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Etiolation

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Dorian was bouncing a knee as he stared out over the stretch of path they would be taking. It was silent, but it also was not one of his usual ticks.

“What’s wrong?”

“Hmm? Nothing; it all looks quiet.”

“Not out there,” Bull corrected. “You. don’t think I’ve seen you like this since the Plains.” Dorian had been agitated then due to the constant death funneling in as energy. How much were they not seeing here, then?

“It’s not quite the same. I’m rather surprised you need to ask, to be frank.” And that was real concern in his glance. So it was something that should be obvious – or at least not particularly subtle. Something Bull should’ve picked up on his own.

Dorian waved a hand. A faintly shimmering shell faded into view around all of them. Barrier. Bull hadn’t felt it cast. The distortion was thick enough to mean it was a strong one, one he very much should have noticed landing. Meaning Dorian had already been maintaining it.

The color was off. He thought it was the luminescence of the lyrium around them, but Dorian’s barrier was more blue than his usual swirl of purples. Bull’s gaze jerked back up to the veins knit through the whole of the cavern.

“There it is,” Dorian murmured as realization crept up on Bull in the shape of dawning horror.

“You’re tapping in to all that?” They were surrounded by raw lyrium. They’d half-joked Dorian might be packing a shit-ton more of a punch while here, but…

“It’d be more accurate to say I can’t tap out.” He leaned back on his hands. “This whole place is…singing, metaphorically speaking. Far too loud to shut out.”

“Shit.”

Dorian hummed in agreement.

“So long as I don’t actually touch it, I'll be fine here.” Even brushing against raw lyrium was deadly for mages. They’d known that, but there was a significance to Dorian’s word choice.

“Here?” Bull echoed. He should be keeping up better, but the exhaustion of so long on edge in the tight, winding tunnels they’d come from was weighing on him like an anchor.

Dorian’s smile was bitter as he turned back to the expanse of blue-threaded rock. He didn’t respond.

“Dorian.” Bull pushed himself up to sit. “What—”

Oh.

No.

"Shit,” Bull hissed as a heavy, choking fear gripped him by the throat.

“Indeed,” Dorian murmured back. “I’ll be fine here. Better than fine, really: there is more power here than I’ve ever felt.” After. After.

“You’re gonna crash.”

A bark of laughter. “That’s putting it kindly.”

Bull’s hand landed heavily on his shoulder, as though Dorian were already slipping away from him. He was, in a sense, though not in any way Bull could stop.

Dorian was running high on the lyrium here the whole while – couldn’t stop it as close as he was to the veins. When they left the chambers, he would go through lyrium withdrawal. They’d been here longer than just a handful of hours. The crash would kill him. Bull couldn’t breathe.

“No.”

“Don’t look at me like that, Amatus.” Dorian glanced down and away even as he leaned into Bull’s grip.

“Kadan…” Control, where was his control? He wasn’t sure he even wanted to hide the absolute pain wrenching at his voice.

“Don't.” Dorian shivered. “If you can’t stay calm, how can I hope to?”

Bull yanked him into his arms. It had to be painfully tight, but Dorian just sagged into him, nails scratching on Bull’s skin until they found a grip on the strap of his harness.

“You should’ve said something.” Bull should’ve noticed – should have known.

“Why? So you could worry?” Dorian’s words were barely a murmur against Bull’s chest, “There was nothing to be done, besides. We could hardly turn back now. I’m surprised none of you...”

Surprised none of them had realized it themselves. They should have; it wasn’t a hard conclusion to draw. Instead, they’d left Dorian alone with the weight of it. If he’d thought they had already understood the consequences and were just ignoring it… As if they could realize the place was killing him and not speak of it. Had Dorian even considered that an option? Bull hoped he hadn’t.