Apr 05, 2020 12:46 AM
leareth meets serg in post mage wars valdemar
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"Camp here tonight," he says, when the hole is halfway done and the evening is halfway gone. "This first, then rest. Find other place tomorrow. I do first watch."

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Lionstar is satisfied with this plan. He eats his fill from Sakshemar’s supply of smoked meat, and then curls up by the fire. Physically, he’s tired and sore from the unaccustomed exercise, and frustrated with his out-of-shape body, but his precious reserves of mage-energy are slowly replenishing.

A good thing, because even if he were confident enough to tap nodes or ley-lines in this new body - which he isn’t - there’s little to be had nearby. Maybe thanks to the magic-eating wyrsa, he thinks, and  insiders telling Sakshemar his hypothesis, but he falls asleep first.

 

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Sakshemar finishes burying the wyrsa by himself, and keeps watch until a few hours before dawn, when he wakes Lionstar—to, again, a small pot of stew by way of breakfast— and goes to sleep.

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No wyrsa attack before sunrise.

Lionstar paces around the tiny camp, half planning vocabulary lessons for Sakshemar, half turning over plans for the scorched trees and testing his control with underpowered casting. By the time Sakshemar blinks awake, Lionstar is fairly sure he has both the power and skill to turn the suspicious scorch-marks into a convincing scene of storm-damage.

He’s less sure that major magic use will go unnoticed, though, and says as much when he relays his plan. “We ought to depart as quickly as we can and put some distance behind us,” he suggests. “I think that I can shield our passage. Probably.”

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He nods, finishes gathering up his belongings, shoulders his pack, and looks around the campsite in search of other loose ends. The spot where he was sleeping has a splotch of ash from the campfire; he kicks leaf litter over it.

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Lionstar doesn't have much to pack. He takes care of scattering and then concealing the remains of their firepit, and makes sure the places where the wyrsa are buried are well covered. 

Then he gestures for Sakshemar to stand well back, and concentrates hard. 

Crunch go two of the burnt trees. The central tree splits down the middle with a loud ripping sound. A flock of very startled birds explode out of the underbrush and flutter away.

Lionstar grins, examines his work, and adds a few finishing touches, more splintered branches and strategic scorch-marks. There. It may not hold up to expert examination, but from a few paces back the damage looks natural to his eye at least. It's not very impressive work, for Ma'ar who once commanded an empire, but he's starting from humble beginnings again. Progress. 

"Let's go," he says. 

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"Let's go," Sakshemar agrees.

He leads Lionstar through the forest, setting a respectable but not exhausting pace. He sems unused to walking through trees this dense; he's adjusting pretty well, but every so often he forgets and shifts to a gait more suited to flat open ground, then has to correct himself or snag a foot on a tree root and stumble awkwardly.

A little after midday, they reach an irregular clearing where a rocky overhang shields a fairly sizeable patch of mossy stone from the rain. It looks like it would make for a comfortably dry place to sleep, or to sit and talk, or perhaps even to practice with mysterious fire-Gifts.

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Lionstar approves. He sits down on the moss with relief, and catches his breath. He's been doing a lot of thinking, on the walk, and he doesn't exactly have a plan but he's starting to form a direction-of-approach. First up, he needs to understand Sakshemar better, his motivations, his goals, what he wants – because he's starting to suspect there are depths there. 

"Now that we can communicate better," he says, "I wished to ask you more of your people's attitude toward Gifts. Why, exactly, were you afraid that yours would be taken away – is this how your people respond to all Gifts? It would seem rather shortsighted of them." 

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He sits, too, and takes a moment to think about Leareth's question.

"...words," he starts out. "What word for... person, important, speak to gods, know many things, think important thoughts?"

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"Priest?" Lionstar suggests. "Or oracle – an oracle specifically tells the future, I think, although I think that most of those claims are false." 

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"Priest," he repeats, nodding. "Haighlei priest look for mage-gift child. Child have mage-gift, priest find, take away, teach for priest. Child good, child be priest. Child not good, priest take mage-gift, give child back to family. Everyone know child not good."

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Lionstar nods, thoughtful. He's not shocked to hear the setup; he's heard of similar things, though minus a reliable ability to shut down already-active Gifts without, it sounds like, causing much additional damage to the child in question. 

"I understand not wished to engage with such a system, but, you are not mage-gifted," he points out. "Do your people not distinguish true mage-gift from your separate Gift for fire-use?" 

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He shakes his head.

"Don't know what fire-Gift. Fire-Gift... is not know. But—mind Gift—"

He makes the vocabulary face again, then says slowly, "...thing like... truth priest. Don't know if you have. Look for child with mind-Gift. Take. Teach to... not use Gift, only a little, only see truth. If child is... very good, most good, learn things, not use Gift other than see truth, not do any things not good, child be truth priest. If not, truth priest take Gift, give child back."

He shrugs slightly. "My Gifts come late, after priest look. But—have to hide. I... not good child. Priest see I mind-Gift, not try teach. Only take."

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Lionstar is trying to figure out where even to start.

"Interesting," he says. "Your people have a technique for...lie detection? Using mind-gifts, and highly restricted." He hesitates. "Er, this is perhaps a very awkward question and you need not answer if you prefer, but...is there a particular reason you expected them to conclude that you were insufficiently virtuous for this role?" 

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He shrugs again, with a hint of a wry smile. "I—do things not good. Mm. Words."

A pause while he musters his vocabulary.

"Lion hunt, very important. Important people all there. I go, first time, child. Hunt with father. Father important. Other people—don't know word—people not important, help important person with things—also there, help, carry things. One bring child. Smaller than me. Child take my things—clothes, food, knife. I angry. I try take. Child fight. I better fight. Older, stronger. I take knife. I still angry." He makes a very final slashing motion with his hand. Then he shrugs. "Father say, lion do this. Child not important. Father very important. No people say not truth. No people say find truth priest. I angry for this. I—" Another pause, a frown, struggling with words. "I do this thing. I do this thing. I, not lion. I want truth this. Father want—people look at father, see good man, see have good child, see no things not good." Shrug, again. "Father older, more important. Father have what he want. I not."

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Lionstar would be much better equipped to handle this in his previous body, with a mind that worked reliably and was entirely his. As it is, he blinks at Sakshemar for an awkwardly long time. 

Finally, he bows his head. "First. I am sorry that this happened. I...do understand, why it causes you this pain and frustration. It is not right that it happened – for anybody involved – and it is not right that the response to it was tempered by your father's position and was not fair. Wrong was done, by you and your father both, and by the society around that allowed it. I understand why this troubles you." 

(Lionstar isn't at all sure that he's saying any of the right things. He used to be better at this, although honestly he was never good with this kind of people skills. Something he'll need to remedy – well, the war is already lost and he's stranded in a forest and the one thing he has in abundance is free time.) 

He closes his eyes. "Furthermore. I am also glad that your father chose as he did. Because, had he not, your people's response would have made a terrible situation worse rather than better. I do not think it proportionate to– to burn out a person's Gift for a harm done under provocation when he was a child." He shakes his head. "I am glad you fled and I am glad you are here, because otherwise I would have most definitely been eaten by wyrsa. I am grateful that you are here now and you are my friend." 

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He smiles, a little, and nods. He seems—relieved, maybe, or grateful, something in that genre. "Yes. I—grateful you friend also. Good friend."

But then he takes a breath and wades back into the storytelling, because he has some things to clarify.

"Not only this," he explains. "Other things too. Harder to say. Hard to say why. I... not good. Even with mind-Gift, not good. Angry, some time, hurt people. Other time, other reason. Not good reason. I... mm..."

He spends a minute chewing on his vocabulary, then says, "...I hear you loud, other day, only one time hear more loud feeling. When mind-Gift come. Hurting someone. Looking, seeing—understanding—then feeling, all sudden, very much. Very much feeling, very much hurt. Then—angry, afraid, not understanding, hurting, feeling—fire-Gift come." He makes an explosive gesture with his hands. "Then hear most loud feeling. Then... only fire." A reflective pause. "Truth priest hear that, I think, truth priest take more than Gifts. Take—" that sharp final gesture again "—all. Think I—not good with gods, think I make gods angry."

Another shrug, thoughtful, distant. "Maybe truth this."

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Lionstar has to spend a few moments just trying to piece together what Sakshemar is actually saying, and then a number of moments longer to figure out how he’s meant to feel about it.

Sakshemar evidently - and unsurprisingly - expects him to be upset. Understandable. Most people would be. 

Most people haven’t caused as many thousands of deaths as Ma’ar. Of course, most of those were deliberate, weighing up benefit and cost in service of his plans. But, well, he wouldn’t be here now if he hadn’t made some much, much larger mistakes than an impulsive reaction to TWO strong Gifts awakening at once.

My actions led to the death of the Mage of Silence, he thinks, has any living being ever made a greater miscalculation? 

A quiet, scheming corner of him notes that he can afford to trust Sakshemar substantially more. The admission shows that Sakshemar must trust him, for some bizarre reason - and, well, a tale like that makes for powerful blackmail material.

”You made a mistake,” he says slowly. “A bad mistake. And perhaps you were not always kind, before. Nonetheless. The gods are not the judge of your worth, Sakshemar, nor these truth-priests. Nobody is, because ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are not fundamental qualities.” 

He averts his eyes. It’s too painfully clear that he could just as well be addressing himself. “You had a choice,” he says. “You made a poor one. Now you are here. You have more choices, but only for the future. Not the past. The only change to make is to the you that will make those choices going on. It is only reasonable to fear repeating your mistakes, but.”

He shakes his head. “You do not seem to me, now, like someone who would react in anger and hurt and leave behind destruction. Such a person would not have taken my, er, attack when we met with such calm. So I say, if the gods are angry, let that be their problem. Not ours.”

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...he grins, a little. "Good friend," he says firmly.

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But then his smile fades; he struggles with words, again, trying to convey things more complicated and nuanced than his vocabulary can really support.

"You think I good," he says. "Maybe. But—not truth, I think. And... Truth more important, for me. For friend. Want truth this. I not good. I... when we meet, I hear you loud feeling, I know, I come, know loud feeling, know maybe—" he echoes Lionstar's word, clumsily "—attack. Not—not sudden-know. Know first, know when come. Easy..." He reconsiders, corrects. "More easy, not angry, not fire. Because know first. Harder not angry sudden thing. Harder not fire sudden thing. Maybe not always I this. Maybe other time angry, maybe other time fire, maybe other time hurt someone."

He pauses, thinks over what he's said, frowns a little. "Words," he sighs. "I... you, now, friend. I want not hurt. Important. I try. If angry, try not hurt. Is more—is easier, I think," finally remembering the correct construction of the word, "not hurt friend. Other person, maybe harder. Want truth this. Want you know this. Want—friend, good, but want friend know, want truth. Friend not truth, no good. Friend for..." A sigh of insufficient vocabulary. "You understand? Friend you, but if only friend for good me, if this and if I not good, then not friend, then you think friend but not. So, truth important. So you know. So you friend for truth."

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“I understand,” Lionstar says. “It is...a good warning to have. Thank you for telling the truth.”

Then he needs to stop and think again.

“Most people...would not say that I am good, either.” He leaves it at that. “I do not think that the word they use matters. I care about predictions. And, I do not predict that you will hurt me.” He smiles briefly. “For one, I can shield.”

The smile fades. “Sakshemar, maybe you were no saint, before - maybe a bully, even - but this is not rare, among children. And...has changed, I think?” Sensing the feelings of victims would do that. “Your difficulty now is that you are untrained and lack control of your Gifts. So.” He stands up and offers his hand. “Would you like that I help you practice?”

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He seems a little hesitant, like he isn't totally sure he has conveyed his meaning; but after a moment he smiles, and accepts the hand.

"Help practice, good," he agrees.

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And so they will practice!

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Sakshemar has the somewhat unlucky combination of strong poorly trained Gifts with strong poorly regulated emotions. When he gets frustrated, it's a short step from there to things being on fire that he did not intend to get that way. But he is, if not always patient in the moment, at least still patient with the process as a whole, ready to come back and try again as soon as he's settled his ruffled feathers. And he's as studious with this as he is with vocabulary lessons, and much more naturally suited to learning it. Sometimes he has to get up and pace around to soothe his restlessness, but otherwise he's willing to keep practicing for as long as Lionstar would like to keep helping him.

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Lionstar puts out a lot of fires. He thinks that Sakshemar is improving noticeably, but by sundown he can tell that his friend is exhausted, and he’s feeling worn out himself.

He suggests a meal and sleep.

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