Towering Ambition [Closed]

[In a land far, far away... with ]

Stories abounded throughout Ericht about the fabled tower which existed in the midst of the Korcari Wilds.  Built by the Tevinter Imperium, it was in fact the most southern point of their influence, and not Ostagar as many claimed, but its loss to the Chasind Wilders had so shamed the Imperium that they had denied its existence entirely.  Yet that was only the beginning of the myths which were shared again and again over the flickering light of camp fires.  Magic, spirits and, most importantly, treasure all found their place in these retellings.  While magic and spirits held no interest to Mairyn, she was captivated by the notion that a vast Imperium treasure horde could be hers to claim if only she could navigate through the Wilds.

Time and time again, she made preparations only for her plans to be foiled in some way.  The mercenaries she hired would either fall mysteriously ill or be slaughtered by wild beasts or simply desert without any hint of a reason.  Finally, she came to the decision that if anyone was to secure the legendary Tevene treasure, it would have to be her.  Clearly, she could not entrust such a simple task to anyone else.

So, with her faithful steed Artax laden with everything required for such an adventure, Mairyn set out for the Korcari Wilds.  Despite the many warnings of the dangers she would encounter, nothing impeded her advance.  Not the Chasind, not wild beasts, not even difficult terrain.  It was almost as though the tower wanted to be discovered by the intrepid Bann.

After a few weeks of travel, Mairyn arrived in a clearing in which, as she had spied from a nearby hillock, was the ancient stone tower she sought.  It did not boast the impressive might of the likes of Ostagar, perhaps only intended as an outpost, but standing tall above the trees and swamp, it possessed a menacing feel.  Likely meant to intimidate the Chasind.  True, it was strange that the Wilds had not claimed back any of the tower, yet that only made examining the base for any entrance to be all the easier.  Why should Mairyn concern herself with something which only assisted her retrieval of the treasure?

Alas, her exploration revealed that there was but one entry point: a large window high up, near to the roof.  She pulled Artax back around and trotted out until she could peer up, her hand shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun.  Pursing her lips, she pulled an arrow from her quiver and set it against her bow, taking aim before letting the arrow fly in a beautiful arc.  It soared through the window without bouncing against any barrier.

"Excellent!" she crowed, swinging her leg over the back of Artax and dismounting.  Any nimble footed archer could surely scale this tower and see what lay within!
Lucien knew a great many things. For as long as he could remember, books had been his only companion and he turned to them for solace as often as he could. The one thing he knew remarkably little about was the man who claimed to be his father, Noctis. The only things he knew were the two things Noctis had ever shared about himself.

First, that Noctis heralded from the Imperium of old and was in fact one of the original high priests for Lusacan, the dragon of night. That was utter nonsense and didn’t become more true for repeating. No matter how powerful a blood mage Noctis was, he couldn’t have possibly stretched his life through so many ages. The old man seemed to subsist purely off nastiness and spite, as he never shared in the food he brought Lucien. If he looked weighed down by the centuries, surely that very poor diet was to blame.

Second, that Noctis was his only parent. Lucien had sprung, fully formed, from his mind when he’d had a particularly nasty thought. Felandaris, Noctis called him. The demon weed that only grows where the Veil was thin. The Veil was indeed thin here, but Lucien knew quite enough about magic and the Fade to know that it didn’t simply birth children when wretched old men had need of them.

So there was a third fact about his supposed father that Lucien had instead learned through years of study, one that Noctis had never himself imparted. That one was quite simple and the only Lucien held to be true- that Noctis was a miserable, lying sack of nug shit.

Lucien pondered this one most important truth as he paced the perimeter of his tower room. He may have had all the books he could ever desire, but a man could not live on books alone. Lucien desired adventure. Freedom. Love. All the things he’d read about but could never experience for himself so long as he was locked away in a tower in the middle of the Korcari Wilds.

A soft hoot temporarily stilled his pacing. “What is it, Tenebrium?” he asked. The owl, being an owl, had no answer. Lucien instead walked toward the window to figure it out himself. He was halfway there when an arrow nearly sank into his chest.

“Excellent!”

Wary of further assault, Lucien edged carefully to the window and peered sidelong with the aid of a mirror. He saw a beautiful woman scaling the tower and her equally beautiful horse waiting below. As excited as Lucien was by this unexpected twist of fate, he felt it was his duty to warn the woman what she was climbing into.

Assured that her hands were too busy to launch another arrow, Lucien leaned out the window. “I can give you a hand up, stranger,” he said, “but I must warn you. Once inside, you may never be able to leave. My father is a powerful blood mage who doesn’t fear intruders but no one leaves without his say and I’ve never known him to give such permission. You’ll face barriers and worse to impede your escape.”
So focused upon her self-appointed task of scaling the tower, Mairyn had little thought for what anyone else might think of her actions.  So, it was with no small amount of disgruntlement that she found herself disturbed from her concentration, pausing in her strenuous ascent to crane her neck upwards and peer towards the window in which a... man?... now leaned out.  Blast it, why had her arrow missed so pesky an inconvenience to her plans?

"I can give you a hand up, stranger," the man called down, "but I must warn you. Once inside, you may never be able to leave. My father is a powerful blood mage who doesn’t fear intruders but no one leaves without his say and I’ve never known him to give such permission. You’ll face barriers and worse to impede your escape."

Grunting with the effort, Mairyn heaved herself up far enough that her finger tips gripped at the ledge of the window.  Ignoring the offer of assistance from the man, she heaved herself up, the toes of her boots scrabbling against the rough cut stone, until she succeeded in perching lightly on the ledge, resting there with the same indifference as a creature who possessed wings.  It did not even cross her mind that she might slip and fall to her death far below.  

"What utter nonsense," she declared, her chest rising and falling as she caught her breath.  She pulled off the leather gloves which had protected her hands during her climb and returned them to the safety of her pack.  Stretching up, she pulled herself onto her feet and stood fully in the window, glaring down at the man.  "Get out of my way, silly man!"

She dropped into the tower proper with a soft thud.  "Now, if you wish to use your tongue in a sensible manner," she began, taking her first steps around the room, "you may begin by revealing the location of the treasure.  Do not waste either of our times by feigning ignorance."  Her lip curled at the abundance of books, none of which were about any topic which actually mattered, and searched out for even the faintest glittering of gold which was not gold-leaf.  

Spinning around, she rested her clenched fists upon her hips.  "What in the Maker is this?  Some apostate's retreat?"
The woman scaling the wall only glowered at his offer of help and utterly ignored any warning, declaring it utter nonsense. Despite his better judgment, he shuffled out of her way when she commanded it. Perhaps she was also a blood mage. There seemed to be strange power to her words.

“I really wouldn’t-”

But it was too late. She jumped lightly inside and activated the enchantment built into the window frame as she did. He sighed and Tenebrium squawked as there was a ripple in the Fade. Should she try to leave the way she’d come in, Noctis would be summoned in an instant and he wouldn’t look kindly upon an intruder.

"Now,” she said, sounding every bit in one syllable like she owned the place, “if you wish to use your tongue in a sensible manner, you may begin by revealing the location of the treasure. Do not waste either of our times by feigning ignorance."

Oh no, his father really wouldn’t like this one bit. An intruder who thought he was nonsense and was, apparently, here to rob them. Lucien pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d often thought of what it would be like to have a visitor. Not quite so pleasant as he’d imagined, it would seem.

“Why go through the trouble of feigning ignorance when I have no reason to give you any answer, one way or another?”

She didn’t seem to be listening. And, really, why start now? She was instead making a face at all his lovely books. A face she turned on him. "What in the Maker is this? Some apostate's retreat?"

“Yes,” he said bluntly. “What part of ‘my father is a blood mage’ made you think otherwise?” He rested one hand on his hip in a mirror of her own posture and used the other to summon a ball of fire, just in case she still wasn’t getting it. The fire vanished with the dismissive wave that followed it. “And the term apostate really doesn’t mean much outside of the Chantry. Honestly, you can’t forsake the teachings of a religion you don’t partake of in the first place.”

He was sure she didn’t care about any of that but he cared as little about that as she did about what he had to say. He’d tried to be friendly. He’d tried to help her. He wasn’t about to give more than he got, especially if she had the gall to insult his books.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “As I tried to tell you, if you try to leave now, you’ll have to contend with a blood mage. Now, I might be convinced to help you with that- I’m not terribly fond of my father- but you’ll have to give me a reason to help you.”
"Yes."  Well, at least the apostate had the sense to speak plainly.  Mairyn could appreciated that much.  "What part of ‘my father is a blood mage’ made you think otherwise?"

Making a psht sound between her pursed lips, she waved away the repeated mention of what was surely only a scare tactic.  Nothing was going to distract her from locating the treasure.  She had already calculated a conservative estimate of how many breeding pairs of horses she could buy from across Thedas, not to mention the upgrades to her stables.

The man rested one hand on his hip and held up the other, summoning a blazing ball of fire.  "And the term apostate really doesn’t mean much outside of the Chantry. Honestly, you can’t forsake the teachings of a religion you don’t partake of in the first place."

More wary now, Mairyn edged around the stranger, eyeing his palm with open suspicion.  "Then there is little reason to take offence over the term, is there?" she pointed out.  Her mood was dipping given the encounter with the man as well as the distinct lack of anything beyond books within this one large room.  And the owl.  But who cared about an owl?  It didn't even have hooves!

The man folded his arms over his chest.  "As I tried to tell you, if you try to leave now, you’ll have to contend with a blood mage. Now, I might be convinced to help you with that- I’m not terribly fond of my father- but you’ll have to give me a reason to help you."

She rolled her eyes.  "Really, this talk of a blood mage has to stop!"  She strode across to the window and hopped up onto the ledge, intending to lean out and prove that nothing save her own whims prevented her from leaving this tower.  Except, as she bent forward, her forehead crashed against some invisible barrier.  Stunned, she staggered backwards, slipping from the window sill and crashing into a pile of books with a shriek of pained indignation.

"How dare you trap me here!" she seethed, clambering up onto her feet - and not caring which books were trodden underfoot.  She stormed across to the window and battered her clenched fists against the invisible force.  "Do you even know who I am?"  Evidently not.  Or, perhaps worse, he had no care.  Whatever the reason, the window remained impossible to escape through.

Whirling round, she set her blazing glower upon the stranger.  A knot was already forming on her temple but she ignored the ache of the bruise.  "I will see you dragged to Kinloch Hold for this!"
Even with the proof of Lucien’s own magic out in the open, his claims of blood magic were apparently too unbelievable to possibly be true. His every warning was flatly ignored. Truly, this had to be the most willfully obtuse person Lucien had ever met. And, yes, he’d only ever met the one person but he had to imagine most people weren’t like this. They couldn’t possibly be. How would the world continue to function otherwise? But then, maybe the rest of the world was as much of the barbaric mess that Noctis always claimed. He rather hoped not, if for no other reason than that he didn’t want his father to start being correct about things.

"How dare you trap me here!"
she fumed at him after her attempt to leave was rebuffed, exactly as he’d warned they would be. Still she fought against the obvious and pounded on the barrier that held her in. When that unsurprisingly failed, she continued with an even more pointless tactic. "Do you even know who I am?"

Lucien lifted and dropped his shoulders with what little care he could muster. “Should I? And what does it matter, anyway? It’s not like you can do anything.” Other than drive him mad. She was well on her way already. If he didn’t want her to finish the job, he’d have to help her escape.

She rounded on him. The heat in her eyes nearly matched the flames he’d conjured moments ago. "I will see you dragged to Kinloch Hold for this!"

Lucien could feel a headache coming on. With the trap sprung, it wouldn’t be long before Noctis appeared and he was forced to waste valuable time repeating himself. He gestured at the room around them, just in case she still hadn’t absorbed that there were no other doors. “Again, what precisely do you imagine you can do? You’re trapped. I told you it would happen. You’ve seen for yourself that it’s true. Or do you still think I’m the one who did it and that I would release you just so you could have me imprisoned. I’m assuming that’s what Kinloch Hold is- one of your little Andrastian mage prisons. Honestly, that’s not even a good threat. I don’t know if you have noticed, since you seem to be willfully ignoring the obvious at every turn, but I’m already trapped in a tower.”

Tenebrium’s head spun full circle and Lucien wrinkled his nose. He would never get used to seeing that. Worse, he could guess what was coming next. He’d gone through it enough times when he’d tried his own escapes. Indeed, only seconds later, red light came streaming through the space between the stone on the far wall. The light traveled in an arch, forming the outline of a door. Lucien’s mind raced. One very large part of him was tempted to leave the intruder to her fate. He had warned her. Multiple times. But he couldn’t do that… could he?

He strode in front of where the door would shortly be with no other idea in his head than that he had to do something. When the stones parted and Noctis appeared in all his hunched, glowering glory, he stopped in wide eyed surprise at their visitor. Lucien grabbed a nearby grimoire on instinct and swung. Hard. He wasn’t sure why he’d done it but if he was shocked by his own actions, Noctis was caught completely off guard. The book connected with the elderly man’s head and he fell with a thud.

Lucien winced. “I... probably shouldn’t have done that.” He turned to the woman. There was a chance he’d come out of this alright but she most certainly would not. He had to think of a way to get her to move. “If there’s treasure to be found, it’s through there,” he said, waving his arm at the still open portal.
Infuriating man!  Her threats did not have the effect which Mairyn had hoped.  Rather than become cowed, the man gesture around the large circular room with an air of exasperation.  As if she were being the impossible one!  Outrageous.

"Again, what precisely do you imagine you can do? You’re trapped. I told you it would happen. You’ve seen for yourself that it’s true. Or do you still think I’m the one who did it and that I would release you just so you could have me imprisoned."  For his sake, she hoped the tone which undercut his words was a result of the blow to her head.  So help this stranger if he should dare to speak thusly to Bann Mairyn Farr!  "I’m assuming that’s what Kinloch Hold is- one of your little Andrastian mage prisons. Honestly, that’s not even a good threat. I don’t know if you have noticed, since you seem to be willfully ignoring the obvious at every turn, but I’m already trapped in a tower."

The devastating reality of that fact led to Mairyn venting a muffled squeal of impotent rage.  Of course, that sound swiftly died in her throat as she caught sight of the owl's head spinning... all the way round.  She could feel her gorge rising and she stumbled back, pressing herself against the outer wall of the tower.

"What is this place?" she demanded, her trembling voice betraying her growing fear.

Before the stranger could speak, red light streamed through the stone of the far wall until it formed the shape of a doorway.  While Mairyn was trying to make sense of that, the man walked towards the wall and stopped, seemingly waiting for something.  When the form of another being appeared, hunched and scowling, the sight of Mairyn across the room actually drew him to a halt.  Evidently he had not expected there to be an actual intruder, just as Mairyn had not expected there to be an actual blood mage.  On that score, they were even.

Seizing on a weight tome, the stranger - the younger one - swung the heavy book towards the new arrival, cracking him over the head.  The old man dropped like a stone.

To his credit, the younger one flinched.  "I... probably shouldn’t have done that," he remarked.  Glancing over his shoulder towards Mairyn, he added, "If there’s treasure to be found, it’s through there."  He underscored the words with a pointed gesture towards the red glowing doorway.

Her ears pricked at the magic word of 'treasure'.  Certainly, there was nothing to be found in this particular room.  Not unless she wished to establish a library in Ericht and, frankly, there was more use to be had in burning the damn things than lending them to would-be apostates.

Straightening, she smoothed down her waistcoat.  "It it, indeed," she strove for a more collected demeanour.  "Well then, I see little point in dallying."  She crossed the room, mindful of the piles of books, and stopped beside the younger stranger.  Her gaze lowered to the decrepit bundle of rags on the floor, her lip curling in disgust.  "This is your father?  I would have brained him long ago."

With a shake of her head, Mairyn stepped closer to the portal.  "Are you coming?  If you are genuinely imprisoned as you claim, this would be the perfect opportunity."  She held out her hand to prevent any further unfortunate collisions before entering into the portal but her way was unimpeded.  Passing through the glowing arch, she experienced a disorienting flash of light but nothing else.  In a few strides, she emerged in stone walled room which was sparsely furnished, blinking away the aftereffect of the blinding light.

However, what mattered more was the distinct lack of treasure.  She spun on foot, ready to confront the stranger nose to nose.  "You said the treasure was this way!"
The mention of treasure had precisely the effect that Lucien had hoped it would. The woman perked up immediately and moved with far more haste and care than she had up to that point. She stopped only to sneer down at Noctis. "This is your father?” she said. “I would have brained him long ago."

“Ostensibly,” he murmured, less eager to gloat over what he’d done. He’d attacked the only father he’d ever known, whether they were actually related by blood or not. They looked so dissimilar. H’d gazed so often into the mirror, looking for any flash of familiarity. The bend of a nose. The shape or color of eyes. None of it matched. “I could very well have be a prince abducted from his cradle for all I know.” He knelt over Noctis’ form and reached to check for a pulse but did not touch. “That is how all the stories go, is it not?”

"Are you coming? If you are genuinely imprisoned as you claim, this would be the perfect opportunity."

Lucien roused himself, still unable to bring himself to see if his father was truly dead. The possibility of escape was as tempting a prospect to him as treasure was to her. He knew from experience that the portal would not stay open long so he followed just a step behind. For all the time he’d spent imagining what lay beyond- a golden palace or shadowy temple or any number of things- he’d never thought to find what he did. It was just a simple room. More plain, in fact, than his own.

"You said the treasure was this way!"

Lucien took a step back to make space between them. “I said if. If there was treasure,” he corrected. “I had no better idea than you what was through here.” He looked around the room, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light. There was little to see. Not far from the pair of them was a fireplace and a chair before it. There was also a bookshelf and a table littered with piles of parchment and books. “This can’t possibly be all there is. There isn’t even a bed. An exit to the outside. Blood magic or not, surely he needs both?”

He’d expected a wealth of knowledge, if nothing else. While Noctis might not have been as old as he claimed, what was the good of living so long if you didn’t at least use those years for something. He thumbed through the books, hoping at least one of those might be of some value. When he pulled at one book in particular there was a groan in the stone behind them. A secret passage opened up.

He rolled his eyes. “Honestly now. He’s the only one who lives here. What is the need for all this?” He peered out. There was a corridor that looked endless and as many doors lining it. “I can’t say you’ll find treasure but we might find a way out. I would be cautious, however.” The sort of caution that might have kept her from climbing a strange tower or leaping through a window despite explicit warning. “If he’s paranoid enough to hide the door here, there’s no saying what traps may lay beyond.”
That the man stepped back from the flickering flames of her wrath was soothing in its own way.  "I said if. If there was treasure," he reminded her with haste.  "I had no better idea than you what was through here."  His daze while he looked around the unimpressive room did not seem feigned and Mairyn contented herself with an irritated snort, folding her arms as she followed his eyes with her own.  "This can’t possibly be all there is. There isn’t even a bed. An exit to the outside. Blood magic or not, surely he needs both?"

"Why do you presume he lives here?" Mairyn lifted a sceptical brow, wondering whether the man's world truly was so limited as to forget anything existed beyond this tower.  "That is also how the stories go, isn't it?"  

Drifting around the sparsely furnished room, the apostate ran his hands over the scattered books, apparently already lamenting his absence from his own collection.  Yet when he picked up one in particular, there was a rattling and vibrating as a doorway slid open in the stone wall behind them.

Finally, there was a hint of frustration from the man in the way he rolled his eyes.  "Honestly now. He’s the only one who lives here. What is the need for all this?"  He peeked through the doorway to what lay ahead.  Over his shoulder, Mairyn caught sight of a long hallway and doors leading from it every few paces.  "I can’t say you’ll find treasure but we might find a way out. I would be cautious, however.Oh, not this again.  Mairyn made no effort to hide her own roll of the eyes.  "If he’s paranoid enough to hide the door here, there’s no saying what traps may lay beyond."

Pursing her lips, she eyed the back of the young man, thoughts swirling in her head.  He was right in one respect: the rag and bones blood mage did seem to be the only other occupant of the tower.  The passageways and portals seemed unnecessary when a good old fashioned thick door and sturdy lock would do the same job.  From what little she knew of magic, particularly blood magic, it required a great deal of effort and, well, blood.  The Chantry always implied that animal's blood was never as effective as human blood.  Therefore, she was willing to assume that the old coot upstairs maintained his power precisely in the way that the Chantry hysterically preached: through human sacrifice.

Except there was nothing here but... the young man.  Her eyes narrowed.  Different people had different understandings of 'treasure'.  Was it possible that this handsome yet irritating and docile - aside from that whole hitting old people over the heads with books thing - might actually be worth something?  She let out a long exhale, wrestling with her temper.  She had not embarked on this treasure hunt for mawkish life lessons.  She wanted coin!

"Since I have no intention of growing old here," she stepped around the young man and out into the hallway, "I will go first.  You have magic; you can nullify any spell we encounter, correct?"  Regardless of whether it was or not, Mairyn strode forward... and immediately jumped back, knocking into the man, as a plume of fire spewed from the wall.  Had she not the reflexes she did, she would have been set alight without her pyre.

Now her irritation was focused solely on the hallway.  She regarded it with a petulant pout, regarding the space as one might regard a competitor in a joust.  "The portal he used," she remarked.  "The red glowing one.  Can it be activated from anywhere or only the room behind us?"  Yet another reason to believe that the treasure was not cold hard coin.  Her nostrils flared at the thought.

She looked down at the stone which she had stepped on and had triggered the fire trap.  There was no flaw to it which indicated that it was the trigger stone.  However, next to that stone lay one which was marred with a small chalk mark in the corner.  On a hunch, Mairyn stepped out onto the marked stone, trusting to her intelligence and instincts.  She was right: a double-bluff.  The marked stones actually did track the safest route to the first set of doors just ahead of them.

"Left or right?" she asked of her companion, inviting him to choose which door she should open first.  And Maker help him if they got to the end of this corridor and she had not found at least one shiny sovereign or gemstone!
In no mood to start being cautious now, despite everything she’d seen already, the woman strode confidently toward the newly opened passageway. "Since I have no intention of growing old here. I will go first. You have magic; you can nullify any spell we encounter, correct?"

Not that she was about to wait for an answer. Lucien sighed as she jumped back into him, narrowly avoiding a fiery death. He caught her about the shoulders on reflex so that she wouldn’t overbalance and fall forward again, then quickly released her. “Yes, provided you give me a chance,” he replied pointedly. “It’s a simple enough thing to do.”

“The portal he used," she remarked. "The red glowing one. Can it be activated from anywhere or only the room behind us?"

“It’s unlike any magic I know of, so I’d have to guess it’s blood magic and tied to blood rather than location.” Lucien frowned. He had nothing against blood magic, theoretically. It was just that it always struck him as inelegant, messy, and quite frankly, lazy. Yes you could do astounding things with it but those results were more an evidence of massive amounts of blood than any sort of cleverness. And he didn’t think that simply because Noctis had always forbidden him learning. “I never had to wait long, the few times I’ve encountered it before, so I can’t imagine he was always hobbling back here to open it.”

He couldn’t tell if the woman was even listening to him. She was examining the stone floor. She must have found what she was looking for because rather than push him on against whatever trap she’d triggered earlier, she stepped back out. There was no gout of flame this time, so she was right. Good for her.

"Left or right?" she asked him.

It seemed like positive progress that she asked this time and didn’t immediately charge on before he could answer. He quickly scanned the floor to puzzle out how she’d known where to step and took a long, bounding step to one of the marked stones. He let his eyes close as he felt out the magic guarding either door. The one on the left had a nastier ward so, naturally, that was the one he chose to nullify.

He took the lead this time, both because he was more confident in his ability to avoid triggering a trap accidentally and because he had a far better chance of surviving it if he slipped up. He stepped carefully toward the door and opened it. The room beyond was cast in a blue green light he recognized instantly from his studies.

“Veilfire,” he said, more to himself than his companion who he was sure wouldn’t care unless it was a method of summoning gold. “It’s an ancient magic and relies on the memory of flame left in the Veil, rather than any fuel source.” He opened his mouth to start in on the marvel of veilfire runes and then snapped it shut. He was used to speaking aloud to himself when a discovery truly excited him. He wasn’t eager to have exasperated sighs or snappish responses dampen his excitement.

He extended his senses instead, searching for other sigils or wards before they could surprise them. He felt some sort of magic but it wasn’t a trap. It was… oh.

There, shackled to the back wall behind a table covered in variously sized vials were three people. They were an odd assortment- what looked to be a Chasind warrior, a peasant, and a Dalish elf. Apparently Lucien hadn’t been his so called father’s only prisoner. If they were dead, they didn’t look it. Then again, they didn’t look alive, either. The wide eyed Chasind was the closest of the three, so Lucien approached cautiously. As he suspected, there was a weak pulse under his fingers when he pressed them to the man’s neck. However, his eyes were milky and didn’t respond when Lucien lit a flame before them.

“I don’t this room has anything for either of us,” he said, with a wrinkle of his nose as he stood up. “But this is a start. I chose this door because it was more heavily guarded. Seeing what he found valuable, I’d say we’re better off going for those with the least protection.”

He took one of the veilfire torches from the wall and wound back through the cluttered room to the corridor. After cancelling the ward that protected that door, he looked sidelong at the woman. “I’m Lucien, by the way. Not that I suspect it matters to you.” In a different life, with a different visitor, he might have been sure to introduce himself right away. “But what might matter to you is your own name. I am supposed to have heard of you, after all.” He took a careful step onto a marked stone and opened the door. “So who is it, that even a man in a tower ought to have known, or would you prefer I continue to call you ‘that woman’ in my head?”
With one loping step, the young man entered into the hallway.  He closed his eyes as he... stood there doing nothing?  Mairyn huffed a breath, ready to shoulder him against the wall and, Maker willing, skewer some unimportant part as a lesson about wasting time, when he finally moved towards one of the doors.  What about the decision had required such concentration, Mairyn had no idea, but at least they were moving now.

Inching the door open, the man peered into a room which was illuminated by some ethereal bluish light which Mairyn had never seen before.

"Veilfire," her companion remarked mostly beneath his breath.  "It’s an ancient magic and relies on the memory of flame left in the Veil, rather than any fuel source."  He seemed to want to continue on this unasked for explanation of the phenomenon but thought better of it.  Apparently he was capable of learning.

But the Mairyn caught sight over his shoulder of what lay further into the room.  Three different people were restrained against the back wall, wide-eyed yet unseeing.  With greater courage than she had expected, the young man ventured into the room and gingerly approached the Chasind, making some initial examinations over his condition.  He created a flame in the palm of his hand but not one of them blinked.

"I don’t this room has anything for either of us," he declared, straightening his posture.  "But this is a start. I chose this door because it was more heavily guarded. Seeing what he found valuable, I’d say we’re better off going for those with the least protection."

That was a fair assumption.  Yet before Mairyn could speak, her companion had already lifted one of the torches from the wall and departed out into the corridor.  He paused for a moment... doing nothing again?... before casting a sidelong glance towards her, still standing in the doorway of the first room.  "I’m Lucien, by the way. Not that I suspect it matters to you."  There was the briefest of pauses as if she should take offence over the truth.  "But what might matter to you is your own name. I am supposed to have heard of you, after all."  He stepped forward onto the correct stone and opened the opposite door.  "So who is it, that even a man in a tower ought to have known, or would you prefer I continue to call you ‘that woman’ in my head?"

She eyed him in disbelief, ignoring his request for her name.  "You're just going to leave them?"  She backed up a few more steps and turned back to face the three people chained to the wall.  "I see what your years of solitude have done for your sense of morality."  Her eye was drawn to the peasant and without further ado, she rounded the table and crouched down in front of him, reaching out to touch his face.

"I am Bann Mairyn Farr," she gave her name, though it was for the hope of seeing some response on the face of the peasant rather than to answer the query of the man.  His skin was clammy to the touch and his breathing akin to snatched pants.  It was his eyes which unnerved her most: milky glaze over what should have been clear irises.

She half-twisted to glance over her shoulder.  "What is wrong with them?"  Standing, she moved to the Dalish elf, repeating the same words even though the Dalish did not roam anywhere near the lands of Ericht, before carrying out the same ritual with the Chasind.  None responded.

Mairyn found herself drawn back to the peasant who could have been a native of her own bannorn.  "If we cannot help them, we need end their suffering.  I would not permit one of my horses to endure this and I see little reason why that same high standard should not be applied to these creatures."
Lucien flinched under the woman- Mairyn’s- accusation of cruelty. It was fair, he supposed, at least from her perspective. From the look of it, he’d just abandoned three prisoners with barely a second thought. They weren’t alive. Not really. But was he being uncaring? Perhaps life alone with only books and a blood mage for company had eroded his morality. He sighed and placed the Veilfire torch back in the bracket that had held it.

"What is wrong with them?" Mairyn asked, as she moved from the Chasind to the Dalish.

“A blood magic ritual. Nothing I could replicate to undo it. Or… nothing I would try to replicate,” he amended. “The cost would be too high. To restore even one, I’d need to sacrifice the others. And even then, there’s no guarantee that what came back would be them. No, more likely, we’d be inviting in a demon.” He knelt next to one of them. “The organs are kept functioning but the mind is gone. Easier to keep them this way, as sources of living blood, when they don’t need to eat. When they can’t fight back.”

It was a truly gruesome fate. One he wouldn’t wish upon anyone but there wasn’t a thing to do about it. If they lived, it was as a plant might live. There was no thought, no feeling. Whatever spark enlivened flesh, made it more than just a bag of blood and bones, was long gone from these three. But perhaps that was too cold a way to think about it.

"If we cannot help them, we need end their suffering,” Mairyn said. “I would not permit one of my horses to endure this and I see little reason why that same high standard should not be applied to these creatures."

Whether he and Noctis were truly related, clearly he’d done his job in some ways molding Lucien as he grew. He never would have considered doing anything other than leaving them there. He'd always liked to think himself better than his father but perhaps the difference wasn't as great as he'd believed. “I can… I should do it. If you want to look away.” He had no idea. Maybe she thought she should bear witness or something. He hadn’t expected her to care in the first place. “It will be painless for them.”

For whatever that mattered.

One by one, he knelt before them and pressed a hand to their chests. He couldn’t undo what had been done to them, but he could cancel out the spell that kept them in this state. Eyes closed, he unwound the strands of blood magic that kept them like puppets for Noctis’ use. While their hearts stopped beating under his palm, he tried to make up for his earlier thoughtlessness by offering up a silent prayer to whatever god or gods they might believe in and closing their eyes.

He stood straight again and frowned. “I know I must seem callous. I’m not heartless… but you’re right. I’ve been alone here too long.” He let out an uneasy breath through clenched teeth. “Something I would very much like to change. So, unless there’s something more you think we can do for them, I say we move on.” There was no bite to his words. He truly didn’t know what else he should do in this situation. Not anymore. Guilt gnawed in his stomach. He wasn't used to it. He didn't like it. He reclaimed the torch and gestured to the door. “If you’re ready, the wards have been undone, so the way on should be safe.”
Drawing his attention back to the three prisoners realigned the morality of the young man.  He appeared to be somewhat chastened by her fitting rebuke over his callous behaviour.

"I can… I should do it. If you want to look away," he replied to her remarks over ending their suffering.  She snorted her displeasure that she be considered too fragile to bear the sight of death; had she not ending the suffering of countless animals under her care over the years?  Compassion did not allow for mawkish displays of feeling.  "It will be painless for them."

"As it should be."  She stood back while Lucien knelt before each of the prisoners, resting his hand against their chests for a few moments.  His eyes fluttered shut and he went still, presumably summoning some form of magic which would release their lingering spirits from their bodies.  Once all three had passed into the Fade, Lucien stood straight once more.  A frown wrinkled his forehead.

"I know I must seem callous. I’m not heartless… but you’re right. I’ve been alone here too long."  He exhaled a shaky breath, his jaw tight.  "Something I would very much like to change. So, unless there’s something more you think we can do for them, I say we move on."  Taking up the torch once more, he gestured to the doorway.  "If you’re ready, the wards have been undone, so the way on should be safe."

Without a backward glance, Mairyn exited from the chamber.  The suffering of the three prisoners had been ended; there was no possibility of building a pyre for them and so they had done all that could be expected.  She did not dwell on what she could not change.  Instead, she focused on the door on which Lucien had already nullified the defensive ward.

Pushing open the door, she slipped through the space so that she might test to what extent her companion's theory over what was and wasn't valued may be correct.  His theory was proven right: the least guarded door revealed that which was of more interest to Mairyn.  Even so, the various chests which were filled with a variety of coin and jewels were significantly less than the tales had told.

Mairyn came to a halt in the centre of the room, slowly turning while crossing her arms over her chest.  Her lips pressed together in a full pout while her eyes narrowed in suspicion.  "Why would that old coot require this?"  Given what she had witnessed, she was beginning to reconsider whether she wished to lay claim to what was apparently blood money, in the literal sense of the word.

For the first time, she turned to properly look at her companion.  "Who are you?"  With a stamp of her foot, she flitted her hand to indicate that he should not bore her with the mundane details he had already tried her patience with.  "What purpose does it serve that wretched old man to keep you imprisoned here?"
The next room held treasure, though it was hardly the sort of glittering hoard that would inspire tales. At least not the kind that would make braving the terrors of the tower worthwhile to any but the most desperate.

"Why would that old coot require this?" Mairyn wondered.

“As a lure?” Lucien offered with a shrug. The promise of this and more had worked to lure her here, after all. “Or maybe it’s just what he’s collected over the years off victims. I honestly gave up trying to understand him years ago.”

Mairyn turned from her pouting examination of it all to considering him closely. Lucien squirmed slightly under the scrutiny. "Who are you?" she demanded. She preempted any repeated explanations with a wave of her hand. "What purpose does it serve that wretched old man to keep you imprisoned here?"

Lucien opened his mouth and then closed it, considering a proper answer. He was starting to think he hadn’t given himself enough thought, for all the time he’d spent pondering everything else in the world. Already he’d learned he wasn’t quite the person he’d long imagined himself to be. If he wasn’t as virtuous as he’d thought, maybe his origins were darker than he’d ever dared dream.

I don’t know,” he replied, throwing his hands up in defeat. There was no way to simply think this one through. “He didn’t have any interest in me as a test subject nor did he ever use my blood. I guess I always just assumed some part of him cared or was living out some long overdue fantasy of being a parent or… something.” It sounded ridiculous when it was said aloud but assuming Noctis actually saw himself as a father had always been easier on Lucien. Less lonely than the alternative. Less vexing, too, it would seem. “He made sure I was well fed. I was certainly well educated. I was denied my freedom and companionship, but rarely did I want for anything that he didn’t provide.”

Lucien started to pace around the treasury, hand on his chin as he thought. “Blood mages can control minds. I’ve even some can use victims as hosts so that they can live indefinitely. He claimed to be ancient. Ages old. Literally. Perhaps that was true and people like me are how he lived so long. Or-” He stopped to look around the room, as though an answer might present itself from the clutter. “-maybe he hoped to use me somehow. Not for blood rituals but to grab power. He could have kidnapped me as an infant from-” He waved his hands, trying to pluck a plausible end to that sentence from thin air. “-some important line. A king? The archon? He was obsessed with Tevinter.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked back at Mairyn. “Speculation is pointless. Maybe one of these rooms has a clue to who I am. Because you’re right, it doesn’t make sense that he’d go through all the trouble of keeping me if I wasn’t someone of use.”
Her question struck a nerve within Lucien.  Gawping like a landed fish, he struggled to provide an answer which held any significant meaning.  Finally, with a throwing up of his hands in defensive defeat, he offered the illuminating response of: "I don't know.

Mairyn lifted her eyes towards the ceiling, summoning the very last of her strained patience. 

"He didn’t have any interest in me as a test subject nor did he ever use my blood. I guess I always just assumed some part of him cared or was living out some long overdue fantasy of being a parent or… something."  Or something, indeed.  Imprisoning a child in the uppermost room of a tall tower was hardly the behaviour associated with those who longer to experience parenthood.  "He made sure I was well fed. I was certainly well educated. I was denied my freedom and companionship, but rarely did I want for anything that he didn’t provide."

Agitated, the young man began to pace around the room, clutching his chin while he considered the matter further.  "Blood mages can control minds. I’ve even some can use victims as hosts so that they can live indefinitely. He claimed to be ancient. Ages old. Literally. Perhaps that was true and people like me are how he lived so long. Or-"  He stilled in his steps, looking around the room for some hereto overlooked answer.  "-maybe he hoped to use me somehow. Not for blood rituals but to grab power. He could have kidnapped me as an infant from-"  He gesticulated about him.  "-some important line. A king? The archon? He was obsessed with Tevinter."  Seizing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, he heaved a deep breath before refousing on Mairyn.  "Speculation is pointless. Maybe one of these rooms has a clue to who I am. Because you’re right, it doesn’t make sense that he’d go through all the trouble of keeping me if I wasn’t someone of use."

Ugh.  She had not travelled all this way to embark upon a soul searching session with a stranger!  Yet something about the situation did pique Mairyn's interest.  None of the stories had ever made mention of the apostate imprisoned in the tower.  Nor had there been mention of an ancient maleficar.  Surely the Chantry would have been invested in bringing down the tower had the rumours reached their ears?

Her brow pulled downwards into a contemplative frown.  "Have you ever been troubled by Templars?"  Anticipating the whole spiel on not recognising the Andrastrian Chantry of the south, Mairyn swiftly clarified with: "regardless what you or your patron believe, they would have taken offence at your presence here.

She began to circle him, a calculating gaze appraising him.  Outwardly, there was nothing which seemed especially worthy of attention, but hadn't Lucien just acknowledged that the old coot upstairs was fascinated by blood?

"How did you record the passing of time while in the tower?"  The measurement of time could be warped by a clever enough hand, she supposed.  Seasons may come and go but it was only men who named them 'years'.  "How old do you believe yourself to be?"  Just because the man looked like he was a similar age to her did not make it true.  Who knew what magic was afoot here?  "Maybe it is possible that you have been forgotten by time itself."