"No," she said.
Cullen gave an exasperated sigh. "Neria, you're expected to attend. Every mage and apprentice is expected to attend. The man's come all the way from Amaranthine to lecture, the least you could do is..."
"If I'm a demon why on earth would I care about manners, Cullen?"
He sniffed suspiciously. "Are you drunk?"
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Possibly."
"Where are you getting all this alcohol from Neria?"
She shrugged and leaned against the wall of the Harrowing Chamber. She spent a lot of time up here these days. When she wasn't in the library or sulking in her bunk. It was technically supposed to be locked when it wasn't in use, but Neria had learned a few tricks from a fellow apprentice who'd started very young and for some reason the Templars couldn't seem to make a more complex lock.
Cullen was under strict instructions not to kill her unless she actively started trying to kill anyone else or used blood magic, two things she would never do - so he had resigned himself to following her into the chamber and standing guard there while she... moped about usually. After the third time he'd used a smite on her to get her out she figured he reasoned it wasn't worth the effort any more.
And she knew it hurt him whenever he had to drain her mana or smite her. He seemed to still believe she was an abomination most of the time, but she knew he still cared. Poor dear.
Once, before the rebellion, she'd thought she had a crush on him. His sweet, bumbling conversations had never failed to touch her. These days she took delight in tormenting him - to a point. Then she'd remember why he was the way he was and all the fun would drain out of it.
"Who is this warden mage, any way?" she asked, scanning the walls for the spot where she could climb the easiest. "Why does he know so much more than us?"
"He's the only warden mage," Cullen said. "You know - he was at the battle for Amaranthine."
She blew air out of her cheeks. "And that's supposed to impress me? What sort of magic does he use?"
"He's a spirit healer."
She sneered. "Like Wynne?"
Cullen sighed. "Neria, are you going to come to the lecture or not?"
"Smite me," she said.
Cullen crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. Neria found the spot on the wall she was looking for and hitched her robes up over her knees, tying them in place so they wouldn't get in the way.
"Wh..what are you doing?" Cullen said. The stammer's back, she thought, smiling to herself. How adorable. Pity I have to show skin these days to get it.
She started climbing up the wall towards the window sill. "Neria, you know you can't do that," Cullen had started forward, his hand outstretched, but he was too delightfully nervous to physically restrain her. The only place he could grab now was her bare shin. She wanted him to do it, but knew he wouldn't. "What do you hope to achieve by doing this all the time Neria?"
She paused and looked down at him, biting her lip. "You honestly want to know?" she said. He nodded, eyes full. "Freedom," she said.
"You won't get it up there," he said.
"Oh, didn't you know Cullen?" she gave him her cheekiest grin, "I can fly!"
His face turned from sad to concerned to frightened almost comically quickly. He did try to grab her leg then, but she scrambled up too quickly onto the sill out of his reach. She stood. The windows were too high up to bother barring - no mage would be stupid enough to take that route out of the Tower. It was too dangerous for Cullen to smite her now - chances were she would fall out the window rather than back into the chamber. She grabbed hold of the window frame and leaned outwards, feeling the chill wind and looking at the stars.
"Neria!" Cullen's voice was panicked. "I'm going to have to get the Knight Commander."
"And what will he do?" she said.
"Lock you up in solitary, probably."
"He has to get me down first," she shouted into the wind. "Why don't you come up? I can teach you too, you know. Demons are supposed to be able to teach lots of things."
"You do still think I'm a demon, don't you?" Neria said, turning around.
"The Neria I knew would never do something like this," Cullen said, and his face was set in that hard line she remembered from before he was reassigned to her, before he'd even started to recover from what they did to him.
Her mood turned, if possible, even darker. "The Neria you knew is dead, Cullen. Just like the Cullen I knew. And the Tobias, and the Niall and every other blasted mage who had the misfortune to be here during the rebellion. And every blasted Templar too for that matter."
His face darkened even further, clouded with pain and memories. But the hardness softened. "Neria, come down. Please."
She stood for a moment, looking at him. Just one step backwards, she thought. And I'll be free.
"Come up," she said, smiling a little and lowering her voice. "I can teach you more than just how to fly, Cullen." He flushed and looked down. She felt very, very slightly guilty. But she ignored it. "What did she offer to teach you?"
His head shot up and his eyes flashed with anger. "Come down now Neria," he said, and there was a snap of command in his voice. She pursed her lips.
He crossed his arms back over his chest. "No," he said.
"Are you going to drag me to the damned lecture?" she asked.
He heaved a sigh and held out his arm to help her down. "No."
She gave him her brightest smile. "All right then."
She reached the floor with Cullen's hand still in hers - he had taken off his gauntlet to help her down. The simple warmth of his touch penetrated some of her melancholy and mania. She looked up at him as he let her hand go.
"I'm sorry, Cullen," she said softly.
He blinked, then turned to the door, motioning her to follow. She followed, with one last glance at the window.