- What Is Lyrium?
- What Is Lyrium Used For?
- What We Learn About Lyrium In Dragon Age: Inquisition – The Descent
- The First And Second Discovery Of Red Lyrium
- Lyrium's Involvement In The Games' Story
- So, What's The Deal With Red Lyrium? It's Tainted.
- The Effects Of Red Lyrium
Lyrium is a topic introduced in the very first Dragon Age as a way to give the player mana potions, but it has since exploded in the lore as something with so many implications that one can hardly keep track. As such, the world can sometimes feel like a net that you just can't work your way out of, with each thread leading to different places. This continues until you've found a connection between two parts of the story that, at first glance, seemed completely unrelated.
That's why we write these articles: to help you wrap your head around the lore of a fascinating and long-standing series. There's no time like the present to reflect on the lore we've been given, and start unpicking those threads — starting with lyrium.
What Is Lyrium?
When you play Dragon Age, the first thing you learn about lyrium is that it's basically what other fantasy video games would call a mana potion: it gives magic-users their power, and comes in potion form for you to use during combat. However, as you learn more about Thedas, you'll discover there's a lot more to lyrium than meets the eye. Having all this magical power in one, concentrated form isn't without its consequences.
In its raw, natural form, lyrium is actually a mineral that grows underground. It's incredibly dangerous — even capable of exploding with no warning or explanation – and contact with the substance can cause physical or psychological damage to most people. If you're a mage, it could even kill you.
The only exception is the dwarves, who have a natural tolerance to the substance that allows them to mine it — though the particulars of the process are kept secret. However, dwarves can still be negatively affected by prolonged or severe exposure to lyrium; that's what Bodahn thinks happened to Sandal.
What Is Lyrium Used For?
Lyrium, once carefully refined into potions, is used primarily by mages and Orlesian templars. Templars take lyrium as a way to give them abilities to deflect and combat magic. Some people argue that the Chantry is essentially forcing people with no innate magical abilities to use magic by sheer force of ingesting lyrium.
Regardless, all Orlesian templars ingest lyrium while they are in the order, though Cullen may stop this practice, depending on your choices in Dragon Age: Inquisition. This causes them to become dependent on the substance over time, with drastic withdrawal symptoms should they ever try to stop.
Mages should only take lyrium when their personal reserves of magic are low. However, if you want to perform more powerful magic than your personal stores of magic will allow, you can take lyrium.
Mages who do that deal with complicated side effects of trying to alter their own magic capabilities this way, and taking lyrium can sometimes lead to what's known as a "mana imbalance." People with a mana imbalance can deal with auditory hallucinations, physical illness, and conscious dreaming in the Fade.
It's worth noting that mages don't become dependent on lyrium the way templars do, except insofar as they may become drunk on power because they are exposed to magic all the time.
Lyrium has been used in a variety of other ways, some reliable and some experimental, such as enchanting, ritual performing, engineering, and rune-crafting.
What We Learn About Lyrium In Dragon Age: Inquisition – The Descent
One DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition focused heavily on dwarves and the Deep Roads, a sprawling network of tunnels under the ground that was once home to a dwarven empire.
The Descent introduced us to a race known as the titans, which were an ancient race of giants who lived underground and saw the dwarves as their children. According to Valta, a dwarf who communes with a titan, lyrium isn't actually a mineral: it's the titans' blood.
We don't have confirmation for this beyond Valta's word yet, but it does ring true with other things we know about lyrium. For example, the dwarves who mine it say that they can hear it singing and find its veins by ear — suggesting it is alive. The work of Bianca Davri, which we discuss below, further supports it.
The First And Second Discovery Of Red Lyrium
Red lyrium was discovered for the first time by a dwarven house, thousands of years before the Dragon Age games take place — and even before the darkspawn, supposedly. At the time, the dwarves of House Valdasine were the only dwarves who mined lyrium. One day, without warning or explanation, House Valdasine shut the doors to the Valdasine Thaig. Any attempt to reason with them was met only with silence.
The doors were eventually forced open, but not for days after they'd first been shut. By then, all the dwarves of House Valdasine had disappeared. They could not find any evidence of what had happened there.
They only found two things out of the ordinary: a red lyrium idol that the dwarves seemed to have been worshipping, and a long staff made of a metal derived from lyrium, but which even modern dwarves don't know how to create. The dwarven king of the time ordered that the Thaig be sealed off, with the staff and idol inside, and that its existence be stricken from the dwarves' historical archives.
For thousands of years, the idol and staff remained in the sealed Thaig, untouched. Finally, in 9:31 Dragon, it was rediscovered by the protagonist of Dragon Age 2, Hawke, alongside Varric and Bartrand Tethras, during an expedition into the Deep Roads.
They removed the idol and staff from the Thaig and added it to their pile of loot — except Bartrand stole the idol and double-crossed his brother, leaving Varric and Hawke to die in the Deep Roads.
Lyrium's Involvement In The Games' Story
The red lyrium plays a significant role in Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition.
In Dragon Age 2, it is revealed that Meredith's increasingly harsh anti-mage policies are a result of her being driven mad by the red lyrium idol, which she bought from Bartrand and turned into a sword for herself. Hawke defeats her but, even so, these events set in motion the mage rebellion.
The Conclave at the beginning of Dragon Age: Inquisition is trying to resolve that rebellion, but is interrupted by Corypheus. The Breach that opened and ruined the Conclave caused red lyrium nodes to appear above ground all over Thedas, but little is known about why these two events were connected or how the red lyrium grew, whether it was accelerated growth of underground nodes or the spontaneous creation of new ones.
It is known that Corypheus added red lyrium to his arsenal after learning of its power, but unknown whether he is the one that caused red lyrium to appear above ground.
So, What's The Deal With Red Lyrium? It's Tainted.
In case you weren't aware, the darkspawn are infected with a disease known simply as the Taint (or the Blight). While sources disagree on how the Taint came about, the effects are inevitable: darkspawn. A lot of them.
Bianca Davri is a member of the Dwarven Merchants' Guild (yes, the one who Varric named his crossbow after), and a genius smith who studied the red lyrium after Varric wrote to her. Bianca's research led her to discover that red lyrium is the result of regular lyrium being corrupted by the Taint. It's generally understood that the Taint only infects living organisms, which leads Bianca (and us) to a huge and inescapable conclusion: lyrium is alive.
The Effects Of Red Lyrium
Red lyrium is an even more volatile substance than regular lyrium, if that can be believed. First, you have to worry about all the dangers that you'd face if you were exposed to regular lyrium.
On top of all of those, red lyrium is even more significantly dangerous, and you can become dependent on it simply by being in its presence for too long — not by ingesting it as templars do.
In addition to this dependency, being near the red lyrium will cause your mental state to grow unstable, and any negative feelings you already have — such as jealousy, paranoia, greed, and violent tendencies — to become stronger. How long it takes for your mental state to deteriorate seems to depend on the individual's willpower.
Bartrand Tethras was overtaken by the red lyrium's influence rather quickly, while it slowly wore Knight Commander Meredith down over the course of years, during which she became increasingly harsh.
If ingested regularly, red lyrium grants you superhuman strength, even as it consumes your body from within. When templars consume red lyrium during Dragon Age: Inquisition, it improves the powers they mastered in their templar training and grants them additional powers.
It seems that this effect is unique to templars because, thanks to their special training to handle regular lyrium, they are able to resist progressing through the stages of infection as quickly, and harness the power to their advantage.
Ingesting the red lyrium, as mentioned, takes a toll on your body. At first, you'll be in extreme pain, even as you are desperate for more. Your skin becomes pale and thin, you lose fat and gain muscle, your eyes (and even body, on occasion) begin to glow red, and you develop a higher tolerance for pain as time goes on.
You also begin to hear a song, and something about that song makes you desperate for everyone to be able to hear it. Templars have described it as "deeper" than the song produced by regular lyrium. As the red lyrium infection becomes worse, crystals of red lyrium begin to appear on the outside of your body and grow larger and larger.
Internally, autopsies reveal that the red lyrium snakes into your mind, fuses to your bones, and fills your lungs. Once the process is fully complete and your body has been taken over by red lyrium, you become a hulking monster known as a Behemoth. These creatures are incredibly strong but experience constant, unrelenting pain.
Once red lyrium began to appear on the surface, its effects on the reality around it could also be examined more closely. It seems to cause the Veil to become thin around it, which allows spirits or demons from the Fade to enter the physical world more easily. It also grows incredibly quickly; that, combined with the adverse effects of mere proximity to it, make it nearly impossible to remove from an area.
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