This was not Anders’ day. He had woken up manacled in a prison cell and surrounded by armed guards. He had been yelled at by a woman in Chantry armor. He had been accused of killing the Divine and setting ablaze the Conclave called to end the war between the mages and the templars. Worse, he was currently a cat and crouched under a bush outside of a Chantry, a magical mark on his paw, and the woman in Chantry armor screaming at him.
Her voice grew more angry and in response he flattened himself under the bush and tucked his tail firmly under him. He gave a pitiful meow as he cowered. Next to her appeared a face, the woman in the hood who had stopped the angry Chantry armor wearing one from hurting him.
“You have scared him, Cassandra. We need him to help us, not cower under a bush.”
“He is deliberately baiting me.”
“How can you say that? Look at him. He has a torn ear. He’s shaking in terror. You poor dear, come on. Come out.”
The hooded woman was scary, but less scary than the one named Cassandra. Anders inched towards the woman in the hood and allowed himself to be pulled out from under the bush. She cradled him to her chest and pet his head.
“This cat is positively riddled with wounds. Who would do such a thing?”
“That is a mage, Leliana.”
“You poor dear,” Leliana cooed. “Can you be a mage again?”
“You are too soft.”
“I can’t help it. I love cats. And nugs. And puppies.” Leliana put Anders down and he shook himself and shifted.
He rubbed at the back of his neck and ducked his head. “Sorry. It’s a reflex. I get scared; I turn into a cat.”
“How did the templars manage to keep you in the Circle if you were always...oh.” Cassandra seemed to finally catch on and frowned. “What Circle were you in?”
“Kirkwall’s.” Anders scuffed his foot. His hand flared with green light, lancing pain shooting up his arm and making him grit his teeth. “It’s killing me.”
“We must reach the rift to fix it.” Cassandra stared at him. “I am Cassandra Pentaghast, Seeker and Right hand of the Divine. This is Sister Leliana, Left Hand of the Divine. We are asking for your help.”
Anders stared up at the swirling green that tore through the blue of the sky. His hand trembled, fear working its way through him. “I will go with you. No need to drag me or anything.”
“Um, did you happen to see an elf in the refugees? White hair, giant sword, and white brands?” Anders looked at both women, fear and hope in his gaze.
Cassandra grunted. “We found him with a dwarf.”
“Varric?” Anders’ eyes lit up.
“Indeed. They are with you, then?”
“They, well, they came with me. I remember telling Hawke I would go to the Conclave. She didn’t want to go.”
“We know. We asked. You are the representative she sent? You are not her sister.”
“Hah. No. No, I’m not Bethany. And she asked me to go because I’m sort of...not...a Circle mage?” Anders ducked his head again. “Fenris and Varric came with me to keep me out of trouble.”
Cassandra snorted. “I can see how well that worked.”
“Yes well. Well...I was...I was in the temple.” Anders’ face scrunched up. “The ashes, maybe? I don’t really remember. I remember walking into the temple…” he shook his head.
“Come, perhaps what happened will return to you on our trek to the temple.”
“Or I’ll end up dead in a ditch,” Anders mumbled.
“Nonsense, we’re here. You’ll be fine.”
Anders sighed and followed Cassandra down the path from the small Chantry he had been held in. Haven was little more than a village - a tavern, a blacksmith, an apothecary, and a couple merchant tables all surrounded by small wooden homes with thatched roofs. It buzzed with an excess of people - bloated by the conclave and spilling over from refugees. All looked at Anders with malice and hate.
Anders curled his shoulders and kept his head down. It was terrifying to walk among these people. They whispered for his death or worse - for him to be made tranquil as an example. He wanted nothing more than to disappear into himself, to turn into a cat and hide.
Leliana laid a hand on his shoulder. “They are grieving and scared. You are an easy target for their anger.”
“Comforting…” Anders sighed the word.
“We must get you to the rift. After, there will be time to decide what to do with you.”
Anders grimaced at Cassandra’s back but didn’t say anything. He followed her out of the village and onto an icy road. It would have been beautiful if he wasn’t terrified for his life. He longed for the simplicity of his life in Kirkwall - healing, home, Fenris. Things he had gained and now appeared to have lost simply for doing a favor for a friend.
It frustrated him to no end that he was only in the situation because Hawke had asked him to go to the Conclave. She had begged for him to be her representative since he was a free mage in Kirkwall - a success story. One who helped the city and used his magic for those in need. Fenris had argued against him going, and he had disregarded both his fears and Fenris’ words.
He wished that he had listened to Fenris. They would be home.. He would be safe. Instead, he was watching Cassandra cut down shades and minor demons. His hand throbbed with his heartbeat. He could feel the Fade through the mark on his hand - cold, sinister, alien. Between the pain and the fear, he wasn’t able to do much more than stumble along and pray that he wouldn’t be killed.
They crested a rise. The shriek of demons and the clash of metal alerted them to another fight. They stepped through a teetering archway that used to belong to an elegant structure, and Anders saw demons swarming a small group of fighters. There, in the middle of the fight, was Fenris.
Anders sobbed in relief. Fenris’ sword sliced through a demon, and he turned and saw him. Anders took off for Fenris and tripped over some rubble. As he fell, he heard the scream of a demon. He rolled to his back in time to see one loom over him. He gasped and cast without thought.
A cat dashed away from the demon, the demon’s claws barely touching him. He streaked towards the only safety he could see - Fenris. Fenris scooped him up and turned to hand him to somebody. The smell of wood oil and smoke surrounded him, and Anders relaxed into the arms of Varric.
“Relax Blondie, I got ya. Let’s let Broody finish up.” Varric crooned.
He watched as Fenris gutted the last demon before coming over to take him from Varric. “You’re awake. I thought...I was sure…”
“We don’t have time for this.” A bald elf holding a staff rushed to Fenris. “He needs to turn back.”
“He won’t if he’s scared.”
The elf growled and snatched Anders from Fenris. Anders yowled in fear, and Fenris’ markings lit. Before Fenris could attack the bald elf, Anders found his marked paw lifted and pointed at the rift. There was a pull of energy, the crackle of the Fade, and then the rift closed.
The group stared at Anders. Anders yowled again and bit Solas. Solas cursed under his breath and dropped Anders. Fenris growled at Solas and picked Anders up.
“He closed it…” Cassandra sputtered as she spoke.
“He’s a very good kitty.” Leliana added. “May I pet him?”
Fenris sighed and nodded. Leliana slid her fingers over Anders’ head, around his ears, and under his chin. Anders relaxed and began to purr.
“I think he is safest as a cat. He may stay with me if he wishes as we travel to the front.”
Anders reached for Leliana and she cuddled him. “Shall we?”
There was a Chantry Brother screaming for him to be arrested. Anders yawned and wiggled out of Leliana’s arms so that he could sit on the Brother’s table. He looked up at the older man and began to groom himself.
“This...this...apostate...cat...is a murderer.”
“He has been nothing but helpful. I am not so sure that he is as dangerous as you say.” Cassandra said.
“He’s hidden as a cat in all fights.” Leliana added.
Anders lifted one leg and began to lick the base of his tail. Fenris’ groan was accompanied by a chuckle from Varric.
“We need to get to the Temple. I recommend we go in with the troops. A frontal assault will be faster.”
“But we have scouts missing in the mountains. Surely, we should go find them.”
Leliana and Cassandra glared at each other and then looked at Anders. Anders sighed and leapt down from the table. There was a pulse of magic and he stood before them while rubbing the back of his neck.
“Why is it my decision?” Anders whined.
“Because we cannot decide. Because you can close the rifts.”
Anders looked up at the mountains. Snow sparkled in the sunlight. “The soldiers are trained to fight and have a good leader, right?”
“The best. Commander Cullen leads from the front.”
Anders stiffened. “Did you say Cullen?”
“Yes. He was a Knight Commander in Kirkwall. We offered him the position as our Commander and he accepted. Why?”
“We’ll take the mountain path. Anything to keep that...ah...to keep the Knight Commander...I mean to say…”
“You knew Cullen in Kirkwall?” Cassandra squinted at Anders.
“He was going to make me tranquil.” Anders cleared his throat and tried to smile.
“The mountain path it is then,” Leliana beamed at Anders.
“Stop that, Leliana.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just as sweet like this.”
Anders stepped back to stand with Fenris who sighed and took Anders’ hand. “I am going to kill Hawke.”
The mountain path was less a path and more of a trek through an abandoned mine. Anders ranged ahead of the group in cat form. He could see better in the gloom and was small enough to be overlooked by just about anything terrifying. They came across no enemies, but no scouts either.
The mine opened out onto a narrow trail that wound down the mountain. Anders shifted back to human and took his spot behind Fenris. The cold air was crisp and clean, sharp tasting when he inhaled. It carried a light scent of the Fade, the biting smell making Anders’ head throb.
The reason for the smell was found around the curve of the trail. A rift shimmered in the air, demons circling it and keeping a small knot of scouts pinned down against a stone wall.
“We must save them!” Cassandra pulled her sword free. Fenris followed suit and the two of them rushed to battle.
Anders barely had time to get barriers over them before the shades were on them. The fight was fast, Anders more focused on keeping his barriers up than on the actual combat. The rift pulsed and a rage demon clawed its way into being.
Fenris wasted no time in gaining its attention. He sliced into the demon and danced away before he could be burned. Cassandra followed up with a shield bash that sprayed fire in an arc around her body. Fenris leapt back in with another vicious slice that took the demon in its shoulder. The demon let out an unholy shriek of pain and backhanded Fenris.
Solas gestured at the demon and ice swirled around it and froze it to the ground. Arrows and crossbow bolts peppered the writhing fire-covered demon. One more hit from Cassandra’s sword and the demon gave a mournful sigh and seemed to melt into rift.
Anders took a step towards Fenris and found himself held back by by the bald elf who had introduced himself as the walked through the mine as Solas.
“Close the rift first.”
The mark on his hand pulsed with the power of the rift. Anders could feel the push and pull of the Fade - a tickling of power that crept over his hand. He held his hand towards the rift and thought of doors closing, of locks being turned, of walls going up. The rift flared and then winked out.
Power snapped back at Anders and he stumbled. Solas steadied him. “Well done.”
“Like a door closing,” Anders murmured.
“What?” Solas’ grip tightened and Anders shook him off.
He rushed to Fenris’ side, healing magic already spilling over his fingers. Fenris groaned and sat up, then grumbled as Anders pour healing over him in a wave of blue magic. Fenris’ markings reacted, lighting and flickering as the healing magic spread and sunk into him.
“I’m alright. Anders. I’m fine.”
“You hit your head so hard.” Anders pressed his face to Fenris’ shoulder. “I was afraid…”
“Fool mage,” Fenris whispered. “I’m fine, Amatus. Fine. Go see to the scouts.”
Anders nodded and pressed a light kiss to Fenris’ neck before standing. There were four of them and all were suffering from bruises, cuts, and burns.
“I can heal.” Anders showed them his hands. “If you wish.”
“You...you saved us.” A woman with short brown hair and wide grey eyes stared at him in awe. “And you closed it. Maker’s blessings. And you wish to help us more?”
“Please. You’re hurting. I can’t help.”
The woman nodded. “Yes. Yes you can help. Thank you. Thank you for coming. We would have died. We would have…” She stopped to choke back a sob. “Thank you.”
Anders smiled and took her hands in his. His healing magic washed over her. “Thank you for not being afraid of my healing.”
Behind him, he could hear whispers. They were probably about him - about his inability to fight or his ability to close the rift. He tuned them out and knelt by a bloodied young man who had burns across his face. These people were more important to him than the whispered words of some Chantry types.
“Will you close the big one?” The young man asked as Anders worked.
“That’s where we’re going now. And I am going to give it a good go of it.”
The young man wrapped a hand around his bicep and squeezed. “Good. I’m glad.”
Anders smiled at him and brushed his fingers over his burned face. His skin healed with no mark. “It’s just another form of healing, I think..”
He thought about doors and tears and magic that could stitch them closed. Something niggled in the back of his head - something regarding magic and the Fade. But then Fenris was there to help him up and they were walking again and whatever thought was forming just...disappeared.
“Maker’s breath.” The words left Commander Cullen’s mouth in a rush.
Anders ignored him, focusing instead of the feedback from the mark. Power rushed up his arm and down his body. Pain sang along every nerve as the energy washed through his feet into the ground. He could feel the rift close. It felt quite like healing closed a huge gash.
“You!” That one word had Anders’ head snapping up and his eyes widening. Cullen was advancing on him and he scrabbled back, gave a terrified scream, and turned into a cat.
“What is he doing here?” Cullen’s voice seethed with barely held annoyance. “Don’t tell me he’s helping.”
“Now Commander, look what you’ve done. Oh. Come here.” Leliana’s voice hardened around Cullen’s title before smoothing out into a coo.
“I will get him. Anders. Come.” Fenris crouched down and stared at the cat cowering behind a burnt body. Anders shuffled out and to Fenris. Fenris sighed and scooped him up. “You will stop harassing him.”
“I didn’t...I mean he’s...but…” Cullen swallowed in the face of the group’s displeasure.
“He is helping. We will speak of this later.” Cassandra glanced back at Fenris. “Bring him into the Temple. We must fix this.”
Anders draped himself over Fenris’ shoulder and glared at Cullen. Cullen rubbed the back of his neck before sighing and following them into the dimness of the temple.
Red lyrium grew from the walls. The entire inside was a mass of twisted, melted rock and sickly feeling spars of lyrium. Varric was muttering behind them, the muttering growing worse as the group passed more red spikes.
“Seeker. This is red lyrium.”
“I know, Varric.”
“But what’s it doing here. This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all.”
“There is a giant hole in the sky and this is when you start to decide it’s bad. We need to talk, Dwarf.”
“Har har, Broody.”
Fenris put Anders down. “You need to be a mage, Anders.”
Anders huffed and let his magic swirl around him. When he was once again human, he shook a foot and scratched his chin. He took in the large rift swirling in the center of the room. Above the rift sat an even bigger hole into the Fade - a breach that swirled with power. His breathing hitched as he stared at it.
The urge to change back into the cat was nearly overwhelming. Instead of giving in, he moved down the stairs that circled the room. The moment his foot hit the bottom of the stairs, magical energies swelled and burst.
The room wavered and disappeared behind a vision of two red eyes, swirling mists, and the Divine. She was held in place by bands, her face pinched with fear and anger. Her voice reverberated through the room as she called for help.
Suddenly, Anders stepped into the vision. He was a cat - small and timid. The sight of the Divine had him rushing forward and changing. Even as he turned human, the Divine lashed out at the glowing red eyes. A strange orb - carved and glowing - fell to the ground and rolled to Anders. Anders bent and picked it up and the vision winked out.
“That was your voice. And the Most Holy.” Cassandra gripped his arm.
“Mage.” Fenris had his other arm. “You picked up a magical item, didn’t you.”
“I...don’t know? I must have?” Anders looked at Cassandra and then Fenris. “Honestly, I don’t remember. I know Hawke sent me to represent her. I was in the Temple looking for...looking for something... But that’s...I don’t remember that.”
Cassandra released him and paced away. “But that was proof that it was not you that did this.”
“We can discuss this later, after this rift is closed. It’s the first. It must be re-opened and then closed properly. Opening it will attract attention. We need to be ready.”
“Attention means demons,” Cullen said. “Men! Take positions!”
Anders shook his head and shivered. He didn’t want to do this. Fenris’ grip turned gentle and Anders looked down at him. “I am here.” Anders nodded, held out his hand, and concentrated. There was a snap of power, a flair from the rift, and then a demon.
Singing. A gentle baritone that whispered the song as a hand brushed over his hair, over and over, the touch gentle. Anders screwed up his face as consciousness returned. The singing stopped.
He opened his eyes. Fenris was sitting next to him on the bed. He turned his head and saw that he was in a small cabin. He cleared his throat and tried to sit up, and Fenris slid his arms around his back and fluffed his pillows.
“You closed the rift and stabilized the Breach. They are calling you a hero, the Herald of Andraste. Sent to save us.” Fenris chuckled. “Leliana has taken to calling you Herald Meow. Cassandra is pretty sure nobody needs to know that you can become a cat. Cullen is apologizing left and right.”
“I am here with you. As I always will be. I am very mad at you.”
“I know Hawke sent us here. I know she asked you to speak to the Divine. But what possessed you to go into that Temple? You could have…” Fenris clenched his hands and closed his eyes. “You could have died.”
Anders reached out and touched one of Fenris’ hands. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes well...well. We are just going to have to…”
“I love you.”
Fenris sighed. “I love you, too.”
“So what is this about being a Herald?” Anders sat up and began to untangle his hair.
“I think it’s best if you speak to Cassandra about that.” Fenris stood and held out his hand. “Come with me?”
“I just...oh bother. Fine.” Anders threw off the covers and stood. He made a face at the pants and tunic he was in. “Who dressed me?”
“I did. Those were the clothes I was given. I do have boots and a cloak for you.”
Anders huffed and sat down to pull on socks and boots. “It’s like the Circle all over again. Beige and brown and white and red.” The words were sing-song sung. ‘All with the Chantry burst on them. So fashionable.”
“I believe this was all they had that would fit you.”
“Pft. I doubt that.”
“Less whining. More dressing.”
Anders grumbled but finished lacing his boots. He stood and swung on the offered cloak - blue wool with the ever-present Chantry sun. Anders grumbled at his cloak, pulled it close, and stalked to the door of the cabin. He opened it and came to a stop.
The people outside stopped what they were doing to stare at him. A wave of whispering rose up, the muffled sound making Anders clutch at the door. Fenris shoved him out of the cabin, looked at everybody, and snorted. “We go to the Chantry.”
“Of course we do.” Anders side-eyed the crowd as he turned to head up the path that would take them to the Chantry.
They wound through Haven. The path was lined with whispering people. Soldiers came to attention, scouts drifted back into the crowd, and everywhere there was pointing and hushed talking. By the time they reached the Chantry, Anders was about to turn into a cat and flee. Fenris, sensing this, pressed a hand to his back and walked him through the Chantry and to a back door. He opened the door and ushered Anders in.
A long table stood in the middle of the room. Around it stood Cassandra, Leliana, Cullen, and a woman Anders didn’t know. They faced the Chantry Brother he had briefly met on the path. The man turned to Anders and opened his mouth to talk and found himself being frog-marched out by Fenris. The door closed behind him and Anders turned to face the group.
“You’re awake. Good. We have much to discuss.”
Anders gaped at Cassandra. “Discuss?”
“Yes. You closed the rift. The breach is stable, as is your mark. We have time to plan our next move.”
“Cassandra. You’re being rude. Please, let us introduce ourselves and tell you why you are here.” Leliana said as she laid a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “You have met Seeker Cassandra and myself. And you know Commander Cullen…”
“I want you to know that I am no longer a templar. I...I apologize for my response at the Temple.”
Anders snorted. “Right. Sure you do. Just a few years ago you were ready to make me tranquil.”
“Times change. I’ve changed.”
“You honestly expect me to believe that? You still have a Chantry sunburst on your armor!” Anders shook his head. “It would be foolhardy for me to just accept your word.”
Cullen’s face tightened. “Then I’ll just have to prove it through my actions.”
Leliana huffed as they glared at each other. “Well then. And this is Josephine Montilyet, our Ambassador.”
Josephine gave a little head bob. “Herald. It is good to meet you finally. Let me assure you that we mean you no harm. In fact, your work with the rift is already spreading.”
Anders wobbled as anxiety gripped him. People knew about him. They were talking about him. Magic shimmered around him and Cullen stepped forward. “Anders…”
“Not too fond of the spotlight, sorry. I’m fine. Step back, Cullen. I turn into a cat, not an abomination.”
“Do you...always...do that?” Josephine’s hand was poised over some paper as if to make notes. “I should know so that we can adjust how you deal with the public.”
“Um…” Anders sheepishly smiled at Josephine. “Yes. But I’ll work on it.”
“Good. Though I am fairly certain I can spin this in a positive light.”
“The point of you being here right now, Herald, is for us to tell you that the Inquisition is being restarted.” Cassandra cut into the conversation. “And we need you. Not just because of your mark, but because of who you are. A mage who heals, who will save others’ lives, and soothe their pain. The scouts you helped are already spreading stories of your gentle nature.”
Anders paled. “Oh...dear…”
“This breach is bigger than the war between the mages and templars. The Chantry is in shambles. Rifts are sprouting up across Ferelden and Orlais. This threatens us all.”
Anders stared at Cassandra and then the rest of the group. “I’m no fighter, nor am I a politician.”
“But you are a healer. And that is what we need now,” Leliana said.
Anders looked down at the book Cassandra had placed on the table while he spoke. The symbol of the Chantry was emblazoned upon its cover.
“The Divine’s last directive. Her order for the Inquisition.” Cassandra stepped towards him. “I am sorry that I scared you so when we first met. I was...I still am grieving. However, you have proven yourself already. I will stand by you, protect you, if you will allow me.”
From the doorway, Fenris’ voice caught the group’s attention. “Varric and I won’t let you go into this alone, Amatus. I’m with you in this.”
“I’m still going to kick Hawke’s ass when we see her again.”
“Well...well then. I guess my answer is yes. But can we not call me Herald?”
Cullen snorted. “Good luck convincing anybody of anything.”
“Right well…” Anders straightened his spine. “Then my first order of business should be to check on the refugees.”
“But…” Josephine held up her hand.
“Refugees first. You all plan what I need to do. You’re my advisors, right? Advise. And, um, I need to talk to Fenris. Yes. That’s all. I’m...I’m going to go do what I do best. Heal people.”
Fenris chuckled and followed Anders out of the room. They stopped in a small alcove and stared at each other. “Anders…”
“What did I just agree to again?”
“You just joined the Inquisition.”
“I think I’ve lost my mind. I need to lie down. I need…”
“I’m proud of you.” Fenris grabbed Anders’ hands. “I’ll stand by you.”
“I know. I do. I just…”
Fenris squeezed Anders’ hands. So...Herald of Andraste…”
“Don’t you start with me.”
“Tell me about her knickerweasels.”
Anders stared at Fenris and burst into laughter. Fenris chuckled and pulled him into a hug. From the shadows, Leliana watched them and smiled.