At the end of his life, Cullen expected little. He had seen too much, done too much. He collected nightmares the way Orlesian ladies collected useless glass figurines, with equal utility and less joy.
He fought in his nightmares like a gladiator in some Tevinter coliseum, fending off temptations of power and pride, lust and ownership. He fought Uldred a thousand times over, or Meredith as she called him to forget that protecting mages was as much a part of his duty as destroying them. More nights than he wanted to admit, he fought Solona Amell out of his bed to wake aching with desire for her.
He fought so hard, for so many years that by the end of his life, he felt that he had left the best parts of himself on battlegrounds in the Fade.
Outside the Fade, he grew old, weakening with age until the templar armor was too heavy for him to wear, his sword too much to wield. In his dreams, he was still as vital as ever, and every night he woke from the dream of life into the reality of dreams with his armor and sword worn as part of him once more.
The last night, he knew as soon as he saw his opponent’s face that he had come to the end of his time as a guest in the realm of dreams.
He fought the man in templar armor through the night, their swords ringing as they clashed, the battleground otherwise silent save for their grunts of effort and harsh, panted breaths. What his opponent lacked in experience and patience, he made up for in youth and sheer mad ferocity. The templar fought as though he would never run out of strength while Cullen felt his own endurance ebb until a vicious shield bash threw him to the ground.
He scrabbled for his sword until a boot came down on its hilt to pin it to the ground.
“Go on then,” he panted. “Get it over with.”
The templar removed his helmet to confront him with a face he remembered all too well. He remembered that man with the close-cropped curly blond hair and mad eyes. His visage had been burned into Cullen’s memory after months of seeing it in the mirror every day while he struggled with the aftermath of what had been done to him by Uldred and his minions.
He had prayed with all the fervor in his stained soul never to see that man’s face again.
He wrapped his hand around the blade of his sword and jerked, ignoring the pain and fear that he might lose more than just some blood if things went exactly wrong. The other Cullen staggered when his foot was pulled along with the sword hilt, sending him off balance just long enough for Cullen to snatch at his sword with his left hand and drive it up into his opponent from below.
“You didn’t win then,” he ground out before he shoved harder and gave the blade a twist into the other Cullen’s vitals, “and you damned well don’t get to win now.”
And with all the continuity of dream logic, it was over. He was left lying on his back with his sword thrust up into nothing before it was also just gone.
He sensed the movement before he saw the glowing figures step out of the Fade haze around his battleground. There were figures in armor, in robes, other figures that hinted at their existence out of the corner of his eye only to vanish when he looked toward them.
They had names. He knew them, all of them. He knew them as… kindred spirits.
One of the armored figures came to him and offered him a hand to rise from the ground. “Welcome.”
Dazed, he took the proffered assistance to stand, feeling knowledge flood him through the contact between his spirit and the one who helped him rise. Somewhere on the other side of the Veil, an old husk was cast off along with a name he no longer needed.