They assembled back in the War Room, in a tense circle around the table. Audra couldn’t help but think that they’d arranged themselves as if they had to make some points to each other. To her right, Morrigan crossed her arms and looked concerned. Past Morrigan stood Solas, Cullen, Zaire, Dorian, Hawke, and Anders. She knew that having Anders to her left sent a message to Cullen, and she hated that she had to send that message at all. But Cullen had never taken subtlety nearly as well as a clear message.
Across the table, Cullen glared at Anders, who pointedly kept his focus on Audra. Dorian had worked his way over to have Zaire between him and Cullen, and while Audra couldn’t tell for sure, it appeared Dorian had been drinking. Hawke watched them all like, well, a hawk; he appeared to look casual about it, but she’d known him to long to not see the rigidness in his spine. Zaire looked unruffled but Audra had seen her touch Dorian’s arm and say a quick word to him when they walked into the room. Her concern and care for her people was obvious, and Audra approved of that.
“Now that I’ve got you all in one room…” Audra took a deep breath. “I don’t think Alistair has much time. Solas and I found him in the Fade, and he’s bleeding out.”
Anders let out a hiss. “How well will magic work if physically in the Fade? That will affect how much healing I can do.”
“Very well, if my experience means anything,” Dorian noted. “I may have slung a record number of fireballs, even.” He punctuated his words with his hands. “Fucking demons.”
“I concur,” Solas agreed. “It’s nothing like walking the Fade as we normally do. You’ll find that you’ll have more power to draw off of as well.”
Nodding, Anders looked at Audra, determined. He cracked his knuckles. “If I can cast, I can heal.”
Solas placed his hands on the table. “He’s lost a lot of blood. Are you sure you can heal that?”
A crackle of blue appeared across Anders’s skin. “I have to.”
Cullen’s hand reached for his sword and Zaire lifted a hand in his direction. Hawke placed a hand on Anders’s arm and the blue glow faded. Solas looked intrigued.
“I’d like to get something out of the way right now,” Zaire said, lowering her hand. “Cullen, you in particular are not going to like this.”
“Do I like anything about this situation?” he demanded, slowly pulling his hand away from his sword but tension obvious in his posture.
“That’s on you. But I’m not going to let this sit any longer.” She gestured to Anders. “Do I have your permission to explain the situation.”
“You might as well.” Anders gestured to her. “It’s better if it comes from you.”
Zaire looked around the room. “For those not aware, Anders carries a spirt of Justice inside of him. And that spirit, Justice, is part of the team. We may be talking to Anders, but that does not mean that Justice is not here. I understand that may make some people uncomfortable, but they’re both a part of the situation. We need them both to make this work. If anyone has an issue with that…” She pointed at the large double doors. “The door is that way.”
Hawke spoke up. “You know where I stand.”
“I certainly don’t have an issue with it,” Solas said, looking at Anders. “In fact, I would love to converse with you both later if you’re open to it. I’m sure you would both have some fascinating perspectives.”
Anders smiled. “We’d… like that.”
Cullen stepped forward. “I have a problem with it. But I’m here for Alistair, and for you,” he said, looking at Audra. His eyes looked almost afraid but she could see the resolve he tried to convey. “I will do what it takes.”
“Good.” Zaire looked around the room. “No other objections?”
No one spoke up, and Zaire nodded once, firmly.
“I have an objection,” Anders said, a flicker of blue coming over his skin. He lifted a hand and pointed to Cullen. “I cannot work with the Templar. I have seen what he does to mages. It is not right that he have a place among us.”
A muscle twitched in Cullen’s jaw. “I did not kill over a hundred innocent people. What you did was not ‘justice’, it was slaughter. We were cleaning up that mess while you ran.”
Anders met his eyes. “We freed you. You would not be here if not for us.”
Cullen slammed his hand down on the table. “That is not freedom. We were becoming prisoners of our fear as much as you were of yours!”
“This is precisely why the Circles need to end.” The blue flickered along his skin. “How do you think the mages who waited for you to kill them felt? We have one of those mages-“ The blue glow suddenly faded and Anders closed his eyes, seeming to having a moment with Justice. Audra could recognize that they were having an internal struggle.
Zaire held her hands up before Audra could interrupt. “I’m stopping this right here.” She pointed to Anders. “Cullen is here to help Alistair and Audra. He has as much of a right to be here as you, and I’d like to point out that he is a trusted advisor and friend to both myself and the Inquisition.” She shook her head, then turned to Cullen. “You can work with them or not. I respect you enough to let you make your own decision.” She looked around the room. “I am fully aware of the factors here, but I will not have either side continuing down this path. Do I make myself clear?”
Silence stretched out for a long moment before Zaire spoke again. “The floor is yours again, Warden.”
She’s good. Audra was understanding now why so many of them followed the dwarf so faithfully. “Thank you, Inquisitor.” Audra looked around the table. “So, there is more to this than saving Alistair. I debated telling you all this, but I wanted everyone to be aware of it as I’m not sure what will happen.” Audra drew a deep breath. “I’m intending on curing the Taint. I’ve been researching the Fade as much as I can, and I’ve determined that the Taint is not just tied to the Darkspawn, but also to its source.”
“The magisters that entered the Black City,” Dorian commented. “Or so the legends say.”
Audra nodded. “It’s not much, but it’s all I have to go on. I think that if I can tie the Taint in us back to the source, physically leaving the Fade could pull it out of us.”
Solas pondered for a moment. “It could work. It shouldn’t cause any damage to the Fade. But it could kill you. I can’t say what would happen.”
She shivered, taking a deep breath. “The Wardens are all dead in a matter of time anyway. Anders and I are both Wardens.” She looked at Anders, who nodded. “We are willing to take the chance. Alistair and I have talked about it, and he, too, is willing.”
Past Anders, Hawke stood up straighter. Audra was aware that they, too, had talked about this, and it had not been an easy conversation. On the upside, Anders had the greatest chance of survival out of the three of them, thanks to Justice. If they came out of this with Hawke and Anders together, even if she and Alistair didn’t make it, it would be enough for her. I’m going to die no matter what.
Morrigan shook her head. “You’re planning on being an experiment?”
Audra nodded. “It’s about our only alternative. I’ve got most of the spell worked out. But we don’t have a lot of time, so Anders and I could use some help from you, Dorian, and Solas.”
“My knowledge is at your disposal,” Morrigan said, nodding.
Dorian managed a smile. “I’m up for a challenge.”
“And I am fascinated by this concept of tying the Taint to the Fade,” Solas finished.
“Then that settles it.” Zaire nodded to Audra. “However, it doesn’t sound like Alistair has much time. I’m going to suggest that if you’re going to do this, you do it tonight. It’s not as if I can’t ever send you to the Fade again if you can’t perfect the spell now.”
Solas shook his head. “Inquisitor, we don’t know how easily you can do this again-“
“We’ll make it happen.” Zaire’s lips were set in a line. “Dorian, take them below to work on the spell. Perhaps Dagna can also offer some assistance.”
“Dagna?” Audra laughed. She hadn’t heard that name in years. “The same Dagna with a thirst for knowledge that never quits?”
“That sounds absolutely accurate,” Dorian noted.
Zaire nodded thoughtfully. “Ah, that’s right. Dagna mentioned you met in Orzamar many years ago. During the Fifth Blight.”
“It’s been at least 14 years.” Audra tugged at a thread on her robe. “At least I know we’ll be in some additional good hands.”
“You’ll have the best team in Thedas,” Dorian promised. “Mostly because you have me.” He led the mages out of the room, and Audra reached out and touched Zaire’s arm as she passed. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” the dwarf warned. “But you’re brave as hell, Warden, and when this is over, the drinks are on me.”
Audra smiled. “I’d like that.”
The non-mages remained in the room, and Audra left to catch up to Morrigan. She held a hand on her arm so that they fell back slightly behind the other mages. “Morrigan. I hope you know that I didn’t say anything. About Kieran.”
“I know. You would not do that.” Morrigan rubbed at her arms against the chill in the hallway. “But someone might ask about their connection, and that is not a question I want to answer.”
“Is it that bad to answer it?” Audra asked. “I know you’d rather no one know, but I want you to know that it’s not a secret you have to hide for us. I could always make up some great story about a threesome and-“
“You would not!” Morrigan let out a laugh.
“I hoped you’d laugh at that.” Audra chuckled. “I know you don’t want Kieran involved, but earlier when we ran into him in the Fade, Solas was able to immediately wake him. We’ll keep him safe.”
“Yes. Kieran told me. Tis why I am willing to take the chance. But I will need his assurance that he will ensure Kieran gets out if he is in danger.”
“Absolutely.” Audra knew that they had to succeed, though, because risking leaving all of them physically in the Fade was a risk they couldn’t afford.