Dread Rites

Chapter 4

The Bull stopped sleeping in his room. Every time he tried he felt wrong, felt worse than he had before, and walked away. He had gone three months sleeping with a ghost beside him, but he simply couldn’t manage it anymore.

However less than a week had passed before Solas came to him, literally running to grab his arm, “Come quickly,” he said with a strange tone that The Bull couldn’t quite place, “Quickly! It’s important.”

He let himself be pulled along, confused but curious. He expected to be pulled to the mage’s study, but was instead taken down the familiar path into the War Room, where Cassandra, Cullen, Cole, and Thidran were already waiting for them. Anticipation began to curl in his chest.

“What’s going on?” he asked as his arm was released.

Solas walked up to the table, “Cassandra?”

The Seeker looked to The Bull and smiled, he had never seen that before… “According to the Book from Lucius, The Seekers of high enough rank have always known about a cure for the Rite of Tranquility.”

All of the breath left The Bull’s lungs, and in that moment he could have dropped to his knees in disbelief.

“The Seekers go through a yearlong meditation process for our training. I did so as well. We are isolated for that time. Little did I know, this made me Tranquil. At the end of my meditation, however, I was touched by a Spirit of Faith and that cured me.” She looked down at the open book on the table, then back up at The Bull, “We can cure Dorian.”

He was across the space in two strides, grabbing up Cassandra in a crushing hug, unable to help himself. The woman let out a confused sound and Cullen laughed at her. When he dropped her back down onto her feet, she staggered as The Bull opened his mouth, “How? When?”

“As soon as possible.” Thidran spoke up, looking around the faces of the room.

Solas nodded, “Cassandra came to me about this yesterday. After reviewing the book and doing some research of my own, I’m fairly positive we can use Cole as our Spirit. We’ll need Cassandra and Cullen to guide him, but he should be able to restore Dorian’s connection to the Fade.”

The Bull looked over to Cole, “You’re ok with this?”

“Yes.” The boy said confidently, smiling up at The Bull with hopefulness.

Cullen looked over, “Cassandra and I need about a day to set up a space, and review the process from the book. But by this time tomorrow, Dorian should be back.”

Cullen was the next one to get a crushing hug and the man didn’t even struggle as he laughed.

Thidran was smiling when The Bull looked over, nodding, “I feel good about this. Solas says he sees nothing that could cause harm. At worst…it doesn’t work. But this is a step in the right direction if that’s the case.”

“You know how to add to the mood.” The Bull huffed as he dropped Cullen back down, “But yeah. This is good. This is…great…” He took a breath, unable to wipe the smile from his face.

The air in the room was excited. Cullen and Cassandra gathered the book and nodded as they made their way out to make the necessary preparations. Solas pulled Cole out next, leaving Thidran and The Bull alone. “It’ll be good to have both of you back.” He said after a moment of quiet.

It stung somewhat, but The Bull understood. “I’m…going to go find Dorian.” He said as he turned and left the War Room.

The man was exactly where The Bull expected, settled in his nook with a book in his lap. He didn’t look up until a massive hand took his shoulder gently as The Bull knelt down beside him, “Wat’cha readin?”

“I am translating a text on Tevinter War Tactics.” He said blandly, scrawling something in the notebook on the arm of his chair.

The Bull reached up, his hand smoothing over and cupping Dorian’s jaw, pulling the man to look over at him. He smiled at those blank eyes, “Kadan.” He murmured, “You know you’re everything to me, right?”

Dorian blinked owlishly at this, but The Bull didn’t let it deter him. “I promised you that we’d find a way to bring you back to us. I’m keeping that promise – we all are.”

“I am right here, Iron Bull…” the man said simply.

The Bull swallowed, “Yeah, I know. Just…trust me alright?” He leaned up and brushed their lips together, getting nothing in return but that didn’t matter. Soon, he told himself. Very soon.

He returned to his room that night, wrapping Dorian in his arms. He didn’t sleep, he couldn’t, but he reminded himself that his lover was alive every time he felt breath against his chest.

In the morning, when the man tried to leave the room to retreat to his study, The Bull stopped him and answered his confusion by taking him to find Cullen and Cassandra. The two had seemed to find an empty room deep inside of Skyhold, a circular room that the pair had transformed into what they needed. There were symbols drawn out on the floor, the Chantry Sunburst among them.

“We’re almost done.” Cullen said with a reassuring smile, “Cassandra, Cole, and I will perform the reversal here. Unfortunately you and Thidran will have to wait outside. It shouldn’t take long though.” He assured, patting The Bull’s shoulder. He offered Dorian a smile as well, “Are you ready?”

The mage didn’t seem to know how to answer, and just shrugged, “Tell me what you need me to do.”

“Stand in the middle, there.” Cassandra pointed, then held up her hand, “Not yet. But that’s all you’re going to need to do.” She corrected when Dorian tried to move towards the spot. “For now, just stay here.”

Waiting for the two to finish was an agonizingly slow process. The Bull didn’t let Dorian out of his arms, grounding himself on the silent presence the other possessed. Cassandra and Cullen flittered in and out of the room, adding symbols and talking about what had to be done once they began.

Solas and Cole joined them after some time had passed, the mage with a cup of something foul smelling in-hand. “It’s to help Cole separate his spirit form from his body. Temporarily, of course.” He added when the boy gave the elf a concerned look. “The reversal Rite will help tether Cole to Dorian, so that he can reconnect him with the Fade.”

“Whatever’s gonna work.” The Bull said, he didn’t pretend to know how any of this worked. He had no doubt, however, that Dorian would be fascinated once he was back to normal.

More time passed, but finally the two called Cole into the room and pulled Dorian from The Bull’s arm. Cassandra looked The Bull in the eye sternly, “No matter what you hear on the other side of this door, we need you to trust us. Once the Rite is started, you cannot enter the room until it’s over.”

That didn’t instill a lot of confidence in the Qunari, but he nodded slowly.

Thidran joined a moment later and Cassandra repeated her instructions. With a final nod, The Seeker turned and closed the door behind her.

“Will you be alright, Bull? You and I can go to-“

“I’m not leaving.” He growled, folding his arms over his chest.

“Alright.” Thidran nodded and took a breath, “None of us know what to expect, though.”

The Bull frowned, “Dorian’s going to come walking out of that room with a smile, that’s what I expect.” Though even he couldn’t be entirely convinced.

It was obvious when the Rite began. A chill stirred in the air and the crack beneath the door flashed bright green with the chorus of unpleasant sounds. Things that The Bull had heard when Thidran was trying to close a rift. A look over to Solas showed the elf was frowning at this, he knew it as well.

A scream filled the air, the same one they had heard in Daerwyn’s Mouth and The Bull lurched for the door, stopped by Thidran’s bulk and a snarl.

The agony they heard shattered his heart, made it ache and he cried out in concern. He fought his friend’s hold in the desperate need to protect – but even he admitted that the sound wasn’t necessarily a bad sign. Dorian had showed signs of pain while Tranquil, but nothing like this. Nothing so primal.

Just as quickly as the sounds had started, they ended. The green glow faded and the chill warmed in the air. The Bull took his opportunity at Thidran’s distraction and shoved him aside, grabbing the door and wrenching it open.

The room inside seemed no different than before, save for Cole and Dorian collapsed in the center of the Sunburst. Cassandra and Cullen were approaching the two cautiously, only glancing up at The Bull’s intrusion. However he didn’t show the same caution as he charged for the fallen mage, dropping to his knees to gather the man up into his lap.

Solas came in right behind The Bull and pressed his fingers to Cole’s forehead, murmuring something soft. The air above the boy stirred and a glow began to form before sinking back into Cole’s body. The boy opened his eyes and stared blankly up at a proud looking elf.

However Dorian remained unconscious in The Bull’s lap. But as he reached his hand up and pushed the sweaty hair from the mage’s brow, he let out a strangled sound of pain. The brand remained...

His heart sank, the world felt dull around him. He heard something from Cassandra and Cullen, perhaps words of remorse, but they didn’t matter.

Cole sat up and crawled closer to The Bull, a bony hand grabbing the man’s arm, “I tried, Iron Bull, I tried!” He breathed, looking frantic and guilty.

He only felt worse, hearing Cole’s desperate voice, “I know kid, you did good.” He said, his voice feeling hollow in his own throat. The Bull’s eye was locked down on the mage’s pliant body, knowing that when he stirred he would still be lost to everyone, including himself.

“I had nothing to grab hold of. His mind was so small and distant, kept slipping through my fingers. Pulling away from me.” The boy was pressed up against The Bull’s side, his gaunt face pressed against gray skin, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“What happened when you called out to him?” Solas asked, settled a few feet away. His eyes showed sadness as well, switching from Dorian to Cole.

“H-He pulled away. Like he was scared of me.”

The elf nodded, falling silent in thought for a minute before nodding. “Cassandra? Cullen? Would you try the Reversal Rite again?” At their confused looks he pressed on quickly, “The mind is a terribly fragile thing. It’s very likely that Dorian is going to need something familiar before he lets Cole get close.”

“And you have something in mind?” The Seeker asked skeptically.

“Yes. I will accompany Cole and Iron Bull into the Fade.” He said firmly.

The Bull blinked, “You’re gonna do what now?” He demanded, incredulous.

Solas leveled him with a hard stare, “If you want Dorian back, this may be the only way. I will be there with you should anything go wrong.”

“You heard what I did out there, they ripped open the Fade. I heard demons.” The Bull growled.

“Attracted by a weakened soul no doubt, but Cassandra and Cullen are here to protect you physically and I will protect you within the Fade. Do you trust me, Iron Bull?” The Qunari had never seen Solas so stern and certain.

The Bull had little choice, however. He looked down at his lover once more, his hand smoothing over the fevered skin before he let out a sigh, “Alright, I’ll do it. But, I have no idea what I’ll be doing.”

A look of hope had returned to Cole’s pallid features, a smile on his lips, “I will be there to help you.” He promised, fingers giving the muscles a gentle squeeze.

“I don’t like this.” Cassandra grumbled.

“You’re not the only one.” Cullen agreed.

“Try it.” Thidran stood in the doorway, having watched the whole thing. “Please.” His gaze turned down to Dorian, a frown on his lips.

Cassandra sighed, closing her eyes, “Of course, Inquisitor.” She nodded to the door, “But this goes beyond what the tome dictates. Once those three are on the other side, I can make no promises.”

“I trust Solas.” Thidran said too quickly.

The elf gave his friend a reassuring smile.

Cassandra closed the door, locking Thidran outside. This time, The Bull and Solas remained in the room. Solas gave Cole what remained of the elixir in the mug, the spirit drinking it down with a pained look. He then instructed The Bull to lay down, Dorian tucked against his side as he would normally be when they were sleeping at night.

“I will pull you into the Fade once Cassandra and Cullen begin. But Bull, let me warn you now.” Solas said and The Qunari had to resist the urge to roll his eye because only now was he being warned, “It can be very easy for a mortal to feel overwhelmed. Since you are still alive, your soul will be very loud in the Fade. I will be protecting you, but just do your best to focus on the task at hand.”

The Bull just nodded. Cole collapsed beside them and his body began to thrash as if he were in the throes of a seizure. He looked up, concerned, but Solas rested a hand on the boy’s chest, and nodded.

Cassandra and Cullen began to chant.

Within a matter of seconds, everything was gone. The Bull stood alone in a vast expanse of darkness, staring into nothingness. Something clenched in his chest, but a moment later a strong hand gripped his wrist and Solas stood at his side, “We’re with you.” He promised, and a glance to his other side revealed a vibrant, glowing light. He could only guess that by the pulses of reassuring energy, it was Cole.

“We’re in the Fade?” The Bull asked.

“No, we’re in the space between the Fade and our realm. It’s the space where mages draw their power from, and where Dorian is no longer connected. I will be waiting for you three within the Fade, keeping it safe. Cole will help you get Dorian that far.” Solas elaborated. Less than a second later, the elf was gone.

Cole’s gentle energies pulsed softly, dancing around The Bull before pulsing brightly. He was aware of a soft sound, like the ring of a small bell. After a few moments of the repeating sound, The Bull was distantly aware of a faint but similar sound.

The spirit bobbed and started moving towards what The Bull only hoped was Dorian. Eventually the exchanging sounds of the bells resulted in the sight of a soft, flickering light in the distance. The Bull picked up his pace.

The soft flashing light began to dim, but got closer. The ringing stopped and he was aware of the light pulling away, sinking back into the darkness. Cole’s spirit flashed and chimed brightly, but Dorian’s light only backed further away.

“Dorian…” The Bull breathed, unsure if he could be heard by the mage, but the moment the name was uttered the light trembled and flashed at him. This time when The Bull moved forward, the light didn’t move away. Cole remained behind.

Eventually the light was right in front of him; he reached forward and his big hand touched Dorian’s light. There was a flash, and the light was suddenly a familiar man collapsing into The Bull’s arms. He quickly took the mage, supporting him as he knelt down, “Dorian.” He breathed softly, “I’ve got you.”

“It’s…it’s really you, Bull?” The mage’s voice was thin and weak, “What are you doing here?”

While he could feel Dorian’s presence, the physical press of skin and weight was ghostly. “I’m here to help you. We’re gonna get you out of here. Or something like that.” He wasn’t entirely sure.

Dorian pressed his face unfeelingly against The Bull’s chest, “I’m scared…” he murmured weakly.

“Hey, scared is better than nothing.” The Bull assured him, moving to gather the man up into his arms only to have the body shift like smoke, reforming where he was before. “What’s wrong?”

“Not sure.” Dorian breathed, “Stay… Stay with me, Bull.”

The Bull shook his head, “Too many people will miss us on the outside.”

This time Dorian scoffed softly, “Who would miss me? I’m the…evil Tevinter remember?”

Despair is easy to find. Self-loathing. Fear. These are things that claim us. He needs strength, Iron Bull. Cole’s voice was soft in The Bull’s mind, but it still sent a shudder down his spine.

The darkness began to fade like watercolor eating away the black. The Bull and Dorian were no longer in the emptiness, but sitting in the room where their bodies lay. The mage blinked and flinched, but after a moment looked around hesitantly.

“More people than you’ll know, Dorian.” The Bull said, trying to take the change in stride when he felt a pulse from Cole to reassure him, “Cassandra and Cullen are trying to reverse the Rite as we speak. Solas is waiting for us. Thidran too. All of Skyhold misses you, and Vivienne’s been bemoaning having nobody to talk fashion with.”

Dorian was silent for a long while, then looked down at his own body with a sense of morbid fascination, “I don’t…know what to do. I can’t move.”

“Cole’s here to help you.” He said quickly, a hand coming up to smooth through soft, dark hair that had no feeling beneath the pads of his fingers, “But he says you keep pulling away.”

“Demon…” He breathed, “A demon was calling out to me.” The scene changed again, this time with The Bull and Dorian sitting on the floor back in Daerwyn’s Mouth. It was the room they had found Dorian in, the image of the struggling mage being held by two Red Templars while Lord Seeker Lucius chanted before them. The image of Dorian showed unseeing eyes while a dark green mist wrapped around his head. “It tried to claim me.”

Suddenly the image showed Dorian letting out a snarl and a pulse of energy, throwing back the Templars and the demon trying to force its way in. He staggered and then summoned fire to his hands, but was tackled to the floor by another Red Templar. The Lord Seeker was yelling, but it was droned and unintelligible.

“You did good, babe…” The Bull said proudly, smiling down at his lover, “You did real good.”

“But now the demon’s back.” Dorian whined, holding his head in a panic, “Calling out to me.”

“That’s not a demon, Dorian. That’s Cole.” He tried to soothe.

“No! It sounds the same!”

“Dorian, please…” The Bull wasn’t sure how to calm the panicking mage, the brightness of his soul visible through his chest, but was dimming. “Do you trust me?”

Fear leads to doubt. Cole supplied.

The scene changed, images of Dorian and The Bull together. The night The Bull held Dorian after Felix passed. He felt the mage’s soul stir beside him, and a pulse of encouragement from Cole had the man feeling more physically present and solid. “I’ll always be there for you,” The Bull said, his eye turning down to the man beside him, “Whenever you need me, want me.”

Dorian shook his head, “Why. There’s nothing about me that you can’t find in someone, anyone else.” He shook his head, “I couldn’t even be a good son to my father, I never deserved anyone like you. I spent years shaming my family’s name, living like a drunken whore.”

Self-loathing. There are things people cannot accept about themselves without cause to do so. Cole pressed on.

This time when the scene changed, The Bull actively focused on what he wanted Dorian to see. Their first kiss – the mage who was beautiful, confidant, and proud. The man that The Bull chased after, teased, and prodded. The scene shifted shortly after, to when The Bull returned from the Coast after the failed alliance. To Dorian who accepted him without question, drank with him, and tried to ease his pain.

“See?” Dorian huffed, “What’s my answer to everything? Drinking and sex.”

The Bull wanted to slap his lover, but took a deep breath instead, “There’s nothing wrong with drinking or sex, Dorian.” He rumbled softly, “You are someone who has always been confident and strong. It’s something I admire about you. This… This isn’t you. But I get you’re scared. You’re hurt. You’ve been hurting beneath the surface for a long time.”

“But you saw me for what I was back then.” The scene played on, to their argument and The Bull’s cutting words, “You were right, you know.”

“No. I was wrong. I was wrong about all the shit I said. I was angry, but I took it out on you.” He reached down, smoothed a big hand over the mage’s back, “And I spent months trying to make that up to you because I wanted to make it up to you. Because you were special. Anyone and everyone else in my past, I could walk away from. But you… I’ve spent years doing things for what others needed. You’ve been the first person to return the favor.”

Once more the mage felt more solid against him. Enough that The Bull was able to gather him up properly, hold him protectively.

Just a little more, Iron Bull. Cole said, His light is getting stronger.

The Bull consciously thought back and pulled up a memory that changed the scene once more. Dorian giving him the dragon’s tooth, and the joy that The Bull felt. “You asked me once what it was we are. I don’t think it needs a name or a label. I think you and I make each other stronger. I think you make those around you stronger. Enough so that everyone in Skyhold is worried about you, misses you.”

The mage’s weight felt real again, and though he looked exhausted, he was smiling again. His hand came up, however, and he frowned when he didn’t feel the necklace resting against his own chest.

“You…you stopped wearing it. Said it was uncomfortable.” The Bull said, “But it’s still in our room, and once you come back with me, it’ll be all yours again.”

“How…could I have taken it off.” Dorian said, his eyes showing pain and discontent.

The Bull shook his head, “You weren’t yourself. You haven’t been. That’s why you need to come back.”

“I don’t know how.” Was the response in a small voice.

“That’s why Cole and I are here. Trust me, trust him, we’ll get you home.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to his lover’s head, felt a pair of arms wrap around his shoulders and cling tightly.

Cole appeared, the spirit bouncing softly. He pulsed with energy, the sound of ringing bells, and Dorian’s form faded back down to his soul which finally seemed so much brighter than before. It rang back at Cole, pulsing in return, and the scene around them faded and returned to the endless black.

A green light flared beneath them, The Bull felt the sensation of dropping and panicked briefly. Dorian came to him, a soothing ring easing the sensation just before the green light consumed his vision.

He wasn’t aware of hitting the ground, but when he opened his eye they were all standing in a craggy wasteland of what felt like despair and scented of demons. The sky above them was sickly green and undulated unpleasantly, reflecting into the black and green waters stagnating around them.

Solas was there, standing proudly with a smile, but The Bull was only aware of the sense of dread he felt. They were in the Fade.

A glance to the side showed Cole and Dorian, the human with his eyes closed as the air swirled around him unnaturally.

“Relax, Iron Bull.” Solas said gently, “Remember what I said.”

But even with Solas’ words, he felt the panic pushing against him on all sides. Shadows stirred along the rocks, reflections in the water stared up at him and he took a shaky breath.

Dorian’s eyes opened and had a very soft green glow as he examined his lover before approaching. A hand came up and pressed to The Bull’s chest, and the craggy wasteland melted away to a vast forest, and the sense of dread eased to nearly nothing. Peace and comfort swelled through him at the mage’s touch, “I know it’s unpleasant.” Dorian murmured, “But thank you.”

The Bull’s hand came up and took Dorian’s firmly, “How’re you feeling?”

The smile he got was so familiar that it made his heart ache, “I am feeling. Isn’t that the point?” He asked, eyes turning up to the impossibly high canopies above them, “I can hear…the whispers. I can feel the spirits at peace.”

Solas smiled from beside them, “You have a unique connection to the Fade. Most mages can’t do that.”

“You can.” Came the ready response.

“I spent years to achieve what you can so naturally. Something to be proud of, surely.” The elf nodded then, “Are you ready to return?”

Dorian smiled again, and it was enough that The Bull felt a wave of joy that he was very aware wasn’t his. “Yes. I think Bull has had about enough Fade encounters for a while.”

“This isn’t about me.” The Bull grumbled, but he did agree wholeheartedly.

“I feel… I feel, Bull, and that’s what’s important.” Yet as Dorian leaned up for them to share a kiss, the green of the forest began to dissipate and fade away. Not to the blackness, but to nothingness, emptiness.

He was very aware of being dropped back into his own body, jerking up with a grunt. A glance to either side revealed the Templar and Seeker watching him. Down beside him, Cole, Dorian, and Solas were still unconscious.

Very carefully, The Bull turned and reached out a gentle hand, pushing Dorian’s hair up and away from his forehead. At first his heart broke anew when he saw the brand still etched into his skin, but the feeling ebbed as he saw the edges fading slowly, melting away back to flawless sun-kissed skin.

He leaned down happily and kissed the sleeping mage’s lips.

Much the same as when he had received the Tranquil branding, Dorian remained asleep for two days. However his sleep was quiet and soft, and much to everyone’s joy, the man’s face would twitch with signs of emotion, signs of dreams. Solas confirmed after the first night that he could find Dorian’s dream, though it was weak and tired. It didn’t matter. It was something.

The Bull refused to leave the man’s side, sitting beside Dorian whenever the healers weren’t around to annoy him. He ran his fingers through the mage’s hair, massaging the scalp, and reveling at the smile he got when he did so.

Finally, on the morning of the third day, Dorian’s eyes opened and he stared up at the ceiling with confusion. The Bull reached out, took the man’s hand and drew his attention, and received a bright smile.

“Amatus…” The first word from the mage’s lips, spoken with tired adoration.

The Bull, however, had no words. He leaned down and claimed those smiling lips in a kiss that was returned for the first time in months. When they broke apart, he felt the need to ask, “Do you remember it?”

“All of it.” The mage admitted, sadness now tinging his voice, “I’m so sorry-“

“It wasn’t your fault.” He swallowed, “What about when you were captured? Do you recall any of that?”

Dorian’s brows furrowed slightly in thought, “Flashes. I recall a demon’s whispers, but I managed to kill it. Nothing after that.”

This just made The Bull smirk, “That’s my Dorian.” His hand came up to stroke through the man’s hair, and a tanned hand came up to hold The Bull’s larger one. “Don’t take that shit from anyone.”

“You fixed it – the Tranquility. That’s…incredible. How did you do it?” And there was the curiosity and fascination The Bull had expected, but there was so much weariness in the man’s eyes.

He shook his head, “Talk to Solas and Cassandra when you’re feeling better. For now though, just…just focus on getting better. It’s good to see that smile again, Kadan.”

“I’m not the only one, Bull…” Dorian’s looked concerned, “I heard a lot of Thidran and Solas’ conversations. Is it true you were…lapsing?”

“I’ll be alright now. Seeing you like that was driving me mad. I could touch and feel and see, but there was nothing beyond that. It was terrifying.” He took Dorian’s hand up and pressed a kiss to the back of his palm, “I was losing you, and didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Dorian’s gaze turned firm, “If it ever happens again, you will tell me immediately.” His voice held no room for argument, “You didn’t go through all that trouble to fix me only for me to have to watch you…”

“I’m not worried about it anymore.” The Bull cut in gently, silencing his lover’s worry, “I was given a miracle, and I have something to believe in again.”

Dorian smiled, and the world seemed so much brighter.

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