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Generated: Jan 17, 2021 12:44 AM
Post last updated: Jan 17, 2021 12:44 AM
walked both sides of every street
Princess Aspexia Iomedae lands on some confused Heralds
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It's raining in Haven. As a result, the Palace grounds are nearly deserted. The Companions' Field is soggy and the Companions themselves are mostly enjoying the nice cozy stables. The few people braving the early autumn downpour have their heads tucked in against their chests and hoods pulled over their faces.

Herald-Mage Savil Ashkevron, having just finished some mage-work in one of the outlying Palace buildings, is riding hunched over Kellan's neck, cheating a little bit with a mage-barrier to keep the rain off her head and a little heat-spell.

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Pexa is not allowed in the Work Rooms because they are VERY DANGEROUS and she is not allowed in the streets because she will get LOST and everybody will be WORRIED but she is chasing a cat, which they will surely understand is a good reason. 

There is an explosion.

Pexa wears a special necklace her daddy made and she is uninjured but she is ....not in the same place as before.  And she does not see the cat.

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She is not! She’s on a very wet muddy path beside a very wet field. There are some slightly flooded-looking flowerbeds, and beyond that some low stone buildings.  

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She should NOT bite her emergency ring unless it is a REAL EMERGENCY and not being able to find the cat is NOT a REAL EMERGENCY and her daddy will come running but he'll be very sad and disappointed. 

 

She does not bite her emergency ring because of it not being a REAL EMERGENCY. 

She walks off towards the buildings because she wants to tell her nursemaids that there was an EXPLOSION and now she can't find the cat.

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And suddenly someone riding a big white horse - not Vanyel’s talking horse, this one is bigger and probably a boy horse - is galloping around the corner toward her! Mud flies everywhere.

...Savil leans forward, what was that - some sort of magic but she didn’t recognize it at all...?

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That's so much mud!  She will be declared VERY MESSY and BATHED and it wasn't even her fault. 

 

 

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At the site of the flash of magic there's a girl of maybe three, wearing very fancy clothing for warmer weather than there is, and wearing - three different incredible, unfamiliar magic artifacts, a ring and a necklace and a bracelet, each of them individually a candidate for the most impressive magic work Savil would have ever seen. 

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Kellan plants his hooves and skids to a stop well short of where the little girl is, and Savil - sits there for a moment, blinking.

:Kellan, can you -: Tell Taver, she means to finish, but she doesn't have to.

     :On it. You should - hmm, probably try not to scare her:

Great, now he's distracted talking to Taver and Savil does NOT know how to tell by looking whether a tiny child is scared. She sighs and eases herself down from Kellan's back, wincing; her hips always bother her in this sort of weather.

"Hello?" she says. "Er, are you lost?"

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Pexa speaks Taldane and Celestial and in principle she has heard a fair bit of Valdemaran but she would not be accurately characterized as speaking it. She looks confusedly up at the woman. 

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The girl isn't Gifted, Savil thinks - at that age you generally can't even check for potential yet - but her mind...has the look of one that's interacted with Mindspeech before, it's hard to characterize more precisely but it's familiar.

She's a strong enough Mindspeaker that this should work.

:Do you understand this?: she tries.

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People Mindspeak Pexa all the time. Her daddy does it and his guards do it and Vanyel does it and Yfandes does it. :Yes!: she thinks back at Savil cheerfully. 

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:Er, where are you from - are you lost...?: Savil is SO CONFUSED but at least the little girl isn't wailing, that would make things much worse.

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:I'm from Cheliax. Are we not in Cheliax. Are we in Valdemar?: She is guessing this because of the white horse. She has only met one great white horse like that, Yfandes, who is from Valdemar.

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:Y...es, this is Valdemar: How in all hells has the girl heard of it when Savil has never in her life heard of anywhere called 'Cheliax'.

- Either way this should probably be sorted out somewhere other than standing in the rain. :Are you cold?: Savil asks. :We'd better get you inside:

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:I'm MESSY and must be BATHED.:

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:It...does look like it, doesn't it: There are multiple reasons Savil never had children and she has no idea what to do about bathing one. :...Well, I'll bring you in near the women's bathhouse and we can see about that: Maybe someone can rescue her. She tries to remember if Sandra had younger siblings...

:Sandra?:

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A teenage girl reading a book in her bedroom jumps. :What? I thought our lesson wasn't until later:

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:Need your help. We have a mysterious lost child and among other things she needs a bath:

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Ugh why is she being dragged in for THAT of all things. :Is Van free?:

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:I don't think I should get Van to bathe the toddler:

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:Why not? ...All right, fine, I'm coming:

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Savil sighs heavily. :It's this way: she says to the little girl. :Er, a bit of a walk. Would you like to ride up on Kellan?: One of the few things she recalls about children is that her nieces and nephews adored her Companion when she visited that one time.

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:Yeah! Is he your -: She has forgotten the word for Companion so she sends the general concept of Yfandes.

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:- Huh. He's my Companion, yes. You've heard of Companions?: Also that particular Companion-concept was bizarrely familiar but Savil is already overwhelmed with bizarre observations and doesn't make anything of it. She gingerly picks up the child and hefts her up into the saddle, and then starts walking, one hand on the pommel to avoid slipping.

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Pexa bounces on Kellen and says "hi!" to him in Taldane and plays with her EMERGENCY ring which she is NOT going to bite because it is NOT an emergency.

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They reach one of the stone buildings and Savil scoops the little girl down. :...Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't think to introduce myself. I'm Savil. What's your name?:

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Introductions! "I am Princess Dierne Aspexia Iomedae," she says very seriously, in Taldane.

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Wow that's a mouthful. Savil is also not quite sure which parts of it are, per se, her name. She repeats the whole string carefully while she ushers the girl inside.

:Is there, er, something shorter people call you usually:

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:Pexa!:

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Oh, phew, that's much better. :Well, Pexa, it's lovely to meet you. Bath is this way: And to someone else: :Sandra where ARE you:

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Mental grumble. :Nearly there:

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Savil is competent to get hot water into the copper bathtub, at least. Do children this age need an adult to undress them? She isn't sure.

:Pexa, do you - know where your parents are?: This is arguably the first question she should have asked, really. She's not any good at this.

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:They're WORKING and I SHOULDN'T USE THE EMERGENCY RING if it's NOT A REAL EMERGENCY, it's REALLY IMPORTANT.: She gamely attempts to undress herself but she's not very good at it. 

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:It's - no, I suppose it's not an emergency. We'll just need to, er, find a way of telling them you're safe. Where do they work?: She tries to get a closer peek at what she assumes is the ring in question with mage-sight.

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Sandra arrives, does her own double-take at the absurdly powerful magical artifacts, and then rescues Savil and undresses the small child in order to plunk her into the bath. Probably the magic jewelry is fine to stay on her.

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The ring is incredibly complicated but is at least recognizably made by a Velgarth mage, unlike the necklace, done with some technique that's utterly unfamiliar and looks like it might be made of inherently magic material or something. Pressure on the ring looks like it would trigger an alarm of some kind and also a very aggressive physical shield of some kind and also something else that's hard to determine by inspection.

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Savil is really unsure what to do so she sits and watches while Sandra deals with bathing the mysterious small child and then does her best to dry her wet clothes with magic, since they don't have anything else on hand that will fit her.

     :Answered any of your questions?: Kellan asks eventually. :Lancir wants to know if this is urgent enough that he should come over himself:

Savil has no idea. :Why don't I just take her to my suite for now and get us some lunch, and then I'll ask her some more questions:

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Sandra, who is in fact used to younger siblings, patiently gets Pexa - what nationality is that name, anyway, it's very unfamiliar-sounding - dressed back in her dry albeit slightly rumpled fancy clothes, and then leads her down the hall to the suite she shares with her teacher and shows her to the sofa.

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Savil sits as well.

:I think you're quite lost: she says. :You don't seem to speak Valdemaran, even. Do you know how you got to be here?:

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:I was chasing a cat and then there was a REALLY BIG EXPLOSION.:

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- That's a bit alarming. :Are you, er, hurt anywhere?:

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:Noooooooo. My daddy shields me and my amulet shields me and probably if they were not good at it Iomedae would shield me. Cause I'm named after Her.:

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:I see: She doesn't. At all. :Can you tell me who your daddy is? Is he a powerful mage?:

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:He's the King of Cheliax! He's the bestest mage and Aroden is also him, and a god, and Ma'ar is also him, and a kid, and Tadesse's also him, and sad.:

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Savil blinks helplessly a few times, completely unable to make sense of that. - Oh, right, little children make up things sometimes.

:Is that, er, in a pretend game he's all those people?: she asks, and immediately wants to smack herself for not thinking at ALL about tact.

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:No, Queen Carissa my mommy found Ma'ar on another planet. I don't think anyone found Aroden because He's a god and He's everywherrrrrrre.:

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...That doesn't sound less like pretend, but Savil is reluctant to upset the child any more. :So your parents are - the King and Queen? Of Cheliax? But you'd heard of Valdemar. Do you, er, know where Cheliax is on a map compared to us?:

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:You have to go through the special forever Gate in Westcrown.:

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:I - don't follow what that means, I'm sorry:

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:To get to Valdemar from the palace in Cheliax you have to go to the forever Gate in Westcrown, and then a mage makes it a Gate-y-er Gate, and then you through it, and then you're in Valdemar.:

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Savil goes very still. :It's - a permanent Gate?: She wasn't even sure those still existed, there are vague rumors the Eastern Empire has them but that could just be a myth. :I'm...still very confused, though. Do you, er, know when it was last used?:

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:No.: 

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So the thing could be centuries old and long out of use, maybe? ...It still doesn't make a lot of sense but she's grasping at straws here. :Er, Pexa, do you know anyone who say's they're from Valdemar?:

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:Van! And -: She can't quite say Yfandes's name but she can try to shove the concept.

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That gets her a very surprised look. :- What, really, you remember Vanyel? And Yfandes?: Savil feels like she was maybe just barely starting to make sense of this and now she's lost her footing again and it's deeply unfair. She wants a drink.

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:Van's nice! Is he here? Can he play with me?:

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Savil doesn't answer right away.

:It's, er. Complicated. He's - around, yes, but... I think we're - not on the same page about something, here...: This isn't the most coherent answer, especially not for a three-year-old to parse. Savil shakes herself a bit.

:He's busy right now anyway. I'm going to, er, ask a friend of mine to come over. Are you hungry?:

And to Kellan: :I think we'd better get Lancir here:

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:I'm hungry!:

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Then food can be gotten for her! It's not as nice as the food they eat at the palace in Cheliax but it's decent.

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And ten minutes later a new man arrives. He's also old and grey-haired, and has bright blue eyes. He sits and smiles at her, and reaches to tousle her hair - really this is so he can at least try to get enough Mindspeech rapport to talk to her, his Gift is very weak and only works with people in the same room.

...He can't, but this seems very important. Important enough that Taver is boosting to talk to him, even though normally Lancir needs to be in trance to do that from a distance. Having such weak Thoughtsensing can be awfully inconvenient sometimes. :Taver: he sends. :Can you -:

He doesn't need to finish the question. Taver is a Groveborn Companion and has MANY capabilities that he mostly keeps to himself, and apparently one of them is boosting Lancir directly so he can talk to the tiny child who claims to know about Vanyel and also permanent Gates.

:Pexa, right?: he says to her. :My name is Lancir. I'm the Queens Own Herald to Queen Elspeth. Have you heard of Elspeth?:

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:No.:

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He's not very surprised but he is confused. :Do you know who the monarch is in Valdemar:

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:....no.: She is pretty sure she has been told this but she does not remember it at all.

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Well, she is a very small child. :Do you happen to know if Valdemar has a King or a Queen, in, er - when you were last told about it?:

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:Cheliax has a King and a Queen! Valdemar has Companions.:

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Well, it's not false. Lancir smiles reassuringly at her. :Yes, indeed. And you know Vanyel and Yfandes? How?:

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:They play with me!! Van is the bestest at magic.:

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...He's so confused. Vanyel is...well, he's the most powerful mage ever seen in Valdemar but describing him as the 'bestest' does not, exactly, fit.

:Did you visit him in Valdemar or does he come to, er, to Cheliax?:

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She tries to think through the question for a while and gets stuck on not being clear which places are which places.

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Lancir sighs. Move on to something else. :Savil says that your daddy is a powerful mage and he made you that ring?:

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:Yeah!:

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:Well, good for him! It's quite an impressive working. Is there any chance you know where your daddy grew up and what school he studied at?: Lancir isn't expecting much, here, but it's possible the answer will be somewhere in Rethwellan, which he might even have heard of.

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She is pretty sure she doesn't know but he seems to think it's very important so she tries considering it very hard. :Urtho taught him. He'll teach me too when I'm bigger.:

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:Oh, I see: Lancir doesn't recognize the name at all. :Are both your parents mages?: It sounds like she's expecting to be one when she grows up.

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:My mommy is a wizard and that's different.:

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:Oh? What's different about it?:

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She does not come up with an answer to that.

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...Wow, attempting to interrogate small children to figure out what in all hells is going on is frustrating! Lancir smiles rather than show any of that frustration.

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:So your daddy made the ring, but what about your necklace and bracelet?: Savil asks. :Where did you get those?:

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:Urtho made my bracelet! My mommy made my necklace.:

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:Right: This doesn't really help at all! :Er, and - is Vanyel friends with your parents? If he plays with you sometimes?: This is the most inexplicable part. The rest could maaaaaybe fit, somehow.

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:Yes! He and my daddy are bestest friends.:

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:Really? Do - you have any idea how they met each other?:

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Pexa is bewildered at the idea that adults have not always known each other. :No.:

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Sigh. This isn't likely to be any more helpful, but. :What's your daddy's name:

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She knows that one! :King Leareth!:

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Savil jumps in her chair and gives Pexa a horrified and - frightened? - look. :What. Are you sure:

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Lancir doesn't look any happier!

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Pexa is upset to have done something wrong! :I'm right!:

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:We're not angry with you and we're - not saying you're lying...: Lancir says quickly. He still looks very upset.

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Pexa is wide-eyed and a bit sniffly about this. 

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Gods. She is so incredibly not equipped to soothe an upset small child while also dealing with this revelation.

:Sandra: Savil sends, half-desperately. :Can you, er, play with her or - something...?:

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Sandra was not included in the recent Mindspeech exchange and wouldn't have recognized the name 'Leareth' anyway. :Uh, sure, I'll take her out for a walk: To Pexa: :Come with me, let's go exploring:

...And she doesn't care what Savil says, Van is good with littles and she wants his help here. :Van?:

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He's in the library, and startles a bit. :- Sandra? What is it:

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:Come back to your room, I'm supposed to entertain a sad little girl and I think you should play the lute for her:

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...None of that makes any sense but he's hiding not doing anything useful and it would be embarrassing to say he can't play music for a child because he's having a bad day. :Er. All right. I'm coming:

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So this is how Sandra ends up walking Pexa up and down the hallway, 'exploring', until Vanyel - harried-looking, with dark bags under his eyes, and also mostly black-haired and clearly about eighteen - comes in at the end of the hall and stops in front of his door.

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"Heya!" He waves at the little girl and tries to smile.

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She looks so relieved and immediately flings herself at him. "Van!!! Your hair looks silly," she says in Taldane.

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Vanyel also grew up with littler siblings and was nicer to them than his brother; he obediently scoops the girl into his arms. "I didn't understand that," he says apologetically. :Sandra, what's going on?:

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:- Sorry, she doesn't speak any Valdemaran but for some reason she's used to Mindspeaking so we've been doing that. She seems to like you, anyway: Sandra feels very vindicated that Van is good with littles.

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...That's also very weird but sure, he had very bad nightmares last night and he's too bleary to argue. :I didn't understand you: he says apologetically to the child. :I can play some songs for you if you like?:

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:Yes! You should do that. There are lots of people and some of them were mad but it's not an emergency, right?:

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Vanyel blinks. :- Er, Sandra, is it an emergency?:

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:...I don't reckon it is or Savil would've said?:

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:It's not an emergency: Vanyel tells the child as soothingly as he can, boosting her up so he can hold her with one arm and unlock his door. :I need my arms back to play the lute but you can, er, sit on my bed if you like:

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:Okay!: She's kind of clinging, though. :Are my mommy and daddy busy?:

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:- Hmm? Er, sorry, I don't know. I haven't met your mommy or daddy:

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Pexa looks skeptical but does not articulate a disagreement.

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Vanyel is too tired to ask Pexa why this is so surprising. He plops her down on his bed and then gets his lute and starts playing ‘My Lady’s Eyes.’ He likes the fingerings for it. It takes him until the start of the vocal part to remember that it’s silly and embarrassing, and he turns bright red, but - well, maybe small children don’t mind? He keeps going, only audibly clearing his throat a little bit.

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Pexa is so much less scared and sniffly now and has flopped against him in contentment.

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Awww. Vanyel remains puzzled about all of this but snuggly small children are very cute.

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(Yfandes has heard some NEWS from Savil and...should probably tell her Chosen...but he’s doing okay right now and not curled up in a ball sobbing at all and someone needs to watch the little girl while things get figured out, it’s not her fault whose daughter she is. Yfandes does not interrupt just yet.)

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The adults are busy figuring out what to do, but Savil, a supposed adult, is still very much at a loss.

:...I suppose we should talk to the little girl: she admits eventually to Lancir. :We can at least - find out more about his operations that way, at least:

Pexa being Leareth’s daughter and also a princess doesn’t...exactly...explain all the baffling parts here, like how supposedly her daddy and Vanyel are “bestest” “friends”, but at least it’s a thread she can grasp at.

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- Vanyel abruptly sets down his lute. :Savil wants to ask you some more things, all right?: 

(And Yfandes is being infuriatingly cagey and thoughtful in the back of his mind, but Vanyel’s head hurts from lack of sleep and he’s thirty seconds of tactless conversation away from running out of the room in tears and he is not. in the mood. to ask.)

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Pexa has been singing along to Vanyel's songs, not very well. :Okay!:

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So Vanyel puts away his lute and takes her hand and leads her down the hallway to Savil’s suite.

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Savil and Lancir are there, not looking as upset anymore, but very serious.

:Pexa: Lancir says to her, solemnly. :This is very important. Can you tell us where your daddy lives?:

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:Cheliax! In the palace.:

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Maybe 'Cheliax' is what Leareth calls his...kingdom, whatever it is, where-ever it is. :Is Cheliax in the north?:

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:...yes,: she declares, but not with the air of someone who has any idea what she is talking about.

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...Well, she is very small, small children are probably always like that. :Can you tell me what living in the palace is like?:

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:I have a cat named White and I live with my daddy King Leareth and my mommy Queen Carissa and Ma'ar and ...lots of people. Tadesse and Ekunde and Ayodele. And Van. And my nanny Tia and my nanny Sefina.:

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Lancir blinks. Absorbs that for a moment, turns seriously to his paper and writes some notes. He can ask about Vanyel in a moment. :Who is Ma'ar?:

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:Ma'ar is a Leareth like my daddy but he's a little one not a big one. My mommy found him and had me.:

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- Lancir's brain skids over this for a moment and then he decides that the simplest interpretation here is the little girl having some very odd imaginary friends. He won't press her on it. (He does write down exactly what she said anyway.) :Right. I see. And your mother is called Carissa and she is a 'wizard', yes, which is different from a mage? What sorts of magic can she do?:

Maybe 'wizard' is some confusing local dialect for a different Gift? He has the vague feeling that he's trying too hard to make sense of this, but what is he supposed to do, not try to make sense of it?

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:She made my necklace! And she can do wizard magic.:

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Savil has already examined the necklace and told him she can't make heads or tails of it; she's far ahead of Lancir as a mage and he won't get any further with it.

:I see. Any chance you could give us an example of wizard magic that, er, that mages can't do?:

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:I don't know.:

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Sigh. :That's all right. Does your daddy have an army?:

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Her daddy has ALL the THINGS. :Yeah.:

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:Do you know anything about what he's planning to do with it?:

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:...magic?:

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:I mean in what country:

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:...Cheliax.:

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Of course Leareth might not tell his toddler anything - in fact, it would be stupid to - but Lancir asks anyway. :You haven't heard anything about him planning an invasion?:

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:Noo-ooo.:

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Sigh. :Do you know how many mages work for him:

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:Lots!:

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Unsurprising and unhelpful!

Lancir tries and fails to think of any more questions. He sighs. "Van, would you mind, er, entertaining her for a few more candlemarks here while we talk?"

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Yfandes still isn't telling him ANYTHING and at this point it's getting frustrating, but Vanyel shrugs and nods. "Sure, I'll go get my lute." :Pexa, I'll be right back, all right?:

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:Okay. ....is it still not an emergency?:

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Vanyel no longer has any idea what's going on. :No, it's not an emergency: he says, as reassuringly as he can manage.

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:Okay.:

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Presumably Savil will tell him if she needs help with something. Or Yfandes will reveal what she's being all worried about in the back of his mind. In the meantime, he's not going to insert himself into whatever-it-is.

Vanyel goes back to his room, fetches his lute, and returns to start playing songs for Pexa again.

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Savil and Lancir go off to Savil's bedroom to discuss.

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Savil shoots a look after them. He...vaguely remembers that maybe they had some sort of commitment tonight? ...Nevermind. Too tired to worry about that. He will launch into the Windrider Cycle instead.

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Pexa snuggles up at his feet and sings along very badly and twiddles with, but does not bite, her emergency ring.

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Maybe a candlemark later, there's a sudden knock on the door. And then Lissa's voice.

...Damn it, right, that's what he forgot. Lissa and her new friend.

Vanyel jumps, and then forces himself to take a deep breath and smile reassuringly at Pexa as he sets down his lute. "Er, one moment..."

:Savil? Lissa's here:

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In the bedroom, he hears Savil swear suddenly, and then she's up and opening the door. "I'm coming!" She looks annoyed with herself as she heads to unbolt and open the door. "I'm sorry, Lissa, I completely forgot..." 

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"Should we come back tomorrow?" a woman's voice says.

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- and Pexa, who has been slumped gloomily on the floor, jumps to her feet and dashes to the door. "Mommy!"

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Carissa does not scoop her. The kid collides with her legs. She looks down at her, utterly baffled. "Sorry, no, I'm someone else," she says in Valdemaran.

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"I missed you SO MUCH," the kid is declaring in Taldane. "I don't LIKE it here and I WANT TO GO HOME."

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She's speaking what.

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"You're - Lissa's friend -" Savil breaks off. Spins around. :Lancir, we have a -:

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:Yes. I heard it: Another older man in Whites ducks out of one of the bedrooms. He addresses the little girl in Mindspeech. :Pexa, this is your...mother...? Who is married to Leareth?:

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:Yes!: She's clinging happily to her mommy's legs and explaining about the explosion and the cat.

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For a moment all he can do is stand on the spot, making eye contact with Savil, frozen.

:...Invite her in and lock the door: he manages finally.

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:Er, yes, of course: Savil takes the new arrival by the arm and pulls her into the room and bolts the door behind her.

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Carissa takes a second to process this because she is so distracted by the fact she is being hugged by a Taldane-speaking child who insists Carissa is her mother. Only a second, though, then she flinches. 

"- I have never met this kid in my life," she says, "I don't know what's going on here, but -"

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"Mommy pick me UP!"

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"I am not your mother," she snaps in Taldane.

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- Pexa bursts into tears.

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...All right, fine, if this is a bluff it's a clever one, but now there's a wailing child in front of her, which is exactly what Savil DIDN'T want, and she's so incredibly confused.

:Van can you -:

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Vanyel still has no idea at all what's happening, though Yfandes is suddenly feeling very antsy in the back of his head, but he reaches in and scoops Pexa up again. :I, er, why don't we go sit in the bedroom again and I'll play a song for you...?:

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:Savil, shields:

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She can do shields, if he's going to do the talking; she's very happy with this division of labor.

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Lissa, who followed Carissa in, is staring around in bafflement.

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Pexa is resisting Van. "I want my mommy. I want my mommy." 

And she bites her ring, and suddenly she's - shielded so thoroughly no one can get within a foot of her physically or with magic, and also there's an alarm -

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"- I don't have kids," she says to Liss. "I'd think I'd know. Your friends can, uh, do a truth spell about it, if they'd like."

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Vanyel jumps back, knocked away by the sudden shields - so that's what the ring does - and staggers into the wall.

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Huh, she at least seems to speak Valdemaran. :Savil. Make sure she doesn't leave:

And he fixes his eyes on Carissa. :Do you know a man called Leareth:

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Well, shit. 

"...no?" she says, going for vaguely bewildered but less affronted by this than by the kid - but they have mindreaders - and she calls an invisible needle to her hand and tries to Teleport.

 

It's instantly visible to mage-sight, something very very powerful and very very intricate, blossoming at her fingertips, a second from snapping complete around her.

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Savil has been a Herald-Mage for more than forty years and her reflexes are correspondingly well-honed, and she's very much on edge. She instinctively rips at the forming spell - and then wrenches it away from the stranger and shoves up a shield because, on reflection, it seems like the sort of thing that might explode when broken -

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It does do that, at least if you break it like that! It blasts at her shield.

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Savil manages to hold off the explosion, just barely, but the force of it knocks her over and she lands hard on her bottom on the rug.

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It's been a long time since Lancir was last in combat of any kind, but he still has the reflexes. His eyes fly around the room. Savil: distracted, hopefully not injured, but not callable on right now. The child: safe, for the moment, if inexplicably so - is that shield Leareth's work, it's - terrifyingly good...

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Lissa: diving forward to shield Carissa with her own body, clearly not processing anything about the situation yet except for EXPLOSION.

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Vanyel: straightening up from the wall, blinking, disoriented, with the glazed look of someone receiving rapid Mindspeech from their Companion.

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Good. He has enough rapport with Van.

:Second-stage Truth spell: he barks. :Now. ...And shield the door:

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Vanyel feels like he's either about to throw up or pass out; Yfandes' voice cuts off in his head in response to the command, but until that second she was busy very very quickly catching up the fact that the child he's been babysitting is Leareth's toddler. What. How. Why.

- One thing at a time. What first. Shields. He can fling up an absurdly overpowered shield over the door, just from reserves, that takes half a second - he's had practice - and then he grits his teeth and concentrates and summons the little rhyme for the vrondi.

The blue halo settles over Carissa's hair. (Leareth's...wife...? Nevermind he is not going to try to work through that just yet.)

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"Van, wha...?"

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It's been a couple of seconds. Everything seems to have slowed down.

"Tell me why you came here," Lancir barks at the terrified woman - who is currently being protected by Vanyel's sister - what is going on ...?

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Carissa collapses tremblingly to the ground mostly for cover to fish the item Leareth gave her out of her pocket and snap it. While she's doing that she's - talking, which she didn't mean to, she was planning to act too distressed -

"To meet Savil for dinner."

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Savil, just starting to recover, clearly senses the powerful discharge of magic. :Lance -:

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:Not now:

"Do you know Leareth. How did you meet him."

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Their magic is doing something to her and she fights for - "Leareth the guy who recruits mercenaries in Ruvan? I wouldn't say I know him well but we've met? I think one of his staffers introduced me."

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Well, obviously anyone who worked for Leareth would be very good at evading Truth Spell. "Are you married to Leareth."

:Savil, check her for any mind-affecting magic...:

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Savil drags herself up, wincing, and forges across the room, mage-sight fully open, searching - are there any compulsions on the woman's mind...?

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"Am I what?? No!! Absolutely not!"

 

There is definitely a compulsion there, fairly complicated and elaborate.

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Savil is not, exactly, good at this, but she reaches for the woman - half-falling on top of her and Lissa in the process, she's still dizzy from being thrown into the wall while trying to shield whatever-exploded - and snaps the compulsion. It'll give the woman a headache, probably, but shouldn't cause any long term damage.

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"What did Leareth send you here for," Lancir snaps at her. (It's a gamble, she might in fact be nothing but a mercenary, but...the child knows her...nothing makes any sense...)

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"Decide if I - wanted to work for him. If he was lying about everything."

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Lissa is scrambling to sit up, her arms still protectively around Carissa. "Savil, what is going on -"

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"What work does he want you to do for him."

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"Enchanting magic items and reinventing Golarion spells."

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"...I, what - what are Golarion spells."

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"The kind of magic I know how to do. Magic as practiced in Golarion, where I am from."

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Lissa is still holding tightly onto Carissa. She whispers in her ear. "Do you - can you please tell me if you have any idea what's going on?"

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"I swear, I don't know who the kid is, I haven't done anything - they're mad at me, maybe because they have some grievance with Leareth? He's the kind of guy who might pick up grievances but I don't even work for him -"

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"Who is-" Lissa cuts herself off. Maybe this is the sort of situation that she had better stay out of. Except for making sure that anyone who wants to hurt Carissa has to get through her first.

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"Where is Golarion."

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"I don't know where it is relative to here, I was sent to this continent as a prisoner after I got in over my head in some stuff."

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"Are you Leareth's prisoner."

It...doesn't seem totally out of character for a foreign mage-warlord to keep someone prisoner and have a child with them. Though that still far from explains everything and Taver is hovering cryptically and not-saying something and Lancir just wants the world to make sense again.

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"I - don't think Leareth would..."

Vanyel trails off. There's probably nothing at all he can say, right now, that will make the situation better rather than worse. He's so confused.

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Pexa is sobbing on the ground, saying "I'm sorry I'm sorry I thought it was an emergency please come daddy".

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It's very distracting and she has a headache from the spell snapping. "I'm here and Leareth is somewhere very far away I don't know where," she points out. "I don't think i'm very his prisoner. I, uh, was?"

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"Did he send you to kill Vanyel."

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"What?"

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"...What - ?"

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:Van can you PLEASE do something about the screaming child -:

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"What? Of course not! Why would I want to do that. Also if I wanted to do that I'd have done it last night - I mean, I don't have the means, and I don't have a reason, and I didn't even consider it, but if I were, instead of being me with all my reasons not to do that, an assassin, then I would've done it last night - I don't think Leareth wants Vanyel dead -"

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For some reason that's the thing that puts Lancir the most off-balance. "...Why not? Why would Leareth not want Vanyel dead."

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(Vanyel is NOT SAYING ANYTHING and it feels to him at least that this is probably very conspicuous, but everyone else is so distracted. He ignores Savil asking him to do something about Pexa, what's he supposed to do, also he's busy shielding the door.)

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"I think Leareth doesn't like killing people," Carissa says. "Or torturing them. Even when they're defying him on purpose."

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"Don't - most people who aren't literally insane - not like torturing people?" Lancir says blankly. This is probably not a helpful question but he's at a loss for what would be.

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"I mean I think it's popular to hire out?" 

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Hire out to who, Lancir is thinking but doesn't say.

He takes a deep breath. "When is Leareth planning to invade Valdemar."

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"I don't know if he is going to do that."

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"What has he said to you about it."

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(aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah)

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"Said he wants to come up with something else."

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Lancir blinks again. Lifts a hand to rub his chin.

"...Why does he want to invade Valdemar? What's his, er, objective?"

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Carissa bites her tongue, hard, and then answers anyway, a bit garbled because she's also stuffing her hand over her mouth.

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"Say that again clearly, please."

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(Vanyel is involuntarily leaning forward, and also sort of crying at the same time.)

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Apparently 'please' was... literally just a request she is still physically capable of ignoring and keeping her hand in her mouth. And not swallowing any of the blood.

"Wansapplmillnbillgd."

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...All right, that is VERY CLEARLY deliberate evasion.

Lancir crosses the room to her and grabs both of her wrists, wrenching her hand out of her mouth. "Tell me. What Leareth's objective is."

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Lissa is so confused and upset and scared! "Lancir wha -"

He shushes her with a look.

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"He needs to kill a lot of people to build a better god."

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"What. How. How does that work."

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"Wh..." Vanyel does not quite manage to actually say a word.

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"You don't have an afterlife. You're just - gone - like you're asleep forever - all of you -"

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This gets a baffled look. Lancir's mouth moves, opens, closes -

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And then a glowing rectangle opens in the air directly in front of Carissa.

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And Nayoki shoves her head through and starts set-commanding anyone wearing Whites and within her field of vision to STAY STILL.

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:Carissa come through right now you have five seconds - what is happening -:

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:I have no idea but you should get the kid too - kid -: She runs through.

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Pexa is curled up sobbing on the ground and is being slow to react to the presence of a glowing rectangle. When Carissa moves she toddles to her feet and tries to follow.

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Fortunately Leareth is not slow to react to anything. :Nayoki get the kid -:

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Why is her day going like this.

:CROSS THE GATE: Nayoki shoves at the (adorable) little girl's mind - she can undo it in a moment -

- She sees a man raising his hand -

:STOP:

- a woman -

:STOP:

...

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Leareth is the one holding the Gate (he's the only one in his organization and probably the only one in the world who can Gate to an artifact he has a search-spell anchored on). Which is kind of a large risk to be taking, but he's not kidding about the five seconds.

He waits.

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The sobbing kid crosses the Gate. And sees him. And flings herself tearfully at him. "Daddy I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm so sorry," she says in Taldane. She is very obviously in a force field that's not going to let her get near him.

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Carissa collapses on the other side of the Gate and tries to hold still because she's pretty sure that no matter how tolerant of bad behavior Leareth is, he's going to, at present, be twitchy.

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Leareth - holds himself still very deliberately and does not react aggressively to the small child flinging herself at him.

Carissa: check. Kid: check.

The Gate snaps down.

:Are you hurt: Leareth barks to Carissa, who is very considerately holding still so he can orient.

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:Leareth should I -:

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Leareth already has both new arrivals pinned within a shield-barrier but why not. :Yes:

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:Stay where you are: Nayoki commands both of them.

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The tiny child's sobbing intensifies.

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I'm not hurt, Carissa thinks dimly at Leareth. They know about the god. They asked. With magic. In most circumstances she'd try to hide it, since he'll be scared and furious, but the tiny fraction of her brain still running thinks that with Leareth it'll be better not to make him waste time.

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Leareth is of course reading her mind right now and yes this reasoning process is correct and so he doesn't comment on it.

:What happened:

 

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:Explored. Eavesdropped. Made friends with - hooked up with - Van's sister. She wasn't suspicious, I read her mind. She took me to dinner with her aunt Savil and Van. The kid was there. Jumped on me. Said - in Taldane - "mommy! mommy I want to go home" They - inferred from this that I worked for you. Asked if we were married. I've never met the kid. They - exploded the teleport, did a compulsion, undid yours, asked - where you were, what you wanted, when you were going to invade Valdemar, what your objective was in invading.:

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:I see. Thank you:

Leareth looks down, at the small child. He - can't get through the mage-barrier around her. It's a very good mage-barrier. It looks like - his own work...

...better than his own work, in fact, it looks exactly like his own work except with another decade's progress...

And, whether or not it looks like a spell he cast, he can't take it down.

:Relax: he tells the little girl who keeps trying to run at him and failing. :You are safe. ...Can you tell me what just befell you?:

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:I thought it was a real emergency I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry:

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:...You need not be sorry: Leareth says, half on automatic. :What did you think was an emergency?:

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:Mommy said she's not my mommy and she doesn't love me!:

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:- Who is your mommy?:

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Pexa thinks he is being VERY DENSE. Her mommy is right here. Kneeling on the floor and bleeding from the mouth, which causes Pexa to burst into tears again but at least her daddy is right here and can fix it.

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Leareth is, of course, reading the child's mind, she's very easy to read despite her highly impressive shields.

...He can't instantaneously remedy Carissa's bleeding, actually, but he's already summoned a Healer to the room, who arrives ten seconds later and, after a glance at Leareth, tries to rest her hand on Carissa's shoulder.

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Pexa thinks that actually he can instantly remedy Queen Carissa bleeding but maybe he had to do it too many times today already and so did Queen Carissa? Pexa is more distressed that he cannot hug her even while she is shielded by her emergency ring, usually he can do that and he is the ONLY ONE who can and she would really like a hug. People were yelling earlier and there was an explosion and a man attacked her mommy and it was very scary and she bit the emergency ring and he DIDN'T COME and she thought that he was mad at her for biting it when there wasn't a real emergency and so he was never ever ever going to come again. But if it was a real emergency and she is not in trouble then she should get a hug.

 

She collapses on the floor to cry about this.

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Carissa is unable to move, which makes resting a hand on her shoulder easy. She's uninjured except that she bit her tongue very hard and it's bleeding and she's too set-commanded to do much about this.

She's very very scared. 

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:- What do you know about the little girl?: Leareth asks Carissa in Mindspeech.

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:She's speaking Taldane and she thinks I'm her mom. I'm not her mom.:

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:I - gathered that - since she seems to think I am her father and - I am really definitely not...?: Leareth takes a breath. :Did the Heralds get enough from you that they will be able to come after us here:

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:Didn't give them a location. They could do the hair thing, maybe, if they got a hair. My suitcase is still at Liss's place.:

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Nod. :I - do not think the Heralds know that particular search spell anyway. You did as well as you could and I am not upset or angry with you - I am just - very confused...:

Leareth fixes his attention on the artifact-shield over the small child, the one that looks vaguely like it's his work, trying to gauge how long it'll last by itself and whether he can bring it down early or work around it.

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It looks like it only has a couple more minutes in it. He could try to hammer it with enough force to bring down early but that'd be hard to calibrate, and - it looks like there's also something Aspexia could do on her end, to.... (no one else in the world would stand a chance at understanding this artifact), oh, she could retract the physical shield a bit and then hold out the ring to him and then he could put pressure on the spell in the right place...

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The little girl is currently wailing on the floor, which makes this difficult, but there's not much else Leareth can do in this moment.

He kneels in front of her. Extends his hand. :Hold out your ring toward me?: he offers.

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She does this.

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...The spell looks so familiar.

Leareth reaches out with his mage-gift and tries to press against it in just the right place - the trigger-point he would have put there, to shut it down...

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It stops.

 

 

The toddler flops into his arms and clings and sobs even more intensely. 

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- Leareth will hug the toddler back. It seems like the best way to make her be QUIET.

:- We need to evacuate this base: he sends a moment later, to Carissa and Nayoki and his other mages. :Just in case I am wrong and the Heralds do have a way of following us. ...Carissa, you need not do anything, I am just alerting you:

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Nayoki nods and then turns to Mindspeak orders to his other staff.

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Carissa cannot do anything because she's set-commanded.

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The tiny child retreats from full on yelling to quiet hiccuping sobs and clings very clingily. Her thoughts are mostly about how she wants her daddy King Leareth to take her back to her playroom and explain everything so it's not scary.

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:Everything is all right: Leareth tells the toddler who inexplicably thinks that...he's her father -? :You are not in any danger and I am not angry with you:

People move around him. He snaps out occasional extra Mindspeech orders to Nayoki.

:- Oh. Carissa, what should we grab from your room, if we are evacuating...?:

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:You had copies of my notes. I have a basket with notes and in-progress projects, on my desk.: Her knees are starting to hurt because she can't shift her weight at all to relieve them but this actually feels appropriate, somehow, in an odd sense safer than it'd feel to be free to go. She's still very scared but it's not attached to any specific predictions; if he doesn't think she could've done much better then it still doesn't make sense to kill her, and...she also doesn't think she could've done much better. How could she have predicted this.

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:Thank you: And since it would seem especially bad for the Heralds to obtain Carissa's notes, not that Leareth thinks it's likely they'll be able to find this base at all but still, he orders that her desk be cleared and moved out along with all the other sensitive work in progress.

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And less than five minutes later there's a Gate, glowing not far away, and Nayoki is taking Carissa's hand.

:Come with me: she sends - it's not quite undoing the set-command but it routes around it somehow, and Carissa will find herself able to obey.

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She walks through the Gate.

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There's a blur of movement on either side of her, and then eventually Nayoki's eyes staring into hers, her hands on Carissa's shoulders.

:Clear: she tells Leareth.

A moment later, to Carissa, :I am going to take off the set-command now:

This takes substantially longer than it took to place it, and feels very weird, but eventually Carissa's vision stops trying to show the corners of everything melting, and she finds herself in a different underground stone chamber, this one quite big with a higher, echoing ceiling.

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Leareth leans against the wall, shooting occasional Mindspeech directions to his staff as they carry boxes of evacuated supplies to new storage locations, and hugs the little girl still in his arms.

He's so confused.

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Well. She's picked her side, now. She tries to - control her expectations. Obviously there won't be an excursion like that again. That's fine. She doesn't need that. Probably Leareth will be some odd Leareth-emotion, instead of angry, but if he is angry, he still won't kill her. She's not very sure what he might do instead. She hasn't seen him angry and that's itself a bit scary now that she thinks about it. 

"Thank you," she says to Nayoki.

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Pexa's daddy came and so now everything is okay. She hugs him a lot and waits for him to explain what's going on.

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Leareth is reading both of their minds, right now, and - he really wishes he could reassure the child, and reassure Carissa though he's much less sure that's even possible.

He's suddenly very tired. :We should be safe here no matter what resources they have: he tells Carissa, and then slides down and sits against the wall beside her, the child still in his arms. :I - wish I understood what is happening here... I do not, at all:

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:I don't either. I - she speaks Taldane -: 

"What's your name?" she asks the kid.

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Her mommy is being very silly. "Princess Dierne Aspexia Iomedae."

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" - princess of what."

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"Cheliax."

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"Oh.

 

 

Who's in charge of Cheliax."

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"You! And my daddy King Leareth."

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"What - year. Is it."

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Pexa does not know this! "Where's White, I want White."

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"Who's White."

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"My cat!"

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"...not here right now."

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Leareth doesn't speak Taldane.

:Do you know how your mommy and daddy came to be the rulers of Cheliax?: he asks the child in his arms.

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:There were mean people in charge of Cheliax so my daddy and Aroden, who is also a my daddy, fought them. And they won, because they are the bestest.:

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Leareth turns to look at Carissa, wondering if she's as baffled as he is. He includes her in his Mindspeech answer. :What do you mean, Aroden is also your daddy. ...Also, is Aroden not dead:

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:There are lots of my daddy. Ma'ar is also a my daddy and Tadesse is also a my daddy.:

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What.

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:...I see: Leareth manages finally, long seconds later.

(He really, really doesn't.) 

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Of course he does, he's very smart and knows all this already. :I want to go home.:

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:I know: Leareth tells her. This is not even technically a lie.

He takes a deep breath. :Carissa. Did...you know. What she said, about Aroden...? She mentioned Ma'ar. That - that was my first name. The one my mother gave me, in my first life:

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:Aroden's the god who died a hundred years ago. He's  - definitely dead - his clerics stopped getting spells and everything. The paladins of Iomedae thought so too and Iomedae was His closest ally.:

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:Yes. I thought I was recalling the name correctly...:

Leareth tries to look into the toddler's eyes. :Do you know if people in Cheliax thought that Aroden was dead, at one point?:

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:Aroden is a god, so he lives in Axls where dead people go, but He is watching over us and keeping us safe.:

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:Of course. ...Is there any chance that you know what year it is, currently, in Cheliax:

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Pexa continues to have no idea what year it is. She sits herself on Leareth's lap and flops against his chest.

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If he tries to put her down she’s probably going to start crying again. Instead he - pats her, tentatively.

:...Are your mommy and daddy friends with kings or queens of other countries?: he finally thinks to ask, though this will only be informative at all if Carissa also recognizes the names.

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:My daddy is friends with the pharaoh of Sirion.: Pexa is not sure why her daddy is asking her questions about himself but maybe it is a game.

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:Mmmhmm. Can you tell me his name?: Poor kid. Leareth feels strongly like he’s  LYING to her, which seems unfair, but the truth is...probably too weird for her to actually follow, as well as upsetting. And it’s not as though Leareth himself knows what’s happening or why, to explain to her.

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Shrug.

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And now he's out of ideas again. Leareth closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall, listening to the sound of footsteps and hastily-evacuated crates of supplies being dragged into temporary new locations.

He gathers his thoughts. This...doesn't help that much.

:...Vanyel was there?: he sends finally to Carissa. :Would he have heard them questioning you and your answers?:

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:Yes.:

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He sighs. :No sign of any pursuit yet - I was not really expecting it, most likely they are still scrambling to remove set-commands from everyone Nayoki trapped. I think we should go through exactly what questions they asked you and what answers you gave, though. Second stage Truth spell, I am guessing, and they must have noticed the compulsion fighting it and known to undo it...:

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:They - snapped it, I think? My head was ringing. I... will try to remember the questions but it was hectic, do you have some way to not rely on my memory...:

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:I do not have a way to - directly replay it or anything, no, but Nayoki can read your mind and probably do better at getting everything, I can call her over:

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She is very curious what the thing Nayoki did is but she doesn't at all need to know. She nods.

 

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Nayoki arrives a minute later, sits down, and walks Carissa through what was really only a two-minute period, though it certainly felt longer. A few times it's noticeable that she's doing something in Carissa's head, making memories suddenly and vividly jump to mind, not always the right memories but she corrects herself.

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Leareth lets the toddler snuggle on his lap, eyes staring into the distance.

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"Savil and Lissa and an old man and Vanyel and the kid were there. The kid jumped on me. I was telling her I'm not her mother, and they - pulled me in and locked the door. I told them, there must be some confusion, I'm not her mother. The old man asked, do you know Leareth. I said no, and tried to activate the Teleport; Savil intervened instantly, in some fashion that exploded it, knocked her backwards, Lissa jumped to protect me, I activated the item to call you. The old man said, do you know Leareth, and this time there was mind control, so I said, Leareth who sometimes recruits mercenaries in Ruvan? I wouldn't say I know him as a person but we've met. The man said, are you married to him, I said no. The man said, are you his prisoner, I said, uh, not exactly, I'm here - I was his prisoner, though - he asked when you were invading Valdemar. I said I didn't know whether you were going to do that. He asked, um, I think he next asked whether I was sent to kill Vanyel. I said no, and if I had been I'd had a chance the night before, but I was definitely not here to do that, and I didn't think you even wanted Vanyel to die. He asked why you wouldn't want Vanyel to die. I said that you have some kind of personal preference not to kill people, or torture them, even when they're defying you. He, uh, asked whether it was true that that's a preference almost everybody has. I said I think lots of people prefer to outsource it? He asked where you were, I said I didn't know. He asked what your objective was in invading Valdemar, I bit my tongue and stuffed my hand in my mouth. He told me to repeat myself clearly but I didn't actually have to and I didn't. He jumped at me and pulled my hands clear and asked again. I told him you needed to kill a lot of people to build a god. He asked - why you'd do that, or something like that, and I said that they didn't have any afterlife and died forever when they died. They all kind of - weren't sure what to ask, at that point, and then you showed up."

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Nayoki notes some of this down. Neither she nor Leareth seem angry with Carissa, at all; Nayoki just looks stressed and Leareth seems preoccupied.

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:So I think the only significant strategic information they gained was about the god. Which is - not ideal, obviously, but it is also - less time-sensitive than it could be: Sigh. :...I suppose I am curious now to hear what you learned before this befell you. What do you think of Heralds?: A pause. :Of Vanyel:

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Objectively if she thinks about it there's no point punishing people for something they couldn't reasonably have avoided and the reason to punish them anyway is that there's also little reason not to and it's not really worth determining whether they could've reasonably avoided it or not. But Leareth already has to pay attention to this, so.

 

She stares at the wall. "If the kid told them you're her father - then the actions of the Heralds all make sense. The kid herself still does not make sense, but - they thought they had your toddler, then she declared I was her mother, so they tried to arrest me.....

 

Vanyel seems very very sad all the time and I'm not sure how you manage to have conversations with him, he didn't seem at all like he liked...talking. Liss thinks being a Herald is bad for him, and said he never wanted it. The other heralds seem...all right, I guess? In their place would have rendered me unconscious on the spot before indicating any suspicion and then searched me for the artifacts, but in their defense I think they were off duty and they can't have been expecting this and maybe they tried something and it didn't work because I'm a third-circle caster not a random person...I think you're right that people don't have any reason to believe there's an afterlife though I want to reinvent scrying and confirm it. 

 

Haven was poor. Compared to Cheliax."

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Leareth listens calmly to all of this.

"- That sounds right," he says finally. "About Vanyel, I mean. He is very sad and he did not want to be a Herald, he - was steered into it by some Power. I think he puts a great deal of effort into our conversations, but, yes, I do also have the impression he does not like it." He sighs again. "I expect I will end up speaking to him in the dream soon enough, and perhaps find out more about what happened."

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Nod. "Oh. He, uh, defended you, sort of, at one point, the old man asked if if we were married and then he asked if I was your prisoner and Vanyel was like "I don't think Leareth would -""

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Leareth blinks. "Hmm. He did not think I would what, marry my prisoner? Have a child with my prisoner?"

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"I think so? I don't know why he thought you wouldn't aside from that it'd be hard to think of a strategic justification?"

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"I am not sure either, I have not exactly tried to present him with a positive slant on myself and my actions, and I thought he was upset with me after our last conversation. We had a fight about ethics."

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"Maybe he was just referring to the thing where all your staff agrees you have no personal life. What'd you - fight about? The invading his country?"

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"I cannot think that Vanyel has much information on my personal life or lack thereof! Perhaps I somehow convey that impression in my manner, though. We fought about blood-magic - in the abstract, he was not aware of my plan. He thought that killing innocents was a line that he would never cross. I brought up some examples from one of the best-known Heraldic textbooks on ethics, to try to show that this position was not really consistent with how Heralds are willing to act in practice."

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Carissa looks like someone who has not particularly encountered the position one should be unwilling to kill innocents. "Huh."

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"Anyway. I...am really not sure what to do with the small child who thinks we are her parents. I ought really - tell her that we are not - but I expect quite a lot of wailing." Conveniently, Princess Dierne Aspexia Iomedae does not speak Valdemaran.

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"...yeah." Sigh. "I guess I'd explain to her that no one loves her and yelling will make things worse for her and she should work on being cute instead? I think she's old enough she'd better know that."

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"I am not very inclined to say that to her! ...Also I am still confused, I have been reading her mind and she is - not lying about remembering us as her parents. I - am beginning to wonder if there is more than one Golarion, somehow." He drags a hand over his face. "And if hers is - well, very very surprising and strange."

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"Even if there were more than one Golarion, you're not from Golarion."

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"- Maybe there is a different Velgarth where instead of kidnapping you and dropping you here to solve the problem, Nefreti grabbed me? ...Or maybe time travel is possible, that is also occurring to me, but that would require us - deciding to get married and conquer Cheliax together. Which I must admit was not among my top ten plans for going forward."

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"I don't know much about your capabilities here but I don't especially think you could do it, Hell has more resources than you. Also even if you did do it and were then in charge of Cheliax you'd want to marry, uh, an appropriately placed noble, not a random deserter from the army. Also if Aroden's not dead then - that's not the world I grew up in -"

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"That too. ...Also apparently Aroden is me, in her world, whatever that means! I am so incredibly confused and I dislike it."

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"I'm sorry."

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Princess Dierne Aspexia Iomedae has fallen asleep on Leareth.

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She's probably had a tiring day. Leareth will...try to get up, very cautiously, without waking her, and find an available bedroom to put her to bed in. This is not what he expected his day to look like.

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She wakes up while being put down to bed and makes a small sad sound. "I want to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed tonight," she objects. 

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Leareth continues to not speak Taldane, but he can pick up her meaning from surface thoughts.

:It is not your mommy and daddy's bedtime yet. I can stay here until you fall asleep though.: What sorts of things do children usually do at bedtime. :I can sing you a song?: Leareth isn't an amazing singer by any stretch of the imagination but he knows some ballads.

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:I want the Windrider. And you should do magic stars on the ceiling. And you should fix my ring so I'm safe if there's another emergency.:

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:Yes, of course: Interesting that she knows the Windrider Cycle - and fortunate, it's the most popular Valdemaran song cycle and Leareth actually know a couple of the songs from it well enough to probably sing all the way through.

He makes an illusion of stars on the ceiling of the random guest bedroom, and then looks at her ring and tries to determine if it's actually fixable or if he should...what, lie to her and said he did? That seems kind of mean and unfair, but it's going to be hard to explain to her why she's safe here.

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It is fixable. She may be in the habit of activating it at least once a week.

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Leareth puts it back to the way it was, this time keying the alarm to himself - somewhat reluctantly, it's going to be very annoying if she decides that needing a glass of water in the middle of the night is an emergency, but he would, at this point, feel moderately bad if anything else happened to her.

He sits on the side of the bed and sings 'Windrider Unchained', only needing to mumble through words he can't remember on a couple of the verses.

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She falls back asleep pretty promptly.

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Leareth puts wards and a sound-barrier on the room and flees before she has a chance to wake up. He briefly scries the facility they recently evacuated - still no sign of any Heralds tracking their Gate to it - and then looks around for Carissa.

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She hasn't gone anywhere. She doesn't know where her new bedroom is and she assumes Leareth will want to replace his compulsions.

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Leareth doesn't know where he's sleeping either, yet. He's so tired.

:Well: he sends, :does this - recent adventure, update your trust in me? I think it is probably unnecessary to place a compulsion preventing you from leaving, in any case, though I would like to put back the standard secrecy one that all of my staff here have:

(He reads her mind to gauge her response to this.)

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- right, the trip was purportedly about her trusting him.

 

She - didn't get the chance to ask even half the questions she had, but -

 - I don't want everyone to die forever and I'll work with you on that. And not try things, except insofar as it'd be really useful if I had fourth-circle spells and I need to be in some danger, to get that. 

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Leareth nods, looking reluctant but thoughtful. :I will consider ways we could put you in a - calibrated amount of danger that I would find tolerable: He smiles very slightly. :Maybe I will have to send you on some other important secret mission:

He redoes the secrecy compulsion. It doesn't feel like anything, to Carissa.

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And she has no way of knowing what it does, but - well, she's picked her side. She closes her eyes. "Have I been assigned a room?"

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"We do not exactly have a system set up for assigning new rooms yet but there ought be more than enough, I can show you where."

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"Thank you." 

 

Once shown to a room she pulls her blankets over her head and gets her shivering for no reason over with and then tries to come up with a research plan and falls asleep when she's barely started.

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Leareth paces back and forth in the hall for a while, stressed and uneasy and not quite able to point it in a productive direction. Eventually he goes to bed as well.

...And, not very surprisingly, finds himself in an icy wasteland, looking out across the snow at a silver-haired man in Whites - Vanyel, as Foresight thinks he'll look in ten or twenty years.

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"What was that about."

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Vanyel takes a deep breath, and forges out of the mouth of the pass, crossing the distance between them. "No, I'm serious, I think you owe me an explanation. Did you...lose your toddler."

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Leareth takes a deep breath. "Herald Vanyel. I - will do my best to explain what I know of the situation, but I am afraid some aspects of it are just as much a mystery to myself as they are to you."

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"What. That doesn't..." Vanyel trails off. Shakes himself. "Are you seriously planning to make a god? By murdering lots of people?"

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"- It has been my front-line plan, yes, Carissa was answering the question honestly."

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"Are you actually insane."

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Leareth sighs. "Explaining my reasoning here would take a very, very long time. I - had thought to maybe tell you eventually, but there is a great deal of context I had wanted to cover first and I cannot do all of that tonight. In any case, I am hoping to find a better option, now, since Carissa brings magic from another world."

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Vanyel is clenching his hands in front of them but this doesn't quite hide the trembling. "So you're claiming she's really from another world."

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"Yes."

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"And the little girl? She was talking about somewhere called Cheliax, apparently, and permanent Gates - she kept acting like she knew me..."

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"- What?"

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"Oh, did you not get that part? She climbed right on me and wanted me to sing her songs and kept asking me where her parents were. And apparently said I was her daddy's 'bestest friend' or something."

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"Really."

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"Yes! Really! Trust me it doesn't make any more sense to me either!"

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"Well, it cannot possibly be stranger than the fact that she claims I conquered the country in Carissa's world that used to belong to the god of Hell. Or that there is - another me?? - who is a god. ...A god who died a century ago, according to Carissa."

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Vanyel just blinks helplessly at Leareth for a moment. And then sits down on his bottom in the snow. "Why does nothing make sense."

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"I know right. I keep almost wondering if I am dreaming - well, I know I am dreaming, but I would wonder if I were - dreaming having this dream, you know what I mean..."

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Vanyel tries to stifle a nervous giggle and starts coughing. "Anyway," he says when he recovers, "if you're claiming she isn't your daughter, why did you grab her?"

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"Carissa called for help and when I attempted to retrieve her, she suggested I ought to get the child as well."

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Vanyel still looks very dubious.

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"Look, I really did not have a child with my wizard prisoner from another world, and I definitely did not conquer Cheliax alongside her and then introduce our daughter to you as my 'bestest friend.'"

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Vanyel sags back against the snow. "Right. That part makes the least sense." He drops his head into both hands.

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"I ought extend an apology to the Heralds, for the set-commands."

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"Shouldn't you apologize to your prisoner for putting compulsions on her?"

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"She agreed to that for the mission. ...I will admit that prior to this I did have some that she had not agreed to in place, but - it was very fraught at first, she was still loyal to her torture god of Hell and wanted to report the existence of Velgarth to Him, which would have been very very bad."

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Vanyel lifts his head and blinks at Leareth. "You're - really not doing a good job of making this sound plausible at all."

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"I...apologize that reality is currently behaving in such implausible ways?"

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Vanyel scowls at him. "It's not funny. Everyone's so upset and mad about it, I - I don't know what they're going to do..." Vanyel thinks a moment later that possibly this isn't a thing he should be saying to Leareth, but then again, it's not like Leareth can possibly be surprised by it. "I can't believe you sent a spy to seduce my sister! Her feelings are really hurt, you know."

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"I did not instruct her to do that! She decided to on her own initiative."

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"Well, I think that at least one of you owes her an apology!"

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Leareth blinks. "I - will convey that. Though I doubt Carissa will feel bad about it at all."

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"Why are you like this."

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Leareth has no idea how to answer that, for one it's not like he made any of this happen on purpose, and also it seems like mostly a rhetorical question.

"...I would be open to communications with the Heralds," he says finally. "Since some things are much more in the open now. I am guessing you told them about our conversations?"

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"Groveborn did," Vanyel says dully. "I'd, er, already told him at the start."

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"I see."

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"Look, it's not like you told me not to, or like I'd've had any reason to listen if you did!"

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"...I am not claiming either of those things, Herald Vanyel." Leareth reminds himself that Vanyel must be incredibly overwhelmed and stressed right now.

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Vanyel doesn't answer.

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Sigh. "I am sorry for putting you through so much stress. I did not do it deliberately. Anyway, if the Heralds wish to speak with my people, they can send a diplomatic envoy north to the town of Westmark; I can keep a lookout on that area."

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"What, so you can kidnap them?" Vanyel says waspishly.

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"No. I - realize it is difficult to credibly promise that, though. I will think about what to do." They must be almost out of time in the dream.

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This is maybe a good thing, because Vanyel looks like he's on the edge of bursting into tears from sheer overwhelm.

"Did the little girl ever stop wailing," he says flatly. "Don't figure you'd like that."

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"Oh, yes, she calmed down when I snuggled her and sang her a song."

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"...You what?"

Behind them the sky is starting to come apart.

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"I do know some songs, Herald Vanyel. She requested the Windrider Cycle."

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Vanyel is still kind of boggling at the mental image of Leareth snuggling a toddler who supposedly isn't even his toddler and just thinks she is for some reason. He doesn't answer.

The dream ends. It's not until after Vanyel is awake that he realizes he didn't even ask Leareth what his theories were for the discrepancy there. Is time travel possible?

...That's a very distressing thought actually and he not-thinks it as hard as possible, and takes notes, and eventually goes back to sleep.

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Leareth wakes up, groans, rolls over, and checks the wards on Pexa's room from a distance to make sure she's not screaming in there or something.

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She appears to have fallen or gotten out of bed and is banging forlornly on the door.

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Leareth groans again, but levers himself out of bed and heads down the hall to open her door. He's not very sleepy right now anyway.

:Are you all right?:

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:Daddy! The doorknob wouldn't turn!: She wraps her arms around his legs.

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:I am sorry. Can we get you back to bed now?: He sighs and bends to pick her up.

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:I wanna sleep in you and mommy's bed tonight. It was a real emergency and I need soooooo many hugs.:

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Leareth blearily considers his options. He desperately doesn't want to deal with her inevitable dissolving into tears when he tells her how lost she is, not right now in the middle of the night, and - probably putting compulsions on the small child will just traumatize her even more...

:Your mommy went somewhere else for a bit but you can sleep in my bed, I suppose: he says wearily. :If you think you can be quiet and not squirm: This seems like the plan that results in the shortest interval before he gets to be back asleep, albeit also one that will probably mean being woken again later.

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:I can be quiet and not squirm!:

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Leareth carries her down the hall to his newly-acquired bedroom and plops her into the bed and then lays down as well. :Now can you sleep?:

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She hugs him very tightly. :Do the ceiling with stars?:

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Leareth is almost too drowsy to manage an illusion, but he wakes himself up enough to put stars on the ceiling again, and then he pulls the covers over himself and incidentally the very clingy toddler, and closes his eyes.

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The very clingy toddler wiggles, and chatters to herself softly in Taldane, and within ten minutes is fast asleep.

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Leareth had a very long day, and very interrupted sleep, and is tired enough that he'll probably sleep through a moderate amount of wiggling and chatter, and stay asleep until mid-morning unless Pexa is very determined to discourage this. The stars fade out after a candlemark and it stays pretty dark in the room even once it's daylight outside; they're underground.

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Pexa also had a long day, but she still wakes up ahead of her daddy, and fixes this by poking him in the tummy and singing 'wake up wake up'.

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This is very startling and Leareth is sitting up and raising shields half a second before he's properly awake and remembers why there is a small child in his bed. :Sorry: he says. :I am awake: This part is kiiiind of a grumble.

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:Are we going home today?:

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:No. Sorry: He yawns and stretches, not feeling entirely rested. Why did he let the toddler in his bed again, oh right, he was half asleep at the time and not thinking things through at ALL.

He briefly considers turfing her back into the other bedroom and trying to sleep more, but that will probably result in wailing and - well, it's not Pexa's fault that reality has stopped making any sense, she's going to be just as confused as he is and more upset about it.

:I need to explain some things: he admits. :Breakfast first, though:

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:I want to pray with you! I thought of my things already.:

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What.

:Pray to who?: he says, blankly, he's not alert enough yet to play guessing games about this.

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:Abadar. My things are, I want to fly and I want it a MILLION. I want to go home and I want it a BILLION. And I want White and I want White a BILLION AND BACK.:

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:- I see: Abadar. The god of wealth and trade. He supposes it's not completely unimaginable that some other version of him would end up approving of Abadar enough to literally pray to Him. :I do not have time right now, can you pray by yourself today?:

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Pexa thinks this is weird, her daddy never doesn't pray, but she sits cross legged in the corner and repeats what she just told him out loud, in Taldane, and rocks back and forth impatiently, and then pops back to her feet.

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He takes her down the hall to the cafeteria, where a number of confused and stressed staff are talking quietly or in Mindspeech, and gets her a plate of food grabbed at random, which he plunks down on a table. :Here, breakfast:

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She eats breakfast until she sees Carissa, and then runs over to give her a hug. "Mommy!"

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"I'm still not your mom."

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"I want you to be my mom again."

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"Do you have, uh, nursemaids, who mostly play with you?"

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"Yeah."

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"Well, we can probably get you those here, too, all right? And then they can tell me how you're doing, and I can be proud of you."

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Pexa seems to find this at least moderately reassuring. "I want White."

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"Well, maybe we can also get you a cat."

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"Another cat?"

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"Well, it won't be the same cat, so yeah."

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"Then I'll have two cats!"

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"Look, kiddo, I think you need to be - more careful, all right? I think you shouldn't tell people who your mommy and daddy are, and you shouldn't call us mommy and daddy if we're around people who don't know."

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"Why?"

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"Well, some people don't like your daddy, so if they know he's your daddy, they'll hurt you."

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"They can't hurt me because I have my emergency ring and my bracelet and my necklace."

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"I don't think any of those would stop you from drowning if someone dumped you in a lake! And anyway if they don't know who you are they won't know from what direction to expect a rescue, so one will be easier."

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Sigh.

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Leareth still can't understand the words but was able to follow the approximate gist of it by Thoughtsensing both of them. He sighs. :Sorry. Thank you for - trying, with her. I...am not sure what to do with her. She was banging forlornly in the door in the middle of the night and somehow convinced me to let her sleep in my bed, and then she startled me and I - could have hurt her...: He lets out his breath. :I thought probably we should just tell her we are not her parents rather than - pretending forever, but I expect quite a lot of crying, and delaying it does not make me feel any readier for that:

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:I wish I knew what was actually going on.:

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:So do I. This - would feel like interference, of some sort, except it is so bizarre that I cannot even think what the goal would be! ...I spoke to Vanyel last night. He was - mostly confused, as one would imagine. Also rather offended that you seduced his sister in order to spy on him:

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:It's really confusing! Also I didn't even know she was Vanyel's sister specifically, just that she knew Heralds and was in their military.:

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:That is fair. She was not a bad pick. ...And a lucky find, if you ran into her by accident: Now Leareth is wondering how suspicious he ought to be about that. 

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:She was in the first bar I went to. Not the first person I talked to but I met her within an hour, I'd think.: Carissa sounds very unapologetic. :I like her.:

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Leareth nods. :Anyway, I told Vanyel I would be willing to talk to the Heralds, since the god plan is - no longer a secret, but I am unsure if or when they would be willing to take me up. I will worry about that later. For now, I...think I had better tell the child that I am not the same Leareth who is her father. At least she is for some reason apparently familiar with there being more than one of me:

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:That makes sense. And then you should hire some people to watch her. Or reassign some people, I guess.:

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Leareth nods. He turns back toward Pexa. :Are you done with breakfast?: he asks her.

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:Yes. Where's Tia, I want to go flying.:

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From context, a person she knows, maybe one of her minders, possibly a wizard?

:Tia is not here: he says apologetically, taking her hand and tugging her out of the dining hall; if there's going to be wailing he would prefer not to distract everyone else with it too. :I - need to explain something to you, all right? It is a bit complicated so I want you to listen carefully:

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:I'm listening.:

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:You know how there is more than one of your daddy, there is also Ma'ar and Aroden and...: He's forgotten the other name, it wasn't one he recognized.

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:Tadesse!:

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:Yes, thank you: He takes a deep breath. :Well, I am Leareth, but I am - not the same Leareth as your daddy, and Carissa is not the same Carissa as your mommy. We think probably you are lost here and come from a different world. I am of course going to keep you safe anyway:

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:Tadasse and Ma'ar don't look the same as my daddy. You look the same as my daddy because you are my daddy.:

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Sigh. :I know it is very confusing, but - I do not remember ever meeting you before yesterday. Vanyel also did not recognize you and was confused.:

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:You forgot me???:

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:No, I think I am a Leareth from a different world who did not marry your mother or end up being King of Cheliax or have you. I will take care of you for the other Leareth who is your daddy, though, and maybe he can come find you: Leareth can certainly imagine that he would be a LOT more motivated to search for another world if his child were lost there.

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Pexa considers it for a while. 

 

:Why didn't you marry my mommy and have me?:

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:In this world, I only met Carissa a few months ago and we do not have - that sort of relationship. ...Do you know why your mommy and daddy had you? My guess is that they needed an heir to Cheliax, but since I am not King, I do not need that:

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:Why aren't you King?:

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:...I suppose I am sort of like a King, but not of Cheliax, I have never even been there. Your daddy was not always the King of Cheliax, right?:

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:He and Aroden fought a war to free it from bad people.:

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:Right. Well, in my world that has not happened yet: Maybe he won't mention the part where Aroden is dead, it seems like the sort of thing that would upset a small child.

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:...so you are gonna marry my mommy and free Cheliax and become King, but you haven't done it yet?:

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:I - suppose it is not impossible that in the future I was going to do those things, but I was very surprised to hear about any of it:

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:I think you should because I make you very happy and mommy makes you very happy.:

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:Mmm: It would have to seem so perfectly logical, to a child her age, and Leareth is much less sure than he was five minutes ago that he even can explain it. :The other Leareth who is your daddy might come looking for you, if he is somewhere else. But I will keep you safe in the meantime, and...well, we will see what happens:

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:Okay. Mommy said I can have two cats?:

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...Probably getting her to stop calling poor Carissa her mommy is a lost cause, Leareth thinks. :Yes, of course, you can have two cats. And some new nursemaids to play with you: He should maybe try to find out if any of his other people have children her age and would be willing to relocate.

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:I want a spotted cat and a black cat.:

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Leareth has no idea what his cat procurement resources are, to be honest, but it's a very reasonable request, and at least she isn't screaming on the floor that he find her real parents again right now. :All right. And do you like your bedroom here or would you prefer a different one?:

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:I want a bedroom where the door is not stuck.:

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Sigh. :I can fix the door but you must not go wandering around by yourself at night, all right? I can give you a bell-cord to call for someone if you need anything:

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:I will take the cats with me.:

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:I think that still counts as by yourself. There are some rooms here that are dangerous. Maybe I ought find you a suite with two rooms and a nursemaid to sleep in one of them: He hopes she doesn't make a habit of being awake in the middle of the night, it seems exhausting.

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:I guess.: 

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Leareth looks into her eyes. :I am sorry this is happening. I know it is very confusing:

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Bounce bounce. :It's okay!:

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Leareth has a feeling she has not, actually, absorbed the news he attempted to share with her, but this is as hard as he's willing to try for the moment. :I am glad. Do you think you can play by yourself for a little while until I find someone else who can play with you? I am very busy:

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:I knowwwww. I can play by myself.:

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Then Leareth will drop her back off in the cafeteria, where he can alert some of his staff that it would be good if there were ambient adult supervision, he doesn't know how much trouble three-years-olds can get themselves into if left unwatched.

He hunts around for an unused room to take over as a temporary office, and sits down heavily, resting his head in his hands.

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:Love you Daddy: Pexa says cheerfully, and wanders about the cafeteria exploring.

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Sigh. No, it doesn't seem like she's absorbed all of it, though at least she seems not to expect to go home to Cheliax and maybe will stop assuming he's married to Carissa of all people.

(What. Presumably if it's really another version of the same Carissa, then she's...not Asmodean anymore...but still.)

Leareth arranges a recruiting call among his staff for anyone interested in looking after a toddler - he can explain the full complexity later once he has candidates - and he asks Nayoki to please figure out how to obtain two cats for Pexa as per her request, and he reviews the floorplan for suitable rooms. There aren't really any that are unoccupied. Maybe he'll leave her where she is tonight with someone else camped out, and they can deal with it if and when it makes sense to relocate back to the research base, which he likes much better.

He checks in on whether there's any movement from the Heralds or an envoy in the north; there is not.

Eventually, somewhat caught up and feeling more exhausted than ever, he goes to see how Carissa is doing.

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She's in the Work Room having burned her spells for the day on explosions which she's now taking notes on in the hope that tomorrow she can try a better variant. She nods at him. "Leareth."

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He returns the nod. "I tried to explain things to the girl. She - sort of seems to follow that in this world, you and I are not married and I am not King of Cheliax, but I think she is still convinced I am her father. I am setting her up with adult supervision and - hopefully she will not be too persistent about wanting to sleep in my bed. I am still unsure what to do in the longer run, but...maybe things will start to make more sense, somehow, at some point."

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Sigh. "I hope so. I, uh, would recommend just not letting her sleep in your bed? Toddlers are persistent when it works, they are not persistent when it reliably doesn't."

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"...That is probably true. Once I have someone officially in charge of her it will be easier. Just... It is not her fault either, that any of this is happening, and she was already traumatized enough. And...well, I believe her that one of me somewhere is her father, which - is sort of like me being her father, though I am rather confused about this other me's choices."

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"Yeah, I am too. This you seems to be doing very reasonable things and that you seems to be doing kinda stupid ones."

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"I assume it makes more sense in context, somehow - trying to conquer Cheliax might make more sense if Aroden were also me and alive -"

Leareth stops. Rubs his forehead.

"- Actually I should have noticed earlier how confusing that aspect is! I am not certain but given the timing - if a you exists there - and what Pexa knows about the war, it was with Asmodeus - but how would Asmodeus have ended up with Cheliax in the first place if Aroden did not die there...?"

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" - I guess they could've fought some other way? I ....don't really know, though."

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"I am also confused that you would have fought Cheliax on my side rather than Asmodeus' side, to be honest."

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"I - don't think I would've done that. Maybe if Aroden weren't dead, a lot of things would be different if Aroden weren't dead. But - I don't want you to invade Cheliax. Your normal plan seems much more - straightforwardly something I want to happen."

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Nod. "Well, I am not planning to." He tries to think about what else he's learned. "According to Pexa the other me prays to Abadar. She was very surprised when I said I was not going to."

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"Is he a cleric?"

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"That was one interpretation that occurred to me, although it would be moderately surprising..." He frowns. "Clerics have magic healing, right? - I remember yesterday, when you were bleeding, she - seemed to think I ought to be able to just fix it. I was confused but it could fit. Though - I also recall her thinking that you ought to be able to but maybe both of us had done it too many times already that day..."

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"....I guess I could be a cleric too? Nefreti Clepati is both a cleric and a wizard...we could ask her of who."

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"I will ask her whenever she inevitably finds me again. Is there anything else we ought speak about now?"

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Are they going to address the thing where apparently in the alternate universe they are married - only, she decides, if he insists. "I don't think so."

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Leareth doesn't especially feel like getting into that, especially given how many of his feelings right now are 'gods please keep your very Asmodean parenting philosophy far away from my child.'

"Well, let me know if you need anything else to continue your research here. Though I would not bother getting too settled; I want to move back to the other base once some time has passed and I have had a chance to redo the wards just for additional paranoia."

He nods briskly to her and heads out.

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Pexa spends the day exploring and looking for White and also her new cats. When she gets bored she takes a casserole dish off the table and makes a mud puddle of casserole to play in and gets VERY MESSY so she will need to be BATHED.

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She doesn't yet have a properly assigned minder, but one of the Healers notices this, sighs, plucks her up and tells her to please not make messes inside, and carries her off for and spends awhile attempting to turn a shirt into a dress that sort of fits her - did Leareth not even think about clothes for the mystery toddler - then tries to find someone else willing to entertain her and keep her from getting into anything worse than casserole.

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Sourcing cats when you are in a secret underground base in the far north turns out to be - moderately inconvenient - but he keeps getting complaints from his staff that the child is bored and being handed off from one researcher to another, all of whom would really rather be doing their work undisturbed. Maybe having cats to play with will give her something else to do.

He ends up sighing and literally sending one of his mages to Gate to Rethwellan and find some kittens to buy that meet the descriptions asked for. This is an absurd use of a Gate but he can deliver and collect some messages from his agents at the same time and have his mage pick up some children's books at the nearest Temple of Astera, which has all sorts of books all the time, not that Pexa reads Rethwellani but they can at least be read to her in Mindspeech once they find her a nursemaid who's also a Mindspeaker.

After dinner he goes looking for her, carrying a basket which contains two very confused kittens who do NOT like Gates.

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:Daddy! ....kittens!!!!:

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:See - a black one and a spotted one. You should give them names: He's glad he can do this one thing to make her happy.

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:I love you! I love them! I will name them -: She frowns. :Van and Fandes.:

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That feels very weird but they are her cats. :All right. Which is which?: He sets the basket down on the floor. :You need to be careful with them and not frighten them, all right?: Fortunately this base has one Animal Mindspeaker on staff, which should help if Pexa manages to lose her kittens, but he would still prefer she avoid scaring them into running off.

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:I will be soooo gentle.: She immediately tries to pick one up and drops it. She tries to pick up the other one and succeeds. :This one is Van.:

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:Of course: Is it the black one, that'll be easier to remember at least. :- Pexa, I had a question for you, about your mommy and daddy who are married in Cheliax:

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:Yeah?:

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:You said that King Leareth who is your daddy prays to Abadar - does he get magic from Abadar too?:

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:Yeah! He can FLY from Abadar and he has healing from Abadar and he has magic that gives him more magic, from Abadar.:

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:And what about Queen Carissa? Does she also pray to Abadar for magic?:

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:No! She prays to Iomedae! Who is a girl! And my name!:

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:I - see. Thank you, that is good to know: Leareth pats her sort of absentmindedly.

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Snuggle. :I love my cats! You're the best daddy in all of the worlds!:

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Probably that's the sort of ridiculous superlative thing that small children like saying. It's still very weird. :I am glad you like them. Eldan from the kitchen will help you look after them and feed them. He says they should not sleep in your bed because they are little and might piss in it:

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:Okay.: She immediately forgets this but probably Eldan will remember. :Van and Fandes are princesses of Valdemar! Cat Valdemar, which is for cats.:

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:Oh. Cat Valdemar: Leareth repeats, somewhat inanely. He really needs to either learn her language or have her learn one of his, Mindspeaking all the time is kind of ridiculous - probably she should learn theirs, then people who aren't strong enough Mindspeakers to talk to her can watch her.

He spends a couple more minutes sitting with her and listening to her talk about Cat Valdemar, and then tries to hand her off to Glenna from the Healers and escape.

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She tolerates this with only a little pouting. She is very happy about her cats.

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And Glenna will sleep on a mattress on the floor in her temporary bedroom tonight and probably he won't be disturbed in the middle of the night and this will be fine.

Leareth immediately goes to find Carissa again.

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Making a headband but not uninterruptible on that.

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:I asked Pexa about whether the - other us - are clerics. She said yes: He finds himself hesitating, unable to predict how Carissa will react and uneasy about it.

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:Huh. I guess that makes the marriage make slightly more sense though still not very much.:

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:The other me is a cleric of Abadar, not very surprisingly. The other you is...a cleric of Iomedae:

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:Eugh.

 

I mean, I'm sure it was better than her alternatives. But I - wonder what they were.:

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:I am sorry: Leareth blinks at her. :...Is it even possible to become a cleric to a god if - that is how you feel about it...?:

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:....that's not how I'd feel about it if feeling that way about it was going to get me killed?:

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:I suppose that is sensible: Leareth isn't sure what to say, again, this seems to happen a lot lately. He leans against the wall near her, his gaze half on her and half unfocused.

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"The clerics thing makes sense of the marriage thing because lots of religions have rules about that kind of thing, and because - I don't know, there's still not a lot of reason to marry me but there's lots of reasons to cultivate an alliance with the church of Iomedae."

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"- Honestly you have many traits I would value in a partner, it is just buried in the Asmodeanism."

(Leareth did not really mean to say it out loud that bluntly but it's been a very long day.)

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"- I noticed, but you wouldn't need to marry me about them."

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"Maybe a combination of your personal traits and cultivating an alliance with the church of Iomedae would explain it. I - wonder why I would do that, specifically. Abadar makes sense to me, I...have less of a clear concept of what Iomedae is about."

Probably because Carissa is more biased on the subject. He could try asking Pexa but doubts he'll get anything much more contentful than 'she's a girl!'

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"I listened to a lot of explanations and it's - kind of embarrassing, that I don't have much of anything to show for it in terms of understanding them. Iomedae was a Chelish woman; she ascended in the aftermath of the Shining Crusade, as the herald of Aroden; She's Lawful Good and marshalls the forces of Heaven for the war with Hell; She personally authorized my abduction, I think, at least in the sense She confirmed that trying to keep Ibyabek from Asmodeus was that important and that She believed it wasn't too late and that She understood it to be compatible with the treaty of the Lawful gods regarding the Worldwound. 

I guess it's stupid to hold that against her and it is a good thing I'd have gotten over it eventually, given my alternatives, but - it wasn't the best introduction and it was maddening how none of them could explain what Good was about."

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Leareth nods. "- I am suddenly tempted to get you to read Seldasen on ethics. He was a Herald, and the Heralds...would probably be Lawful Good, I am guessing, in Golarion's system. But Seldasen was very sane about it. I recommended his treatise to Vanyel and we had some fruitful discussion of it."

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"I could read that, if you'd like.

 

I don't really - consider myself Asmodean. Anymore."

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"Oh. I see."

Leareth had been wondering. It does seem like something has been shifting, gradually, in her thoughts. It seemed better to let her bring it up rather than press.

"What changed?" he asks.

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"Asmodeus isn't here. It's - stupid, to serve someone who won't notice."

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"If for whatever reason you - ended up having full discretion over the details of what god I create - which is not going to be the case, because I have rather strong opinions on this, but hypothetically - would you want to recreate a local Asmodeus? Or...something different?"

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"That also seems stupid. It's not - like Asmodeus would appreciate it."

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"He would not! And...it seems you feel that - Asmodeus was not fundamentally correct about how things ought to look, in any universal sense, just - powerful enough to make His will heard?" 

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"I don't think being fundamentally correct is a thing. Just - being able to do stuff, or valuable to someone who can, or not that."

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"Fair enough, I suppose. I am also not sure I think that being fundamentally correct is a thing, morality is not - built into the fabric of reality, at least not here. I...do think there is a fact of the matter about what other people want, though, and whether they are flourishing or suffering, and - a powerful entity can want things that cause more flourishing, or more suffering. And I happen to have what I suppose is a subjective personal preference that the former is what I want. Which is not the same thing as it being fundamentally correct, just - I do think that if you could give every sentient being in Velgarth a poll, 'do you want to be ruled by Asmodeus or by Leareth's god', what result would come out is an empirical question and I think I can predict its answer. And that matters to me."

He's very unsure if any of this is going to make sense to Carissa.

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"It's - a weird thing to do. Ask people what they want. Gives you - more ways to hurt them. And I don't - see how they'd know. Your god sounds nice but it's not disadvantaged by actually existing, yet, and wanting anything. But I guess we'll see if it does turn out nicer."

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"...Sure, that particular framing on it is an odd one. But...one of the things I care about is whether other people can achieve their goals and have what they care about."

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"Yeah. I think - at some point it's just word choice - I'm going to fight for the thing that you're trying to do. I don't need to feel sure about everything to do that. I'm not giving any less - betting any less than I'd be betting if I was sure."

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Leareth nods. "I - realize this is an unfair thing to ask for, probably, but - I think it does matter to me, whether you - would keep pursuing that goal even if I were not here. Whether it is your goal, as a powerful person in your own right, as opposed to just...choosing who to submit to."

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"If you died somehow and inexplicably didn't have any clones ready to go because you're actually an idiot I'd.....have to reconsider lots of things, honestly. I think that's probably the wrong hypothetical to entertain but it's the one that jumped to mind."

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"That makes sense. ...I can assure you I am not actually an idiot and that if I appear to die suddenly, you should expect me to be back within a few months. I still think it might be valuable for your ability to have thoughts that are your own, to spend some time considering it." He steps away from the wall. "Anything else for right now?"

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"I think if instead of that happening I'd just landed in the first place on a world where everyone died for good I'd try to fix that. Probably by ascending, I have any idea how one does that and no idea how one makes a god."

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"Right."

Leareth stops where he is, near the door, and looks at her thoughtfully for a moment. And then smiles. It's way more smile than she usually sees from him aimed at anything, let alone her.

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It's very tempting to give him the right answers, when he'll radiate approval about it that much. She's - trying not to and she's not sure why. "It'd be mostly selfish," she says rather than smile back at him. "I don't want to die forever. And I don't want places to be - poor - like Haven was. Things can be nicer than that."

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"Yes, indeed."

Leareth stands in the doorway for a moment longer, still smiling, and then heads out.

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She gets back to work.

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Things settle a bit more in the new temporary facility, though people are restless to get to move back once the wards have been tweaked.

A governess is found for Pexa. Her name is Alleara and she's a strong Mindspeaker with a background as a mercenary in Jkatha, but she likes children and Leareth says Pexa is a smart child, which makes it sound more interesting.

The next morning Calib comes to find Carissa. "I'm sorry I didn't check in with you sooner, it's been really hectic. Uh, are you - all right?"

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"In one piece! Sorry for, uh, making everybody relocate everything. I still haven't done the Fly item as an apology for the last time I inconvenienced them all, either."

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"I think everyone understands!" Calib hugs her. "Glad you're all right. What...actually happened? All Leareth reported to us is that the Heralds caught you somehow and, uh..." He blushes bright red. "And that Pexa thinks you and Leareth are her parents. Er, he didn't report that but she's informed multiple people and, well. Gossip." He seems to feel very awkward about bringing this up to her.

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"It's really really confusing! I thought it'd make sense at some point but it never did. So everything was going fine in Haven - I'd been exploring and eavesdropping and I'd seduced Vanyel's sister and she invited me to dinner with Vanyel and his aunt, who is also a Herald -"

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Calib blinks a half-step back. "You - seduced Vanyel's sister?" he says, sort of blankly.

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"Lissa. She's in their Guard, apparently, and her family's nobility though I didn't end up asking very many questions about how that worked. She's much better company than Vanyel, who, uh, mopes constantly."

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"I - didn't know you, uh, liked women. That way." Based on Calib's expression, this is a very minor part of whatever's bothering him.

After a moment he sits down, looking at his hands. "I...guess I should've talked to you, uh, about if we - were going to be exclusive."

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"Oh. Uh. Yeah. I guess we should have talked about that." 

 

She sits down too. 

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"It's... Maybe it shouldn't bother me. If, I guess, you gotta do what you gotta do on missions." He seems unconvinced by this. "And she's a woman. I'd...be more upset if you'd seduced another man. Maybe that's stupid, I don't know."

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Carissa looks kind of puzzled. "That's - definitely easier to get when I'm a prisoner?"

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"...Sorry, what is?" Calib just looks puzzled by this claim.

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"Someone who won't have sex with other people?"

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"Now I can't tell if you're saying that about me or you. I, uh, promise I haven't slept with anyone else?"

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"I don't care if you've slept with anyone else! And I don't think it's unreasonable of you to care about it, but it's a - hard thing to get, right, someone who won't sleep with other people, and until recently I was a prisoner so it was an easy thing to get, and now I'm not, and - I hadn't realized it was a major feature for you such that that change was an important one."

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"- Oh. I, uh, I...hadn't really been thinking of it that way. That you were, er, a prisoner and that..." He rubs his face with both hands. "That - makes me sound pretty terrible, actually. I'm really sorry. If you felt...stuck."

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" - I don't think you did anything wrong." She feels like she's communicating something badly but she's not sure what. "... I guess I was, uh, being very careful? Because I couldn't afford to cause drama or be annoying? But that's not something you did, that's just, you know, the situation. I wasn't - scared of you, or expecting you'd be mean to me, or anything, just tracking who held the cards in the normal kind of way, while having unusually few cards."

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Calib still seems confused, and pretty unsettled by this idea. "Right. Okay. But - you're unhappy about being exclusive in general? I...guess that's up to you, I just - it's an adjustment, is all." He looks so flustered. "I didn't think about it at all and that was probably stupid of me."

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"I didn't think about it either but, uh, where I'm from if you haven't thought about it that means you are mostly not expecting it? Is it the other way around, here?"

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He looks down at his hands, turning even redder. "I - don't know really if 'here' is Leareth's staff. They're pretty, er, worldly. I'm - from a small town, where...yeah, no one really talked about it but people didn't..." He trails off, apparently too embarrassed to even finish the sentence.

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"In a lot of places people don't want their girl sleeping around because if she gets pregnant they'll be expected to be involved and they'd want to be sure the kid is theirs."

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"Mmm. I don't think people here really have to worry about that, given, lots of Healers... And I'm guessing you don't either." He picks at his nails. 

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"No. I was just trying to - cover ground on why people think things? A lot of people also prefer that their girl not have sex with anyone else because then she's a slut, which makes her less valuable and less of an achievement to be sleeping with?"

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Blink blink blink. "I - it'd be disrespectful to think of you that way? I don't want to...undervalue you and, uh, the things that are really neat about you, which - don't have anything to do with that." 

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Carissa seems confused, again. She tries to forge forwards. "And some people like feeling - ownership, of someone, and part of that is them not being allowed to have sex with other people?"

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"That also seems disrespectful! You're - your own person..." He trails off. "Gah. I - might've been thinking about it a bit that way, though. I'm really sorry." He seems to feel very guilty and uncomfortable about noticing this. 

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" - I mean, I don't think there's anything - bad about that - I don't think you owe me an apology - you should get to pursue the things you want!"

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That, at least, seems to reassure him a little. He nods. "I - like you a lot. I'm not mad. I - I am sort of upset but I don't want to be or, uh, think I have a right to be, or anything. I don't want to be controlling, I'm not - it wouldn't be right or fair to you even if I could." He shrugs, helplessly. "I'm sorry, I - can go talk about my feelings with someone else, it's - not your duty to help me feel better, either." 

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"I like you, so I want to make you feel better. I'm worried I'm very bad at it, because - because I just don't think that the things you don't want to be are bad things to be? But I guess even if they're not bad things to be you can not want to be them. Just. If you thought about it and you were like 'yes, actually, I like having ownership of people to the extent that you, being my girlfriend, are for me and mustn't have sex with anyone else', I wouldn't feel disrespected, or anything.... I could imagine feeling disrespected but not by you wanting things!"

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"...I think part of me might want that but I - don't want to want it, you know? I think I - would judge my friend for wanting it..." He grimaces. "Which I don't know how I feel about either! Maybe I'm being too judgy! ...You know, my brother told me once that relationships were complicated and confusing, and I never got it until now." 

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Hug?

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Calib would like a hug! He holds her and strokes her hair. 

"...Do you, er." He clears his throat. "I feel really dumb even, uh, asking, or having feelings about this, but - do you fancy Leareth that way? He, uh. Sometimes he looks at you like..." Calib trails off. "And you're, uh, married, in some other world. Apparently. It's so stupid to be jealous about that but I think maybe I'm just an idiot that way." 

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Snuggle. "It's really weird, that we're - married, in another world. I don't know what to think about it. I hadn't mostly -

- it always feels like he's testing me. And even if I pass, it's - you have to be careful, when someone's testing you. I think - in that other world - I wonder if somehow I end up not feeling like he's testing me anymore.

 


I don't know if that answers your question."

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"He's pretty intimidating," Calib agrees, not that he's sure this is what Carissa is trying to convey, but it's the part he understands. 

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Hug. "I don't think he's likely to solicit me, I think he finds it more his thing to - drop in occasionally and be satisfied about things."

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"Mmm." He leans against her shoulder, having apparently run out of things to say. 

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Well, saying things doesn't seem to have improved anything at all, so she'll give up on it too.

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Then they can do things that aren't talking for a while. 

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At the end of that day Leareth goes to talk to Pexa again and make sure she's getting along well with her new governess Alleara and taking care of her cats. 

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"Daddy," says Pexa delightedly and tells him about her day's adventures and then demands he do spinny magic.

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Does reading her mind clarify at all what she means by that. 

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She recalls being spun wildly in circles on the floor by some kind of force barrier, and screaming with glee, while her daddy does the magic and her mommy sits in a stuffed armchair nearby, giggling.

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...Well, Leareth can try his best to replicate that. At least for a little bit. It looks tiring. 

:Tell me if I am doing it right: he instructs, and then attempts to set up and spin a force barrier that seems similar. 

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He is doing it right! She is so delighted! She shrieks and giggles and spins around bursting with unadulterated joy.

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That's - weirdly pleasing, actually. Leareth is still mostly on the side of hoping that the mystery of a child he met a few days ago thinking he's her father will somehow resolve itself and go away, but...if that happens he might, possibly, miss her a little bit. 

He spins her until he's both tired and slightly worried he's going to give her motion sickness and cause her to throw up on him, and then hands her back to Alleara. 

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She seems unsurprised by getting to see her father only ten minutes a day; sometimes he is VERY BUSY and CANNOT PLAY WITH HER even though he LOVES HER SO.

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...This continues to be awkward but it could be worse. Leareth is content to visit her once a day in the evenings and entertain her with magic for a bit. 

Leareth reviews the modified security precautions, and about a week after the hasty evacuation, they organize a more orderly return to the previous research base. 

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Carissa has resumed her magic research. She's trying to engineer Clairvoyance, which is going to be related to the spellform for scrying, but she's not having any luck, and she's a little worried there's some trick to it she doesn't have a good way of deriving. She does, in the course of experimenting with divinations in general, get Enter Image, but that's not good for much now that she's not trying to spy on everybody.

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Leareth continues checking in with her every so often but mostly leaving her research priorities up to her. 

The day they move back in, after he's found Pexa a two-suite bedroom and made stars on the ceiling of her new bedroom for her so it'll feel more homey, he spends a bit in the library, and then heads over to Carissa's room. "I tracked down my copy of Seldasen on ethics, if you are still interested in having a look?" 

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"Sure! Uh, what ...is ethics, exactly."

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"- Probably you will best understand how I use the term by reading the book and forming an extensional definition that way. The...simple answer, for this, is 'the study of how scholars and philosophers think people ought to behave', which is separate both from how people do behave and from what sorts of actions are strategic for accomplishing a given goal. I - suppose some people might call it the study of Good but I suspect what we mean by that here is different from how it is used in Golarion." 

He offers her the book. 

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She takes the book. "It actually sounds kind of more like Law? Law for humans is mostly about what behavior and what rules produce functioning societies."

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"Oh - yes, that could be, though I expect you will find it to be something of a mix of both. The Heralds are Lawful, for example, but Law does not determine the difference between what they think is correct behaviour in terms of running a kingdom, and how Cheliax does things. And I am certain they would not even consider running Valdemar like Cheliax, even in exchange for Cheliax's wealth." 

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"Well. I'll read it."

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The foreword to the book is about what it means to be a Herald. The Heralds' oath, that all of them make in front of the monarch when they graduate and are granted their white uniform, is included in the text and then discussed. 

I pledge you my heart, that we may build and preserve our land and people together.

I vow to obey our Laws and seek the Truth in every thought and deed, to heal the wrongs and bring aid to those who suffer, and by the strength of my hand to restore and keep the peace.

The deeds of those who lived before, the legends of our past, have shown me the way, and my Companion has opened a door in my heart.

It is upon love that we build this foundation, and for love that I will serve Valdemar as long as there is breath in me.

This is our sacred trust. My path stands clear before me, and where you lead, I cannot be afraid.

Upon my soul I vow this to you, that the light that is our people may never fade.

To be a Herald, Seldasen writes, is to take on the duty of holding a kingdom together, year after year, generation after generation. This is the sacred trust they were handed, a mantle passed down from the first King Valdemar, who tried to build a place that was different and better from the homeland he had fled with his family and people. 

He acknowledges that the Heralds' oath is not, exactly, an instruction manual on how to be a Herald. It's flowery and metaphorical - pretty words, but what good are poetic words when you need to decide which of your people to send into a battle where they will almost certainly die? When you need to decide whether to hire on the mercenary company your kingdom can afford, to defend its borders in a time of desperate warfare, knowing that the mercenaries in question would never, ever clear the bar to be considered as Heralds themselves, and aren't even particularly interested in following Valdemar's laws at all? 

Sometimes reality is hard and unfair and you need to compromise something. And the Heralds' oath isn't an instruction list on what things can and cannot be compromised, either, because reality has never been that simple. But what the oath does is gesture, vaguely, at the spark held in common between all Heralds. Valdemar has never been just its land, or just its laws, or just its monarch. Valdemar is and always has been its people, and the responsibility every Herald takes on is to give those people a world that is safe, where they can live and love and raise their children without having to be afraid. 

We are only children, Seldasen writes, and there are no parents, not in all the world. We face adult problems, and burdens that are too heavy to bear, and we break. We fall down, and we pick ourselves up and keep going, because what else are we going to do, when there is a kingdom that we must protect? 

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Carissa spends a while puzzling over what problem is presented by hiring unLawful mercenaries or by commanding soldiers. But it's compelling writing? The guy is - well, a paladin, to a first approximation, but he seems to be really really trying, to make his kingdom a nice place to live.

 

She reads it straight through.

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Seldasen presents several different viewpoints or frameworks that Heralds can use for reasoning about ethics, which for him seems to boil down to 'how to make decisions so that the world around you will end up being a nice place to live'; he says that ethics is relevant to almost everyone, whether they're running a kingdom or not, but especially important for Heralds because of the responsibility they bear - because the people of Valdemar trust them and defer and listen to them about what will make their lives and their children's lives good.

You can think about ethics as a matter of principle, which is somewhat different than a matter of law, because there are ethical principles that aren't and shouldn't be encoded in Valdemar's official law and punished by the courts. Lying is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Murder is wrong. All of these can be cashed out more concretely - it's not just 'because', the most straightforward summary is that actions are wrong in principle if you wouldn't want your neighbours or your king doing them to you. Most people do not want to be murdered, or lied to, or stolen from, and so doing these to the people around you is predictably doing them a disservice, and this is - more universal and less subjective than matters of preference that vary, like favourite foods. Seldasen thinks this is a reasonable framework for Heralds to use most of the time; it's not generally confusing, most of the time, and drawing clear bright lines makes it easier to avoid rationalizations. The difficulty comes in when different principles conflict, which will inevitably happen.

You can think about ethics as a matter of virtue; to be ethical is to be kind and generous and loyal and brave and to keep your promises, and such and such. Seldasen thinks this framework is helpful when you're trying to figure out what you should do and not just what you shouldn't do. Heralds need to do a lot more than not lie and not steal and not murder people. That being said, different virtues can also conflict, and the framework doesn't in itself give a strong sense of whether being loyal is more important than being generous. 

You can think about ethics as entirely grounded in the people you're being ethical for. The ethical course of action is what saves lives, or what makes people wealthier, or what prevents crime and disease and hunger and fear. This frame is in a sense a lot simpler than either of the others; you won't run into conflicts between different principles or virtues, there is nearly always a fact of the matter about what saves lives. The difficulty is that any course of action has many effects, in the immediate and medium and very long term, many of which are hard to predict in advance, and so it's easy to, with the best of intentions, do far more harm than good.

...

And then he goes through so so many examples of hard choices, where it's not clear what to do and different ethical frameworks might give different answers. Seldasen adores controversial frustrating examples. He never claims that there's one true right answer, here. Sometimes it's obvious from the writing that he leans a particular way, but not always. 

Murder, for example: generally wrong. Saving the life of an innocent person: generally good. But imagine yourself besieged in a city, at war, and an innocent woman - a citizen of Valdemar - and her child, ill with plague, begging to be let in. Or even climbing the walls. The city has Healers; they might well be able to save the child's life without risking the lives of others. But they might not. The woman and her child might die anyway and spread disease to the besieged soldiers. She might turn out to be a spy. There is always uncertainty. But in these conditions, it's at the very least not obviously wrong to refuse to save one person, in exchange for saving many more, and perhaps even to kill to woman in order to prevent her getting in. 

There are a lot more examples. Is it ever the ethical choice to disobey a superior's orders. To conceal information you know about a crime committed. To lie to someone who trusts you. Seldasen admits readily that many of the examples are carefully chosen to be as difficult as possible, rather than because they really happened, but life is often unclear, he says, and some of the examples are real ones that occurred in his life, or to his friends. (He doesn't specify which of them.) 

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Obviously you don't let the woman with the plague into the city, why would you possibly do that. She can't think why you shouldn't lie, either. Stealing things is bad but it seems absurd to handle this by trying to convince individual people to care enough about strangers to not rob them, instead of to have harsh penalties for robbery so it's not worth it...

 

She thinks that maybe the things that people in Valdemar consider a dilemma are not the same as the things that people in Cheliax consider a dilemma. But - there aren't books like this in Cheliax, it's very obvious there couldn't be.

She wonders if Leareth thinks any of these are difficult dilemmas.

 

She sets it down and gets back to work.

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Leareth comes to see her the next day, which is a shorter interval than usual. 

"I had a question for you," he says, seriously. This is also not his usual opening. 

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Which makes her tense up, a little. "Oh?"

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"How would you feel about returning to Valdemar, this time officially on my behalf? ...I spoke to Vanyel last night. For - reasons that I do not fully understand - the Heralds are much more willing to countenance having you come and talk to them more than about having me send someone else." 

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"...that's weird. Uh. You don't think they'll kill me? Or try to take me hostage under the mistaken impression you're very invested in me?"

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"I do not think they will kill you. You - well, you read Seldasen, right, and I imagine it came across how committed the Heralds are to their principles. They might try to take you hostage but it would be stupid to do so and they would promptly get a very unpleasant surprise, which they know - in fact, they ought assume I have even more capabilities than I revealed just then, which I do." 

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"Do you have a guess about why they want me?"

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"My guess is that they do not have a good reason, but that it feels less frightening and unfamiliar because they met you, however briefly. And...perhaps they think that as a newcomer to Velgarth, you are less likely to scheme circles around them than someone I select? Or that you are unsure of your allegiance to me and they can persuade you to join them instead? I am not sure." 

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"I guess if I did defect I'd be unusually valuable?...relatedly you wouldn't let me which I'd think they'd have, uh, noticed, considering...that doesn't feel like a sufficient justification and it makes me uneasy but I'm kind of stuck on scrying and I'm not going to level here so I'm not opposed if you think I should go."

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"I need to consider it, but I wanted your input first, I was not going to send you against your will. ...What did you think of Seldasen on ethics, by the way? I am curious whether the Heralds' way of thinking makes any more sense to you than the Good paladins in Golarion." 

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"It was a very good explanation of what he wanted and where he thought it was tricky. I think I could probably convince the paladins I understand Good now, though I don't expect that's what makes an Atonement go through. The dilemmas mostly ...weren't. I was interested in whether someone could come up with some that were dilemmas to Chelish people. There are probably some but - you could hardly publish that book about them. Were any of them - ones you find challenging?"

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"- Some, yes, though I think not for the reasons that would be most obvious to many people. And - perhaps ones that would be confusing to you, given that Cheliax seems to assume everyone is lying all the time."

He frowns, searching for words, and finally goes on. "Obviously it is not very hard to come up with examples where in the short run, lying will save lives or other value, and refusing to lie seems obviously stupid and - to be a pursuing a principle past the point of absurdity. But - there is a sort of metaphorical social fabric that is damaged by lying being commonplace, I think. You are not well placed to notice this because in Cheliax it was thoroughly shredded and ground to dust a long time ago. To me the damage this caused is very obvious; it makes it nearly impossible to form accurate models of reality, if you need input from other people to fill them out, because instead of being determined by a fact of the matter that everyone can measure via experiment, people's beliefs are determined by what will not get them executed for disloyalty, and everyone is spending massive mental overhead all the time, interpreting other people's lies and backing out their motives. Cheliax is a very extreme example, of course, but I think you can see subtler distinctions between different societies in Velgarth. A Herald lying to the populace because it was strategic in the short run would - be burning a resource that Valdemar currently possesses. And the same is true of me, actually. I - try to be very straightforward with the people who work with me, because I do not want them spending cognitive overhead on figuring out what I mean and why I am saying it, rather than on doing important god-related research. ...Also I have never outright lied to Vanyel. He probably does not believe this, and I would not expect it, but it is true." 

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"I guess if people don't lie then it makes sense not to be the first to start," she says reluctantly, "except, then someone else will be the first to start, and will accrue all the advantages of lying to people who just believe them. I think the only stable state is everyone expecting that everyone else might be lying."

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"One would think, and yet Valdemar has not drifted from its current equilibrium even over eight hundred years. And their Truth Spell was only discovered quite recently!" 

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"But presumably some people were just lying to everyone and successfully got away with it? And just...no one ever caught on? They must've had lots of people getting away with murder, if they think that people accused of murder won't lie about whether they did it."

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"- You know, there are plenty of ways to catch criminals other than direct confessions from them, especially if you have magic. Also I think that until recently the Heralds' court of appeals allowed mindreading to prove if the defendants were innocent or guilty. Though, yes, the Heralds are not everywhere and I am sure many murder cases went unsolved." 

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"It sounds like a strong argument for not lying if you might get caught."

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"You know, I think most people are not as good at lying as you, and are thus easier to catch." 

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"...I guess people here do seem worse at lying. I thought about asking Calib to do things for me, when I wasn't sure I didn't want to escape, but quite aside from getting him killed I didn't think he'd be any good at it."

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Nod. "So I think there are different equilibria here - one where everyone lies all the time and thus becomes skilled at it, though I assume some people are less skilled than you and are punished for it. And there is a different stable point where for most people the easiest route to achieving their goals does not involve lying - at least, not about important things or to authority figures - and so they do not become good at it, and - some actors can game the system by lying skillfully, but not quite enough to tip the balance. Also honesty is seen with respect in Valdemar, which I imagine is not the case in Cheliax; to call someone an honest merchant is high praise, to call them a dishonest one is as good as calling them a criminal. And private gossip is quite good at catching systematic dishonesty, often, even if the courts are not." 

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"Merchants care for their reputation in Cheliax, too. But - I guess that all follows." She frowns. "I'm still not sure it lends itself to a calculus more complicated than 'lie when you won't get caught'."

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"Well, judging the likelihood you will be caught is a skill in itself, right? And - I think when people are not in the habit of lying constantly, it becomes less of an affordance in their minds, such that it does not occur to most normal people as an option unless they are in dire straits - at which point, lying plausibly under pressure is an even harder skill that I suspect many in Valdemar have never even considered training in advance of when they might need it." 

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She nods. "I guess I can see how that'd function, as a society. And be - a valuable thing to preserve, if you had it."

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Nod. "Anyway, that is one answer I have for which questions seem genuinely hard to me. Also, I - think it is not a good sign about Cheliax, that a book like this could not be written there."

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"I think it - makes people less Asmodean. The book. It makes there be less of them that Asmodeus can use. Which isn't a favor to them, if it's their only possible fate."

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"Right. Whereas I - think the Heralds would consider it quite undesirable, to be the sort of people who can be used by Asmodeus. ...What about the book do you think makes people less Asmodean? That - is interesting to me." 

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"Well, it ....assumes you should be figuring out how to get what you want? There's - very little in it that's about what you'll get punished for. It thinks of the - unit of analysis of decisionmaking - as what you'd like the world to be like."

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"Yes, it does do that. Not all writing on ethics does, but - well, this is very much the way I think, and it is a major reason why I described Seldasen as an unusually sane man." 

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"I think that it makes people harder for Asmodeus to use, when they - shape themselves to try to do that."

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Nod. "Whereas it - is almost a prerequisite I need for people to be the most valuable to me within my organization? This is the thing I have hoped you would grow into all along, I think, but it is inherently not the sort of thing I can demand of someone who is afraid of me." 

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"I guess not. That - makes sense. If you weren't very lenient all the time I'd be thinking - how to be safe, not what I wanted to do."

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"Right. And...I do not think that the threat of torture actually works very well for motivation, when what you want your staff to be motivated to do is brilliant and creative original research. Because that is a faculty that is difficult for humans to access when they are constantly very afraid. Fear makes people - averse to taking risks, constantly looking for the safest option, and the safest path is generally not what results in groundbreaking discoveries." 

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"I think this strategy would work less well if you weren't so powerful, because tempting people to be ambitious would tempt some to - overthrow you or betray you or something - but it does seem to work well for you.


I figured you'd hurt me if you caught me stealing spellsilver but I - didn't think you'd kill me, and that was important. I wasn't afraid of getting hurt."

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"- Honestly I think we still disagree on the extent to which torturing people is an effective punishment and deterrent, versus just - demonstrating that you are more skilled than them, and can and will catch them and prevent them from damaging your plans. I never did hurt you, right, even when you were, well, very obviously trying to test me. You were still much more cooperative afterward." 

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"I'm not actually a difficult person by nature! I got very high scores for compliance in school! I don't think I am the personality that punishments are primarily required for. But - I will admit your approach works better than I would have expected, at engendering cooperativeness. Here I am, all cooperative."

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"I mean, I think if people are difficult by nature then I just do not hire them to work at my organization. I suppose that is an advantage I have, as someone who runs a secret organization for creating a god, rather than a country per se." 

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"Yeah. You'll need more punishment when you run a country. But - less than Cheliax does, probably. 

 

 

What are you hoping to get out of the talks with the Heralds? Is it mostly just a line of communications so you can send them terms when the time comes?"

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"I want a line of communications, yes. I...want to convey to them that I am someone who will, in fact, respect terms that are mutually agreed upon, as opposed to - I am not sure what they think I am, but Vanyel thinks they are terrified that even engaging or communicating with me in any way is somehow dangerous." 

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"...huh. I guess I can ...try to figure out why they think that."

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"I expect you will find them confusing. But...less confusing after you read Seldasen, I hope. Anyway, I discussed with Vanyel how to exchange messages about this, so - I can let you know if they agree to having you go down and speak with them?" 

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"Sure. Will I have to ride again, that was genuinely very unpleasant."

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"They have mages who can Gate, I think we can arrange something more efficient." 

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"All right." She has some strange impulse to - offer him something, do something, about - being asked this - but she hasn't the slightest idea what, really. "I will get my notes to a stopping point for you again."

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"Thank you. ...Is there anything else you wanted to discuss, now?" 

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"I don't think so."

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"I will keep you updated, then." 

And he heads out. 

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She continues doing magic research. Sometimes she is flagged down by Pexa; when this happens she teaches the girl geography, because if she ever gets home she'll need to know it no matter what the political situation is. Pexa seems to consider this not terribly uncharacteristic parenting.

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Leareth continues to check in with Pexa once a day and do whatever fun magic game she asks for, for about fifteen minutes, before extracting himself. 

A cautiously hands-off message drop location was arranged via dream conversation with Vanyel, and messages are exchanged. 

Several days later, Leareth finds Carissa and lets her know that the Heralds have agreed to talk to her and someone can meet her at the northern border and Gate her down to Haven. 

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"If I die," she says sternly, a tiny bit less joking than last time, "you have to tell your god to get me back."

 

And she packs her things and leaves her notes.

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She has her invisible-to-mage-sight invincibility shield, and Leareth provides her with TWO different artifacts she can use to summon his help, and he wants to take some of her hair right before she goes so he'll be able to for-sure locate her for the next forty-eight candlemarks using that spell. 

He sort of looks like he wants to hug her, when he summons one of his mages to Gate her back to Westmark, but (if her read is right to begin with) he does not indulge this impulse. 

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And then she's once again on the stretch of road with Westmark, this time with assurances that someone is waiting for her at the Valdemaran border. 

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She rides for the border. She is scared. She tells herself that just means that spellcasting now will help her level.

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It doesn't take long to reach it, from there.

Herald-Mage Savil is waiting for, dressed in Whites, standing next to her Companion. She nods stiffly. "Carissa. I, er, apologize for - last time we met." 

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"Herald Savil. I'm, uh, glad everyone's all right." And hopefully not planning to execute her for spying? Heralds seem very earnest in a way that makes her predict they wouldn't but - it was an old book, and there's probably several different factions involved with different takes on how to think about Leareth, and - it'd be easy to make sure Leareth didn't have enough warning -

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"...Honestly I don't know if it's all right, but - he hasn't attacked us yet. And it's not like any of this is your fault. Ready?" Savil raises her hand toward the doorway of the building next to them. 

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She doesn't think Leareth's planning to attack any time soon but he of course wouldn't tell her. "Yes," she says.

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Savil's eyes play over her - clearly checking with mage-sight, finding something, hesitating, pausing, moving on, deciding she's satisfied. 

"Let's go," she says, a little impatiently. 

It takes her a lot longer than it does for Leareth, or even his auxiliary staff, but a glowing doorway appears on the door of the building, and then flashes white to show a soggy field, and Savil glances back at Carissa before crossing. 

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Carissa follows.

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The Herald-Mage who interrogated her before is waiting on the other side of the Gate, stern and tense, with his Companion beside him. "Carissa," he says. "Since our previous introduction was a bit rushed, let's do it properly. I'm Queen's Own Herald Lancir." 

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Another Herald is standing nearby, arms folded, watching. Lancir does not introduce him. 

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She tries to look not very dangerous but also important enough it'd be a bad plan to execute her for espionage. It's a tricky balance to strike even though she's pretty sure it's true. She nods to them.

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They don't seem hostile, exactly. Mostly just off-balance. 

"Well, follow me," Lancir says finally, and starts walking toward a building. 

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Savil pats her Companion's neck and follows, falling into step next to Carissa. 

"Van wants to talk to you," she says, conversationally. "After this. Not sure what about. He may just - want to know more what Leareth's like, it sounds like they've been, er, trying to figure each other out for a while." 

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"Yeah. I'd be - happy to talk to him."

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"Thank you." 

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Lancir leads them into one of the stone buildings, not the same one that she visited earlier, and then to a meeting-room. 

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A tall, thin man is waiting for them there, and stands up when they come in. 

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"This is Herald Jaysen, he's Seneschal's Herald to Queen Elspeth." 

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"Pleased to meet you," Jaysen says stiffly, not sounding particularly pleased. "Well, have a seat. Lance, is Keiran coming?" 

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"She's sitting this one out but she might come by later." Lancir pulls out a chair for Carissa, and another for Savil, before taking his own seat. 

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"I, uh, have three hours of my translation spell a day," Carissa volunteers, sitting down. "We can do Mindspeech after that or I have magic that gives you my language."

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"- Good to know. Thank you." Lancir glances at Savil, then looks back to Carissa. "...Er, the first thing I wanted to ask is - are you all right? We...were worried Leareth might've, well, mistreated you, or that you would've been punished for being caught."