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Welcome to 21 Days of Valdemar!

Put on your party hats - it’s time for the Dead Vanyel Memorial Party! Vanyel is OFFICIALLY the Woobiest of the Woobies, and we celebrate in his honour!


No More Fills posted here! Post to AO3 or FF.Net and post the link here!

Discussion Post | Mod Call Post | Resources Post


Day 1 -Aug. 9 - Prompts! You will have seven days to put as many prompts as you'd like on this post. And if you start writing them early, well that's just good planning!

Day 8 - Aug. 16 - Prompting ends, posting begins! You have 14 days to write, draw, and potentially diorama as many prompts as you can.

Day 19 - Aug. 27 - This is the cut-off day for prompters to reply to any questions about their prompt. Unanswered questions are considered enthusiastic agreement.

Day 21 - Aug. 29 - Last day of posting! All fills must be posted by 11:59 PM North American Mountain Time.
Day 22 - Aug. 30 - Party time! You now have the option of going unanon and reposting everything you've done to AO3 under our fancy AO3 Collection. Or unanoning in whatever manner you please.

(Click on the dates for countdowns; the fest is following MDT/Mountain Time)


For the purposes of this fest, the prompts themselves are warnings. If you have issues with this policy, we recommend either not participating or using Dreamwidth blocker.

Joining the 21_days community is optional for prompters, fillers, and all interested parties; we have some extra content for comm members, but this prompt/fill post, the discussion post, and the mod call post are open for everyone.

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** "extreme kinks" for the purposes of this exchange include but are not necessarily limited to: extreme underage, major character death, scat/watersports/emetophilia, extreme gore, and bestiality. Please use reasonable discretion, and ask a mod if you have any questions!

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Date: 2015-08-23 02:25 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Stef had come to look forward to visiting Vanyel in a way he couldn't define. Exhausting though his efforts were, there was something dreamlike, almost indulgent about singing to the Lost One in his hidden cell. He could sing what he liked; Vanyel didn't mind his tastes. He'd begun from the old songs, things he thought Vanyel would be familiar with from childhood, and had moved on to modern variants, even some of his own songs. Nothing about the ongoing war.

He's changing, Stef thought, as their eyes caught in the low candlelight. More focused. I almost think he's glad to see me. They'd even talked a little last time; questions about Vanyel's childhood passion for music met only with confusion and silence, but simple technicalities - which version of Windrider Unchained he preferred, whether he knew the Kettlesmith variant - were allowed.

There were few greetings between them. Even the eye contact was something of a novelty. "Any requests?" he asked, as always, fumbling his lute from its case. Not his favourite twelve-stringed gittern today, but he had his reasons for that.

Vanyel shook his head - as always - and then hesitated. "I liked the one you sang yesterday about Sunsinger and Shadowdancer."

Stef decided not to tell him that he'd not been there in two days. He'd gathered that Vanyel wasn't best aware of time - and who would be, in this silent hole? Vanyel hardly seemed uncomfortable with his surroundings, but the Work Room made Stef feel stifled by silence on every side; the ceiling was as low as you'd find in a slum tenement, not far over Vanyel's head, and all six faces of the room were formed from thick stone. "You flatter me," he replied instead. "I wrote that one."

Vanyel's eyes widened. "I shouldn't be surprised. It fits your range so perfectly." He frowned, as he was wont to when trying to remember things. "Mine was lower, back then. I remember...after my voice broke, I couldn't sing Herald Nasha's Lament any more."

"That happened to Medren," Stef grinned. "He came up with a variant that works for him - I'll try to remember where it starts -"

"I don't sing," and Vanyel's voice wavered. "It's been years since..." He curled his hands, and Stefen wondered at a pain that drove away thought, drove away song. He always recognised pain - he didn't know whether it was part of his Gift, or due to years of carefully watching Berte for signals, but no one could hide it from him. There was enough of it in the world that he'd long ago grown hard to it; if he'd paid heed to every little ache and scrape, there'd be none of him left. There's a reason I concealed this Gift for years, and only let it show once I was sure I'd be well repaid for it. Without the prospect of reward, not even Breda's headaches had particularly concerned him.

But he couldn't think of leaving Vanyel in pain.

I'm spending too much time around Heralds. Either that, or Shavri's guilt is getting to me. Stefen played the opening notes of the song Vanyel had requested - the one he was more often been told was too gloomy for good company - and let his Gift flow through the music. It is helping him. I see more and more of him every time I come in here. It's getting easier to reach his pain. And hells, if I can give him even a moment of peace and enjoyment - doesn't he deserve that, after so many lost years? That's not pity, exactly. I spent plenty of years struggling and suffering too. That's when music first came to matter so much to me.

As the songs went by, he saw the tension drain out of Vanyel's posture. I feel like I'm tuning him, every time. Turning a peg, listening out until he reaches the right key - the place where he and the music understand each other. That first time, he fought me the whole way, but now...he's yearning to escape from pain.

At the end of the song, Stef set his fingers against the catgut lute-strings to still them. Enough of me indulging myself. It's about time he indulged me instead. "I had an idea," he said, and he set his lute on the table between them. "When did you last play?"

Vanyel was silent so long that Stef wasn't sure he'd understood the question. " memory's not good. I tried. When I came home. It hurt," and he flinched.

Stef surpressed a shiver at the odd sense of loss in Vanyel's voice. He tapped the lute's belly gently. "You said you used to love music." You still do, he added to himself. "I won't let it hurt you - I'll sing while you play. We can take it slowly. I brought a few music books," and he gestured to the case he'd set on the floor.

"I'm not sure I remember," said Vanyel slowly.

"Try her. Your fingers do." I'm sure you can do this. I'm quite sure.

Vanyel glanced at his hands as if they'd done him some wrong. He took the lute with some hesitance, but his fingers immediately found the right grip. He plucked a note - then a scale, which Stefen followed with his voice, an octave below.

No pain. I promised. I'm well acquainted with this prison, and I'm handing you its key.

Stef reached into his case, and pulled out a student book he'd pilfered from the library. "Want to warm up on the Midsummer March?"

"I haven't played that since I was a child," he replied, but his hands shaped the first note unerringly, with barely a glance at the book in Stefen's hands. Every beginner learned it. Muscle memory, Stef thought. Your hands and your ears remember, even if you don't consciously know it.

He sang slowly as Vanyel's long fingers made their hesitant way through the song. As Stef held the last note, Vanyel flicked at the strings in frustration. "Feels like starting from nothing," he muttered in frustration.

"Beats not starting," Stef told him. "You love music." That, he wouldn't let Vanyel deny any more, but his curiosity about the puzzle was eating him alive. "Whyever did you let it go?"

"I...didn't care any more. It doesn't matter. Nothing else matters," and Stefen sensed the pain shift inside of him. The tension returning.

"Nothing else except what?" he asked.

"Krebain," Vanyel breathed. "There is only him."

"Krebain?" Stef inquired.

A look of wild longing crossed Vanyel's face, and Stefen felt that instinct turn inside him. The word - the name - pulling him from the escape Stef had crafted as if it were a trap noose. He sensed pain wrack through Vanyel, and his lips curled as if he craved it. Stef seized his lute and sang the first line that came into his empty head. "Nothing can I hold of you but thought -"

Vanyel's eyes brightened, and he held his head in his hands. Stefen blinked, feeling dizzy as if he were drunk. Sparks seemed to circle Vanyel's hands, his hair. Everything was so bright and warm. Stef stared even as he sang, mesmerised by the smoke that clouded his eyes. Was this how magic felt, close at hand?

No, he noted, his vision fading. The mattress is on fire.

He tried to scream but the air was thick as a marsh. The lack of air. He dropped to his knees, and grabbed Vanyel's sleeve with both hands. "Get down here," he choked, and tried to pull him toward the door. Vanyel stumbled into him. They'd never touched before. It seared him, like the firelight burning patterns against his eyes - panic, yearning. Horror. Stef fell on his back on the ground as Vanyel scrambled away from him.

He choked, and somehow had the wits to grab his lute as he slid himself over the floor, gasping breaths of air an inch from the stone. He hammered at the foot of the door, tried to lever himself up to grasp the handle, but his arms were damp twigs and his lungs were leaden weights. Light bloomed in his eyes, and as it faded, he felt his hands turn numb.

Stefen rubbed his eyes, and his knuckles came away black with smoke. He felt like there was a lump of coal stuck in his windpipe. He tried to stretch. Someone had piled a heavy blanket over him. Several heavy blankets. He wriggled, pins and needles afflicting his limbs. "Don't, Bard," Savil cautioned. "I assure you, you need more rest."

"Where's Vanyel?" he asked.

"In my bedroom. I built him some shielding that ought to last the next few hours."

He rubbed his eyes and tried to look at her. She sat on a low table beside the settee that Stefen was stretched out on. The sleeves of her Whites were dotted with black-edged holes, and her frown was drawn in sharp, deep lines. His lute, Stef was relieved to see was beside her. Two of the strings were missing but if he was lucky, the rest of it might still be hale."Shielding?" he queried, and thought of what he'd read of mages. "That's why you shut him up in the Work Room?"

"He's not 'shut up'," she replied sharply. "He comes and goes as he likes. But yes, he spends his time there because the permanent shields on the Work Room are a great help in keeping him and the rest of us from harm. It's usually the safest place he could be when he loses control of his Gifts," and her face sagged with exhaustion. "Last time he tried sleeping somewhere else, he had a nightmare that woke every Gifted person in Haven."

"I remember that," Stefen breathed. He and Medren had both woken up wild and screaming, and had only the next morning learned that every other Gifted Bardic apprentice had done the same - and so had the Heraldic trainees. "That was Vanyel?"

"Yes, and he doesn't want that to happen again." Savil sighed. "He's very sorry he hurt you."

"He didn't hurt me," snapped Stefen. "He'd never hurt me." She gaped at him in disbelief, and he wondered how he could be so certain. Logic presented itself easily enough. "He's a powerful mage - if he tried to hurt me, I should think he'd do a lot better than that."

Savil shook her head darkly. "I knew we were only putting him through this again," and her eyes shone as if tears of exhaustion were lurking behind her lashes. "We tried to free him from the pain after Yfandes first brought him home. I was sure his control was improving, and then one day it snapped back. I told you not to hope, and you still thought a few songs would cure all his ills? His mind is a trap, Bard."

"Whatever do you mean?" he asked in confusion. "What's wrong with his mind? What happened to him?"

"Stefen," and she trembled as she spoke. "As best as I know, Vanyel was kept as a slave for fifteen years. His mind was controlled and he was tortured, both physically and with magecraft. I removed the - the magical chain that his captor had used to control him," and her voice broke over the memory. "Van was conditioned to believe he didn't own his own mind, his own body. I thought we could heal him, until we realised his captor had planted a trap inside his deepest magical shields. We can't reach there - the trap is fed by Van's own power, and he's very, very powerful. He's completely impervious to magic, Healing or Mindhealing, to Mindspeech, even to Empathy. Even his own Companion can't communicate with him except when they touch. I let you try this damnfoolery because the Bardic Gift is the only thing he's not shielded against. And now I regret that," she thundered.

Stefen fought the urge to hide under his blankets. He'd had no idea how far beyond his depth he'd been trying to reach. He couldn't even imagine - the Lost One kept chained - by the hand, by the ankle? Around his neck? Every image was crushing, discarded in horror. He'd always thought of the Lost One as, well, lost, wandering through twisted forests, or in a maze of canyons cutting deep below wasteland. Not chained in some dark place and tortured as the years passed by.

"There's nothing I can do but keep him stable," Savil continued. "I've come to accept that. My one hope was that eventually he'd regain the control he needed to break the cycle, because I can't do that for him. We tried to bolster his magical abilities - I couldn't link to him through the shield, but I did try to build a connection to the Palace node. He was hurting - he always said he hurt - and the more power I tried to give him, the more it hurt," and she curled her eyes closed. "It's - like seeing a knife twisting deep in his reserves. It uses his own magic to secrete a kind of energy he can't handle. His torturer left it there to cause Vanyel pain whenever he wasn't nearby - so he wouldn't be capable of using his own power to seek a way out of captivity. So he'd always be a slave no matter how far away his torturer had gone. Now it hurts him even to try to use his Gifts - he can't unmake the trap and let us inside."

But I was so close, Stef thought, as he watched her sink into despair. I was so near to handing him control, and then he focused on - "Krebain," he murmured.

Savil looked at him sharply. "How do you know that name?"

"He told me," Stef breathed. "He tried to let me inside the trap."

She was right. I shouldn't have imagined my ditties could cure Vanyel. Only Vanyel can cure Vanyel.

He looked up, and held her eyes. "He's trying to heal himself."

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-23 04:36 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
There was enough of it in the world that he'd long ago grown hard to it; if he'd paid heed to every little ache and scrape, there'd be none of him left. Stef :( I love his pov here, how he just accepts the shitty things that happened to him, but doesn't accept them happening to Vanyel.

And poor Vanyel. You just keep escalating the torment, but the fact he even wants to try to get better instead of wallowing in his misery is just. My god this is perfect and I need to lie down.

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-26 04:45 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks anon! My headcanon: Stef has this totally functional selfishness. He is used to situations where you either exploit people or get exploited yourself and is angling for the former...until he meets Van. He's very afraid to give too much of himself; even Medren knows little about his past. But Van completely upends all his survival rules, and without even meaning to, he leads Stef beyond all his fears. (And then dies, leaving Stef with a bunch of new fears, not least ever getting close to anyone ever again. Isn't it great. :D )

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-23 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ahhhh this part is brilliant! Your Stef voice & POV is really solid and enjoyable. The idea that starting to teach Van to play again is what triggered things to go haywire, but also start to indicate that things are trying to change, was really compelling. I'm really looking forward to more!

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-26 04:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thank you anon! I figured that Stef would have to dredge up some hella nasty stuff on the way to making things right. This double prompt is an arms race :/ Things have to be real bad, or else there wouldn't be a reason no one could help except Stef. So awful things happen to Van. But then it's REALLY HARD for Stef to help him. ;___;

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-23 07:30 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

Oh my god this just keeps getting better and better and better. I LOVE the part where Stef reflects that he's "tuning" Vanyel. I love the two steps forward, one step back quality of the recovery. You're doing a really great job of having things actually happen but still bringing out the hopelessness and despair.

Agh I'm just so happy every time I see this update, you keep delivering above and beyond my wildest hopes :'D

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-26 04:00 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thank you, OP! Yeah Stef is not going to give up on this one, but it's so hard. ;__; the greater the hurt, the greater the comfort, I hope?

Re: 4/?

Date: 2015-08-30 05:17 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"He's trying to heal himself."

A!A, this is so, so good. I simultaneously really regret not having read this as it came out and being so glad because I can move on to the next part immediately. It's so visual, so real, I swear I smelled the smoke.


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