Apr 07, 2020 9:53 PM
leareth meets serg in post mage wars valdemar
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"Sensible of him. I do not imagine it would go over well." He frowns. "Several options. If we had access to the king, to change laws, and to..." This time, his vocabulary fails him. "Those who are well known, who others look to for what is good and right, those who set the mores and morals. If we had that, we could...seed the change, between ceremonies. But it would be slow. Very slow." 

Centuries, maybe. Acceptable for him. Not for Sakshemar. 

"Sakshemar," he says, seriously. "You do not need to decide now, or even consider it yet. But. I can afford slow. When this body dies, I will return." And be more prepared for it, he hopes. He needs to start thinking about that; set up records, perhaps, his memories of the war with Urtho are already so foggy. "I...would offer you the same. If you wished. So that we might have time to fix your empire."

And then, eventually, everything else. 

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...he smiles, touched.

"I maybe want this," he says. "Not want be dead. Want be your friend, help you fix things. Is... better, maybe, if not have to kill to live, but... maybe still want."

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It's surprising, how warm that makes Lionstar feel. He reaches for Sakshemar's shoulder. 

"I understand," he says. "Not wanting to kill. I...would also have preferred that." His chest tightens. "Perhaps we can find a way. I do not want to have to do this alone." 

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"Not want you alone," he agrees, leaning into the touch a little and then moving closer so he can hug him. "Friend. Important."

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Hugs are good! Lionstar isn’t sure if Ma’ar ever had the kind of friend who would hug him. He’s pretty sure Urtho never did.

(It’s the first time he’s been able to think about Urtho like this - calmly, without wanting to cry.)

“We could work on language today,” Lionstar says finally, pulling back. “I would like to learn more relevant Haighlei vocabulary.” He frowns. “And make something to write on. Do you know of any plants that could be used to make paper or ink?” There are lots of birds around, he can bring one down with a levinbolt and obtain feathers to make a quill pen. “I wish to start keeping records.”

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"Not know forest plants much. Can try things maybe. And teach you Haighlei vocabulary."

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Lionstar approves of this plan!

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He's much better at teaching languages than he is at learning them, and his vocabulary in his native language is extensive. He tries to focus on relevant subjects: status, politics, law and custom. These lessons therefore end up interspersed with explanations of those things, delivered through his usual inventive use of limited Kaled'a'in.

Courts and judges both turn out to be concepts he is familiar with, although the Haighlei versions are a little different from what Lionstar may previously have heard of. Filtered through the barrier of their mutual vocabulary, the system looks something like this:

There is a role called lawkeeper. People of certain social classes have the ability to act as lawkeepers for ceremonial and traditional reasons—Sakshemar himself is one such. But most lawkeeper work is done by people of an appropriate caste whose actual job is to investigate crimes, find out who did them, and bring those people before a court.

In court, the lawkeeper presents the judge with the evidence and reasoning by which they concluded that the accused party did the crime. There are a lot of formalized phrasings for this exchange, many of which Sakshemar can rattle off by heart because his father has done a lot of work as a judge; it's a respectable occupation for a member of the nobility.

Any of the three parties—the judge, the lawkeeper, or the accused—can call for a Truthsayer at any point in the proceedings. Truthsayers are scarce enough that this can be ruinously expensive, so it's almost never done; but the possibility does a lot to keep the participants honest, because deliberately lying to a judge in court is a crime punishable by death, and deliberately lying as a judge in court carries a penalty which Sakshemar leaves unspecified due to vocabulary but implies is generally considered to be worse. Courts keep meticulous records of who said what at what time, so if someone does call for a Truthsayer, there's no weaseling out by conveniently forgetting your lies.

Normally, though, threats to call for a Truthsayer are merely alluded to, very rarely acted on. Instead, the judge hears out the lawkeeper's case, asks the accused for their side of the story, and comes to one of three conclusions: that the accused is innocent, that they are guilty, or that they are—there's a phrase for this but the words are unfamiliar and Sakshemar has trouble defining them: the gist seems to be that they did it, but under some mitigating circumstance such that instead of the usual punishment for their crime they should be treated more leniently. The example he gives is of a case his father saw, where a servant was stealing jewelry from their employer, but turned out to be spending the proceeds on expensive treatments for their child's rare illness; his father ruled that the employer should keep back half the servant's wages until the value of the stolen items was thereby repaid, but promised to personally cover the child's medical expenses.

Aside from these fascinating lessons on language, culture, law, and politics, Sakshemar also helps Lionstar test various possible sources of ink and paper. After a couple of days, they have some sheets of bark which can be semi-permanently marked by an ink made from charcoal dust mixed with water. Sakshemar is mostly pretty cheerful about the whole process; he likes working with his hands, and likes the accomplishment of having a need and creating tools and materials to fulfill that need out of resources found in their environment. He gets frustrated occasionally when one of their attempts doesn't work out, but when they finally have something that works he beams delightedly about it.

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It's not an unreasonable system, in Lionstar's eyes. He disagrees more with the content of the law than with the system for maintaining it (perhaps with the exception of excessively formalized phrasing, it seems a waste of time for young would-be lawkeepers to be learning that instead of more necessary material.) 

Lionstar writes everything down. The words he's learning, to review at night by firelight; his miscellaneous thoughts on the picture he's piecing together of Haighlei society; and, finally, what he can remember of his past, though he keeps those notes cryptic. Specific decisions made during the war are a blur now, though they still turn up in occasional nightmares, blended and remixed at random. He can still recall Urtho's face, but barely, only in the foggiest outline.

Every day, he's finding new things to be grateful for about Sakshemar's friendship. The young man's delight at small successes is one of those things.

One night, Sakshemar wakes him after his watch, and Lionstar renews his simple wards to warn of approaching attacks. (He's held off some revisiting 'wet lions' once already, this way; the strange wyrsa are magical enough to be detectable fifty yards away, and they can't get through the physical barrier-shield that this advance warning gives him plenty of time to raise, a few levinbolts and they were persuaded to abandon the prey that they couldn't get to anyway.) Lionstar yawns and paces, musing on Haighlei lawkeeper training and trying not to think about his dreams. 

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From somewhere behind him comes the snap of a twig and the rustle of underbrush.

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Lionstar doesn't react instantly, he's tired and distracted, but in less than a second he's spinning around and reaching out with his Othersenses – which have nothing useful to offer, and the sound seems to be coming from inside his wards.

He flings up a physical shield over Sakshemar's sleeping body, no time to weave one big enough for both of them, and then he raises his hand and starts to cast an overpowered mage-light, he's got a levinbolt at the ready and if he can just see what's going on–

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There's an indistinct figure rushing toward them, brandishing a big stick.

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Lionstar flings a levinbolt (without much time to aim and he's not sure if it'll land), and screams his friend's name as he dodges to one side. 

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The first swing of the stick misses; unfortunately, so does the levinbolt.

The second swing connects.

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It's the first thing Sakshemar sees, when he startles awake—his friend, being knocked flat by a blow to the head.

He launches himself at the attacker with a snarl of rage.

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(Fortunately, the hasty barrier-shield crumbles out of Sakshemar's way, when Lionstar loses the ability to concentrate on it.) 

Lionstar doesn't see his friend's charge. There's only a bright blaze of pain, and the ground rushing up to meet him, and then nothing. 

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He doesn't have his knife; it wasn't quite close enough to grab when he woke. Sloppy. He should never have slept without a weapon in reach.

It doesn't matter. Fire flares, and the stranger screams; their stick is a charred and crumbling ruin, and so is the hand that was holding it. Then they're on the ground, with his hands around their throat. A Haighlei stranger.

He is furious. He's never been angrier in his life. He can't feel Lionstar with his empathy-sense at all, not even as a vague blur of dreams. He is distantly aware that it's possible his friend was just knocked senseless—even more distantly, that if Lionstar dies here he'll come back, somewhere, somehow—but what he feels, in an immediate tangible sense, is that Lionstar is gone and this person is responsible.

Fire flares again, and again, and again. He's burning himself with the edges of it and he doesn't care a bit. The stranger's pain and terror sing in his mind like music. This person took his friend away from him and he is going to hurt them until there is nothing left to hurt.

 

Even past that point, even well past that point, it's a while before he's calm enough to turn away from the smoldering heap of ash and bone to see if Lionstar really is still alive.

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Lionstar is sprawled facedown in the dirt. It's very dark, now that the mage-light is gone; the only light comes from a sliver of moon, the embers of their campfire, a few tongues of flame licking at undergrowth which had the poor fortune to be too close to the Haighlei stranger, and a still-smoldering bit of Sakshemar's sleeve. 

Lionstar isn't moving, or making any sound. His mind isn't even blank; right now, there's nothing there for Sakshemar to sense. He seems to be breathing, though without light it's hard to tell for sure. 

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Well.

This is a problem.

Actually it's several problems. First, someone just tried to kill them both—clumsily, but very deliberately. Why? He didn't recognize the person but they were Haighlei and there's only one group of Haighlei who knows exactly where to find their camp, so the people he scared off have to be involved in this somehow, but why would they send an assassin? To shut him up, for their priest friend's sake? So, second, they still know exactly where to find the camp, and if the first attempt didn't work they may very well make another. It's not safe here.

And third, he has only the vaguest idea what to do about someone who was hit in the head and may or may not be breathing, besides 'wait and hope' or 'get a Healer'.

There's nowhere safe to wait, and no Healers closer than White Gryphon.

Also, every time he thinks about Lionstar's injury or the people responsible, he starts gathering fire before he can stop himself. And it's hard to stop himself.

It would be stupid to nearly lose his friend to a surprise attack and then finish the job himself because he lacks the self-control to keep a lid on his Gifts. But being stupid won't actually stop it from happening. If he doesn't have that self-control, dwelling on the bitter irony of the situation won't give it to him. He needs to actually not lose hold of his fire.

But all his hard-earned lessons on controlling his Gifts bring back memories of Lionstar teaching them to him, and then the same problem comes around again.

So. Fine. It's not safe to stay here, so they need to be somewhere else. And it's not safe for Sakshemar to spend much time near Lionstar until he can go two minutes without nearly starting a forest fire, so he needs to find somewhere safe-ish to leave Lionstar while he—does—something. Calms down? Finds the rest of that cursed expedition and kills them all? Both? Leave it, not important, he can figure it out when he gets there. First things first.

He takes apart their camp, packs away all their things, takes extra care to make sure Lionstar's notes are safe and sound. He crushes the charred bones of the person he killed and buries them with the ashes of the campfire.

He sits down and leans against the rock and closes his eyes and stretches his empathic senses out as far as they've ever gone. Is there anyone in range? Maybe—if he reaches even farther—a hint of something, a whisper, a vague feeling—

It might be nothing, but it's a direction to start looking in. It's not safe to sleep here, so he has to move. Has to find somewhere to leave Lionstar where he'll have a chance of making it through the night even if the forest burns down around him, and then... and then... something. Find the Haighlei expedition. Ask them what the fuck they were thinking, maybe.

He gets up. He picks up his friend, as carefully as he can. Walking through the forest in the dark carrying an injured man is stupid, but not as stupid as going to sleep in an unguarded camp that was just attacked by assassins, so move.

 

What he finds, after a lot of walking, is a cave. The cave has a bear in it. Then there is fire, and the bear is no longer in a state to object to company. He sets Lionstar down, carefully, with all their things, and as the sun is just beginning to peek over the horizon he leaves it all behind and heads back out into the forest, keeping his empathy open, muttering under his breath in Haighlei.

Don't burn down the forest. Fire crackles in his wake. Don't burn down the forest. It would be so easy to let this rage loose, let it scour the path ahead, descend on them like the wrath of the gods. Don't burn down the forest. He doesn't even know for sure that they sent the assassin. It could be a coincidence. Don't burn down the forest. He really doesn't think it's a coincidence. Don't burn down the forest. The minds on the edge of his range are getting clearer now, and he's pretty sure he recognizes them.

"Don't burn down the fucking forest, idiot," he says through gritted teeth.

A cluster of leaves hanging in his path bursts into flame and crumbles to ash.

He stops walking. He can't see them through the trees, but he can hear the water, distantly; they're in their boat, on the shore. Some of them are still asleep. Five, including the two he recognizes.

If he were a good person, if he were the person Lionstar thinks he is, maybe he would go talk to them. Maybe he'd pretend this was about justice. Lawkeeper, what do you bring to the court? Except that one of them is a priest, and priests are outside even his theoretical jurisdiction. He should remember to tell Lionstar—

Another blast of flame narrowly misses a tree in front of him, and he curses.

Well. He's not a good person. And this isn't about anything but finding somewhere to put his rage before it kills him and Lionstar both. That and, maybe, if he's generous with himself, the pragmatic necessity of making sure no one with the means and motive to kill them remains alive to try it.

He reaches out with his empathy. The more of himself he puts into that Gift, the less there is to fuel the fire. The picture of their little group becomes clearer and clearer in his mind. Three people dreaming, and the priest and a stranger on watch. The priest is troubled; the stranger is trying to cheer him up. He has no idea, looking at them, whether they sent that murderer on purpose. He does think the attacker was one of theirs, though; the priest's worries have the flavour of missing an absent friend who should be back by now.

His anger flares, and he pushes it into empathy instead of fire—and that means projecting it, and now the pair of them are both furious, and it's incredibly, unexpectedly satisfying to shove his grief and anger into them and make them want the world to burn as much as he does—and to feel their pain when they turn on each other in blind fury—and the three dreamers wake up to a storm of emotion, and now all of them are ripping each other apart, he can't see it but he can feel what they're feeling and good, he wants them to hurt, wants them to be the instruments of his rage, destroying each other for him while he watches.

It's a while before there are no minds left on the boat.

He takes a deep breath, and steps away from the tree he was leaning on, and staggers; pushing his empathy that hard at that kind of range took more out of him than he would've expected if he'd stopped to think about it. But he can think about Lionstar now without anything catching fire in his vicinity, and that's the important thing here. He trudges back to the bear cave, dizzy and exhausted, forcing himself to keep moving so at least when he collapses he'll be between his friend and danger.

When he finally makes it back, he's just about capable of verifying that Lionstar is still breathing before he curls up on the cave floor and falls instantly asleep.

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The first thing to come back is pain. 

Then... A tangled blur of sound that slowly resolves. Birds calling, somewhere far away. Branches in the wind, maybe. 

Pain.

The smell of burnt meat, bitter and acrid, mingling with a feeling of parched-thirst. 

Pain. 

...No room for thought, but slowly, space opens for emotion. Confusion, mostly. Whimpering, trying to lever open stuck eyelids, and the light is dim but it still stabs, and there's a garbled cry that hurts even worse and it must be him. Not safe, and he tries to Reach and check his wards and can't and the fear is rising to panic now, he tries to sit up and screams and chokes on it, not safe not safe not safe–

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calm.

Calm and safe and everything is okay and Sakshemar is holding him, carefully, shielding his eyes from the light.

(He's tired and he probably shouldn't be using his empathy again so soon after exhausting himself with it but taking care of Lionstar is very important.)

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He can’t quite make his eyes focus on the face but he knows that feeling of calm-safe, it’s...a friend...he can’t recall a name and that should be worrying but worry isn’t something he can feel through the calm washing over him.

...He closes his eyes and drifts for a while, not quite sleeping, but the thirst is starting to be more urgent than the unrelenting throbbing in his head. Ask for water, is the first half-formed thought to float up, but it doesn’t seem like it can reach his lips, he keeps trying and it should work, talking isn’t hard, but it doesn’t work and frustration is pulsing under the blanket of calm.

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Whether because Sakshemar guessed what he was frustrated about or because Sakshemar independently concluded that he might need water, water does come, eventually.

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And then he does sleep, falling through a web of scattered dreams of trying to dodge vague shapes with weapons and failing over and over, falling, pain...

...He blinks awake, the faint light still hurts but this time Ma’ar - no, not that, not anymore, his name is Lionstar - can carve out a corner for thoughts. Can remember who he is, if not where or when or why.

Start with here and now. He’s lying on a hard and uneven surface, a rock digging into his hip. His feet are cold but the rest of him isn’t, because someone is holding him. A friend. 

“...Sakshemar?” he pushes out. “What...?” And hope that’s enough to convey all his questions, because getting words from his aching head to his tongue still isn’t working especially well. 

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"Someone attack us, hit your head," he says. "I kill them. Safe now."

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