“You have done well, Athena.”
She opened her eyes in the Fade to gaze upon Wisdom, who was smiling at her while standing next to Command. The newer spirit companion was intimidating, tall, armored, with a gaze that pierced straight through her core and sent a chill down her spine. She had her hair pulled back tight underneath a dragon-scaled helm with horns. Wisdom nearly paled in size and comparison, but their demeanors were total opposites. Athena smiled while looking at the two of them, giving a sarcastic glance to the newest member of the Fade brigade. “I thought you did not want to associate yourself with soft virtues, Command?”
The spirit turned her nose up and away from Wisdom, crossing her arms over her chest with a scoff. “This still stands true. However, you showed potential back in that awful world. It has been a long time since a mortal has caught my attention and earned my respect.”
Athena arched a brow and nodded, looking around the empty area that swirled its light greens and whites. “Where are Harmony and Inspiration?”
Wisdom clasped her hands in front of her and smiled. “They are growing as spirits. They are being called elsewhere to help others. You are growing as well, Athena. You are needing their influence less and less.” She knew this was true but it still made a part of her sad. The spirits were the first people to be kind to her in this world. Wisdom was the first person to approach her when she crash landed into the Fade.
Seeing her, a familiar face from the game, gave her hope. “I can still call upon you guys for company though, right?”
The spirit laughed, the bell-like sound ringing through the fade while she accompanied the sound with a nod. “Of course, we will always be here for –" Their friendly chat was cut off by a tearing sound, like paper through the air. The three of them turned and looked towards a small rip in the Fade where ethereal chains were forming. Hot, fiery wisps of mana wrapped around them and manipulated their movements. They clanked together and slid as if they had a mind of their own. . . and they were heading straight towards Wisdom.
“Someone. . . is summoning me?” The spirit asked to whoever was listening. There was no fear in her voice but suddenly Athena was running in front of her, gripping the chains with her own hands and staring down their length. Through the Fade, in the small tear that led to the other side, she could see the cowardly wizards who were trying to summon a spirit to protect them from the bandits in the Emerald Graves. The chubby-faced one was leading the ritual, the so-called expert from the Kirkwall Circle. She growled, gripping the chains with a mana-wrapped grip before snapping them back towards the would-be mages. The chains passed through her hands and fell to the ground, continuing towards their intended target.
The spirit’s virtue shown through and she sighed, falling to her knees while the chains wrapped around her wrists and ankles. Without thinking, Athena turned on her heel and reached her hand out towards the mages on the other side of the temporarily torn veil. A flame-laced whip reached out and struck one of the three from her hand, it leaving a crescent shaped burn on his face. The mage stepped back and touched his cheek. When he saw the blood on his fingers he gasped, looking into circle that made up the ritual. “The spirit is fighting back! We need more power!” He raised his hand and joined his magic into the proceedings and Wisdom cried out. Her body was being dragged forward by the chains. It was as if they were being pulled by a crank and every movement brought her closer to being pulled to the other side.
“You can’t have her!” Athena roared, reaching down and gripping the mage’s arm with her hand. Flames scorched her target’s arm, a burn in the shape of her hand print melting through his clothes and onto the skin. They looked into the air, her body like an invisible force pulling the man upwards. She needed to do something. Wisdom was important to her, and to Solas, so losing her wasn’t an option.
“We have to finish the ritual or else we’re dead! Hurry now, at once!”
The chains grew taught and pulled on Wisdom, her face finally settling into panic. Her body lurched forward and Athena placed herself in her path, catching her friend and wrapping her arms around her to stop it. There was a stilled moment and Wisdom smiled into her chest, looking up into her eyes with a glimmer of hope. “Endure, Athena.” The moment her words left her lips, her body and the chains were pulled through the tear. It slammed shut behind her with a thunderous echo. Hands shaky, mouth dry, Athena fell onto her knees in the Fade. With a wordless scream, she slammed her fists into the ground and lamented yet another failure that she could not prevent.
Wisdom would die. There was nothing she could do to stop it.
Command stood behind her and gripped her shoulder with an armored hand, bending down to speak low behind her ear. “Remember what I said, Fade-Walker? Summon your armies. Prepare yourself and then you can change the world, command it to do whatever you desire.” As the spirit squeezed her shoulder she felt her influence, her blessing coursing through Athena’s magic and mixing with Inspiration’s, Wisdom’s, and Harmony’s within her chest. Her heart beat within her ears like a battle cry, the drumming pulsing her blood through her veins and ripping her from her sleep with the sunrise.
Instantly she flipped from the ground and packed up her bedroll and tent, throwing everything onto Prince’s back. Solas was at the campfire wincing at the tea in his hand, eyes scowling at the drink while he tried to wash away the dreams from his mind. Rathein exited the tent with a pleasant smile on her face and Athena tried not to notice the blushing love mark on the inside of her neck. “Tea gone bad, Solas?” The Inquisitor asked, taking a cup of tea from the kettle while breathing in the morning air.
“It’s tea; I detest the stuff.” He frowned, sitting back on the log in front of the campfire. “However, I awoke from a terrible dream last night.” She fastened her roll against Prince’s side, taking a moment to stroke the horse’s head with her hands while communicating her plans to her companion. He looked into her eyes, feeling the fear and dread in her stomach, and nodded, shaking out the morning stiffness to show that he was ready to go. They both pressed to one another and by the time she looked back to the group Rathein was giving her a curious stare.
“Mm-hm. The Exalted Plains.”
Solas’s eyes widened at the realization that she too knew about Wisdom. She met his gaze, giving him a somber nod before looking back to the Inquisitor. “He’ll tell you. I need to finish packing up then I’m going to get on the road early. Cole, want to join me?” She asked the open air, knowing the boy was listening in and hiding somewhere. He was sitting top of Prince already, hands gently grasping the reigns. It made her smile because somehow he already knew she would not be riding traditionally today. Solas was explaining the situation, describing how a friend of theirs had been captured. The slight differentiation of canon brought a smirk to her lips but soon she took off her jacket and threw it in Cole’s lap, leaving her with just the corset and skirts. The last measure was taking off the blasted heels before shoving them in the side of her pack.
“Okay, we will leave as soon as we can get ready. Athena, I’m assuming you’re going to scout the path?”
Her answer was simple and exhilarating. She pulled at the feeling in her chest, pulling on the memories from the night before with a ghost of a smile on her lips. In a fluid motion, she knelt and took a step forward, transitioning into her wolf form without any trouble. With a confident flick of her stark-white tail, she nodded back at her friend with an excited yelp. Rathein’s jaw was on the floor and Bull was behind her, a smirk on his lips. “Well that’s a neat trick, Alpha.” He walked out and used a single finger to close the Inquisitor’s mouth with a click of her jaw. The Herald shook her head and gestured for Athena to go off and scout, obviously left speechless by seeing the shift first hand.
Alpha? That’s a nickname I can handle.
Athena looked to Solas and she didn’t know how to convey that everything would be okay. Even if Wisdom fell, he had made statements in the game that a spirit could come back if it had influenced enough people. Wisdom had made impressions on Harmony, Inspiration, Command, Athena, and Solas. Instead of saying anything she held his gaze, nodding a silent promise that she would try. Between the five of them, she would come back. With a quick turn on her paws she took off down the path at a sprint. Cole urged Prince forward by leaning forward on the saddle and gripping the reigns loosely. The brilliant steed followed with no instructions needed and they took off onto the trail towards Orlais.
By the time she reached the first dead mage she could tell the party was not far behind her. Solas’s influence reached out thin through the air, keeping the two of them connected while she scouted out the path. The stench of the burned skin caused her to curl her nose, baring her teeth and snarling at the corpse. She only had a few moments left before the others arrived so she threw her head back and howled. With the howl went a pulse of magic, one that she had been strengthening every time she used it in preparation for this. The Plains were infamous in the game for their amount of annoyingly strong black wolves. Every time she went to pause the game somehow she was attacked by a group of three or more. They never stopped coming and that was something she could use to her advantage.
Summon your armies.
The words rang in her head and the battle cry started within her belly. She shifted back into her normal form. feet bare on the ground with her staff in hand. At the outskirts of the horizon she could see the wolves gathering like a thick black line on the tops of the hills. She pulsed out with her staff, sending them a signal to wait. They disappeared back into the brush and she could feel their curious minds within her own. Solas and the group arrived within seconds and Cole was standing by her side.
“One of the mages, killed by arrows it seems.”
They continued on to the next group of bandits that had been raked by claws on its flesh and burned to death. She kept her face hidden while Solas lamented: “No, no, no, no!” Cole looked over to her and she could tell that he was about to try and “help” them both. She silenced him with a glare, making a movement over to her neck to cut him off while running towards the sight where she knew Wisdom was being kept. As they rounded the corner her body stopped as if she had run into an invisible wall. Even though there was a Pride demon roaring in front of them, she could see and sense her friend trapped on the inside, crying out against her prison.
The chains were burning hot and warping her image and Athena let out a growl of frustration at the same time as Solas. Rathein joined behind them, looking between the pair with a leery gaze. “The mages turned your friend into a demon?”
Solas went to answer but Athena drew her staff, turning on her heel. She could feel the flame of her aura pulsing out with her pulse and the white of the wild threatened to wash over her mind. Her magic was so close to call it felt like it coursed through her body in waves. “We don’t have time for lessons on spirits, Rathein! We have to – “
“A mage! You’re not with the bandits? Do you have any lyrium potions? Most of us are exhausted, we have been busy fighting that demon!”
Solas nearly roared, eyes piercing through the mage. “You summoned that demon! Except it was a spirit of Wisdom at the time. You made it kill! You twisted it against its purpose!”
The mage stammered, falling back while taking a step and pointing to his friend that was standing in the shadows with a cut across his cheek and a bandage on his arm. Athena fought the urge to grin with pride at the man’s wounds. He was the one she had seen in the Fade and apparently had been the brunt of her attacks. “It fought since the beginning! It hurt us as it crossed the Veil. I can see how it might be confusing to someone who has not studied demons but after you help us – “
“We are not here to help you!” he growled, taking another step closer to the lead mage and summoning his own magic to bear.
Rathein and Bull smirked, gesturing to Solas. “You really don’t know who you’re talking to here. I’d hold off.” The mage continued and Athena had to keep from gagging at his hubris.
“Listen to me! I am one of the foremost at Kirkwall circle!”
Athena and Solas turned and screamed in unison: “Shut. Up!” Solas stopped in a moment of surprise, Athena did not. She grabbed the mage in the back by his wounded arm, dragging him in front of the party.
“Tell me, ‘foremost expert’, could you really not tell the difference between a spiritual attack and mine?” He looked to her in confusion, fear setting in on the edges of his gaze as he watched her. She clawed at the bandage with a quick gesture and tore it from the nameless mage’s arm, revealing the hand-shaped burn underneath. “You – “ she looked at the wound, matching her hand up with it perfectly while looking to him with pure hatred in her eyes. “Idiots.”
The group was silent for a moment and the “expert” was stunned silent, his eyes looking between Athena and the mark she had left on his companion. “How-“
Solas did not give him time to ask questions, anger fueling his voice and movements but he flicked his gaze to her before turning back to the chubby mage. “You summoned it to protect you from the bandits.”
Athena growled, pushing the mage away from her with a scowl and turning to Rathein. “We don’t have time. We need to break that summoning circle now. Trust me, my friend.” Her voice was heavy with desperation and before hearing a response she twirled her staff in her hand once before taking off towards the barrier. Wisdom roared, clasping her claws together before turning and placing Athena in her crosshairs. The demon summoned a double whip of lightning and crashed them down on the ground. She pivoted and rolled on her shoulder to the side, recovering quickly to a crouching huntress’s position. The others had hurried as well and she yelled out to them: “You get the pillars; I’ll keep her attention. Please, go!”