that was nipped in the bud.”

Adaar was so close, and Dorian could see him getting melancholy. They were dating. Surely it would be okay to just-

Adaar had just told him secondhand that he thought Dorian was a brave person. So. He could do this. Besides, no one was around. It was safe.

Dorian slid his hand into Adaar’s.

Adaar gave him a warm smile and gently entwined their fingers.

Success.

(The problem with touching was that touch was addictive. It was heady, and Dorian wanted more.)

Dorian had usually been the more passive one. Men told him what they wanted. He normally waited for that because that was usually the signals for the end, and Dorian liked to make things last. But he had no idea how things worked in Rivain, and if Dorian didn’t know any better, he would say that Adaar was waiting for the exact same thing. For Dorian to make a move.

But he supposed this was not the time to be thinking about such things.

“Still though. As you said, it’s hard to say,” Adaar said, but then he gave Dorian a look. That kind of look that usually precluded clothing being removed, and well maybe this was as good of a time as any.

“Dorian,” Adaar began.

And just then Hawke and Solas crashed their way into view.

Dammit Hawke.

“Found some rabbits,” Hawke said cheerfully.

“Great,” Adaar said, in a tone that said that was the opposite of what he was feeling.

They did not get another moment of privacy along the way back, and once they were back in Skyhold, Adaar immediately became wrapped up in affairs once more.

Dorian’s initial research into dispelling blood magic hadn’t been promising. Tevinter had destroyed most of Adralla’s research, and there was a conspicuous lack of anything in the South as well. Perhaps Hawke was right. Perhaps the Southern Circles didn’t want to risk it.

The more he thought about it, the more sure he was of Adaar being under some compulsion. It simply made too much sense, but the question remained what to do with this knowledge? Did he tell someone else his suspicions, and if so, who? Cassandra might be a safe bet for all she detested blood magic, but if it needed to be kept a secret that people were catching on then, well. She was less than subtle.

Dorian would love to tell the people in charge that the Inquisitor might be under the influence, but could he completely rule out that the people in charge might also be the ones who placed him under blood magic in the first place? Not Cassandra, but he couldn’t rule out Leliana.

He wasn’t a mind-reader though. Cole was. Cole remained his strongest bet, but he still needed to think it over before approaching him.

He wanted to delve back into research first thing, but his absence had apparently gone noted. Sera had missed him.

Dorian wasn’t used to people missing him. Dorian was used to being able to disappear for months on end and nobody caring (or trying that hard to figure out what was going on).

But those were maudlin thoughts, and Sera seemed distressed. It wasn’t that Sera didn’t get upset; she just rarely showed it this much. And so he was sitting his room as Sera rocked on her feet, ears pinned to her skull, and looking miserable.

“What did you want to talk about?” he asked.

“It’s- frig, ugh. Chantry? Not-Chantry? Piss. Words tangled.”

“If you need to wait for a moment to get your words in a row, that’s fine,” Dorian said.

He wasn’t quite sure why Sera sometimes got like this, but it always seemed to get worse when she was stressed, sometimes to the point where she just said words that had seemingly no connection to the next.

She circled for a moment, scowling and hands vibrating before stopping. “It’s not helping,” Sera finally said. “For me. Came here to figure shite out, and now it’s all worse. It’s dumb. Herald of Andraste don’t believe, demons are everywhere. I tried books. They were boring. Some books weren’t boring, but not about not-Chantry shite. Didn’t help. Ugh and I don’t like thinking too hard. Think too hard and it all goes sideways, and then there’s bees where there shouldn’t be bees, and you can’t figure out how you put them in there.”

“Having a bit of a crisis of faith?”

“If you want to get fancy,” she said. “But also no? I don’t think so. I just want things to make sense, and they never do. Coryphenenus messed it all up.”

“I’m not sure if it helps, but I think everyone is having some kind of crisis lately,” Dorian said. Cassandra. Bull. He could probably include himself in that category as well.

“It just don’t all fit,” she said. “And then I try to figure out how to make it all fit, and then it fits less. And not- it’s not about Chantry. Or maybe it is? Hard to figure out the bits that are just Chantry and just Andraste. Overlaps, see. Can’t just not-Chantry, but Chantry didn’t even like- Chantry needs a better Divine, it does. Fix it. Then support the Chantry and the things it does.”

“I know it’s probably one of the last things you want to hear, but this might simply take a while,” Dorian said. Sera stuck her tongue out at him, or possibly out at the suggestion. “And I know you just said you hate to think about things, but at least you are. There are others who would happily and blissfully ignore refuse to consider that they might be wrong about something. It’s small condolences, but you will likely come out of this for the better.”

“Crises are dumb,” she said. Her ears drooped. “Okay it’s like this. If he is a Herald, it means yes Andraste. Maybe yes Maker? Maker starting to listen again? But some listening of some sort. And that’s good. That’s- closest to proof without proofs. And then no matter the other bits, whether sent because we were doing stuff right or wrong or anything, he was sent. And then the rest of the bits, the rights and wrongs, that comes later.”

The largest culture shock of the South had to be the reverence of Andraste, deemed heretical by Tevinter as Andraste had seemed fairly clear on her message to stop worshiping other gods and only the Maker. Rather seemed like missing the point. But as Sera had told him before, not revering Andraste, the only person who had ever gotten the Maker to listen before and they were playing to win, seemed just as silly.

“But if he’s not sent, then this is all just senseless madness,” Dorian said.

“Yeah. And would rather someone listened than not listened, thanks. I mean- I suppose if not listened, it’s still not proof in reverse, whatever Dagna calls that can’t remember. But would rather, yeah.”

“That would be comforting, yes.”

Sera sighed and plopped down in a chair, perching in it instead of sitting.

“Are you feeling any better?” Dorian asked.

“No. It’s still all complicated.”

“It might always be complicated,” Dorian said. “Sometimes that’s just how things are.”

Sera glanced over at him, half-hugging herself. “…hey Dorian? Thanks for not saying I’m being dumb about all this.”

Dorian frowned. “But you aren’t? These are very normal things for people to think about, especially during a pseudo-apocalypse. So why would I?”

“Still though. Thanks for not saying it.”

Sometimes Dorian really wanted to find whoever made Sera feel like this and make them pay. “Of course,” he said instead.

Adaar flipped through the mail on his desk. No letters about the Litany. There were a couple of threatening letters though. He casually tossed those into the fireplace. Another few angry ones from the Chantry, also fireplace. There were a couple of nobles interested in making donations, and that went into the work pile.

The next letter was somewhat dingy and smelled faintly of mold, like a depressed fisherman.

He opened it, and it was from a storeowner in Crestwood. It was just a thank-you letter. Things have been safer without the bandits and the undead and the dragon eating people’s livestock.

Adaar wanted to toss it into the fireplace.

He let it slip through his fingers back on the desk. This felt wrong. He didn’t like it.

Again he considered destroying the letter, but he couldn’t. That would be rude. It was an expression of gratitude. No, it was more than that. It was a symbol of something fulfilled, of Adaar having done a service, of having done something someone wanted, and now they were happy. And part of him wanted to grasp at that because yes, that, that was what he craved.

He pushed away from the desk. This wasn’t fair. None of this was.

He wanted quiet, but the constant background buzz of the minds in Skyhold didn’t have any respect for his wishes. Of people with their wants. Of that one great singular want, Corpypheus destroyed, and all of it linked right into him.

Past him would have been happy to help out so many mortals, and that grated. It wasn’t fair. Why now when he had thrown them all to the fire did he now end up in such a position to help so many? When he was battered and bruised from the worst mortality had to offer? When his will was half-stripped from him? Shouldn’t that make him resentful of them all? Why didn’t he try to fight it more out of spite and damn the Inquisition?

But then, that was easy, wasn’t it. They didn’t want to die, and they most certainly didn’t want Corypheus to win. And they didn’t want him to win so bad that they risked their lives, their jobs, their loves, everything and anything so that Corypheus would be stopped because they didn’t want it that bad. And he hated them but he also at the same time wanted to just reach out and- do something with all that.

He didn’t want mortal praise or gratitude. They could all die now that the only one of them he cared about was dead.

(But what about Dorian? What about Josephine?)

All they had ever done was reject him, reject what ‘dreams’ he tried to give them, reject his dedication to keep that reality exactly as the person wanted: a sign of trust, of commitment, of good deal making.

His eyes burned. Why couldn’t this have all happened to him before all that? When past him would have been happy to help out? When he wasn’t already made bitter and scornful of this entire plane of reality?

Why now? It just. It wasn’t fair.

They were making him Important now. That’s what some Fadefolk sought, because the more Important you were, the stronger you were. Maybe that was the explanation for him getting better at mind-reading, even at magic. They were all heaping so much damn Importance onto the Inquisitor that as long as he was acting as Inquisitor, he was being fueled by them.

He didn’t want to be fueled by them. He wanted to go home.

He wanted to talk to Bull.

He angrily reminded himself Bull didn’t want to talk to him, so that wasn’t an option anymore. And besides, Bull was a mortal and couldn’t-

Cole.

He needed Cole. He reached out with his proper self and nearly fell over because of course. Of course! He hissed and sat his stupid form down and reached out again, this time extending himself with his tendrils. He found Cole at the tavern, listening. And then Cole turned and looked right at Adaar and nodded once.

Adaar slunk back and waited. Sure enough in minutes, Cole entered the room.

What a trusty friend Cole was. Just. Showed up purely because Adaar wanted him to.

Cole looked at him concernedly. “How can I help? I’m sorry but you are going to have to tell me most of it. I can only hear flashes.”

“Yeah I know. Anchor’s loud,” Adaar said, and then he voiced his earlier thoughts about mortals, about pain, about the unfairness of it all, and Cole listened quietly. And then Adaar continued onward. “Do you know what normally happens in this kind of situation? Where like, a whole bunch of people Expect a demon hard enough that a spirit ends up temporarily as a demon?”

“If something like that is happening to you but in reverse?” Cole tilted his head. “It scares you. What if you aren’t you at all.”

“It’s happened to me before,” Adaar said. “Repeatedly. This at least doesn’t quite feel like the same because there’s some small part of you that’s still screaming in the background as you are piloted around by their shaping expectations, but…”

“But it’s similar. You are worried they are are still changing you somehow, and that hurts.”

“Yeah.”

“Helping hurts for you,” Cole said. “Because you offered and were scorned. Because you were made to once, to help someone who hurt you. And now it’s all tatters.”

“They said I should forget,” Adaar said scornfully. “People I talked to afterward. But I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to just erase what happened and pretended it never happened.”

“It would hurt less,” Cole offered. “Pain isn’t all you are. Some people think that when they were hurt and that hurt never healed, never made just. But he’s dead, and now you still hurt. You shouldn’t.”

“It’s a reminder,” Adaar said. “A warning, because some things shouldn’t be forgotten.”

“You sound like Fear,” Cole mumbled, with the identity marker of ‘that Fear spirit who lives in the library’.

“Yeah I know you two haven’t been getting along. Sorry. But I don’t want to hurt per se. I’d like to remember without it hurting, but I don’t ever want to forget. Some things shouldn’t be forgotten because then we can’t learn the lessons we need. And sometimes I want to be able to help people without wondering if that’s just because they all want me to so bad. What if they are making me help with their expectations alone?” His voice was starting to sound gravelly now. Great.

“I don’t think so,” Cole said. “I think that’s very unlikely.”

“Really?” Adaar asked, raising an eyebrow.

“If that were true,” Cole continued, “then you wouldn’t be helping spirits and demons.”

Adaar blinked.

“You have been helping more people than I’ve met before in my entire life,” Cole pressed onward, “People most mortals don’t even realize are people. And the mortals want you to stop but you refuse to stop. And then you want to help other small people, forgotten people, because it’s right that you help. Maybe it’d be easier for you to look only at the wants of the people around you who don’t want you to help, but you do. Nobody can help everyone, so it’s okay if you can only help some people, because then people are still getting helped. If you can’t help some because of hurt, then find some you can help. That’s what matters. And all that aside, you still find a way to help people even if it hurts you, and that’s why you are my friend.”

Adaar felt his eyes water a bit at that. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.

“And Identity is hard,” Cole said. “I still struggle. How do I help without killing them? Should I even try to be Compassion after? Though I think I understand a bit better what you said earlier. Forgetting what I did, even if would me not hurt, might only make it easier for me to hurt others if I don’t remember.”

“Well I was talking about myself.”

“You are a person,” Cole said. “Your hurts count as being hurt. Though that all seems complicated. I’m going to have to think on this. There are a few more Compassions around, and some of them… want to help me? I don’t quite understand.”

“You want to help them right?”

“Yes,” Cole said fervently.

“It’s like that but in reverse.”

It did not look like Cole got it. Ah, spirits who reflected with their massive self-oriented blindspots.

…he supposed he shouldn’t throw stones in glass houses. Demons sometimes weren’t that much better.

“Also I know for some weird reason you were sad that Templars died recently, but your screening process wasn’t perfect? So um.”

“If you occasionally, or often, have to kill a Templar, then I presume they had it coming.”

“Okay. Just checking.”

Cole then gave Adaar almost a thoughtful sideglance. “I’m sorry you’ve been hurting lately, but isn’t the Inquisition what you strive for? So many people all wanting the same thing, willing to fight for the same thing.”

Because the world doesn’t give out happy endings on silver platters. You have to do the work and fight for your chance, and even after giving your all, there’s never any guarantee.

“It’s your ideals made important,” Cole said. “Happy endings happen with a wishweaver on your side.”

“It is,” Adaar said, because he could admit it to Cole. Cole was safe. “I just wish… I don’t know what I want.”

“You wish mortals weren’t sometimes so cruel? That they didn’t make your own domain hurt you so?”

“Yeah, that. That they didn’t make it easy to continue to be so jaded. I don’t know how you spirits do it. How I used to do it.”

Adaar glanced over at Cole. “You know I used to work with dreams, but what did you do back in the Fade? Can you remember?”

“It’s hazy,” Cole said, “but I think I worked with a spirit healer. We helped fix a lot of people.”

Adaar nodded. “That’s some respectable work.”

“I can’t heal anymore,” Cole said. “Cole didn’t want magic, and so mine disappeared. I mean. I guess for the most part. Forgetting is magical to many.”

They sat there for a moment. Adaar was feeling calmer now, just telling someone his thoughts and feelings and not being judged for them. He’d keep the letter, no longer feeling the same urge to destroy it but now to squirrel it away with his other things that weren’t meant for trading.

“So how are you doing? Any problems of your own you want to discuss?” Adaar asked.

“I don’t know,” Cole said, looking like he was trying to perform high level math equations in his head.

“Well. I know I’m not a Compassion spirit, and my advice is probably terrible, but I’m here to listen,” Adaar said helpfully. “Repay the helping.”

Cole fiddled with his sleeves for a solid minute before saying, “It used to bother me more. People thinking I was young, a child. But they respond better to a child than to an adult asking them questions. It makes me seem naive, not-knowing of the hurts in this world. And then they want me to stay that way.”

Adaar snapped his fingers. “That time when you asked Dorian what a slave was.”

“I spent time in Orlais,” Cole said, sounding the most mischievous Adaar had ever heard him, and boy was Adaar proud. “I knew what a slave was. He didn’t. Then he thought about it, because how to explain to innocence incarnate? Now he does.”

“Use their false perceptions of you,” Adaar said. “Huh. Clever.”

“You do it too,” Cole said. “Though it hurts you more. And you worry about it hurting me.”

“Shaping is no joke,” Adaar said softly. “Like I said. I’ve been on that end. You are you, and then some really insistent mage comes along and makes you not you. Or, to be fair, insistent mortal. Or really powerful hostile demon or spirit in shaping combat, but then that’s its entirely own thing.”

“I might have gone with this path once,” Cole finally said. “It’s not a complete lie. I am new. I don’t understand a lot of things, I still struggle with figuring out what’s a person and what’s a ‘normal object’, and sometimes people say words that I think I understand what they mean but I don’t, but I still understand more than they think. I don’t want to do some of the things they think I should, like sex. Or eating. Mouth textures are gross. But now with other spirits, the guise doesn’t fit.”

“I’m sorry for inadvertently messing with your ability to help people,” Adaar said. “I’m sure you’ll figure out a new plan of attack soon enough though.”

“I wish you could leave if you wanted,” Cole said out of the blue. “I can’t help with that. I can’t help Trevelyan not be dead, I don’t know how to help you with his death.”

“Doesn’t help that you can’t fully see me, huh?” Adaar asked.

Cole actually looked at him, or rather at his arm, or rather staring past his arm into the Fade. Cole almost flickered, coiling dark smoke swirling in concentration more than form.

“Hey don’t push yourself too hard,” Adaar said uneasily.

The smoke half-collapsed, Cole just looking tired.

“I know the Anchor is blinding, okay, so-”

“He didn’t want you to die,” Cole said firmly. “You don’t know if you meant anything, but he was scared, and he didn’t want you to die.”

Adaar knew that. He remembered that much at least, or he thought he did, but hearing the words come out of Cole’s mouth struck something again. “Thanks,” he said lamely.

Cole nodded, more to himself than anything. “You should hold onto that.”

Chapter Text

Late at night during ‘sleeping time’, Adaar tried to search for more information on the kind of magic Flemeth had used to starfish herself on purpose. Unsurprisingly but disappointingly, he found nothing. He did however find information about amulets in Rivain that could apparently protect spirits and demons from binding. For a moment, his hopes also rose briefly before after more digging, he found out they would only protect the Fadefolk from ‘future binding’. They didn’t sever pre-existing binding.

This was just like the issues with the Litany all over again. Ugh. Sometimes Adaar did want there to be some kind of Maker so he could hold someone accountable for all of these hiccups in his ‘hey I just want to be free’ plans. And then maybe attempt to strangle them, or get someone else to strangle them.

Regardless, these amulets were exactly the sort of thing he should know about, theoretically ‘being’ from Rivain, and that sure would be handy for his army, wouldn’t it. So he swore and approached Leliana who also swore and then made ordering as many as possible a priority. He was starting to wish he had been to Rivain, and not even for the verisimilitude points. Apparently mortals there were concerned about spirits at least getting bound against their will and agreed that was bad.

If only this could have all taken place there instead.

He wondered how that intersected with the Qun. Perhaps in Rivain there were offshoots of the Qun that went ‘ah yes calling things by their true name and the importance of roles’ and included spirits (and mages, he supposed) in their philosophy without being dickbags about it.

(Maybe if Bull came from there, Bull would have understood.)

“How do we explain that you didn’t know about this,” Leliana said tiredly.

“Do you want to give up on this ruse?” Adaar asked.

“No,” she said. “No. We put this much effort in it.”

Adaar shrugged. “Well I’m ‘not’ an ex-farmer, from ruralville mcfucking nowhere, that wanted to visit his mercenary cousin and picked the worst time in the world, so I’d just say continue to run with my adorable, naive ways. The excuse if anyone asks is that I’m apparently an absent-minded idiot.”

“No, that won’t work,” she said. “Reputation is key.”

It really was, possibly more than Leliana knew. Or Leliana knew exactly how key and was spreading his reputation about on purpose specifically to supercharge him. He almost asked, but he could feel undercurrents of whatever last mission Leliana sent her assassins on. Her thoughts were always colder then. Sharper. It made Adaar sad since one of the whole points behind the tactics of assassins was making sure you didn’t have to do mass combat and waste considerable number of lives, or so he understood things.

“Then we were waiting for a mass shipment,” Adaar said. “As to avoid favoritism by singling out one or another demon. It took longer than we expected because our previous buyer went mysteriously missing, presumed dead.”

“That seems as good of an excuse as any,” Leliana said.

Of course since they worked on an actual alibi in advance instead of winging it with Leliana dying even more inside as she desperately tried to back whatever play Adaar just made, literally no one asked why it took so long. Instead Some People made a bunch of insinuations how that couldn’t work because if they didn’t know such magic, surely it couldn’t be out there somewhere in the world. And then some noble mentioned that the entire thing was a bad idea since surely you always needed that fallback just in case a demon ran rampant, and you had to bind it.

Adaar politely reminded himself that the noble was one of the main contributors of the Inquisition and that Josephine was Counting On Him as she had just finished being sick, and if he messed this up, he would never again in her entire life be able to convince her to take work off when she was dying of disease.

As it turned out, Josephine was determinedly sitting at the war table for the weekly group meeting. Everyone was seated at the opposite end of the table, except for Cole who in solidarity was sitting next to her.

“The healers say I am no longer contagious,” she said. “I’ve been well for a few days now.”

“Yeah ain’t risking it,” Sera said. “What do healers know anyway? Try to fix bleeding with more bleeding, headaches with burny blisters. They don’t know shite.”

Team North all looked very tired as she talked, being from the ‘civilized lands’ of ‘actual medicine’.

A few of the more perceptive members of the Inquisition were also giving him the same sort of looks a number of them were giving Josephine, which rude but okay called for as he had been walking into things, and he could see how that would be concerning for folks. Unfortunately that category meant that Iron Bull was also giving him such looks, and that hurt in places he didn't even know could hurt. So instead of addressing anything, he moved on with business, and nobody was cheered by the news that they would be moving out soon.

“I know I signed up to fight for this good, good cause, but isn’t this why we have forces?” Varric asked. “Soldiers and shit specifically so we don’t have to muck around in the dirt ourselves?”

“Rifts,” Adaar reminded him, and Varric mumbled into his coat. “Also, red lyrium. There’s Red Templars and Venatori both in the region. And a renegade group called the ‘freemen of the Dales’ who believe the Emerald Graves to somehow be the ancestral homes of humans. I think they failed history class. We will also be meeting with a rebel group there, who are also primarily human, because that just seems to be how things go. Human.”

“And yet we keep cleaning up all their messes,” Varric said, and Sera highfived him.

“Our spies have also been targeting Magister Calpernia, head of the Venatori forces,” Leliana said, moving further along the meeting agenda. “We were able to place the memory crystal Dagna modified in her camp. Hopefully we will gain tactical information as well as something we can use against her, more about this becoming a ‘Vessel’.”

“I have no idea who that is,” Fenris said with a small smile. “What a good feeling.”

“Well that’s probably because she’s a new magister and used to be a slave,” Adaar said.

“What.”

“Yeah and was freed by Corypheus who personally made her into a magister as he was that impressed with her power,” Adaar continued. “Her entire stance is ending slavery in Tevinter and remaking Tevinter into a country worth being proud of. And apparently it’s not just talk; she’s been enforcing some level of standards among her fellow Venatori when she can, occasionally having the worst of them killed off and replaced with people not quite as shitty, using her power and status to free other slaves, and so on.”

Hawke, Varric, Fenris, and Dorian all stared at him.

“I doubt Corypheus is going to keep his campaign promises,” Adaar said dryly.

“True,” Varric said sadly.

“Sounds more like he’s using her. But. She seems to have some good ideas, and I might try to steal her for our own cause. However, that takes a lot of caution and whatnot because otherwise you just end up getting stabbed in the back,” Adaar continued.

“In any case, I feel our highest chance of success lies in investigating this ‘Vessel’,” Leliana continued. “She doesn’t seem to fully trust him with whatever process he is planning. If Corypheus is already planning on betraying her, presenting her with said evidence might make it easier to turn her.”

“Also make some successful persuasion checks and hope for the best,” Adaar continued. “Or at the very least, even if we can’t steal her for our own, maybe we can convince her to quit, and that would be a serious blow against them.”

“We steal Venatori magisters now?” Solas asked.

“Why not?” Adaar asked.

“You might be taking your recruitment drive too far,” Cassandra said.

“Oh you have no idea,” Adaar said. No one seemed reassured by that. Nobody knew about the few dozen darkspawn in Adaar’s employ though, except for Leliana and also now Josephine, who upon finding out about said darkspawn had needed to take a moment and sob to herself before they reassured her that this was going to be a secret, and they weren’t going to be public about it.

Which was only because the Messenger and his crew had declined a public hiring, not wanting people to know about intelligent talking darkspawn, fearing the ole pitchfork and torches treatment. Adaar understood. Josephine’s sanity was saved that day.

“Also while you have all done an acceptable job while I was indisposed,” Josephine said, pulling out papers from somewhere, “Adaar, we have had some complaints about a few of the more, ah, rambunctious spirits. One keeps spouting heresies near the more devout nobles that for some reason still come to visit us as well as Mother Giselle. She doesn’t find them as amusing as you do.”

“Oh what’s the latest heresy?” Dorian asked. “I lost track.”

Blackwall said, “Apparently the Maker was one giant spirit, and he died in an act of ultimate creation, and this world is his corpse.”

“Last week it was that the Titans sing away the Fade, and that’s why there’s a Veil,” Dorian said.

For some reason, Solas looked uncertainly contemplative at that. Adaar squinted a bit. Did he know something Adaar didn’t? But there was no time to dwell on this as the meeting continued.

“And then there is another spirit who keeps lying to scholars trying to learn about the Fade,” Josephine said. “Which has been making my diplomatic exchange programs more difficult. Granted he’s not invited, but that doesn’t sometimes stop him from showing up, much to the displeasure of the other spirits and demons in said program.”

“Okay that is an actual problem,” Adaar said. That draw of being able to talk to Fadefolk on neutral grounds was a huge thing for the magical academic field to the point where even a couple of magisters over in Tevinter who weren’t allied with the Venatori were writing letters, hoping to arrange meetings and whatnot.

“Most of the complaints come from other spirits,” Josephine said, “who are better at catching him when he’s lying. In retaliation, he fired a complaint against them. Apparently the latest offense is that he tried telling scholars that spirits are incapable of humor by their very nature, and that the only way to get them to laugh is to forcibly inject a memory of mirth.”

“I once knew a sylvan,” Leliana said suddenly, “who refused to do anything than speak in rhyme. When we asked why, he said it was because he was a poet-tree.”

Half the table groaned.

“Those dastardly demons,” Blackwall said in fake solemness. “They’ll get you every time.”

“Now that’s sticking to a theme. Mad respect,” Adaar said. “Okay but give me the list, and I’ll try talking to them.”

After the meeting, Hawke had grabbed Varric and drug him outside.

“You okay or-”

Hawke held up a finger and then pulled out from a satchel the flower crown Cole had given him. He held it out for Varric to see and then set it down on a wooden stump.

He then pulled out a handaxe and slammed it into the crown.

The crown was not phased. The handaxe got a bit chipped though.

He held up a finger again and then pointed it at the flower crown, summoning flames. The crown won yet again, not even smelling charred.

Hawke then put the crown on his head, looked at Varric, and then pulled out a knife. Before Varric could stop him, Hawke attempted to stab his arm. Key word in that being ‘attempted’. It tinked a bit. Gave him a small scratch, but his arm was otherwise fine.

“What the shit,” Varric said eloquently as ever.

Hawke then switched how he was holding the knife and made a small cut, that same style he did for blood magic. And this time, it worked, and Hawke was in fact able to successfully cut himself.

“Seriously? What the shit?”

“I know, right?” Hawke asked. “What are these even made of?”

“Flowers!” Cole said cheerfully, startling them both as he seemingly materialized out of nowhere.

“Yeah hey Cole? Cole? You mind explaining this, or-?”

“It’s got a very high armor class,” Cole said cheerfully. “Remember to wear only yours though!”

Sera had swung by to visit Blackwall but got distracted by Adaar’s favorite dracolisk. She did not see the appeal. Valiance was attempting to eat, and Horsemaster Dennet looked like he could cry. Because Valiance, presented with a large hunk of meat, missed. And then missed again. And then sat back, stared at the meat, and then missed. Dennet tried to move the meat to where Valiance had been hitting, and then Valiance missed, fell over, and nearly knocked the stall loose.

“This is just sad,” Sera said. The dracolisk was literally too stupid to eat.

“Yeah the breeding program for this particular subspecies has probably gone too far,” Blackwall said. “You get that for some subspecies, especially in Orlais. Too much focus on coloration and patterning, and you end up with a lot of inbreeding, health problems, and some being dumb as stumps. Some of them even lose their fear of heights and end up walking off cliffs, plummeting to their untimely deaths.”

Sera squinted. “How come you know so much about Orlesian dragonhorses?”

Blackwall coughed, sniffed, and then turned back to looking at Valiance. He was now happily slobbering acid everywhere as Dennet sobbed into his arms. The meat still remained untouched. “Anyway, I don’t know what Adaar sees in him.”

“He helps!” came a cheerful voice from behind them, and they both shrieked because no one will ever be used to Cole. “No judgment, just unconditional love for who he is.”

Sera rolled her eyes.

“Like Trevelyan did,” Cole continued. “But now Trevelyan is dead.”

“Yeah, okay, we get the point,” Sera said.

“He helps heal the hole-”

“Just once! Just once can we have things ain’t all trauma? Just once have some happy fun stuff without hurts all up in it?”

“Sounds fake but okay,” Cole said.

Adaar had told the heresy spirit to keep up the good work, shared a highfive, and had then moved on down the list. A couple of the Fadefolk were only somewhat malicious and had a stern talking to about stakes and consequences and whatnot which fixed the problem, another was definitely malicious and had to be fired, and a few were simply confused about the mortal standards of ‘privacy’ and had just been unintentionally horrifically rude. He directed them to that Fear spirit who lived in the library who could more fully answer their questions.

The lying spirit meanwhile was only doing it out of being a complete troll—much like Sera and Dorian were also complete trolls—and so Adaar offered him a change in jobs to go annoy and/or hassle various Orlesian nobles on their shitlist. He accepted it with glee, and that took care of that problem.

Next was a duo who apparently were ‘insulting’ people by asking them questions, another spirit of Compassion and then one of Charity. He found them half-cornering a scholar in the gardens.

“Can you prove it?” Compassion asked.

“I don’t have to prove anything. We just are,” the scholar was saying.

“That sounds like someone who can’t prove it,” Charity said.

“Prove what?” Adaar asked, walking into view.

“Creativity,” Compassion said. “In theory, mortals are more creative than spirits, but I have yet to see concrete evidence of this. Until proven so, I am of the theory that mortals are not inherently any more creative than spirits, and that it’s all harmful stereotyping.”

Adaar frowned. He never considered that there might be things about spirits and demons that weren’t true and yet he had internalized them, but now that he was thinking about it, aside from a few people, most of the Inquisition crew really… weren’t that creative. Or at least, not anymore creative from a normal person, and mortals were supposed to be more creative than people.

“We have paintings!” the human said.

“A copy of something you saw,” Compassion said.

“Paintings of- of fake things! Unicorns!”

“Ah yes, a horse with a horn on its head,” Charity said dryly. “Truly the pinnacle of creation. Nevermind the fact that if Fear splices creatures together, they are called a ‘hack’.”

They were called hacks. Huh.

“You can only copy what’s in a mortal’s mind though,” the person said. “You don’t actually think of new things.”

“As do you. Just without the direct gaze,” Compassion said. “Everything I have seen of your work is repurposed ideas from other people and inspiration drawn from things you witness, not from things sprung from the aether of the mind. I still have heard no evidence, and I’m starting to think you don’t have any.”

Adaar looked down at his complaint list and quietly crossed this one off. Sometimes people needed to be questioned about these things.

The days progressed. There was an assassination attempt on the Iron Bull, a formality more than anything else. He’d been tempted to go to Adaar, but Adaar still wasn’t talking to him. He went to Krem instead.

Krem continued to be alive, whole and well, and the more time marched on, the more Iron Bull knew that this really was what he wanted, damn the consequences.

He was going to be okay. They all were. But something was wrong with Adaar, and not just his moods. He asked after him to Dorian, and Dorian’s face did a funny thing for just a second before saying no, Adaar wasn’t fully alright, but Dorian was trying to work on it. But why not ask him directly?

Dorian didn’t understand that that wasn’t a possibility for him anymore.

It was tied to the Storm Coast, that much he knew, but despite all of his talks with Adaar about demons, he had no idea what could have happened. Adaar acted in the interests of Desire, or the Desire he chose. Adaar should have been bolstered, even with Iron Bull rejecting him after.

It didn’t add up, and Iron Bull wanted to ask what was wrong but.

But he lost that privilege. And he hadn’t realized how much of a privilege, of a precious thing Adaar’s trust was until it was gone. And maybe Dorian was right. Maybe Adaar would forgive him one day, and they’d talk again, but it wouldn’t be the same. He’d lost something in this. Adaar wouldn’t… trust him on that same level again. And Iron Bull had been so, so careful in the past, even when Adaar was lashing out at him, words laced with venom, to not exacerbate things, to not let Adaar feel like Iron Bull wasn’t on his side. It’d been necessary at first to keep his trust, to find out information he could still slip the Qun without telling them everything, and then it had been… it’d been something, he realized, something about being Adaar’s safe place. Letting Adaar just be a person who could have problems and not have to be the Inquisitor. Listening as Adaar bitched about mortals and how annoying physics were and how gross corpses were, sometimes even joking back on those topics and seeing Adaar’s face light up with delight.

And that was all gone now. Even if Adaar started talking again one day, Iron Bull wouldn’t ever be safe for him again.

Hopefully Adaar would find Dorian safe enough to confide in eventually. He needed someone to listen to him, help keep him sane through all this chaos. They’d be good for each other, he felt like. They balanced each other out a bit and could geek out over the Fade and magic shit.

He’d been good for Adaar once, Iron Bull felt like, before he betrayed that. And it really was a wonder that he felt such a keen sense of loss about that, far more than he felt broken up about no longer being with the Qun.

Afterwards, Adaar meant to talk to Solas about gods and godhood. Instead, Adaar ended up debating about spirit genders and societal constructs, and of course it makes sense to have a gender in the realm of ideas because all gender was was an idea imposed upon flesh bodies. Spirits loved latching onto ideas, and just because something was a societal construct made up by people didn’t stop it from existing and impacting people, even mortal peoples, in a very real way. Reality spun from unreality, which was the beauty of the Fade and of mortal societal constructs as well. Like politeness. Fakest thing to ever become something real and impactful, and yet dismissing it purely for its fake roots could and would cause real harm to people.

Spirits having and exploring gender made more sense than there being spirits of the concept of Family, and yet that didn’t stop spirits from exploring that either, nor Hunger, nor many of the Faiths who focused on mortal religion.

And sure, not all spirit explored gender, but Adaar had always felt strongly about it, being male in a Domain predominantly seen to be female.

Solas argued the gender was a corruption from the mortal world, something forced upon spirits enough times that it lingered, the same way mortals forced many a spirit into demonhood, and that the natural state of the Fade didn’t include the idea of genders. A gendered spirit was an absolute rarity. Then Adaar pointed out that idea exchange had been going on since the beginning of time, and you couldn’t just eliminate the flow of ideas, and then Solas said that’s exactly the kind of thinking that makes demons.

It almost seemed hostile, but Solas was genuinely having a good time, radiating minor approval points as well as general happiness.

“Like maybe that’s how it once was,” Adaar said, “but times change. Culture and people change, and that’s a part of life. Even in the Fade, only theoretically unchanging as said by mortals who usually don’t remember their trips there.”

Solas looked saddened for a moment. “Perhaps you are right,” he said and not even grudgingly. “The Fade itself may be different from the Fade from some time ago.”

For the faintest second, Adaar caught a whiff of regret, of a longing of some other Fade that Adaar had never experienced. But why regret?

“What if a spirit wanted to explore gender then?”

“Then the spirit would simply have crossed over to the mortal world,” Solas said. “It was… easier then. There wasn’t the warring between the mortal world and the Fade. Magic was freer, and people happily summoned spirits wanting to become heavier across. The Fade was once purely for abstract ideas, contemplation, and rest, a respite from the consequences of the unchanging world. Gender is something that the mortal world developed, and a fascination with the mortal world was easy enough to solve with a simple crossing.”

“There weren’t as many possessions, were there,” Adaar said. He knew the answer already, but he needed to hear it.

“There weren’t. There was no need,” Solas said, and Adaar knew it. “It is truly a pity what has happened.” And there was that sad tone again.

What did Solas know that Adaar didn’t? Probably a whole fucking lot.

“But if they crossed over, they would still be spirits,” Adaar said. “People don’t stop being spirits just because they are in the mortal world, and mortals don’t stop being mortals when they show up in the Fade.”

There was the slightest pause before Solas said, “True,” and now Adaar knew he was sitting on information he wasn’t sharing.

“Likely the events of the Breach will change things as well,” Solas continued, both in talking and in not sharing information with Adaar. “Some of my friends that before watched closer to the mortal world now try to distance themselves.”

Adaar hadn’t thought about the long term sociological changes the Breach and all the Rifts might have. Huh. Like he had just argued the Fade wasn’t actually unchanging, but it might be changing without him there to witness it. It was a weird feeling and vaguely unsettling. If he ever did return home, it wouldn’t look like the home he had left. Things would be different, and not just him from his time here.

“Though your actions might be stalling that,” Solas said, eyes glinting. “You are hiring even in the Fade now? Curiosity to spy upon the dreams of the Venatori?”

“They want to help,” Adaar said stubbornly.

“I mean no offense. It is merely… inspiring,” Solas said. “I’m not sure there has been such an alliance between mortal and Fade for quite some time.”

“Thank you,” Adaar said.

“I am looking forward to seeing what happens next,” Solas said.

It was time for steps two and three in Dorian’s plan to not be a complete raging disaster of a person, because he wanted to get better, he did. Recovery was just hard was all. But Fear had his points. If there was an abundance of blood magic going on—aside from what was possibly going on with the Inquisitor himself—then surely some of the demons would notice and start making a fuss.

He looked out from his balcony viewpoint, to all the people milling about, to the mountain peaks nearby, and let himself be calmed. And then he dropped the sustained spell.

Nothing exploded. No one leapt out from a bookcase going ‘aHA!’. The people continued to mill about, and the mountain peaks continued to be right there as always. It felt almost anti-climatic, really. The only difference was his mana reserves began to fill up again, something almost dizzying, like suddenly having more air than you were used to. Like walking to the Storm Coast and finally having that blessed humidity.

He would put the shield back up later, he knew. Especially around Hawke. The man had admitted to trying to see if he could use blood magic on Dorian after all, and Hawke was a wild card. No one knew what Hawke was going to do next, and that probably included Hawke as well.

In the end, he actually put the spell back on to stop the dizzying feeling from having his mana reserves back to full. He wasn’t usually one for walking around with sustained spell effects, because what if the enemy required just a bit more fire than what he had available? Some mages however preferred to stick with their sustained spells, to the point where the magic became a second skin for them. The Hero of Ferelden was infamous for that very trait, though Dorian didn’t know whether it was hyperbole or not that the Hero took it so far as to have no magic reserves left at all after all their spells slapped on.

The third step though had Dorian hesitating and fretting. He thought about what Fear had said. He could wait for a challenge. Or. He could challenge Adaar on something already, and it wouldn’t be unneeded.

It hadn’t sat right with him anyway.

Shields would be up though. Baby steps. Also in case Adaar didn’t like being challenged, Dorian wanted this barrier. He didn’t think Adaar would react poorly, but then one rarely thought the nice chocolatier was trying to poison them. That didn’t stop chocolates from sometimes containing poison.

He could almost feel Fear giving him a metaphorical eyebrow at that. And then just to be clear, he checked around the corner, and no. Fear wasn’t nearby.

He decided to wait for evening when Adaar’s schedule would be clearer. He read to distract himself, waiting for time to pass, but eventually gave up on that when he reread the same passage twelve times.

Adaar was so happy to see him when Dorian finally stopped by, radiating joy to the point where Dorian almost considered throwing the mission and waiting for another day.

“I honestly think Josephine has a problem,” Adaar said. “I think she’s a workaholic.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” Dorian said.

“Hey,” Adaar said, but then that was as far as he protested that matter. “Anyway, do you need anything?”

“I have something I want to talk about,” he said slowly. “It’s about Bull.”

Adaar’s face fell. “What about him?” he asked, tone sharply more neutral.

And strangely enough, the vaguely confrontational tone helped. Perhaps it was because Dorian had picked enough fights in his time, but it felt as if he was on familiar footing. “Look. I don’t know what happened at the Storm Coast, but you can’t punish Bull for it. And don’t pretend you don’t know what you’ve been doing,” Dorian continued when Adaar opened his mouth. “He said he made some bad comments. Fine. You are allowed to be as angry as you please with him, but you can’t take it out on him, not to assign him to sick duty in hopes he’ll get infected and puke up his lungs, nor to hex him. And I studied heavily in entropy magics; I can recognize a hex, so don’t try to deny that either. You are his superior and now in far more power over him.”

“I’m not angry at him,” Adaar said. Dorian almost said something cross, but then Adaar said, “I’m angry at me.”

Dorian blinked.

“I knew what he thought,” Adaar continued morosely. “What he believed about things, about- about my kind. But he was funny and nice and supportive, so I just pretended otherwise. I fooled myself on purpose because I wanted to be fooled. And then surprise, surprise, he still believes the things he believed at the start. And I felt- I felt like an idiot.”

“Ah,” Dorian said. “Do you still have a crush on him?”

Adaar didn’t say anything.

“So that makes it worse then,” Dorian said.

“I dunno, friendship breakups can hurt plenty,” Adaar half-mumbled.

“Look. I understand, but you need to let this go. I don’t know what he said, but it was right after his entire world got upended. People lash out, and you can’t take it personally. Especially when you are in a position of power over them. You once worried about abuse of power? This counts. Perhaps it’s not as large as bringing everyone to their knees, but still it counts, and you need to stop.”

Dorian doubted Adaar realized how much of a transgression this could be, that he had ever been in any position of power over anyone else in his life. It was a good learning lesson though, and at least one that could be learned with something more fixable, where the stakes weren’t as high.

“You’re right,” Adaar mumbled. “And I should- probably… Apologize.”

“I’m not saying you have to talk things through, but I would if I were you. Mostly he seems terribly sad for betraying your trust, and neither of you are talking to each other. It’s maddening, and I’m caught in the middle.”

Adaar gave him a curious look. “Why are you caught in the middle? You two haven’t exactly been friends.”

“Well no else is, and he’s sad, and that’s not how Bull should be.”

Adaar kept giving him a look, and Dorian huffed. “What?”

“Nah just. You remind me of Trevelyan sometimes.”

The terrifying blood mage who might have singlehandedly destroyed all of Ostwick’s Templars in one fell blow.

“Which might be weird to say,” Adaar continued, “but you both are, or were for him I guess, so concerned about what’s right and all. Even when it would only backfire.”

Or perhaps in Adaar’s vision, a mage who singlehandedly saved all his fellow mages in the Circle. Which he did do. And fled after. He supposed a person could be both of those things at once.

“That’s strange for me, since that’s how I always saw Felix,” Dorian said.

“Why do all the good people die off and leave us behind, right?” Adaar asked. “Like what are we supposed to know what to do without our moral guardians?”

“I know, right?” Dorian asked.

“…does he honestly seem sorry?” Adaar asked, a hopeful tone creeping into his voice.

“I think so.” This was a good sign, Dorian felt. Adaar was taking it well. Adaar wasn’t really fighting him on this. Adaar was admitting a misstep. This was going freakishly well, more like talking with Felix than Alexius.

...maybe, just maybe , Dorian’s experiences with people were skewed to the negative. He’d need to think on this because the last thing he was going to do was get rid of his skepticism. Nobody would recognize him otherwise.

“And if he’s not,” Dorian continued, “and he still acts like a cad, then you can distance yourself from him, have him work purely through Leliana if you prefer.”

“What if he’s completely terrible though?” Adaar asked. “I mean he isn’t currently being awful, but what if he crosses some line, and I can’t handle it?”

“You… could fire him?” Dorian suggested. Adaar blinked. “You realize you can fire people, right?”

“I can- oh. Well. Hmm.”

Wade and Dagna had been teaming up on some deep arcane projects, probably to get armor to glow with all the colors of the sun or something like that. Wade was all about aesthetic in his armor choices, and Adaar could respect that. Herren had taken up his old role of carefully scrutinizing all costs, contracts, and orders coming in, as well as trying to keep Wade somewhat focused on what the customer actually wanted, which was functional armor acquired at a time before the customer died. And he had been so happy lately, with Wade finally respected for his achievements.

Adaar supposed he could have in theory talked to Hanker, but Hanker wasn’t currently snogging a mortal. Herren was married to one. Who knew he was a demon! Ergo, he was the only expert Adaar knew about successful courtship of mortals.

Adaar thought it might be easier if he didn’t want to have sex in all honesty. It chafed sometimes, and Adaar didn’t like it when he himself, as he was, chafed.

But that was the stereotype, wasn’t it. All Desire demons wanted sex. All of them. Each and every one. The idea that there might be Desires out there that didn’t care for sex and focused on other Desires tended to fly right over the heads of mortals. And all other spirits didn’t want sex because they were too ‘pure’ and ‘focused on their domain’ to ever consider romance, let alone sex. And if a non-Desire demon did want sex, it was purely for nefarious purposes.

And that was just for mortal stereotypes. He knew there were others even spirits had, like the only romance a Valor or Pride could ever have is with an epic rivalry. Rage demons were unintelligent, and Hunger barely counted as people.

Adaar didn’t like being hyperaware of these issues, but he was Desire. It was hard not knowing about these things, and even this lot, as fond as he was of them even if one of them was secretly binding him for their own schemes, tended to fall into the same trap.

(All this subterfuge hurt. The problem with trying to get them all to like him and thus hopefully eventually ally on his side, was that they were now starting to like him. And that was pleasant. Adaar liked being liked. He wasn’t sure if you could horde people, but he was getting close to it.

He wouldn’t say it was healing, but it soothed something in him that no amount of corpses ever fixed.)

And yet all the same, these fuckers still had all their various hang-ups. They were horrifically ignorant. Everything going on with Cole was bad enough, and it made Adaar insecure about his own relationship with Dorian. Like if Adaar decided to have sex with a very handsome, dashing mustached Tevinter man, then Adaar wanted it to be about the fact that he enjoyed that man’s company and thus was down for physical pleasure. Not because he was ‘Desire’ and for that reason alone. That seemed… demeaning, and that struck at old wounds Adaar purposefully never healed because sometimes it was better to have a reminder.

And Herren listened politely as Adaar vented as such.

“Have you ever considered that you overthink things?” Herren asked.

“I think through things because I like to stay alive,” Adaar said. “And I want to win. Also how am I ‘overthinking’ things?”

“They don’t know you are a demon,” Herren said. “So they can’t judge you for that. I understand still being hurt by what they would think, but it sounds like you are upset that you aren’t a perfect rejection of everything mortals associate with Desire. You do not judge me for Wade, right? Then why are you judging yourself?”

Adaar grumbled into his tea. Fifteen plus years Herren had been in the mortal world, and yet still they were in some kind of parlor room with proper refreshments and a soothing atmosphere because one simply did not forgo hospitality when bitching about everyone who wasn’t a fellow Desire. Protocol had to be followed.

“People are going to be wrong about things,” Herren said. “That is the nature of people. You can’t let that get in the way of your own personal desires. You want to romance and have sex with Dorian. He seemingly wants that back. Then pursue it already and damn what some people might think. It’s hard to ignore society— either society because mortals aren’t the only ones with stereotypes for Desire demons—but you can’t let those wounds stop you. Well I suppose you can, but you shouldn’t.”

The world didn’t give out happy endings or what you wanted. You had to fight and struggle for it. Adaar had always known that, but man, struggling was hard.

“And I’m not saying it’s easy,” Herren said. “While there are many issues I’ve had with pretending to be a human, at the very least, people aren’t judging me as much for who I decided to pursue. I mean, some, and it’d be worse if I had fallen for an elf or someone who wasn’t a ‘fellow human’, but I actually haven’t had as much scrutiny as I would have had in the Fade.”

The Fade overall was more accepting of Desire demons than the mortal world, but boy that wasn’t hard. And, as much as it did pain Adaar to admit it, many Fade cultures weren’t perfect either. They all had their problems, which Adaar liked to ignore. He was too worried that someone would point out the slightest problem and use that as ‘justification’ for all the shit mortals put Fadefolk through.

Double standards were exhausting .

“How did you and Herren meet by the way?” Adaar asked, now picking up a honeyed scone. “I’ve been curious.”

“He wanted a deal made,” Herren said. “But I met him on this side of the Veil, in my demonic form. At first I thought he might attempt to try to kill me as many of the inhabitants had, but instead he took the opportunity to barter. He was a genius and yet had nothing to his name. And all he wanted was to work on the best pieces, to be a blacksmith respected by Thedas for his brilliance. I agreed to help with that goal, and in return, he would shelter me and help me pass as a mortal.”

A voice came from behind him. “And then you refused to let me touch interesting commissions for years. It almost defeated the point when I wasn’t even allowed to pursue the slightest thing of interest. It was horrid.”

Herren’s face did a thing, and he put down his own cup of tea. “You had a problem! You once tried to pay someone to do work for them. That’s not how the economy works!”

Wade now came into view, sniffing indignantly. “You’ve never understood artistry.”

“Yes! I do! Artists get paid for their work! Self-respecting artists do. No sane person would put in dozens or hundreds of hours, pouring heart and soul into pieces, and then hand them out for free.”

Wade turned to look at Adaar. “He’s never understood. He more than once tried to scare off customers finally giving me interesting materials to work with.”

“I don’t care if they were the last Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden, they were going to bloody well pay you, or they could take their services elsewhere. And I could smell it on them, just like I can smell it on most people. They didn’t even think about paying you until I mentioned it and would happily have taken your services for free.”

“They paid!”

“Vastly under paid! Your work was worth hundreds of sovereigns, easy. Not twenty. And no, it doesn’t matter if you made a few mistakes in the piece itself.”

Wade sniffed again. “Well they saved all of Ferelden so it’s for the best we got them that dragonscale armor that protects against dragons before they faced an archdemon . And that ended up landing us another job in Turnip Keep. At least I got a few interesting pieces of work done there.”

“Ah yes, Vigilance,” Herren said. “Though how you made a borderline sentient sword-”

“And I do better now,” Wade said, skipping completely over the fact that he made a borderline sentient sword like no really Adaar wanted to focus on that. But Adaar wasn’t about to butt in either. “I’m not as emotional as I used to be when a project doesn’t turn out the way I envisioned it.”

Herren folded his arms. “I had to console you two weeks ago because you were a ‘failuré’, you were ‘ruinéd’, all because you had missed a single tiny imperfection before handing the commission over.”

“Yes but I wasn’t as bad as I used to be,” Wade said. “I’m just a sensitive artist. Like you said, I put my soul into these pieces. I want to do right by the materials given to me. You were always there to pull me out of a funk though, and I do appreciate that.” Wade glanced again over to Adaar. “What of you? What are your thoughts on artistry and payment thereof?”

“Well I might be biased here, but I’m with Herren,” Adaar said. “Only crazy people would do that much work and not expect to get paid for it.”

Wade sighed deeply. “No one understands,” he said dramatically, but he didn’t say it sadly, and Adaar got the feeling Wade was happiest when he could be a miserable artist. Adaar really didn’t get that, but if it worked for him, and if he had someone to watch his back and make sure no one took advantage of him, then great.

He also got the feeling that this was an argument they would reargue for about as long as they lived. But they had each other, and arguments aside they respected and cherished each other.

It was nice when Bull had been around. Adaar did miss him. Adaar also missed Dorian, and he just got done talking to Dorian.

“I hope you two have a nice chat,” Wade said, now walking to the door. “I’m off to work with Dagna. We think we can make an armor that simultaneously exists inside the Fade. Exciting stuff.”

Herren sighed fondly as Wade left. “You know, he can probably succeed in that. He’s truly brilliant, and that Dagna he works with. Just. He has no financial sense at all.”

Adaar nodded. “So there’s a borderline sentient sword…?”

“Yeah we lost track of the latest place that sword’s slipped off to. Anyway, you were talking about relationship troubles?”

“I guess I’m starting to wonder if it’s too late now,” Adaar asked. “It’s starting to become some time that we’ve been dancing around each other. I want to have sex with him, like I really want to, like to the point where it’s becoming a distraction, but I can’t just do that and not let him know I’m a demon. I need to tell him first, and I’m not sure how to do that.”

“Well the longer you wait, the worse it’s going to get,” Herren said. “He might reject you. And then you’ll need to prepare for someone knowing about your identity beyond the slow growing crowd already.”

“Ugh.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible though,” Herren continued. “While Wade knew what I was from the beginning, I did once meet another Desire. She had previously entranced a mortal—a Templar of all things—but eventually had let go of the entrancement, willing to risk it in order to stop draining from the Templar and cannibalizing his life force.”

“And it worked out?” Adaar asked dubiously.

“Yes. Though I understand there was considerable talking to do.”

Herren wasn’t lying, and yet Adaar found himself skeptical. Or maybe it was different when mortals found out your identity in the mortal world as opposed to the Fade, since whenever the gig was up in his earlier, foolish spirit days, they sure weren’t happy with him. ‘You aren’t my real brother!’ and things along that nature.

Not that he wasn’t slowly learning the mortal side of things and where they were coming from. It seemed steeped in cultural as well as metaphysical misunderstandings about what was wanted and what was being offered.

“And what if it goes absolutely wrong? Worst case scenario, but I still don’t want to kill him?”

Herren shrugged. “Knock him unconscious, inject him with magesbane in order to dispel ongoing magic thereby destroying his wards, and then get Cole to wipe his memories of the confession.”

When Adaar made a face, Herren simply raised an eyebrow. “You did ask.”

Chapter Text

The Emerald Graves was beautiful and massive, and horrifying on how massive it was. Not because Adaar freaked out about large swathes of land—that was one of the few things mortal world had going for it—but because of what that meant.

That was a lot of dead bodies.

It was sobering to walk through, and then also frustrating because why did so much have to be taking place in a giant monument to the dead?

At the very least, Principissa the bog unicorn—who was in no way growing on Adaar—and Valiance got along, or rather Valiance was one of the few mounts that wasn’t spooked by Principissa. That was of course because Valiance was the best mount there was. He was a very good boy, yes he was.

They met with the refugee leader Fairbanks, who mostly just wanted to make sure the remainder of the refugees got food and a place to sleep at night and weren’t constantly being attacked by bandits (or soldiers who felt they were disloyal to whichever side of the civil war the soldiers were on). Those seemed like reasonable requests, and sure Clara was right and Fairbanks was absolutely a noble hiding his lineage, but the guy didn’t want to be a noble, so Adaar marked that down in the ‘sure I will absolutely get around to doing that quest at some point winky face’ list.

Who was he to begrudge someone who didn’t want the noble lifestyle?

Now initially there was a lot of focus on fighting the Red Templars and the so-called Freemen of the Dales, on clearing them from the region, and by the third encounter Adaar was already tired of it all.

“Well. I can’t feel the presence of any red lyrium,” Adaar said, examining Hawke’s stab wound, as he had been stabbed in the forearm with a red lyrium armknife of a Red Templar shadow. Normally rogues were just the normal levels of ‘you can’t see me because I’m so sneaky’, but the red lyrium warped a Templar to the point where some of them could actually use a weird kind of magical invisibility, though Adaar questioned what kind of magic it was. After all, if it wore off the moment the Templar attacked, that implied it was all in the mind, which would be blood magic? And yes, Adaar knew that in the presence of lyrium or in the Fade, a mortal could exhibit magical abilities they wouldn’t normally have in the mortal world, but it was still pretty fucking weird as far as he was concerned.

“It would really suck if this was the way I died,” Hawke said in a jovial tone while inside was seventeen levels of panicking and pleading because he really didn’t want to die. “Also fitting, probably. Red lyrium gets you eventually. I think I can’t feel any red lyrium either though.”

“You think? So you don’t know for sure? Fenris asked sharply. Fenris wasn’t holding up Great. Fenris was Worried. This was an understandable worry, Adaar felt like.

Fenris focused on not hyperventilating, Cassandra was looking back and forth between Hawke and Fenris with concern etched across her face, and Hawke and Adaar stared at the sluggish bleeding from the wound.

“I guess the question is do you want to risk it?” Adaar asked. “I mean. We could try cutting your arm off?”

Hawke winced. “Maybe there’s no particulates though. I might be fine.”

“Well it’s your choice,” Adaar said. “But even a tiny shard will eventually get you. If it helps, Dagna was really disappointed by how everything turned out with my Fade arm. She’d whipped up schematics for actual moving prosthetics. I think one of them doubles as a magical canon somehow?”

“Now that is tempting,” Hawke said.

“This is a grave matter,” Cassandra said sharply, “and I do not think you are taking it seriously.”

And all of them promptly ignored Cassandra because this was Hawke taking it seriously.

“Neither of you found anything,” Fenris pointed out in the tone of someone who is forcing himself to be hopeful because the alternatives were red lyrium, and nobody actually knew if cutting off the infected chunk of flesh would actually work and wouldn’t just mean more red lyrium down the line.

“Babe I might need to though. No like really. Just because I can’t sense something lodged in my flesh doesn’t mean a tiny shard might not be in there somewhere, and the last thing I want to do is pull a Meredith,” Hawke said, trying for a breezy tone but becoming audibly strained at the end. “And we don’t know if red lyrium grows purely through cannibalizing the muscular and skeletal systems of the body or if the moment it hits the bloodstream that’s it. It could be the first! And leaving any particulate in there if it’s the first is just- I’ll take the arm cannons.”

Fenris sighed. “No, you are right. It is an easy trade, considering the possibilities otherwise. It was a miracle you remained in one piece this long.”

“Well I mean. We currently don’t have a healer who can just scrape all the flesh off my forearm and then regrow that,” Hawke said in that same strained tone.

“Healers can’t do that regardless,” Cassandra stated flatly. “That goes beyond what healing magic can do.”

“I’ve been spoiled,” Hawke said sadly. “I miss Anders. He absolutely could do that.”

Fenris made one single grunting noise of begrudging agreement.

It was times like this that Adaar really felt like a spirit healer would be just the thing for the party. And then he frowned slightly, eyebrows narrowed. He glanced at the people in front of him who were, so far, the only participants in the conversation. And then he turned around behind him.

Everyone else was eying the various Red Templar corpses.

Oh for fuck’s sake!

Adaar stood up and whistled, and everyone quickly looked at him. “I can see you all already see the main problem with the area,” Adaar said cheerfully. “And I’m going to need some help moving these bodies, so who here knows they are immune to the thrall of the red lyrium?”

Half the group raised their hands, including Varric (of course) and Dorian (dammit Dorian).

“Okay. Thank you for your honesty,” Adaar said and then hit those people who failed their wisdom saving throws against red lyrium with the strongest sleeping hex he could muster. They all dropped like flies. “Alright everyone else? Drag those guys back to camp. Except you Cassandra, you are with me since you actually are immune. We are going to stash these bodies somewhere safe for the cleanup crew. Hawke, I’d make that decision fast if I were you.”

Honestly. It’s like he needed ‘resisting thrall’ classes for these people or something. Ugh.

“I swear after this, we are only going to be minimally engaging the Red Templars,” Adaar said. “I’m tired of risking us, so I’m changing tactics. We’re going to do this the old fashioned way.”

“I’m concerned,” Cassandra said dryly.

“Well I’m going to need your and Cole’s help for this.”

“I’m very concerned.”

After disposing of the corpses, Adaar and Cassandra headed back to the camp where the sleeping hex crew had already started to wake up groggily and in various degrees of embarrassed. Dorian wouldn’t meet Adaar’s eyes at all. Hawke meanwhile had decided to remove his forearm as a precautionary measure. Iron Bull had nearly had a heart attack when Blackwall had offered to chop it off with his own still bloody axe, and then they had an argument about ‘sanitation’ and ‘basic health’. Blackwall, as it turned out, didn’t put a lot of stock in what the Northerners believed about sanitation and was exasperated at ‘these ridiculous standards’ and ‘it’s just blood, and blood’s in Hawke, so it’s fine, right?’.

Fenris put an end to that argument. Anything removing Hawke’s arm would be clean and thus not infect him with one or more of the myriad of diseases mortals were so prone to getting. Adaar helpfully hexed Hawke into unconscious for the actual arm removal part. It was always so weird. A person, and then part of that person was no longer person at all. Just flesh.

By Sera’s refusals to be near when the arm removal procedure happened and some of her own shudders and mutters about ‘just meat’, Adaar felt like she saw things similarly.

When Hawke awoke and started metabolizing some painkillers, Adaar checked in on him.

“You’ll need time to heal up from that, so how about you go ahead and go back to Skyhold?” Adaar said.

Fenris glanced over at Adaar.

“And Fenris can go with you. And Tad Cooper as well, but we are keeping Varric.”

Fenris hesitated. “I do not want to leave you short of aid.”

“I’ll be fine,” Hawke said. “I’ll head back to Skyhold and pick out a dozen or so arm attachments that will all clash hideously with my various outfits. Just. Keep your distance from the red lyrium, and make sure Varric doesn’t like eat any of it or anything.”

“You sure? Nobody would judge you,” Adaar said.

“He’ll be safe at Skyhold,” Fenris said. “Varric will not be.” He then turned his gaze back to Hawke. “You will be safe.”

Hawke gently touched Fenris’ arm with his remaining hand. “Yeah I will be. And sorry. Despite how it seems, I do try to be careful, for your sanity alone.”

Both of them lingered for a moment, touching each other, and Adaar felt a bit awkward being in the tent at the same time. Not because of the slight voyeurism going on, but because he felt vaguely responsible for Hawke losing his arm. Would people eventually update that in depictions of Hawke in various Fade Tale of the Champion fanclubs despite the timeline discrepancies? Probably not. Nobody could even figure out what Hawke looked like for some reason despite decent depictions of the other characters.

People. Of the other people.

After Hawke was sent back, and Sera moped for a bit since ‘things were more wild with Hawke around’, and Varric and Fenris also moped, after all that Adaar enacted his grand plan. Step one was to kill a few of the bandit’s men in easily found places later.

Step two was to plant easily discovered traces of red lyrium on said men. Small enough amounts to not truly have the same ‘thrall’ factor but enough that someone would go ‘well shit man that’s red lyrium’.

For verisimilitude, Adaar placed one of the Red Templar corpses, artfully arranged at a proper distance from one of the dead archers.

Because why attack your enemies when you can get your enemies to attack each other? And it was Corypheus’ own fault since the Red Templars were developing a reputation of attacking and stealing the general populace. Adaar knew it was to turn people into more red lyrium which they could then consume, and he’d been having the Inquisition spread that knowledge because that was a huge quiver in their arsenal for getting the populace to align with the Inquisition, and not Corypheus.

So Adaar was partially responsible for that then. But the point still stood, and the fake scene he arranged would be damning.

“Just because you didn’t kill them yourself doesn’t mean you didn’t cause their deaths,” Cole said.

“The ‘Freemen’, right? Are you going somewhere with this?” Adaar asked.

“I know for some reason you want to do a pacifist run, but this world doesn’t support it.”

“Hey I’m trying my best here.”

“You aren’t doing a very good job, but that’s okay,” Cole said, in that tone of voice that one might use for a child who just wanted to help but also had messed everything up.

“I’m skirting around a few unnecessary deaths, and frankly I think that’s worth something.”

“If you say so.”

“You! Are the Compassion spirit!”

“Yes but sometimes you just have to slit someone’s throat.” Cole paused. “Though it is good you have managed to save some that didn’t want to hurt us.”

“Finally! Thank you.”

As it turned out, one of the Freemen heads already had a nasty brush with the Red Templars, once promising aid and then getting squicked out after finding out what happened to the men he delivered. This was fantastic news for Adaar. A bit frustrating since the splinter cells didn’t have much in the ways of communication with each other, but enough that if Adaar continued to ‘escalate’ things, news should spread regardless.

The bad news was one of the Freemen commanders was in cahoots with the Venatori as well, having promised the Freemen the land if they honored the alliance.

Still though. People being turned into red lyrium was one thing, but fellow Freemen of the Dales? They’d turn against Corypheus’ local forces, agreement or no. Which wasn’t exactly the scenario, but it wouldn’t take much to arrange things further to make it look like that was what was going on. And then it was all staying in the background and mopping up whoever survived the fight.

As Adaar fiddled with an astrarium, Blackwall casually strolled up to Solas. “So. Sera and I were just talking about you. We need you to settle a question for us.”

Solas sighed deeply. “Sera's involved? So this question will be offensive.”

“Yes, probably. Sorry.” Blackwall sounded about 2% sorry, and that was being generous. “You make friends with spirits in the Fade. So... um, are there any that are more than just friends? If you know what I mean.”

“Oh, for... really?!”

“Look, it's a natural thing to be curious about!”

“For a twelve-year-old!”

“It's a simple yes or no question!”

Adaar sure was glad he could just start over the astrariums and try again because this one was difficult. He tried pawning them off of Dorian or Iron Bull or Vivienne or Solas or any of the other people incredibly intelligent and good at these kinds of problem solvings, but they’d never take it. Said it was ‘good for him’ to exercise his mind a bit. How would connecting a bunch of dots help him be better at Inquisiting?

“Nothing about the Fade or spirits is simple, especially not that.” Solas said testily.

Adaar started over once again. “Well I mean. It kind of is,” he said, zigging a different zag this time in the puzzle, “unless you are dating someone who is posing as a previous mortal lover you had. I guess then that’s more complicated, but like, if you dated a spirit proper, that’s pretty straightforward.

Solas shot Adaar a betrayed look. One that said ‘Solas will remember this in the future’. Ah well. Those prompts rarely actually had any meaningful impact anyway.

Blackwall also glanced over at Adaar, but his expression was different. “What about you? Have you had any… special Fade friends?”

“Yes,” Adaar said.

“I knew it!” Sera said triumphantly.

“I actually dated a Rage demon for a long time before they vanished. I think they got summoned by some mage or something. Never saw them again.”

“…Rage?” Cassandra asked.

“Look, I know it’s stereotypical,” Adaar continued, “and I feel bad about engaging in stereotypes, but there is nobody like a Rage that can make you feel validated and like you and your problems matter.”

Blackwall coughed. “Didn’t the, uh, lava cause some problems?”

“Oh I didn’t have sex with that Rage demon,” Adaar continued.

“With that Rage demon?” Cassandra repeated, eyebrows now in a dangerous position of almost levitating off her face and off into the sunset.

“It’s the Fade,” Adaar said. “Fire doesn’t burn if they don’t want it to. And demons can choose to appear in any number of forms, even Rage demons. Don’t be unimaginative, Cassandra.”

“Yeah, don’t be unimaginative, Cassandra,” Varric said.

Sometimes the demons they met were semi-friendly. Sometimes they were shambling corpses.

And sometimes, they were manipulative fucks who preyed on a kid, slipped them magic they didn’t understand to cause them to make the entire household staff dance to death, and then ended up possessing their corpse after the kid committed suicide.

“And this is why people are scared of demons,” Varric said.

“I’m not saying this wasn’t terrible and the demon doesn’t deserve to die,” Adaar said. “I’m saying a human also ordered an entire alienage burned down, and Corypheus is also technically human but look at the shit he gets up to. Sure, this is a perfect example of why no one should trust demons, and while we’re at it, Orlais is a prime example of why you can’t let any humans in any kind of position of authority; they always go mad with power and start killing everyone in their Games.”

And also kinda lets them off the hook. That was the problem with ideas of an ‘evil race’. If they were all just evil, that was it, and they couldn’t really help being evil. When they very much could.

He’d rather argue with Varric though. Varric had the slightest chance of, say, listening. He doubted Vivienne would. Vivienne and Fenris were both giving him significant glances as if to say see, this is going to be your fate if you keep down this path. Which was doubly insulting for many reasons.

Maybe he was being callous at the situation. This… was fucked up. He’d be scared too. But mages also summoned through demons and bound them to their will all the blighted time, and usually the only problem people saw with that was ‘oh dearie me what if the demon gets loose’. This was what? His second major time in the mortal world while having been bound to some mortal’s will, not counting the few encounters where it was only a couple of days?

“Still scary,” Sera said. “Humans you can see; demons you can’t. Just hear, whispers, don’t know what’s being whispered to a mage until shite like this happens.”

“It’s still a rare event,” Adaar said. “I can’t even say this is the first abomination we met since the kid’s dead and that’s the corpse of the kid the demon is wearing. How many true actual legit abominations have we met since the Breach opened? And generally, most demons that haven’t been put through the shredder just want to exist somewhere peacefully. I’d also argue being drug through the Veil and shoved into a book for the next five hundred years is also ‘scary’, and that’s still happening in some parts of Nevarra.”

“To be fair, we haven’t had much interaction with other mages,” Vivienne said. “Aside from the Venatori and the mages just outside of the Crossroads in the Hinterlands. There could very well be abominations, and they have simply gone without notice.”

“There weren’t any I noticed in the rebel mages in Redcliffe either,” Dorian said. “And emotions were running high there. You’d think there’d be at least one, but if there was, they firmly kept it to themselves.”

“Maybe it’d be for the best if both groups just didn’t interact with each other,” Blackwall said. “If the Veil was thicker.”

Part of Adaar thought that might honestly be for the best, but it seemed so sad for some reason. Sentimentality versus survival again, he supposed.

“Anyway, Pride abused this kid’s trust and killed off the staff in order to depress the kid enough to commit suicide,” Adaar said. “That’s a nasty piece of work, and we are thoroughly killing her.”

Sometimes you just had to pull up your adult pants and be the Justice spirit that wasn’t around currently because they were all off investigating other injustices.

Almost everyone was being quiet after. Except for Sera.

“I don’t know how many times I have to say that someone’s species is not the end-all-be-all about them,” Adaar said frostily.

“Ugh, I don’t even get why you care so much. Don’t demons haunt like most mages? Haven’t they messed with you before? Don’t understand why you are all chummy chum chum with them.” Her voice sounded strange though. Less raw passion, and more of a desperate attempt at convincing herself of something, but of what Adaar couldn’t figure.

“I’ve run into a few assholes,” Adaar said because that was honest. “I’ve also made good and dear friends, and I hate your religion that says they must all be servile to humanity or they must be monsters.” He almost said if they said that about elves, it’d be different for her, but nope. They also said that about elves as well.

The Chantry sucked . Surely Sera could find a different religion, one that wasn’t as shitty to her? He didn’t get it.

“This is what your little person sees,” Sera said. “This. With the mind control and the dancing until dead. And that’s scary, because it kills you, and you can’t fight against it. Reasonably scary, it is. People don’t want to be dead. So demons? Scary. Mages? Scary. Templars? Scary. Darkspawn? Soldiers? Guards? Sickness? Hunger? All scary.”

“Then maybe the Inquisition will help them realize there’s friendly demons just as scared of angry mobs bashing in their faces as the mobs are of them.”

Sera huffed. “You really got your snerk back.”

“I don’t think it’s fear with you, Sera. Or it is, but not completely,” Adaar said.

“What-”

“They’re normal,” Adaar said. “Everyone is normal to themselves. Spirits are normal to other spirits, find mortals and sometimes demons Weird. Demons find spirits Weird. Dalish elves are normal, shelmen and city elves aren’t. Whole bunch of mages cooped up in a tower and abused regularly? Well that’s just normal. Nobles playing their fucked up games? Super normal! Normal is subjective, and you can’t keep lashing out and violently rejecting things that don’t fit your viewpoint of what’s normal because you’re scared if you aren’t normal then you don’t matter.”

Sera stuck her tongue out at him.

Well. That was to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected was that that was about it.

It ended up being a mixture of two things. Dorian had gotten inside Adaar’s head, and frankly, he missed Iron Bull, and Iron Bull kept giving him glances and then doing and saying nothing. And then old habits, he supposed, from people talking shit about demons. Even if Iron Bull also was wary of them, he had been supportive, for the most part. So when Iron Bull’s shift ended, Adaar was waiting for him there in the tent.

Iron Bull stood there for a moment at the entrance before ducking in and sitting down with a wince.

“You have a moment to talk?” Adaar asked softly.

“Sure. But you wanna go somewhere else? Normally I’d be up for your silencing trick, but that seems like a bad idea camped out in enemy territory,” Iron Bull said.

“Oh yeah. Good point,” Adaar said.

They snuck out at the back flap, Adaar helping Iron Bull to his feet. It didn’t take long to find a place out of eyesight and earshot of the camp. The treegraves really were lovely. Maybe Briala could finangle things to get this place back for her people. There had to be a way to spin it without the nobles immediately throwing the biggest hissy fit. It didn’t feel right having the Inquisition here, even for a good cause, like he was trespassing.

They didn’t talk immediately, the weight of everything that happened dangling awkwardly in front of them. And part of Adaar didn’t walk to try to talk it out. Part of Adaar wanted to just ignore that any of it ever happened and curl up to Iron Bull. But he had the tiniest shred of self-respect. Not a lot. Not really much at all, but some here.

“Any assassins after you?” Adaar finally asked.

“Yeah,” Iron Bull said. “I took care of them though. It was a formality hit.”

Adaar frowned. “Seems wasteful.”

The entire exercise with him and Iron Bull the Qun ran them through seemed wasteful, and Iron Bull grunted at that.

“I’m sorry for what I said,” Iron Bull said. “Or rather how I said it. Regardless, you’ve been trusting me to not be an asshole about you being a demon, and then I was an asshole.”

“You were an ass,” Adaar said. “But you’re sorry for ‘how’ you said it? But you still believe it.”

Iron Bull sighed. “Okay look. Here me out.” Adaar folded his arms. “If I were a spirit of Logic, would you be this mad at me?”

Adaar blinked.

“I shit on you, and that wasn’t right,” Iron Bull said, “but I’m not you. I’m not Desire, and while I’m not Logic, that’s a closer fit. And I think if I were Logic, you would be a bit more patient with me.”

“If you were Logic, you would be a spirit,” Adaar said, “who- no I can’t even pretend we would get along better even out of Fade solidarity.”

“I’m going to try to explain things again, and I’m sorry if I accidentally shit all over you again,” Iron Bull said.

He wanted to, Adaar could feel as much. Iron Bull wanted to make it right, explain it in a way that made sense to Adaar. And even if it had been the right choice as far as Adaar was concerned, that didn’t mean there wasn’t collateral damage. The dead Qunari, and then severing Iron Bull from the Qun. Which, part of him thought ‘fantastic’ because Iron Bull no longer was part of a horrifically awful empire, but being severed wasn’t easy. Severing was difficult. Severing was potentially deadly even, at least for Fadefolk who had to be something. And now Iron Bull was drifting and scrambling to find land.

Adaar sighed. “Fine.”

“There’s a thought exercise in the Qun, as well as Southern philosophers,” Iron Bull said. “I don’t know who came up with it first, but it’s used as a teaching lesson of ethics for all imekari. Say you are in a cart, going at breakaway speeds, and up ahead are five people. Hitting them at these speeds would kill them. Now, the only place you can veer is to the left, but if you do so, you will hit one person. Now, the answer is obviously hit the one person, save five. But then the scenario changes. What if you know this one person?”

“Which we did,” Adaar said. “We saved the Chargers, killed the dreadnought.”

“We essentially failed the thought exercise, though some Southern philosophers would say you can’t actually ‘fail’ that thought exercise, that there are no right answers.” Iron Bull said. “And, yeah, it was a ‘we’. I’m not proud, but right afterward all I could think about was all those stories I heard about demons leading you astray from the Qun, and it all seemed so suspicious. Blaming you was easier than realizing I blew that horn of my own free will. I had wanted you to give that order.”

“But it is different,” Adaar said. “I mean. I won’t lie. I’m biased. I like you, and I like your Chargers. I’m predisposed to trying to save the people I care about over the people I don’t care about. But we also have a contract, you and I.” And they did, honestly. Iron Bull had a contract with the Inquisition, and that wasn’t something to be dismissed so easily. “You agreed to work for the Inquisition, and part of that is assumed I won’t casually throw away your lives on things that don’t matter. I wasn’t going to ally with the Qun after they proved they just wanted to play mindgames with me and with you, and so as someone who has a limited number of forces, shouldn’t I try to keep the forces I have intact as much as possible?”

“I don’t know,” Iron Bull said. “You just said you are ‘normally’ predisposed to saving the one over the many.”

“Yeah,” Adaar said. “But apparently I risked Trevelyan’s life to murder some Templars. Still can’t figure that one out, unless it was his idea?”

“So if they are fine with being sacrificed, you are more okay with it,” Iron Bull said.

“If it’s what they want, then yes.” Adaar gave him a glance. “You would rather be sacrificed.”

“I think I would,” Iron Bull said softly. “Of course, in a reasonable scenario. Like you said, no throwing my life away needlessly.”

“You and Dorian both,” Adaar muttered. What was it with him being drawn to all these people who wanted to Valiantly throw their lives away in the service of the many?

…maybe that was just a hero thing, in which case it was his fault for constantly going after these hero types.

“Still though. I maintain the Qun set the problem up, and thus I will not encourage playing by their fucked up rules,” Adaar said. “Also they are starting to seem even more like hypocrites to me. Like I know you just mentioned your thing of demons leading people astray from the Qun, but not only do their role-identities not get to apply to spirits who would be great with that, their whole ‘complete efficiency’ just evaporates when they send formality assassins and gamble lives in mind tests because they are upset their prize spy has been developing some wants.”

“The Qun is your ultimate evil empire, huh?” Iron Bull asked.

“Yes. Yes it is. The ultimate dystopia for Desire. I’m biased, and I’m not a fan. But seriously. They purposefully used their knowledge of you, of your weaknesses, of your desires, against you, when there was little need. That’s an abusive relationship that is, and you know you would say as much if you saw that with anyone else,” Adaar said with more fire than he intended. Maybe this is how Rages felt, all that anger for someone else.

“Look I’m going to need some time to come to terms with everything,” Iron Bull said. “And I guess with who I am and- well, even what I think about things.”

“The whole ‘I made up a persona somewhat based in the truth to fool the natives but after enough time I have no idea how much of this is real and am worried they will inevitably find out that the you you are pretending to be isn’t fully you after all?’”

“Somewhat like that, yeah.”

“Having problems relating with a demon?” Adaar asked, and he knew he was pushing it a bit.

“…a little bit, won’t lie,” Iron Bull said. “Do you miss the Fade? Your home?”

“Yeah. I do,” Adaar said. “But I’m actually, I think, slowly getting used to this place. It’s not completely horrific, though the people can be.”

Bull made some facial expressions that indicated that was his general assessment of the South. See lack of education, healthcare, stable food sources, any sense of order, etc. “Will you be going back after this?”

Adaar didn’t know if he could, so instead he said, “I don’t even know if I’m going to live through this. Firsts things first, yeah? Mostly it’s tiring having sympathy for people who see my kind as nonpersons.”

“And what if you get stuck here,” Iron Bull said. “What if at the end of the day, you never get to go home to where people at least see you as a fully realized person.”

“Yeah,” Adaar said sadly, both on his part and then again on Iron Bull’s part. Sure the Qun was the dystopian nightmare Desire demons freaked out about, but being seen as a nonperson was the true madness.

“I’m not sure if this helps,” Iron Bull said, “but I think you’re a person. And I think Cole’s a person. I don’t know what to think about demons, now with the Qun gone. Makes my head feel funny. But logically, if you two are people, and the demons I meet seem like people, then they are simply terrifying people. Like mages. Though the more I learn, the less scary demons get. Don’t get me wrong, they are still scary, and the one in the house was fucking terrifying.”

“Oh yeah,” Adaar said. “I kept expecting to have Pride pop out and go ‘I found you!’ and then eat me.”

“But the more I learn, the more…”

“The more you know how to manipulate?”

“Well, yeah,” Iron Bull said. “And one of the big things people like to feel is not powerless against some unknown force. Demons and mages both seem to feel powerless against the other. It’s… kinda sad, really.”

Adaar briefly thought of Trevelyan before his thoughts wandered to Dorian. What would Dorian have been like, if they had met in the Fade? Would Dorian have rejected him? Made idle conversation?

“It would be so nice if things weren’t so hostile,” Adaar said wistfully. “We are neighbors, basically, at least to everyone but the dwarves. A lot of mortals are curious about the Fade and spirits curious about here, and in some areas this does result in diplomacy. If only the others could be so easily convinced.”

“Core beliefs are hard to change,” Iron Bull said. “And that’s a good thing, I think. You need conviction in people, otherwise everything would crumble. But it’s a mixed thing, and in this case, ‘demons are bad’ happens to be a core belief of most places. Probably because of shit like that house.”

“And people think your kind is bad because of all the raids and whatnot,” Adaar said.

“Yeah. Like that.”

“It’s not fair,” Adaar said. Almost nothing in the mortal world was fair. It was a constant stream of shittery upon shittery for everyone but a select few. Demon rights, mage rights, elf rights, kossith rights. Any Justice would go mad upon entering this world, surely. “It’s not fair to try to prove that we are deserving of basic personhood and respect at every step of the way, to dance examples under people’s noses and have them all ignore them. That any of us do.”

“No it isn’t. It sucks.”

“It does suck”, Adaar said.

“I don’t think anyone would blame you if you stopped trying,” Iron Bull said. “You have far more resources now. You don’t really need Sera or Vivienne or Fenris or even me. You kinda need Cassandra though. She’s not optional.”

“You just said-”

“I know what I just said. And I’m mulling. I’m just stating facts for you to hear. Before you didn’t have the option to be picky. You could be picky now. You don’t have to invest any more time or effort into these people if you don’t want. They might still change in the future; I don’t know. You’ve got Dorian slowly calming down about blood magic and questioning his beliefs, as well as Blackwall. You’ve got Leliana not murdering everyone no matter how much she wants to. She complains about that, by the way. And you’ve got me turning renegade over a handful of people and working with demons. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. The power’s all in your hands. I was skeptical at the start, but honestly I think you stand a decent chance.”

Sera joined because she wanted the world fixed, Corypheus gone. Things back to normal, but what he wanted as normal was near opposite of what she wanted. But in the end, he also supposed she just wanted safety for her and for basic little folk, the commoners who tended to be slaughtered by any invading army for ‘tactical reasons’, as it was harder to maintain your economy after slaughtering off the latest batch of peasants and serving folk.

Vivienne joined because she wanted to steer things towards what she considered to be a better future for mages, which happened to be the near opposite of what Adaar thought would be a better future for mages. That said, at the heart of all that politicking and trying to play by the rules was a woman who wanted a better future for her people, misguided though she might be, clinging to a path that, had there not been a giant rebellion, would have been a great one. Someone who sacrificed too much to get where she was to help, and now she couldn’t change when change was what was needed.

And then Fenris, well, he just wanted Hawke to not be dead, in a world where everything kept seeming to make Hawke dead. Adaar was pretty sure he could actively become That Tyrannical Maniac, and it’d be fine with Fenris as long as Adaar didn’t lay a finger on Hawke, or Varric or the rest of their weird little family either.

“We still need all the help we can get,” Adaar said, sounding strangely confident. “And if I can tolerate Andrastian people in my Inquisition, even from my own kindred which is the greatest level of betrayal, then I can work with them as long as they are still willing to work with us. The common goal of none of us wanting Corypheus to win. If they cause too much of a ruckus or start sabotaging fellow members who happen to be Fadefolk, then I guess I can fire them then. But otherwise it’s firing them out of a personality conflict, and that’s a bit unprofessional.”

Iron Bull smiled at him, warm and genuine, and Adaar felt his amorphous insides do that thing.

“I’m sorry for hexing you,” Adaar said lamely. “I missed talking to you.”

“I missed you too, kadan.”

The next day, Adaar was feeling better, emotionally, from talking with Iron Bull. (Dorian somehow knew they’d snuck off and seemed weirdly pleased about the entire thing.) However, he was feeling worse, physically. His perceptions were playing up again, twitching around, and it turned out that was far more frightening when you were wandering through underbrush than when you were safe in a castle. And then his entire arm burst into flares of green light, spluttering and hissing.

“I think there’s a Rift nearby,” Blackwall said, and a few of the companions snickered.

“You think?” Adaar asked, and as they stepped around a bend, yup, there it was.

And once again, Adaar watched as his companions killed the shambling remains of his kindred. There’d been some progress, he reminded himself. They were interacting more with spirits on their own time back in Skyhold, and he had worried over that one fight between the two Fortitudes having a negative impact on them, but those worries hadn’t amounted to anything. Exposure therapy really did seem to be helping.

He pondered all this as the Rift came into view. If people found out about him, would that actually help? Maybe having someone they knew to be a person beforehand turn out to be a demon would help. Or maybe it would only cause everything to crumble, with them expecting him to be all ‘mwahaha you silly fools fell for my devious wiles!’

Adaar calmly refreshed the barriers on the front line fighters before perking up, hearing something thundering in the distance.

And then all chaos broke loose.

Multiple—multiple!—bears broke through the underbrush. A bronto ran over a bear and nearly collided with Sera and did collide with a demon.

This was not a safe place to be. Adaar flashed the Rift, disrupting the demons, and then immediately began to work on closing it.

“Boss you need to move!”

Adaar slammed the Rift shut, and then a giant thundered into the area. This seemed excessive. This seemed like a bit much. Like really. Really? No wonder they hadn’t been running into any Freemen or Red Templar patrols in the area; the bears and brontos probably ate them all.

The giant slammed their club down, and the group scattered. Not in a cohesive manner because the brontos made sure of that, but into tiny disorganized groups. And then Adaar stumbled as things began, once again, to familiarly start twitching around him. This was not the time to be having perceptive issues! He really should have worked harder on fixing this. Fuck.

Blackwall grabbed Adaar’s arm and kept moving, steering him out of obstacles while keeping a healthy distance between him and the various angry wildlife. And then suddenly he scrambled to a stop. In front of them was a cliff with a long drop down. In the faint distance, Adaar heard a tell-tale roar.

“Do you feel like this is all a bit much?” Adaar asked, because why was there also a dragon- no wait the dragon probably feasted on the other high level enemies. It made sense.

And then the giant came clambering back into view, yelling angrily. They wanted all these small people gone. They stabbed them with swords and killed their young, and Adaar was sympathetic but also threatened.

And then the giant picked up a boulder the size of a small house and threw it at them. Blackwall threw up his shield. Adaar shielded Blackwall. The boulder just barely missed them, hitting the edge of the cliff before tumbling off. But before Adaar could try running again, Adaar felt the world lurch, and then he was falling.

Chapter Text

Adaar didn’t hit the ground, because he instinctively made sure there was no physical mass of him to hit the ground with. It took a moment to orient himself, and then he slowly slithered out of where he had sunk into the ground and remade his body. He was somewhat near the edge of a tall cliff, and that itself was as the base of yet another tall cliff. Well that was quite the fall. Thankfully he was-

Oh shit Blackwall.

Adaar quickly scanned the area, and boy it did not take long to find Blackwall, still clinging onto life. But only just, suffering internal bleeding, some broken bones, and oh yeah having been impaled somewhere on the way down. Adaar looked up briefly and yeah that looked like that hefty branch on that tree, on account of all the blood.

“Fuck,” Adaar said.

There was a whole lot of blood going just about everywhere. And, in all honesty, probably not as much blood as there should have been. It took Adaar a moment to realize but right, he’d been shielding Blackwall when they’d been hit, and that was probably why Blackwall wasn’t already dead.

Blackwall coughed, frothy blood running down his mouth and into his beard, because he was a mortal and that’s what mortals did best. Die. And Blackwall had just tried to save him. Blackwall coughed again, and this time managed to ask, “Can you heal me?”

Adaar had a distant crawling sensation. Chest hurt, chest healed wrong, pure blinding panic. And yet despite it, despite the anxiety threatening to choke him, all of that was drowned out by something else.

Blackwall didn’t want to die. He once thought he did (and that was a depressing thing to catch alongside that want), but death was right there, and he it turned out he didn’t after all.

Past Adaar healed a mortal wound, and granted Past Adaar got it wrong, but he had healed Trevelyan. Trevelyan had lived on without him and succumbed only because of a giant fuck-off explosion. Now, Adaar knew a bit more about the mortal body. About the organs. About how things were supposed to go, which wasn’t in fractals upon fractals, which only caused mortal bodies to subdivide further and further until it bloated at the seams, tumorous masses rippling outward. Or blossoming. The human body was not made to blossom.

And so if he healed Trevelyan with no knowledge, then maybe he could fix this.

“I’m fairly certain I can,” Adaar said, trying to project as much Confidence in his voice as he could. Which still wasn’t a lot because boy if he fucked this up... He quickly sunk to his knees, gathered his magic, and-

And he couldn’t because the owner hadn’t given him Explicit Permission first.

Right!

Because that was the state in which he healed Trevelyan!

Blackwall, a crafty sort, immediately noticed the state of panic Adaar’s face was in, and quickly jumped over all the other stages and started heading into that ole acceptance bit of the dying process.

“I can heal you,” Adaar said quickly, brain thinking fast, “but first I need something?”

This felt terrible. This was terrible! This was exactly every PSA- Okay no fine he was just going to have to be that demon.

Which, okay, it’d save his life, and Adaar didn’t mind being That Demon, but Adaar did mind what would immediately happen after being That Demon. Sure some others were fine with going all willy-nilly, but he didn’t like having that level of intimacy with almost anyone. However that didn’t matter right now because Blackwall was dying, so he tossed his own writhing mass of distress at the situation into the corner.

“I just need your explicit permission to do whatever I need to do to heal you,” Adaar said.

“Blood magic?” Blackwall asked. “Look I know I don’t have time for moral debates, just heal me.”

“Okay but do I have your explicit permission to do whatever I need to do to heal you.”

“I’m dying!” Blackwall said. “Stop putzing around and just heal me!”

Adaar felt like screaming. “I can’t heal you unless I have your permission first in every kind of literal meaning just fucking give me your permission so I can heal you!”

“Why are you being difficult?”

Adaar did scream then into his hands, and then Blackwall hacked up some more blood. His skin was so pale at this point because he was losing all this blood, and Adaar didn’t have manual rights to fix the body.

“Okay fine!” Blackwall said. “I give you ‘explicit permission’ to do what you must to heal me.”

“Finally,” Adaar said, and then he sunk part of himself into Blackwall. Not all of him. He didn’t need all of him, just a tendril.

But then demons didn’t normally sink all of themselves into someone when possessing them. Usually they just sent in a strong link; that way they could still see around and defend themselves in the Fade if need be.

The flesh knew what it wanted to do, wanted to be, where it all went, what veins and nerves connected to each other. The flesh was currently wrong, and Adaar overwrote it, reforging those connections in only a minor spiral. And here, like this, he could almost see Blackwall differently, a presence, a person wrapped up in trillions upon trillions of the tiniest spirals as a protective frame between him and the instant death of the mortal world. Because there were no overarching ideas, no concepts that one could grasp onto, but instead frames upon frames to build a shield between them and the instant mortality of this world otherwise.

He tore his perceptions from there. Even with the now joint custody body fixed of the mortal wound, it was still in terrible shape. But the deal was solid and had been offered, and there was further power in deals, and he was Desire and Blackwall didn’t want to die. Wants were energy, were food, were sacred, but most importantly were a good source of energy, enough to speed things along. Bruises faded (though they didn’t disappear completely), bones first set correctly and then allowed to heal partially, and blood filled the half-depleted veins once again.

And the moment Blackwall was fixed enough that he could be left alone unsupervised Adaar pulled that connection right out because nope. Hopefully, Blackwall wouldn’t notice the minor possession that just happened. People didn’t notice the minor possessions that happened when spirit healers got up to their business, though Adaar still wasn’t sure how much true possession actually happened during a spirit healing. Maybe one day he’d find a spirit healer to ask. And it had only been a brief possession, not even touching the core of Blackwall! He left the mind bits completely alone so you know this would hopefully all be fine.

Unless… unless there wasn’t any possession that happened during spirit healing, but then Adaar couldn’t figure out why’d you use spirits otherwise. It had to be possession, right?

Blackwall breathed out shakily and began to pat at his now healed midsection with a look of confusion, wiped the remainder of blood from his face once again, now with some minor coloring and not just bone-white. He still winced as he pulled himself onto his knees and then onto his feet.

“Sorry. I could only do so much healing to your ribs. They’re still not in great shape, but hey you aren’t bleeding anymore!” And bonus, Blackwall hadn’t burst into tumors! Maybe Adaar could learn how to do the healing thing. It certainly felt good afterwards, but then maybe that was just that primal Desire sensation of helping fulfill that want of ‘hey I don’t want to die’.

Plus healers usually got paid for their hard work. Truly a fine profession.

Blackwall just nodded a couple of times, which Adaar felt was rude, but Blackwall did recently break a bunch of bones and get stabbed, so maybe he was still shaky from all that. And then Blackwall looked over at him and said rather than asked, “So. You’re a demon.”

It was like Adaar fell off the cliff again. “Huh?” he replied eloquently. “Whaaat would you- why’d you think that. That’s a weird thing to be accusing me of.”

Solid. Good job. He’ll never suspect a thing.

“That wasn’t just blood magic,” Blackwall with great discomfort. “Healing magic has its strong limitations. You also don’t have any injuries. At all.” Adaar opened his mouth to protest, but Blackwall dryly said, “but mostly because when you were healing me, that exact same black fog came out of you whenever Cole appears or disappears.”

“Oh shit really?”

“So I’m guessing you aren’t a real kossith,” Blackwall said, eyebrows lowered.

“Well… you’re not a real Gray Warden,” Adaar said, the truth falling unbidden from his mouth.

Blackwall winced.

Oh wow. Oh wooow. Blackwall wasn’t a real Grey Warden. He wasn’t even really Blackwall! All that ‘want to be a hero’ was because he wasn’t one but he felt Obligated to be one, wanted to be a better person. Normally that would have been juuuust out of sight for Adaar, but well. He was getting fancy Inquisitor powers apparently from the sheer rumor mill alone.

And maybe those cults. Cults couldn’t actually just make someone into a god right? Ahahaha he was sure they couldn’t and promptly tossed that into the repression corner to be not dealt with later.

For a moment, both of them stood there, staring at each other. Fake Blackwall wasn’t seeming hostile per se, which was good, because Adaar just saved his life. But he didn’t look happy either. Something a touch cynical, a whiff of resignation at how the world was, a good dash of ‘how was I fooled’. Adaar recognized that look. It was a very distinct look he had gotten used to in the Fade.

“Well, let’s see it then. What are you really?” Fake Blackwall asked.

“Well what are you really?” Adaar said. “I’m not the only liar here.”

“I am having a hard time arguing with that,” Fake Blackwall said.

Fake Blackwall didn’t have his sword, but he noticed Adaar glancing to the empty sheath. Fake Blackwall frowned. “I- look it wouldn’t be right for me to just kill you after you saved my life, at my behest.”

“That hasn’t stopped mortals before!” Adaar said, folding his arms.

Fake Blackwall’s frown deepened for a moment. “You know in hindsight it all makes so much sense. You-” Fake Blackwall stopped. “I’m betting you didn’t ‘just somehow enter into the Fade’ way back at the Temple of Sacred Ashes?”

“No,” Adaar said. “I actually have no idea why you guys believed that? That was like one of my worst lies I have ever told in my history of lying, and boy I’ve told some real doozies. I was in the Fade, minding my own business, and then next thing I’m aware of, I’m in snow outside of the Fade and people were running towards me. I was never in your world to begin with, and boy was I lucky they were some actual historical precedent for that, but regardless, you guys are kinda gullible. Like if I was an evil demon who actually wanted to do nefarious shit, you guys would have been fucked, okay. But uh. Who are you really?”

“Thom Rainer,” he said. “A recruit of the late Warden Blackwall. I didn’t make it to my Joining before he died and thought no one would believe me. The world lost a good man, so I sought to become him.”

“How very spirit-y of you,” Adaar said.

“I’m guessing you’re Desire?” Thom said, eyes locked on Adaar’s horns.

“…”

Thom sighed. “We really are gullible fools, aren’t we.”

“Well I for one am thankful for it.” And thankful for the continued non-hostility of Thom. A soldier was a soldier. Thom could probably find something to stab him with. Or attack him physically in general. Intent could be deadly.

“So not remembering what really happened at the Temple? That’s all lies too?”

“No that’s actually true,” Adaar said. “I really don’t know what happened. Just Fade and then bam, snow, and soldiers running at me with very sharp implements. I had like a sneeze before they’d properly see me. I figured if I changed my silhouette too much that’d be far more suspicious.”

“You could have tweaked the horns a little.”

“Oh sure, and hindsight has perfect vision and all that.”

“Does anyone else know?” Thom asked, and Adaar just knew Thom would be checking.

“Same for you,” Adaar said. “But actually a number know. Leliana. Iron Bull. Cole. Solas. Herren and Wade. Some of the spirits and demons in our employ, but fuck if I know which ones. Oh that Fear who lives in the library, he knows.”

“Not Cassandra I see.”

“Yeah Leliana didn’t think she should know. She’s rather stab-happy about demons. You may have noticed. A lot of the Inquisition is.”

Thom scratched at his beard. His fingers were still bruised, Adaar noticed, and shaking slightly. “I haven’t told anyone,” Thom confessed. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t. I’m not… proud of who I was before, and all I wanted to do was good in his name.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Adaar said.

Thom glanced over at him, and Adaar noticed that was wariness in his eyes mixed with confusion.

“What?” Adaar asked.

“Well. A proper demon would probably kill to keep their secret.”

“Hey. That’s racist,” Adaar said. “Some demons can do mindwipes.”

“Which. You haven’t.”

“I can mindwipe myself just fine, thanks. It’s other people who are harder to do.”

“You said Bull knows but not Dorian? Herren and Wade know but not Dorian?”

“It has been pointed out to be by a number of people that I should either tell Dorian or break up with him.”

“You should,” Thom said. “Look, Dorian is a completely self-absorbed noble tit, and you can do better than him-”

“I can do better than him?” He knew Thom didn’t like Dorian, but still. Doesn’t bode well when a mortal considered ‘a literal actual demon’ better than a fellow mortal.

“But he’s one of the more, well, demon friendly allies you have. If he doesn’t understand, you shouldn’t be courting his attentions.”

Well he was demon friendly now, after Adaar did a lot of really hard work. But granted, Dorian was one of the ones from the start who’d been kind to Cole, which had been enough to make Adaar hopeful. At the same time, in hindsight, Adaar would never counsel anyone to go after someone they had to fix up first, but rather to try to fulfill that desire of ‘being in a romantic relationship’ with some other person that didn’t start out as a complete garbage pile, because that almost always ended in complete disaster. Maybe Adaar… needed higher standards? And then he took that thought and shoved that into the repression corner too because one can’t have too high of standards when one is stuck in the mortal world.

“Is this why you haven’t done anything about your massive crush on Josephine?”

“How-”

“Desire demon. I know,” Adaar said. Thom flushed at that as he likely came to that basic realization, and Adaar sighed. “There is nothing in your mind I haven’t seen before in, like, three thousand other minds. I mean it’s probably embarrassing for you, but if you live life knowing everyone’s desires after a while it really takes something special to faze you. And guess what. You weren’t that special. Anyway, is that why you’ve just sat on your crush instead of doing anything? The dishonesty factor? You not being an actual dashing hero and instead some random Bob? Or I guess in this case random Thom.”

Thom just sighed. “It’s complicated, and let’s leave it at that.”

“Okay but see now you know that that ‘unresolved desire’ flag is going to keep popping up at me every time we talk. If you could at least have a dialogue with her at some point, that’d be appreciated. Even if it’s a ‘hey let’s just not do anything and keep lowkey flirting with each other for funsies.’”

Thom was very quiet after that, and Adaar hesitated. “Look I am Desire, you guessed that right, and so if I overstep the Desire thing, I mean you’ve been around Cole-”

“No it’s just… I never thought I’d hear a Desire demon say the word ‘funsies’.”

“Well we aren’t all the epitomes of grace and perfection,” Adaar said flatly.

There was a bit more of silence then. Adaar glanced back up the cliffs but didn’t see any sign of movement, any people peeking their noses over the edge. There may have been some horizontal movement when they got flung off the cliff then because he’d expect to see at least one of the Inquisition crew waving a hand to get their attention.

“Are you alright?” Thom asked. “That was a long fall, even for a demon.”

“Well you have yet to try to attack me, so. Going better than expected.”

Thom opened his mouth before hesitating. “I can’t blame you for wanting to keep your… identity quiet. That would happen, wouldn’t it?”

“It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again,” Adaar said.

“I’ll keep your secret,” Thom said. “It wouldn’t be fitting for me to tell after you saved me, nor after you offered to keep mine.”

He didn’t seem to be lying.

The smart move would be to get Cole to erase Thom’s mind regardless. He could still be lying, or he could change his mind down the road. He could, in a moment of faith-induced panic or something, tell Cassandra that Adaar was a duplicitous demon liar, and then Adaar would end up dead. After all, even if there were still many rifts, the Breach had been sealed, so it wouldn’t be a world-ending event to behead him. Then again, he didn’t know which of the Fade troops knew he was a demon, and he didn’t go about wiping all their minds just in case. But at the same time, demons were far more likely to be on his side and not out him.

Was this how Leliana felt all the time but ramped up to seventeen? Trying to decide between the ‘smart’ move and then something that had some morals attached? No wonder she was steadily going batshit.

“Well. Let’s try to find a way to get us both up the cliff,” Adaar said. And after a moment’s pause, he reached out with his good, physical arm to support Thom.

After a moment’s pause, Thom took it.

Thankfully there weren’t too many monsters on the lower level. There were a disturbing number of bones however. And dragon shit. Iron Bull would be so pleased.

If it had been just Adaar, he would have dissipated and clung to the cliffside to get up. He had no idea how to do that and bring a tag-a-long passenger though, or even if that were possible. Eventually though they found an area where the cliffside wasn’t as impossibly steep, but still steeper than Adaar would like. Walking was bad enough for Thom as is; trying to scramble or climb up? That would be significantly more painful for him. As was, his face was set in a worse grimace than it normally was in.

Hawke had been right. They really needed a dedicated spirit healer at some point. Adaar would almost volunteer considering how well Thom had been healed but boy needing permission to possess someone first was, well, was not great. Nor the black smoke fog. That also wasn’t great for not blowing his cover. Though again, he could find a spirit healer to train from, maybe find out how they got around the need for access with their wisps. Learn how to not do the black smoke fog.

After a few grueling hours of hiking for Thom—far more pleasant for Adaar as he didn’t have injured ribs and also had been insisting on more rest periods because he didn’t want Thom to ruin what Adaar had just healed—they ended up near where the arcane horror had been of all places. It was still a ways away from where they left everyone, but now they had a general bearing. Adaar hoped the rest were all okay. That area was a death pit, far worse than a single creepy not-actually-an-abomination he felt like. Mortals talked a big game about how scary demons were, but the mortal wildlife was far scarier than anything you’d ever see in the Fade. Except for maybe a really big Hunger demon. Hunger demons were the Worst, and boy was he thankful he was Desire and not Hunger nor had ever once in his entire life been a Hunger.

The sun was getting low though, and while Adaar wanted to meet up with everyone as soon as possible, well, Thom. Adaar insisted on rest. Thom wasn’t so certain initially until Adaar pointed out that all his sleeps had been a cunning ruse, he could keep watch the entire long, boring ass night, and that if there were any lingering demons in the area, Adaar was a much much bigger demon than them.

Which at first was just something Adaar said to make Thom feel better until he realized it might actually be true. So that night watch was incredibly uncomfortable for Adaar. It gave to Introspection, which was of course the enemy, unless it was introspection about the complexities of the Fade and interactions of the Fade with the mortal world. That was a much safer topic to think about.

As well as how well Blackwall/Thom was taking this. He’d been rather quiet, and Adaar could almost feel him thinking through things.

Surely it would have to go worse at some point, but then again, Thom had been getting used to Cole. Thom had been even getting used to the demons at Skyhold. Adaar remembered a conversation they had way back at Skyhold, about Thom asking for patience as he got used to the idea that there might be spirits and demons who still wanted to do good.

Adaar had caught a whiff of a feeling then, that if a demon could be good, then surely there was still hope for Blackwall/Thom, and now that Adaar knew more, that made sense. He still couldn’t quite see who Thom had been once, or what he did, just that he deeply regretted it.

It had just gone so well that it almost felt wrong in some way. Adaar knew he wasn’t ‘just being paranoid’. It didn’t feel fair, almost. Not that he wasn’t pleased with the outcome because this was the best case scenario, but after having been on a number of far nastier responses? This hurt.

Why now and not then? Why couldn’t they have just calmed the fuck down for two whole seconds?

Adaar got very maudlin over the course of the night. And without any distractions, he really thought and pondered what exactly his next move would have to be.

In the morning, Thom raided what hadn’t already been picked over in the kitchen cellars, and they set off again in the direction of the nearest Inquisition camp at a slower pace than yesterday because Thom still wasn’t looking fantastic. Which reminded Adaar to conjure at least some illusions of bruising because Fake Blackwall had some strong points about that looking suspicious.

Who currently was looking at him suspiciously. “So can you even get-”

“Oh no most of my injuries have been 100% grade A real injuries up to this point,” Adaar said. “Cole also gets injured too, remember?”

“Oh right,” Blackwall said. “So then why didn’t the fall hurt you?”

“Because the fall wasn’t trying to hurt me,” Adaar said, “and that’s about as much as I’ve figured out how I work in your world. I don’t fucking know, man, I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be over here. I’m no expert.”

“Huh,” Thom said.

Thankfully they didn’t end up having a complex conversation about demons and how demons work, because fifteen minutes in, they were met by the entire group being led by one Cole.

“I told you they weren’t dead!” Cole said loudly. “Blackwall was hurting far too much to be dead.”

Adaar was immediately caught up in a crushing hug by Dorian. The strength of it choked some air out of Adaar, somehow. Behind Iron Bull almost moved forward, hesitated, and then lingered in the background with a strange expression on his face.

“Good to see you two are alright,” Iron Bull said simply. Adaar got the nagging feeling Iron Bull wanted to say something else instead and then just threw his own wants into the repression box so Adaar couldn’t see them.

Dorian’s breath ever so faintly hitched. Awww he’d been worried.

“I live yet again,” Adaar said reassuringly, patting Dorian on his shoulder with his Fade arm because his physical one was pinned by the hug. It clipped repeatedly through Dorian, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“You have the craziest luck,” Varric said, and Thom awkwardly coughed at that but remained otherwise silent.

“Please don’t fall off some cliff again,” Dorian said, reluctantly letting go of Adaar. “I was terrified.”

“I tried to tell you he was alive!” Cole said. “He had far too much anxiety to be dead.”

“See kid that implies a normal level of anxiety for the dead to be at,” Varric said. “I have questions.”

Cole didn’t answer.

“I really didn’t mean to fall,” Adaar said, disappointed the hug was over, but then Sera was hugging him before punching him on the shoulder.

“Don’t do that,” Sera said, before hugging Thom as well, who winced but didn’t bring up his fractured ribs, and if that wasn’t the biggest sign of friendship Adaar didn’t know what would be.

After getting fussed over by everyone else in turn, Adaar was caught up to date on what he had missed as they walked back to the Inquisition camp. Which wasn’t a lot. Mostly everyone had been panicking because the Inquisitor (and also ‘Blackwall’) had gone tumbling over the side of a cliff. Even if Cole had been vouching for their continued existence on merit on having hurts, it had apparently been a stressful experience all around.

Yes, they did ask on how they escaped such a fall relatively unscathed. And then Adaar (and Thom!) lied in turn, saying the barriers held up, and this was after Adaar healing them both.

Adaar noted that Cole used the name ‘Blackwall’ for Thom, and if there was anyone to see through and know his real name, it’d be Cole. So Cole must be covering for Thom as well, in which case Adaar didn’t have to feel bad about agreeing to cover up for some guy when in all fairness Adaar really didn’t know the story, and maybe he should have gotten the story before he agreed to hide Thom’s secret.

But, eh. Who was Adaar to judge? And again, see the resident Compassion spirit being fine with it, so Adaar decided to not give it much mind.

Adaar had a brief moment of introspection at the camp, listening to the entire forest buzz around him as he sat on a convenient stump near the center of the campsite. The entire event probably wouldn’t have happened if Adaar’s perceptions hadn’t gone wonky in the first place. So on the agenda was to find a safe place and undo what he did at the Storm Coast. There was still a risk it would hurt him somehow, there was a chance it wouldn’t, and heck he was already in potential mortal peril anyway with having a perception shift in place. So. He needed to attend to that.

But first.

“While we were down there wandering around, I saw something of interest way up on the cliffside,” Adaar said, getting to his feet. “Hopefully now that the giants and brontos have calmed the fuck down, I’d like to take a small team to go check it out with me.”

“Are you certain you should be wandering about so soon?” Vivienne asked. “Leaders must keep up a presence for the common rabble, but leaders must also not drop over dead from exhaustion. A short rest won’t kill you, darling.”

“I’ll just be walking. No fighting from me should we be unlucky enough to run into anything,” Adaar said.

Vivienne gave him a no nonsense look that told Adaar if he came back in any state worse than the one he left in, then she damn well told him so, and it would be on his head.

It was fine. He could do this. “Dorian. Iron Bull. You two are with me.” And he hesitated for just a second. “And Cole. You too.”

Thom looked at him for a moment before giving him a nod.

“Sure thing boss,” Iron Bull said.

As they walked, Adaar felt like billions of nerves all firing at once. Like vines coming unraveled, or vines catching on fire, or vines that were unraveled and then caught on fire and now were swaying every whichway in the wind, catching other things on fire as well. He felt like vomiting up everything he’d ever consumed in the mortal world. And you know, he could find something. Like the dragon. He could point out the evidence of where the dragon was, and say this was all a recon mission to scout out the location of the dragon. That would work. It wasn’t too late.

Adaar was a coward through and through, and the more he thought about this, the less he wanted to do it. There was a reason he talked about it, around it, and never actually through it. And that was just-

This would be opening him up to levels of vulnerability he just didn’t do. If this went badly, that was it, and his inner Leliana was screaming at him for taking such a stupid, senseless risk.

But he’d been such a shitty Desire of late, too wrapped up in being the Inquisitor. He didn’t want to lose his roots. It took too long to find himself the first time, because Adaar also had a tendency to grab to something and to cling to it with every tendril and vine of his being, and that included wrong preconceptions. And by now he’d learned inch by inch that he absolutely could not continue to do this on his own, not and keep any semblance of sanity.

The fact of the matter was the world didn’t hand you what you wanted. You had to, absolutely had to engage on some level, or lose that which you want.

“You’re being unusually quiet,” Dorian said, breaking through his thoughts.

Adaar glanced around, and then Adaar looked around proper. There was no one but halla in all directions.

Just keep moving. Go to the actual cliff. Point out where the dragon was. It was a good lie. It was a good cover. It was the safer option.

“I have a confession to make,” Adaar said instead. Iron Bull straightened, and Cole frowned. Dorian remained weirdly quiet. “To all of you, actually. Some of you know more than others, but regardless I’ve got a couple of big secrets I’ve been keeping.” It went well once, he reminded himself, as he felt himself tremble inwardly. “Recent events have gotten me to barely scrape enough courage for exactly one confession scene, so it’s going to be a group confession time guys.”

“…boss?” Iron Bull asked.

It still wasn’t too late. He could find some lie. Or he could just bolt. He could run all the way back to Skyhold, just be a ghost in the walls. He could do another perception shift, make himself think the best way to help the Inquisition was by being nowhere near it, as he would only ‘trouble’ or ‘tarnish’ it, and there was enough precedence for that that Adaar could swing it. And of course he only came up with this idea now when he could have used it months ago.

He could blood magic all the way around this binding and go back to the Fade and not deal with any of this.

“Adaar?” Dorian asked now, concern etched into his face.

And then Adaar dropped the glamour.

Chapter Text

It was as if time had frozen in that moment. No one was moving. No one seemed to be even breathing. Adaar wasn’t the only one carefully watching Dorian’s every move; Iron Bull and Cole were doing so as well. And Dorian was just staring at him. Dorian’s eyes quickly glanced over to Iron Bull and Cole, studying them and their lack of shock, before glancing back to Adaar.

Nobody moved, and nobody said anything. The pressure was intense, and Adaar felt himself begin to nervously ramble. “So. I’m a demon. From the Fade. Still not sure why everyone believed I ‘somehow got into the Fade’.”

Dorian still didn’t say anything which was of course a one-way ride for him to go to babbletown.

“So that’s what Iron Bull and I were doing. He figured out like immediately I wasn’t kossith, which again not sure why the mages- but he was teaching me stuff like science and basic mortal shit like footprints and all that because I wasn’t exactly close to mortals before all this. Mostly kept to myself, or tried to. But Cole also knew!” Adaar gestured helpfully again at them both because maybe if he emphasized other mortals found it okay, Dorian would be more okay with this. “And Leliana knows, knew before she voted for me to become Inquisitor which really wasn’t my choice, so no blood magic there or anything. And Blackwall now knows too, just recently found out back there in the valley, and Herren and Wade know, and Solas- I just realized I keep saying he knows but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard audible confirmation that he actually knows, but he probably does, right?”

Iron Bull said, “Yeah he’s the expert on the Fade, so I would reckon he would know.”

“What? Oh no, not because of that. No, because he’s a god.”

Iron Bull blinked at that. Cole was now intensely staring at a tree and not at anything going on between them.

“Right so. This is also important. Solas. He’s as much of a liar as I am. I mean, surely you’ve picked up some stuff. ‘He saw it in the Fade’ yeah that’s because he was actually in the Fade at the time. The village he was supposedly from hasn’t been around in 400 years, and he keeps getting events wrong and has weird eclectic knowledge? Strange mixtures of forgotten magical arts? Somehow just knew where Skyhold was? The truth is he’s Fen’harel, ancient elvhen god of wolves or pride or betrayal or rebellion or all of them at the same time. And I don’t even know if he’s an elf or a spirit or both? Can someone be both? I don’t think someone could be both and a god, but I’m not expert, and he’s been vague about the actual- also this mark is his. Or it was before Corypheus stole the orb and thus the Anchor, and I think that’s the only real reason he’s here because Corypheus stole a huge chunk of his power, and he wants it back. So that’s how he knew so much about that.”

Iron Bull and Dorian were now both staring at him. Good. Great. Fantastic.

“I mean he never told me any of this, and he could just be a really crazy old spirit just convinced he’s Fen’harel, but he’s gotten enough details right, and I’ve picked up enough background stuff from his head that he seems authentic. Which is how I know. Mind-reading. Because, again, demon. And I mean you can understand why I haven’t told many people even in this more friendly work environment I’ve fostered, but um, I definitely should have told you Dorian before we started dating, but like I was understandably worried since normally people react badly to that kind of information and-”

Dorian held up a hand, and Adaar fell quiet. Dorian didn’t immediately speak, and Adaar felt like he was about to literally explode into green energy.

“You being a demon,” Dorian said slowly, “is information that I’m definitely going to need some time to process, but you do realize that everything with Solas just blew your little demon thing out of the water, right? I’ve met demons before. Repeatedly. Including in the past before the Inquisition, so no offense but in comparison with ‘oh hey that hobo apostate is actually an ancient god’, it’s not that big of a thing.”

Adaar absolutely took offense.

“Are you positive he’s a god? The Fen’harel?” Dorian continued. “He’s… well he’s a talented mage but that’s about it. I saw him set his own coattails on fire once. On accident. That’s not a very godly trait.”

“I can confirm his identity,” Cole said now glaring sullenly at Adaar, “but I didn’t out him because I was being a friend who didn’t out people.”

Dorian fell very quiet at that once more.

“And like I said, the orb Corypheus has is somehow connected to a lot of the power Fen’harel used to have,” Adaar said. “I didn’t ask after because I didn’t want to be all nosy and up in his god business. That just seemed rude for some reason. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I know I don’t have the full story.”

“And you’re sure he’s not just a crazy spirit?” Iron Bull asked. “Mortals sometimes get dementia in old age. Does that happen to your kind as well?”

Adaar shrugged. “Well Fadefolk can become convinced they are someone else—” Cole coughed awkwardly at that. “—but his information is too accurate. And again. He knew about the orb, about other orbs as well. About Skyhold. He’s harder to read, especially now that we’ve got more spirits around—I think he’s purposefully trying to not shield while shielding his thoughts—but I do truly believe he’s the genuine article.”

Dorian was still quiet, and Iron Bull gently nudged him. “You holding up?”

“Just replaying every conversation I ever had with Solas in my head,” Dorian said. “Wow I am not sounding great in these. Nnnnnrgh.”

“You really weren’t,” Adaar said.

Dorian paused for a second. “I have also said some, hmmmm, questionable things to you as well.”

“You sure did!” Adaar said. Highlights including ‘hey so why don’t you just bind demons’ and ‘can we for sure tell that demons have free will’ and then ‘but what if demons don’t mind being bound due to their drive to f