The next morning, they gathered in the war room. Athena stood next to the Herald with Kain at their side. He was insistent on being her shadow and not leaving anything to chance. Josephine, Cullen, Cassandra, and Leliana stood in their usual positions across from them. The room was tense from the discussion the day before but there was an air of hope. She could help them; she could smooth out transitions and hopefully save lives in the process. The first plan was the Breach.
Cullen looked at his reports before looking up with a confident nod. “The mages have all gathered from Redcliffe and we’re receiving new people drawn to the cause daily. They are ready to help close the Breach at a moment’s notice.”
The rest of the group seemed calm but Athena’s eyes were glued to the small map of Haven. The mine she had told Cullen about had thankfully been cleaned out and now had torches lining the whole area with small caches of potions for the weary miner, or more importantly, the Herald when she would be thrown down there by an avalanche. None of them knew that quite yet, the words were difficult to form and she was having trouble spelling things out without confessing the whole event and potentially changing the larger outcome.
Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t realize the whole group was looking at her, waiting for some indication that they were going the right way. She blinked away the fog of her mind and looked up to them, focusing on Cullen for now since he was the leader of the troops and needed to prepare. Plus, holding his gaze for extended periods of time made him blush and it was fun to get that reaction out of him. “There is going to be an attack following the closing of the Breach. Allow the people to celebrate. They need hope in these trying times so alerting them all of the impending attack would make matters worse.”
Cassandra came in from the side, her hands resting clasped in front of her while she also assessed the map on the table. There surprisingly wasn’t much objection to her suggestion. Perhaps the night before had unsettled them enough to believe her. “An attack? From who?”
Athena rolled her neck and gave herself a moment to think. “They fly without banners. It is hard to say. But they will come through the mountains.”
Leliana, the Nightingale of the Orlesian court, stepped in with obsidian pieces in her hands that indicated her scout’s movements on the map. “I can send out some of my people to provide extra support there.”
Rathein bristled next to her. “They are still people, Leliana. You would basically be sending them to their deaths.”
The spy-master met the Herald’s gaze without faltering. “They know their duty.”
Athena intercepted them with a smirk, shaking her head while pointing to the mountain pass on the map. “Actually, Leliana, pull back your scouts.”
The group didn’t like that suggestion, curses and expletives being murmured under their breath while Leliana simply asked “Why?”
She beamed with a smile, looking down to Kain while ruffling him on the head. “I have my own scouts that won’t draw attention that can signal us when they’re coming close. They will blend in with the environment and can talk to each other. Howls in the night aren’t anything to be suspicious of in these woods after all.”
If she didn’t know any better she would say Leliana looked impressed, placing her pieces in a pile down on the edge of the table she was standing near. “I will call them back for reinforcements within Haven. What else?”
This time she looked to Josephine, her face softening in a silent apology for bringing up her family’s fortune the night before. The Ambassador did not seem to notice or show any offense taken, her quill at the ready to jot down whatever commands there were. “Call for local nobles to donate some goods that won’t perish quickly: salted meats and hearty breads. It won’t hurt to have a supply.” It also won’t hurt to have good food when they’re traveling in the snow to Skyfall.
Lastly she looked to Cassandra, earning a nod of acknowledgement from the Seeker. “Get in contact with Solas and some of the rebel mages. This Chantry is the strongest building we have. It would be wise to construct a barrier around it to provide safe Haven for the people in the coming days.” They all sat with their instructions, slowly looking to the Herald waiting for her answer. She was still the official leader after all.
Rathein was still rubbing the morning grime from her eyes, one hand palming her eye while the other looked at the map and all of their movements. “Sounds like a plan to me. We’ll leave for the Breach in a day or so. That should give everyone enough time, right?” There were hums of acknowledgement while Leliana broke off from the group to send ravens to her scouts. It left the pair of the Herald and Athena walking through the Chantry together. Vivienne shot Athena an icy glare and she returned it with a polite smile.
“Man she does not like you.” Rathein’s voice was playful as she jabbed her elbow into Athena’s ribs.
She chuckled under her breath, tucking a stray curl behind her ear while replying. “It’s understandable. I don’t expect everyone to trust me overnight. You and I were able to hash it out.” This drew an echoing laugh from her friend while she continued. “I can’t do that with each of them. I think I would die, especially going up against Bull.”
At the mention of the mercenary leader the Herald blushed, bashfully rubbing the back of the neck. “Yeah. . . he’s something.”
This time it was Athena who laughed and shoved her to the side with a grin on her lips. “You could not be subtle if you tried.” Something just felt freeing with them finally knowing. There was no pretense, no skipping around thoughts. She still had to choose her words carefully but they at least knew what she was trying to do. And at some points her cheekbone was still sore to remind her to be honest, a scar that the Herald so kindly left her during their duel.
Her friend walked down the stairs to run drills against the Chargers while Athena veered left to talk to Solas about the barrier, and learning how to fade-step because it was a useful tool she wanted to learn. As she walked by a cabin she heard a snarky voice come from behind her. “And how are you feeling this morning?”
Before she stepped into Solas’s line of sight she turned around to see Dorian leaning against the wall of a cabin with one arm resting on his hip. He gave her a knowing smile, looking her up and down with an exaggerated gaze. “I didn’t think you were going to make it to your cabin last night, let alone to your meeting this morning. You must tell me your cure for hangovers.” Athena came up and stood in front of him, their bodies close enough so they could talk under their breath to one another. She knew it would make the people of Haven talk since she was flirting with a Tevinter, but they both knew it was for play. He always had a sarcastic smirk on his face but there was just a knowing look between them that showed she knew he wasn’t actively pursuing her. There was a small comfort in knowing you could be touchy and flirtatious with someone without there being anything deep to it. It made her feel a little bit at home.
Plus, Rathein seemed to be the only one willing to hug her around here so the extra friendly attitude was nice. She didn’t realize how much she missed the small touches from her past life, a sideways hug, a clap on the shoulder, they were little things that left her not feeling so lonely like she did here. “It’s no secret really, just a skinny dip in the lake and you’ll wake right up.”
He laughed, running a hand through his hair while meeting her gaze. “Now that would be bracing. Speaking of bracing, I don’t think he likes me too much.” Athena could feel it too, the subtle cold aura lingering in the air behind her. She had felt it last night in the tavern as well and it was when she was getting up close and personal with Dorian. Well, hmph. Solas couldn’t be interested in her; she wasn’t elvish. Being with her wouldn’t continue on the elven line and help restore his people.
She shrugged, leaning against the wall next to Dorian while giving him a knowing wink. Sure enough, the air got colder but she knew Solas wouldn’t be so obvious as to look at them both. He was probably sitting in a chair reading a book or looking out at the village from his spot outside of his cabin. “Well that’s a shame because what isn’t there to love about you?”
Dorian genuinely smiled, resting his elbow against the wall while supporting his head with his hand. “I know! I can’t believe it myself. You and the Herald are the only ones that know how good you have it with me being around.”
Athena pushed on his chest and knocked him off his balance, shaking her head at him while turning away from him. “I am thankful you’re around, Dorian. Let me know if you need anything or need a drink.”
“After last night? Not for a while. Dinner perhaps.”
She nodded while turning, finally acknowledging where Solas was sitting. He was resting in his chair, eyes closed with his head leaning back against the wall behind him. His hands were clasped in his lap and now his aura was very reserved, almost absent from the air. She assumed he was in the Fade or just pretending to ignore her. She stood in front of him, arching a brow while she looked him up and down. Instead of tapping him or kicking his feet like she wanted to, she brought her aura to her skin and pushed it outwards. In the air she could see it looked like a wall of flame, licking and igniting with every urge from her mind.
It rolled over his skin, this bringing an eye twitch of annoyance from his face. He then shook his head and treated it like it were an annoying insect, his eyes opening to inspect what was happening but seeing her instead. His lips twitched into something of a smile while he waited for her aura to withdraw. “Good morning, Athena. How can I help you?”
She drew her magic back with a wicked grin, unfolding her arms from her chest while pointing back to the Chantry. “We are setting up a barrier around the Chantry to fortify it. I asked Cassandra to recruit you and some of the mages from Redcliffe but I wanted to tell you myself.”
He hummed, nodding while unclasping his hands and resting them on top of his knees. He then looked to where Dorian was standing with almost a sneer on his lips. “You seem to be comfortable with the Tevinter.”
Athena stood her ground, planting her heels into the snow while shoving her hands into her pockets to keep from balling them into fists. “Yes, we’re becoming friends. Is that a problem?”
He shook his head, making an aloof gesture that was almost like shooing her away. “Just curious, considering of where he comes from, who he was associated with.”
She kept on, frustration now beginning to set into her features while she looked down at him. “Rather a narrow minded view coming from an elf apostate that wasn’t accepted at first either.”
He frowned, sitting back in his chair. Even though he was sitting below her his complacent body language challenged her, made it easier for her temper to heighten. He acted as if he didn’t care but that was a lie, she knew it. She was working exceptionally hard to keep her aura skin deep and instead the flames nearly lit her irises aglow. He replied coolly, his own gaze meeting hers. “An elf apostate, hm? Is that worse than a regular apostate?”
Then the flood gates opened. She groaned and threw her hands in the air, letting them fall to her side while she rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Solas? At any point in our” She gestured back and forth between them, unsure whether to call what they had a friendship or not. “Encounters have I ever given you the impression that I am unfriendly towards elves or anyone for that matter?”
He sighed, shaking his head while looking down into his lap. She kept on him: “And even still. Dorian is from Tevinter. Yes, it is a known fact. That does not automatically make him an evil person. There are good and evil people in every country, in every race. Human, elf, dwarfs, and Qunari alike.”
Solas looked up from his lap, anger alighting his features as he rose to stand from his chair. His height had him tower above her but she did not stand down or back away. “Enlighten me then, since you seem so omnipotent.”
She gave a beat of a pause between them, her voice coming quick and to the point but heated with frustration. “In recent history? Arl Renden Howe of Denerim was a horrid man who was known as a butcher in the elven alienages. The Arishok was a Qunari that tried to start a full on war in the middle of Kirkwall. Paragon Branka of the Dwarven smith caste allowed her own people to turn into darkspawn broodmothers while she ran mad with power.” She paused, leaving elven for last while taking in a deep breath. “Enchanter Orsino became a horrid abomination made of the corpses of his fallen friends and attacked the Champion of Kirkwall. Need I go on?”
She didn’t realize until she stopped but her cheeks were flushed with anger and her breaths short, quick. He furrowed his brows at her, anger hardening his jaw while he was trying to steady his breaths. Eventually, he closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose while letting out an obviously controlled sigh. When he did this she hid her smug grin of victory, stepping back to allow him his space. “I will speak to the Seeker about this barrier. Is that all?”
For some reason his dismissal of the conversation they just had hurt, it feeling like a pang of dread within her stomach. She stepped back one more time and nodded, her hand subconsciously falling down to the top of Kain’s head since the wolf was in a defensive position with his eyes locked on the elf. “That will be all.” Before the tears of anger could form in her eyes she sharply turned on her heel and walked down the stairs. Kain remained for a moment, giving what she could assume was a warning glance with an added growl to the elf before following in her step.