It's Not the End of the World
“Do we know it wasn’t a one-off thing?”
Dorian had slept in late, and there was still a throbbing in his brain that signaled he had had more than a bit too much too drink. Once the young man who had harassed Eleanor - John - had been removed from the bar, and with help from the bartender at that, Dorian had decided to give Cullen and Eleanor space. He reasoned that she was no longer in any immediate danger, and that if anyone could protect her it would have been Cullen.
After all, he had seen the way he had looked at her from across the table.
He had seen the way she had looked at him.
So he conspired with the soldiers to give the pair at least the space of time it would take to walk home.
Which had somehow turned into staying until last call.
And that had somehow turned into finding out that perhaps Micah wouldn’t have minded taking Eleanor’s place at the bar.
He didn’t know what hour of the morning it was when he crawled back into his bed, but there couldn’t have been more than a handful of hours of darkness before the sun rose. So when Cullen had come for him around noon, Dorian felt as though he was being awoken in the middle of the night. He had groaned and reluctantly rolled out of bed and answered the door, his normally coiffed hair sticking out in all directions.
Now Dorian sat on the end of his bed and Cullen sat in the chair at Dorian’s desk. The mage had his throbbing forehead pressed in his hands, and he was trying, really trying to pay attention despite it, knowing that the topic was serious and worthy of discussion. But the nagging very Dorian part of his brain wondered if it maybe couldn’t have waited. It wasn’t like Eleanor would suddenly become a blood mage if Cullen had waited for Dorian to wake up on his own.
Cullen shrugged. “I’ve never heard of anything like that. People are either mages or they’re not.” That was something he was entirely certain of. There were mages with more power and mages with less, but he couldn’t recall an instance of a normal person being able to use magic in an instance of extreme stress. That was just a mage.
“Are you certain it was magic? Could it have been some other ability?” There were lots of things that looked like magic and weren’t; the templars themselves inhabited that grey area between superior abilities and magic use - indeed, they even imbibed lyrium to enhance those abilities. But they could do them without that lyrium, Cullen himself was evidence of that. What the templars couldn’t do was pull from any internal source of mana. If other things were bleeding through the Breach, then perhaps this grey area had bled through as well.
Cullen pursed his lips, running a hand through his wiry blond hair. “She’s been having dreams.”
“...Ah.” Dorian didn’t have to ask. There were dreams and then there were dreams, and given Cullen’s history in the Order, Dorian could be almost certain that the templar would be able to distinguish between the two.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t feel it last night. When she… reacted.”
Dorian looked up from the palms of his hands. He had felt something, yes. Had felt something that was to him simple and natural. And perhaps that was the answer right there. He had felt something, and not thought it too out of the ordinary, because magic was so much a part of him. It was not a part of the commander, not in the same way. He had grown up in a world with magic, a place unlike this frankly barren land, but he had been trained to identify it, seek it out, and, Dorian thought with more than a hint of malice, in extreme cases, quash it. To Dorian, magic just was, or it wasn’t.
“Then what do you need me for, if you’re so certain?” the mage asked, pushing the palms of his hands against his eyes. Even the floral pattern of the bedsheets was making him nauseated, and the soft blue and white pattern in the carpeting wasn’t doing him any favors either. He needed coffee, and food, and water, and not necessarily in that order.
“Well,” said Cullen quietly, “you’re a mage.”
“I’m not going to babysit her, Cullen. She’s a grown woman. And anyway, isn’t that more your territory?”
“I was hoping… maybe… you could teach her?”
The words took Dorian aback and for the first time that morning - afternoon - he sat up straight. “Indeed.”
Dorian nursed his throbbing headache a bit with a mug of coffee and a shower, and went to find Eleanor, but she was not in the house. Swiffer seemed to want to point the mage in the right direction, and when Dorian walked past, the cat pawed at the screen door as if to say, “This way.” Smiling despite himself, Pavus pushed open the door and let the kitten out onto the porch, Swiffer then bounding away and around the side of the house. Dorian, for lack of any other insight, dutifully followed.
He and Swiffer found Eleanor sitting, just sitting on the furthest reaches of the lawn. She was barefoot, wearing a soft blue cotton dress. Her hands were in her lap, and her head was bowed down, brown hair covering her face. A bit dramatic, Dorian thought. It’s not like her life was over. Why, he’d been a mage for nearly forty years and he was doing just fine. He approached her slowly, dry grass crunching beneath his boots.
“Cheer up, Ellie. It’s not the end of the world. And I would know - I’ve seen the end of the world.”
She picked up her head, surveying the land, before fixing her eyes on Dorian. They were red, rimmed with tears. “Dorian,” she said, opening her hands in front of her as though she were presenting the earth to her. The sky above her was a roiling mass of dark clouds. Rain threatened, ozone giving the air a metallic tang. “It’s dead. It’s all dead.”
He looked around and now saw what she saw. The grass was brown and sharp like needles. No wildflowers bloomed; the ones that had sprinkled the grass just days ago lay like broken toys, their petals dead and whipped away by the autumn breezes that swept the flat landscape. The earth itself showed through in patches where even dead things had lost their purchase, and it was bleached and sandy and parched. And then he looked at Eleanor. The grass was sharp, no moisture now to grant it resilience, and it had pricked her skin in a thousand tiny places along her legs and feet like so many infinitesimal tattoos.
He let her cry. He had nothing to say. Her home was dying, dying because of something that came from his home. He could not comfort her, could not wipe her tears away and make it all better. Instead he dropped to his own knees on the brown grass beside her, its sharpness jabbing him even through his clothes, and he took her hands in his. Dorian was not the type to make inspiring speeches. He was not the man you called when you needed to rally the troops. That man was inside, without a hint of understanding about what to do. But he would be remiss to leave Eleanor here, a weeping, bleeding thing, when maybe, just maybe, he could help. He couldn’t fix her home, not directly. But he could help her with what she was becoming.
Through her hands, he sent a spell. The wounds on her legs closed up, leaving only the small rivulets of blood on her skin.
“I don’t… normally do this kind of thing, you see. This isn’t what you would call my speciality.”
“In a word.”
“What do you specialize in?”
“I’m not certain your Cullen would approve.”
Oh, she was clever. “But he sent me out here to teach you.”
Something like a smile flickered on Eleanor’s face, and Dorian managed to catch it before it vanished. “Then teach away."