Stretched Too Thin [closed]

((OOC: 3 Kingsway, 35 Dragon, with ))


Creators, why did he think this was a good idea?

He was doing so well. He thought he could do this. But here he was, sweat beading on his forehead, heart hammering a mile a minute and his mind screaming at him to run. Just run.

He’d come to Denerim to resupply. He could have gone to Amaranthine, or South Reach, or Gwaren or anywhere that wasn’t the blasted capital city of Ferelden. But he was doing well! He hadn’t panicked when passing through Redcliffe, or Lothering. He thought he could brave Denerim as well. Serves him right for biting off more than he could chew.

Bodies pressed all around him, voices and laughter rising higher in a cacophony of sound that forced his pointed ears to press tightly back against his head in a desperate bid to block it all out. Everywhere he looked there were shemlen, staring at him with their beady little eyes and judgment tainting every word directed his way. His scarf suddenly felt like it was suffocating him, twisting and twining around his neck to tear the breath from his lungs. His hands raised to claw at the fabric, body tense and mind reeling.

Stupid. He was so stupid to think he could do this. Insolent little knife ear with no idea of how the world works. You should crawl back into the cage you were found in.

“Shut up!” His voice cracked and broke. Eyes wet and frantic as he tried to block out his Master’s voice. Safe. I have to get somewhere safe. The shredded remains of what was once clear thought cut through the haze in his mind for a moment and he searched around him for a place to hide. A dark building, or an alleyway, or anywhere but the blasted streets crammed with quicklings whose bodies seemed to be closing in around him. He picked a direction and ran, not stopping until he was met with a set of large wooden doors. He noticed with a quick glance of blurry eyes that there weren’t many people around. Some people in funny looking robes and a few stragglers were all he saw before he cracked the doors open and slipped inside.

The darkened room hit him like a cold splash of water, clearing the haze in his mind just long enough for him to realize he’d stumbled into some sort of holy building. Pews lined the isles and a few priests sat near the front, heads bent in prayer or tending to candles near the front. He stepped lightly to a dark corner in the back of the building, trying not to bring any attention to himself. His back hit the cold stone wall and he slid down, curling in on himself with hands buried in thick red curls tumbling from his head. He counted his breaths, in and out, in and out, until he felt some semblance of control return to him. His head fell back against the wall behind him, green eyes staring blankly at the ceiling and fingers playing with the Ironwood ring on his left hand as his panic slowly faded.
A few minutes after Esper found his way into the Chantry, Brilya strolled back toward the stone after collecting alms, a burdened collections plate in her hands.

"Seven times seventy men of stone immense~ Rose up from the earth like sleepers waking at the dawn~ Crossing the land with strides immeasurable~..." she sings as she walks inside the stone building, faltering at the sight of the other elf, staring for a moment. Her face turned red before she could regain her composure, and she hurriedly made her retreat from him to place the collected donations into the collection bin. The coins clattered into the bin as she returned to her Chant, looking at the other elf out of the corner of her eye.

"And in the hollows of their footprints~ Paradise was stamped, indelible~" Her voice dwindled again, and she looked at the collection bin, turning between the coins and the elf. She bit her lower lip before looking for the Revered Mother, returning after a few minutes from the bunks with her own coin purse in hand. She walked up to the other elf and kneeled in front of him, smiling warmly. "I'm sorry, but do you need any help? Umm... And, andaar... Andaran atish'an...?" Her pronunciation was likely atrocious, but her intentions were obviously benign. Hopefully. She brushed her hair back nervously, exposing her longer ears and faux-vallaslin to him.
Esper’s ears perked up at the sound of a voice, singing softly as they entered the building with a clattering plate in her arms. He couldn’t see their face at this angle, but he swore he spied the pointed tips of another elves ears peaking through her hair. His eyes followed her as she moved, ears trained on the sound of her voice. He didn’t know the song, but he’d heard something with a similar melody when passing through Redcliffe. Was this the Southerner’s religion? What was it called? Something to do with a Divine, and a woman named Andrew. Creators it had been a long while since he’d spent any amount of time speaking with shemlen and while he was curious about their religion, he’d never had much of a chance to ask about it.

His eyes strayed from her after a bit, closing as he let her voice wash over him and calm the last of his nerves.

"I'm sorry, but do you need any help?”

The strangers voice broke him out of his daze and his eyes snapped to the same woman he’d seen walking in earlier. Vallasliin. She was wearing valasliin. Was she? No. The linework was all wrong. It seemed more a crude imitation of the real thing.

“Umm... And, andaar... Andaran atish'an...?" And her pronunciation was awful. Spoken by someone who’d only ever seen the word written or taught to her by someone who was half deaf and heard the word in passing. So… not Dalish. Esper deflated a little at the realization, but the look in her eyes and the kind, slightly hesitant smile on her face seemed genuine.

Esper offered a shaky smile in return, not quite ready yet to smile in earnest, but it had been so long since someone greeted him in his home tongue or showed him kindness. He wouldn’t scorn that.

“Andaran atish’an,” He greeted. “I uh… I’m sorry, miss. I didn’t mean to intrude. I just uhm.” He waved a hand at the room around him, “I needed somewhere quiet to hide out for a bit. Not that I’m in any trouble or anything!” He hastened to add, “It’s not a ‘I’m hiding from the law thing,’ just a ‘there are too many people’ thing.”

He tugged at his hair in frustration, of course he was bumbling his words. If he was lucky they’d just kick him out rather than hand him over to their guards. Creators, he was a mess.

“Ir abelas.” He apologized, “I’m a little out of sorts at the moment. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
Brilya studied the other elf's face when he looked up at her, her face flushing again at the sight of his not having the vallaslin. Her fingers traced her own as she frowned lightly in thought, wondering Ohh... I hope I didn't make a mistake. He doesn't, though... 

In fact, she was so engrossed in her misgivings that it took her a second to recognize his talking back to her. "Andaran atish'an," he told her, and her smile returned once it registered what he had said. "I uh... I'm sorry, miss. I didn't mean to intrude. I just uhm… I needed somewhere quiet to hide out for a bit. Not that I'm in trouble or anything!" She giggled at this reassurance behind a slender hand, nodding. 

"Oh, yes. I can understand the need for silence, at times. That's why I like it here," she replied, even though the Chantry was filled with the din of hushed conversation. "There are more comfortable places to sit than underneath Andraste, though. I would know," she giggled again, looking up to the statue for a moment before continuing. "I spent the night underneath it once!" She looked back down to him and offered him a hand up, after tying her own coin purse to her belt. The jingle of coins was meagre compared to that of the collection plate she held before, but not completely empty. She could afford a meal at the tavern, had she the need.

"And you're no trouble at all! Please don't think that, lethallin!" Her pronunciation for this was smoother than her introduction, as though better-rehearsed, and she smiled again, trying to be reassuring. 
Esper took the proffered hand with only a little reluctance, letting this slip of a woman tug him to his feet. Though, perhaps not quite such a slip, considering she pulled him up with relative ease. There was strength behind those formless robes. He smiled in thanks, her good humor and cheerful demeanor easily putting him at ease.

"And you're no trouble at all! Please don't think that, lethallin!"

His head cocked a little at the words. She must know what Lethallin meant, it sounded smoother than her earlier greeting. Still rusty and unnatural on her tongue, but it seemed the word came easier for her. His eyes traced the faux valasliin twining over her face and he felt a stab of envy. He’d been taken from his clan before he could receive his, and here was this woman, not even Dalish, serving a shemlen god, who had created a pale imitation of the real thing.

But his curiosity got the better of his envy and he raised a hand to gesture at her face, “Your uh…” He wouldn’t call them valasliin, that wasn’t what they were. Not really. “Tattoos.” He settled on. “They’re imitations of Valasliin, but you’re not… You’re not Dalish.” He shook his head, and offered her a smile, trying to squash the bite in his words. He didn’t want to offend or upset her, that was the last thing he wanted to do. But he was far too curious for his own good, sometimes.

“If you don’t mind me asking, who gave them to you?
After helping the other elf stand, Brilya lead him to a nook in the Chantry. Books filled shelves to either side, and the back wall was dominated by a statue to Andraste. Beneath the shelves were cushioned chairs, and she took the other after indicating for him to sit in one. Her smile never faded. 

Once they were sitting down, he spoke to her again, gesturing to her face. "Your uh... tattoos." He hesitated at the word, though she figured what he was referring to, with the gesturing. "They're imitations of vallaslin, but you're not... You're not Dalish." She chuckled as he shook his head, and smiled back when he smiled to her. 

She raised a hand to trace the circular pattern on her face, over both eyes, and the branches below them as though tears. "Oh, yes. My mother was... she was very much influenced by the old ways, though she herself was born here. We had makeshift altars to the Creators, in the back of her shop where she kept the herbs still to be used to make potions." She cocked her head a little downward, turning her gaze further still, to the wooden floor, and her hand moves to tug on one of her braids before resting at her side. "Growing up, she insisted we live as closely to the Dalish as we could. So, when we came of age she drew the... she called them vallaslin." She looked back up to him, smiling again. "My brother actually left the city to join a Dalish clan. Maybe you know him? Garnarel?"
City elves worshiping the Creators? That wasn’t something he’d heard of much. The Harens in his clan were generally pretty scornful of flat ears, claiming they’d turned their backs on the old ways. But this woman grew up in a family of people who followed the Dalish beliefs, though they were like to get some things wrong without his peoples guidance and knowledge of the Pantheon. Still though, it gladdened him a bit to see his family was wrong in this regard.

"My brother actually left the city to join a Dalish clan. Maybe you know him? Garnarel?" She asked, that same easy smile lifting the edges of her lips.

Esper thought for a moment, lip pulled between teeth. Ma serannas, Lethallan. My clan, Ghilain, we never really strayed too far from the Dales, to the West of Ferelden.” He pursed his lips, “Well, they never used to.” Red hair bounced around his face, brushing over the burn scars marring his left cheek and neck. “If your brother was living here when he left, he probably found Clan Sabrae. I believe they were in the Forests to the South-East, last I heard. But that was many many years ago.”

Green eyes glanced back up to the woman and he looked at her curiously, “You say your brother left to join the Dalish, why didn’t you go with him? Life in a shemlen city can’t be better than joining our people in the wilds.”
"Well, they never used to. If your brother was living here when he left, he probably found Clan Sabrae." Brilya frowned at that, cocking her head and tugging on her braid.

"They didn't? I believed the Dalish were clansmen for life?" Upon looking back to him, this was when she really got a good look at his face, and she stood up upon seeing the scars. "Do you need healing?" she asked, concern plain in her voice. "I'm not as good as my mother, but I can make something to help? I have some herbs stored away in my trunk." She analyzed his face carefully, looking for any sign of infection or scabbing, biting her lower lip.
Esper flinched at her sudden movement, a violent jerking motion that made his arm shoot out behind him to stop himself toppling over the side of the seat.

"Do you need healing?"

“No!” He said, voice panicked. He didn’t need healing, no mage was getting anywhere near him. Healer or not. But his eyes snapped back to her with her next words, "I'm not as good as my mother, but I can make something to help? I have some herbs stored away in my trunk."

Oh… Herbs, not magic. That was… that was good. His hand raised to brush fingertips over the long healed scars. He could have used herbs the few months after the wound was inflicted. As it stands, he suffered through an excruciating healing process and the reddened, warped skin was not likely to ever stop looking so raw. He wasn't all that surprised she thought the wound was new, but if this was her reaction to it now, Esper couldn't imagine how startled she would be if she saw it a few years ago.

“No,” he said, quieter this time, “This was done a long time ago. I doubt there’s much a few herbs could do at this point.” He shrugged and his lips twisted up in a wry smile, “Thank you for the thought, though.”
"Thank you for the thought, though." Brilya's hand extended as if to reach toward his wounds, but she quickly pulled it away to tug on her braid instead. If it was an old wound... it looked so raw, though. She chewed on her lower lip as she mulled over what could have happened. After a moment though, she shook her head. 

"You had asked about my brother!" she exclaimed, instead, smiling warmly. "Why I didn't follow him. That was rather simple- I had a different calling," she continued, waving a hand around them and looking around. She looked to the statue next to them with a smile. "The Maker could do for me what the Creators couldn't, is all. He could bring peace. And, things have been getting better here, just as He told me it would! We elves have our own courts, now. King Alistair is... surprisingly amenable to us." She turned back to the other elf, before shaking her head again and giggling. "I'm sorry, I've never told you my name! I am Sister Brilya," she introduced herself, standing for a moment to curtsy. 
Esper watched her as she raised her hand to his face, he flinched a little at the movement, an instinctual reaction and less of a desire not to be touched. But she pulled her hand away quickly, instead tugging at her braid in a nervous fashion. Her eyebrows scrunched in thought, no doubt wondering where the burn scars came from in the first place. Most people did, and he waited patiently for her to ask, a lie sitting at the tip of his tongue.

Then her face smoothed out and she smiled again, "You had asked about my brother!" She said, returning to his earlier question. "Why I didn't follow him. That was rather simple- I had a different calling.” She gestured to the room around them and the statue peering at them from the dais above. “The Maker could do for me what the Creators couldn't, is all. He could bring peace. And, things have been getting better here, just as He told me it would! We elves have our own courts, now. King Alistair is... surprisingly amenable to us."

“Our people have a… court?” He murmured, more to himself than to his conversation partner. A Maker, and a King Alistair and… what? Esper didn’t understand a fair bit of what this woman was saying. The only politics he was familiar with were those in Tevinter and what passed for politics among the Dalish. And Alistair? He thought the kingdom was ruled by King Cailain. Who in the void was this ‘Alistair?”

He was knocked from his thoughts by her laughter. Well, perhaps it would be described more as a girlish giggle than ‘laughter’. Esper’s ears flicked at the sound, his head cocking to the side as the tinkling sound escaped her throat. "I'm sorry, I've never told you my name! I am Sister Brilya," She introduced, then stood and... curtseyed. She curtseyed to him. Creators when was the last time he had seen someone curtsey?

The sudden action from the woman- Brilya- startled a laugh from him. His ears flushed a bright red and he stood up next to her, offering her an over dramatic bow of his own. He reached out and clasped her hand, pressing a chaste kiss to the back of it in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sister Brilya. My name is Esper, of Clan Ghilain.”
Brilya giggled again at the dramatic flair, smiling as Esper kissed her hand in greeting. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Sister Brilya. My name is Esper, of Clan Ghilain." She watched him with a mirthful gleam in her eye. Perhaps it was the drama of the thing, but something about his demeanor was... assuring. Not what she was expecting, given her parents' reaction to her desires to join the Chantry. Maybe the Dalish are open to these ideas?

"It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Esper, of Clan Ghilain! We don't get many Dalish visitors to the Chantry. Even if accidental ones." she told him, looking around them with a smirk and waving a hand toward the door, indicating the muffled din of the crowds outside. "The crowds brought you here, you said, but may I ask what brought you to the crowds? The Dalish tend not to come to cities unless they have some sort of business, I've found." Her cheeks flush lightly, as though she were suddenly embarrassed, and she tugged on a braid again before blurting out in an attempt to not come across as rude, "Not that I mind! It's been nice to talk to one of you!"
 "The crowds brought you here, you said, but may I ask what brought you to the crowds? The Dalish tend not to come to cities unless they have some sort of business, I've found." She flushed, seemingly embarrassed as Esper fidgeted at the question, hand twisting at the ring on his left hand. "Not that I mind! It's been nice to talk to one of you!"

He let out a slightly strained chuckle at her reassurance, smiling down at her. He mulled over her question a moment, thinking of the best way to word his answer that wouldn’t give too much away. His past wasn’t one he thought of lightly, and too much prying would no doubt send him down another spiral of panic. But if he gave the wrong answer, then people had a tendency to catch onto the holes and press for more information.

“I was here to ressuply,” he said slowly. “You’re correct in thinking that my people don’t tend to visit human settlements outside of small trading parties, but occasionally we’re permitted to leave the clan for a time, even if not trading.” It… wasn’t exactly a lie. An omission of the truth, he supposed. He was permitted to leave for a time with a group of his people, but his abduction at the hands of Slavers likely wasn’t what his Keeper had in mind when allowing him to leave.

He shook his head and attempted to change the subject, "I've not spent much time around the uh... Creators, what was it?" He tugged his hair in thought, "Andarstan religion? I've heard what what my people say about it, and humans in general," He waved his hand in dismissal, "But I've spent enough time away from my clan to realize we're a rather... isolated people. I'd like know more about the human religion from a different source, if you're willing to share?"
Brilya bit her lower lip, hoping that Esper wouldn't mind the question, but his smile reassured her somewhat, and her own smile returned. "I was here to resupply," he told her, after a notable hesitation. Her hand reaches down for her coin purse, mistaking the hesitation for his not having the money to pay. "Do you need any..." she starts, before he changed the subject.

"I've not spent much time around the uh..." he began, tugging at his own hair. She giggled lightly at the shared reaction, smiling warmly as he continued to speak, expressing an interest in her own religion. She touched the sunburst at her chest, her hair falling to hide her face for a moment. "Oh, of course I can! What all would you like to know?" She asked, looking up again, her eyes shining excitedly. "I'm only a Sister; I'm sure the Revered Mother would know more; but I can tell you what I do."
Her eyes lit up at his question, "Oh, of course I can! What all would you like to know?" She asked and Esper chuckled a bit at the enthusiasm in her voice. It was nice to talk to another one of his kind. There were so few outside of city walls and the Dalish clans continued to elude him, so being able to relax and just talk without constant fear niggling at the back of his head was… refreshing. He didn’t realize how much he had missed this.

"I'm only a Sister; I'm sure the Revered Mother would know more; but I can tell you what I do."

Esper shook his head, “I’d rather speak with you, if that’s alright?” His hand went back to twisting at the ring on his finger as he glanced around him, trying to order his thoughts into a coherent question to start with. “I’ve not heard much about this religion, but from what I have heard you have only two Gods? The Maker and this uh… Andrew woman? I think.” He shook his head, feeling the tips of his ears heating up, Ir abelas, I can’t remember her name very well. But the Dalish have nine gods, all embodying different traits or in control of a certain domain. But I guess that’s not how your religion works? Do they… share custody of their domains?” His eyes fell apon a piece of artwork made of stained glass, depicting a woman engulfed in flames. He cringed and motioned to it. “And why is a lot of your imagery of a woman burning alive? Seems a little... morbid.”