All of that last red lyrium post brought us around full circle to that idol that the Tethras brothers and Hawke find on the altar in DA2. Even presuming it existed when the thaig was abandoned, we know it’s far from inert. What we don’t know is whether it was corrupted when it was made or if it was subsequently tainted.
I see no reason to assume that lyrium requires direct, physical contact to absorb something as ephemeral as spirits. Even if it did, we cannot know how long the Profane have been lying inactive. The demon we meet there says that they hunger but it must have been a very long time since the dwarves drove the Darkspawn that deep. What they crave could, after all, be the spirits of the dead.
So Hawke and company bring their treasures out of the deep and are rich. Bartrand, however, has only the idol and perhaps some trinkets. I imagine it didn’t take long for the lyrium in that statuette to start working on the traitor. We can see red lyrium around the Deep Roads as we go into the ancient city. Perhaps it, as a part of the symbiotic lyrium whole, began working on him as they approached the thaig, sensing he had the weakest will.
The idol drew him in, he took it home, and then it demanded he feed it. In its thrall he began to slaughter and the stone grew stronger. Obviously some humans can hear the song of lyrium, else Meredith would not have succumbed, but we don’t know that it’s so clear as it obviously was for Bartrand and Varric.
We must also consider the peculiar circumstances found in Kirkwall. We’re told that the Veil is thin there, perhaps even torn by the actions of the Tevinter centuries before. Into that atmosphere we bring the idol, something that has “lived” sealed in with a demon and the Profane for longer even than the magisters existed.
Bartrand wanders off and we never hear just to where but eventually he returns to Kirkwall with the idol. He sells it to Meredith. Again, we don’t know quite why although one can easily believe that it senses the availability of many a healthy meal in The Gallows. If you allow a demonic dimension to its taint imagine the meal it could make of Meredith alone, much less the suffering of the mages.
It’s no wonder that a sword made of the idol grows to such prodigious size in that environment. It’s surrounded by blood mages, conflicted Templars, anger, fear, and death. The lyrium whispers in Meredith’s mind, pushing her to make things worse and worse, to heighten all of the emotions by creating an environment where even more death is inevitable.
At the last, surrounded by wholesale slaughter, it takes her over completely. When she dies it absorbs her spirit and her form, growing to her full size and plunging into the ground in the courtyard.
Now, I don’t think the lyrium communicates in words, precisely. I imagine its singing evokes emotions and images. The form commonly used wears down a Templar’s conscious division from the Fade over the years and brings his or her nightmares to mind even during waking hours. How much more quickly and powerfully might a piece of it wear down someone’s mind in direct physical contact, surrounded as it was by the weakened Veil and the situation in The Gallows?
Now that the red lyrium is loose upon the surface, will it infect the normal lyrium? Will its taint spread? Will the entirety of the Templar order and all mages who use lyrium for powerful spells end up ghouls or Profane? Can Varric convince someone to intervene and return every scrap of it to the abandoned thaig which would then, of necessity, again be sealed?
For these questions I don’t have answers. One would hope that, having seen what it did to Meredith, the Templars and the Chantry would be wise enough to leave it whole and undisturbed where it sits at least until they can find out what it is. People being people, however, I suspect a great many have chipped off a bit as a souvenir and the red lyrium has spread. It was, after all, three years after that final battle in DA2 that Cassandra finally gets Varric’s tale. That’s a long time to leave something so sinister just sitting there in the open.
Even if the lyrium-Meredith is returned from whence it came, how many creatures have found their way into (and back out of) that thaig in the meantime? Can we trust that Hawke, Varric, and whatever companions accompanied them killed all of the Profane or could some of them have escaped the same way our heroes did?
I’m mentioned a few times that I would like to see a future Dragon Age title that focuses on the Deep Roads. With the latest Blight being so short and the discovery of the broodmothers’ role in creating new Darkspawn I cannot help but believe that the dwarves will be able to take back more of their ancestral homes. This new wrinkle could elevate such a story from an interesting side note to a full-blown DA game, if BioWare chose to take it that route.
Whatever they choose to do, BioWare has stated that they will be continuing their exploration of the new form in DA:I. I’d love to hear from anyone that has ideas on what the red lyrium is and what role it may play in Thedas going forward. We have to do some speculating, don’t we?