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Nodoubt
Vanyel stumbled through the pouring, frigid rain. He was half-blinded with grief, with no hope of finding comfort anywhere in this world. There was nothing left for him—nothing.

    He's dead—oh, gods, he's dead, and it's all my fault—     His whole body seemed to be on fire, a slow, smoldering pain that was burning away at him from the inside the way the ice of his dream had chilled him.     There was no reason to fight ice or fire anymore. Let either or both eat him, he couldn't care.     Rain pounded him, hail struck like slung stones. His head reeled and pounded with his pulse. He hurt, but he welcomed the pain.

    — Mercedes Lackey, Magic's Pawn, p. 208
Vanyel cried as he was raped by... trolls? Wizards? A motorcycle gang?... bad guys. His tears sparkled beautifully in the moonlight, as they rolled down his porcelain cheeks from his huge blue eyes.

    This was his fate. To suffer beautifully. It was the only way to save the world, and yet! How much it hurt! If only there was someone, anyone, to comfort him. He did have a soul-bond with a horse, but even this companion did not truly understand the depth of Vanyel's anguished soul.     But no one would ever rescue him. Because, ever since childhood, he had known that his destiny was to be the One True Woobie.

Nonny, fic-osmosing The Last Herald-Mage, Oct. 28, 2015

The Vanyel Campaign was the successful attempt by a number of nonnies to crown Vanyel Ashkevron as the Woobiest Woobie of All Time in the 2015 FFA Woobie-Off. See Woobie-Off: Part 1 and Woobie-Off Part 2 for the chronicle of the entire competition.

Vanyel was one of the woobies from Woobie-non's initial list of woobies, whose names were pulled from previous FFA woobie threads. As such, he was in the competition without ever being actually nominated, along with the other 36 woobies from that list.

Vanyel was first matched up against Marcus Flavius Aquila from The Eagles of the Ninth. During Round One voting, a nonny typed up an initial campaign post, including quotes from TV Tropes and a link to Vanyel's page on the Valdemar Wiki. The nonny said,

The main point about Vanyel's woobieness, to me, is that the canon itself wallows so shamelessly in it. Mercedes Lackey has absolutely zero qualms about turning Vanyel into the most tragic tragic hero to ever tragic, and makes sure to lovingly describe just how beautifully wounded he is after every new tragedy and assault.

This first post garnered zero feedback. Undeterred, the nonny continued in a new campaign post, this one with excerpts from the books. As the nonny concluded,

TLDR Vanyel is a Disney Princess with three different soulbonds, one of whom is a magic horse. He has really shitty coping skills, which sucks because he keeps running into traumas he need to cope with. He gets a boyfriend, who dies. He remains celibate and isolated for years. Then he gets a new boyfriend who's actually the same boyfriend again -- and then dies himself. It's awful. And I've barely even talked about how pretty he is. Have I talked about how strong but fragile he is?

Nonnies responded in delight and disbelief.

I am laughing so hard right now (through the tears, nonny. Through the tears). This has made my fucking weekend. HOW IS THIS A REAL BOOK.
- A nonny
Just going by the summary here, even as someone who hasn't read the books, I honestly don't know if there's a woobie in this woobie-off to equal Vanyel. It's not just the bad stuff that happens to him, it's the tone of it all.
- Another nonny

Vanyel won his Round One match against Marcus Flavius Aquila with 60% of the vote. Next he was pitted against Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Trilogy. When a nonny mused about whether to vote for Lisbeth or Vanyel, the Vanyel campaigning nonny revealed that she had actually campaigned for Lisbeth as well in Round One, and endorsed Vanyel over Lisbeth. Another nonny agreed that Vanyel had the edge.

In the Round Two voting thread, the Vanyel campaign nonny posted a new campaign post, now calling herself Vanyel's Campaign Manager. VCM started by explaining why Vanyel was more of a woobie than Lisbeth, summing it up with:

If you called Lisbeth a woobie, she’d kick you in the face. If you called Vanyel a woobie, he’d go off in a corner and angst about how misunderstood he is. And probably telepathically complain to his magic soulbond horse.

VCM continued by explaining the Fantasy Native American word for "gay," Vanyel's magical white-streaked hair, and the time he almost dies and makes out with the Shadow-Lover, aka Death Himself:

‘I have never been so grieved—and so glad—to lose,’ he said, and touched his lips to Vanyel’s. There tears mingled on his lips as Vanyel closed his eyes; he tasted them in the kiss, his own salt, bitter tears—and Death’s sweet—“
Magic’s Promise, page 307

As one nonny put it,

I'm half convinced you are making this all up nonnie.

Other nonnies chimed in to explain yet more tragedies that befall Vanyel.

Still in Round Two, Woobie-non suggested woobie Q&A threads. VCM posted Vanyel's Q&A subthread. Nonnies asked what he considers his greatest woe in life (losing Tylendel), whether his telepathic horse's severed tail was used as a butt plug during his gang rape (no, it was just tied on him), and whether he would have turned in Stefen had he misused his Gift (yes). Another nonny just dropped by with a compliment for VCM's Bard-worthy gift for words.

When Round Two results were posted, Vanyel proved to have won his bout against Lisbeth Salander with only 52% of the vote. Nonetheless, commenting nonnies were still optimistic about his chances. As one nonny said,

For the books + comics bracket, I really, firmly believe that Vanyel deserves to win it all. The campaigning nonnies for him have convinced me utterly.

His Round Three opponent was The Fool from the Farseer novels. VCM posted their Round Three campaign post when voting opened:

There are a lot of wonderful woobies in the competition, particularly in this Books & Comics bracket. And as we continue further into the bracket, the decisions we're forced to make as responsible woobie voters are going to get more and more agonizing. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post, and for giving even the most meager sliver of your attention to Vanyel "A Statue of Onyx and Silver" Ashkevron.
Japanese vanyel
This campaign post included a link to a Vanyel woobie fanmix VCM's sister made on 8tracks. The main campaign post focused on instances when Mercedes Lackey repeats traumatic events so the reader can experience Vanyel's pain from multiple points of view. VCM also broke out the statistics:
Actually, while we’re counting pages, let’s look at the bigger picture. Vanyel’s main incapacitation in Magic’s Pawn begins on page 195, when Tylendel starts draining his life force in order to power his revenge scheme. It continues until the very end of page 272, when Starwind the Hawkbrother magically reaches into his nightmare and teaches him how to center and ground himself.

That’s 78 pages. 78 pages out of only 342 pages of text is 22.8% of the entire book—Vanyel, as the protagonist, spends almost a quarter of this book ranging from delirious to catatonic. This isn’t even counting the parts where he’s just plain depressed and traumatized, and the other briefer incidences of delirious pain, or the fact that after Starwind centers him, Vanyel still can’t walk without help and doesn’t feel like his fever of grief has broken until page 310. At the most conservative estimate we spend 78 consecutive pages in unadulterated woobie hell and I fucking love it.

Nonnies reminisced about other terrible shit that happens to Vanyel. One nonny linked to the Japanese covers of the Last Herald-Mage trilogy.

Even the nonny who had campaigned for the Fool admitted that they were voting for Vanyel. When Round Three results were posted on June 15, Vanyel proved to have won with a whopping 75% of the vote.

Next, Vanyel was matched up against Remus Lupin. VCM expressed worry that he was up against a character from such a huge megafandom, and that next round he would again be facing a megafandom (either Katniss or Frodo). Nonnies were quick to reassure VCM, including one who said:

I can't think of anyone more woobie than Vanyel. Are there eligible characters I like more? Sure. But are they more woobie? I don't think so.

Thus encouraged, VCM posted the Round Four Vanyel campaign post. This post focused solely on Vanyel's emotional health in book two, Magic's Promise, beginning with a defense of the book's odd pacing:

People reading Magic’s Promise sometimes complain that the book seems slow, and it takes a while for the plot to get going. This is because they haven’t realized what the plot actually is. The political and wartime problems? The newly Chosen Herald Vanyel has to save? Those are just subplots. The main plot of Magic’s Promise is Vanyel’s physical, mental, and emotional trauma, and his various failed attempts to recover from that trauma. If you read with that in mind, all of a sudden the pacing makes complete sense.

And continuing with more evidence of Vanyel's continued trauma, including his new and vulnerable young friend who looks exactly like his dead soulmate:

Also, as far as I can tell, there is zero in-game explanation for why Tashir (and his evil uncle!) look so much like Tylendel. I vaguely remembered that their families were somehow related, but when I was rereading I didn’t actually find a place in the book where it said that. Neither did my sister. It’s literally just an unexplained coincidence for the sole purpose of making Vanyel sad.

Further woobie discussion continued in the comments, with mentions of homophobia-fueled conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia and the importance of pro-gay PSAs in 1989. Nonnies agreed that the Magic's Pawn cover would be the best representation of Vanyel for the picture and summary Woobie-non had requested. VCM drafted the one-sentence summary with help from another nonny:

Beautifully fragile Vanyel Ashkevron struggles to overcome childhood abuse, social persecution, a wide and frequent variety of assaults, PTSD, the death of his soulbond, the deaths of all his other friends, his own imminent death, and worst of all his perpetual loneliness using coping mechanisms such as self-isolation, self-destruction, overwork, and occasional bouts of catatonia.

A nonny, possibly VCM, later found cause to regret listening to the Vanyel Woobie Playlist:

HOLY SHIT NONNIES the first song from the Vanyel playlist just came on the pandora downstairs at work and I started reflexively tearing up at my desk

wtf wtf I canNOT start crying about Vanyel Fucking Ashkevron at work, this is NOT OK.

Waiflike Japanese edition Vanyel made another heartwarming appearance. Another nonny cheerfully pointed out that Vanyel doesn't even kill the bad guy in the end.

Round Four results were posted on June 22. Vanyel won over Remus with 57% of the vote, and next faced Katniss Everdeen for Round Five. As one nonny gleefully commented,

Vanyel to the Christmas Bowl!

And another nonny said:

For half a second, I mixed up the anime and books categories, and nearly had a heart attack when I didn't see Vanyel there. Wtf self, you haven't even read those books.

VCM quickly showed up with the Round Five campaign post, covering Vanyel's physical health in Magic's Promise.

“Oh, hell— he thought dazedly. I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. He crouched on the filthy, shard-covered floor, panting in pain, for a long, long moment before he had the strength to look up….I… think I’m in trouble. I’ve never… been this drained… before, he thought, somewhere under the red wash of burning. Oh, gods—if I’d known it was going to be like this, I’d never have had the courage… He got to his feet, somehow; he staggered like a mortally-wounded drunk trying to get to Tashir. He was so dizzy he could hardly see.” (Magic’s Promise, 165)

Another nonny commented with an important point to add:

1) Nonny, you are a hero for the woobie cause.

2) I saw in the one of the previous threads that someone said Vanyel's first boyfriend died in a duel. For the sake of not making him sound like less of a woobie than he is, I feel like it needs to be pointed out that actually, Vanyel's soulbonded boyfriend (who he was already planning a life with once he was 18 and out of his father's control, even though they'd only been dating a few months), actually lost his mind after his twin brother was assassinated, manipulated Vanyel into helping him use forbidden magic to get revenge on his brother's killer and into not telling his teacher/Vanyel's aunt what they were doing, and then, when their horrifying forbidden magic monsters killed a bunch of people and he got repudiated by his magic horse, jumped off a building right in front of Vanyel, leaving him the physically, magically, and emotionally broken mess he is for the rest of the book. Because a true woobie's boyfriend can't just die - he has to die in the most toxic, trauma inducing way possible.

Further discussion of Vanyel and Tylendel's unhealthy relationship led to some woobie-tastic fic recs. Nonnies also speculated about Mercedes Lackey's thought process. A couple more nonnies complimented the dedicated campaign. VCM confessed,

The best part is that I didn't even nominate the poor boy. I purposefully stayed out of the nominations process because I didn't want to get overinvested. But then I saw the brackets and I saw Vanyel's name and I experienced such a rush of teenage nostalgia and heartache and I thought, "Oh, I'll just write up a tiny bit about him."

Another dedicated nonny presented the passage in which near-catatonic Vanyel confronts his homophobic father. As they put it,

And ngl, there was something deeply cathartic and painful about reading that scene as a kid in the closet. The feelings were just that raw. :)

When Round 5 Voting opened, VCM posted a section from the notes they were taking as they reread the series:

Page 37, debates jumping to break his leg.
Page 43, cousins mock him for being pretty
Page 45, Everyone hates him and he debates jumping out the window.
Page 50, Joserlin explains why Vanyel is actually right
Page 52, vision of being alone, not letting anyone touch him so he can never be hurt
Page 59, “Vanyel and Star could have been a statue of onyx and silver”
Page 68, serving girl at inn tries to seduce him, gropes him. Next page, “It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve bedded something I didn’t much care for.”
Page 73, persistent fear his father will send him to a cloister

Vanyel Nonnies narrowly avoided a round of Thing/Think Wank and managed a successful discussion of yet more terrible things that happened to Vanyel.

On June 24, still in the thick of Round 5 voting, a Vanyel Nonnie made a new thread offering to send the Last Herald-Mage trilogy eBooks to nonny sock emails.

If you're a gentlenonnie, then open up those files and randomly scroll to a page. Post the woobiest sentence you can find on that page in this thread. That's all I ask in return.

VCM approved. Other Vanyel Nonnies, old and new, also approved, and shared woobie excerpts. One nonny wrote meta about Vanyel as The Man of Feeling, and also bishounens, concluding:

Nobody told me that his eyes were a startling silver-gray! This is important woobie information!

And as one nonnie said,

I mock it because otherwise I'd have to admit how fucking satisfying this is to me.

Nonnies also talked about the evil wizard furry from Magic's Pawn.

Round 5 results were posted on June 26, and Vanyel beat Katniss with 57% of the vote. At this point, he entered Round 6 against Cassandra Cain; this was the bracket Championship Round to determine the Books & Comics Woobie Champion. Nonnies celebrated, and VCM showed up with the Round 6 Championship campaign post:

I’m so incredibly proud that Vanyel “Panting in Pain” Ashkevron has made it to the Books & Comics Woobie Championships—thank you to everyone who has joined in the campaigns and conversations, and thank you especially to all of you who’ve shared exactly how this sad, gay, beautiful broken man has touched your hearts.

This post consisted of a woobie highlights rundown from the first 4/5 of Magic's Price.

“‘I’ve lost Savil—if I lost you—’ The look in Vanyel’s eyes was not altogether sane, and reminded Stef uneasily of the expression he’d seen once in the eyes of a broken-winged bird. Stefen shuddered, and pulled the Herald back into an embrace.” (Magic’s Price, 261)
Through just the section of Magic’s Price this post has covered, I’ve skipped over at least 4 separate instances of Vanyel passing out or collapsing in agony/exhaustion/what-have-you. He also spends about 15 pages comatose.

In a So who are you voting for? thread, a Will Graham Nonny said,

If it comes down to it, I'm terrifically impressed (and a little terrified! and maybe a little turned on) by the Vanyel anons, but I'll have to vote for Will, since I love Red Dragon, SOTL, the movies and the show. But the Vanyel anons are pretty amazing.

eBooks Nonny/Vanyel's Recruitment Officer returned to repeat their offer of, well, eBooks.

You think you can take it? Will you chortle maniacally at his gay-angst while being entirely unmoved, because it's too over the top? (Spoiler, you will. And then, very suddenly, you'll read a sentence that harpoons your heart, and with the sparkling truth of ten thousand unicorns you'll realize that given the chance you would obsessively read several hundred million words of people being nice to Vanyel, sewing him quilts in colours that suit his pure, perfect complexion, giving him subtly erotic foot rubs, plationically co-sleeping to gently soothe his nightmares, and emphatically not dying around him while his father is unexpectedly replaced by King Julien from Madagascar.)

There were more great woobie excerpts shared, and discussion of perpetual pimping of Vanyel. Nonnies also got emotional about their childhood experiences with Vanyel. Anything that felt so good had to be porn, right?

And Ur-Sunny emerged to reveal that she too was an unrepentant Vanyel stan (or, "full time Lackey Pimp," as it were).

Ursunny is dedicated
I give you this: http://imgur.com/a/xUijN

My original 1990 paperback copy of Magic's Pawn. Boxed up at my parents, I uncovered it to be the Woobie that Mounts the World.

Notice the love, the tears, the tape.

This is how you breed fangirls and moderators.

While I was uploading, my mother came up behind me and wanted to know what I was doing. I attempted to explain about Vanyel, Woobies, the Woobie Bracket, and the relation to meme, all without using the words gay porn.

She just sighed and asked if everyone I know is weird. Yeah, actually, pretty much.

But this book is the birth of an Ur-Sunny, recovered for posterity.

Ur-Sunny praised Woobie-non's dedication to the cause. She also gave VCM her celebrity endorsement to the Vanyel campaign. ("senpai noticed me!" said VCM.)

When Round 6 Championship voting opened, VCM posted a bonus excerpt of the evil wizard furry molesting Vanyel. Ebook Nonny showed up with (you guessed it) more ebooks. When asked, Ebook Nonny and VCM affirmed that they were different nonnies. Something about a fic fest was cryptically mentioned.

Nonnies also talked about Yfandes, Vanyel's Lisa Frank horse. A thread debating Homura and Anthy's woobiness derailed into talk about the purity of Vanyel's woobiness, and also that horse tails are not just hair.

VCM posted more excerpts from their annotations in a later thread. It inspired some Vanyel/Jean Valjean/Bread OT3 speculation.

Woobie-non updated nonnies on July 10, promising the results up on July 11. Woobie-non also asked if nonnies would prefer a four-way face-off among the bracket winners for the Ultimate Woobie-Off or a face-off between the longest lasting woobies from the different mediums, which would be six woobies. When VCM expressed a preference for the four-way ("unless Vanyel lost in which case I'm in favor of anything you can do to keep him in the competition"), Woobie-non responded: "I can't say anything about Vanyel of course... *cough*butdontworrytoomuch*cough*"

Vanyel's Recruitment Officer and Vanyel's Campaign Manager both professed their readiness for the Ultimate Woobie-Off. VCM and Woobie-non then realized they were going to be at the same FFA meet-up the next day. A true nonny miracle.

Round Six Bracket Championships results were posted July 11. For the reveal, Woobie-non made a special awards ceremony Dreamwidth journal. After a number of preliminary consolation prizes to various woobies, Woobie-non also granted an award to Vanyel's Campaign Manager as a dangerously overcommitted charmingly enthusiastic woobie supporter.

Theuni
The 2015 Woobie Off Commitment Award, aka "The Uni", as named by this knitted unicorn thing that Google assures me is called a "woobie", that I have - using my obvious creative skills - added the title to in the beeeautiful image you see below, is given to the Woobie Fan who has gone above and beyond for their chosen Woobie.
This Committed Fan wrote cited essays about her beloved Woobie and turned countless anon onto her canon (including yours truly). Although there were many fans of this particular Woobie who helped (special mention to Vanyel Recruitment Officer anon!), this year's Uni goes to...

Vanyel Ashkevrons' Campaign Manager Anon!

Congratulations, and a sincere thanks for your work and enthusiasm. I personally have enjoyed this Woobie Off because of all the creative campaigning and discussion that has gone on in the threads, and Vanyel's Campaign Manager led the way in both!

Likely to nobody's surprised, Vanyel beat Cassandra Cain for the Books and Comics Championship with 73% of the vote.

The awards ceremony also signaled the opening of the poll for the Ultimate Woobie-Off final round, pitting Vanyel against Anime Champion Anthy Himemiya from Revolutionary Girl Utena; Movies, Animation, Games, & Other Champion Ellie from The Last of Us; and Television Champion Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.

Vanyel's Campaign Manager wasted little time in posting their next campaign post:

“Oh, gods—I’m not just the only Books & Comics-Woobie they have left here, I’m the very last Books & Comics-Woobie. There aren’t any more but me.” (Woobie’s Price, 246)

The post began with an in-depth discussion of Vanyel's gang rape by bandits in Magic's Price, including a link to a google doc with lengthier passages. The post concludes with an emotional appeal to the nonny audience:

I’ve focused most of this campaign on textual evidence of Vanyel’s woobiness, but I want to conclude this post by moving beyond the text. Vanyel’s traumas are intense, frequent, and varied; his suffering is beautiful and lovingly lingered upon. The plot takes the backseat to his emotional agony. But these factors are only half of the woobie experience.

The other half is you, nonny.

You, and me, and everyone else who has read some part of Vanyel’s story and felt something. Yes, when I lay out the facts, with or without context Vanyel can seem ridiculous. But something about him speaks very deeply to the ids of his fans—hell, for many of us, he helped create our ids.

And in turn, our emotional responses help create him as the Ultimate Woobie. Our love transforms him into something far more important than simple words on a page or a litany of misfortune. His intense and beautiful suffering inspires in our hearts a passionate empathy that elevates us all, readers and character alike.

This campaign is a love song.

And as an appendix, VCM provided a list of nonny testimonials to Vanyel's woobiness and emotional impact, from both before and during the Woobie-Off. Some samples:

“Sure some of it can be questionable, but the Vanyel books probably saved my life.” (Original Comment)
“But it kept drawing me back, because I was invested, I related to Vanyel already, and dammit I did like how it made me feel even if it scared me. It was the first thing I loved that loved all of me back unconditionally.” (Original Comment)

Several nonnies found themselves moved to tears.

VRO chimed in with excerpts from every other Valdemar book that mentions Vanyel. Even Mercedes Lackey herself is unfairly cruel to Vanyel, as evidenced by her embarrassing self-insert short stories. As VRO put it,

Lackey thinks he's a whiner! (Sad that your soulbonded lover used you to commit mass murder, then killed himself when he failed, leaving you alone and responsible for taking his place, spending twenty years mourning him and sacrificing everything for your country in a war that keeps killing all of your friends, and then getting gang raped, mind-broke, and finishing your life on the high note of suicide bombing a totally new enemy who was magically behind the deaths of most of your murdered friends, and then binding your soul to a forest for 500 years so you can keep protecting the damn kingdom? STOP WHINING, VANYEL.)

A nonny in another subthread said,

I voted for Vanyel because I wasn't familiar with either character, but the Vanyel nonnies are campaigning so hard, it seemed mean not to.

On the next post, VCM posted links to woobie 8tracks playlists for each of the final eight woobies. Vanyel's is here, and the songs are:

Hideaway, Rock Kills Kid | You’re All I Have, Snow Patrol | End Of The Line, Sleigh Bells | I’m Not Okay (I Promise), My Chemical Romance | Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Green Day | A Waning, After the Sirens | Bleeding Out, Imagine Dragons | All Alright, Fun.

Several posts after that, VCM and VRO posted an interest check poll for a potential Valdemar fic fest. They announced the more finalized fest, 21 Days of Valdemar, the next post.

That same post, on July 19, Woobie-non announced the results of the Ultimate Woobie-Off.

Mirrormirror
Which means, with 47% of the vote, it’s Vanyel Ashkevron who is, officially and truly, the woobiest of all.

Please take your image of a sad puppy and have it with pride: http://i.imgur.com/rKaaAvn.jpg

Congrats / our sympathies, Vanyel. And, of course, a super special mention and thank you and sad congratulations to Vanyel Campaigning Anon and Vanyel Book Sharing Anon. You guys are my favorite!

VCM apparently had a pre-drafted victory speech ready to go (as well as a defeat speech just in case):

We did it.

256 woobies. Thirty-nine days. Seven rounds of voting.

One emotional reread. Twenty-three word document pages of annotations. Eight playlists with sixty-six songs. How many words of campaign posts? Over 9,000. Countless nonnies expressing disbelief that these are actual books.

We fucking did it.

Nonnies celebrated in the comments. One future reader shared,

I began the Woobie Off with no idea who Vanyel was and ended it holding my breath while I clicked the results, because I was that invested in his victory. (And then I squeaked and clapped.)

Thank you for bringing this beautifully suffering mess into my life! :D I'm going to have to read the books now...

One nonny promised a picture of Vanyel with a teardrop tiara, and the campaign did not truly end until that nonny delivered the picture to meme two days later.

And thus, after thousands of words of campaigning, a surprisingly organized nonny campaign team, low-key bribery through eBooks and playlists, fanart, a fic fest, and an endorsement from Ur-Sunny, the Vanyel Campaign successfully concluded.

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