In Alistair’s nightmares, he lost her over and over. To the Joining. The Archdemon. The Nightmare demon. The Calling.
She smiled, readying her staff as she headed into the Deep Roads. I’ll be with you soon. The Darkspawn set on her in droves, their cries almost drowning out his own screams in his head. She got no more than a few spells off before her hands and arms were shredded by them, her staff falling to the stone. The lifeless meat that had been those graceful arms fell to her sides, and she kept fighting, throwing herself at them. The Darkspawn pulled her down, ripped her to pieces. Her skin came away in ribbons, blood coming off her in crimson bursts, the white and blue of her robes turning to black and red. She kept smiling, looking right at him. She smiled until the moment they tore her jaw from her face. I’ll be with you soon.
“No!” He awoke with a start and looked around, fighting for breath as he reached for his sword. He closed his eyes against the pain that sunk into what felt like his entire body. The Fade. Of course. He leaned back against the rock wall he’d managed to get himself against, which at least kept anything from getting to him from behind. “I’ll see my death coming. That’s good, right?” He frowned, feeling his heartbeat flutter in his chest. “I’m safe. Fantastic. Bad dream.” He forced himself to take a large breath, but his chest felt too tight, his lungs too small. Coughing wracked his body and he tasted the metallic tang of his own blood. He spit it out to the side, wiping his face with his hand. “What I wouldn’t give for some cheese,” he muttered. “And now I’m talking to myself. That’s… that’s great.” He paused, looking down at his bloody hands as if they belonged to someone else. “Add crazy on top of… dying? And nightmares.”
He tried to look around, giving himself more leverage by putting his hand on the ground. It squished down and made a wet sound. Lifting his hand, he realized he had placed it firmly in a puddle of his own blood. Something in him tried to tell him he should be disgusted, or he should be puking, or even alarmed, but he felt so disconnected from everything that it became another curiosity to file away somewhere between rocks that float and random demons. “Well, I’m not dead yet. I guess. I don’t think I’d be still bleeding if I was already dead.”
Pulling his shield over himself, he wondered how long it would take to die. Would the demons find him first? He hoped not. He would rather just end it now than… that.
They whispered to him, the demons. After he’d struck the final blow to the Nightmare demon and it had slunk away to die, he had staggered down the hill and gotten wedged against the rock hillside. The rocks helped him sit up, and they helped him have something of a defensible position. That is, if he could stand up.
The wound in his side burned and had started to smell. He had no idea how long he’d been here already, or how long he would be here. Hours? Days? Did a lack of water have the same effect in the Fade? When did he last drink any water?
He missed Audra, and their warm bed in the keep. He missed the dogs. He missed Hawke and Anders.
“You better live the rest of your life well, Hawke,” he muttered. “Not as if you can hear me. I’m going to come back and haunt you if you screw that up.” Alistair laughed. “I’m going to knock your cheese off the table for the rest of your life. It’s going to have dog and cat hair on it every time.”
A bit of movement to the side alerted him to the presence of the demon, and he saw the telltale fire that indicated a rage demon. “Shit.” Shit shit shit.
It turned towards him and paused, seeming to see him, then floated directly towards him in that uncanny way. He fought to get to his feet, managing to stagger into a standing position but needing the help of the rocks behind him. His sword felt so heavy, dragging his arm down. His shield felt completely useless. There’s no way he could fight like this.
I guess this is it, he thought, taking a deep breath.
A movement to his right started him, a spirit popping up next to him. He flinched away from it. It didn’t look like a demon, just a yellow glow.
The spirit shifted into the form of Audra, reaching out a hand. “I can help you.”
“No! Back!” Alistair forced his sword arm to lift his sword, managing to get it at least pointing the right direction. “You can’t help me.”
“I am a spirit of hope.” Not-Audra took a step forward. “I can help you fight it. I can help you stay alive.”
“Why… why would you help me? How do I know you’re not a demon?” His voice shook.
Not-Audra smiled kindly at him. “You don’t.”
He pulled away from it, his sword feeling more heavy by the moment. It wavered in his hand, then slipped through his fingers, slick with blood, and clattered to the ground. “I can’t… I can’t take you back with me. You know that. I’d sooner die.”
“I am not asking to leave this place.” The spirit half stepped, half glided. It didn’t quite speak in Audra’s voice. “My only purpose is to give hope. I have no desires, only… the need to give hope. But I need your permission to help.”
The rage demon had slowed, noticing the spirit. It let out a growl and started rushing towards them.
Alistair drew a breath and reached for the spirit of hope, his hand landing on its hand. “I don’t have any options. I accept your assistance. Please… just don’t change me.”
Hope changes everyone, Alistair. It is not a thing to fear. And I will not stay past where you need me.
“Oh, that’s good to know,” he babbled. “Now what-“
Something surged through him. A warmth, an uplifting feeling. Moments flashed through his mind: the first time he saw Audra. Their first night in the tent together in camp. When she survived fighting the Archdemon. She is your hope. She will come for you.
That hope was beyond what he felt he could afford himself, but the spirit wouldn’t let him doubt it. He reached to the ground to pick up his sword and met the rage demon head on, forcing it back with his shield. He didn’t know how he’d be able to fight, but the spirit helped him, giving him the strength.
Other spirits arrived and surrounded the rage demon, pushing forward into it. It thrashed against them but they reached for it, blocking it’s fire from reaching Alistair. The spirits took on the form of others he knew. Leliana. Perhaps faith? Cailan. Valor. Duncan. Duty. Nathaniel. Honor. Morrigan. He had no idea what that meant.
They cornered the rage demon and Alistair lifted his sword, plunging it through it with a cry. It disappointed in a shower of sparks and ash, it’s cry fading out as it did. We did it. He took a deep breath. Everything hurt, just to move that far. “I don’t think I can do that many more times.”
Someone has been looking for you, the spirit told him. They will soon know you are alive. For now, rest.
He stepped backwards to lean against the rock, sliding back down to sit on the ground. He let his eyes close, a slight smile on his face. He had to survive, to see her again. “I love you. I miss you.” A fit of coughing up blood took the last of his strength, and he let himself rest finally, slipping into the darkness.