There was a stilled silence in Haven as she walked through with Kain at her side. He could sense it, his hackles raised and gaze stone cold as they met the Herald, Cassandra, and Solas by the stables before heading to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. They all greeted each other with nods of acknowledgement, Solas giving her a particularly icy stare. She rolled it off of her shoulders and looked towards the Breach, lightning striking within the clouds.
The Herald looked at the mark on her hand, fear settling into her features. Athena could only imagine what she was thinking, the burdens on her mind. In an effort to ease her worries she walked up and squeezed her shoulders with both hands, resting her chin on her shoulder as she turned the gesture into a hug from behind. “You’ll do great.”
Rathein rested her head against her friends, taking the small moment of peace before hardening herself into the future Inquisitor that people would look up to. She looked to their party, the mages, and some of the supporting troops. With a gesture of her hand, they were off and walking towards the fallen Temple.
The Breach raged above them as they arrived. It was almost like it knew its impending doom. Athena looked up at it and felt a wave of dread wash over her spine. It was months ago that she fell from that hole. The memories and emotions associated with them all rushed back: the Fade, the exorcism, everything. Her face paled as her grip on her staff tightened. Rathein had determined she should stay up with Cassandra and Solas while the mages worked behind them with their magic.
Fiona had the mages on the upper levels with their staffs drawn. They were ready for the order, their eyes focused on the large tear in the Veil above them. She looked over towards her friend with a cautious gaze and saw that the Herald had her eyes closed. She was praying, or that’s what it looked like, hands clasped in front of her with her head bowed. The mage wasn’t vocally a particularly firm believer in Andraste, but even the faithless needed extra help in times of strife.
When she opened her eyes, it was time.
Cassandra called out: “Mages.”
Solas, with a focused gaze, looked to the group and instructed: “Focus past the Herald. Let her will draw from you.”
Rathein hesitated, taking in a deep breath but she slowly started moving forward. The force of the Breach was too much, that was obvious from Athena’s point of view. It felt like they were deep undersea, the pressure pushing in on their entire bodies. It drew her breath in small gasps but she knew it had to be worse for the Herald who was literally linked to it by the Mark. Pulling her staff forward, she cast a barrier around her friend, struggling to hold its form while she pushed through the torn pieces of the Veil.
Solas glanced at her then gave the mages their cue to start. Starting with Fiona, they all slammed their staffs into the ground and directed their power into the column that led up to the Breach. The sheer amount of power blew past them all like a cutting wind. It invigorated Athena, made her breathing easier but made her nerves feel alive. It was easier to cast her barrier and she pulled on the enchantment in her ring to make it stronger. It caused Rathein to look like a burning sun before casting her Mark up into the sky.
Athena smiled. That was something that would one day be painted on a Chantry wall for future generations to bear witness to. The barrier broke but Rathein persevered, keeping her hand extended towards the heavens. The Mark burst with a bright green light, it looking like a lightning bolt as it targeted the Breach. The Rift nearly writhed in response, lighting the sky with its power. It swelled and grew before finally slamming shut with a sound of thunder roaring through the clouds.
The group was thrown back from the burst, which left her landing on a sharp jagged piece of debris. With a groan she pushed herself to a sitting position, her brown gaze taking in the epic scene before her. The Herald was crouched down, her left hand glowing with the power from the Mark. Cassandra rushed to her side, exclaiming the victory to the crowd. “You did it!”
The mages erupted into cries of happiness. They embraced one another, their eyes looking at the empty sky. Athena sat from her place on the ground and beamed with pride at her friend. She had come from being a prisoner of the Seeker and the Nightingale to being the Hero of Orlais and Ferelden. It was a task that was only capable of being accomplished by her and she stepped up to the plate. Athena hugged her knees to her chest with a grin, allowing herself to remain invisible to the crowd as they walked around her and celebrated.
It was Solas who came and found her, offering his hand to help her to a standing position. She looked up at him with a cautious look, her eyes going back and forth between his extended hand and his face. Does he not remember the other day? He sighed and then gave her a pleading look, which made her almost roll her eyes in response, grasping his forearm with her hand. He pulled her up with ease and led her over to the Herald. Athena noticed his hand stayed on her shoulder in the walk over but she was too distracted with happiness from seeing Rathein’s face to say anything.
The pair embraced each other, tears coming to their eyes. Athena nuzzled her head into the nook of her friend’s shoulder and it took a moment for her to realize that Rathein was actually crying. Strong, bold, hilarious Rathein was crying into her shoulder. She looked around and realized nobody was noticing so she rubbed her friend’s back and continued to hold her until it passed, whispering words of encouragement into their hug.
“You did it, Herald. I knew you could. You just saved so many people!”
The Herald nodded into her neck, rubbing her eyes on her shoulder before stepping back with a bright smile. Athena looked to the rest of the group and gestured towards the exit: “Let’s go home and celebrate our group victory and effort in closing the Breach!”
The mages agreed with another cheer as they began walking towards the path back to Haven. When they were out of earshot Cassandra walked to her side. “What do we do now?”
Athena’s face instantly hardened into one of focus and determination. She flicked her gaze to the Seeker. “I’ll send out my scouts. Tell Cullen’s men to quietly load the trebuchets so they’re quicker to fire when we ring the alarm. Tell everyone else to focus on having a good time. I’ll let you know when to prepare.”
They all nodded but looked grim about it. The happiness of closing the Breach was drained away and internally she cursed herself. . . but there was no way she was going to let it come as big of a surprise as it was in the game. The four of them walked towards the path to Haven where Athena unsheathed her staff and slammed it into the ground. She urged the others to continue on, stating that she needed to do some work. The summoning command pushed outwards in a burst of air, the impulse coursing through the trees and the roots beneath them. Kain was already at her side, waiting by the exit per her order, but he rose to attention and pressed his nose to her palm.
Within minutes the rest of the six wolves arrived. Their eyes were no longer glossed over by magic like they were the first time. They were friends, a pack, and came when their human alpha called. Athena bent down and touched each of their foreheads to her own, whispering small welcomes and words of gratitude. The alpha of the pack awaited orders, sitting back and looking her in the eye.
“Be discreet. Go to the mountain pass. There will be soldiers that feel odd covered in red. Do not attack, just howl out. I will be able to hear you. Once you are finished warning me, run for that mountain clearing behind Haven. I will meet you there. Do not put yourself in danger, my friends. I cannot lose a single one of you. My heart can’t handle it.”
You’re some of my only true friends is what she wanted to say. The pack didn’t care about her past. They knew her heart and knew that her words rang true. The alpha pressed his nose to her forehead, paused for a second, and then turned and began running in the forests. Kain whined softly at her side and she wrapped her arms around him, watching the wolves disappear into the trees.
“They are loyal to you.”
Sneaky bastard. She didn’t turn around to acknowledge the comment, instead she kissed Kain on the side of the head and rose to a standing position before turning onto the path towards Haven. She walked and both the wolf and the other wolf fell into step behind her. The only sound that was between them was the sound of her boots crunching into the fresh snow.
“Is something wrong?”
This gave her pause, a hollow hurt sound like a barking laugh fell from her lips. She paused and turned on the ball of her foot, giving him a slight sideways profile view of her before responding: “You’re kidding, right?”
His face was blank but he arched a brow at her, which elicited an eye roll and for her to keep walking. Kain hung his head low, his eyes constantly glancing to the side at Solas. She could feel that his fur was raised and that he was fighting showing his teeth to the elf. Athena had to smirk at how well her wolf knew her and how he was able to react when she couldn’t. Right now the focus on her mind was Haven and what she needed to do to prepare for the potentially catastrophic event.
“Athena. . . “
There was something in his voice that gave her pause. They were almost to the outskirts of Haven and so she didn’t want to have a fight in front of the celebrating villagers. Surely Bull had opened a cask already. His Ben Hasserath training would come in handy here because him and the Chargers could have a good time with the people and give them a sense of calm while also being on alert. Taking in a deep breath, she turned towards the fellow mage fighting to keep a passive position: her face calm and her hands at her sides. “Yes, Solas?”
He seemed surprised that she turned around, his eyes widening for a moment in surprise before he returned to his hardened stare. He was reserved, she couldn’t feel his aura pressing in on her like he normally did. He opened his mouth to speak but in a move of frustration she lifted a hand to stop him. Her voice was to the point with an edge of anger. “Look, I’ve said it before. You just blow hot and cold on the turn of a coin and I can’t handle that right now, not today. Until you decide which way you want to be and how you’re going to treat me, I’m going to be focusing on my duties for the evening. Please fortify the barrier and . . . be safe.” Her voice softened at the last part and she tried not to show the concern in her eyes.
It obviously failed because he softened as well, giving her a slight nod without any sort of verbal response. She turned back towards the village and stopped by her cabin, grabbing quilts and blankets and loading Prince with them to take to the mine entrance. When they got there she saw that Cullen had shut the doors leading to it but upon entering it was well lit and warm. There was still a drop at the bottom of the stairs so she threw the quilts and pillows down in an attempt to soften the Herald’s fall.
She slowly led Prince and Kain down the steps and through the mine. The demons weren’t present yet so she assumed they only showed up after Corypheus had arrived and his power pressed on the Veil. Thank goodness. Despair demons were her least favorite and she probably couldn’t take a few of them on her own. Once they reached the opposing mouth of the mine she tied Prince up a few feet inside of the cave where a torch was lit. Kain whined. He could feel the impending dread that was coating her mind. She licked her dry lips and sighed while hugging both of them in an embrace. “Prince, you need to wait here. Kain, once we hear the call you need to stay here too. I’ll wait with you. Protect each other. I’ll create a barrier around you and place some wards so nobody will get to you. . . but please don’t leave it.”
The animals looked to her and made sounds of agreement. Prince put his side against the cave wall and attempted to drift off into a nap. Kain and Athena stood outside the mouth of the cave, waiting in the cold bitter silence for the scouts to report. They could hear the loud comradery of Haven from where they were. They were dancing around their fires, celebrating the closing of the thing that threatened the swallow the skies. They were happy in that moment and Athena was hardened with the burden of knowing it would all end soon.