[P] Come find a friendly ear
Quote:Have a thread featuring one of our illustrious pNPCs:

Private thread with Calan (guest starring our illustrious pNPCs) [+1543]
It seemed whenever his attempts at slumber did not disturb him with visions, they instead mocked him with their unfulfilling brevity. It has been a number of pointless hours closing his weary eyes, lying in a pretense of peace and comfort, only to open them again to the dark room. At least Ierian was there this time, more fortunate, it seemed, with attaining a deeper sleep. Comforting as his sibling’s presence was, it also imposed on him an additional reason not to delve too deep into dreams. If the few nights Ierian had not witnessed were any indication, then Bellad would wake from his night terrors with the fearful gasps of a Soul beset by unbidden reminders of the past. He would loathe to let his older brother to see him in this state. He would loathe having to explain it, particularly after having for such a long time avoided the subject with what some could name impressive finesse. All while within him his own voice, unhelpfully, only called it cowardice grown into a despicable habit.

He opened his eyes once again, none of the weight gone from his vision. He’s long since lost count of the times he’d found too little time to have passed between retiring to bed and waking from a shallow excuse for sleep. Rather than take on this exercise again, he bid himself rise, propping himself up on the bedding and starting with sitting up. So far so good, and as he pushed to his feet, even with an unpleasant buzz in his skull and tension to his own skin, he found himself capable of standing. There were next steps to take, such as splashing his face with some water from a bowl he’d prepared the day before. His eyes felt that tiny bit less pressure now. A further step now was to walk, to push open the door, cold air from outside washing over his pelt. And from the doorstep of the Songthorns’ abode he stepped onto the crunching snow, feeling it pressed down under his paws, leaving well-defined prints.

It was almost as though he stood checking each sense in turn, from eyes open to the still dim whiteness around him, to his nose that breathed in faint scents largely muted by the chill air, to his ears that heard… music? Yes, the sound was unmistakable, if somewhat early to be expected. It was the strumming of string and the faint traces of song, a familiar one at that. Was he not the one to perform it for the Realm just a short while ago? Bellad’s expectations to find Ambrose Rose at the source of the sounds were not misplaced. The light-pelted hound sat facing the sea and recited the song from the Feast.

You who came from afar,
By your task undeterred
Seize a pain to replace that which weights on your heart
Chase a flower that’s vivid and thorned…
He knew the words, and yet, for some reason, they seemed distant even as he was close enough to the bard to hear them. Surely the damnable lack of sleep was to blame for this strange dissociation. And for feeling like the words came from some other Bellad.

For the duration of the song, Ambrose seemed to remain unaware of the Songthorn. He cut it short before the final verse, reaching to tune his lute all while turning to half-breathed vocalizations of the rest of the motif. The snow must have crunched beneath the healer’s foot when he shifted his weight slightly, because the bard’s ear twitched and he turned his head. Nearly immediately his mouth stretched into a grin.

- Ser Songthorn! Oh what wondrous coincidence! Indeed a great fortune. As you see, well, hear, I could scarcely forget our song. Nay, I simply cannot avoid wishing to bring it into my repertoire!
- I… yes, that is… apparent. – For once Bellad did not wish for his response to come across quite so dry and humorless, and yet felt incapable of drawing much else from what felt like a growing pit inside him.
- I was eager to discuss it with you actually! – Ambrose continued, his wagging tail scattering what snow he hadn’t completely cleared off his stone perch before sitting down there to rehearse. – That is to say, to discuss when or indeed what we might sing in the future. Perhaps you would be willing to accept a proposition, if I may be so bold? I was considering a song. Something joyous, in regards to the growing Caledonian family. The many scattered refugees coming together and, by the good King’s will, choosing to remain.
- That sounds…-
- Perfect, doesn’t it? For my lute, for your voice, for the ears of all those involved!
- I… suppose.

Enthusiastic as he was, Ambrose Rose was also not blind. His tail gradually subsided in its grand display of elation and he stood, setting his lute aside for the moment.

- Ser Songthorn, if I may, you look… troubled. What might be the matter?

Bellad twitched slightly as though startled by being caught in this moment of, not so much weakness as, more appropriately, a weighty nothingness binding him. 

- I do not know, Ambrose. It must be lack of sleep. I have not been able to rest properly…
- Is it your tasks? The cold season is quite treacherous after all.
- No, I mean, yes, it is so, but I would not shrink away from my duty.
- Oh but of course not! I wouldn’t dream to presume such a thing! You are a credit to the esteemed title of Aear!

Bellad was not at all sure he was at present a credit to any title whatsoever. Let alone to the still only vaguely grasped title of Caledonian nobility. Ambrose, in the meantime, walked over to the healer and, rather unceremoniously, wrapped an arm around his shoulder. The one without the burn.

- Ser Songthorn, if I may suggest. If you do not believe a song could soothe you, as I am wont to happily provide of course, then perhaps a frank talk with a friend would serve you better? Surely you have someone you would be willing to share with in a time of great… undisclosed trouble?

This, at least, made Bellad actually think. Something in what Ambrose said sent ripples of thought somewhere through the emptiness the healer was sensing. A friend. Someone to confide in. A rare commodity. Too many he was scared to trouble. Yet he wasn’t without friends, was he? There were some, with whom time and shared grief may have grown into a closeness befitting the kind of conversation Bellad needed. According to Ambrose anyway.

- I believe you may be right.
- Great! The grin was back in full force, and the bard’s tail was now slightly patting against Bellad’s leg every time it veered to the right. – Well then…-
- I will go meet with someone as you suggest.
- Ah, I mean… - Bellad had already freed himself from Ambrose’s fraternal grasp, leaving the bard at something of a loss for words. He may have expected the healer’s reaction to be somewhat different. Or to have a different recipient at least. Far from letting it get him down however, the bard retrieved his instrument and, having tested the strings, let the song flow again.

And they learned it was no herb at all,
Yes they learned it was no herb at all…

While he imagined Brecours would be busy, he at least had a clear idea of where he could be found if not in his store. The walk was long, but putting one foot in front of the other for an extended time did wonders both to cover the distance and to give himself time to think. What was he headed there for? And what precisely would he speak of to Calan? The two had gone far from regarding one another with poorly hidden derision. From the Underthing the two had ascended with a new bond. Both had saved one another, both had a tale of survival that hinged on the other. It was a thing of great value, one that helped associate Ambrose’s mention of a friend with the flaxen-haired trader.

The Dye Studio’s distinctive smell was easy to catch even with the cold air around him and whirling snowflakes at his feet. Last time he went there it was to gain an outfit suited for a happy occasion. This time however, past seeing a familiar face, he was not at all certain just what he was headed there for. Yet, rather than arrive unannounced and true to traditions that may well have predated speech High or Low, he lifted his head and let out a howl, still some distance away from his destination. It was something of a heralding call, one that carried an “I am on my way” with the wind. Bellad’s howls were always nuanced and distinct. Though also frequently unexpected by the people of the Realm it seemed. At least it helped it become his calling card. Calan and anyone at the studio would now surely know that in a matter of minutes Bellad was going to arrive.
Quote:Stylist II: Upcycle a bland article of clothing that needs some work. Alternatively, dye a packmate’s pelt or mane a different color!

Quote:SSWM Challenge 5: Have a thread featuring one of our landmarks (eg. Dye Studio, Steppes of Belfalas, the Underthing, etc.)

I realized writing this I may have gotten the time wrong, so I'm sorry?? I made my own confusion Calan's - I hope this works! [+1056]

Another day closer to the Call to Court meant yet another late night in the Dye Studio, toiling away over some project or another. It had been this way all week, and all the week before; a constant barrage of things to do, dresses to hem, shirts to tailor, and seams to press, not to mention wood to chop, water to fetch, plants to harvest, books to balance, and debts to collect… The tasks went on and on, seemingly without end.

In the middle of it all stood Calan, doing his level best to delegate as fairly as he could. Just when one task seemed to be finished, another equally pertinent thing would crop up and demand his attention. He’d even gone as far as shutting his shop for the time being, if only so that he could spend every free minute he had in Haven. It was the first time that the trader had ever done anything so remotely drastic, and he didn’t know how to feel about it. Even when he’d gone to Charmingtown and La Roja - one for work, one for pleasure - he’d made sure that someone else in the Guild held down the fort. This time, it was taking all of his mind power to just keep up.

Who knew that running a Dye Studio would command so much of his time and energy?

It wasn’t Pippa or Amal’s fault; if anything, the two of them were working twice as hard as the Escal was. They were just severely understaffed for what was to be their first major event, and had perhaps taken on more than they could chew. That decision was entirely on Calan. Next year they would know to start their preparations earlier, if only so that they could have a bit more time to themselves at the end of the day... but that was next year. They still had to get through this year first. And if this crunch was mostly Calan’s fault - as he was most certain it was - by gods, he was going to try and solve it himself.

How had his father managed these periods in the past? In all of his childhood memories, he’d never seen the man once break under the bow of pressure. He had been short-tempered, sure - sometimes to the point of being downright incorrigible - but he was never stressed. There wasn’t a deadline in the world that Milo Brecours couldn’t meet on time. Furthermore, he did it all while still somehow managing to be a model citizen for the town, a leader to his crew, and (hypothetically, though Calan never saw it) a father and a husband.

Was that from experience? Or was it just his father’s unflappable spirit? He had no idea, and he had no desire to ever ask.

The fabric of the grey cloak in his hands felt smooth and well-worn to the touch, rubbed down as it had been by time and use. It was so well-worn, in fact, that parts of it were starting to verge on threadbare. The coyote that it belonged to - a well-travelled man by the name of Commodore - had been certain that it could be repaired by attaching a new lining. “It just needs a little love, that’s all,” he’d said with a smile, his tone warm and kind. Calan found himself agreeing before he really knew what he was agreeing to.

However, the blond was now left with the task of sewing in a new lining - a job which on the surface sounded quite simple, but in reality required countless hours of seaming, more than he’d initially thought possible. Even more than constructing a new cloak would have. Who knew that a lining needed to be attached on all sides of the cloak? And who knew it required stitches so small he could barely see them? He hadn’t - not until Pippa told him what he’d just signed up for, a mixture of mirth and pity in her violet eyes.

At least the cloak would look nice, he thought. The grey wool had looked comically ugly before. How anyone could withstand wearing that burlap sack for so long that it almost got holes in it, Calan had no idea. He’d shed his own ghastly riding cloak the moment he’d gotten his hands on some better fabric.

Then again, not everyone had been blessed with good taste like he had.

Still, his greenness was showing. He knew that it took him twice as long as the rest to do complete his tasks. And despite it all, he just couldn’t escape that feeling that he was holding them all back, somehow. There had to be others in the Realm who were better suited for this job - those who were more talented tailors, or proficient chemists, or even better team leaders. Not those who just pretended they knew what they were talking about.

Which is why he found himself still at work, hours after everyone else had gone home, burning that midnight oil. This cape wasn’t going to complete itself.

He’d just let out a sigh of exasperation, setting down the needle, when he caught the sound of the howl in the distance. Its warm tone was familiar to the Escal, even if it had been a while since he’d last heard it. Bellad. What was the healer still doing awake at this hour? Or… Was it already morning? The blond rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, chasing away any grit. Outside the sky was still dark - but whether that was due to the hour or the overcast, he couldn’t say. Holding back a yawn, he ran a hand through his hair, pulling it back into a low ponytail before the Songthorn could see it down.

A couple minutes later, the door opened. Calan didn’t hesitate in his greeting. “Bellad. Good… morning? What’s up? Isn’t it…” But his words stuck in his mouth when he took in the ebon luperci’s disposition. There was a sadness to him that extended beyond his normal pensive glance, something deep and humourless. It wasn’t out of character, per se, but it still shocked him to bear witness to it. There was only one thing he could ask, and so ask he did: “What’s wrong?”
ooc [+719]
In those few minutes he had left at his current pace, unless of course he was going to push his self-sabotage to the point of wandering off to get lost in the woods all just to stave off any positive outside influence on his situation, Bellad had the time to rehearse. Greetings, questions regarding one’s well-being, perhaps comments regarding the work of the Dye studio that he himself had seen. He did not like dispatching pointless compliments, but he could give credit where credit was due. These things he considered, as well as the likely gradual transition towards the actual reason for his visit. One that he would have to deftly weave in the way the studio’s fabric was woven.

The door, surely enough, proved no obstacle, and he let in both himself and the frigid Winter air, snow painting wispy traces of white on the floor in his wake before he closed the door shut, leaving the warmth of the interior to consume them. Calan was quick to lift his eyes and his voice from what he was doing and towards his guest. But something didn’t go right. There was a stutter, and like two actors who both forgot the script, Calan and Bellad stood interrupted together. The healer’s rehearsed greeting stuck unspoken at the abrupt interruption of usual formalities.

What’s wrong? Was it that obvious? Myriad, how dreadful did he look after the sleepless night?

“… Wrong?” Bellad asked at first, as if testing exactly how unconvincing this attempt to cast doubt on Calan’s assumption of wrongness would be. The answer was “overwhelmingly”, so much so that he nearly cringed at the sound of his own voice. That being the case, this was no time for pretense. The merchant had him cornered within the first sixty seconds of standing in front of his eyes. The healer drew in a sigh. “I… have need for your advice, Calan.” He wasn’t exactly rude for not answering the greeting or confirming the time of day to the man. The former had been done in the form of his howl. The latter he knew not the Brecours to require.

Although his words robbed him of an escape route and all but ensured that he would have to ask Calan something, he suddenly found himself at a loss as to how to frame it. His mind brimmed with nightmares, and if he was to give in entirely, he may well have collapsed to the floor, wracked with sobs and begging someone, anyone, to just tell him how to find rest. But he withstood, for what it was worth, instead given time to ponder, time in which Calan had every opportunity to interject and attempt to coax it out of the healer sooner were he so inclined.

After a few moments that were perhaps shorter than they felt, and after finding a seat against the wall to position in, Bellad began. “You see…” What was it that he was afraid of? The secret itself, or… “What I wish to ask is, if you had a dire secret. A burden weighting on you without end. One that you were afraid to speak out loud perhaps, or were not at all certain you could safely utter in the presence of another. Where, then, would you go, Calan? Where or how would you unburden?” In the pause before he finally asked the question, Bellad closed his eyes, which felt like something his eyelids had been waiting to do for a time. Part of him wondered - could he disappear just for one day to where nothing could reach him? Not even his own thoughts?

He could not see Calan’s expression, his reaction to the request. Could not anticipate whether his cryptic, generalized query was enough to get him an answer. A practical answer that he could use at least. Part of him dreaded just hearing Ambrose’s words repeated – “go to a friend”. He already did, he was at a friend as far as he was concerned. But to further consummate said friendship by drowning the master of the Dye Studio in recollections of his nightmares and unforgivable crimes of his past, this he was afraid of. Perhaps it really wasn’t the secret itself. Perhaps it was uttering it proving ruinous to so much he has gained.

As soon as he took one look at Bellad’s melancholic, slightly confused eyes, Calan told himself that he wasn’t going to spiral. There had to be a perfectly normal reason that the man would come to him in this grey area between night and day. Perhaps this was just when he woke up? It seemed fitting, considering the Aear’s focus on all things healthy. Of all the members of their Realm, Bellad would be a morning person, no doubt about that. Completely reasonable explanation.

But if something was bothering the younger Songthorn, he didn’t seem to want to elaborate right away. The blond’s heart flip-flopped. Oh gods. Had someone been hurt? Had the shop burned down? Or, even worse - had someone been burned down in the shop? Was he somehow responsible for someone’s death?

Okay, maybe he was spiralling a little bit.

Calan was about to repeat his question when the healer spoke once more, seeming to have found the words for what he wanted to say. And when he did, it was so far from what he’d expected to hear - and so unbelievably not his fault - that he completely froze, his mind blank.

His advice? The blond’s head shook in surprise, though his heart felt oddly touched. Not many came to get advice from him. A damn shame, really - he was one of the best advice givers out there. Those suckers didn’t know what they were missing.

Another look towards the agitated noble sobered him and his wayward, egotistical thoughts. This was not about him at all. Bellad needed his help, not his comebacks. 

He didn’t force the man to speak before he was ready to. Instead, the Escal leaned his elbows against the countertop and waited for him to elaborate on his own schedule. The only sound for a few moments came from the crackling of the fires behind him. And once he’d heard all that the medicine man had to say, he too bided his time, choosing his words as carefully as his conversation partner.

“I…. I think it depends, Bellad. Do you want someone to know these secrets? Will having someone know them help you, do you think?” He offered this in the hypothetical, his own conjectures careful, trying his best to see what direction to guide him in. Prying into what these secrets were was out of the question, no matter how much it intrigued him. If Bellad wanted to tell him what they were, he would tell him in due course. As it was, he already felt like he was walking on some kind of thin ice. Any wrong move and the shutters would close.

He gave the man a moment to think those questions through as he fetched a pillow from the back corner, its surface splattered with errant splotches of indigo and bloodroot. This he offered to the taller man to sit on, if only so he didn’t have to lean against the wall any longer. The weight of the world already seemed heavy on his shoulders - a cold floor against his ass would only make things doubly shitty.

When he spoke again, his tone was wistful, as if telling the man a fairytale. He purposefully kept his eyes off Bellad and on the window beyond, taking in the grey, pre-dawn light. “When I’ve got something on my mind - something serious - I go out to the sea and shout it to the waves. It makes me feel… powerful, somehow. It’s just me screaming a big ‘fuck you’ to the world around me.” He didn’t add that he normally preluded these sessions with copious amounts of alcohol. “But that doesn’t work for everyone, and it sure as hell won’t work if you want some kind of an answer. And…. something tells me that’s kind of what you’re looking for.”

At this, he chanced a look to his seated friend, his expression unreadable. “Is it not?” he asked. Maybe that was pushing a little too far, but it didn’t seem entirely out of the question.
ooc [+740]
Though the two men were not where they had started, nor were their mutual opinions of one another, Bellad did expect an interjection after the first pensive “you see…” or perhaps somewhere else, prefacing his actual question. And yet he was rewarded with patience. Another instance in which the Brecours showed the colors that earned the Songthorn’s respect. There was a pause after he was done talking too, showing him there was no instant, obvious answer to his plight. It should have been expected and when Calan spoke, the healer listened.

Would it truly help if they were made aware of what he felt? Of what’s been eating him and now escalated further for whatever reason? He pondered this in silence, rather than give the merchant a hasty reply. The black wolf lowered his head, sitting quietly for a time, until movement from his host stirred him again. A pillow. A considerate gesture. Bellad lifted himself up enough to place it at the base of his sitting area then sat back down. A quiet “My thanks” was mouthed in return. But past that he was still not so certain that sharing would remedy what was going on. It felt terrifying to think it could well result in nothing changing at all.

“Hmm…” Was the most elaborate sound made by him in some time once Calan expanded on this other option that he’d sometimes partake in. He hadn’t considered this sort of gesture. Perhaps, in some way, it made sense. Though he felt the golden-haired canine was perhaps more expressive and eager to let loose the fuck yous that he found the world deserving of. Could he really see himself going out there and shouting to high heavens? Screaming the names of those gone?

No, what would be the use? The heavens already knew. They saw him run, and it was towards them that the smoke from the burning forest had spiraled.

Bellad closed his eyes again, with force, squeezing them shut with a pained breath. Never mind screaming at the sea or the sky or the mountains, or indeed all of Myriad. Had he even allowed himself to so much as weep unprompted by anything but the need to set it free? Whenever they did spill, it was some outside factor prompting him. Now it was a terrible pressure building, consuming him, forcing out everything, even memories of the happier times. And all along his pursuits have not lost their ambiguity. If he did not know what he was looking for, then how could he ever hope his search to succeed? “When… When I came to New Caledonia, I made the pretense that I was the last one left. The latter Songthorn. I hid my bedridden brother, the last of my kin. It was a grave secret I held for his… for our sake.”

“But those days have passed. Those days of… distrust. Of hiding. Of thinking all strangers, all threats, fangs and claws at the door… The Lord Regent found out. The King too. I bid my time, then I confessed, at least to some, asked forgiveness for hiding Ierian… And we were given a home…” Bellad drew in an audible breath and leaned his head up till the back of his head and the edges of his ears brushed against the wood of the wall behind him, held it there for a bit, then looked at Calan again. “There comes a time, when secrets can no longer be held… There comes a time when I must speak. In time, this is something all will learn. Inevitable. Caledonia is no place to hide secrets.” He was not sure if he was trying to convince the trader or else himself. He could well be attempting to rouse some sense of obligation in place of the comfort needed to speak truly.

“And yet… I am afraid. It is not something I have… spoken of. Not in the years since,” all he knew burned, “I arrived here. Met you. I do not know if I have the strength and if… If the revelation would prove costly. Drive them away. Drive all away…” Drive Fennore away. The more he spoke, the less power he had left to care for what he looked like, sounded like, for his much the appearances he normally held so well faltered. In a lapse of cognition his hand had drifted to his burn-marked shoulder, clenching at scar tissue.

Oh, how he wished that he kept some kind of liquor stash here at the Studio, if only so that he could offer Bellad something strong to drink. In Calan’s opinion, these kinds of conversations were the worst to have without some liquid courage to back it up. That, plus the act of having a glass in hand gave one something to focus on when the emotions got too much to bear. There was nowhere for the two of them to hide but in their thoughts.

He was silent for a few moments after Bellad finished speaking, watching the way the man clutched at his burned shoulder. What could he say to someone who had clearly suffered so much? What kind of advice was he even qualified to give? He could only be sympathetic to the healer’s plight, having never experienced such pain himself. The blond had no siblings of his own, nor secrets that would carry such weight. Hell, Calan was about as much of an open book as there could ever be.

But there was one thing that he knew that he could discuss with certainty, and that was anxiety. He’d lived his whole life with that feeling bubbling under the surface, clawing away at his intestines. To see it reflected in his friend compelled him to speak his mind. “I know it might feel like that right now, and I’m sorry that you feel this way, but you need to know that’s not you talking - it’s the fear,” he said, his eyes coming to rest on Bellad’s face. His voice was slow and deliberate. “And you don’t need to have your fear speak for you. You can be stronger than it.”

The blond made his way around the countertop, dragging blonde fingertips against the well-worn wood. He leaned his back against it, crossing his arms, ever careful to keep some distance between him and the Songthorn. The worst thing he could do right now was crowd the man at his most vulnerable. “Talking through this will help to make it feel less frightening. I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” he asked, his hands gesticulating. “I know, I’m sounding trite, but - really. Say that fear aloud. What are you scared of happening?”

It was a question he’d asked himself many times over the years, often in the throes of various attacks. He knew how powerful those panic-driven thoughts could be; how he’d worried that no one loved him, or that he’d never live up to his father’s expectations, or that he’d die alone. All things that, once he said them out loud, he realized just how unmoored in reality they really were. Minds had a way of jumping to the worst possible conclusions when they feared the worst, even if those conclusions were in no way rational.

Calan said as much, his voice softer than before. “I swear to you, it’ll sound a loss less terrifying when it’s out of your head. You might even realize that the fear doesn’t make any sense.”

But there was one other thing that was nagging at him - and though he swore that he wasn’t going to correct Bellad’s internal monologue, he couldn’t let this one remark slide. It felt too damaging to leave it by the wayside. “Maybe you’re right, and this isn’t the place for secrets. But just because you’ve had one bad experience doesn’t mean you’re not in control of the situation. You get to decide when to tell your story - no one else.” His eyes once more flitted to Bellad’s own, blue meeting amber, his gaze cautious but searching. Hoping he hadn’t scared the healer with his words. “…Okay?” He didn’t really expect for Bellad to answer in that moment - knew what it felt like to be in his shoes - but it felt good to end on a question. 
ooc [+659]
Bellad tended to be a decent listener. One who heeded with no interruptions, but just enough signs of lasting attention to prove words were not being overlooked. For all his doubts, it was not as though the words of advice were falling on deaf ears - he wouldn't tune out Calan after having had the audacity to show up unannounced and ask for advice on something of this nature.

"Not me talking..." Bellad mouthed, his grip easing over his scar ever so slightly. In this voice there was, in part, disbelief, but also a sense of the Songthorn considering it. This shift of responsibility seemed preposterously convenient, and yet. It didn't seem too far beyond what he could conceive. Although so often it would be a voice so very similar to his own, near indistinguishable, for he would blame himself no less than this cruel voice did. It was a wonder if the healer would be so quickly convinced, but perhaps eventually, eventually…

The advice also came with an exercise, and as familiar as the healer was with being given a task, sometimes symbolic, then acting upon it for the benefit of his wisdom, he was given pause. The worst thing that could happen? A thing to say out loud? A thoughtful Songthorn was far from unusual, and Bellad pondering to himself would surely be a thing of normalcy. His brother must have known by now that his younger sibling ran, and, absurdly, did not fault him for it. Although Bellad seemed to forget whether he ever told him of this directly. But it was others that troubled him, the ones who were bestowed perhaps of a different bias.

In his mind's eye a Soul dearly beloved listened to his words, then lowered her head and turned from him, distancing herself into an imagined memory. Bellad's eyes widened ever so slightly, the quiet thoughts within making the healer seem restless on the surface.

"I fear... I fear... No, oh, Myriad, no, Calan..." He cut himself off and gripped his head, whining despite himself, ashamed of the inability to speak. Ashamed of his fear. Ashamed of a great many things, some already done, some not yet. He placed the undone by that which had already been committed. He let the latter infect the former, convince him they were one and the same, convince him he’d already passed a universal judgment none other could give a differing opinion on. Let that which already happened imprint itself on hypotheticals, prevent them from being painted in a healing light. He was one who abandoned his kin. The only thing worse, perhaps, was if it was he himself who lit the flame that burned them.

"I need to... I need to tell this to someone. This I know. Somehow... Somehow..." A matter of duty, a matter of terrible pressure he could no longer stomach, a matter of some helpless understanding that this simply could not go on. A forced action, though he’d done so well to hide it away and deny it to himself and to those around him for over a year. He looked around the room again, till he remembered where Calan stopped and stopped the movement of his head to look at him once again. He'd let the name fall from his lips in his presence before. The man was already privy to something few others were. "I need to tell Fennore, but... But if this were to make her turn from me..."

He did not expect Calan to have all the answers, though already he was told more than he could have obtained simply by delving into his own mind. The words that he let loose next sounded unfocused, as if he wasn't entirely asking the Soul in the same room as him. “How can I tell  her…? How can I let her see me like this? Tell her that I had, in my cowardice, abandoned my kin to burn?”

Were his words helping or hindering? Honestly, Calan couldn’t quite tell. For just as his fellow Malcrin seemed to process his question, so too did he seem to shut down. The blond didn’t miss the cry of pain that forced its way out of the man’s lips, nor the way he brought his hands up to clutch at his head. Every unfinished sentence seemed to cause him more and more distress.

It was enough to spur him to into action. Straightening up in a flash, the Brecours rushed to his friend’s side, his pale hand reaching out to touch his right forearm. “Hey, hey. It’s okay. You’re safe. Just breathe with me, alright?” He crouched down to Bellad’s level, taking an exaggerated, slow inhale, which he followed with a loud exhale. In, out, in out; he kept it up until the dark wolf could speak once more.

When he did, it was in the form of a plea, his body practically shaking with the effort. Calan could only sympathize, his fingers massaging circles into the muscle of his arm. How big was this secret of his that it could distress him so?

This was beyond the scope of anything that the trader could handle, no matter the level of their relationship; nor did the Songthorn seem to want to open up to him more right then and there. He wasn’t about to push farther, not if even the slightest bit of questioning seemed to cause him immense pain. “You don’t have to tell me what’s up. But if you need to tell someone... Why don’t you go to one of the Heartwards? Arran, maybe?” Of all those that cared for the emotional needs of the Realm, the merled wolfdog would no doubt be the best fit. Though he had never seeked his help himself, Calan had heard from many how helpful the shepherd could be with matters of the soul.

And it looked like Bellad’s soul needed more help than most. Those fears continued to eat away at him like a disease, clawing through his innards. It was painful to watch. “Fennore’s not going to turn from you.” Oh, gods, he hoped that were true. He might not know the full extent of the two’s relationship, but Calan felt that he knew the Moonwraith well enough to trust that she wouldn’t do such a thing. But regardless of how certain the blond might be, he knew it was the kind of thing that the healer needed to hear at that moment. Anything to get him to stop whimpering on the cold stone floor of the Dye Studio in the bleak hours of morning.

With the slightest bit of pressure, Calan tugged on Bellad’s arm, encouraging him to lower them both back to his lap and away from the vice-like grip against his head. His voice was soft as he spoke. “I think you should talk to Arran about this. He’s a good guy, and I’m sure he’d be happy to listen.” He keeps his eyes fixed to the Aear’s face, wanting to see how he would react to this advice. Wanting to drive away that emptiness that threatened to set in, cloaking all this pain behind decorum once more.
ooc [+604]
Bellad always prided himself on self-control, much of this pride justified. He had faith in his ability to wrangle his emotions and perform his duty seemingly without flaw. Yes there was room for compassion and for understanding the plight of others, an attunement of a sort to what his patients were feeling whenever they were in his care. But for his own emotions to slip, to worm out of the cracks in his dutiful mask. This, before now, before the recent nightmare-plagued days, had been unthinkable.

Just so, losing control over his voice and countenance came unexpectedly, much as Calan suddenly getting close to him did. He only partially comprehended what he’d told him. But within the half-acknowledged phrase he did manage to catch a single command. The word “breathe” seemed to come through, as did the enacted example that followed it. This urging from the Brecours seemed enough for Bellad to at least try. The healer’s chest heaved with the volume of air he’d inhaled, then fell as he exhaled. The first breath shook, either with effort or with something the wolf either couldn’t or refused to identify. The next one came easier. He kept mimicking the way that the man before him was drawing breath, and felt at least a shred of the usual calm return to him.

Distant stench of mordant. The chill wisps of snow-laden air. The familiar smell of Calan. Hint of his own herb-infused scent. In and out, in, out.

The glance that he cast back at the trader seemed nearly apologetic, as though a belated realization of his strange fit was catching up to him. How could this happen? How could he be this way?

“Heartwards…” Bellad said quietly, with only passing understanding of the word. He’d never been to one. He only heard a little of what they did. Of bartered warmth and bartered comforts. Much as he had not considered confiding and letting loose some of what’s been eating him, he certainly had not considered going to one with a specialized role tailored for it. He had not thought himself to have a confidant, whether a willful one or else one he could somehow purchase by laws of New Caledonia. Though Calan offering the help of one in place of his own may very well have been intentional, Bellad could not help a pang of guilt at leaving the man in the dark.

“I’m sorry, Calan… This… I do not know how I have come to be this way. I thought myself… stronger, more resilient. Thought myself capable of bearing the burden… I am sorry I do not speak of it to you yet.”

He felt a bit of pressure on his arm, not altogether unpleasant. It very nearly seemed to ground him in this room, though he wouldn’t have thought this to be the place to receive something of the sort. This was not the first time he felt that hold. He thought back to the cave, to the way he clung desperately to the edge, and this very hand, though less worn down by labor in the soil than Bellad’s own, reached to pluck him from the yawning abyss below.

His movements just as subtle as Calan’s, Bellad lifted a hand and took hold of the canine soul’s fingers. The pressure just enough to return what he had applied to his arm. Though this may not have been a gesture of affection, it surely was a sign of recognition. As well as that of an appreciation of sorts, granted as he looked back into the eyes of the Brecours.

“Thank you, my friend.”
I think this is a good place to wrap this up!! Thanks for a great thread! [+679]

For a moment, the only sounds in the Dye Studio were the crackling of the fire and the sounds of their co-mingled breathing. It was a surprising moment of peace in what was otherwise a turbid conversation, and he let himself feel as much, hoping that in doing so he could send some of that calmness straight to his companion’s psyche. Bit by bit, their inhales and exhales synced up and slowed.

He nodded in encouragement as the ebon wolf found his voice once more, his breath no longer coming in gasping pants. There was a new numbness in those dark amber eyes, almost as if shock was starting to set in, but it seemed much better than the overwhelming pain from before. “Yeah. Set up a time with Arran. It’ll be good for you.” Or at least, the blonde hoped as much. It didn’t please him at all to see the Songthorn so down in the dumps, nor to know there was little that he could do to help in that regard. He could only stand by and listen to him mumble his way through excuses and apologies, those polite words masking the true turmoil that lay deep inside.

But honestly - was what he was doing that much different than what a Heartward would do? Or, for that matter, was the rest of his life? He’d heard of the kinds of services these healers would provide the downtrodden of the Realm, both mental and physical. It was the latter that shocked him the most - and definitely not because he was by any means a prude. Calan was just surprised that, in a society as structured and sterilized as New Caledonia presented itself to be, companionship could still be bought.

He ought to look into what it required to become one of these illustrious soul-healers. Not like he needed more tasks in his day-to-day life, mind - the shop and the Studio were more than enough to keep him on his toes at the moment - but something told Calan that he could be good at it. Helping others with their problems didn’t seem all that bad, nor had Bellad burst into flames yet. Maybe he wasn’t so incompetent with relationships after all.

As the other half of the responsibilities? Well, he didn’t have to think twice about that. He knew where his true skills lay.

The blond made to tighten his grip, a pang of emotion of his own now punching his gut, just as Bellad went to reach for his hand. He let his companion take the lead, a ghost of a raw smile gracing his lips.

“It’s fine. Tell me when you’re ready to. I’m not going anywhere any time soon... my friend.” And for the first time in Calan’s life in a long, long time, he knew that to be the complete and honest truth.

They stayed that way a little while longer, taking in that shared moment of rare candor, before Calan got to his feet. His knees ached after having crouched for so long, and he winced. Since when had he gotten so old?

“C’mon. Up you get,” he said, shattering the tender mood. This time it was he who reached for the other’s hand, intent on helping the taller wolf up as well.

They talked a moment or two longer - forgettable pleasantries in comparison to what they’d just gone through - before they made to part ways; Bellad to his home, and Calan to the last of his incomplete work. There was still much to be done if they had any hope of completing their tasks in time for the big event. No minute could be wasted.

As he worked, however, Calan reflected what he’d learned of his healer - nay his friend- that evening. Abandoning his kin to burn? What did he mean by that? Only time would tell, he supposed; but the mystery left him feeling a little unsettled, with only the wee hours of morning and a forthcoming promise of a warm bed to comfort him.

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