Cullen watched the ash fall from the sky. The smell of charred bodies and burnt wood wafted dangerously through the air. Only the briefest of breezes cleared his senses long enough to take a large inhalation. His body ached from fighting. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He didn't know how long this latest respite was going to last before he and his remaining men were confronted with another rift.
Several soldiers caught their breath. Others were wounded, but he wouldn't relieve them. He couldn't. He needed to fight until Cassandra caught up to them. He had split off from her group to get a bead on the situation, but was swamped by a rift opening. He had ordered his men through the gates and told the guards to not open it.
“Commander, what are we going to do?” a soldier asked out of breath. “We are trapped here with that rift right on the other side of that door.”
Cullen let out a sigh and glanced up the mountain where the Temple of Sacred Ashes once stood.
“We keep going,” he ordered coldly. “Our job is to get up to the breach and see if we can at least contain it for the time being.” He looked around briefly before uttering, “Grab what you can. It's going to be a long walk.”
He eyed several of Leliana's scouts coming across the bridge and frowned. They stopped and saluted him as Leliana came from around them with a scroll in her hand. She looked somewhat relieved and baffled by what had happened before.
“The prisoner is awake,” she told him without stopping.
The two continued to the middle of the bridge and looked towards the sky. The situation couldn't have been anymore catastrophic. The events of Kirkwall, while horrible, didn't hold a candle to what they were beholden to now. Yes, a chantry was destroyed by a mage and the revered mother was murdered, and his Knight-Commander went completely off the deep end, but this was special.
Most Holy was dead. The Conclave she had led was decimated except for one, and they had survived. He could hardly believe it when their soldiers had carried her out. He didn't know how they had managed to walk out of the Fade, but the murmurs that Andraste had aided her didn't assuage his unease as to her guilt or innocence.
He had checked on her once and twice when she was comatose. Once while Adan, the alchemist-made-healer checked on her. Adan thought she would die in the night. She was feverish and convulsive. He couldn't bear to watch the bloody foam ooze from her mouth as she seized once and then twice. It might have been a blessing and punishment if she had died, if she had in fact been the one who sabotaged the meeting.
The second time was when that apostate, Solas, had examined the glowing mark on her hand. He'd only stayed a moment, just long enough to listen to the elf mumble about possible reasons for its existence and what it could possibly be used for.
Solas had mumbled to himself that it was killing her, but intentionally loud enough for the former templar to hear.
“Is she?” Cullen retorted with a shrug. He ran his fingers through his sandy hair and continued to walk. “Then they better get up here as soon as possible. We're going to try and contain the demons long enough for Cassandra to get her up here.”
Leliana gave him a frown and then turned to a man who was glaring at her.
Cullen listened to the gates shut behind him and then proceeded to march up the hill. His wounded grunted with every step they took up the snowy crags leading to the Temple. He worried for them, and wished that he could have left them at the forward post, but there wasn't enough soldiers their to change personnel. He hoped that those that were weakened by the cold and blood loss would survive, but knew that the odds were not good.
He closed his eyes briefly as the sun reflected off the snow. This was not how he wanted to come back to Ferelden. Yet, here he was looking at a cataclysm and the possibility of another terrorist coming into his grasp.
No. Stop. You were trying to change. You don't have all the information to make that assertion. Stop jumping to conclusions. Not everyone is like Uldred or Anders, just like you are not Meredith nor her more sadistic cronies, he thought as he hit the path and continued headlong into a blown section of the Temple.
The group stopped to catch their breath. Raw chapped cheeks glistened with stinging sweat. Some of the men rested on their knees. The icy breath of the Frostbacks whipped up clouds of snow around them. His hand began to shake violently. How long had it been since his last dose of lyrium? Months for sure. The stress over what had happened and the realization that his abilities were slipping had made him want it that much more.
He shook his head and realized that the smell of burning had been left behind. In its place an odd smell that he couldn't quite place. A surge of crackling had ripped through the air above him. He jumped back and unsheathed his sword.
Not another one, he thought as he said a prayer to give him strength.
The first group of demons sprang forth all around them. The sickening howl of one locking on to him pushed him to go on the offensive. Yells and shouts rippled through snowy rock faces. It sounded like a war was going on around them in that little spot.
He slid his blade into the monster and turned to aid another of his soldiers. Blood splashed across the stones and corrupted the snow around them in a bright, angry red. He couldn't tell if it was his or the knight beside him. He hurt all over and any wounds he would receive didn't matter at that point.
Just hurry, Cassandra, and get her up here as soon as you can. We're not going to last too much longer with this rift open.