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Tearing Down the Heavens

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Autumn

 

 

Maker's breath, everything fucking hurt.

 

She tried to bring her hand to her head, wondering why in the void she was sleeping sitting up. Her spine felt like it had been used as a xylophone by an enthusiastic qunari and left by the roadside, while the rest of her bones ached with the damp cold slinking through the air around her. She frowned in confusion when she discovered that she couldn't raise her hand up to reach her face, and she shuddered as the icy burn of metal dug into the sides of her wrists. Manacles?

 

She opened her eyes, trying very much to ignore the pounding headache that felt like a dagger between them. Blinking in uneven intervals that left spots behind her eyes, with a healthy dose of blurred vision in between, it took a few moments before the room started to come into focus. Not that it helped with her confusion.


She was in a jail cell, chained to the floor, and surrounded by four guards who looked exceedingly angry with her. She let her thoughts spin and tumble around in her head, trying to sift through an odd, overburdening presence of fear, to figure out what exactly had happened. Generally if she was in a jail cell it was because of something she very much remembered doing...usually even enjoyed doing. But she had never been under armed guard before, and she was pretty sure she was not actually still in the Free Marches, where most of her incarcerations had happened previously...or if she was, then she had lost a lot more of her memory than the wanted to think about.


Vague images of running away from some kind of creature floated in her head, but trying to pull the memories forward was like trying to grab a stream of water. She could see it, could fucking feel it, but whenever she tried to get a hold on it they just flowed away. This was not good. Not good at all.


In hindsight, she would like to say that she stood stoically to await her fate, that she was proud and relaxed in the knowledge she had done nothing wrong. The rumor of her strength would spread throughout the world, and her innocence would always shine through like a beacon to everyone that saw her. The truth of the matter was unfortunately much, much less glamorous.


Autumn glanced around the room, trying to decide between yelling or crying as the better option for her escape. In truth, the guards looked like they might respond to either emotional outburst with pure hostility. She had never been looked at with such vitriol before, not even the time she had gotten her neighbor’s prized purebred dog impregnated by that hideous mutt she had found in town (lovingly names Scrabbles by the kids who found him). These men were looking at her like they had caught her in bed with a darkspawn, like she was evil incarnate and deserved to be burned for the transgression of her very existence.


When her hand crackled she screamed in pain, all thoughts of the guards being driven out of her mind. She was about eighty percent sure that was not what hands were meant to do, and about ninety percent sure her hand, specifically, had never done such a thing prior. When the spasm passed she was too terrified to open her eyes again to check on the offending limb. Her whole arm felt like it was on fire, burning and pulsing like someone had ripped out her bones and replaced them with hot iron. Knowing she could never take it back, and positive that she didn't actually want to know, she opened her eyes and looked at her arm, her eyes widening as she took in the sight. She heard one of the guards say something and leave, but it was a secondary awareness to the more important matter of what the fuck was on her hand?


Her palm looked like it had been ripped open, a gaping wound that would have been alarming under any normal circumstances. If it had been bleeding all over everything it would have been more of a relief than what was actually there, a feat she considered quite great considering that bleeding everywhere was rarely a preferable scenario. It looked like someone had separated her skin, dug out a nice hole, and poured liquid crystal into it, sealing it shut again. It shimmered in the darkness, putting out a sickly green light that reminded her of magic and spells, and a lot of things that did not belong on her fucking hand. It crackled again, angry magic hissing through the air and snapping against her skin, and she managed to keep her eyes open long enough to see actual sparks of energy fly out of it before she succumbed to the pain again, folding in on herself as much as her restraints would allow. The surge of agony reverberated through her like someone was banging against her bones, all the way from her palm to the base of her neck. She briefly considered begging the guards to cut off her arm, until the wave passed and the searing ache receded into a dull throb. She looked at her palm, and could have sworn the tear there looked bigger, which was the scariest prospect of all.


Distracted by her pain and new, exciting tattoo, she had missed the entrance of the two women. When she was yanked up roughly by a tall, furious stack of armor and feminine rage who started yelling in her face immediately, she was too disoriented to do much more than stammer that she didn't know why she was there, didn't know what the thing on her hand was, didn't know what was going on. She was obviously convincing though, through her dazed discomfiture, since the second woman lurking around the room seemed to buy her answers wholesale.


“Cassandra, calm down. We need her.” Her voice lilted like a cat’s purr, the faintly Orlesian accent slipping off her tongue with a dangerous grace. With a sickening feeling of dread Autumn’s memory was triggered, and realization hit her like a hammer to the shin. She recognized the name Cassandra, and the famed sour demeanor certainly matched up with the rumors she had heard from those who had run into her in Kirkwall. These women were the left and right hands of the Divine, Cassandra the Seeker and Leliana the Nightingale, guardians of the most holy woman south of Tevinter (and within and further north, depending on which altar the viewer prayed at). Andraste's nug nuggets, what did I get into this time? It took all of her effort not to start crying, and even then it wasn't working as a hot, miserable tear worked its way out of the corner of her eye and down her cheek. She would have wanted to wipe it away before they saw, but having her hands bound made that impossible.


Barring dignity, she resorted to indignation. “Will someone please tell me what the fuck is going on?!” If they were going to see her fall apart, she might as well do it angrily. “I wake up cold and in pain, with whatever the fuck on my hand, and the this war machine starts jostling me around like a misbehaving sack of potatoes. Can all of you stop glaring at me long enough to at least tell me what I’m being accused of?” The women turned to her again, both looking slightly surprised at the sudden outburst. Cassandra, an angry monolith of muscle and sleek sinew, sighed heavily, seeming to accept some kind of defeat under Leliana’s shrewd gaze.


“Head to the forward camp. Tell them we are coming.” Cassandra’s words were clipped, just short of an order. Leliana nodded and left the room, her footsteps less than a whisper against the icy stone. Cassandra turned back around and began unshackling her from the ground, removing the manacles, and Autumn shuddered as air rushed to fill the empty space against her skin. Her wrists were then covered with a coarse rope, tied in a knot just short of painfully tight, effectively rebinding her. “It will be easier to show you what has happened, rather than waste words on an explanation that will not be believed until it has been seen.” her tone was still angry, but her treatment was less rough, so Autumn decided to accept her victories where she could get them, and did not struggle as she was led out of the cell. Not that she would be able to escape the woman if she had tried. The very same woman who had reportedly taken on an entire horde of dragons by herself. Autumn allowed herself to be herded up and out of the building she was in, and was relieved when she was hit with the shock of cold air that meant she was outside.

The feeling was not long lived when she glanced up into the sky.


“We're calling it the breach. A tear between this world and the next.” Cassandra’s voice sounded a thousand miles away. All Autumn could see, or feel, or hear, or even think about, was the terrifying, swirling green mass of cloud and despair that hovered above the mountains. It was huge, cutting across the sky in a sick mirror of what was on her hand. She could see bits of rock just…floating in it, defying gravity and all logic. Magic and power seared the air, even at this distance, prickling her senses like a lightning strike pulsing too close in the night. Boiling masses of energy shot out of it towards the ground every few seconds, and Autumn really, really didn’t want to know if anything was in them.


Numbly, she listened while Cassandra explained to her that the Conclave had exploded, leaving that in the sky, and a rift had formed and spit her out of it. She was the only survivor they knew of, and the mark on her hand seemed connected to the Breach, expanding as it did in equal measure.


“How the fuck did this happen?” Autumn was angry that her voice shook, hating the rawness of the emotions spilling out of her. Although she supposed if there was ever a time in her life to lose her grip on her emotions, this was fucking it.


Cassandra scowled at her. “We don't know. We had been hoping you would be telling us.”


“Wait, you think I did this?!” fear coiled itself in her gut like an icy snake. That was worse than she had imagined.


Cassandra didn't respond, only strode forward, her legs perfect stomping machines that massacred the snowfall beneath her boots. As they moved, Autumn became very keenly aware of the angry stares from the people around them, lingering forlornly in makeshift tents and shelters. Cassandra was not the only one that thought she was the culprit, it seemed. These people really thought she had done something to murder an entire temple full of people? Autumn kept her head down, hunching her shoulders as though that would help hide her from the sheer and utter hate pouring out of each pair of eyes that they passed. She was a miscreant, but she could never hurt so many people…could she? The gaps in her memory and the loathing being directed at her made her doubt herself. Which didn’t bode well for how much doubt she would receive from people who weren’t invested in her life continuing to remain un-assaulted by a guillotine.


When they crossed outside of town, Cassandra turned and cut her bindings. “I can promise a trial, nothing more.” Everything the woman said was terse.


Autumn glanced at the hole in the sky, still visible every time she closed her eyes. “Where are we going?”


“You'll see soon enough.” was all she was offered in return. Autumn didn't have the nerve to argue, but she was sure whatever was in store for her was not going to be good.

***

Cullen was convinced that they were all going to die. This whole thing was a mess, an even bigger mess than Kirkwall had been, and that was saying something. They were running out of soldiers in fit enough condition to fight, while the cursed hole in the sky spewed out a seemingly endless supply of demons. It was not possible to fight them all off. It was not even possible to hold consistent ground against them, at the rate they were collecting injured. Their forces were not ready for a conflict of this size, untrained and fledgling as they were. If only they had been given warning…


A familiar, needling voice penetrated his thoughts, and the headache holding a militant parade in his skull reached a crescendo in response. Roderick. The loudmouth chancellor running around the forward camp was not helping matters. He had been rushing around trying to get people to follow his orders, to varying degrees of failure. When he realized that his tactics weren't working, he had simply started repeating every order that Cullen issued, apparently feeling that the farce of authority was better than nothing at all. Cullen could see Varric eying the man as he ranted, his fingers twitching towards the trigger of his crossbow. He had to restrain himself from asking the dwarf to take the shot. Maker knew they would all be better off with a little peace and quiet, even if it only lasted until their grim and seemingly inevitable ends.


The two of them, dwarf and Commander, were standing around a small table set up on the bridge, staring down at papers with reports full of carnage and bad news. Solas was near, as well, the quiet apostate pacing back and forth, every now and again glancing up towards the breach as though silently asking it questions, his keen eyes narrowing and widening in turns. Cullen didn't know if he was getting any answers, but he wished he would stop pacing. It was making him nervous.


It was a relief to all of them when they saw Leliana jog through the gates, her soundless approach a welcome sight.


“Please tell me you have news.” Cullen tried not to growl with impatience. They had been throwing demons back from the camp for what felt like years, although it was probably only closer to days. It was hard to keep track. He hadn't slept or eaten more than a passing bite for longer than was safe for a soldier. Not that any of them had any options in that regard. Safety was also something that had blown out of the realm of possibility when the temple had been wiped off the map.


“She is awake.” Leliana wasn't even out of breath as she spoke, and Cullen marveled at the physical fitness of the quiet woman. “Cassandra is bringing her through now.”


“A path should be cleared to the breach. She is our only hope to seal it.” Solas said, done with his pacing for the moment.


“And if she can't?” Cullen asked. “I am not sending men out there to die for no purpose.”


Leliana laid a hand on his shoulder. “He's right, Cullen. If she can't seal the breach, it won't matter when your men died.” He resented the cold way she spoke, less so the token gesture accompanying it, but she certainly had a point. If the prisoner couldn’t seal the breach, they would all die. The only question would be when. One way or another, the tortuous onslaught would end. He wasn’t sure if he had the capacity to hope at this point, but there was a stubborn part of him marching towards success nonetheless. If this was their best option, then this was the course of action he would take.


“Fine. I will take what men we have left and clear a path through the valley as best we can. I pray you're right, mage.” He didn't give Solas a chance to respond before he stalked off, barking orders to the soldiers around him to ready themselves. This was going to be a long, long day.