tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 157

There and Back Again Ch. 157


Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Seven: Fading In

I walked down the stairs with my brother, towards the ritual that would revive Faren, Maker-willing. But as frightened as I should have been about the ritual – what if it doesn't work? What if something goes wrong? What if Anders ends up possessed, or worse? – to my shame, there were other things weighing more heavily on my mind. I hadn't seen my husband since my dramatic failed seduction in the morning, and while I should have been thinking about my friends, or even the large stack of paperwork I'd discovered on my desk, the worry kept distracting me despite my best efforts. What if he stops loving me? He deserves someone he finds desirable, and that's not me anymore. Is he going to put me aside – or worse, stay with me out of guilt or obligation?

Something must have shown on my face, because Aedan eyed me curiously as we walked in silence. The unspoken question was clear, but I shook my head slightly – I wasn't ready to talk about it, especially not to my brother. He stayed silent, to my relief, but reached out and gripped my hand in support, and I squeezed back gratefully.

Zevran joined us once we reached the main floor, and seemed less inclined to let it slide. He examined me critically and opened his mouth – only to be interrupted by Aedan offering me lunch on the way past the dining room. We stopped in and shoved a few hurried bites of food into our mouths, and the entire time Zev kept trying to get a word in edgewise. Each time he attempted, though, Aedan would reach out and shove something into his mouth – a piece of bread, a small hunk of cheese; by the end the three of us were all laughing, despite my personal agitation and Zevran's apparently insatiable curiosity.

A few minutes later, the three of us headed up into the tower – formerly Avernus' tower, but I supposed now it belonged to Jowan more than anyone else. We'd decided to do the ritual in Avernus' old lab; it was one of the few places we had enough space for the number of people required, and – I hesitated to even think about it – the best place to have to fight an abomination, if Anders' trip to the Fade went horribly wrong. The walls were stone, there was little furniture to destroy, and it was a long distance from the servants' quarters, so there would be a lot of opportunity to kill any abomination before anyone even found out. And the Architect's supposed tomb – really a small empty supply closet near the lab – meant everyone who was aware of it felt uncomfortable enough to attempt to stay away.

I really shouldn't have been so worried about the abomination thing; it wasn't like it was Anders' first visit to the Fade, after all. And somehow Morrigan going into the Fade back in Redcliffe, more than a year earlier, hadn't frightened me at all, though I'd known the outcome. But this unknown, unexpected Fade vacation had me all kinds of nervous – my current marital issues notwithstanding. I couldn't picture anything that could tempt Anders, really, on his trip, but nevertheless I couldn't help imagining what would happen if he became an abomination. Justice didn't count, not really.

That was where I came in; I would have wanted to be there regardless – whether I'd had a choice or not, I'd been the one who'd given Faren the poison and I wasn't prepared to be anywhere else until this was over – but I was also there for another reason. If something did go wrong, I was our best defense against an abomination, which was always a risk when someone was going into the Fade, no matter how stable or well-intentioned. I'd promised to try to stay out of any physical fighting that might happen; Anders had made me promise to try to avoid anything more strenuous than sparring for a month after the miscarriage – thus why I was still in my dress, not armour – but my templar abilities would be critical. For the same reason, Fred, George, Rolan, and Alistair would be present, and the rest of the Wardens would be right outside.

I'm getting sick of situations in which everyone has to gear up as if for a fight inside my own damn keep!

As we reached the door to the lab, I shook my head and tried to put aside all of my feelings – my fear about my marriage, my guilt for Faren's illness, my worry about Anders going into the Fade – and concentrate on my duty, and on Faren's recovery. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Faren was laid out on a cot in the middle of the large room, Sigrun by his side. An empty cot, clearly intended for Anders, was close beside. Anders, Solona, and Donal spoke softly amongst themselves, while Jowan and Velanna, the two mages not taking part in the ritual, listened silently. I watched Solona for a moment; her posture was unusually stiff, her complexion even more pale than normal, but she smiled at Anders and responded to something he said with a slight chuckle. I was impressed, yet again, by her total bad-ass bravery, given that I knew she experienced severe panic when around any Wardens who weren't Anders.

No one stood near the door that led to the sealed storage room we'd told everyone was Avernus' tomb; knowing it was just an empty room, it made me laugh a little inside to see everyone pretending nonchalance. The two templar recruits, as well as Rolan, stood against the opposite wall, looking like they were trying to camouflage into the stone rather than be noticed. I shot them a reassuring smile, and they nodded back respectfully. Conrad, Oghren, Bel, and Wulf stood by Faren's unconscious body, all looking exceedingly uncomfortable. Sigrun nodded at something Conrad said, and the four men left, nodding at us as they went by.

The last person in the room was Alistair. He was leaning against the same wall as the templars, but clearly not with them; his expression was impassive, and he avoided eye contact with me when I glanced at him. His jaw was clenched, though, and his shoulders hunched slightly. I was certain he knew I was there – and he was working hard to ignore me. I rubbed at my chest irritably, hoping to soothe the pain that flared there in response. Better this than some sort of confrontation here in front of everyone. I turned away, deliberately staring back at Faren as though he was my only concern.

Aedan's gaze flickered from me, to my husband, and back again, before grimacing and looking away. He squeezed my hand, though, and I gave silent thanks to whatever deity might be out there for giving me a brother. Anders saved me from any further humiliation when he stepped forward and cleared his throat.

He didn't waste any time. "Donal and Solona are going to perform the ritual. I'll be going into the Fade. I've no idea how long this will take, so don't go getting all antsy and cutting off any heads, yes?" He made eye contact with each of us, winking cheekily at me when I rolled my eyes. When he was happy with whatever he saw in each of our eyes, he gestured to Faren's unconscious form. "Shall we?" He plopped himself down onto the empty cot, and Solona and Donal settled onto the floor on one side. Jowan anxiously held an odd bowl-like structure, the wide opening obscured by the edges which curled in and up, hiding the contents. I wondered where the bowl had come from – I'd never seen anything like it – but I could feel magic radiating off of it in waves, and that made the contents clear: Lyrium.

The templars straightened up, hands on their pommels, and Anders rolled his eyes at them as he settled onto his back on the cot. Alistair waved them back, and they relaxed again, pink-cheeked at Solona's deep scowl. With a sigh, Anders reached out and put one hand on Faren's arm, just as Solona and Donal reached out and each gripped one of his ankles. The two support mages closed their eyes and began murmuring under their breath; Anders nodded at Jowan, who bent forward and held the bowl of Lyrium where he'd be able to reach it. With one last, reassuring nod at Sigrun – who appeared to be barely even breathing, she was so tense – the blond mage placed his free hand into the bowl and fell unconscious.

Jowan waited a long moment, watching Anders' face; when nothing changed, he pulled the bowl away and returned it to one of the nearby lab benches. Solona and Donal's chanting eventually trailed off to silence, the two of them slumped uncomfortably in place.

And then...nothing.

We waited. After a while, maybe half an hour, I crossed the lab and availed myself of a chair; Aedan followed me, and settled onto the floor beside me. Zevran crouched against the wall near Alistair, and I shot him a grateful look. A few minutes later, Rolan and the two templar recruits slid down the wall to rest on the floor, and Alistair followed suit. Velanna and Jowan took stools by the bench holding the Lyrium.

No one spoke. I could clearly hear each of my companions breathing, almost startled by every sigh, sniffle, or sneeze.

After another hour, Seranni and Wulf showed up with platters of food, dropping them off and then retreating. I nodded at the both of them gratefully, and Seranni blushed as she closed the door behind herself. After a few awkward moments, I wandered over and jammed some meat and cheese into a bun; I started a trend, and soon everyone had eaten. Still, no one spoke, all of us alternating between watching the three mages, the unconscious dwarf, and staring off into space. It was awkward, the silence becoming almost oppressive, but I had no desire to be the one to break it.

Another hour in, we all took turns having 'bio breaks' and stretching our legs. The Wardens waiting outside in the antechamber were no less tense than those of us inside, though at least they were talking quietly amongst themselves. I got quick hugs from several as I scooted through, and felt surprisingly better by the time I returned.

It was another hour after the final person had their bio break when things started to get interesting. Solona and Donal, who'd been slumped over, unmoving, sat up and opened their eyes, looking around and stretching, reminding me of nothing so much as young children awaking from a nap. Their eyes were adorably unfocused as they yawned and settled more comfortably – until Solona glanced over at where Anders still rested, unconscious.

She frowned. That can't be a good sign. She glanced to Donal, whose expression had turned grim, and then over to Faren. Her frown deepened as she saw nothing had changed.

Aedan scrambled to his feet, and I heard clattering behind me which indicated the others there had as well. My brother gripped my shoulder hard, almost painfully, but I couldn't bring myself to care – it felt like the pain helped anchor me while my mind started spinning.

"Solona?" Aedan whispered, his voice hoarse from the prolonged, tense silence.

She twitched, looking away from her lover and meeting Aedan's eyes. "Why isn't he back? He should have been back." Jowan had crept closer, and now knelt at her side, offering his hand – she grabbed it and clung tightly, clearly ignoring the taint sensation in her need for some sort of comfort. "How long?"

"Few hours," Jowan replied gently. "Maybe it will just take a minute?" He glanced up hopefully, and then his face twisted with a fierce scowl as he leapt to his feet. "Don't even think about it!"

I blinked, startled at the ferocity, only to realise he wasn't looking at me, but over my shoulder. I turned to see Alistair, expression anguished, standing closer behind me than I'd realised, his hand reaching out awkwardly as though uncertain as to whether he could touch me – and Fred and George right behind him, swords an inch out of their sheaths, expressions sombre and full of regret. Rolan hadn't moved from his position, his face buried in his gauntleted hands.

I squeaked, a high pitched, totally unladylike sound that spilled from my mouth without permission. I grabbed Alistair's hand and used it to lever myself to my feet, turning to face the two templars with my hand held up in the universal gesture for 'stop'.

"Wait, wait," I cajoled them, looking wildly around for support. "Jowan? Solona?"

"I don't know," Solona wailed, and I could hear the tears without turning to look. "He was...I thought we had him."

I reached out instinctively with my templar senses, feeling the mana pools of the five nearby mages; Velanna and Jowan felt normal, Solona and Donal somewhat depleted – but Anders felt like he had no mana left at all, his mana pool practically undetectable. But nothing about him felt wrong, not like Uldred or the other abominations in the Circle, not like the demons either.

Fred and George separated to pass me on either side, armour clanking with each step. Solona sobbed. Rolan groaned, shaking his head wildly and squeezing his temples, his gauntlets leaving violet marks on his skin. Alistair gripped my hand, ready to pull me away from the approaching slaughter, I was sure.

My mind spun. Anders, still unconscious. The Fade. Faren. Healing in the Fade. No mana. I paused, grasping at some intangible thought that refused to make itself clear.

No mana. And suddenly I knew.

"No, no. Wait." I pulled away from my brother and my husband, jumping past both templars, placing one hand on each of their chests. "Wait, damnit. He's not all gross and demony yet – just give me one minute. We've got one damn minute! Let me think."

The two templars paused, but neither released their grips on their pommels, and neither backed off. I stayed in place, thinking furiously.

"Solona." The pretty mage didn't respond, having collapsed into Jowan's arms. I changed tack. "Donal?" He grunted, eyes locked with horror on the two templars. "You've been in the Fade. Right? Your Harrowing?"

His gaze darted around the room, shocked at my casual mention of the Circle ritual, then returned to me as he nodded.

The templars took one more step, almost in unison, and I slid a foot across the floor. "Listen to me! Donal, when you're in the Fade, do you need mana to get back?!" I was shouting now, desperate, cursing my lack of armour, my insufficient strength. I kept trying to make eye contact with either Fred or George, trying to get them to look at me, to think, not to react like templars but like people. I heard clanking, muttering, a gasp, but didn't look, I couldn't, and then came the sound I'd been dreading – the rasping metal-on-metal slide of a sword being drawn rapidly. It wasn't either of the men I was bodily trying to impede; panicked, I let go and spun, hoping against hope that I could jump in front of the sword before something happened that we couldn't take back.

And then I stopped, mouth hanging open. Rolan stood, sword in hand, between me and Anders. But he wasn't facing the mage, wasn't standing over him as judge, jury, and executioner. He was facing us – staring down Fred and George, his gauntlets creaking with the tenseness of his grip – and blocking the path for the two men to reach Anders.

Everyone stopped for a moment, and then before I knew what had happened, Alistair had slithered around us somehow to stand on Rolan's left. Sigrun took up his right, Aedan behind at the foot of the bed, and Zevran was nowhere to be seen – melted into the shadows, I was sure. No one else had drawn their weapons, but it was crystal clear to me that the two templars weren't getting anywhere near Anders without a fight.

"I think we should hear what the lady has to say," Rolan growled, "before anyone loses their head prematurely, yes?"

Alistair gestured to me – I could see fear, absolute terror in his eyes at how close I was to the two men with violent intent, and I had to restrain myself from almost cheering; he wouldn't be so scared if there wasn't something still there, would he? – and I took the handful of steps needed to tuck myself in at his side. Rolan glanced at me only briefly before looking back at the two templars, who had stopped completely and seemed to be confused, trying to figure out what was happening.

"We are going to talk about this," Alistair said, his tone authoritative and commanding, and damn if that isn't sexy. He gestured to the two men to release their weapon hilts before continuing, "like grown-ups, and then, like the Commanders we are, Aedan and I will decide what will happen next. If something must be done, you can be sure it won't be either of you asked to do it."

Nodding, faces flushed, both of the templars dropped their hands, muttering something that was obviously equal parts embarrassment and agreement. Rolan put his sword away, and everyone seemed to calm down a little, postures relaxing.

After a long, silent moment, Rolan gestured at me, and I realised he had really meant it when he said he wanted to hear my idea.

I cleared my throat, nerves making me almost hoarse. "Um, it's just that his mana is gone. Like, completely. Dwarves are resistant to magic – makes them difficult to heal. And I know Anders doesn't have the self-preservation instinct of a drunken lemming when he's healing – it wouldn't be the first time he'd tapped himself out completely. So I just thought...what if he is just out of mana? Stuck in there because the idiot didn't save enough to get himself back? Is that a thing?"

I heard a strangled cry behind me, and glanced back to see Solona claw her way onto the little cot, leaning over Anders' prone form. Her aura flared, and I could suddenly feel her pushing mana into him, waves of it leaving her and flowing into him – and hardly making a dent in his deficit. The process clearly wasn't terribly efficient, and at that rate, she'd run out of mana long before he had enough to work with.

But then I felt another aura, and then another; in a moment, all four conscious mages were pouring their power into him, and it finally made enough difference to make note of. I heard murmuring, felt Alistair's arm wrap around my shoulders, but I couldn't look away from the unconscious mage. It took mere moments for the other four to run out of mana, forced to stop by the very self-preservation instinct I knew Anders lacked – but Anders had an appreciable amount of mana now, his aura pulsed slightly as it adjusted, and all we could do now was...wait.


But not for long, fortunately. The mage, eyes still tightly shut, took a shuddering breath, much deeper than the shallow, sleep-breathing he'd been doing – before letting out a low groan and twitching lightly. We all stared, waiting with bated breath – please don't be an abomination, please don't be an abomination – and I wasn't the only one who took a deep sigh of relief when he rolled to his side, clutched his head, cursed the Maker loudly – and then promptly vomited all over himself.

Solona didn't even seem to notice the vomit; she threw herself at the poor suffering idiot, alternately sobbing and chastising him, her complexion all blotchy from tears. Everyone else slumped, relaxing after the tense exchange and the horrid waiting. Jowan, Donal, and Velanna looked peaked, and all three slumped down on benches, both proud and exhausted in equal measure. Zevran smiled at me and slipped out the door – to tell the other Wardens to stand down, presumably. Alistair still held me, though he turned to Rolan and Sigrun to have a quiet conversation, which I ignored.

Aedan took the two abashed templars aside, murmuring to them softly; he didn't look angry, and I was surprisingly glad, knowing that they hadn't been acting malevolently, they just hadn't ever experienced something like this – and they'd been training their whole lives for the risks that accompanied a mage going into the Fade. I couldn't really blame them, though part of me wanted to. They'd been about to murder my friend – but somehow I couldn't find it in myself to hate them for it. Those in glass houses...they might have been about to murder my friends, but I had actually tried to murder another one.

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