“Connor, I probably don’t say this often enough, but you’re an idiot.”
The young man in question would dearly love to retort, somehow, but Feynriel’s entirely too correct at the moment. Why else would he be compelled to break into an abandoned estate during the part of the year where the Veil is the thinnest except that he’s contracted a case of stupidity?
Hopefully, it is neither permanent nor terminal.
“Perhaps I am. But you’re here with me. Which of us is more the fool, the man on the fool’s errand, or the man following the man on the fool’s errand?”
The way is lit only by moonlight, which, while sufficient to see the streets with, is entirely insufficient for small tasks like picking locks, which Connor was never good at to start with. Feynriel has better eyes for seeing in the dark, which he puts to good use accurately planting his foot in the small of Connor’s back.
The lock springs open seemingly of its own accord, and Connor follows the distressed siren-song inside.
One would think he’d know better, given his history. However, this doesn’t feel or sound like Yearn, like any real demon for that matter, and curiosity is a demon all its own.
It should say something that when the door shuts behind him, locking itself tight, that Feynriel is not on the other side of it.
“Can you feel how thin the Veil is here? We should…go, we should go, and forget about this.”
The darkness is absolute. Connor can’t see the floor, his hand in front of his face, not even the shine of Feynriel’s eyes. Conjuring a small mage-light in the palm of his hand doesn’t help. The surrounding darkness seems to contain the light, rendering it a perfectly useless ball that illuminates nothing, not even the hand it rests in.
“Go then, if you can find the door. Let me know if you can.”
Feynriel huffs, somewhere behind Connor and to his left. “It’s too black in here.”
“I’m not arguing that. I’m really not.”
He can’t see but he can hear and feel and smell and taste. He hears Feynriel’s light, rapid breathing, footsteps behind him, the creaking of an old mansion resettling ancient bones. He feels a movement of stale air over the sweat on his skin, the brush of familiar fingertips at his wrist. The mansion smells of old, old, old blood, musty books, and a sharp spike of panic that might be him, might be Feynriel, might be both. He can taste the crackle of magic over the tangy-sweet memory of the pomegranate he’d had with dinner earlier.
Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot… One step at a time.
Connor has no idea how far he and Feynriel walk into the mansion without touching any walls, or furniture, or debris. It’s just space, and black, and empty.
A sudden gust of energy blasts through and sends both young men reeling, tumbling. Connor finally finds debris – what might be an old footstool or something – when he lands on it hard. Something wooden breaks under him, cutting a gash through his robes and into the flesh just under his ribs on his right side. Nothing deep, not even nearly lethal, but painful. Connor sucks a breath through his teeth, grimacing.
He can hear Feynriel shifting somewhere across…across what? A room, hallway, closet, ballroom?
“That startled me too, but you’re gripping my hand too tight,” Feynriel moans, also on the floor by the sound of his voice.
“I hope you’re not talking to me,” Connor replies, voice tight with pain. “Because I’m over here. By the way, you were right, I’m an idiot and we should have run when we still had the chance.”
“You’re over there…what’s touching me?”
The siren-song is louder now, more insistent, more desperate, more pleading. –Do not trust your eyes—it begs. –Do not trust what you see—
“What’s that sound? It’s like…singing, or maybe begging?”
“Either something’s trapped here, or I’ve just gotten us lured into a trap. Hard to tell.” Connor groans quietly, pressing a hand tight over the bloody patch in his side.
The pain is lulling, in its own way, offering such detachment from reality that he doesn’t even startle when he can see the undulating pillar of fire and magma that is usually a harbinger of rage spring to existence. The pain gives Connor time to think, reason before he reacts. Rage demons like to bear down and attack, but this one seems…supplicating, if anything.
It’s what’s holding Feynriel’s hand, and he’d complained of pressure, not burning.
Feynriel squeaks in alarm and Connor can hear him trying to scuttle away from the demon-spirit-thing with all the grace of a too-leggy crab.
In a flash, the rage demon disappears. There’s just enough light to see by now, a room dim with shadows, furniture only darker shapes against the darkness. It’s better than total black, though, and Connor’s grateful for that small mercy.
“You lads are in a spot of trouble,” says a voice familiar to Connor. Connor looks up. Standing in the doorway between this room and the next hall is an old man, moderately tall, with long, stringy grey-white hair falling in ungraceful curls down to his collar. The only apostate Connor has ever heard of who ever sneaked into the Circle instead of out of it, one of Connor’s best teachers from before.
“You’re not old man Aldwyn,” Connor accuses quietly. “Aldwyn would have thrown a marble at my head already, told me to get up and stop being so lazy.”
“Ah, but do I need to, when you so clearly remember what you were taught?” Aldwyn-who-is-not-Aldwyn shakes his head. “Maybe you’d rather I was someone else?”
Aldwyn disappears. Standing closer to Feynriel now is an older elf woman, with the facial markings of the Dalish, a robe cut in old Tevinter fashion, and kindly eyes.
“There are things you do not yet know,” she says, with an old Fereldan accent tinged with Kirkwall’s lilt.
“Keeper? No…you’re dead. You’re not Marethari.”
“I live on in you, da’len.” She gently strokes Feynriel’s hair, and straightens.
Marethari disappears. People appear and vanish several more times. Katrione Amell, Connor’s personal savior. Hawke, who saved Feynriel. Their mothers, Isolde and Arianni. Others, just memories. The chaotic deluge of people finally resolves back into Aldwyn.
“You’re clever enough, boy,” not-Aldwyn says, almost accusatorily, nudging Connor with his foot. “Think about who I am. Think about why you’re here. And for the love of all, trust your ears and not your eyes until your eyes are all you have.”
He vanishes again, and there are no more shadows from the past.
Connor struggles to his feet, applying a touch of healing magic to his side to stop the bleeding, close the wound. It will be the one scar he can’t yet explain, for a while. Maybe he’ll never explain it. He helps Feynriel up too, and doesn’t let go of his hand.
“What was that?” Feynriel half wonders, half demands, looking around the dilapidated mansion as though the thick shadows will answer him. “That’s like no spirit or demon I’ve ever seen.”
“Whatever it is it’s begging for help. I’d say it’s trapped here. Maybe by the magister who used to own this place before… How many years of ruin are we looking at, here? Ten? Twenty?”
“Longer than that,” Feynriel murmurs, closing his eyes to look around in the way only he can. “It feels old here. Not as old as Sundermount, but definitely longer than twenty years.”
Connor finally takes the time to look at Feynriel, really look at him, and realizes suddenly the importance of not using his eyes. All of his other senses are telling him that this is Feynriel. His eyes are telling him that he’s holding hands with a shade.
This can’t be right.
“Whatever it is keeping that spirit here thinks it’s clever. Really don’t trust your eyes. I swear I’m not whatever it is I probably look like.”
It looks as though the shade has only just taken notice of him, which must be Feynriel opening his eyes and turning his head, actions Connor can narrate without seeing, without thinking, because he knows Feynriel’s movements. Connor can feel Feynriel’s thin eyebrows raising, anticipate the frustrated twist of his lips, little gestures that speak so loudly of what Feynriel is thinking and feeling at any given moment.
“You look like Yearn.”
“I do believe I’m insulted, shade.”
“So that wasn’t a rage demon.”
“Maybe not. We’ll see. Don’t the powerful magisters typically have some kind of ritual room?”
“You’re thinking we can interrupt whatever magic is at work?”
“Hopefully. I don’t want to look like a desire demon anymore. It’s not up on my list of ways I want to spend my time.”
What Connor doesn’t mention, doesn’t need to mention, is finding some way to put the trapped spirit back in the Fade where it belongs.
The constant song of pain and suffering echoing in his head is distracting, playing on his natural instinct to be helpful. He’s leery; demons have tried to prey on the same instinct in the past with varying degrees of success. But demons belong in the Fade too. Whatever kind of spirit this is, that basic plan will work.
Assuming they can find a ritual room, when nothing looks as it should.
Feynriel sighs. “Keep your eyes open for me – I’m guessing the walls aren’t hiding behind illusions. I’ll… try to find the place where all of this is…put together.”
“Spoken like a true blood mage. Frightening maleficar. Would you be offended if I said your complete ignorance is refreshing and more than a little reassuring?”
Feynriel chuckles. “Scared shitless and you still have it in you to be a complete ass. You remind me of Hawke, just a little bit.”
Connor almost makes a quip about Feynriel’s crush on Hawke, about how that might translate, and thinks better of it. Because that would start another side discussion, another distraction, and Feynriel is trying to navigate the ancient ley-lines of leftover power. Power he isn’t at all familiar with, so Connor keeps quiet and lets Feynriel lead him around the broken-down mansion, interfering only when the lines of power almost lead Feynriel into a wall or bit of shattered furniture.
The voice-feeling-presence is a distraction all its own. Focused on the spirit, Connor misses the next obstacle, or perhaps it wasn’t visible to begin with, but the solid block of what feels like a hunk of marble, or maybe granite, hurts like bloody sod all against his knees.
“Shit!” is the first expletive to come to mind, followed by a muttered string of vicious Orlesian invectives learned from his mother when she thought he wasn’t listening, so many years ago.
The rage demon-appearing spirit flares to life again, circling around them, appearing to dance in as much as a thing without legs can. A vase lifts from a stand on one side of the room, flies to shatter on the far wall. The mansion goes dark again, a sea of absolute, impenetrable blackness reasserting itself.
Feynriel kicks a loose floor tile. “It’s here, whatever it is.”
Connor rests a hand stained in his own blood on the hunk of stone he’s tripped over, and the instant hum under his palm makes him yank his hand back as if he’d just touched a flame.
“It is indeed. And it reacts to blood.”
“Clever boy.” The rage demon is gone, and Aldwyn is back, almost as if the spirit needs the memory of Aldwyn’s confidence to communicate. “Name me, free me, and you’ll free yourselves. Why do you think I called you, Connor?”
And Aldwyn is gone again. If possible, the imitation of him here is even more infuriating than Connor remembers his real-life counterpart back in Ferelden being. Aldwyn’s favorite form of tutoring was to throw things at Connor’s head while expecting him to read a passage, write something else, and hold a spell shield.
A practice in multi-tasking, he’d called it. More than that, though, Aldwyn always tried to teach Connor to think. Or perhaps Think, with its own capital letter and everything.
“Name him-her-it? How are we supposed to do that?”
“By thinking. Spirits are ideas. They represent things, single ideals, single concepts. You know this, Fade-walker.”
“R-right. Sorry. Being blind and completely creeped out isn’t helping me think. So. Why’d the spirit call you?”
“Simple questions first. What does the spirit want?”
“Freedom, right? Easy answer.”
“So… how has the spirit been communicating with us?”
Feynriel huffs. “With the faces of the people we’ve known?”
“Memories,” Connor agrees. “So, I’m going to say that might be our mystery friend’s name. Memory.”
“Now the question is how do you break blood magic rituals that have been sitting in place for this long?”
Connor sighs. “With blood. Void, I hate this part. How does an average mage interrupt blood magic without blood magic?”
“Think maybe just smearing the designs out of place will do it?”
Either smearing old designs with new blood with invigorate them, or destroy them, or cause the mansion to blow up.
Two out of three options are Very Bad. Still…
Connor fumbles around the belt of his robe for the small knife he keeps on his person at all times. Not for blood magic, like most other mages in Tevinter, but for practical things. Cutting strings, occasionally fruit, opening letters.
For the first, and hopefully last, time in his life, Connor presses the blade of the knife into the palm of his hand, feeling the cold sting of his skin parting, the warm wetness of blood welling up into the cup of his hand.
Quick as a flash of lightning, Feynriel presses a swift kiss to the corner of Connor’s mouth. “For, uh, luck, you know,” he explains. “I don’t want to have to haunt you because I’m dead.”
Misgivings mostly dispelled, Connor laughs quietly and slaps his bleeding hand down on the stone altar, scribbling blood across the surface, rubbing through the old designs.
The rage demon erupts from the altar, breaking free through the pool of Connor’s blood, and the flames fall away, exploding outward in a shower of sparks.
What’s left is a little wispy silver thing, vaguely person-shaped in the middle, floating around the edges. Natural moonlight washes in through the cracked and stained windows. Feynriel no longer looks like a shade.
--You have freed me—
“Go home, Memory. You’ve been away too long.” Connor half-lids his eyes against the shimmering glitter of Memory beginning to dissolve back into the Fade. “This is one of those memories that’ll stick with us forever, isn’t it?”
Feynriel laughs. “You never forget anything. That’s why it called you, I think.”
In a shower of silver sparks, the spirit of Memory is gone.
Connor heals his hand, wipes the blood from his knife on his robe, and tucks it back into the little sheath on his sash. He looks more like a blood mage than he cares to admit, and the lure of a bath and clean clothes are as much a siren song as the distress call that brought him here.
He links arms with Feynriel, and they leave the old mansion.
Dawn is breaking when they make it outside, the sun glimmering over the horizon nearly blinding after the darkness of the old estate.
“What was that spirit even doing there?” Connor muses aloud, blinking away the sting of morning’s first light. Minrathous is beginning to stir around them. Only in Tevinter can a man be covered in as much blood as is coating Connor and draw not a single odd look. “Was the magister experimenting shortly before death? Or…?”
Feynriel pokes him, dropping their linked arms to more comfortably hold hands instead, careful of the new scar across Connor’s palm. “I don’t think that even matters. However, next time you get the wild urge to walk into a haunted house, let’s not and say we did.”
“Ha! Alright, alright, we won’t be doing that again.” Connor grins, remembering the pressure of a hasty good-luck talisman against the corner of his lips, and bumps Feynriel’s shoulder with his head. “And Fade-walker? Thanks for sticking with me. You could have just cut and run at the door. Might have been smarter.”
“Oh, shut up.” Feynriel colors out to the half-point tips of his ears, but he smiles anyway. “Just… no more haunted houses. At all. Ever.”