Anders shifted his staff from hand to hand, looking over the assembled group. Now that the rift had closed, they were left standing in the Fade. Himself, Audra, and Dorian looked very real, while Kieran, Solas, Cullen, and Hawke shimmered slightly around the edges.
He took a long moment to get his bearings. The last time he’d been in the Fade, it had been in a dream state. In that situation, Justice had taken over. He’d recognized that would be a possibility this time, but didn’t know if a pattern would emerge from their travels in the Fade.
Taking stock of the situation, he and Justice looked around and agreed on their approach. Anders would remain in the forefront for now, as his own connection to the Fade as a mage would allow him to know the most reliable times to cast. It also provided the most consistent experience for the others traveling with them.
“Anders,” Audra said, turning to him. “How are you?”
“I’m fine.” He looked down at his hands, flexing his fingers around his staff. “We’re both fine. It’s the same as it usually is.” Blue cracks appeared on his skin; Justice affirmed that it felt right. “We can shift at will, as we are used to.” It would allow him to fight and heal, which is what they would need the most from him.
“Good.” Audra looked around at the others. “How are the rest of you?”
“Other than that trip making me feel like puking?” Dorian asked, an uncomfortable look on his face.
“That’s probably all the wine you drank before coming in here,” Cullen muttered, and Dorian shot him a look.
I’d probably be drinking if I had to put up with Cullen, too, Anders thought, unsure what to make of that situation.
Audra frowned. “Why were you drinking if you knew we’d be coming into the Fade?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Dorian tugged at his robes. “I can cast, and I can fight, if that’s what you’re asking. Nothing will sober a person up faster than a trip through a Fade rift.” He rolled his eyes. “Waste of perfectly good wine, if you ask me.”
“Well, you can have all you want when we’re done here,” Audra noted.
Anders got to his knees in front of Kieran, leaning on his staff. He studied the boy’s face, wanting to know that he was ready. “Everything feel okay?”
“Yes.” The boy nodded. “I’ve been in the Fade before.”
“Excellent.” Anders smiled at him. “What direction should we start?”
Kieran closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. After a moment, he turned to his left and pointed. “That way.”
Anders stood and looked to Audra. “Should we get the first two bindings out of the way?”
She nodded, reaching into her tunic and pulling out a pendant. It looked similar to a phylactery, and the thought made Anders shudder slightly. “We’ll need the rest of you to give us a moment.”
They walked a short distance away, blocking what they were doing from the others. Anders knew why; he could just imagine Cullen screaming about blood magic. They certainly didn’t need that extra complication. Anders pulled his pendant off and handed it to Audra, then drew a knife from his belt. He touched it to his finger, just enough to cause a fat drop of blood to well up. Audra opened the cork that kept the glass tube closed and scooped up the blood before closing it. He took it from her and cast the spell over it. It glowed green for a moment then faded. Just before leaving the Fade, they would take off the pendants, leaving them in the Fade to draw the Taint out of them.
“This is probably going to be horrifyingly painful,” he muttered as he healed his finger and put the pendant back around his neck.
Audra held out her hand and he did the same to her finger. “It’s this or die in the Deep Roads like every other Warden.”
“Ask me what I think of it when it’s over.” He opened her vial and carefully squeezed her finger until enough blood dropped into the vial. He pushed the stopper in and handed it to her to do the same spell. She cast her own healing spell for the bleeding.
After tucking the pendant back under her shirt, she looked back at him. “At least we know what it’s like to fight Darkspawn.”
“Isn’t that the truth.” He tucked the dagger back into his belt and regarded her. “Are you ready for this?”
She took a deep breath, reaching into her pocket to pull out a short leather strap. She braided her hair as they walked back to the others. “As ready as I’m going to be.”
When they reached the rest of their party, they started off in the direction that Kieran indicated. The formation they ended up in had Audra and himself at the front, with Hawke and Cullen on each side of Kieran behind them. In the back, Dorian and Solas paced, staffs at the ready.
“Can you also see where your mother is, Kieran?” Audra asked, looking back at him.
He nodded. “Yes. She’s not far.”
As they walked, something within Anders seemed to sing to the Fade. More than just his own magic, he could feel Justice reaching for the Fade. Being physically here came with a sense of peace, of renewal. As of part of him was finding its purpose again, and it made him feel more alive.
This is a good feeling, Justice asserted, and Anders had to agree. He wondered if this is what they’d needed all along to feel more whole. Justice had joined with him at such a turbulent part of his life, and they’d had to take many years to understand what that meant. There had been Kirkwall, where Justice had become more like Vengeance. Then the more peaceful years after Kirkwall, where they learned to coexist in a more stable way. Anders, though, had always carried the guilt and concern that the way he was is that caused that to come out in Justice.
Being here in the Fade, he started to understand that it may have run deeper. “Solas,” he asked, falling back slightly, “could I have a word with you?”
“Of course.” The group rearranged itself, and Anders found himself walking with Solas at the back. “Did you have something in particular you wanted to ask about?”
“After a fashion, yes. It’s about the spirit inside of me. Back in Kirkwall, the spirit… well, and I… we were very angry.” Anders winced at the understatement.
Cullen muttered something up ahead of them, picking up his pace.
Solas nodded. “Ah, I believe I see where you are going with this.”
“I’m worried that my anger may have corrupted the spirit,” he admitted. “He is a friend, and while I feel like everything is stable now, I’m worried about his future.”
Thinking for a moment, Solas tapped his chin. “Can I speak to the spirit directly?”
Anders shifted with Justice. Beyond the blue cracks that normally appeared along his skin, Anders was aware that they’d also partially taken on the form of an armored figure, as Justice took on before they merged. It shimmered around them. “Yes, you may.”
“Spirit, how did you come into our world?” Solas asked, watching him.
“It is a… long story. But suffice to say, it was not my choice. I was thrown through what you call the Veil, and found myself in the body of a dead Warden by the name of Kristoff.”
“Unwilling, you say?” Solas frowned. “That would explain that feeling of corruption you are concerned about. While it’s possible you could have picked up corruption from inhabiting a person, what is far more likely is that your trip out of the Fade may have injured you.”
“I do not become injured.”
“Not in the sense that a mortal does, no. But some spirits that are forced through the Veil become demons just based on the shock of the transition alone.”
“How can we tell?”
“It’s not something that you simply tell. However, what sounds likely is that the shock may have caused a corruption. Yet now, you both seem like you are in reasonable balance. Is that correct?”
“It is mostly so.” The blue flared up. “We do not know if the Taint plays a part, but we have a feeling like we are not whole. It has been better since we have entered the Fade.”
Solas smiled. “I am starting to gather a theory. I suspect that perhaps while your first traumatic trip through the Veil may have caused damage, an intentional exit that you are ready for could leave you in a much stronger state.”
“Such as the one we will have after rescuing Alistair.” Anders and Justice felt a swell of hope unlike anything they’d felt since waking up far away from Kirkwall.
“Precisely.” Solas reached out and clasped Justice’s arm. “I am sorry you had to go through that. Being forced through the Veil is more traumatic than any mortal can even imagine. It is not your fault that you were put through that. Perhaps we can fix this.”
Something in his tone led Anders and Justice to think that Solas directed that towards Cullen. “I would… appreciate that.” The blue faded from Anders’s skin and he tried to keep control of the surge of anticipation that went through him. Could there be a chance to even out the balance inside of them? Could it be not entirely Anders’s fault for what had happened to Justice?
“I imagine you both carry some pain over it. While we cannot undo it, we certainly can try to make it better from this point.” Solas smiled at them. “I encourage you to do what you can to calm your mind in the meantime, to prepare for a smooth exit from the Fade.”
“That could be complicated, but we’ll see.” Anders sighed, fingers grasping the worn spots on his staff. “We don’t know what pulling the Taint out will do. It could kill me.”
“Let us hope that is not the case.”
They rejoined the group, and Anders tried to even out his breathing. Could it be possible that they could really make things better? He hoped so. Glancing over at Hawke, he saw the other man gave him an encouraging smile, and he smiled back.
Anders had to survive this, because he always came back to Hawke.