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To Find Absolution

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Zaire led Cullen, Hawke, and Blackwall to Dagna’s workshop. “Inquisitor!” Dagna greeted as they entered. “I’m glad you’re here. We’re ready. It seems best if we do this here, given that the room has magical shields that should contain any incident. Not that I think they’ll be an incident, but-”

“Thank you, Dagna.” Zaire didn’t want to dwell on the meaning of incidents. She stepped forward and looked around the room. Four beds were laid out in a row, she presumed for some of the group to lay on while entering the Fade in dreams. But who was dreaming and who needed to travel? “Fill me in.”

“We’re going to leverage Kieran’s ability to navigate the Fade to find Alistair,” Morrigan said. Her posture looked straight but a worry touched her eyes as she looked over towards Kieran, sitting quietly in a chair nearby. “He will enter in a dream state, and they will find their way to Alistair.”

“After we’re there,” Audra continued, “I will do a quick spell to bind the Taint, using these amulets.” She touched the one around her neck, and Zaire saw that Anders also wore one. “We have another for Alistair.”

“How will you get back to the rift point?” Zaire asked.

Morrigan gestured with her hand. “I can handle that. I can make myself known in the Fade so that Kieran can come back to me.”

Kieran sat with his hands folded in his lap. He looked braver than a boy of his age had a right to be, but Zaire knew he must have seen more in his short lifetime than most his age. She moved to his side. “This is a brave thing you’re doing, Kieran. You’re fine with this?”

He nodded. “I can do it.”

“And I will ensure he’s removed at once if anything goes wrong,” Solas added. “I will not be going in physically. As much as I’d like to, I feel that I need to also be able to be here to help you open the rift at the end.”

Zaire caught the wistfulness in his tone. “Thank you, Solas.”

Dorian and Anders were looking over a pile of papers, talking quietly. Dorian looked up. “Anders and I have worked out how to best distribute ourselves across defensive and offensive magic.”

Anders nodded. “We’ve used our own understanding of both Solas’ and Audra’s magic to develop a strategy we think will give us the maximum coverage.”

“We’re looking forward to working together.” Dorian’s glance towards Cullen was pointed, and Cullen did not meet his gaze.

“We will need Hawke and Cullen to run interference and help defend us,” Audra said. “They won’t be going in physically.”

Hawke stepped forward. “We can handle it. I’ll backflip over a demon and flip it off if I have to. Then stab and shoot it to death.”

“I’ll skip straight to stabbing,” Cullen noted, his hand resting on his sword.

A strange gesture, given that he wouldn’t be taking it with him, not really. But in the Fade, the power of belief would be the strongest weapon any of them would have. Zaire studied the group, Alistair’s last hope. And hope for the Wardens. “How will everyone find each other in the Fade, if some are going in physically and some not?”

Morrigan moved to Kieran’s side, her robes swishing as she walked. She put a hand on his shoulder. “Once all of the mages are in, I can leverage Hawke and Audra’s shared blood connection to bring the others close to them.”

Nodding, Zaire took a deep breath. It sounded as if it were time, and the longer they waited, the worse Alistair’s chances became. “Tell me what to do.”

“Do you remember how you opened the Fade rift last time?” Dorian asked.

“I absolutely do not,” Zaire said, sighing. She held her hand out, pulling off her glove and turning her hand over in front of her face. She looked back up to Dorian. “The circumstances were… special.”

“We can work with that.” He glanced to Solas. “Your turn.”

The elf led Zaire to a chair. “I’m going to hypnotize you to help you remember how you opened the rift the first time. The mages here will help guide you if needed. I need to you to focus on this point,” he said, conjuring a point of light above and to the right of his head.

He sat her down and held her hands, talking. She barely heard any of the words, as focused as she was on the point. “Now, go back, to Adamant. To the rift. Think about how the mark felt on your hand. Hold it up.”

She lifted her hand and held it there.

“Now, keep it controlled. We don’t need a large rift.”

Zaire focused on the power surging through her and held her hand out towards an empty space in the room. The rift opened in front of them, and she forced it into a size to fit a tall person. She could hear Dagna’s gasp of delight. “Like that?”

“Exactly, yes. Does that feel stable?”

Zaire focused on the feeling of holding the rift, making sure that she knew her answer. “It does. But you should go quickly, I don’t know how long I can keep it open.”

Solas looked to Morrigan. “Are we ready?”

“We are.” She nodded to Audra.

Zaire saw that the mages held their staffs, and Anders had changed into actual mage robes sometime during the preparation process. A feathered mantle now sat over his shoulders.

Audra’s hands held her staff so tight that her knuckles turned white. “Then let’s do this.” She picked up a bag and slug it over her shoulder, and stepped through the rift, swallowed up by the pulsing green light. Anders followed her, and lastly, Dorian. He didn’t look back, his white robes fluttering behind him as he stepped forward and disappeared.

Cullen took a half step forward then stopped, his posture slumping.

Zaire looked over at him. She understood what it felt like to watch someone you love take a step that could lead them to their death. “You’ll see him in a few minutes.”

“It’s going to feel like a long few minutes,” he muttered.

Solas put a hand on Zaire’s shoulder. “Good work.” He looked to the others assembled. “We have to go fast. I’m going to pull us in together. Asleep, but leveraging the rift, and using Hawke to guide us to Audra.”

“It’s a weak blood connection but it should be good enough for this,” Hawke affirmed, laying down on one of the beds.

Kieran moved to a bed, near Morrigan. She reached out her arms and hugged him. “You’re so brave.”

“It’s going to be okay, Mother.” He smiled at her, then laid down on the mattress.

Cullen took a deep breath, and Zaire was sure he hated the whole ordeal but she understood why he felt he needed to go. He laid down as the others had, staring at the ceiling.

Solas looked at Morrigan. “Let her know when to close the rift.”

“I will.” She nodded, once, and started pacing around the beds.

“Close your eyes,” Solas told them, laying down. “And follow me when I call to you.”

The only sounds in the room became the waterfall and the rift, and Zaire waited, her hand starting to shake slightly. She reached up to steady it with her other hand. Blackwall reached his hand out to help support her arm, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Morrigan sat down on the bed beside Kieran, her hand on his forehead. She waited for a moment, closing her eyes, then nodded once and looked up at Zaire. “Close it.”

Zaire pulled the rift back, the green energy swirling back into her hand. She leaned back in the chair, feeling suddenly weary. “Now what?”

“Now, we wait.” Morrigan sat down at the table where Anders and Dorian had been, with their pile of notes. “You may as well get some rest, it’s going to be a few hours at the very least.”

Outside of the door, Zaire could hear the dogs barking.

“Sounds like they came looking for us,” Blackwall said, turning towards the door.

“Don’t let them in,” Zaire warned. “I don’t want them to disrupt anything. If it’s possible to lick someone out of the Fade, I’m pretty sure mabari could do it.”

“Yes, please, let’s lick no one out of the Fade,” Morrigan said dryly.

“I don’t know, it sounds like a good experiment!” Dagna said cheerfully, not looking up from where she had started enchanting a rune.

Zaire snorted. “No experiments until this is over.” She looked over at Blackwall. “Come on, let’s go keep the dogs company before they wake the entire keep.”

Blackwall followed her out of the room and closed the door behind them. The dogs were, thankfully, still at the top of the stairs, but Zaire winced at their volume. “Something’s got them riled up.”

“They could possibly know that Audra isn’t here,” he noted. “Or maybe they think Solas smells funny.”

Zaire chuckled. “We probably all smell funny after today.” She yawned as she walked up the stairs, feeling her feet drag. “I should probably take a bath and get some sleep, but I think I’m going to skip directly to sleep to get as much of it as I can before I have to do that again.”

“I should as well. I can keep the dogs company in the barn,” he added.

She wanted to ask him back to her own quarters, but with the way the dogs were going on, she wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Then again, mabari were smart; perhaps it would settle them down. “It’s been a long day. For all of us, them included.” Opening the door at the top, she found the dogs looking anxious, cautiously wagging their tails.

“Its fine,” she assured them, getting down to her knees. “They’re going to bring Alistair home, but they need some quiet to do that. Can you keep it down to help?”

The dogs wagged their tails faster, and Blackwall chuckled. “It never ceases to amaze me how much they understand.”

“I just wish I knew why they were so excited to begin with.” Zaire sighed. “Come on. Let’s get some sleep.”

Blackwall hesitated a moment, standing by the door. “I’ll see you in the morning then.”

“No.” She chewed at her lip. “There’s been a lot that’s happened today. I’m not ready for things to be back to where they were yet, but…” Looking up at him, she reached out her hand. “I’d rather start somewhere tonight.”

His hand closed around hers and squeezed. “I’d like that very much, my lady.”

“And if I’m letting you up there, I may as well take the dogs too.” She looked at the mabari who waited attentively, sitting on the floor. “Come on, it’s warmer up there, and closer if they need to find us.”

Up in the room, the mabari rushed to curl up in front of the fire, and Zaire pulled off her jacket, throwing it onto the couch. “Don’t even try to argue about where you’re sleeping, just come keep me warm. Fair?”

“Oh, you mean curling up with the dogs isn’t an option?”

“Unless you want the dogs on the bed with us… no.”

Fang looked up, wagging his tail.

“I’d be careful with saying that,” Blackwall warned. “They’ll probably take you up on it.”

Zaire chuckled. “Well, either way, they’ll have to fight us for it.” She yawned again and started removing the rest of her clothing, walking to the closet to pull out a nightgown. She wanted more than sleeping in the same bed, so much more, but everything that happened felt too fresh and she needed the time to process.

He undressed to the same point she had, and they got into bed together. Laying on his back, he put out his arm so that she could curl up next to him. “It’s nice to be this close to you,” he murmured, kissing the top of her head. His arm tightened around her back. She placed her head on his chest, hearing his heart beat loudly in her ear.

Reaching out a hand, she set it on his chest. “I missed you. When you left. I hated sleeping by myself again.”

“Got used to it that quickly?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “I got used to a bit more than that, I suppose.”

“I’m here. However you need me.” His fingers trailed over her back and she reveled in that warmth coming off of him.

She wanted more. Needed more. But there would be time for that after she spent some time getting used to the idea of Thom Rainier. Perhaps more importantly, after he had some time to remember himself, too.

She closed her eyes and let herself drift off into sleep.