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Dread Rites

By MichelleBC


Chapter 1

Magic was something that The Iron Bull never pretended to understand. He had always been taught to fear magic, told that it needed to be controlled or eradicated. To him it seemed unnatural for a mortal to hold that much power in the palm of their hand. And then he discovered that Time Magic was possible, and that thought was even more terrifying. And yet there was Dorian.

Powerful and tempered like a finely crafted blade, he wove through life with a distinct balance of beauty and ferocity that was unparalleled by anyone that The Iron Bull had met before. He didn’t use magic so much as he commanded it with an iron fist and the solid strike of his staff. The Bull learned that Dorian was not someone to fear because he was a mage, but someone to respect because he was an incarnation of things the Qunari didn’t understand.

The Bull would never admit to the flowery things that crossed his mind when it came to the mage; the things Cole started to utter at the most inopportune moments until he was stopped. Dorian was like a mixture of lightning and fire. He was fast and vibrant, powerful and loud, all-consuming and blazing. He gave off light that could carry anyone through darkness, but could dim just as quickly, his flame could be hampered with enough rain. But altogether, Dorian was stunning.

Holding onto the mage was a challenge both physically and emotionally, despite their size difference. He felt with all of his being, guarded at first but then with enough coaxing, he would show things that The Bull had seen in no other intelligent being.

Dorian was raw.

The Bull was often reserved when not in the heat of battle. He always tried to smile to show everyone he wasn’t a threat, he tried not to move too quickly or speak too loudly. People weren’t used to Qunari this far south.

But Dorian was someone who was easy to read because his emotions were written all over him, though it made him no less dangerous. He was passion and heat and power, a force so strong that The Bull couldn’t help being drawn in and swept away by the sheer essence that was Dorian Pavus.

Then, suddenly, it all changed.

Dorian hated the Storm Coast. He was very vocal about that every opportunity he got. It was too cold. It was too wet. There were rocks in his shoes. Let’s not fight the dragon because he would rather not be digested.

It had been a trying day though, the wind and rain stronger than usual. The Bull slipped on a rock and landed on his bad knee, causing a slight limp as he walked. There had been almost nothing to fight save for a stray bandit. But Varric insisted that there was Red Lyrium to find there, and Dorian’s sense for magic was the best bet they had to find the stores in Daerwyn’s Mouth.

They had to get there first.

Even Bull was cold as the winds howled and the rain battered their skin. It was all wearing on their nerves. As they were looking for a place to make camp, a particularly large swell hit all of them, knocking them off their feet. An errant sound drew Bull’s attention to Thidran Adaar as he tried to grab for his soaked bag that was being dragged away by the waves.

The sea claimed the bag, and with it their rations.

By the time they found a place for camp, tempers were thin.

“Ugh,” Dorian huffed as he squirmed and pulled a particularly long piece of seaweed out of his tunic, throwing it aside, “I don’t know why I let you talk me into coming here.”

“Shut up Dorian,” The Bull snapped before he could get a hold on his words, the phrase having been sitting on his tongue all day after each of his gripes, “Nobody wants to hear it.”

The Bull’s gaze locked with Dorian’s and he watched the emotions pass over his face. Shock, confusion, anger, then hurt. He looked to Thidran and Varric for support, but neither of them seemed willing to give it, both of them giving the mage a silent glance before going back to their duties.

The hurt magnified for a moment before he masked it behind contempt and anger, frowning hard, “Fine!” He growled, grabbing his staff as he walked towards the trees.

“Where are you going?” The Bull huffed, moving to follow.

“To get us food.” Came the snappish reply, staff pointing dangerously at his partner with a look of fire in his eyes, “You three set up so you don’t have to listen to me.” He turned and stormed off. For anyone else, the Bull would be concerned, but Dorian was strong enough to handle himself and they had seen no signs of trouble throughout the cloudy day.

After a few minutes of blessed silence, Thidran sighed and looked over, “Should we go after him?”

“Nah, let ‘em cool off.” The Bull gruffed as he hammered in the last peg of his and Dorian’s shared tent. He figured once they were both warm and dry, the Qunari would apologize for his words.

Without Dorian, getting a fire started was impossible. The three adventurers took some time to rest in their tents while awaiting the mage’s return.

And waited…

When the sky was getting dark and the winds started picking up, The Bull came out of the tent and looked around with concern. It had easily been almost two hours since Dorian had left, and as if sensing The Bull’s concern, Thidran appeared from his tent as well.

Thidran walked over to Varric’s tent and pushed the flap open, the dwarf appearing a moment later. “Sparkler still not back?” He asked, eyes going to The Bull with a mixed look of concern and wariness. “Shouldn’t have let him go alone.”

“I’m sure he’s fine.” Thidran said, trying to keep nerves from flaring, “He does like to be dramatic.”

“He also likes to be warm.” The Bull reminded them with a heavy frown. He grabbed his axe, Thidran his hammer, and Varric his crossbow. There was nothing at the camp worth staying behind to defend with their food gone, and the three turned to the forests to look for their strayed mage.

It was hard to see in the shadows of the forests, and the rain and storm made it impossible to track anything. The Bull pushed ahead, his agitation growing by the minute.

The winds picked up to a violent screech, the rain turning to ice against the skin. They had searched for nearly an hour before it was too dark to see and the storm was only getting worse. He hoped that Dorian had taken refuge somewhere and that Thidran was right and he was just being theatrical.

A hand grabbed his arm firmly, spinning The Bull around to see the pair behind him, “Bull, we have to go back.” Thidran yelled over the howl of the storm.

The Qunari shook his head, “Not until I find Dorian!” he called back, but Thidran didn’t let go.

“We can’t split up again, Bull. We have to go back!” The Inquisitor must have seen something defiant in Bull’s face because a moment later he added, “That’s an order!”

Dorian was still out in the woods somewhere, probably cold. The Bull was torn between his loyalty to Thidran and his concern for his lover. However the decision was made for him when a furious bolt of lightning crashed down, sending a large tree branch to the ground not twenty feet from them all.

The three were forced to call off their search, and by the time they returned to their camp the tents had all been blown down, most of the parts missing. They had to find more suitable shelter for the storm. From his vantage point, The Bull could see the waves becoming more violent.

“The cave!” Varric yelled over the rush of nature, pointing to the mountainous dwarven cave down the coast.

What if Dorian came back to the ruined camp? He wouldn’t know where to find any of them. But once again, Thidran was grabbing Bull, “We’ll search for him there.” The Inquisitor called firmly, pulling The Bull away from the camp.

Worry was mounting as feelings of ill swarmed him. He should never have let the mage run off alone, he should have gone with him regardless of empty threats and idle griping.

They battled the winds and rain as they made their way to Daerwyn’s Mouth, stopped by a solid door that Thidran and The Bull bashed down before stepping inside. Immediately the rain ceased against their skin, the howling of the wind turned to echoed cries and all three of the adventurers relaxed marginally as they took a moment to catch their breath.

It didn’t take The Bull more than a moment to take in the long passageway, lit with torches and void of life. “Hey Varric,” he looked down to the Dwarf with a heavy frown, “This is where the Red Templars are supposed to be isn’t it?”

Varric looked up and surveyed the area quickly before he nodded, “Yeah, why?”

“Where are they?” The Bull asked grimly. Breaking down the door couldn’t have been quiet, there should have been guards of some sort. He gripped his axe tighter and watched the shadows, expecting and perhaps wanting their assailants to show up and greet them.

Thidran shifted heavily from foot to foot as he caught on to The Bull’s worry, “We push forward.” He decided firmly, “If there’s a chance Dorian is here, we need to find him, quickly.”

The Bull didn’t need to be told twice. He started down the narrow passage and it opened up into a larger area still devoid of life save for signs. There were shards of Red Lyrium scattered against the walls, evidence of people, and a fire still blazing in its hearth. The Dwarven Ruins were well lived-in, the fortifications clearly having housed them for a while.

They split up wordlessly, keeping to the immediate area as they searched through the space for signs of their lost mage until a sound shattered the silence.

A scream. The primal sound of agony and desperation, male, and very familiar.

The three jumped and started running quickly towards the sound. The Bull’s heart was crashing in his ears as he charged with all of the single-minded focus of the beast he named himself after.

The first Red Templars met them at the entrance to a side-passage, one that could have been easily overlooked, but The Bull took the sign and rushed each of them head on despite Thidran’s calls. Two lost their heads, a knife caught The Bull in the arm but in a flash of movement the man was cut clean in two. The knife was yanked out and found a new home in the throat of another, the song of battle blinding him to all but his destination.

More Red Templars came, their intent clearly to buy time. They were bodies that kept The Bull from his mage whose cries had fallen silent.

A door on the left seemed to be what the men were guarding, and by the time The Bull reached it he was painted in gore from the slain Templars. But the door was closed, and no matter how The Bull shoved and tried, it didn’t want to budge. He swung his axe and succeeded only in driving scars into the stone.

“Bull, you’re not gonna bust down that door, we have to find another way!” Varric yelled, trying to get through The Bull’s panicked haze.

Thidran grabbed his friends shoulder, pulling him away bodily, “Varric’s right. We’ll have to look for-“

Without being touched, the sound of a click on the other side was all the preamble they got before the heavy thing gave in and pushed open. The Bull quickly shoved past Thidran and shouldered the door open the rest of the way, prepared for more bloodshed on the other side.

The room was wide open and damp, with Red Lyrium columns forming along the walls and a large bloody sigil painted on the floor. It looked like a summoning room, completely empty save for…

“Dorian!” The Bull’s axe fell as he ran across the space and dropped to one knee beside the fallen mage who lay crumpled in the middle of the sigil. A quick hand to the man’s pulse-point revealed that he was alive, a hand in front of his mouth that he was breathing. There didn’t appear to be any blood or noticeable injury on the man himself but something was assuredly wrong.

The Bull moved to gather Dorian up into his arms, ignoring the words of warning behind him. The mage was entirely limp and cool, but as his head lolled so that The Bull could see his face, his heart sank.

“Oh no…” Thidran breathed when he came to stand behind the pair.

“Shit…” was Varric’s response.

Dorian Pavus seemed entirely unharmed, the only difference showing was the sunburst brand on his forehead.

The Bull refused to let his mage go for even an instant. His heart never stopped racing, his panic never ebbed, and Dorian didn’t wake. They carried him back to Skyhold, ignoring the looks of worry from the scouts as they passed.

When they reached their destination, Cullen saw their procession was one man short and immediately approached. He caught sight of Dorian wrapped in Bull’s arms, and a moment later it was obvious that he caught sight of the brand. “Maker’s Breath…” he gasped, lips turning to a frown before he turned and addressed the nearest soldier, “Go get Fiona, Solas, Vivienne, and Cassandra to the War Room, NOW.” He barked, then turned back to the others, “Get him to a healer.”

“It’ll do no good, Blondie.” Varric sighed sadly.

Cullen didn’t look convinced, “What happened?”

Thidran looked to Bull, then to Cullen, “We’ll explain everything when we get to the War Room. Will you two give us a moment?” He nodded to Varric and Cullen who both didn’t look happy about walking away.

The Bull felt numb. He had hardly said a word since they left Daerwyn’s Mouth, and neither Thidran nor Varric had tried to make him. But now he looked up at his friend who stared back at him with a mournful gaze, “We’re going to need you there, Bull.”

“Dorian needs me more.” He snapped quickly.

“I know he does. There’s no sense leaving him with the healers, we already know he hasn’t suffered any physical damage.” He looked over the prone mage in The Bull’s arms with guilt, “Would you rather have your Chargers look after him while we speak with the others?”

It was the right thing to ask, the right words. Thidran had a gift for always knowing exactly what to say. “Yeah… Krem can keep watch.” He gave in, shoulders slumping. Krem was perhaps the only person who he trusted to look after Dorian in such a state.

When The Bull found Krem a few minutes later, he was rewarded with a look of surprise, then shock, then sadness. He agreed to watch the mage up in The Bull’s room and followed the man up. He settled Dorian down in their shared bed and found himself staring at the sunburst brand…

“We’ll figure this out, Chief.” Krem said from beside The Bull, nudging his arm gently, “He ain’t dead, we’ll get ‘em back to normal in no time.”

The Bull took a deep breath and nodded, “You’re right.” He said firmly.

“Horns up. They’re expecting you. We’ll be here when you get back.”

Everyone gathered in the War Room listened to the retelling of what happened at the Storm Coast. Faces were kept neutral and schooled, and opinions were thankfully kept inward, even if The Bull saw them cross the other faces. Many of them were thinking the same thing he was.

Why had he let Dorian go off alone?

When the retelling was over, the room fell deathly silent for a long minute, stretching The Bull’s patience thin before Thidran finally spoke up in a firm tone, “Cassandra, Cullen. You two know more about this than any of us. What can you tell us?”

The two exchanged looks before Cassandra spoke up, “The Tranquil are mages who have gone through the Rite of Tranquility. This act breaks their connection to the Fade, making it impossible for them to conjure magic of any form. This has the side effect of…removing all emotion. It makes them unappealing to demons.” She took a breath, eyes turning down to the maps on the table so she didn’t have to watch the faces around her, shockingly submissive for the Seeker, “The Rite is not one used lightly in any sense. Only mages who are extremely dangerous, or those who willingly come to the Chantry and ask for it, are even considered for such a thing. It requires permissions from a great many before it is performed. Many would rather ask for death.”

Cullen spoke next, filling what would have been the gap left by the Seeker, “Because it’s used so sparingly, and only in cases of absolute necessity, we aren’t aware of any way to reverse the Rite.”

“So that means there could be a chance.” Thidran broke in, “If a method of breaking the Tranquility is out there, it just hasn’t been found.”

“You will have to speak with the Templars and the Chantry. They may know something more.” Cassandra said.

Solas cleared his throat, attention turning to him, “You said you found Dorian in a sigil?” He asked evenly, “Can any of you recall it? It may give us some indication.”

“The only symbol needed for the Rite is that of the Chantry.” Cassandra said.

“Well that sure as hell wasn’t it. But I scribbled it down as best I could before we left.” That was Varric, as he fished a parchment out of his jacket. It was water stained, but as he unrolled it, the basic image was still intact as he laid it down and showed it to the mages.

Solas’s frown stretched his face darkly, “That’s a summoning sigil to be sure. And if it was in blood, as you say, my guess is that they were trying to summon a demon.”

“And that turned him Tranquil?” Varric asked.

“No. Knowing Dorian, he was able to reject the demon. Any strong mage would.” It gave The Bull a small swell of pride to hear that, to know Dorian was indeed that strong. Solas continued, “It is only a guess…but my assumption is that they were attempting to force a possession, and when it failed, they performed the Rite to render Dorian useless to the Inquisition.”

Thidran frowned, parsing his next question very carefully before asking, “They wouldn’t simply kill him?”

“There are fates worse than death, my dear.” Vivienne’s voice was calm and her head held high as ever. She was watching The Bull with an unreadable expression, “And I’m sure they knew it would mean that the Inquisition would waste time, resources, and favors to try and return Dorian to his original state.”

The Bull frowned hard, “What’re you suggesting?”

“Trust me, Dorian is the only one among us with any sense of fashion.” She eyed Solas critically, “I am not suggesting we do nothing. Only that we keep our focus on Corypheus before-“

The Qunari huffed and snarled in the same breath, but the woman didn’t flinch even slightly.

“It is the fate of Thedas versus the fate of one mage.” She pressed, her voice becoming iron with only the slightest shift in tone, “Dorian is very much alive, and we can keep him that way here in Skyhold.”

Thidran broke in before The Bull decided to break something, “With all due respect, Vivienne. I would at least like to look into our options before we hold off on fixing one of our own.”

“Of course.”

The room was silent for a moment, The Bull itched to do something. Anything. He wanted to break something.

Cullen spoke up, “I will send some of my men to the Chantries in search of anything that could prove useful.” He said.

“And I wish to look at Dorian personally.” Solas said, “Once he is awake. I want to see what he remembers.”

Thidran nodded firmly, “Then there is not much else we can do right now. We will explore every possible outlet without hindering the end goal of the Inquisition. If anyone comes up with anything, anything at all, come to me.” He glanced to the side, giving The Bull a knowing look, “And I will let you know of any changes as soon as possible.”

It wasn’t much of a consolation. Nothing was being done but a lot of talking. He didn’t realize his thought wasn’t a private one until he saw the eyes on him. He growled and let himself continue, “How the hell could they even perform the Rite anyway?!”

“That’s a fair question.” Thidran agreed, looking to Cullen and Cassandra.

The Seeker spoke calmly, “It isn’t surprising. Look at their name alone, they’re Red Templars. Not all of them have lost their minds, it’s very possible some of them would remember how to perform the Rite.”

“But to be fair,” Cullen interjected, “They would have needed at least one Knight-Lieutenant or stronger to perform the Rite. That narrows the list down considerably.”

“Cullen is right. Any Templar can assist in the Rite, but it takes a powerful one to perform it. You said you found the chamber empty when you went inside?” Cassandra added.

“Yeah.” Varric spoke up, “It’s possible there was a hidden passage way we overlooked. I can’t say we were climbing over ourselves to figure out where anyone else had gone.”

The woman nodded, “Still, the amount of Templars who know how to lead the Rite can be counted on two hands. And the ones who defected from the Templar order on one. At the very least, it’s a start.”

It gave The Bull something to look towards. Revenge. If they could find who did such a thing to Dorian, he would show that Templar what a Ben-Hassrath was truly capable of.

“Does anyone have anything to add?” Thidran asked, eyes scanning the room. He sighed, the sound revealing exhaustion and worry, “Very well then, you’re all excused.” He nodded and turned, the organization of the room breaking slowly as everyone filtered for the door.

The Bull would have been the first out, but Thidran’s presence held him there for a moment after everyone left, “You should get some rest, Boss.” He said in a sigh, “We’re all exhausted.”

“You should as well.” Came the easy counter.

They both knew that wasn’t going to happen with Dorian in the state that he was. Regardless, he nodded and followed the rest of the occupants of the War Room out of the door and into Skyhold proper. He moved straight for the courtyard, taking the steps up to the ramparts two at a time before he shoved the door to his room open.

Krem stood at the foot of the wide bed with his arms folded and a pinched look on his face. Dorian had woken up during the time they had been in the War Room, and was sitting up against the headboard with a piece of bread that he seemed to be chewing on, staring blankly at the sheets at his feet.

The Bull’s chest tightened uncomfortably as he exchanged a look with Krem. His Lieutenant spoke up, “He woke up about ten minutes ago, Chief. Said he was hungry and thirsty, hasn’t said anything beyond that though.”

The Bull approached the bed slowly, as if scared of what he might find, “Dorian?”

The man turned his head to look up at Bull, his eyes half-lidded as he chewed on his piece of bread. “Were you in need of something, Iron Bull?” He asked, his voice eerily flat and his face void of anything even resembling emotion.

His own heart broke in his chest and before he collapsed to his knees he found himself dropping heavily into a chair that groaned in protest. “No I… How are you feeling?”

Dorian blinked owlishly, “I feel fine. Cremasius refused to let me out of bed however. Am I to believe there is something wrong?”

Everything, The Bull’s mind screamed. Everything was wrong. “Do you remember what happened? What’s the last thing you remember?”

“You, sitting here in front of me not a second ago.” Came the automatic response that had The Bull covering his face with his hand.

He cleared his throat and chose his words carefully, “I mean, what’s the last thing you remember before waking up in here a few minutes ago.”

There was a long moment of consideration as Dorian silently recalled the events, and The Bull took note of how the man wasn’t stroking his mustache or biting his lip like he normally would when pondering. “I was chasing a deer for food to return to the camp. Nothing after that.”

The Bull absently wondered if his mind had been wiped, or if the events were too traumatic for his brain to want to recall. He filed that thought away to consider later and took a deep, calming breath, “Dorian? You were captured by Red Templars. Do you remember that at all?”

The mage shook his head, “I told you what I recall.”

“I know you did.” The Bull reached out in a desire to touch and comfort, his hand stopping when he remembered that his actions would not be appreciated. He took another breath, glanced over and saw that Krem had gone to the far corner of the room to offer his presence and keep from being invasive. “They made… They… They hurt you. I wasn’t there to protect you, and they hurt you.”

Dorian seemed to consider this with an unwavering blank gaze, “I do not seem harmed.”

“They made you Tranquil, Dorian.” He said quickly, his tone coming out snappish and irritated; and he was irritated, angry…because the mage couldn’t be.

“Oh…” There was a pause, and The Bull silently regarded, “That does seem unfortunate.”

The Bull’s entire body went tense and rigid with upset, because that was the best Dorian could muster about his situation. “We’re going to get you back to normal, alright? Thidran and I already started making the arrangements. Everything will be alright.” He couldn’t tell if he was trying to comfort Dorian…or himself.

“The Inquisition needs to worry about Corypheus.” Dorian spoke, his voice even.

“The Inquisition needs to worry about Corypheus, but I’m going to worry about you.” The Bull growled, “That’s how it’s going to be.”

“Very well.” Came the same, even response that made The Bull want to stand and punch the nearest wall until he couldn’t feel his hand. He wanted to see some spark of emotion or life in his lover’s eyes, but everything about him seemed dulled and gray.

He had been taught all of his life that Tal’vashoth was true gray, that his turning from the Qun would forever be the worst thing that happened in his life. He would be without purpose. Yet as he looked into Dorian’s unblinking eyes he realized that this was true gray, his lover staring at him without love or anger, without joy or sadness.

“We’re going to fix you, Dorian. I promise.” The Bull swore suddenly, reaching out. The man didn’t flinch of react as his face was taken in a gentle hand, turned enough that they could share a one-sided kiss before The Bull was standing and letting his hand drop to his side.

Krem followed his leader as they left Dorian to rest.

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