Bull stared him down, clearly trying to figure out whether the elf was lying.
It’s Varric who offered his plate first, giving them all a smirk. “Not even the threat of magic would make me miss your dessert, Killer. And you forget, this isn’t the first time you’ve fed me an apple.” Though he did wonder exactly how many apples Theron could keep in that bag. It seemed like every time dinner was delayed and his stomach growled, the elf reached into his bag and offered him food.
Theron raised an eyebrow before reaching for a fork to begin dishing out servings, starting with the dwarf. “Yeah, but it’s different when you eat with the knowledge of what you’re eating. We can only wonder if Adam and Eve would have been changed if she’d eaten from the tree without warning. Without being tempted.”
“While I admire your creative efforts, Theron. It’s dangerous to spread misinformation.” Solas offered, his eyes wary but his own plate still outstretched.
“It’s not misinformation.” He countered, but he shrugged. It didn’t matter if Solus believed or not. Fact was, the apples were from the Fade. Or at least the original was. Now, he just saved the seeds.
He could safely duplicate the same apple infinitely… one at a time. That’s how Mojo, his bag, worked. Once something was put inside, its blueprint was memorized. Which meant that while the Herald’s party thought Theron was a smooth hunter who was always impeccably prepared, he was actually just rather good about sneaking things in for Mojo to ‘snack’ on.
“Even if they were magical apples, it would not affect a child of stone. They do not access the Fade.”
“Because they don’t need to. Not all magic comes from the Fade.”
Oh look, even the Seeker wants a serving. The only one left was Bull, who Theron cut a curious glance at. He still looked on the fence.
“Excuse me?!” Solas sputtered.
Oh, that hit a nerve. Worth it. Months of planning had been worth it. If he died tomorrow, it would still remain…utterly worth it.
Theron opened his mouth to respond when he was interrupted by a rather loud moan that came from across the fire. Varric… apparently loved the pie. A lot. His eyes were closed with his fork still in his mouth. “Ah, Killer…” he said when he finally pulled the fork free, still chewing and obviously not giving a damn about manners. “Damn right, that’s magic.”
Bull let out a loud rolling chuckle, finally extending his plate. “Serve me up. Maybe if all magic made a dwarf moan like that, the world would be a better place.”
“Maybe it can, Bull. Maybe it can.” Theron grinned and reached for his plate, giving the Iron Bull a larger helping. His ankle could use a little extra love. He did a good job hiding how much it bothered him, but there were times when he stumbled, and if he could help, then why the hell not?
He was given a break while they ate because Varric finished first and kept them entertained with a story about the first time he’d met Daisy, a Dalish girl that traveled with him and Hawke back in the day. It was a welcome distraction that let Theron pull out his leather straps and beads. He’d been steadily making bracelets during his downtime for the Herald’s immediate companions. Was it necessary to handmake each one? No, of course not. He’d already fed Mojo the first one. But honestly, it was much harder to refuse a gift that you’d watched someone make tediously for weeks. Manipulative? Abso-fucking-lutely.
He was just working on the sliding knot that would make it adjustable when he noticed the companions had gone quiet. A glance across the fire showed Bull with an eyebrow raised and his horned head tilted to the other companions on Theron’s left.
Ah. Shit. Even the Seeker looked interested. Likely she thought he was making a courting gift… maybe even for Elana. That…was going to be interesting. The first one was for Elana, but he also didn’t want any misunderstandings. Or did he?
He cleared his throat and continued fiddling with the beads for a moment. How would he have felt if he’d been flirted with by not one but two handsome elves during his playthroughs? He’d played through Inquisition more times than he could count, as Elana, in fact, before Tresspassor had been released. Probably just like thousands of other heartbroken souls who wondered if they’d done something wrong that led to Solas leaving.
Nope. Nothing wrong. It’s just what he did. Then finding out in Tresspassor that he’d thought they were all tranquil…for fuck’s sake, man. The idiot probably worried that he’d kissed a pretty nug for all the consent issues that probably raised. Probably spent a few years embarrassed that he’d lowered himself to calling one his heart. And yet Theron had still been so heartbroken. Ready to beg for the chance to stay by the asshole’s side even as he destroyed the world.
Yeah, no. Not this time. Frankly, the moment he’d woke up in the Fade that wasn’t the Fade, he’d had time to reassess his priorities. It had started, of course, with befriending his first demon… or something. Theron hesitated to call it a spirit because it didn’t seem limited to any particular attribute.
He’d taken up leaning against a boulder, examining what was clearly the black city while playing with fade dirt. In case you’re wondering, it was like salt. Even if you spit on it, the moisture just sucked right in and left tiny microcrystals. Don’t ask why he’d tried spitting on it, everyone has a little bit of scientist in them, and if he was going to lucid dream of the Fade, he was going to be as thorough as his brain would allow.
He hadn’t quite gotten to trying to change his environment when a shadow had fallen over him. His pulse thumped at first because the shadow was lithe, but broad-shouldered and as he followed it up to its source, he held his breath… only for it to woosh out when there was nothing but a…void. A clear absence of form.
“Oh. What the fuck are you?” He murmured, shifting to his feet and glancing a few times between the shadow and the void. “Huh.” He tilted his head and leaned against the boulder. “That’s got to be incredibly frustrating, right?”
“Is it?” The answering voice was deep enough that Theron felt it in the pit of his stomach. It was that late-night audiobook kinda voice that you never wanted to meet its maker because it would always be a disappointment. Guess even his dreams knew better than to ruin a good thing!
“Well, yeah. I don’t imagine you get a lot of hugs or handjobs like that.”
Silence. Yes, indeed. We all have our talents, and saying the right wrong thing was his.
But it didn’t last long. “I would think you might recognize a kindred spirit, traveler. We both cast off the forms given to us. You simply…found another one.”
“Oh…well. Yeah, I guess I did.” Theron gave a tilted smile. “I can normally go either way, but I don’t dream as myself. I never have. I’m sure a therapist would have a field day.”
“I’d imagine…” It drew out the phrase, clearly parroting Theron’s snark back at him. “You picked a form that you thought might get you more of both hugs and handjobs. You’re clever. I can appreciate that. Have you considered what you want now that you’re here?”
“What do you mean? Are you… trying to make a deal with me? Like a demon? I mean,” he paused, looking over the entity again before shrugging a bit. “I guess you do look kind of shifty.”
“You find this humorous.” It allowed, the void moved and when Theron glanced down, he saw the shadow seem to shift from one leg to another.
Was it crossing its arms? Looking down instead of up was a little disorienting.
“A little, yeah. I’m dreaming that I’m dreaming. It’s ironic.”
“You’re not dreaming…but perhaps believing one way or another isn’t important. Pretend then, traveler, that this is a dream and you will step out of the Fade and into Thedas. What do you need?”
And there’s the demon talk. At least he was asking directly instead of trying to play 20 questions like Envy or offer virgins like Ishmael.
“Ishmael was a fool.” The contempt was not lost. It was almost dripping, but fortunately, the void didn’t drip.
“Probably, but did you just read my mind?”
The formless one—even Theron paused at that—continued his thought, “The greedy one is out of the Fade in his own form…and what does he do? Does he raise himself as a God? Does he bask in mortal pleasures? Flaunt his otherworldly knowledge? No. He makes a game of making deals as if he were addicted to being right.”
“Oh shit, I wondered about that. Must suck to live such a long time and then crap out at the last minute because your ego is so big.”
Theron looked at the entity curiously, letting the silence drag a bit as he reached out a hand to try to poke the darkness.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Why? Are you like a black hole? Will I get sucked in?”
A dark chuckle. “No. If I wanted… maybe, I do eat lesser spirits.”
“That’s kinda shitty.”
“Demons.” It amended. “I have a reputation to keep.”
“Is there a limit to how much you can hoover?” He asked, imagining the formless one as a massive Kirby.
“Not that I’ve found, but the rate at which new spirits are born means I could consume far too many and leave myself alone. I’d rather not.”
Theron grinned, a tiny one. “And you say you don’t miss hugs and handjobs.”
“Sometimes, I miss a great deal more than that.”
Silence again. A quiet Theron is a dangerous one.
“So if this is a dream…”
“Want a ride?”
“Not that kind of ride. I mean, like…if you wanted to be my spirit buddy. Anyone who has the self-restraint to realize that overeating would have consequences seems like you certifiably have more brains than I do.”
Was that? Wow. Yeah. The entity just sighed. New low, Theron. New low.
“I will not possess you, but I will be near. You have…much to learn.” The unspoken so much was the kicker. “Now answer me. What do you need?”
Hmm. Well. Theron figured, why not. It’s his dream to do what he wants. “You know, if wishes were horses and all. Fuck it. It’s my dream. I want to be handsome as hell. Enough to make even the most staunch heterosexual men uncomfortable. I want to be powerful but easy to pass as a non-mage. I want to be skilled with a bow and daggers because who doesn’t love a man who can handle his blades? I want to be clever, even if being smart is a big ask. Streetwise and wiseass over genius, you know? And…a bag. I want a magical bag. Like a bag of holding that will hold anything I can fit into it and duplicate things for me on demand.”
The voice hummed for a moment before clarifying, “Why do you want to duplicate things?”
“I dunno. I guess I figured I was asking for a lot of selfish shit, so being able to clone things and occasionally supersede supply wagons and resource drain would be nice. Like I’ve read a lot of fanfiction that says horn balm is difficult to get for Tal Vashoth. So with my cool-assed bag, I’d just need to get it once to always have it on hand for Bull, you know?”
Another pause and it felt like a breeze tickled the back of Theron’s neck, making him shiver. “Ah, fanfiction. That’s delightful. You will share those with me when you sleep.”
“Huh. Sure. Seems like a more than fair trade. It’s my dream, it’s not like I’m made of secrets.”
“You might be.” It allowed, giving another dark chuckle. “Granted.”
Theron saw a bag appear at his feet with two straps and cheered internally. He waited for the rest in awkward silence. “Well?” he asked after a fair wait. “What about the rest?”
The shadow shifted again. “Traveler, I have no power over you. You are what you make yourself.” It shifted again and movement from the corner of Theron’s eye showed that the void was forming something. Shifting from darkness to something…reflective. A mirror.
“Oh.” Was all he could say. Not…bad…at…all. He was a mature-ass…elf. Could pass for his early to mid-forties, maybe. No vallaslin because it would be a shame to mar that face. If competence was a turn-on, he was rocking it because that face knew what it was doing. Better looking than the egg, if only because he had a gorgeous head of hair. Ah, if any face could make Solas call me hahren, it would be this one.
The sound that bust out of the formless one had to be full-on laughter. It was almost creepy if the thing didn’t have such a nice voice.
Yes, dark one. Let’s take over the world together, and I’ll make you laugh all the time. When the laughter got louder and just kept going, Theron realized it was reading his mind and sighed. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t deny I’m getting more out of you in like an hour than I got from the Wolf after a few years fighting alongside him.
After the laughter had calmed, it asked gently, “Yet you choose a gender that you know he does not favor.”
“You’ve seen my work. You know that it doesn’t matter what gender I am. He doesn’t stay.”
“Then why do you choose an elf and not a human? It would ease your acceptance by the people in power, and it would pit you almost as far from the Wolf as possible.”
“Ohh, I see. You worry about the Dalish who falls in love with him.”
“Sort of. She might not be me this time, but she was me many times. I wonder if I’d have fallen in love with him if I’d had more options, or if—”
“You want revenge.”
“I… a little. Maybe I just… want to see him lose his cool. On retrospect, I feel like he was allowed to exist in his own bubble and be this mysteriously smart man in hobo clothes that thought he was better than everyone. He was kind. I always thought he was kind, but now I wonder if it was because he thought we were too simple to understand him. Like how I would never kick a nug, he treated us kindly like wayward simpletons.”
“You fear you misunderstood his nature and it’s made you angry.”
“Very. So… do over before I wake up, right? See if I can unravel his britches. Sera would approve.”
“I approve.” The entity affirmed, seeming to move away from him slightly. “I’ll guide you to a rift. Where would you like to go?”
“Anywhere I want?”
“You are in control. It’s your dream, after all.”
The voice sounded like it was smiling. Why did that make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up? “Near the crossroads, I think. There will be a lot of fighting, but I’m supposedly not detectable as a mage, nor am I a templar, so it’s a place where I know I can make a difference and run into the Inquisition.”
The void and its shadow begin to move, and he follows.
“Have you thought of a name?”
After a moment and the tickle-like breeze again. “Hunter. Appropriate in so many ways.” Then after a moment. “My name is difficult to pronounce. You may call me Niall.”
Theron chuckled at that. “Sort of domestic, but I’d imagine you get tired of being nameless as well as formless.”
And the rest was history, sincerely but also figuratively. After leading him through the Fade for what felt like a week, Theron had learned a lot of very interesting things. For example, that blood magic was only blood magic because it involved blood. Yes, that’s…incredibly insipid to state like that, but consider that the point of the magic itself wasn’t to manipulate blood at all. It was the fact that magic existed at all, with or without the Fade. A form of it, at least.
At first, Theron had struggled until Niall had explained that even his originally human, non-thedas dreaming was a form of magic. When one dreamed, they could do anything, so why did that only happen when sleeping? It…made incredible sense. People couldn’t do magical things because they had been conditioned to think so.
According to Niall, it was even worse in Thedas because everyone used the Fade and their connection to it to determine worth and magical ability when… at least in theory, anyone with enough will and intent could make the impossible happen. It was… a little bit of a stretch considering game mechanics, but it wasn’t…outside the realm of possibility. Technically, Theron knew from lore that the Forbidden Ones had possibly taught magisters blood magic so…maybe Niall would really know.
So they traveled with Theron packing anything that wasn’t nailed down in his bag. A few choice books, a really old bottle of wine, and an apple from this really interesting Escher-like orchard. Despite it being the Fade, most of the trees were bare but one, and that one was too high to reach. He’d stared at it for a while before Niall realized he wasn’t going to leave it alone.
“You realize you could just imagine the apple in your hand.”
“Yeah…that sounds nice, but look at it, Niall. It’s just one apple…perched there, upside down, like it’s just taunting every hungry passerby.”
“Most beings here don’t eat.”
“But yet here I am, and I’m starving.”
“You don’t need to eat here either.”
“Starving, Niall.” As if to support his claim, his stomach grumbled.
The being sighed and distorted, its shadow lengthening and its void thinning as it stretched upward to pluck it off the tree and absently drop it on Theron’s head.
“Ouch, fuck, Niall.”
“Don’t forget to feed it to your bag.”
“Aww, Niall. You know, it kinda feels like you like me a little bit.”
“I can’t imagine why. I clearly guide all travelers toward fulfilling their every wish. My altruism is infamous.”
“It should be.”
Eventually, after they arrived at a rift, and Niall hoovered all the demons nearby, Theron had actually just…walked out with Mojo slung over his shoulder and walked to the Crossroads.
“You’ve been working on that for a while.” Elana’s voice broke through and brought him back to the present.
He offered a smile and pushed away from his place against the log, moving to kneel in front of the Dalish. Both her and Cassandra’s eyes got wide, and he felt Solas’ gaze burning a hole into the side of his head. “I have. I’m making one for everyone, but the girl with the glowing hand gets one first.” There. Maybe that would keep it from being a pre-marriage gift.
“You…are making us bracelets?” Cassandra asked hesitantly, a glance showed she was both suspicious and eager at the same time. The magic fried apples probably helped smooth the way. See? A traveler-elf always has a plan.
“Protection charms.” He offers gently, holding a hand out for Elana’s hand and damn near sighing in relief when she offers her wrist without a word.
“More of your non-fade magic,” Solas stated his question yet again, but he didn’t sound quite as indignant as before.
Theron wondered if the apostate could actually taste the magic within the sugar and spice he’d added. It was possible. He used a moment while he adjusted the band for Elana to glance at the other elf and paused.
Solas looked…thoughtful. Damn.
He slowly diverted his attention back to Elana, looking into her pretty eyes for his party trick. Technically, he’d already put his will into the first bracelet that he’d fed Mojo, so this wasn’t necessary, but as Solas had fondly said to him many failures before, ‘Posturing is necessary’.
“May this grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. May it protect you when all hope is lost and guide you when all roads seem endless. May you stare in the face of danger and say ‘My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.’.”
Despite ravaging the serenity prayer and pillaging Sarah’s scene in Labyrinth, despite the fact that he had already willed good shit into this a few days ago when he was on watch alone, the bracelet had the gall to flash a gentle blue, and both Elana and the Seeker made a strangled noise.
“What w—” Solas was interrupted when Theron reached over and pat his thigh, doing his absolute damnest to give him a calm and knowing smile all the while panicking on the inside.
“Don’t worry, Solas. It’ll just take me a few days to have one made for everyone. I’ve already made all the components. They just need assembled.” Then, realizing the elf’s mouth was opening to finish his thought, he added quickly. “I’ll show you how I made them tomorrow, if you’d like. It’s getting a little late and I’m tired.”
“T..thank you, Theron.” Sweet Elana, she didn’t understand either but she had, at least, grown accustomed to learning new things from older elves lately. She was a mage as well, so while the…um… blessing, wasn’t fade connected and didn’t feel like anything, it at least wasn’t a danger alert.
Ah shit. Speaking of danger. “Seeker, it’s safe,” he assured, absolutely keeping his pretty green eyes wide. “Like a benediction or blessing. Not fade magic.”
“He’s right, Seeker,” Solas said in a low voice, still staring down at Theron’s hand on his thigh with a frown. Hell.
Theron cleared his throat and removed his hand.
“Whatever that was is not of the Fade. I’m sure I have much to learn from Theron …tonight. We will share the last watch.”
Oh. Oh shit.