It was Varric he'd come looking for. But the dwarf was no longer at the Hanged Man, his suite of rooms sitting locked up and empty, and the new bartender – not Corff, who'd died at the hands of an abomination – had thrown him out on the street rather than tolerate an elf in his bar. The only elves allowed there, he was told quite sharply, were the barmaids and whores, and he was neither.
He was staggering along the street, leaning on the wall for support, when a patrol of guards found him. They eyed the big sword he still carried warily, and started to ask who he was, and question where he was going, and point out that the alienage was the other way, and then one of them recognized him. The next thing he knew he was being helped all the way up to Hightown, and brought to Aveline in her office in the keep.
"Maker, Fenris!" she exclaimed, hurrying around the desk as if to hug him, then coming to a sudden stop as she remembered that he'd never liked being touched. She hovered, as he eased himself down into a chair. "What's wrong? Why are you here?"
He shrugged, painfully. "I came to see Varric."
"Varric's gone," she said, and then sat down abruptly on the edge of her desk. "Business trip to Orzammar; he left a month ago. Doesn't expect to be back before spring. Why did you want to see him?"
He smiled, crookedly. "I'm dying. I wanted to make arrangements with him over what was to be done with my body. The dwarves know how to handle lyrium safely."
"Lyrium is a poison. It is laced throughout me. Whatever it was that kept it from killing me is failing," he said, and looked up at her, tiredly. "I doubt I have much time left. I only hope I do not go mad from it before the end."
Aveline stared at him, face pale and shocked. And then her mouth firmed, and she rose to her feet. "Right. You'll stay with Donnic and I then. As long as you need to."
"I don't want to impose..."
She slammed her hand down on the desk, hard. Hard enough to hurt, given that she was not wearing her gauntlets. "It is no imposition! You're a friend, Fenris. Besides, you don't have anywhere else to go, do you?"
"No," he admittedly, grudgingly. "Not that I'd have any hope of reaching, anyway."
"Then you'll stay with us," she said, voice softening, and sent a runner to fetch Donnic, who brought him to their home.
It would almost have been pleasant, staying with them, if not for why he was there. He could feel himself failing; the growing weakness, the increasing pain. He could not keep his balance properly any longer. His sword stood in a corner of the spare room that was his bedroom, where he'd set it down that first night. He liked to look at it, as he lay there in bed, even if he knew he'd never lift it again. A gift from Hawke; one of the last, before she'd gone.
He joined them downstairs at first, for meals, and for drinks and talking afterwards, but it wasn't long until he could no longer negotiate the stairs without help. It was frightening to him, how quickly he was failing. And yet... some part of him looked forward to dying. It would be an ending, at last, to all pain both mental and physical. And the physical was getting steadily worse.
He prayed – as much as he could do anything that might be named prayer – that he would at least remain sane until the end. He had a horror of being helpless, yet found the thought of being physically decrepit far less frightening than the thought of losing what was himself. The self he'd built from nothingness, from pain and degradation, hatred and suffering. To lose himself again... to be nothing again... that was his greatest fear.
Which is why is terrified him, at first, when he began having strange dreams.
His dreams had rarely been restful, filled as they were with reminders of his time as Danarius' slave. He had learned, in the long years since his escape, to ignore the things in them that had once been symbols of his fears. The collar, the chains, the whip, the rope, the toys. The gobbets of flesh, spatters of blood and shattered bones that were all that was left of someone used to power a spell of blood magic; the screams that echoed in his ears. The familiar faces that paraded by at times, some of them hated, some of them once cared for greatly.
In recent months, even before his return to Kirkwall, his dreams had acquired a new darkness; nightmarish things that lurked around the edges, felt but only rarely seen. Things that were both frightening to him, and, it seemed, frightened of him. That lurked, watching him, waiting.
He thought it might be the lyrium that lured them in. He could hear it, sometimes, the faint humming buzz of it – louder, in dreams, than it ever was in waking, but that made sense. Dreams took place in the Fade, after all, and lyrium somehow bridged between the real world and there. As did he, when he used his powers to ghost-walk, to reach into otherwise-solid matter.
He wondered at times if it was creatures of the Fade watching him so intently from the shadows. Demons, or spirits, if there was even a difference between the two. Or it could be Magisters, perhaps – he knew that blood mages could influence dreams, and had always worried that Danarius' death had merely marked the end of the magister with the most incentive to come after him. With a king's ransom of lyrium in his flesh, there would doubtless always be others interested him, for his rendered-out value if nothing else.
He grew frightened, sometimes, as the shadows grew larger and darker, the things that watched from within them drawing ever closer, the susurrus of their movements and breathing growing louder even than the hum of his lyrium, there in the Fade. He began to hear whispers, on the edge of being words but never quite audible enough to understand. Unsettling sounds, whatever it was that was being said. Attempts at temptation, perhaps, as demons were said to tempt mages. False promises, designed to prey on his wants and lusts, on pride, on anger. He tried to ignore the whisper of sound, and feared how over time it seemed to be slowly becoming clearer. He dreaded hearing what words were being spoken.
He fought, sometimes, when he had the energy for it; brands flaring bright to drive back the shadows at least temporarily, ghost of a sword in his hands, dancing with a lightness of movement that he could no longer duplicate in the real world. The things watching would leave then; he was never sure why... perhaps it was the light from his lyrium driving them back, or fear of his sword. Or both. What happened to a demon, he sometimes wondered, if a dreamer managed to slay it?
It was when he had collapsed to the ground one night – or at least to what passed for ground, in the shifting reality of dreams – that he first became aware of the other watcher. He lifted his head, shaking sweat-soaked hair back, and saw him. Not hiding in the shadows, but simply standing there before him, watching him with head tilted curiously to one side. Tall and slender, with an androgynous beauty. Large eyes of pale gold, long white-gold hair caught back in a simple ponytail, high cheek-bones. He - and Fenris was somehow certain it was a he, no matter how ambiguous its form – was dressed in a simple short tunic of white cloth edged in black and gold, with gilded leather sandals on his feet, the long laces criss-crossing up his slender calves to tie just back of the knee. A uniform, some memory of Fenris' said. One he had seen before.
"I know you," the figure said slowly, as if puzzled, and took a step closer.
"I don't know you," Fenris snapped, raising his sword between them, though he was too exhausted to rise himself.
A strange little smile crooked the figure's lips. Amusement. "I don't think even you can hurt me here," he said, but he remained where he was, not coming any closer. And then, abruptly, sank down to sit cross-legged on the ground, studying Fenris, his lower lip caught between his teeth.
"I know you," the figure repeated. "Though I'm not surprised you don't remember me. We only met once, some years ago. I was younger then."
Fenris felt his eyebrows rise as he studied the youth. Barely into his twenties, at a guess. "You must have been very young, then," he said. And stopped, breath catching as the young man's head tilted again, and he noticed the curve of the ears... not quite a smooth curve. Just the merest suggestion of a point; human enough to pass as one. "That boy..." he whispered. "Feynriel."
"You're a mage. And a magister," he spat out, rising abruptly to his feet, sword pointed directly at the youth.
Who laughed. And smiled, from where he remained sitting on the floor, leaning his weight back on his hands to more easily look up at Fenris, ignoring the threat of the sword. "A mage, yes – a magister, never." The word laced with such contempt that Fenris almost believed him.
"They sent you to Tevinter. I trust nothing from there."
"Which is wise of you," Feynriel said. "I trust no one here either. Hawke and Anders were foolish to send me; do you have any idea what the magisters would have done with me, if they'd ever learned of my powers?"
"I can guess," he said warily.
"I was lucky. I looked ahead, during the voyage. Looked into their dreams, saw what evils lurked there. I hid myself; pretended to be just another minor mageling fled to Tevinter for the illusion of a better life."
And now he recognized the uniform; he'd seen it often enough, accompanying Danarius. "You work in the Tower."
"Yes. In the Tower library. I have been very careful to not come to anyone's attention; too weak to be a danger, too stupid to make a useful blood-thrall. Good at keeping the books and scrolls in proper order, but that's about it."
"What are you doing here, in my dream?"
"They came to my attention," Feynriel said, jerking his chin to indicate the now far-distant shadows. "You're attracting demons, you know."
"Is that what they are? I wasn't sure."
"Yes. Your lyrium sings to them, the demons and spirits both. The demons see you as a doorway, a bridge, between the Fade and the waking world. A guarded doorway, but one they have hopes to force."
Feynriel frowned. "Your lyrium – you know it connects you to the Fade?"
"When you use it – when it lights up like it is now – it makes a channel between you in the real world, and here. Like a mage does..."
"I am no mage!" Fenris snarled.
Feynriel just gave him a patient look, then continued. "A mage is a living channel between the Fade and the real world. Our powers flow from here to there. You are something like the reverse, like a channel between the real world and here; it is why magic has such a hard time touching you; when your lyrium is alight, the magic flows back here. But it is a guarded channel; you are there, like a door closing it. Or a pinch that makes it loop." He frowned, sitting up, and made a frustrated gesture with his hands. "The language is imprecise. Anyway... demons can reach the real world by possessing a mage, forcing themselves through the conduit. Or they can be summoned, by another demon who is already in the real world, or by a mage."
"And you're saying they hope to use me as such a conduit?" Fenris asked, feeling more than somewhat appalled at the idea.
"Yes. They are waiting for you to be weak enough. And then they will try to overwhelm you, and... force their way through."
Fenris thought about that for a moment, and shuddered. "Would I survive?"
A very long pause, before Feynriel responded. "Something might. It wouldn't be you any more, no more than an abomination is the mage that was possessed."
Fenris sat down, slowly. "I will kill myself before I let that happen," he said flatly, thinking of Aveline and Donnic, of him waking some night as an abomination instead of dying in his sleep.
"I might..." Feynriel began, and broke off. He looked down at his hands, then back up at Fenris again. "I might be able to save you," he said, hesitantly.
Fenris' suspicions roared back to life. "And why would you do any such thing?"
Feynriel met his eyes, and then shrugged. "You saved me."
"Hawke saved you."
"You were there. And I plan to leave here soon anyway – it is becoming too dangerous for me here. And..." he broke off again, flushing.
When Feynriel continued, his voice was very quiet. "And yes, I have an ulterior motive. Magisters here still speak of you, of Danarius' pet," he said, and then looked up, meeting Fenris' eyes again. "They fear you; you turned in Danarius' hand. You escaped, and all attempts he made to retrieve you led only to his death. You cannot be touched easily by their magic; even naked and unarmed you can kill them. Your very existence frightens them."
Fenris snorted, his own lips twisting in amusement. "Are you saying they think of me as if I was the monster in their closet?"
A brief grin crossed Feynriel's face. "Yes."
"But you are not scared of me."
"No. But then, I've met you. And was saved by you."
"I had help," Fenris pointed out again. "Both in that and in killing Danarius and his ilk."
Feynriel nodded. "I would still ask you to at least consider it. My help to you is not conditional on it; I will come anyway, if you will allow me to at least try. Shall I come?" he asked, almost wistfully. "Shall I return to Kirkwall?"
Fenris sat in thought for several long minutes. He would, he was determined, kill himself rather than falling prey to demons. Especially while living in the house of friends. But...
But he did not wish to die. Not if there was some chance he could be healed, could be whole again and without pain. Could live.
"Come," he said, quietly.
And woke, alone, his lyrium brands still glowing faintly.