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To Find Absolution

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After Audra had explained everything to Solas, she regarded him across the table. She didn't yet know what to think of him, but if Morrigan said that he was the resident expert on the Fade, Audra would trust that. She wasn't sure what she expected, but the bald elf was unlike any other mage she'd encountered. He moved carefully, seeming to weigh his actions and movements.

“So, is it possible? To reach Alistair?”

Solas pondered, pacing as he held onto the tooth he wore around his neck on a cord. Audra couldn't identify what animal it had come from. “It’s possible, yes. That doesn’t mean we will work out now. It takes much time to learn to walk the Fade.” He gestured to a couch. “Have a seat.”

She sat, folding her hands in her lap. “What do I do?”

“It may not be so easy." He sat next to her, his hands resting on his knees. "Have you walked dreamwalked the Fade with intention before, Audra?”

“A couple of times, but never with a goal like this in mind.” She swallowed, trying to focus. Perhaps she should have slept before this. Perhaps…

There was no use for it. If it didn’t work tonight, she’d try again tomorrow.

“It may not be easy. It takes some many years to learn. But you do not have years.” He nodded, watching her. “Close your eyes. Focus on him.”

She followed his directions, closing her eyes and thinking about Alistair. She tried to think of the most vivid memories she had of him, of him laughing. Of them together.

“Now reach, as if you’re reaching for your magic, but reach farther. I will guide you.” He put his hands on hers, and she could feel her reach extend. “It’s going to feel disorienting,” he warned. “But do not be afraid. You will not be actually there.”

Not yet, she thought. “I’m ready.”

“Then follow me into the Fade.”

The world felt like it fell away. Or, perhaps more accurately, as if it shrunk to almost nothing, to something insignificant that existed just in a corner of her mind. Pulling away into a pinpoint of non-existence until her presence reasserted itself. She felt like her feet were under her again.

“Open your eyes.”

She did, and found herself in the Fade. Not unfamiliar to her, but also not the old friend that it clearly was to Solas. “How do we find him now that we’re here?”

“Focus on him again. Listen for him.”

Audra took a deep breath, trying to listen. The sound of an otherworldly wind, of demons howling in the distance. She looked around, then down, realizing she was holding something in her hands.

It was Alistair’s stuffed Mabari.

She heard a shout in the distance and she looked over at Solas. He nodded, and they started towards the sound. As they walked, she hoped that they wouldn’t encounter a demon. It wasn’t something she looked forward to, having done this before.

They rounded a corner and stopped. Audra’s breath caught in her throat. Ahead of her, she could see Kieran walking ahead of them. She started to call to him but Solas put a hand on her arm.

“Is that the child or something else?” he asked softly, holding her back.

“Only one way to find out.” Breaking free from his grip, she strode forward to where Kieran walked, catching up him.

When they got close, Kieran spun around, eyes wide. He backed away from them, holding his hands out in front of him. “Are you real?”

“Kieran-“

“What’s your Mabari’s name?” he asked.

Audra recognized it for the test it was. “Diablo. Blackwall told you all a story about dogs and foxes earlier.” She held out a hand to him. “It’s me.”

He dropped his arms and slumped, nodding. He reached out and took her hand, grasping it in his own. “I had to be sure.”

“Am I sure it’s you as well?” Audra asked.

Kieran thought for a moment. “The orange cat man that came to use the bathroom.”

“The… what?” Solas asked, looking confused.

“It’s a long story.” Audra sighed. “But one that only Kieran would know.”

“You do realize that a demon could be reaching either of your minds,” Solas pointed out. “A test like this is pointless.”

“What do you suggest, then?” Audra asked.

Solas stepped forward and put his hand on the boy’s head, closing his eyes. “He is a dreamer. He is real.” He pulled back his hand and opened his eyes, frowning. “Kieran, do you frequently end up here?”

The boy nodded, looking from Audra to Solas. “In dreams.” He hesitated. “This is still a dream, isn’t it? The Fade is where we all go when we dream.”

“Yes. You’re asleep in Skyhold. But…” Audra thought for a moment. “I wonder why we found you.”

“Are you looking for Alistair? I’m looking for him, too. I’ve found him before. Maybe that’s why?”

Solas shifted his eyes to her and she felt her stomach drop. “Audra. You and I need to speak after we leave the Fade.”

Shit. She didn’t like the sound of that. “Is everything okay?”

“It is… for now.” He got down to his knees. “Has anyone ever told you that you seem much older than you are?”

“My mother says it.”

“He’s a child, Solas, leave it,” Audra growled, holding onto Kieran's hand more tightly. “We’re here to find Alistair.”

Kieran wrapped his fingers around hers. “Follow me.” His looked up at her. “It’s less scary here with you here.”

Audra’s heart pounded in her chest. He was so brave. “Lead the way.”

She could feel Solas’ eyes on her and she wondered if he could tell that something was different about Kieran… or if he was working out that she’d cheated death. This was a mistake. She should not have contacted Solas. Now Morrigan and Kieran could be at risk, and it’s because she came here. I’m too focused on finding Alistair that I slipped.

“You shouldn’t be here,” a voice said, and she took a breath. She knew that voice, and knew it should not be here.

“Keep moving,” she hissed. “That’s a-“

“Fear demon,” Solas finished.

The demon stepped out from around a rock, looking like a normal man in Grey Warden armor. Duncan. Audra’s heart beat in her chest. No. Not now.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he repeated. “You cheated death. You should be dead.” Before them, he started to rot away, and Audra stepped between him and Kieran. If she let the fear seep in, the demon would win.

She lifted a hand to cast. “You are not him!”

Her spells did not work the same in the Fade, but the demon dissipated and Audra drew a breath in relief.

“Audra, stop.” Solas stepped around her. “I have seen a great many things in my time. I believe I may be piecing together a picture of what’s happened here. And I need you to know that I am not concerned with… what I believe is going on here.”

“Which is absolutely none of your business,” she snarled, wishing he would leave it.

“It is as far as our unfettered travel here is. If you feel afraid, you are a target.” He conjured a staff out of nowhere and handed it to her. “You cannot afford fear.”

As much as she hated to hear those words, he was right. “Fine.” She snatched the staff from him. “Do you know if I will be able to cast while physically in the Fade?”

“You will.”

She realized that she’d likely need to ask if that would apply to a mage that also had a spirit inside of him, but it didn’t seem the best time to bring up the subject of Anders. The truth was that they may not have any concept of what would happen until Anders was physically in the Fade. “Lead the way, Kieran.”

They walked through the surreal landscape, Audra keeping herself anchored by Kieran’s hand. “We’re getting close,” he said, pointing ahead. “He’s at the bottom of that hill. He told me earlier that it’s a defensible position.”

Audra exchanged a look with Solas, who nodded. They moved forward and as they got closer, Audra could hear the whispers from the demons. Soon. We will take him soon. He is losing hope. You cannot save him.

“Not today, assholes,” she muttered. Ahead, she could see a rock formation that would indeed be defensible. “Please, please be alive…”

“He is.” Kieran looked up at her. “You can’t see him?”

She shook her head. “Not from here, no.”

“He’s behind the rocks. He… glows. Blue.” Kieran sighed. “It’s hard to explain.” He looked back the way they came. “I can see Mother from here, too.”

Understanding dawned on Audra and she pulled Kieran against her. Her arm rested on his shoulder, but it didn't steady the shaking she felt. She didn’t want Solas to hear any more of this than he already had. She dropped down to her knees in front of him. “We’re going to go on ahead, but I need you to wake up. Can you wake up?”

“I’m… not sure." He looked at her with wide eyes. "Why can’t I go with you?”

“We don’t know what we’re going to find, and your mother... she and I are very old friends, and she’d never forgive me if I didn’t keep you safe.” In truth, she didn’t know what they’d find, or how she’d react, and what could come for her when that happened. She didn’t want him to have to see that.

“I can wake you, Kieran,” Solas added, dropping down next to Audra. “Wake up.

Kieran disappeared and Solas stood, reaching down a hand to help Audra up. “It’s wise to send the boy away.”

She let him help her to her feet, but immediately turned from him and started for Alistair. She was not about to get pulled into a conversation about Kieran, not when Alistair could be so close.

Rounding the corner, she came to a stop. Alistair sat propped against a rock, his shield covering him and his hand loosely around the hilt of his sword. Blood pooled around him, coming from any number of cuts and punctures, some of which had gone through his armor. Blood ran down his face. Her breath caught in her throat and she started forward. “Alistair!”

Around him, three shimmering yellow forms appeared, blocking her. “No, you will not have him,” they whispered. “We will not let you.”

She started to ready a spell, holding up the staff, but Solas stepped between her and them. “No.” He turned his back to them to face her. “Audra, these are not demons. They are spirits. They are protecting him.”

Understanding dawned on Audra. “They’re buying him time.”

He nodded. “But he won’t have much left.” He turned to the spirits. “We are here to help. We have a way to bring him out of here and save him, but we need to get to him.”

“Please,” Audra said, lowering the staff and setting it on the ground. “He’s my beloved. I need to see how hurt he is. I’m here to help.”

The shimmering forms intensified for a moment in their brightness, then parted to let her pass. She ran to Alistair’s side and put her hands on his face. “He’s cold,” she said, panicking. She could see his chest rise and fall with each breath. “But he’s alive.”

“He could be cold because you’re not actually here,” Solas said, kneeling down on the other side. “Even if you can make it here physically, I don’t know of a healer that can heal this kind of damage.”

Audra set her mouth in a determined line. “I do.” She didn’t know what to expect when she tried to inspect the damage to Alistair. She tried to run a hand through his hair and felt as if she were touching it, but also going right through it. “Alistair,” she whispered, leaning close. “We’re coming. I love you.”

His eyelids twitched and he managed to open them, squinting. When he saw her, his eyes became wide. “Back, demon!” He tried to raise his shield to push her away. He able to rally a surprising amount of strength and pushed her backwards.

“It’s me!” She cowered, covering her face with her arm.

He fell backwards in his weakness, and stared at her. “That’s what all of them have said. You can’t fool me.”

“Alistair. It’s me. I’m at Skyhold. I brought the dogs. And Anders. We’re coming to get you.”

He squinted her. “Of course you are, and I’m the Queen of Ferelden.” He closed his eyes. “Oh now wouldn’t that be funny. Queen of Ferelden.”

Audra uncurled and sat up. “You wouldn’t fit in Anora’s dresses.”

His breaths came in ragged gasps. “I don’t know if it’s you or not. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. The boy, Kieran. My…” He coughed up bloody foam. His eyes were wide, afraid, but recognition seeped in. Something came over his face, perhaps… hope?

“Audra?” he managed.

“It’s me.” She crawled forward to him, arranging his shield to help defend him as best she could. She still had the stuffed Mabari in her hand and she set it in one of his, curling his fingers around it for him and holding them. “We’re coming.”

His head rolled back and his eyes closed. “I’m so tired. You… you said you’d come. I mean, it said you’d come.”

Audra didn’t know what that meant. “Shh. Rest. Save your strength.” She reached out and ran her hand over his face. Tears started to form in the corners of her eyes and her heart felt like it would burst. “I love you. Please just hang on. For me.” Leaning forward, she kissed his forehead, then stood, looking at Solas. “I’m ready. If you have any questions for me, ask me quickly when we return."

“I have… a better idea.” He reached out and took her hands, and the Fade they were in disappeared. They were back in Solas’s room in Skyhold, standing beside the table again as they were before they sat down and traveled to the Fade. “We aren’t actually in Skyhold,” he explained. “We’re still in the Fade. Time moves differently here so we can talk without losing time, and without anyone overhearing.”

Nodding, she pulled her hands away. “There will be questions that will not be mine to answer.”

“I understand that.” He placed his hands on the table and looked down at them. “Kieran had no trouble finding Alistair. Do you know why that is?”

Audra hesitated. “That is one of the questions that I can't provide an answer to. I'm sorry.”

“But you know, then. I didn’t want it to be a surprise to you.”

“It’s not. I’m perfectly aware.” She sighed. Of course he would work it out. Morrigan would kill her if this came up. “Next question.”

He leveled his gaze at her. “You avoided dying when you killed the Archdemon. I always wondered how you did it, but-“

“Stop.” She rubbed at her forehead. “I know you want answers, but… I can’t help you. Not in the way you want.”

“That’s fair. You being here is proof enough, and your reasons are your own.” He crossed his arms. “Do you have a plan for this?”

“More or less. But you may as well know that getting Alistair out of the Fade is not my only intention.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“This is a conversation I’d rather have a few others present for.” She looked over at him. “Let’s get out of here.”

She blinked a few times and found herself sitting on the couch again. “That’s disorienting.”

“It gets easier.” He stood. “Let’s get everyone here that you need here.”

From down the hall, Audra heard the sound of boots on stone, and seconds later Morrigan strode into the room and stopped. “How dare you bring Kieran into this?”

“I didn’t bring him into it!” Audra got to her feet and strode forward. “We went into the Fade and he was already there.”

“He knew where to find Alistair. They appear to share a connection,” Solas offered. He no doubt meant to be helpful, but Audra winced and shook her head.

Morrigan stopped dead in her tracks and seemed to notice Solas for the first time. She snapped her mouth shut and kept her eyes on Audra. “Did you find him, then?”

“With Kieran’s help, yes,” Audra affirmed. “But we’ll find some way, I know you don’t want him to-“

“No.” Morrigan straightened, looking like the ever fearless witch Audra had always known her to be. “If he can help, without stepping foot inside of the Fade through a rift, then we will find a way.”

Audra tried to not look too relieved. “Thank you.”

“Thank me if we pull this off.”

“Assemble the people you need,” Solas affirmed. “I don’t think you have much time left.”

Audra nodded, and they started to send runners to gather their resources.