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Aug 03, 2021 2:57 AM
followup to what promises signed in our blood.
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A portal opens in the ground under Leareth and then he's through it and then a second after that someone pulls a piece of jewelry over his head and tightens the chain, a bit too far - 

"Don't choke him," someone objects in Quenya -

- the chain loosens, and Leareth's lying on the ground in a room with a richly carpeted floor and magic lights glittering in the ceiling. Some of the people standing around are Dwarves. 

"Is it working?"

"If it weren't we'd be dead, so I'd say, yes, it's working."

"You should tie him up anyway."

And then a hand on his cheek, surprisingly gentle. "Leareth? It's okay. You're safe here. We can't trust you, but you're safe here. And we'll figure something out."

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He knows the voice. He doesn't bother to open his eyes. It's - maybe real, maybe not, and it doesn't matter, it was too late a long time ago. And apologies aren't worth much at this point. 

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"We don't need ten people in here."

      "Your grace."

"Working from the assumption he will kill me or worse if he gets half a chance we don't need ten people in here. The necklace worked on Vanyel. We can do...four people. And three of them can shut up - out of Utumno they hate noise, they hate crowds - are you injured, Leareth -"

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He shakes his head without speaking. 

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"Okay. Do you need anything right now."

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Headshake. He...wants to be curious, in some distant part of him, but at the same time he doesn't care, and if they leave him alone for thirty seconds he's going to go back to drifting. It's a fine moment. He is not, literally this second, being tortured. Maybe it's even real. 

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"...with your consent, we'd like to take you to Lórien. He can put memories back, smooth over - trauma stuff - he helped Vanyel with a thing -"

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"Do whatever you want," Leareth says tonelessly. 

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"I'm not sure that really counts." Familiar voice. 

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"Fine. You have my consent." Leareth closes his eyes and turns his head away. 

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Sigh. "I think this is about as much as you get out of most rescued or escaped prisoners, before they've had some time. - arguably significantly more than you get out of most of them, really, he is speaking in complete sentences and following our conversation. I think Rúmil told me that took him...a Year, give or take."

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"I should have figured it out faster," Vanyel says. 

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"I don't think I missed a month you spent taking dance lessons. Or an hour, for that matter. I - I hate to even speculate, right, feels like tempting fate, but I think he'll be okay in time. We have lots of time."

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"Same destination as the last time we went to Lorien?"
 

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Leareth lets it happen to him. He lets everything happen to him, nowadays, whether it's awful or neutral or somewhere in between (there is, generally speaking, not any 'good'.) This might count as good if it were real. He's unconvinced, but thinking about it would take effort and he doesn't try anymore. That isn't a thing that's safe to do and it doesn't help anyway. 

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Lórien can put his memories back. A big dump of them, all at once, twenty-seven practice conversations before he first made Melkor some Gates. Eight times he was persuaded to do that. A few weeks spent working on artifacts for the Noldor, after he'd been captured. And then a yearlong haze of torture.  

 

OFTEN THE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION MAKES THINGS WORSE IN THE SHORT TERM, he says over Leareth's head to the familiar voices. 

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"We understand. Thank you."

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It certainly doesn't make him feel any more inclined to do anything. Leareth follows a halfhearted two or three steps of a train of thought about whether twenty-seven is a plausible number of times and then gives up. Trying to have true beliefs about the world via his own efforts is a lost cause. 

There continue to be moments which are fine, where he isn't particularly suffering, he'll take that. He wonders if they'll keep trying to talk to him. It might be informative, but then again, that would require caring about that. 

(Caring about whether or not this is real feels pretty dangerous, actually. It's on the path to caring about things at all, which is Proven Unsafe, and also if he's wrong then it'll hurt.) 

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"You can have as long as you need to think about things," he says. "I think it gets easier with time, and we have time, and - probably there're other things we'll think of, too, now that we're thinking about this. 

 

Do you - want to be alive? I - I'm not actually promising anything, if you don't, you're not - not exactly the person I consider myself to have promised things to. But - do you?"

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He - doesn't want things. Anymore. Also something in the phrasing of that is off, it doesn't feel like how Maitimo would speak of it, but why try to figure out what's real and what isn't, anymore. 

"I do not wish to be dead," he says dully. 

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"All right." He squeezes his hand, too hard, and then harder than that, until both of them can hear the bones break. "We have time. I'm sure we can get there eventually."

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Leareth is not working against them. In the first months, in Tirion, communications with the Outer Lands also frustratingly cut off, all they could do was play it out in conversation at the dinner table. If Leareth was working against them, he'd probably arrange compulsions on their commanders and disintegrate the host from there. He'd probably take down Doriath, Tumunzahar, the growing little cities south of there. They wouldn't hear about it, not directly, but there'd be a flood of souls for Mandos, sooner or later. 

 

He might or might not return to Velgarth.

Everything is recoverable as long as he does not return to Velgarth and figure out what Vanyel found there. 

 

There is no flood of souls for Mandos. Once they get out to Tol Eressea and can use magic to spy on the continent, it looks quiet. So Leareth is not working against them, not fully, not yet. 

His father makes Vanyel improved versions of that headband, even though Vanyel needs it less.

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Vanyel is grateful for the headband anyway, because there are a lot of things he needs to rediscover from scratch. 

He can put together from Maitimo's recollection of Leareth's updates on his work that the inter-world Gate involved a complicated route through the planes of Velgarth, not the one he's used to. Vanyel does not know how to project his mind there. Fortunately, in his recent journey, at least he has experience of being brought into the spirit plane by a shaman (it's a long story).

It takes a month and some rather-too-risky experiments for him to figure out even that first step, and then once he's able to explore from the vantage point of the Void, he knows what order he should expect to find things in.

Out at Tol Eressea he makes himself a Work Room with magical shielding. Still manages to set the wall of it on fire, once. He tells Maitimo, ruefully, that it's an unfortunate talent of his. 

Leareth knew or had invented several dozen communications-spells. Vanyel knows - two. Neither is sophisticated enough to reach Velgarth even once he knows the way. He studies that as well. 

It takes six months, in total, before he does his first tentative, experimental tiny Gate to Velgarth, and then attempts to open communications with Valdemar, his home kingdom. He isn't sure whether they can help or whether it's even a good idea to tell them what he has planned, but they must be panicking over his disappearance. 

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"Leareth said you were an advisor to a king, there?"

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"Yes." And his best friend. And the biological father of his (officially illegitimate) daughter. It's...a complicated situation, what Vanyel's relationship is with Randi, and it's not going to be any less complicated now. "I'm," he blushes despite himself, "kind of a war hero, back home. I can't take that much credit for it, I wasn't braver than the others, I'm just stupidly powerful."

(Oh gods if he gets contact with Velgarth and brings anyone in then Maitimo is going to hear the songs about him and Vanyel might actually die of embarrassment over it...)

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