Besides Darkspawn and Our Impending Deaths
Dorian wasn’t entirely sure his methods were sound, but this was the easiest way to find out if his suspicions were correct.
He had grabbed two cushions from the wicker furniture on the porch and flung them onto the ground a few paces apart. He sat on one, his own staff laid down beside him on the earth, and indicated to the other as Eleanor approached, a few dozen paces behind him.
“Are we having a pow-wow?” she asked, as she hitched up her robes and plunked down on the pillow. “I assume these aren’t machine-washable,” she said, brushing grass off of the dark blue fabric, her own staff laid now at her right side.
Dorian didn’t answer, but retrieved a small dagger, what seemed to be the Theodosian equivalent of a utility knife, from his pocket. Eleanor didn’t know, but in that same pocket were several vials of a thick, red liquid. Just in case. He too had a thick cloak draped over his shoulders, displeased already with the amount of chill in the air, but he had it carefully pushed away from his arms.
Her powers had been strongest the last time she was in a state of panic, and Dorian hated to do this to her, but he considered this the accelerated course.
“Alright, Eleanor.” He took a deep breath, and pushed out a nervous sigh. “Get to work.” He raised the dagger and plunged it into his wrist, slicing up to the inside of his elbow. His face remained stoic, but he made a noise through his nose. “Fasta vass…” he mumbled.
Eleanor’s eyes grew wide and she reached out, grabbing the dagger from Dorian’s hand, slick with blood, and she shouted, “What are you doing!” She pulled off her gloves and threw them to the ground and put her hands on top of Dorian’s arm, squeezing the wound shut and applying pressure to staunch the bleeding. “Are you out of you mind! Do you know what kind of nerve damage you could do to yourself? God damn it, Dorian, what are you trying to prove!”
Sucking back the pain, a slim smile formed on Dorian’s face though much of the color had washed away from his cheeks. It wasn’t the most serious wound, but it was sure as hell painful. Or it had been, until, even as Eleanor ranted, crushing the two halves of his arm back together and trying to tug him back off of the ground and into the house to get bandages or rubbing alcohol or something, a heat flooded out of her body and into his, and first the pain went away, and then the bleeding stopped, and the skin began to knit itself back together.
“And I swear to god, I...” Her speech slowed, and Eleanor’s lips gaped like a fish’s, and she seemed unable to find the next word in her sentence. Her stomach lurched and she fell back to the cushion, hard. Her hands fell away from Dorian’s arm, and though both mages were stained with blood, an onlooker would be hard-pressed to find the source of the gore.
But Eleanor looked as though she might faint, and so Dorian rose to his knees slowly, still a bit woozy but otherwise completely unharmed, and he put one hand on Eleanor’s back, letting the other one delve into the pouch on her hip, and he withdrew a vial of the singing blue mineral. Uncorking the vial with his thumb, he brought it to her lips, and like a child suddenly presented with something sweet, Eleanor hungered for it, drinking greedily until Dorian pulled the lyrium away. He didn’t think she would need the whole thing; her reserves were still so small, and so he let her have half before he released her, plucked the cork up off of the ground, and sealed the vial once more.
Eleanor put a hand to her chest as the lyrium flooded her, fighting for air, put the other on the cold, dry ground to steady herself, and made small, sobbing noises, though no tears fell from her eyes.
“Holy mother of god,” she groaned.
Dorian sighed with relief. “It seems as though I was correct,” he said, “as usual,” and showed her his completely undamaged arm.
There was a brief expression of shock on Eleanor’s face, and then her eyes narrowed at him, lips pouting. “That was mean.”
“You’re not the one who just potentially maimed yourself as an experiment.”
She frowned, but said nothing more.
“Do you feel well enough to stand?” he asked her, getting to his feet and offering his hand to her.
She took it, confessing, “I feel… incredible.”
There would be time for a lecture on the dangers of lyrium later, he decided. “Come on, then,” he helped her up. “Let’s practice your staff work.”
“Look, Curly, I’m sorry about all this,” said Varric, standing at the top of the stairs and calling down them as Cullen fought to get the last load of laundry from the barn in the washer. He’d seen Eleanor fit the most enormous bundles of fabric into this blasted machine, but he swore under his breath as he found himself unable to get two bed sets in evenly. Four sheets. Four pillowcases. What was he doing wrong?
“You have nothing to apologize for, Varric,” Cullen called back up the stairs, more anger in his voice than he felt towards the dwarf as he struggled with a fitted sheet that had become ensnared around the agitator. “Andraste’s flaming…” he cursed quietly.
“Well, I’m not sure anyone would buy that,” said Varric.
Smart-ass, Cullen thought, as he finally shoved the last of the linens into the machine and reached for the soap.
“I do know that this isn’t exactly your preferred environment,” Cullen said, adding the washing liquid and slamming the lid of the machine shut, flipping the knob to “hot” and starting the cycle. Rubbing his hands on his jeans, he thumped heavily back up the narrow wooden stairs.
“I’ve been thinking about that, actually,” said Varric, standing aside to allow Cullen back into the kitchen. “There aren’t any dwarves here. Never were.”
Cullen signalled for Varric to go on as the commander sat down hard in a chair.
“So what is down there? Besides a load of darkspawn and our impending deaths, I mean. There aren’t any thaigs. Aren’t any roads. Can’t be.” Varric crossed his arms and leaned against the table. “Can there?”
Cullen shrugged. “Maybe just caves. El says there was only a dry riverbed before this. Maybe the darkspawn came through the Breach seven years ago and have been tunnelling ever since.”
Varric lowered one eyebrow at Cullen as though he were upset the commander were missing something so obvious.
“What, Varric,” he asked, exasperated.
“Then where did the Archdemon come from?”
“The same place?” Cullen said, “From Thedas?”
“Did it just… Fly through the Breach? Was it already an Archdemon then? Or did the Old God come through and encounter the Blight separately?” Varric frowned, pulled himself up into a seat, and shook his head. “Something’s not right, here, Curly. This whole thing seems a little too… easy.”
“Easy?” Cullen laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. “Easy! They’re sending four of us into a crack in the earth filled with darkspawn! Four! One of us can’t even fight -”
“But she can heal.”
Varric and Cullen looked up to the pair of mages who had come through the doorway. Eleanor’s face was simultaneously flushed and colorless. Dorian looked tired, but proud.
“And,” he went on, “she can fight.”
“A little,” Eleanor said. Her voice was quiet, shaky. She leaned on her staff.
Cullen looked at Eleanor, all clad in her robes, looking like something from his past. His jaw worked uncertainly, the picture of her pushing against Varric’s words in his mind.
“Dorian?” Cullen said, rising from his chair, “A word?”
Cocking his eyebrow, the mage nevertheless complied, and Cullen put his hand out in front of Dorian, indicating that Pavus could lead. Dorian pulled his cloak around him once more and headed back out onto the porch.
Eleanor collapsed into a chair, still clinging to her staff as her body slumped a bit. She hadn’t had any more of the lyrium. But oh, how she had wanted it. Dorian told her the staff could use her power, but had power of its own, and she could channel that, not use up her own reserves as she fired bursts of frost, of ice onto the lawn. Dorian had been behind her, his hands around her wrists, telling her not to hold it too tightly, to let it have freedom in her hands; it would listen to her. She just had to command it. She could use her mana to instruct the staff without having to expend it. It took her several tries to find this balance, and even when she did, the control that she had to exert wore her out, left her breathing hard, heavy.
And it was incredible. She wanted to go on forever. The rush she got after realizing she had healed what had seemed to be the incredibly serious wound that Dorian had inflicted upon himself was intense, the rush from that and the lyrium made her want to do cartwheels on the lawn even in her exhaustion. Dorian told her of powerful healers who could raise the fallen, so long as the last spark of life remained within them.
He specifically told her not to try this.
She told him she hoped she never had to.
He told her she would.
So many thoughts poured through her head like sand, interrupted suddenly when Varric spoke up.
“So Farm Girl, they’ve told me a lot about you.”
“They have?” She patted herself down, looking for her cigarettes, when she realized that Cullen still had them in his back pocket. She cursed quietly, too tired in the moment to go to the freezer or to her bedroom to get more, so she simply sat, adjusting her grip on her staff, clinging to it as though for safety.
She gave the dwarf the once-over. He was strangely handsome, all grizzled and quick with his words. He wore jewelry, gold rings in his ears, a long chain around his neck, and his clothing seemed fine and covered with embellishments. And at the same time, the dwarf gave the distinct impression that he couldn’t give less of a fuck about any of it. She liked that, his combination of brutishness and refinement. It made her smile.
“You’re the talk of the town, Eleanor. The Inquisitor didn’t know there would be any mages on this side.”
“To be fair,” said Eleanor, “neither did the mages on this side.”
Varric laughed, pointing a brown-gloved finger at her. “Hah! I like you.”
She was glad.
“So tell me,” he said, sitting back, at incredible ease, “You’ve lived here your whole life?”
Eleanor nodded. “Almost thirty years,” she said.
“Have you ever - ever - seen anything in that ravine before we got here?”
The question might have seemed odd, but Eleanor was so far past odd she had come out clean on the other side. She shook her head in answer. “Nothing. Never. I mean, I don’t make a habit of climbing in old, dry riverbeds, but I’ve driven past it. The highway goes over it, but that section’s more shallow anyway. The part we’ve seen the darkspawn come from was always the deepest point to begin with, so maybe…” but she left the thought unfinished. “But no. Nothing. Never.”
Varric twiddled a ring on his pinky with the thumb of the same hand. “Does that seem, I don’t know, weird to you?”
She rolled her eyes in an exaggerated way. “Weird? Fuckin’ look at me,” she said. “Six months ago I worked my ass off on this farm, picked up whatever small jobs I could to make ends meet. The most magical thing that happened around her was finding an extra beer in the fridge when you thought you’d drunk ‘em all the night before.”
Varric let out a loud chuckle. “I really like you.”
She shook her head by way of acceptance. “Well, shit,” she said with a smile. “But… I don’t know. I don’t even know how to tell what’s weird anymore. But apparently if you’ve got a wicked papercut I can patch you up with nothing more than sheer force of will, so that’s handy, I guess.”
Varric rubbed his wide jaw with his hand. “Farm Girl, you’re gonna do just fi-”
“She will not be fighting, Pavus, do you understand me? That’s an order!”
“And how do you plan on making sure of that, Commander? Are you going to put a big sign on your back that says, ‘Stab me, not her?’”
“Dorian, I swear to all that is sacred -”
“Cullen. Look. I know you like her. But you have to face reality: If she goes down there, she’s going to have to know how to fight. She’s going to have to know how to fight or she’s going to die. So you either allow me to teach her, or you take her down there to die!” There was a pause. “Or you leave her behind.”
The voices of the two men on the porch came through the screen door with more and more clarity as their disagreement came to a head. Eleanor rose, almost without thinking, and walked away from Varric, heading down the hallway to the screen door. She could make out the mage and the commander through the rough mesh, two dark figures a few feet away.
“You’re not leaving me behind,” she said through the screen.
Cullen jerked open the door to see her more clearly. “El, I’m sorry, I -”
“You’re not leaving me behind,” she repeated.
Cullen’s face fell and he pushed back through the door. “Eleanor, please, listen to me. I don’t -”
“I’ll stay as much out of harm’s way as I can,” she allowed, “but Dorian is right. If I go down there, I should know how to fight. And you’re not leaving me here. This is my home. And we’re going to fight. Remember? We? Us?”
Sighing, he reached out to her, and despite her belligerance, she let him hold her. “I know you want to protect your home,” he said, pushing little stray hairs away from her eyes, working them back into her braid with gentle fingers.
“Cullen,” she said firmly. “I’m not a child. Fuck,” she said, looking to the floor. “I’m still going to take the gun,” as though she were angry or offended that she still needed it, and if she were honest, she did not intend to fire a shot.
He pressed his lips thin, knowing this was a losing battle. He let his hands slide down to her hips, his arm brushing the little pouch on her sash. The vials clinked in a deafening way.
Eleanor’s eyes darted to Dorian who was holding open the screen door and then back to Cullen. His expression had entirely changed. He let her go.
“Mages,” he said with a low growl, and completely dismissed her, Dorian too, but especially her, with a single word. He turned on his heel and walked away from her, pushed past Dorian, went out to the porch, and kept walking.
Dorian came back inside, and watched Eleanor watch Cullen walk away. “Let him go,” he said, putting a reassuring hand on Eleanor’s shoulder.
“Oh, I planned on it,” she said, a strength in her voice stoked by the fires of anger. “How can he just -” but she cut herself off. “Whatever.” She leaned her staff against the wall near the coat rack and said, “Look, I’m gonna… change,” she looked down at the robes she now felt ridiculous in, holding her arms out at her sides as though unwilling to touch them to herself, “and then we can talk about what the plan is, since our commander is currently missing in action.” She shook her head, touching one hand to her braid, putting the other on her hip. “I just mean, is it just him, or are all templars like that? With the grumbling and the ‘mages’...”
Dorian sighed sadly. “Unfortunately, he’s one of the better ones.”
“Jesus Christ,” she said, yanking open her bedroom door.“It’s no wonder you people had a fucking rebellion.”
Varric, from the kitchen, put a hand on his forehead and laughed until he was breathless.