Title: Semper ad Meliora
Fandom: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Pairing: Dorian Pavus/Idhren Lavellan, Idhren Lavellan/Tainan Lavellan
Chapter 12 - Though Darkness Comes, I Shall Endure
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the Light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
- Canticle of Trials 1:10
Fallow Mire, Ferelden, Drakonis 9:41 Dragon
Three weeks Idhren had officially been a part of the newly formed Inquisition. So far he had spent the better part of two on the road, several days dodging bears and rogue templars in the Hinterlands, and now this.
Scout Harding had called it the Fallow Mire. It wasn’t on any map that Idhren had ever seen before arriving in Ferelden, and why would it be? It was the most miserable stretch of land Idhren had ever seen. And he’d crossed the Silent Plains.
A swamp. Fetid and damp. The handful of structures that they passed were barely standing; the frames of houses long abandoned. But who in their right mind had ever considered settling here in the first place? The place stank of mildew and decay and death, the only current inhabitants appeared to be wisps and demons, which had possessed the frightening number of corpses in the bog, dragging them to life at the slightest provocation. And why were there so many corpses? Did the people here not burn their dead?
It had also been raining for the past two days. Just to make this excursion that much worse.
Idhren was soaked to the bone. Even his feet were wet inside the boots that he had been promised were weather resistant. And it was absolutely impossible to get warm. His fingers were half numb, stiff on the grip of his staff and making it that much harder to aim his spells. It was a miracle he hadn’t hit one of his companions at any point. The rain and the wet made fire spells next to useless, which was unfortunate considering how effective they usually were against reanimated corpses, and made his lightning even harder to control than usual. Solas had been sticking to ice spells and focusing on keeping a barrier around Cassandra as she rushed into each fray. Idhren threw lighting at anything far enough away to avoid misfiring onto one of the others and threw away anything that got too close with bursts of raw force magic.
“Why were our scouts even here in the first place?” Idhren complained as loudly as he dared after they had decimated the latest batch of shambling corpses.
The one good thing about this constant movement and misery was that it allowed Idhren no time to think about anything else. It was the perfect distraction if he was constantly on the move, doing whatever work the Inquisition set him out to do. Of course, that didn’t mean he had to enjoy it.
“The scouts were looking for rifts,” Cassandra answered, sheathing her sword when she was certain there was no further threat.
“The better question is: why are the Avvar here?” Varric put in.
“Why would anyone be here?” Idhren grumbled. He made a futile attempt at drying his staff – brand new and built exactly to his specifications, though it was still not as nice as the one he’d had in Tevinter. Iron was all they had to work with, and it conducted electricity easily even if it was not as strong as other metals. At least the thing was sturdy and properly weighted and sized for his small stature. “This place is a shithole.”
“We should continue moving,” Cassandra said. As ever, attempting to keep them on task. Idhren was still mildly afraid of her, even after learning the difference between the Seekers and the Templars – it wasn’t a big difference, she could still block Idhren’s connection to the Fade and cut off his magic on a whim. But one thing he had figured out over the past few weeks was that the Inquisition needed him. Well, they needed the mark on his hand, but given that it was attached to him he was part of the package. They wanted to manipulate him into some sort of idealized religious symbol, but they were not nearly as good at it as Canidius had been. Or they lacked the leverage over him that Canidius had. The Inquisition needed the Herald of Andraste, and they needed the mark on his hand. They needed Idhren far more than he needed them. And that put them on equal footing.
“Can’t we rest for a moment?” Idhren protested, whining a little bit. He was testing the limits of the leash they tried to hold on him. Idhren was positive that Cassandra was meant to be that leash, at least in part. “There, that house still has most of a roof,” he pointed a short ways off the muddy path they had been following through the bog. “Give us a chance to try and dry off a little. I’m not sure you can fully understand how difficult it is not to electrocute all of you in weather like this.”
“It is not a bad idea,” Solas added, “Especially if we continue to find more demons, as I expect we will in this place.”
“Very well,” Cassandra scoffed as though she didn’t fully believe him, but Idhren knew that he had played the right card. She didn’t understand magic enough to call him out, and it hadn’t been a complete lie anyway. He was tired and wet and cold and would very much appreciate even a few minutes out of the rain.
They made their way carefully across the sodden ground, avoiding any body of water larger than a puddle. The house was slightly more rickety when viewed up close, the walls all leaning rather precariously to the left, but the roof was mostly intact and it seemed sturdy enough for the moment. Inside it smelled strongly of mold and mildew, but it was probably the driest place Idhren had been all day, so he would bear the smell for now.
Whomever had abandoned this building had done so in a hurry. There were still crates and barrels around the edges of the room, some broken and some intact. Idhren walked over to one of the sturdier looking ones and tapped on it with the end of his staff to test the strength of the wood. It didn’t crumble on contact, so he dusted off the top and gingerly took a seat. Only when it seemed to be holding his weight did he relax.
Sighing, Idhren closed his eyes and rested his elbows on his knees to drop his head into his hands. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be here – helping the Inquisition – it was just that he didn’t want to be here, in a swamp full of corpses. He scrubbed his hands over his face, then through his hair, trying to bring some sense of order to his appearance before finally opening his eyes again. Upon opening his eyes he happened to notice the crate beside him, its top half rotted away, and the glint of something shiny inside. Curious, he reached over and delicately pulled out a glass bottle.
“What’cha got there?” Varric asked from a crate on the opposite side of the tiny ramshackle cabin. He had his crossbow laid out over his knees, likely checking it over for signs of water damage. The glint of light off the glass must have caught his attention too.
“Label’s rotted off,” Idhren said, squinting at the bottle. The seal was still intact, though, and he could feel liquid sloshing about inside. So he picked at the wax around the top of the bottle until it came free, pried the cork out with cracked fingernails, and sniffed tentatively at the opening. Strong. Very strong. But who knew how long it had been sitting here aging in the cold damp. It didn’t smell rotted or sour, though. Just very strong.
“You’re not going to drink it?” Cassandra exclaimed, appalled as he held the bottle up to his mouth.
“That was the idea,” Idhren replied. “It’s sort of what alcohol is for.”
“No offense here, Sparky,” Varric tried diplomatically, “But won’t that make it harder to avoid electrocuting us?”
“You think I can’t hold my liquor?” Idhren asked, mildly offended. Sure, he’d barely had a drop of alcohol living with the Dalish, but he’d had plenty before that. “At this point, it’s about the only thing that’ll keep me from electrocuting myself out of sheer frustration.” He reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out a small vial of lyrium. I was a small dose, one swallow, just enough to keep someone going in the heat of battle. He pried the cork out with his teeth.
“I don’t think it’s advisable to mix lyrium and alcohol,” Solas argued when he saw what Idhren intended, and he actually sounded a bit concerned. That was a surprise, but Idhren still didn’t care.
“Please,” the mage rolled his eyes, “I’m from Tevinter.” And while he didn’t exactly want the entire world to know all the sordid details of his past, there was no point in denying where he came from. “You know they make lyrium wine? Mixing it with alcohol is practically a national pastime.” And then he upended the vial, pouring its entire contents into the liquor bottle. A few swirls to mix the two liquids properly, and he raised the bottle to his lips.
The lyrium surged through his veins like fire, sending all of his senses into overdrive at the same time that the alcohol muted everything around him. The resulting effect was so beautifully familiar. It left Idhren feeling not entirely real. There was still quite a bit of liquor left in the bottle, so Idhren re-corked it with numb fingers and used it to replace an empty elfroot potion on his belt. Then he shook himself, enjoying the way his limbs felt like they were floating, and grabbed up his staff again.
“Alright. Let’s go fight some Avvar.”
“You’re a little terrifying sometimes, you know that?” Varric asked, eyeing him with mixed concern and fascination.
Idhren grinned in response. That was possibly one of the best compliments he had ever received. The way he looked, it wasn’t often anyone was frightened of him. “Well, I was apprenticed to a magister, after all. I learned from the best.”
Haven, Ferelden, Bloomingtide 9:41 Dragon
They returned from Val Royeaux still lacking support or acceptance from the southern Chantry. The whole thing was a shit show from start to finish. A perfect reminder of everything Idhren hated about human society. However, the trip was not a complete waste. They returned to Haven with an invitation to meet with the rebel mages in Redcliffe and with two new, potentially valuable, allies.
The first was an elven girl of questionable sanity but with a hatred of nobility equal to Idhren’s own – quickly proven during their first meeting. Sera didn’t mince words, though her train of thought was sometimes difficult to follow. Idhren respected that. Preferred it, even, over false sincerity and veiled meanings. Time would tell whether she and her network of troublemakers would be of any use, but she at least seemed genuinely invested in the task at hand. Tentatively, Idhren liked her.
The other was a completely different story. Vivienne de Fer was the first southern Circle mage that Idhren had ever met long enough to hold a decent conversation with. So far he was not a fan. The salon she had invited him to in order to meet was far too reminiscent of Tevinter for Idhren’s liking. Complete with duels in the middle of the foyer, although lacking in blood magic. Madame de Fer herself practically stank of wealth and privilege. Her clothes were nicer than anything that Idhren had ever owned. She reminded him of every Altus mage he had ever met.
She was not at all what he had expected. What he had heard of the Circles down here was horrific. All the mages were supposed to be miserable, trapped in their towers like prisoners, treated constantly with fear and hate. That was supposed to be why they had rebelled, after all. The picture Vivienne painted was far kinder, full of idealized visions of young mages mastering their talents in a safe and nurturing environment.
The hoards of rebel mages in the Hinterlands attacking him with deficient spells and malformed sigils told a completely different story. Those mages were not well educated in the use of their gift, and Idhren doubted they would have fled into the woods without good reason.
Idhren understood how they felt.
Idhren did not understand why Vivienne was still trying to convince him that there had been nothing amiss in the southern Circles. No real reason for the rebellion.
But it was one thing to listen to the woman wax poetic about what little good the Circles could do – training that was obviously substandard, protection from lynch mobs that were themselves a product of Chantry propaganda – and realize that Vivienne was as brainwashed into fearing her own power as any other southern mage. It was entirely different when she turned that haughty, judgmental gaze toward him and asked “You’ve never been to a Circle, as far as I can tell, yet you’re remarkably skilled. Are you self-taught?”
“What makes you think I’ve never been to a Circle?” Idhren asked with a frown.
“Well, the tattoos on your face, for one,” the woman replied, as though it were obvious. “You don’t see Dalish elves in the Circle, my dear, unless they arrived as children. There is also the manner of your casting. The techniques you use to warp the veil around your spells are unlike any I have seen in a Circle.”
“And I would appreciate if you judged me solely by my skills rather than the markings on my face or the size of my ears, Madame de Fer.” Idhren replied coolly. He stood up a little straighter, presenting himself as tall as possible, and declared proudly, “I was trained at the Circle of Vyrantium, one of the most highly regarded schools in the Tevinter Imperium.” Because for all the misery that Tevinter had handed him, he was well aware that he’d had one of the best educations the country could provide.
To her credit, Vivienne only looked mildly surprised by his declaration. “You are from Tevinter?” she asked, voice tinted with curiosity for the briefest of moments before she reigned her emotions in once more. “Yet clearly you left. Then you must understand better than anyone the danger that mages can pose when left unchecked.”
Idhren clenched his teeth and dredged up every shred of decorum he could, all of those lessons on proper speaking and behavior, propriety and politeness even in the face of direct insult. Things he had happily left behind when he first came south. “Have you ever been to the Imperium, First Enchanter?” he asked tightly.
“No, I have not,” Vivienne replied.
“Then kindly do not make assumptions about the reasons I left,” Idhren was unable to keep all of the irritation out of his voice. People made so many assumptions about his life in Tevinter when they found out about it. None of them were the least bit correct. “I understand the danger that power-hungry shemlen – mages or otherwise – pose when left unchecked. Despite what stories you may have heard, the Magisterium is not awash with blood magic and abominations. I have no complaint about the education I received at the Circle there. The reasons I left the Imperium were due entirely to my treatment as an elf – not a mage – and I daresay it’s been scarcely better here.”
Vivienne pursed her lips briefly, but to her credit she remained far more composed than Idhren. He’d never been as good as the nobility at concealing his feelings, as Canidius had always been so eager to point out. “Then you believe the Imperium is an example that we should follow? You’ll forgive me if I fail to see how allowing mages to use their power to rule over others through fear is a preferable system.”
“That’s not at all what I believe,” Idhren protested. “But you’ll forgive me for not seeing how the exact opposite is the correct solution, either. Mages are people, first and foremost, and they deserve the ability to live a normal life if that is what they desire, not to be locked away from the rest of the world, denied family, companionship, or the freedom to decide their own fate. I know what slavery is, Madam de Fer, and from what I’ve heard about your Circles they are slavery in all but name.”
The First Enchanter frowned, then opened her mouth to reply, but Idhren turned quickly on his heel and left, ignoring the protest that followed after him. He was not in the mood for debating political or moral issues, even less so when being talked down to by another privileged human mage. That was something he’d had more than enough of in Tevinter, and something he’d vowed never to put up with again. Vivienne was a talented mage, of that he was certain, and she understood the intricacies of Orlesian politics better than Idhren. That was the reason he had accepted her request to join the Inquisition. She could be a valuable ally; she had connections in Orlais that could be beneficial to their organization. That didn’t mean that Idhren had to like her or get along with her. Josephine could deal with her; Idhren had already had his fill of politics.
He stalked out of the Chantry hall and made a b-line for the tavern. The stress and frustration of the past few months were sometimes more than he could handle, and he was falling back into the same self-destructive habits he’d developed in Tevinter. Years he had gone without as much as a sip of alcohol or lyrium. Now they were as readily accessible as water and Idhren had more reason than ever to indulge. The world was ending, after all. This thing on his hand still might kill him. And sometimes he wished it would, because he didn’t have the courage to do it himself.
The tavern was becoming a familiar setting for him. Even the woman at the bar no longer looked shocked to set eyes on the Herald of Andraste. Didn’t even ask what he wanted anymore, just reached under the bar and pulled out a bottle and a glass, smiling as she handed them over. He didn’t really think she should be smiling, but he returned the gesture as best he was able before retreating to an empty table in the corner.
The table was also becoming familiar. Small, out of the way, easily overlooked. As easily overlooked as Idhren himself, hunched over in his chair and nursing the bottle. He wondered who was paying for reigniting his drinking problem, because it certainly wasn’t him. So far the Inquisition had provided him with everything he needed to live and go off on various missions, diplomatic and otherwise, but no one had given him any actual money. And while the house, food, armor, and new staff were much appreciated, they wouldn’t help him get away from here any time soon.
What was he supposed to do when they closed the Breach? Sell this mark on his hand in order to buy passage back to the Free Marches? Would they even let him leave when it was over? He was their newest prophet, chosen by the Maker’s bride herself. Would he ever be able to have a normal life after this, even if he went back to the Dalish?
Idhren downed his next glass in one swallow, shaking his head as the alcohol burned down his throat. Why couldn’t he stop thinking? He filled the next glass nearly to the brim and then downed that one as well.
He just wanted to forget that he was here, that this was happening. Just for a little while he wanted to feel nothing at all.
The sun shone warm and bright through the branches above, dappling the leaf-strewn forest floor with a patchwork of light and shadow. The air was filled with the sounds and smells of springtime. Birds flitted and chirped among the branches. In the distance a halla brayed once and then fell silent. Everything smelled fresh and clean and warm; the forest suffused with new life.
“Hey, did you fell asleep on me?”
Idhren’s eyes snapped open. He was acutely aware of everything around him. The bark of a tree trunk cool and rough against his back, the patch of sunlight on his bare toes warming his entire body from bottom to top. Tainan’s eyes were even greener than usual in the honey-yellow light.
“You did fall asleep!” the hunter complained. Idhren stard. He took in the way the bits of sunlight shone like fire off Tainan’s hair and the bits of metal on their clothes. “What?” they asked after a moment. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Tainan…” Idhren breathed, the name a prayer on his lips.
“Yeah?” Tainan asked hesitantly, lips quirked in amusement.
“I had the strangest dream,” Idhren replied. He must have still been half asleep. Other than the sharp points of focus around him everything else seemed oddly muted.
“A bad dream?” Tainan asked, tilting their head to the side as they watched Idhren.
“Yes,” Idhren breathed. The worst. A nightmare.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Tainan asked.
Idhren swallowed heavily and turned his face toward the sky. “It was after the conclave. Only, something went wrong. There was an explosion and… You died.” Tears pricked at his eyes at the mere thought of it. He blinked them away quickly.
“That’s a very bad dream,” Tainan murmured. They scooted closer to Idhren, sitting shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. “But it was only a dream. I’m right here, see? I’m fine.”
Idhren opened his eyes again and turned to look at Tainan. The hunter really was stunning in this light, hair like fire and eyes like the sky. "Yeah," he agreed softly. "Only a dream."
Tainan smiled, and everything was right with the world. "I am still annoyed that you fell asleep, though. I was talking."
"Sorry," Idhren laughed sheepishly. "I didn't mean to. What were you saying?"
"About the wedding," Tainan stressed, and leaned their head back against the trunk of the tree against which they sat. "You know, if you still don't want to we can call it off."
"No," Idhren was quick to insist, "I do want to." And he did, he really did. There was nothing else in the world he wanted more. But he couldn't blame Tainan for doubting him. Idhren had put off and put off giving them a definite answer to their proposal for years now. "I'm sorry."
"Don’t be," Tainan assured. They reached out, took Idhren’s hand in their own and twined their fingers together. "I just want to make you happy. I don't want to pressure you into something you don't want."
Idhren looked down at their entwined hands, then back up to Tainan's face and deep into their eyes. "I do want to. I love you."
Tainan's face lit up like it was Satinalia morning - only Tainan had never celebrated Satinalia. "I love you, too," they replied, and leaned forward to capture Idhren's lips in a kiss, which Idhren gladly returned. Tainan's lips were warm and soft against his own, and they tasted very faintly of berries and wine.
Idhren pulled away from the kiss, all mirth suddenly gone. Why did Tainan taste of wine? The Dalish had no wine. No alcohol at all, for that matter.
Tainan noticed. "What's wrong?" they asked in concern.
Idhren tried to pinpoint the exact thing that felt off, but he couldn't, so he shook off the feeling. "Nothing," he assured. "Just... remembering that dream again."
Tainan frowned in concern. "It's really bothering you," they commented.
Idhren shook his head, trying to put it from his mind. "It just seemed so real. You were... gone, and something ripped a hole in the veil so large it was like there was a hole in the sky itself."
"That sounds terrible," Tainan murmured, "But look," they pointed up through the leaves toward the sky above them. It was clear and blue, not a cloud in sight. "Nothing wrong at all. The conclave was a success, there's peace between the mages and templars and you finally agreed to marry me. Everything's perfect. You remember that, right?"
Idhren hesitated for only the briefest of moments. "I do," he replied, though he was not certain. He thought back to the conclave, but he couldn't remember exactly what had happened. He supposed it didn't matter. That was dealt with now; he didn't need to think about it anymore.
"Of course you do," Tainan smiled and leaned forward to steal another quick kiss from Idhren's lips. "And tomorrow we'll be married."
Tomorrow? Idhren didn't remember that it would be so soon. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember giving Tainan an answer to their latest proposal, on the hillside above Haven the night before the conclave. And he couldn't remember returning from the conclave either. The journey would have taken weeks; surely he would remember such a long stretch of time, no matter how miserable. He pulled away from Tainan suddenly, scrambling to the side and then to his feet.
“Idhren? What’s wrong?” Tainan asked in concern. “You’re acting strange.”
“I don’t…” Idhren stammered. He looked around quickly. Beyond Tainan and the immediate area everything was hazy, like he couldn’t focus properly, like a dream.
“This is a dream,” he realized aloud.
“What are you talking about?” Tainan asked. Their brow furrowed as they watched Idhren, sitting up straighter and reaching out to him. “Come sit back down.”
“No,” Idhren shook his head. He wanted this to be real. He wanted so very much for this to be real, but he knew now that it wasn’t. “This isn’t real,” he breathed, and felt his heart break all over again. “You’re not real.”
He couldn’t tear his eyes away as Tainan rose to their feet. The birds still chirruped and flew in the trees, the sun still shone brightly, and Tainan looked more beautiful than ever. And even standing in that bright sunlight Idhren felt cold. “Idhren please, you’re starting to scare me,” Tainan beseeched. So earnest, so caring, so perfect, his Tainan.
But this wasn’t Tainan.
“Get away from me, demon!”
Around them the woods went silent, the sun dimmed as though behind a cloud, and without its light everything lost its vibrancy except Tainan themself. The expression of twisted concern melted off Tainan’s face, replaced by a sad sort of pity. “Why do you fight so hard when it is clear you don’t want to?” the thing wearing Tainan’s appearance asked. “This is what you want, is it not?”
“This isn’t real,” Idhren protested. “You’re not Tainan.”
“I can be,” the demon replied. It took a step toward Idhren, reaching a hand out toward him. It took every ounce of strength Idhren had not to run into their arms. “They wanted you to be happy, didn’t they? So do I. This is what you want. I can give it to you.”
Idhren shook his head and forced himself to step back, keeping distance between himself and the demon. “I don’t want this,” he argued, knowing all along that it was a lie.
“You don’t need to lie to me,” the demon practically purred. “I can see what is in your heart. You want love. You want happiness. You want a family. I can give you all of those things. Why deny yourself? Why live in a world that has brought you nothing but misery? If you stay here with me, I can give you everything you’ve ever wanted.” Then it smiled Tainan’s familiar smile, cocked its head at just the right angle and said, “Come on, city boy.”
The nickname pierced his heart like an arrow. But it had the exact opposite effect that the demon had intended. Instead of weakening his resolve and drawing him in, hearing this thing wearing Tainan’s face use those words made Idhren furious. “How dare you,” he growled, hands clenching into fists at his sides. “How dare you wear their face! Use their voice!” Static crackled at Idhren’s fingertips and the smile on the demon’s face – Tainan’s face – faltered for a fraction of a second. “You could never be like them. You could never understand. No matter how hard you pretend it will always be a lie.” The smile disappeared entirely now and the demon – Tainan – actually took a step backwards away from Idhren. “Get out,” Idhren spat. A bolt of lightning struck the ground only a few feet from where the demon – Tainan – stood, and it jolted in surprise. “Get out of my head!”
Idhren woke with a start, his heart racing and head throbbing and drenched in a cold sweat. Sitting up slowly, he swung his legs out of bed, hating the way only his toes reached the floor. He pushed sweat-damp hair from his forehead and looked out across the room. Moonlight flooded in through the cabin’s windows. The fire had burned itself out. A light draft sent a shiver down his spine. With a flick of his wrist he brought the fireplace embers back to life and watched them dance merrily as they slowly brought warmth back to the room. Idhren took in all the tiny details of the room and mouthed verses from the Chant of Light until he was positive that he was no longer dreaming.
This was not the first time he had ever faced a demon in the Fade. Not even the first time one had come for him wearing Tainan’s face. But this time was the hardest to resist. Because the demon was right. He wanted that life more than he had been willing to admit at the time. And now it was out of reach. He’d hesitated one too many times and the Maker took away his last chance at happiness.
And what was keeping him here anyway? Some sense of morality or purpose?
It also wasn’t the first time he thought it would have been better if he died. If he were dead at least he would still be with Tainan in the Beyond. But Idhren was too much a coward for that. Unbidden, his gaze drifted down to where his arms rested in his lap. He knew that if he pulled up his sleeves he would still see those thin white scars, barely visible now but still present. And for the first time in ten years he felt the urge to rip them open once more. But he knew the pain wouldn’t help, not really. A temporary patch over the pain in his heart, but not worth the lingering reminder of his own cowardice.
Idhren growled and clenched his hands into fists so tight he could feel his nails digging crescent marks into his palm. The magic on his left hand guttered in response.
Startled, because the thing had never responded to his emotions before, Idhren uncurled that hand and stared at it. When he had woken up in that cell the mark had been afire almost constantly, a steady pain that flared and burned, spreading across his palm like a tear in threadbare fabric every time the Breach expanded in the sky above. Now it was quiet most of the time, roaring to life and searing pain only when encountering a rift, and then it had a mind of its own. Nothing Idhren did could control the thing, and he had definitely tried.
He would get no more sleep tonight, of that Idhren was certain. Too dangerous to risk it even if he could fall back asleep. But he was wide awake, his mind already kicked into overdrive, and he had been curious about the mark for a long time.
It was the researcher in him, he supposed. To be fascinated by something even if it was very likely still killing him. Just because the thing seemed dormant now did not mean it would remain that way. And it certainly felt like it was trying to kill him every time the magic surged to life.
Unclenching his right hand, Idhren cautiously pressed his first two fingers to the line of luminous green scar tissue across his left palm. It felt warm and slightly electric, magic humming just below his skin. But his skin was just skin, nothing about it felt any different. Only the magic felt different. The magic felt unlike anything Idhren had encountered before. Powerful and raw, like holding a piece of the Fade itself in his hand. If he could figure out how to control the thing maybe he wouldn’t hate it so much.
Unable to contain his curiosity, Idhren held both hands out before him and reached for his own magic. It came as easily as ever, and static sparked at his fingertips, jumping from one to the other, and then across to the other hand. Then, cautiously, he sent a tiny spark of electricity directly into the mark.
The reaction was immediate. The mark flared and spit, discharging its own small bolt of green lightning, which hit Idhren’s opposite hand and hurt, making him pull it away in alarm.
“Alright,” he breathed to himself, watching as the mark gradually calmed down and went dormant again. “You don’t like that.”
Or maybe it did like it, but it had hurt, so Idhren was disinclined to try again at the moment. Instead, he focused on the feeling of the mark, the hum of magic. The feeling was similar to holding an enchanted object, like his staff. Only far more intense. So Idhren let his magic flow down his arm and toward the mark, channeling through it the same way he would the focus of a staff.
The reaction was not as immediate this time, but it was quite similar. The mark spit and flared and rumbled, sparking out little tendrils of lightning. Only this time it did not hurt quite as much. It hurt like closing a rift.
He had only fed the mark with the tiniest slivers of magic, yet its reaction in both cases was far stronger than the magic that had charged it.
Idhren hopped down from the bed. He grabbed the blanket off the top to wrap around his shoulders against the chill. Because it was always drafty in this cabin and it was always freezing at night. He padded over to the desk on the other side of the room and sat down. It was still stocked with parchment, quill and ink. Perhaps someone expected him to be writing letters. Other than informing his clan that he was alive, what reason did he have to write? He had reason now, and it was far more interesting than a letter home.
He smoothed out a sheet of parchment on the desk, pinning one corner with the pot of ink to hold it in place, ensured that the quill was well sharpened, and then began writing.
Magic was something that Idhren understood on an intimate level. Science was something that was familiar to him. Thaumaturgy had been his life's work, his sole purpose in Tevinter. Living with the Dalish allowed little opportunity for experiment and study. He had missed it, but there were many other things to learn while living with the Dalish. Their religion and their language and their culture. But fascinating as that had been, magic had always been his greatest passion.
Now he had brand new, never before seen, magic scarred onto his person. He hated it. He feared it. He wanted it gone. But he couldn't have any of those things. He could, however, try and find some shred of happiness in this dismal, miserable situation. He could study the mark. If he could understand what it was, how it worked, where it came from, then maybe he could figure out how to get rid of it. Give it to someone who would want to be the Herald of Andraste. Someone who wanted to be here, saving the world and talking politics.
And if he was thinking about magic and theory and experimentation then Idhren couldn't think about anything else.
Nighttime was always the hardest. Sitting alone in Haven with no distractions his mind tended to wander – and recently always the same paths. He knew that he had to stop thinking about the past, but it was difficult. Even more difficult when demons taunted him with it in his sleep.
He'd stayed up long hours before. He had often stayed up all night reading something from Canidius' library, or the Circle's library before that. He didn't need nearly as much sleep as he had living with the Dalish. So he would dredge up one more of his old habits. Alcohol, lyrium, and research. Those were the things that had defined his life before, and they could be so again.
He could find himself a purpose here, perhaps. A purpose beyond closing rifts and being the Herald of Andraste for the masses to worship. And maybe he still had no choice in the matter, but he'd had little choice in working for Canidius, either. This was the same. He had dealt with it before, he could deal with it again.
Anything to keep him from thinking about the past. Anything to stop his mind from wandering down those dark, miserable paths anymore. At this point, that was the only thing he could ask for. The only thing he could hope for.
He was stuck here, whether he liked it or not.