Athena knew Crestwood wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fucking heels that Vivenne suggested she wear. The thin shoes sliced through the mud and sent a jolt of pain up her calves every time she mis-stepped or nearly rolled her ankle. They had pushed through the camp of Red Templars and were about to venture into the wyvern cave. Iron Bull was nearly giddy with excitement. He was switching his axe from hand to hand while waiting by the entrance, eyes completely glued on the darkness within the cave. Rathein was trying to think of a plan for the creatures when Athena gave her a soft smile. The Herald rolled her eyes in a mock fashion, winking before giving her a smile.
“You know about the wyverns?”
She nodded, placing her staff on her back while smoothing out the fabric of her pants and skirts. “There’s one large one and a few of its spawn? Children?” She looked with a quick glance to Solas for clarification but he shrugged while taking a drink of water from his flagon. “It’s miniature clones then. They go into a frenzy when you attack so I think we should take out the little ones while Bull keeps the attention of Momma Scales in there.” She pointed with her thumb behind her shoulder towards the cave, leaning her weight into the boulder at her back to give her feet a break.
The short-haired mage rubbed her chin and thought it over before drawing her staff with an almost apathetic motion. “Let’s get this over with then.”
Iron Bull was the first one through the cave and was speaking a trail of Qunari clips and phrases. Athena had to chuckle at him, keeping his pace with a light jog behind him. She kept her staff at her back. The more she fought with it, for some reason the more unnatural it felt. When she imagined magic, she thought of it was a force, like air, that flowed through everyone. The staff was an unnecessary tool when it felt so much smoother to just use her body in the spells and motions. Even spelling out glyphs was quicker with her fingertips than by using the staff to try and jot it on the ground like a toddler using a life-sized pencil. This battle would be her test to see if it made a difference or not.
They approached the glen and it used most of her willpower to not gasp at the sight. The glen and pond within the cave lit up the environment. There were halla statues within a pool of water and the vivacity of the grass, algae, and trees lit up the room. It was obvious that the wyverns were foreign because the place screamed with such serenity they were an odd site in the middle. Magic tingled along her skin and brought a smirk to her lips. She kept to the side of the cave, eyes glued on the wyvern and her children. Rathein was at Bull’s side, motioning to Cole to flank the beasts while Bull came up front. Solas mirrored Athena’s movements on the opposite cave wall, his staff drawn and eyes focused.
They all jumped at once. Athena pulled within her core at the magic and found her body to feel energized, electric with the thinness of the Veil within the cave. The barriers snapped from her hand in an instant around Cole and Bull as they sunk their blades into the hide of the larger wyvern. The younger ones reacted, throwing their heads back and shrieking into the air while turning to the closest target: Rathein.
The mage hissed and brought her staff up to block the small scaled creature’s bite. Athena flicked her gaze to the thing, pulling on the connection she had with her wolves to push out a pulse of magic that was almost like a scolding mother’s No! The baby creature stopped for a moment, eyes slowly turning towards her with the same glossed over look she had seen in the pack the first time she had met them. Rathein took the opportunity to bring her staff down with a crash of lightning into its back. The spell was quick and effective and in a moment, the target was stilled.
The sensation was new but Athena felt the snapping of a cord breaking within her chest. It brought her breath from her, eyes wide while she looked to the dragonling. Their eyes met and she could hear its heartbeat within her mind, panicked and frenzied, but eventually it slowed into silence. The feeling left her hollow, face blank as she turned towards the main pest within the cave. Momma Scales whipped her head into Bull and knocked him back a few paces. He laughed at the attack, picking his axe up from the ground before bringing it down into her scales with an echoing crack.
Solas twirled his staff and brought it down into the ground, ice forming at the wyvern’s feet and freezing it in place. Its body twitched and fought the spell but soon its suffering was ended. Cole materialized underneath its neck and sheathed his daggers in between her scales, releasing two streams of hot blood from his body. The wyvern slumped to the ground with a fading cry and the whole party sighed in relief, save for Athena.
Bull was celebrating their kill, looking in the mouth of the beast and picking a few teeth for himself as a souvenir. Cole patted the creature’s side and mumbled his apologies while Athena walked to the water’s edge. Her gaze wasn’t focused on anything but it landed on the statues of the halla. There were so many emotions attached to this place from her playthroughs of the game. The visage of the glen brought a sense of dread over her mind, it rushing like a cold down her spine and bringing tears to her eyes. If they did go through with this, if they became something more than travel companions, this could be where her spirit would break.
This is where he would leave her.
She fell to her knees at the water’s edge and splashed water onto her face, trying to rub some of the grime and oily foundation from her face. The water was crisp, clean and pure. The sensation brought a wave of clarity to her mind and allowed her a moment of reprieve before she heard a voice behind her.
“Hurt. Questions. Knowing. Will it happen to me too?”
Her eyes widened and she snapped to Cole, giving him a look that instantly shut his mouth. Solas was at his side and he gave her a questioning look, tilting his head to the side while looking from her to the statues and pond behind her. He hummed, placing his staff on his back while smirking. “This place is beautiful.”
She nodded in agreement, pushing up from her pained heels to stand. “It ‘tis. It's leaving a sour taste in my mouth though.”
He paused, taking a step closer to her. “Why is that?”
Cole answered for her while the path of her eyes fell to the green floor, confusion riddling itself in her features. “She felt the fledglings die.”
Solas stilled, trying to find her gaze. When he failed, he nodded and looked to the spirit/boy next to him. “Your abilities grant you more than just the power to influence animals. It binds you to them.”
Athena looked up with a small groan of acceptance, patting her hands dry on her legs while bringing a cloth from her bag to wipe underneath her eyes and clean some of the old make up from her skin. “I get that now. With the bear I don’t think I successfully influenced it so I wasn’t able to feel it die. This one, this creature heard me. I could feel its panic, its utter shock as it faded into nothingness. Cole, it’s what I imagine you hear when you look at the hurting.”
The boy nodded solemnly and wordlessly, sheathing his daggers into the holsters on the sides of his thighs. Before they could continue Rathein gestured for them to leave the cave “Come on, you three. Let’s set up camp and tell the agents about this place. I’m sure they need to come collect the scales.”
Athena volunteered to be first guard that night. The sky was clear and they had gotten rid of the red templars so the only thing that had to worry about were some local bandits. At this point they probably lived in the Keep or traveled in packs of two or three. She wasn’t too concerned with them, especially since she had befriended and bonded with a Druffalo that was eating dried grass near the camp. She placed her hand on its forehead and smiled, stroking its thick fur while it happily chewed at its meal. Thunder. It named itself, flicking its eyes up to her before going back to its dinner.
“You’ll help me keep watch?”
The creature groaned, pressing against her body with its large horns. She laughed and patted him on top of the head before returning to camp. Bull and Rathein were about to retire, in separate tents even though they had begun to routinely eat their meals next to one another. The Qunari looked to the druffalo and scoffed, shaking out his bedroll while looking Athena up and down. “You made friends with that thing?”
She smiled back at him, pointing towards the creature with pride. “Absolutely. You ever piss off a druffalo? It would take three of you to take him down. He’s going to help me keep watch.”
Bull rolled his eyes with a small smile before crawling into his tent and Athena noted that there was a vacant spot next to him. Is that where Cole slept? She couldn’t remember the last time she saw him, was it the cave? She cursed under her breath at the spirit’s ability while bringing her lute out from her side. Night by night she was practicing, trying to get as fluent with the strings like she was in the Fade. The calluses were beginning to form and it was easier to play the music in her head but she knew she wasn’t Jimmy Hendrix. She sat and leaned up against a rock formation that was giving their camp shade and protection. From beyond their camp was the broken-down ruins where they would eventually find the dragons and to their left was the bog. As she was taking note of everything they would need to do she felt the cold trickle down her neck. She smiled, glancing up to Solas while placing the instrument in her lap.
“You have to let me guard this time. No sneaking me off into the Fade like in the Coasts.”
He chuckled, shaking his head while gesturing back to the tents. “I put your roll next to the Herald’s for when your shift finishes.”
Athena nodded in a gesture of appreciation, holding his gaze until she began to feel the blood creep up into her neck. Thankfully before it reached her cheeks he gave her a wave and turned back towards his tent. “Good night, Athena.”
The way his voice softened when he spoke to her, it put a pressure in her belly and heat within her chest. She shakily picked up the lute and rested it against her abdomen, waiting to hear their deep breaths that indicated that everyone was asleep. The fire roared next to her and provided a calm, crackling sound throughout the environment. The white noise was good; it helped to clear her mind and allowed her to reach back to the lessons that Inspiration gave her on music.
It felt like an hour or two had passed before she finally picked up the instrument and began to play. At first it was wordless songs that she knew. Her eyes kept on the horizon while her fingers strummed, occasionally missing a note by a half step. She could recover without stopping altogether, her body slowly rocking with the beat. Eventually she began to hum along with the lyrics in her head, smiling as the music floated through the air in the camp. The sound of her instrument wasn’t loud; it didn’t attract attention from the bandits or a lingering Templar. There was enough noise with the fire, Thunder’s herd, and the rift’s crackling that her music was trapped within the camp.
Athena paused in between songs, glancing in between the tents before her gaze rested on where Solas was resting. If she focused, she could feel his aura expanding and contracting with each of his relaxed breaths. Even in his sleep, he could control his magic, keeping it within himself like a secret from the rest of the world. Rathein’s flared like her storm magic, filling the tent with a static energy while she tossed and turned in her deep sleep and dreams. With a sigh, she turned back to the area and kept watch, a smile creeping on her lips while she tried to play the next song. It started out with a hum and quickly progressed to actual singing, her heart filling with emotion while she performed for the creatures and spirits through the veil that were willing to listen.
At the swell of the song she glanced over to his tent, eyes glossing with happiness as a bashful yet honest smile played on her lips.
“I know you haven’t your mind up yet. But I would never do you wrong. I’ve known it from the moment that we met. . . “
No doubt in my mind where you belong. Her fingers began to strum the next notes but she was quickly cut off by a voice that was softer than her playing. “He can hear you.”
She had to bit her tongue to contain the yelp that almost fell from her mouth, eyes wide while she fumbled with the lute in her hand, ceasing the music in a sudden flurry of sounds. Cole sat across from her, one leg bent while his hand rested atop his knee. He watched the horizon with her and they were close enough for the bottoms of their feet to be touching. Athena flushed with embarrassment, gaze shooting to the side while mentally she ran through a series of curses that would make even a sailor blush.
Cole continued speaking but didn’t look over at her. “He sleeps but doesn’t. One foot in and one foot out. Always watching. He – oh!” He winced, looking to Athena who only smirked in recognition of what happened. Solas had cut him off. Cole silenced for a moment while crossing his arms in frustration of what to do. “He liked the music.”
Athena almost hid her face in her hands like the elf was sitting there watching her instead of sleeping in his tent. The blush had conquered every inch of her face and she could feel the heat emanating from her body. The boy spoke again and it brought her back into the conversation. “I did too. Can you. . . keep playing? It takes away the hurt.”
She went to ask “whose hurt” but the expression on his face answered it for him. He was still adjusting to everything as well and she knew how the red templars affected him. With a nod, she picked up the lute again, slowly plucking the strings until she could get into a rhythm and groove again. Cole smiled and relaxed, listening in silence as both of their guard shifts came and went.