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Hunger

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Lady Emmald had been the first to find Sera. She’d been stupid, trying to steal from a rich lady (when young and unskilled), but she’d been hungry, and people always make dumber decisions when their stomach crowds their head. She would, anyway.

The hunger had sapped her strength. Maybe if she’d been well she wouldn’t have been caught, and Sera didn’t want to go to the alienage because everyone knew it was a bad place. Being caught didn’t go terrible though. Lady wanted a kid, and here was one free, and no Sera didn’t know her parents. No Sera didn’t have a place to stay.

She wasn’t quite at the stage where the hunger made her duller, but she had been getting there, so she didn’t think twice when Lady offered her a place to stay.

And she was young, okay. She didn’t pick up on how weird some of the stuff was. Past her was dumb and didn’t realize that the problem lay with Lady Emmald and not her. Like don’t talk to the baker as he hates elves. Keep quiet and out of sight when guests were over and especially when high noble brows were visiting. She’d dutifully stay in her room, playing with dolls because she had actual dolls now instead of ones made of corn husks, and go to sleep warm and full.

And sometimes wonder if she wasn’t an elf, then maybe she wouldn’t be so much of a problem for Lady Emmald.

Lady Emmald died. It was long and slow and horrible, and she kept forgetting things towards the end. Fever rotted out her brain, and something else rotted her outsides.

The staff knew about Sera. There were arguments, she remembered. Lady Emmald wanted to leave the house and coin to her, some kind of ‘trust’, had even found out a way she could let some nobody elf inherit, but that was for the future. Whoever was supposed to take care of Sera next, or whatever plans she’d made, those all fell through, and the normal orphanage didn’t take in elves.

Only the alienage one did.

She went there, quiet, half in shock probably. She didn’t want to talk to the other elves, and maybe she snapped when they got pushy so then the other children would snap back and didn’t end up liking her, which was fine because she didn’t like them first, so there. There wasn’t steady food there, and the beds weren’t soft, and she hated it and missed her old home and hid in the walls through some loose boards to cry because she didn’t want people coming around and asking why she was crying. She wanted to cry in private, thanks.

She was crying and hiding when the men came, actually. She wasn’t brave. She stayed hid and listened to people scream as they die. And then there was smoke, and Sera somehow found herself scrambling out a window and running, despite people carving up anyone too small.

Instead she ran. She ran and ran, and her feet took her beyond the alienage. She wasn’t sure how because she thought the gates were closed, and thinking about it too hard made her head go all fuzzy.

Then the Jennies found her. She didn’t know that’s what they were called then. They were just people who had some spare room and were concerned about a half-charred kid, elf or no. Got a painted red puzzle box to play with too.

Sera found out later there weren’t other survivors. Just her. It was a good thing she ran, the Jennies said. She was very brave to run, they said.

But she weren’t brave, just scared. Brave people in stories helped others, and all she did was hide away and listen to people die.

The darkspawn happened next. She’d known the Blight was around, heard bits about it anyway, but that was all distant monsters, and why concern herself with distant ones when real ones were around her? And it was stupid, was the thing. She thought it was all nightmares at first. Har dee har, another night where the orphanage burned down, right? It didn’t feel real at the time, just hide and stay hidden she was told, so she did.

They found the Jennies. Drug them out into the streets and carved them open as they screamed, and Sera stayed very still and didn’t cry this time. Even after the screaming stopped, she refused to move. And when someone did grab for her, she lashed out at the elbows before sprinting.

Which was good, as it turned out, as that someone had a face rotting off and teeth.

The alley was on fire. The city was on fire, and the air was thick with a stench so rotten she nearly gagged. She bolted. And she weren’t fast enough, and it almost caught her, when something slammed into the darkspawn with a strength that made the ground shake. And when something did grab her, she broke her fist trying to punch it, but it were stone, and fists don’t work against stone.

Golems, she later found out they were called. Lucky, they said again, with half of Denerim burned to the ground, and more than half of Denerim dead. The Wardens killed the archdemon, she were told, and also killed the army, and she was safe now.

Safe.

Safe was shelter and food in a belly.

There weren’t much of an alienage left, and that Blight? It’d hit the farmlands. That first year hadn’t been too bad, mostly because the harvest had already been in, and all the deaths meant fewer mouths to feed, and there were ‘work incentives’ from the throne to fill needed jobs. But the next year almost nothing grew ‘cept in the ‘Hinterlands’ and along the north coast. There were even less fish than normal, and that was in the water where darkspawn weren’t supposed to be.

The alienage weren’t sure she was lucky at all. Cursed, they said instead. Ain’t it weird how when people try to take her in, they end up dead, they said. They didn’t like her.

Food got worse, and then some Dalish were there for a while, to help rebuild and all. They didn’t seem to like her, which was okay because if she didn’t like them first then it didn’t really hurt.

They didn’t have food though, and it got bad. It got real bad, and worse it was a slow thing that sank in and settled until you couldn’t remember it not being there. And time passed and Ferelden still couldn’t grow food.Even with all the dead, there still  wasn’t enough food in Ferelden, or maybe there were but there weren’t people to bring the food in, and then fucking nobs took more than their fair share. Had to keep up ‘appearances’. So they ate, and then people didn’t eat nearly as much, and then the humans would sometimes go to the alienage to try to steal from them.

Occasionally they would get food aid, but then Sera would get paranoid. What if the distributors were pretend, and they brought poisoned food for elves. Take them all down in one lot, then take a much greater deal of food and run for it.

If it were poisoned food she was going to puke all over their boots as she died.

But then in time even that stopped happening. Not that there weren’t food still to ration, because humans still got some, but the elves stopped getting theirs. It made her so furious, made a lot of them furious to where there was some loud to-do. She didn’t know what happened, though, because what made her even angrier was that she remembered being quicker once, being able to steal things, but all she did was shake now if she got up too quickly. More people died, she found out, and she survived this time by being too weak to go see what was going on. And magic was scary, but the kid who started fires with his eyes was taken off to the Circle, and that had shelter and food both.

(Used to be the alienage didn’t tell Templars if someone was a bit weird, but apparently the Circle needed more mages for some reason, and it was better than a slow death, most figured.)

Magic was scary, but her initial response to hearing had been envy.

She’d been fast on her feet once. She did remember that. She’d been strong enough to run, to hide. It was like all that got scraped out and left behind some unwanted corndoll, all frayed at the edges. Something that just lied there as everything worsened to where the room would jerk around if she had her eyes open. To where even listening to people talk made her tired.

Useless. Powerless. Vulnerable. And going to die.

She wouldn’t be the first kid. She wouldn’t be the twentieth kid. She doubted her death would even be memorable. Just another dead elf kid of hunger, a copper a dozen, cept you might be able to get something with a copper, and you couldn’t get anything as-

She didn’t even count as a real elf anyway, so. Why not?

In the end, what stopped her from docking her ears and trying to pass as a human to go live with them where there was food was simply that she was too physically weak to go through with the act. It’d require finding scissors or a knife and also moving, all of which was beyond a dumb little ragdoll.

It all came back to Red Jennys. One had popped back up after a year, but Sera hadn’t ever gone to see her, whoever she ended up being, because she had hid and survived.

She was people, and she’d been doing her best to steal, to redirect, whatever she could. She was probably the reason they still got food shipments period. And not just food, but blankets and clothes too. Currently though, what she was doing was not looking at Sera. Windows, sure. Floor, yeah. Not Sera though.

Could be suspicious, but her thoughts were dulled, and mostly things made hurt to make sense of. Sera propped herself up against a wall cuz she couldn’t sit up anymore of her own power.

She better not want that box back. Sure it was for Jennys, but that was her last real possession, and she’d stab someone first. “What’s this about?”

Jenny sat down crosslegged, fiddling with her hands a bit. “I’ve got an offer,” she said finally. “Won’t insult me if you don’t take it, but you’re about of age, right?”

“Best as I can figure,” Sera said who had no idea how old she was.

“Best as I can do then,” she said, and that should have sounded worrying but see: hunger. And then she said, “How much do you know about vampires?”

Well. Not a lot. Vampires were Vints, or sometimes Orlesians, but Orlais was supposed to be stuck-up Chantry that hated vampires and werewolves and elves and qunari and dwarves. She knew more about werewolves though, Ferelden being about the only place that was all ‘rah rah werewolves’. Both were supposed to be too close to demons. More than even mages were supposed to be.

“Gotta feed on blood. Dead,” she said. “And demony.”

“You aren’t entirely wrong. Demons are responsible for some cases of both. But they don’t have to be.”

“Like werewolves.”

“Like werewolves. In more ways than one, but werewolves are drawn to rage. And vampires are drawn to hunger.”

“This an offer?” she asked. And it made sense. Jenny didn’t look like starvation, and just about anyone who wasn’t a noble, even the asshole humans who came by looked at least a bit like starvation.

“Yes,” Jenny said, and at least she was up front about it. “Well. I can try, at least. The process does kill someone, but it doesn’t always bring them back. Makes it a bit more of a risk than most people like to take. There’s no guarantee you’ll survive, and even if you do, you will be hated by at least the Chantry.”

Chantry already hated Sera, because Sera was an elf even if she liked to forget that bit. Weren’t the Chantry Sera had loyalty to; that were Andraste, and Andraste was supposed to be for everybody. It was all complicated in any case, and Sera hated complicated, especially these days where she had stopped nodding to questions because she liked the room to remain more or less how it was.

“Why me?” Sera asked.

Jenny shrugged. “You aren’t a Jenny, but you lived with some for a while. And frankly I’ve tried a few other people, but they didn’t make it, and I think Denerim could support at least one more vampire. You need about ten, maybe twelve healthy people to support one, but those are harder to find these days. A number of richer merchants, some of the guards, maybe. With Jennyhood though, sometimes people will donate as a thanks for help.”

“…I’ll get stronger again?” She paused for a second. “Wait. Jennys are all vampires?”

Jenny laughed. “Oh, no. Just a few of us are. Jennys come from just about every backgroung imaginable. And you don’t have to be a Jenny if you don’t want to, that offer is a separate one. But to answer your other question, yes, you will get better. Stronger and faster than you’ve ever been. If you agree, then afterwards I’ll look after you for a while, show you the ropes more or less. We can use every bit of help these days, and I am getting really tired of seeing people drop dead from starvation. I’ve heard you’ve survived all sorts of things. Maybe you’ll make it through this? I understand if you don’t want to, but the offer is open.”

And that was the thing, see. Maybe if she were in her right mind, maybe if she weren’t this endless pit of hunger already until it was all that defined her, that ruled her. Maybe if she weren’t about to die.

But when you are at the bottom of a very deep well, all sorts of things that you never would have considered in the first place suddenly become a possibility.

“If I take this, I feed on people, right? I don’t have to kill them?”

“Not if you don’t want to,” she said. “Again, I’ll look out after you, at least until you get your bearings.”

“If I survive.”

“Yeah. If.”

If it were a trap, it was probably a bad one, because she wasn’t sure she was more than a morsel. And if she were the hungry and desperate, there’d be no need for all the cloak and dagger.

Sera died on a Wednesday in 9:36. Sera got up on Thursday, a day later, maybe perpetually skin and bone but sharp of mind again. Jenny kept to her word, but honestly it didn’t take Sera long to get a handle on things, and now she could do things again, something so many took for granted, the ability to walk around of their own power, to think clearly, to have the ability to fight for herself once more.

A week later, the latest shipment of relief came in from somewhere, and this time, perhaps in response to the riots, the elves got their share. Perhaps not a fair share, but a share. Just seven days too late for Sera.

Maybe she should have waited. Maybe she should have said no, and everything she was now was for nothing. She weren’t sure if she regretted it though. She couldn’t have known, and who knows. Maybe she still wouldn’t have recovered. Regrets were yappy things that never shut up if you started to listen to them.

Sera had spent too long being little. She knew that fear so well at this point, and she had her painted box still. It was almost like a sign from Andraste if she actually gave out signs.

“So about joining the Jennys...”