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Generated: Jun 09, 2021 8:25 PM
Post last updated: Jun 09, 2021 8:25 PM
bloom in snow
azabel lands in ASFTV!timeline valdemar
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When Azabel arrives at Urtho's office for her lunchtime appointment, Urtho isn't there. 

One of his hertasi lets her in, apologetic, and then bustles out again, promising to catch him at whatever task made him lose track of time again and remind him to head over. 

Urtho's office is even more cluttered than usual. Not one chair is available for sitting on; several hold sprawling, precariously arranged stacks and arrays of notes.

The comfortable armchair by their usual side table just has a beautiful half-hollow pyramid in translucent blue crystal, inlaid with gold and silver wire, about the size of Azabel's head. 

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Ooh, that's pretty. She's very gentle when she scoops it out of her way to put it on a pile of papers.

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The crystal feels faintly warm to the touch. It hums as she touches it, a clear perfect note more felt than heard. 

It feels almost as though it's alive, and something inside is reaching out to Mindtouch her - and then the room goes soft and hazy around her -

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She puts it down SLIGHTLY FASTER.

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It settles gently onto the (blurry) pile of papers, but the humming only gets louder, and the room seems to vanish into fog - 

- a brief feeling of disorientation, like stepping through a Gate - 

 

 

And then, suddenly, she is somewhere else entirely. 

It's night. The sky is clear and starry above her head, visible through denuded tree-branches in silhouette. The ground is crunchy, dead leaves and frost; the air is freezing. 

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What the hell, Urtho.

Okay, does she recognize anything, are any minds she knows around -

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The stars are at least sort of roughly the same as the ones she knows. 

The surroundings are completely unfamiliar, though it's hard to tell at night. The light from probably-a-campfire glows in the distance, near some humped shapes that might be huts or cottages; the scent of woodsmoke and pine trees hovers in the air. 

There are plenty of minds nearby but all of them are shielded and none of them are familiar at all. 

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WELP. Okay. She will walk toward some minds.

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Before she reaches them, there are running footsteps and minds drawing closer, and then suddenly a mage-light, blazingly bright. 

Someone shouts something, in a language that sounds completely unfamiliar. 

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WOW that's too bright. She claps her hands over her eyes and replies in Tantaran, "I don't speak whatever that is!"

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They try a couple of other languages – one of which at least sounds sort of vaguely familiar. Not like Tantaran, exactly, but – as though someone were speaking one of the dialects that the Kaled'a'in tribespeople around the Tower speak amongst themselves, except with marbles in their mouth and half the consonants different. 

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And then a very polite Mindtouch taps gently at her shields. 

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:Hi, I have no idea where I am:

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:...How did you come to be here? I sensed magic, but - that was no Gate: 

The figures shuffles closer, and if Azabel looks up, she'll be able to see that it belongs to the most ancient-looking hertasi she's ever seen or imagined. He wears a hooded robe over an apron, leans heavily on a stick while a human girl supports his other withered arm. His eyes are milky-white. 

:You are at the White Winds school of mage-craft. You mean to say, you were not seeking us?: 

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Wow, she didn't think hertasi had even been around that long to begin with. :I've never even heard of White Winds. I picked up an artifact that apparently should not have been left lying around and next thing I knew I was here:

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:Fascinating!: The aged hertasi shuffles closer, mindvoice suddenly bursting over with curiosity and delight. :I must hear more–: He breaks off. :No, no, I am being quite rude – you are lost! And not dressed at all for this weather, either. You must be cold - would you come inside with us?: 

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:I'd appreciate that:

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He gestures for her to follow him, and then says something in the unfamiliar language to one of the people who first ran up, who dims the mage-light to a warm candlelight sort of glow. The elderly hertasi starts picking his way back between the trees, at a comfortably Azabel-friendly pace. 

:- You are a mage, though, yes?: he adds after a moment. :And...another Gift, I have not looked close enough to be sure what it is. How lucky you are, child: 

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:Mage, Mindspeaker, and Mindhealer:

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A trickle of pleased amusement leaks through in the overtones. :Goodness! Just like somebody else who I once knew. ...Ah, here we are. Do come in, here, have a seat -: 

The humped shapes prove to be long, low cabins, all unfinished logs and simple wooden-shingle roofs. The floor underfoot is hard-packed dirt, but clean and dry. 

The aged hertasi offers her a seat, and gestures at one of the accompanying mages, who gets to work on making tea. 

:So. My name is Gervase. Welcome to White Winds. And you are...?: 

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:Azabel. Um, where is White Winds?:

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:In the south of Rethwellan! We are not too far from the border with Jkatha. Where do you hail from, Azabel?: 

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:Tantara. I don't know those places...:

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The hertasi tilts his head to the side, scratches one withered foot against the dirt floor. :Tantara? I have never heard of that either. Is it very far south, or east?: 

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:...from here? I couldn't say, I don't know where here is! It borders Predain?:

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An equally baffled headshake. Gervase looks thoughtful. :Hmm. Do you know in what direction the Pelagirs lie, from Predain or Tantara? The changed lands, I mean, perhaps your people call them something different, but they are a landmark which is hard to miss: 

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:I don't know where that is either:

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Gervase shakes his head. :Well, I am at a loss! ...Are you by chance near a sea? I have never traveled so far as the eastern coast, though the south I have seen in my youth. Do your people know of the Eastern Empire?: 

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:No and no! The Ceej Empire is south of it and they've got a coast, we've just got rivers...:

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:Huh: 

The little hertasi falls silent for a while. 

:- Well. I am sure we will sort it out sooner or later. Tea?: 

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:Tea sounds good:

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Tea is offered. 

The two young mages who accompanied Gervase in chatter amongst themselves in their own tongue, while the aged hertasi stares thoughtfully into space. 

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:Is there a map I could look at, maybe?:

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Gervase twitches. :- What's that? ...Oh, yes, of course: He says something to one of the other mages. 

Shortly later a map arrives and is politely offered to Azabel. 

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:...none of this looks very familiar. I guess maybe some of the rivers hereabouts look close but not that close:

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:Hmm. I - am going to send for a map of the entire continent and its features. Perhaps that will help: 

Shortly later, a map arrives

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:...bits of this look familiar like I said but if it were what it looks like Tantara would be here:

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Gervase twitches back on his specially-designed stool. 

:What? But that...that does not make sense at all: A pause. :Are you perhaps from the other continent? We have heard legends of it, nothing more - I might find somebody who is a scholar of history and could tell you what they know...?: 

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:Well, it sure doesn't look like I'm from THIS continent:

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:I will spread the word: Gervase hesitates. :I - am very sorry, child, that I cannot help you find your way home. We will most certainly give you a place to sleep for tonight, though. Are you hungry?: 

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:That would be great, I'd been going to have lunch soon:

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Gervase gives her an even more baffled look. :It was not evening, when you left your home?: 

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:No. Gates can do that, if you go a long way east or west - not by this much but if this is a different continent that probably does it:

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:Hmm: 

Gervase seems to be barely paying attention, lost in thought. He does direct one of the mages with him, who also proves to be a Mindspeaker, to find Azabel a place to sleep. 

The young woman politely escorts her back out into the freezing night air – not for long, at least, the dormitory-building is nearby. She's shown the location of the outhouse, and provided with a spare woven mat on the floor and a scratchy wool blanket; this seems to be about the level of quality and comfort that the other sleeping figures in the room share. 

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...well, she's not going to be rude about it but she is going to magically warm up the environs of her mat so she can skip the blanket qua blanket and use it as a pillow instead. Using some magic won't hurt for getting to sleep off schedule, either.

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Just after dawn, a Gate is raised on the outskirts of the White Winds camp, about two hundred meters from Azabel's cabin. 

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That's close enough to wake her up; she managed to sleep enough that she doesn't regret it horribly. Up she gets to see who's there; maybe Urtho followed her or something.

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It's definitely not Urtho! Whoever is raising the Gate is very tightly shielded, but they feel...young. And female. 

The Gate is taken down very efficiently, within seconds. 

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Huh. She can't think of any young females who would be sent on a rescue mission but she'll go out and have a look anyway as long as she's up.

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Jisa is not paying any attention to Azabel at all! She takes down her Gate and frantically looks around for any familiar minds - which include Gervase and Alethra, and do not include Azabel. 

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Okay, maybe she's here for some other reason altogether. Aza won't bother her; she watches the sunrise, yawning.

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Within a couple of minutes, quite a number of other people are awake; stressed and hurried footsteps, and accompanying stressed and hurrying minds, are everywhere around the compound. 

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And, shortly later:

:Azabel?: 

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:Yes?: Maybe he is about to tell her where to find breakfast but quite possibly not.

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:- We have a situation, it seems. I am sorry - you cannot possibly - and yet, the timing -: 

He breaks off the Mindspeech connection for a moment, and then reforms it. :...Do you know anything of the war in the north?: 

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:I don't even know what's north of here, let alone if there's a war in it!:

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:- I see. My apologies: And the Mindspeech link drops away again. 

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A minute or so later, one of the mages hurriedly dressing in the dormitory-room seems to notice her. :Azabel, right? Our visitor? Sorry, we're, um, something's come up - do you need anything though -?: 

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:Breakfast, but not urgently if there's an emergency - what is going on, do you guys need help with something here?:

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:We, um, there's - an evil mage up north who just attacked the kingdom nearest there, apparently–: 

A pause. 

:....I don't think we know yet. Maybe. Reckon there's going to be a war: 

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:Oh dear. Uh, I hope that all works out okay:

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:Um, thank you....: The mage runs off. 

At some point a few minutes later, a different young man, apparently not a Mindspeaker, gestures and mimes her toward a trestle-table set up outside, with tea and a tureen of oat porridge and trays of toast and cheese. 

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:Thank you!: Omnomnomonom.

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A while later, the young woman who Gated in detaches herself from a huddle of others and wanders up. :Heya! I heard you're from the other continent and you got lost here somehow?: 

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:That's the going theory, yeah. I hear you are from north of here and having a war?:

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:We're, um– Yes. Probably. It's - complicated. But, er, yes. I was a student here before, I was sent to see if the school can lend us mages for it...:

She smiles at Azabel. :You're a mage, right? ...Oh, um, by the way my name is Herald Jisa: 

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:I am a mage but the school is not entitled to lend me and I'm not a combatant anyway: Plus she has no idea which side of the war, if any, is the right one; guessing seems like a way to be wrong a lot. But she has those other reasons so she doesn't have to be all "you're probably not going to be able to convince me of the righteousness of your cause".

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:Er, right, fair enough: Jisa sits down beside her, smiles tiredly at her. :Gervase said you ended up here in some sort of weird magical accident - you weren't even trying to find the school?:

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:I didn't know it existed, I had a meeting and his office was cluttered and I moved something that sent me here, it was pretty weird:

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:You moved something... Like an artifact? Who made it?: 

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:I wouldn't expect you to have heard of him this far away... I guess unless he's been using it to take jaunts of is own, which is possible. Urtho?:

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:Oh heck, what has he been doing over here -:

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:He, I - that doesn't make any sense...: Jisa rubs her eyes. Her hand is shaking slightly. :I've heard of Urtho. I haven't met him. Because, um, he died almost two thousand years ago: 

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:You know, I was wondering how the heck there was a hertasi that old:

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:- Right! Hertasi would've been pretty new when, um, when you were -: Jisa breaks off with a little headshake. :...I was going to say 'when you were alive' but you're still alive! Anyway we should tell Gervase, maybe he'll know something about how this is possible: 

She scrambles up and dashes off. 

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Aza cannot dash, but she follows Jisa (and when Jisa's out of sight her mind).

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When she catches up, Gervase is with Jisa in the well-swept courtyard between two buildings, listening to her with a very grave expression. 

He turns to Azabel. :...I cannot see at all how this is possible, but - it seems perhaps you come, not from a different place, but from a different time - Urtho's time? It...would explain why the geography is familiar yet different, I suppose, if the land you knew was before the Cataclysm: 

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:I guess! He really - really should not have time travel devices lying around in his office - what was the Cataclysm?:

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Gervase glances over at Jisa. 

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Jisa is not saying anything. Or looking at Azabel. She mostly seems incredibly alarmed and shaken. 

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Gervase sighs, heavily. :...I am sorry, it is not a happy tale. There - was a terrible war, between mages of astonishing power, of which Urtho was one. Hardly anything survived - the land is still damaged to this day: 

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Jisa starts to open her mouth and then snaps it shut, looking away. 

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:That seems... a little out of character:

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:Does it? I suppose you know more of him than anyone else. Very little is remembered of his time: 

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Jisa, again, looks like someone who very very badly wants to say something and is holding herself back by sheer force of will. 

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:Who's the other one, anybody I'd know?:

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:It is not in the histories that I have heard. Simply - someone very powerful, and deeply evil: 

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:- I know more: Jisa bursts out, suddenly. :It's - really complicated, gods - I don't - but I guess maybe there's no good reason not to tell you...: 

She takes a shuddering breath and lets it out. :Kiyamvir Ma'ar. He - was a student of Urtho's as well: 

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:Ma'ar is not evil:

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:I didn't say he was! I said it's complicated!: 

...Jisa stops, her eyes suddenly piercing. :...So you did know him: 

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She was kissing him as recently as yesterday but this doesn't seem the time. :Yes, he's about my age:

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Jisa peers intently at her. :You must be, what - fifteen or sixteen?: A shrug. :The war wouldn't be for another twenty years or so: 

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:Neither of them seem like they'd start a war even twenty years on! I guess if Urtho leaves time travel artifacts lying around he could maybe cause a diplomatic incident that way??:

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Jisa chokes back a nervous giggle. :Um. I could see that - though you'd think it'd've been in his journals, if that were why...: She glances around. :I, um, there's more, but...it's complicated. I - need to think: 

She grimaces. :And, er, please don't take this the wrong way, but - I shouldn't just assume we can trust you. We are at war right now. Can I– is it all right if I cast a Truth Spell and ask you to say some things?: 

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:How's a Truth Spell work?:

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:It summons air-elementals called vrondi, which aren't very smart but have an affinity for minds and can sense intent. I would only cast the first-stage version, which just shows whether or not what you're saying is honest, it won't force you to say anything you don't want to: 

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:...yeah, okay:

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The Truth Spell doesn't feel like anything; Jisa just concentrates visibly for ten seconds and then nods. 

:Right. Er, can you tell the short version of where you're from and how you got here, again?: 

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:I live near and study at Urtho's tower, and I had a lunch meeting with him and a hertasi went off to find him and I was looking for somewhere to sit in his office, and moved an artifact, and then there were some weird effects but surprisingly few of them considering, and I was where Gervase found me:

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Nod. :And what do you know about Ma'ar?: 

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:What do you want, here, his favorite color? How would you explain how people you know do or don't seem like they'd start a war twenty years later?:

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:I know it's a weird question! I...think I just want to know what your impression of him is, as a person? We, er, we found some of Urtho's personal journals, he wrote a bit about Ma'ar, but - well, he might be biased, and he was also way older, right. If you're the same age you probably know a different side of him: 

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:I'm fond of him. He's, like, kind of weird, but less weird to me than to most people and it's mostly pretty explainable by how he had a lousy childhood? He's - I'm a Mindhealer, I've looked at his gears, but it's hard to describe -:

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Unexpectedly, Jisa's face lights up. :Ooh, you're a Mindhealer too? So am I! Neat! Wow, you must've had pretty different training too, in Urtho's time, I'm so curious now -: 

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:I have no idea what your training is like so I don't know how I'd compare! I guess if you're a Mindhealer you can - I have a structure sort of like one Ma'ar has if that helps, I don't know what it'd look like to you but I can try to highlight it -:

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:That might help! Um, if you're comfortable showing me, obviously you don't have to. Your metaphor is gears, huh - mine is gardens, gears seems like it'd be really interesting for some things though: 

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:I like it a lot! Okay, so I have this big central gear, no idea how it'd show up in a garden -: She tries to light it up.

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:Whoa! That's so interesting - here, want me to show you...?: Jisa parts her shields a little further, offering Azabel a wider Mindspeech connection to borrow her Sight, but waiting for her to pick it up. 

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:Sure!: Yoink.

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To Jisa's Mindhealing Sight, Azabel's mind is a very tidy and well-organized garden; the plants are lush and vibrant, and varied, but perfectly contained to their places, and there's a clear sense of unity and careful design. 

There's something in the centre a bit like a spring-fed fountain, and from it spreads a...set of stone aqueducts? The irrigation channels stretch out from the metaphorical spring like the spokes of a wheel, symmetrical and clean, conveying the metaphorical water to exactly where it's needed. 

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:Oh, cool! Yeah, that thing, he has one too:

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:Huh: Jisa looks thoughtful, her eyes going distant. :That's interesting. Makes sense, I guess: 

She's silent for a long moment, then shakes herself a little. :Um, a couple more questions. If Ma'ar, er, did start a war, would you side with him?: 

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:...does he hypothetically have a good reason?:

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:Y...es? Hypothetically, he has a reason that he thinks is a good one, anyway: 

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:I imagine we would talk about it and come to some sort of agreement, he's not unreasonable, but my biases to start out are pretty anti-war. Uh, why... do you ask? Is this, like, what, is your war a reignition of some lingering tensions created by the ostensible Urtho/Ma'ar thing thousands of years ago...?:

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:Um. It's complicated: Jisa rubs her forehead. :I'll– damn it, really I probably should ask the other Heralds before I go explaining everything, but I can't Gate back until I've rested and this is important. I - just have a couple more questions. Have you, um, have you ever heard of someone called 'Leareth'?: 

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:I think it means night sky but I haven't heard it used as a name:

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:Mmm: Jisa nods. :I - hmm. I don't think this is actually a good explanation for anything, but the timing of you turning up here is, er, surprising - do you think there's any chance Ma'ar could have been responsible for the artifact being there and taking you here?: 

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:No, I think Urtho just kind of leaves artifacts lying around and this one happened to do time travel. I don't believe Ma'ar's even been to his office recently:

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Nod. 

Jisa presses her lips together in silence for a long time, then turns to Gervase. :I want to speak privately with Azabel - can we borrow the storage hut or something?: 

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:Yes, of course: Gervase's snout twitches curiously, but he doesn't ask. 

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Jisa nods briskly, and starts heading toward another of the buildings, beckoning for Azabel to follow her. 

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Aza follows along, weighing in her head how likely it is Urtho left lying around a time travel artifact that would send people forward and then not bring them back.

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Jisa bolts the door behind them, and drags out two crates to use as stools, offering one to Azabel. She sits, closes her eyes, and briefly raises one hand, casting a privacy-barrier around them; the shield-technique is quite different from the style taught at Urtho's Tower, but its purpose is recognizable to mage-sight. 

:So: she says, hands pressed to her knees. :I - sorry - this is going to be really awkward, if you were friends with Ma'ar. But, um, did he ever tell you about - plans to become immortal?: 

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:Is he still around somewhere? I mean he didn't get particularly specific about it but it seems like a good idea if you can pull it off, how's it work -:

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Jisa grits her teeth visibly. :We don't know exactly how it works but we're pretty sure he takes over people's bodies and murders them in the process: 

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:...well that sounds like far less of a good idea!:

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:It seems really terrible!: Jisa stares intently at her knees. :Also he's done a lot of incredibly horrible things and he's been raising an army in the far north to try to conquer our kingdom for complicated reasons he thinks make it worth it, and we think he's starting the invasion now except maybe not everything's really confusing–: 

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:What horrible things - what complicated reasons -:

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:Er, he kidnapped mage-gifted children from Valdemar probably to make them join his army, he, um, built a blood-magic trap spell that murdered an entire family to help a different horrible person conquer another country - he mind-controlled my, er, uncle's family priest to try to assassinate him...: 

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:What the heck happened to him in the last two thousand years??:

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:I don't know!: Jisa's expression is pained. :I mean, he did tell my uncle - Herald Vanyel - that he's trying to fight the gods and that They keep making all his plans not work so he has to be incredibly ruthless to do anything... We don't know if he's telling the truth though, er, the only reason he can talk to Vanyel is that they have this lucid shared Foresight dream: Jisa shrugs. :He claims he's trying to fix all the problems in the world, but he seems to be willing to cause a lot of other problems in the process!: 

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:Ma'ar's really suspicious of gods but he's not at war with them! He was considering encouraging missionaries of the nicer ones in Predain to see if that would help!:

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:I mean, maybe he wasn't at war with them yet when he was fifteen or sixteen! I don't know what happened later: 

Jisa closes her eyes, grimacing. :I - should get the worst part over with, I guess. The reason he wants to invade Valdemar is that he's trying to make his own better god and he needs to murder ten million people for blood-magic to get enough power: 

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:We have had entire conversations about how while conventional taboos against blood magic are overstated it is still definitely bad to MURDER people:

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Jisa doesn't say anything. 

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:I guess two thousand years is a very long time but I don't know that I'm going to be very informative about the situation considering, uh, that:

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:Vanyel thinks he's...someone who can be reasoned with. A lot of the other Heralds disagree, and, um, it's pretty relevant that until now the only information we had about him from an independent source - that he couldn't have faked himself - was Urtho's journals. And Urtho, er, ended up thinking he was evil, it's complicated again but... Basically what happened is he went back to Predain and was trying to fix things there - from what we know which isn't much it sounds like it needed fixing - and Urtho, I guess, got alarmed and thought he was going to take over the world? And. Um. We only learned this recently but Urtho is the one who attacked first and started the war. And...also the Cataclysm is basically Urtho's fault and we don't think Ma'ar could've known it was possible: 

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:Uh, okay, I guess if Urtho randomly attacked him that would in fact totally start a war but pretty rich concluding he's evil from that, wow:

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:For what it's worth, I read the journals too and I didn't come away from it thinking he was evil? He's...very ruthless, clearly, but even Urtho thought he was genuinely trying to help: 

Jisa shivers. :Urtho said something in one entry - when Ma'ar was still a young student - that if he ended up 'turning to darkness' it wouldn't be because he cared too little, it'd be because he cared too much. Does...that sound like him?: 

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:Uh, I guess it sounds like something Urtho might say about him but 'turning to darkness' is again pretty rich if Urtho started it:

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Nod. :I don't really know where to go with this either, but...it's information, right?: 

She squeezes her eyes shut. :Vanyel doesn't think he's evil. He just left Valdemar to travel north. To - try to talk to him, find out for sure whether he's the one who attacked us - he thought there might be another explanation somehow: 

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:I mean, if he has already picked out your country as the source of his blood sacrifices - though, like, how big is your country, ten million is a lot! - then it is not totally ludicrous to imagine he might choose to attack you about that but I do not have all the details!:

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:Vanyel thought he wouldn't. He's - been negotiating with Vanyel for the last few years, after he explained why he was invading, they were - trying to see if they could come to some other agreement that was better than war. And...well, Vanyel pointed out that the actual attacks don't totally make sense, strategically? There was a Changecreature that tried to kill the heir to the throne of Karse, who we're allied with, when they were visiting our capital, but it didn't actually work - we lost our most senior mage but Arven survived and if anything our alliance is stronger now. And then one of the Tayledras Vales was blown up and it's - actually kind of surprising that Leareth could pull that off. And then also now we're warned and getting all our allies together, you'd think the smart thing from Leareth's perspective would be to invade right away and not give us time to do that: 

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:Well, uh, you mentioned he was at war with the gods, somehow:

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:...Yes, I did: Jisa is staring curiously at her. 

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:So if the effect was that you're warned and getting all your allies together, maybe the reasoning was specifically to get you to do that:

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:I...did wonder about that. But - for k'Treva, the Vale, it would have to mean that the Star-Eyed Goddess murdered Her own people. Vanyel said he couldn't believe She would do that: 

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:Gods are... very weird but it would in fact be out of character for her, she's high end of helpfulness as they go in my time to the Kaled'a'in which is what her people go by then:

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:Hmm:

Jisa is quiet for another thirty seconds, then glances up at Azabel. :Anyway, if you don't know how to get home anyway, would - you be willing to come to Valdemar and talk to the other Heralds, at least? It could be dangerous, I guess, if Leareth really is planning to invade, but probably Haven would have some warning, and we've got a permanent Gate-terminus there now, someone could get you out fast...: 

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:I don't know if people trying to find me would land in the same place but I guess maybe the people at the school could tell them where to look for me. I know how to Gate:

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:Oh good! You can't Gate there, though, right, since you've never seen it before?: 

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:Right, but I could get out:

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Nod. :Well, I can bring us there once I've rested - I'd been planning to wait here until the White Winds mages were ready, but I think I'd better not, getting you to talk to the King seems more urgent. And maybe you can ask Gervase to keep an eye out for anyone looking for you, and we'll check in with him when we collect the mages they're lending us?: 

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:Yeah. Uh, if Urtho or Ma'ar - either or both of them - come for me in person is that going to be an issue?:

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:From Valdemar's perspective or White Winds?: Jisa frowns. :I...don't think so, unless they try to harm people here in the process of rescuing you. But I guess it's not just up to me: 

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:I guess I should tell Gervase about that part then:

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:Right, I guess you'd better. I, um, hadn't told him about the connection between Ma'ar and our war right now - or who Ma'ar was, even - but it sounds like maybe he needs to know now: 

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:Do you want to tell him or should I?:

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:Hmm - I think you should explain about Urtho and Ma'ar, you actually know them. Er, I really have to go talk to the other Adepts, but tell Gervase I'll come explain more about why this is related to our current war, when I'm done?: 

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:Okay:

Where are you, not-so-implausibly-old hertasi.

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Gervase is sitting by himself in a little clearing between two leafless apple trees, on a hertasi-shaped stool, with a blanket around him. 

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:Hey. Could I have a word?:

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:- Yes, of course, Azabel: His blind eyes turn toward her, nostrils sniffing the air. 

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She wonders what she smells like to a hertasi nose. :Um, Jisa thinks that one of my school friends is immortal and involved in her war:

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Gervase holds very still. :I...suppose that is not really very much stranger than your having come here from the past: he sends, finally, his mindvoice faint. :What - are the implications of this, if any?: 

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:He has apparently changed a lot:

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:I see: A pause. :Do you have any idea how to find your way home?: 

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:I should have been noticed missing, and if this is - the kind of thing I can be rescued from - then I think they'd try. Jisa wants me to go with her so if they land in the same place I did you should ideally expect the possibility. My friend is Ma'ar and the guy who leaves his artifacts lying around is Urtho:

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:Is your friend Ma'ar -: A delicate pause. :Will he be dangerous: 

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:No. I mean, not unless he somehow comes by the impression that you hurt me or are going to hurt him or something. I can write a letter for him to leave with you:

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:All right, I suppose you had better do that. He will not speak the language either, of course, that is a difficulty - is he a Mindspeaker also?: 

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:Yes. Urtho isn't though:

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:He and your friend Ma'ar would share a tongue though, no?: 

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:Right, but I don't know if I'm expecting "Urtho notices I'm missing, undertakes a project to fetch me back without bringing anyone else" or "Ma'ar kicks up a fuss about it and insists on coming along" or what:

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:Perhaps you could write a letter for Urtho as well, then, in a language he will be able to read?: 

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:Sure, good plan: She has paper on her, of course. She gets started on that.

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Gervase ends up being pulled away by another of the school mages for a discussion in the nearby building, but stays within easy Mindspeech range. 

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When she's finished the letters she folds them up neatly and brings them to him.

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He thanks her, absently, and tucks the letters away in the pocket of his apron-smock, before returning to his intent conversation. 

The mages of the school mostly seem too busy to pay her any attention, and Jisa is nowhere in sight and not findable by Mindspeech - presumably she's behind shields somewhere - but eventually one of the youngsters does politely inform her that lunch is being served in the main dining hall.  

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Then Aza will go have lunch without worrying too much about Jisa's business.

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A couple of candlemarks later, Jisa finally emerges from one of the shielded Work Rooms, helping Gervase hobble out. The aged hertasi seems worried and very preoccupied. 

:Azabel?: Jisa reaches out. :I, um, explained the part about Leareth to Gervase, though just so you know I did ask him not to spread it around the school. Er, if you're ready to go, I think I can Gate back now: 

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:I don't exactly have anything to pack!:

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:Let me just grab my things, then - it's not like I've unpacked anything yet, been busy -: 

And less than five minutes later, Jisa is raising a very tidy and efficient Gate on the stone archway clearly set aside for this purpose. A couple of the White Winds Adepts watch her go. 

...For some reason a white horse wearing saddlebags, with eerily intelligent-looking blue eyes that seem to face a lot more to the front than with most horses, trots after them. 

They emerge from tall bronze doors into a blizzard. 

:Oops! Sorry!: Jisa hastily takes down her Gate and then casts a barrier against the wind and a heat-spell. :Must be from when I Gated over this morning, I guess no one's available for the weatherwork: 

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:I know weatherwork and if you can be - let's say convincing that this is a defensive war on your part - I don't mind doing it even if I'm not sure of taking sides altogether:

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:That'd be very kind of you. Let's just get inside first - sounds like King Randale isn't up for meeting you, er, he's ill, but Herald Treven is the heir and he and Herald Dara, the King's Own, can talk to you in half a candlemark: 

She offers Azabel her arm and starts forging through the snow toward a long, low stone building just barely visible through the flurries. 

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Aza takes the arm and tromps. :Slow down a little, I'm not steady on my feet. What's a King's Own? Or a Herald?:

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:Oh, sorry: Jisa slows down. :A Herald is someone who was Chosen by a Companion - like Enara here: 

(The beautiful white horse, following alone with them, makes eye contact with Azabel and nods ponderously, in a very humanlike way.) 

:Companions are, um, magic and intelligent, they're people even though they look like horses, and they Choose people who're well suited to help lead Valdemar, plus usually people who have Gifts, and they bond to us. They were created miraculously when the first King of Valdemar, who founded the kingdom, prayed to the gods for a way to do better governance: 

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:They... bond to you?:

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:Yes! It's a bit like a lifebond except not as deep - oh, have you heard of lifebonds?: 

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:I've heard of them but they're vanishingly rare:

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:They're pretty rare here too but we have a weird concentration of them in the Heraldic Circle right now! I'm actually lifebonded and Chosen as well, you can have a look if you want. Vanyel is actually lifebonded for the second time! His partner died twenty years ago but then just recently he met someone new: 

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:How did he survive it?: She has a look at Jisa's gears, checks out the driveshafts that, yep, are very prominent and there are two of them.

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:I don't know if anyone's really sure. He got Chosen around the time when it happened, probably that helped? And he had a lot of Gifts and an important destiny, with the Foresight dream, so everyone really wanted him to survive. He was still really really sad for decades, though: 

The two driveshafts are similar but not quite identical; one of them is clearly more extrinsic, an add-on to Jisa's mind rather than emerging from the core of her. 

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:These are really interesting to look at, thank you. Companions don't, uh, choose random foreign time-travelers, do they?:

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:I don't know how their Choosing works, but they usually only Choose Valdemarans - um, and you can decline, if you don't want to be Chosen. My mother did: 

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:Oh, okay, cool:

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They reach the building, and Jisa shoves open the door and leads Azabel inside. :Welcome to Haven! I'm just going to grab us a meeting-room right away, so we have it - should I get you tea or something to warm up?: 

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:I'd appreciate that:

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Jisa delivers her to a smallish, reasonably cozy room with armchairs arrayed by a small round table. She lights the fireplace with magic, and shortly later delivers tea. 

:Sorry, I need to go talk to Dara - er, right, I forgot to explain her role. The King's Own is sort of the second-in-command to the monarch, and they're always chosen by the Groveborn Companion, who's a bit different from the other Companions, he's immortal: 

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:Does he bodysnatch too?:

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:Nnnnno...? He can die from injuries - he doesn't die from old age though - there seem to be a few different Groveborn, but they come back when one of them dies by just appearing in the middle of the Grove. ...I don't actually know how that works. I guess it's possibly they bodysnatch from normal horses but I doubt it, Companions are pretty different, a lot faster and stronger and things: 

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:Okay, that's good then:

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:Mmm: And Jisa nods to her and ducks out. 

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Aza waits. Sips tea.

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They leave her alone for a long time, at least another candlemark. 

Eventually, Jisa returns with a young woman, a bit older than herself and Azabel, with short-cropped brown hair and copious freckles. She looks underslept and strained, but pastes on a smile. :Welcome to Haven! I'm Herald Dara: 

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:I'm Azabel, nice to meet you:

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:Treven will be over soon, he's just finishing a different meeting:

Dara glances around, then sags into one of the armchairs, and unhooks a slate hung from her belt, retrieving a nubbin of chalk from her pocket. She's dressed entirely in white, in what's clearly a uniform of some kind. 

:Jisa says that you...come from the past, and you knew Leareth when he was a teenager at Urtho's Tower?: 

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:If she's correct that they're the same person, yes:

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:Huh. That's...really quite something. Weird and confusing: Dara screws up her face. :Honestly I would be suspicious, except I can't think who I'd be suspicious of: 

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:Well, it's Urtho's fault but I don't think he had this result in mind:

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:I don't see how he could have!: 

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:...I'd be tempted to suspect a god of doing it. Maybe. Except even then I don't really see how. Or why:

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:Search me:

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:Might not be productive to keep dwelling on that part, it seems...hard to figure out and kind of crazymaking: Shrug. :I think we should figure out what makes sense to do from here: 

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Jisa looks like she's about to say something, but she stops herself and glances at Azabel instead. 

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:I am still hoping for a rescue from, uh, the past, but I suppose if that doesn't happen I... live here... now... and should figure out what that will look like:

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:I mean, 'here' has the problem that Leareth is attacking our country. ...Or someone else is, maybe, but I don't know who else it could be and - if that's the case I'm not sure how much less dangerous it is: 

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:Damn it, I really wish Vanyel hadn't left yet! It'd be so useful if you and him could talk: 

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:If things get really bad I can gate down to where Jisa encountered me:

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Nod. :Well, at least we've got a fallback. Hmm: Dara frowns, rubbing her chin. :...Do you think Leareth would remember you? From when he was Ma'ar, I mean? That - could be useful. Maybe: 

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:He's a two thousand year old bodysnatcher, I'm not sure what he remembers at this point, but I will be pretty offended if he doesn't, I guess?:

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:...He won't remember what you look like, for sure - he didn't with Urtho. And - he didn't remember Urtho had struck first in the war, or much at all about their relationship. Just that he'd cared about him very deeply. Vanyel...said he'd never seen him as emotional as he was after Van got back from Urtho's Tower and showed him an illusion of Urtho's face: 

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:They're not even super close! I guess maybe they got that way later?:

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:Oh, I don't think they were friends, exactly. But I think Urtho inspired him, maybe?: 

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:I guess you could say that. Or, like, Urtho's achievements did:

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Dara nods again. :Well, I know it'd be dangerous and too much to ask for you to actually go talk to him - and it might be a really terrible idea, if he's changed enough and isn't trustworthy - but, um, it's possible we can find a way to send a message. Risky for our messenger, but - worth it, maybe, for this: 

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:I don't know what I'd say, I mean, it'd sound really implausible:

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:I don't know what you'd say either, but...: 

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:He'd want to know, right? If you could ask your friend Ma'ar, right now, whether if you ended up in the future and found out his immortal older self was there, he'd want you to tell him, I think?: 

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:I think if I told Ma'ar 'hey, I time traveled, and your older self is here and he's a two thousand year old bodysnatching mass-murderer plotting to invade the country I'm in for blood-power, who will in no way believe that I am his childhood friend if I send him a letter about it', Ma'ar would be like 'have you considered not being anywhere near that guy, he sounds dangerous'!:

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:...That's fair: 

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:I feel like there has to be something useful we can do with this information! I just...don't know what. Maybe we need more time to think about it: 

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:What even is the current status of your lines of communication with him?:

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:Um. We have some agreements he made with Vanyel, that he'd give a messenger safe passage, though who knows how far we can trust that now. And of course Van's gone to try to find him. I suppose we could try getting a message out to him? He probably hasn't passed Waymeet yet. But we're, er, trying not to draw attention to his trip, and also Waymeet is a lot further north and would be one of the first targets if he invades, I don't think you'd better go there: 

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:He has obviously changed a lot but I think I do in fact buy he'd give a messenger safe passage if he agreed to that, as long as you don't have reason to believe that's ludicrous on its face as a claim:

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:- Tran would claim it's ludicrous. I...don't think it is? It seems like he really has stuck by the promises he made to Van, over the years, and - I don't know, I think someone can be ruthless and still keep their word: She shook her head. :Just, with what's been happening recently, I'm worried a lot of things might've changed now: 

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:We should probably catch Azabel up properly on all that?: 

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:Wouldn't hurt:

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:And maybe we should give you a summary of what's happened in the last two thousand years. But we'll start with Valdemar and Vanyel, I guess. Jisa, do you want to...?: 

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:Sure. Um, Vanyel had - a tragic thing happen, a magical accident - it's when his lifebonded died - and he ended up with nine active Gifts, and a mage-gift about ten times as powerful as a normal Adept. And the Foresight dream about fighting Leareth. Then he found out they could talk in it. That was twenty years ago: 

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:I'm sure you know that's all very weird:

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:...Yes, we know. It gets weirder: Jisa rubs her neck. :Anyway, Leareth - was basically teaching Vanyel for the first ten years? Recommending books to him, talking about history and ethical dilemmas, mostly hypotheticals because they were both being really cautious about revealing any information. But it seems like from pretty early on, Leareth wanted to not be his enemy. Just, not badly enough to - to give up on his god plan, I guess: 

She frowns, thinking. :...Anyway, Vanyel kept talking to him, and didn't tell any of the Heralds - they told Taver, the last Groveborn, and he said to keep it secret, but then he died in the Karsite war. And Yfandes never told Rolan, he's the new Groveborn. I'll skip ahead, I guess; they'd been talking for fifteen years when he told Vanyel the entire plan. At which point Van's Companion - had some sort of fight with him over it. Van wasn't even agreeing, he just wanted to give it a proper think, but she reacted really badly and ran off for five days. She came back, but in the meantime Vanyel was kind of having a breakdown over it, and couldn't hide it, so all the senior Heralds found out. And found out he'd been hiding it for over a decade. People were really upset: 

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:Who's Yfandes?:

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:Oh, sorry, right - she's Vanyel's Companion: Jisa's brow furrows. :Van said that it - seemed like she had a lot of difficulty thinking about the gods being bad? And then especially about the part where Leareth wanted to make a new one to fight the others. It was weird: 

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:Wow, that's, uh, gross. Does yours have that problem?:

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:....Huh. I'm - not sure? Not to the same extent, definitely, but I guess we don't talk about it that much. I only found out less than a year ago anyway, and I would usually talk about it with Van: 

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Dara is looking vaguely uneasy. :Rolan is kind of weird about it too. He doesn't get mad at me, but he's frustrating, so I usually don't bother: 

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:They're 'miraculous'? Who made 'em?:

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:We don't know. The history just says he prayed to 'all the gods he knew of', and then I guess Someone answered - maybe more than one - but They didn't introduce Themselves: 

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:Well, I guess they installed some extra junk, that's gross of them, I have my issues with how Urtho and the hertasi guy went about inventing species but they didn't do that:

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Dara is giving her a VERY odd look. 

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:Er, right. Anyway, the thing that happened after that is Van and Dara went off on a fact-finding mission, to try to learn more about Leareth's background. And found some recorded-history tapestries with the Shin'a'in, who used to be Kaled'a'in and have a pact with the Star-Eyed to guard the Dhorisha Plains. And then it turns out that some of Urtho's Tower survived being blown up when he Final Striked it, and they got in and explored it. Which is when they found the journals: 

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:And also a really disturbing number of possibly-world-destroying weapons he invented for some reason! They were all still there in the basement!: 

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:Well, I guess if this place gets too fucked up I can gate there, then! And then immediately leave!:

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:I have no idea what he was thinking!: Sigh. :Anyway, they had some difficulties - Urtho left a different dangerous artifact lying around and Vanyel got hurt - but they made it back, and then Vanyel unblocked the Foresight dream and kept talking to Leareth, and they were negotiating. While Valdemar was sort of slowly preparing in case we had a war, but Leareth knew about that, he agreed it was pretty reasonable of us - it shouldn't've startled him into attacking us or anything. But Van hasn't had the dream in months, and then last week the fish-Changecreature attack happened, and k'Treva Vale must've gotten blown up at almost exactly the same time. Vanyel said it'd've had to be done by an insider, who could access their Heartstone: 

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:Urtho should REALLY cut it out with leaving dangerous artifacts around, geez...:

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:I figured maybe it wasn't his fault if it was his own secure basement and he didn't know he was going to die in a war, but if he left the time travel one in his office where students visited him, that seems pretty inexcusable!: 

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:Anyway, um, do you have questions?: 

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:Not... especially? I mean I'm bewildered of course but I don't feel like I'm on the verge of special Ma'ar-derived insights that would be helpful here or anything:

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:I guess that's fair: 

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:I'm a bit less worried about Van having gone north. But I guess we don't know how much what you remember about Ma'ar is evidence one way or another for what Leareth is like now...: 

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:Did Ma'ar seem like someone who would come up with 'build a better god' as a solution to problems?: 

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:Leaving aside the blood magic part? Yeah. I mean, it seems like a fine idea up until the point where you start plotting murder, the existing gods are not good at all the things you might want one for:

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:Van told me once that Leareth said he hoped he could bring all the people back, after. Once he had a helpful god. We know some things about what happens to people's spirits when they die, doesn't seem impossible he could do that: 

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:Does not seem like the sort of thing you wanna ideally gamble millions of lives on but I suppose it's better than, uh, not planning to give that a shot:

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:Think I'm with you on that on: Dara shakes her head. :He told Van he wants to make everyone immortal, if he can. Can't say he's not ambitious: 

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There's a polite knock on the meeting-room door. 

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Dara hops up. "Treven!" She lets him in.

:Treven, this is Azabel. Azabel, this is Herald Treven, heir to the throne: 

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Treven is tall and blond and handsome, dressed in the same white uniform as Dara. He looks tired and stressed as well, but smiles warmly at Azabel. :It's a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to Haven; I'm sorry about the circumstances, this must not be how you were hoping to spend today at all: 

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:Arguably I had no plans for 'today' at all, since when I was last making plans it was two thousand years ago:

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Jisa snickers slightly under her breath. 

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Treven gives her a look, then turns back to Azabel. :It sounds like Dara's already caught you up on the basics, here. Is there anything you need right now?: 

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:Change of clothes, maybe?:

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:Right, of course, we can get you that. And a guest room here in the Palace: 

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:What's your Mindspeech range? You don't speak the language so you won't be able to ask for things from any of the Palace staff, but you're welcome to Mindspeak me anytime:

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:A few miles, less if the other person isn't a Mindspeaker:

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:You can talk to un-Gifted people too? That's kind of rare here, except for very strongly Gifted Mindspeakers - is there some special technique they taught you?: 

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:It didn't seem very special at the time but you do need some oomph for it. I wanted to be able to Mindspeak to my parents and one of my friends:

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Dara nods. :Neat. All right, I'll walk you over to a guest room and we'll deliver you some extra clothes there - sound good?: 

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Aza nods.

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Treven stands as well. :Oh! You're not dressed for the weather, are you? Here, let me lend you my cloak -:

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Jisa gives him a fond and slightly exasperated look. 

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:You don't have to, I'm a mage, but that's very kind of you:

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:He gets all gallant when he's nervous: Jisa sends privately. :Just let him: 

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And Dara hustles her out of the meeting-room and back outside for a brief jaunt across a path to another building. The path, at least, is mostly cleared of snow. 

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Aza lets Treven loan her his cloak. It's a nice cloak. She slips on ice but catches herself with magic before she hits the ground and manages to right herself all right.

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Dara offers Azabel her arm after this. They reach the building without further incident. 

Dara flags down a random Palace servant, who unlocks a door. :Here you go. Bathhouse is at the end of the hall. Should be paper in the desk drawer and extra blankets in the wardrobe:

The room is furnished with a bed and desk and washstand. It feels small and somewhat dingy, definitely not as nice as the rooms in Urtho's Tower. 

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Things should have gotten... better... in two thousand years, though Aza's not sure what in particular she was expecting. When she's handed back the cloak she puts a blanket over her shoulders and notebooks till someone comes by.

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She's left alone all afternoon. Eventually Jisa knocks on her door. :Azabel? Wondered if you wanted to come have supper with us at the dining hall: 

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:Sure: Out she comes.

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The dining hall is crowded with other white-clad Heralds. All of them looked stressed and underslept; many are absorbed in quietly-muttered conversations, or clearly Mindspeaking each other. 

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Jisa seems preoccupied, and doesn't say much, just points out the table at one end where Azabel can collect her food. 

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Aza collects food. She is not really clear on how long they are planning to feed and house her just because she was school chums with their enemy two thousand years ago. She'd consider going back to White Winds but they have some kind of unpleasant asceticism going on there. She should be scoping out places to go make a living if she needs to but she is not sure how since she can't read, which is really unpleasant.

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The food isn't as good as the fare at Urtho's Tower, though it seems likely this is partly about the season; there's a minimum of fresh fruits and greens available, it's mostly beans and root vegetables plus a meat stew. 

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Shortly after she sits down, Dara strolls in; she's arm in arm with a dark-haired man who looks like he could well be twenty years older than her. :Azabel! This is Herald Tantras, he wanted to meet you: 

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Herald Tantras nods with a tight smile, though it doesn't reach his eyes, which look vaguely suspicious. 

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:Um, hello, it's nice to meet you:

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:Nice to meet you too: He sits. :Dara tells me you knew Ma'ar and he didn't seem evil: 

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:Yeah: She doesn't like the past tense, but, well, it was two thousand years ago.

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:Has anyone told you what he got up to later on, after he went back to Predain, and then during the war?: 

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:I assume some things that occurred in the intervening two millennia were left out:

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:Seems relevant for you to know: 

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Dara straightens up suddenly from her plate. :Oh! You probably read ancient Kaled'a'in, right? I think Van has some of Urtho's journals in the original script: 

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:Sure, I even have practice reading his handwriting:

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:It's really bad! He wrote so damned much, you'd've thought he'd get better at it eventually: 

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Tran is still staring thoughtfully at Azabel. :...What do you think could have happened?: he says, finally. :To Ma'ar, I mean, for him to end up - so different from the person you knew...: 

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:I don't know. I mean, I'd hope it wasn't that, uh, I vanished and never reappeared, but it didn't sound like it was obviously about me in any way from what I have heard so far:

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:You'd think Urtho would have mentioned something in his journals about messing up with an artifact and disappearing a student! We could be missing some I guess, but we found entries from around the right time period: 

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:It would be a pretty major omission but you wouldn't have to be missing very many, I guess:

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:And it's not like very much of the Tower survived. Who knows, he could've just kept them in a different room: Dara rubs her shoulder, tiredly. :I'll get you the journals we have in Kaled'a'in. ...Oh, and by the way, Jisa said you might be up for helping out with weather-magic? We're really short on mages right now, since Savil died and Van, er, isn't here: 

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:I know how. I don't really feel up for taking sides in the war but I don't specifically want you to be having blizzards or anything so I'm up for it when I feel sure that you're just defending yourselves and didn't, like, start it:

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:What exactly do you want to know, to be more sure of that?: 

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:Could you teach me to do that truth spell?:

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He glances at Dara, then back to her. :...Maybe? I'm not sure if only Heralds can do it: 

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:Van taught Shavri, that time. But she's...complicated: Dara looks back over at Azabel. :I think we'll have to discuss it amongst ourselves first: 

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Aza nods. She has her own way to do the same thing but whether they'll teach her will be very informative.

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:It might be good for you to catch up on some of Leareth's other history - after the Cataclysm - but we know less, and only what he told Van. So who knows if we can trust him to be telling the truth about any of it: 

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:Pretty sure he wasn't lying about which treatises on economics he wrote. You can tell it's him, once you know the connection, and, well, why would he bother to lie: She looks at Azabel again. :He spent some time conquering countries and building empires, but - maybe even more time being a scholar. Does that sound in-character for Ma'ar?: 

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:Yes, he's very smart and academic:

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Nod. :I should go, I have a meeting - any other questions? Or anything else you need?: 

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:Where are the journals, can I see them?:

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:In our archives. I'll bring them over after the meeting - or, hmm, I can send someone else...: 

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:If you wouldn't mind. I don't have much to do at the moment:

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:Of course:

And Dara escorts her back to her room, without saying anything, before rushing off.

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Where Aza parks, writing to herself, waiting for the journal delivery.

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Which arrive about half a candlemark later, delivered by another stressed and preoccupied-looking Herald who introduces herself as Keiran. 

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:Thank you:

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:You're welcome: And Keiran hurries off again. 

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The journals are carefully packaged in a box, divided up in chronological order into various folders. They're written on the more expensive and very durable rag-paper sometimes used in Urtho's Tower; there are recent preservation-spells on them, done in a different style than the one Azabel learned but skillful enough, and also traces of much, much older magic. 

They're dated, in a familiar calendar. The first one is from a couple of years earlier than her sudden departure; the year she Ma'ar and began her mage-classes. 

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Well, she might as well begin at the beginning. She will apologize to Urtho if there turns out to be a sense in which he has not been dead for two thousand years.

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It is not often that I meet a student who leaves me both awed and frightened. 

This time, his name is Kiyamvir Ma’ar. He is a boy of fourteen, old to be only starting his training in mage-craft, and he does not speak the Tantaran or the Kata’shin’a’in languages, we have only trade-pidgin in common. Two challenges that I face. He is of Predain, to the north, born to one of their nomadic tribes. They are not much like my peaceful Kaled’a’in; his are a violent people, and I fear he has seen much horror and heartbreak in his short life. 

He will not speak of it to me. I suppose I have not yet earned his trust. I am not sure that anyone has his trust, and it is a sad thing to observe. He seems the most entirely self-reliant child I have ever encountered, and I am not sure that he calls anybody friend. 

It is not true that he has had no training. Despite his youth, he served a mage-warlord in his travels before he came to us. His skills and potential were sadly under-utilized; he tells me he was a petty clerk, and helped with the ledgers. I am sure he was very good at the job, but nonetheless, what a terrible waste of a brilliant mind. 

He is intelligent, that much is clear, and I have rarely seen such drive. I think he will catch up with his classmates with no trouble, and perhaps far exceed them. There is a spark in him, a strength of ambition I have missed in so many others. He will let nothing hold him back. 

Perhaps there is a desperation in it. A thirst, not only for knowledge, but for power. Control. This is what frightens me. We know from our past that this thirst for power is what leads so inexorably down the path of darkness. 

He seeks to protect others who are vulnerable, and this does assuage my worry somewhat, though I hope he will learn to do it in a way that does not violate our customs so. I will not tolerate fights amongst my students. 

He does not feel safe here, and it pains me. No one need sleep with a weapon under their pillow, here in Ka’venusho, and yet I suppose he is not yet ready to believe that. 

Yet he did seek me out, and ask if I would be his teacher. I will not turn any student away, and I will do my best to guide him down the path of light. 

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It seems to Aza that if you are Urtho writing in your diary about how you are concerned about your new student Ma'ar you might want to bother to write down that you suggested to your other student Azabel that she go make friends, but apparently he skipped it. The rest is characteristic vague ethics rambling, classic Urtho. Next?

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In the same sheaf of ancient papers, held together with a clip, are a few pages of purely rambling about gryphons and his various travails with their complicated medical problems. Urtho's pride and delight comes across clearly. 

The next excerpted entry is from three years later, nearly a year after the day Aza walked into Urtho's office and touched an artifact that should absolutely not have been left sitting around. 

...

Young Ma’ar is my pride and joy, and yet I swear that he will be the death of me. 

He considers nothing sacred. One might think this uncharitable of me, but I asked him and he agreed! He will say it is a concept that does not make sense, that there is only the world, the cold logic and laws on which it turns, and the lives of the people in it. He has no respect for the gods. I do not know what to say to him on this; I am no shaman, to counsel youngsters in theology. Perhaps I ought send him to one of the shamans, that they might offer the advice I cannot, but I fear he might offend them deeply. 

We spoke in our seminar today of compulsions, and why this is dark magic. Ma’ar, as always, is of the opinion that ‘dark’ and ‘light’ are not coherent concepts, and that we must look only to results. He listed twenty ways that one might use a compulsion, in and off the battlefield, to save lives and improve the situation of people. As usual, his fellow students struggle to find the flaws in his logic, though the conclusions are monstrous, and so it devolves into name-calling from which I must rescue him. 

At least it is not so bad as the incident of the blood-magic debate. I encourage debate among the young scholars, it is a way to stretch our minds, but Ma’ar debates as though he is fighting for his life. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to debate the potential merits of blood-magic, in the abstract of course; I should have predicted that Ma’ar would take it entirely too seriously. 

And then, of course, there is the search for immortality. Ma’ar is hardly the first youngster to seek out a fountain of youth, and perhaps his naivety will fade with the years – and yet, there is something different in his approach. Others have told me that he speaks to them of dark magics that prolong life. There is still a desperation in him, it seems, and for more than power alone. Death is a part of the natural order, and yet he would defy it, and I know him well; he would call that defiance good and right. 

Nonetheless, it is a pleasure when he comes to my office. His mind is so quick, and he places no limits on his thoughts. It has been a very long time since I have felt challenged by one so young. 

I would like to invite Ma’ar to my next salon, though he is not yet eighteen years old; he is the equal of many of my Adepts already, though he falls behind in concert-work. Trusting in others is still such a struggle for him. A weakness that I hope I may help him remedy. After all, Great Workings are the most transformative innovation of our recent age. 

I hope also that he will learn to make friends. He spends little effort on those small courtesies that would smooth his way, and it will not make his life easy if he continues to baffle and offend his classmates as he does now. I think he is coming to understand this, and perhaps making efforts in this direction, but of course he thinks of it in his usual frame, in terms of allies and power. I wish he would see the value, not simply in trading favours, but in loyal friends. There is a wound in him still, I think. I look at him, and I see a young man who is desperately lonely, and yet does not know there is any other way to live. 

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She doesn't remember Ma'ar having a particular deficit in concert-work. Or... ever visiting Urtho's office. Is Urtho not aware that he has a friend? Maybe he thinks he should have more of them.
But perhaps he fell behind later, picked up the habit later, never got over Aza and found another friend. Or these journals were falsified by someone seeking to narrativize the Cataclysm better, maybe, though they're pretty good at the handwriting mimicry.

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This entry, too, comes along with an additional several pages about gryphons. 

There is absolutely no mention of granting them the right to control their own reproduction; in fact, half a page is dedicated to fussing over two lovestruck gryphons who Urtho thinks are a poor choice for mating purposes. 

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...that's very weird.

She flips back through what she's already read and makes a note of everything that seems wrong.

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(It's hard to tell if anything in the earlier gryphon section is wrong, since it's from well before she first had a conversation with him about it.) 

The entry at the start of the next folder is dated a full six years after she would have disappeared. 

...

I will not ask any to stay in my Tower who is not willing, and so young Adept Kiyamvir Ma’ar has left us today, and returned to his homeland.

He would be happier here, I think, among his fellow scholars, those who see and respect his mind for what it is, but he has always been ambitious. Learning is not enough for him; he wishes to take it out into the world, and transform it. 

An admirable desire, and a dangerous one. I worry less for him now than I did once; there is a darkness in him, but there is great light as well, and in the end none of us can claim to be free of darkness and base desires. 

Nonetheless, out in the world, he will be tempted. Unscrupulous men will offer him great reward in exchange for his power. The desire for power and control over so much more than just magic is a weakness in his spirit, and one that I was never able to convince him was a flaw. 

I will miss him dearly. He has been a pleasure in my advanced classes and seminars, in recent years – he speaks so well, he is relentlessly curious, and he has learned to be attentive to the feelings of others. I thought the day would never come! Occasionally he will say something shocking, but we are all used to it by now; we know it is his way, and part of his charm. I would not describe him as popular, exactly, but he is respected. It would be difficult not to respect his skill, when he exceeds many Adepts three times his age. 

I remember the last conversation that we shared, here in this office. I told him yet again that it would please me for him to stay, continue his studies, and teach as he was taught. I reminded him of all we have to offer here in Ka’venusho, and he said that is why he must leave. Because Tantara flourishes, and so that is not where he is needed. 

He tells me that these are dark times outside of my Kingdom, and I cannot say he is wrong. There has been trouble on our borders for a long time. I know this, and yet, I am Archmage to Tantara, not to the world. I would not wish it to be otherwise; it would be entirely too much power to risk placing in the hands of one man. 

I think that Ma’ar looks down on me for this, and I cannot yet explain why that is a mistake; he is still too young, too full of fire, he is not yet tempered by failure and defeat. Some things cannot be taught, only learned for oneself. Someday, perhaps, we will sit down for a drink together, as equals, and he will tell me he understands what I have tried to say to him all along. 

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This bit seems totally uninformed by classroom discussions she attended about mages having power... again is sort of weird in not mentioning her...

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There are a few more entries in a similar vein, detailing an ongoing exchange of letters that Urtho apparently shared with Ma'ar over many years. Urtho's tone continues to be somewhere between fond and disapproving, but as the entries go on, the disapproval and even alarm start to dominate. 

There is still not one single mention of Azabel. 

...

Sixteen years after Azabel's unintended departure: 

Ma’ar has done well for himself, that is certain; he is first advisor to a King, at the tender age of thirty-three, when I myself did not become Archmage until eighty. 

He is not shy to use this influence. It is not announced which policies are his, of course, yet I would recognize his touch anywhere. The use of compulsion-spells within the armies of Predain is now standard. They say it is for purposes of coordination, that men might work smoothly together with less need of drilling, but I see a darker purpose there. 

It displeases me greatly, but this newest change is worst. They have declared blood-magic to be legal, taking the lives of convicts to fuel their public workings. Only those who volunteer, and they are promised a painless death and posthumous recognition for their service, a hero’s funeral; this is what Ma’ar writes to me in defence; but nonetheless it is not and cannot be a free choice. Ma’ar would say that these are men who would have been hanged anyway, and that the power bound in their blood might as well not go to waste. It is exactly his cold logic, and I do not like it any better now than I did before, but he is no longer my young pupil, that I might lecture on such matters. The time that Ma’ar might have listened is long past.

Perhaps he is too far lost to the darkness. Perhaps he was from the very beginning. 

And yet, he writes to me still, and in the words he pens, I see the light he carries as well. It is with pride that he offers the census-tallies on his Kingdom, year by year – and so like him, to share his tale in tables of dry figures, but he is right that they tell a story. Fewer soldiers have died in border defence since his policies were enacted. Three new Healers’ compounds were built by mages using the death-energy of sentenced murderers, their names marked on plaques by the doors, and he offers a calculation of how many lives might have been saved as a result. Few infants die each year; fewer mothers perish in childbirth. The cold logic of numbers, still, but there is a kind of heart in that also. 

...

More entries. Less and less fondness; growing alarm. Apparently, though, Urtho and Ma'ar continue to be on speaking terms.

More mentions of gryphons incidentally attached. There's still no sign that Urtho is giving them any say whatsoever in their choice of mates or timing of children. 

... 

And, another five years later: 

Ma’ar is building an empire. 

I might have seen the signs of this a decade ago, had I been looking. His meteoric rise to power and influence with the King of Predain, who they say now only listens to him. 

He has built their army into a fighting machine, well-oiled by the darkest of compulsions. He requested the aid of my gryphons, and when I would not offer it, attempted his own Great Working, creating the makaar. It was hasty, of course, and ill-done – it could not be otherwise, when I took thirty years on my Working and he completed his in three – yet surprisingly effective for it, and he now has flying creatures on his side. His combat mages are trained in the use of blood-power. They say it is for use in exceptional circumstances only, but that is a thin excuse. 

Kingdoms fall on either side, to be absorbed and taken into this monstrosity of his making, and I fear the day that he might see nothing left to the east or west or north, and will march south on Tantara. 

In his last letter to me, he told me that he would not. Tantara is a Kingdom more prosperous and well-run than most, he wrote, and he does not wish for us to be enemies. In his private letters to me, he has floated the prospect of a formal alliance. 

King Leodhan will not stand for it. He is afraid, and seeks my reassurance, which I cannot give. Ma’ar knows no limits, no scruples; he would not hesitate to march on us and tear down everything I have built in seventy years. The fact that I once took him in and taught him would not stay his hand. He claims to have great respect for me, and yet he does not heed my advice, and I am not sure what paths he leaves but for us to be enemies. 

I do not feel as though Ma’ar is my enemy. And yet, perhaps by remembering the boy with fondness, I have blinded myself to the man he has become. Or it could be that all along, I saw only what I wished to see. His clever mind. His noble words. 

Words are cheap. Actions speak louder. 

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She has the regrettably inactionable desire to march all these papers into Urtho's office and plop them on his desk and ask him what in the world is wrong with him.

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Not long after that: 

I have spoken to King Leodhan, and his decision is made. We will not wait for Ma’ar’s armies to move in on us. 

I cannot blame Leodhan for this choice. The advantage is always to the first mover, and we cannot afford to wait. The risk is too high. Ma’ar’s empire is growing too quickly, and I shudder to think what he will do with more power. 

It is my advice that led Leodhan to this conclusion. I have spoken to him of my once-student’s ambition, of the callousness I saw in him, the cold disregard for all that is sacred – and also of his warmth, and how once he risked punishment, fighting to defend another child. 

I tell Leodhan that perhaps Ma’ar cares too much, and it blinds him. He tries to impose his vision of how things ought to be, and does not consider the cost inherent in power and control, in overriding the wishes of his fellow man. I feared for his path twenty-five years ago, and I was unable to guide him to the light, and so now there is no choice but to stop him. 

And yet, I wonder if it something I will come to regret. I am not sure. 

In his heart, does Ma’ar still call me friend? If I betray him, it will surely be too late for that.

...

The entries, after this point, grow sparser and more rushed, the handwriting even harder to decipher.

Not long after Tantara invades Predain, Ma'ar plans a counterattack, and takes the capital and the Palace. Almost without bloodshed, apparently; he uses some sort of obscure mind-controlling artifact, one that gradually generates more and more fear and panic in anyone within the spell's range. Overnight, every unshielded person in the Palace flees; with no one left in authority, the rest of the city offers little resistance when Ma'ar's troops are Gated in. 

Urtho is absolutely horrified; he sees this as proof that Ma'ar is truly too far lost in the darkness for anything to be salvaged. He describes agonizing over whether to explosively disable the permanent Gate-terminus in the Palace, releasing its energies and blowing up Ma'ar's prize before he can find any use in it. He decides against, it would only be matching one atrocity for another; he shuts it down, before Ma'ar can figure out the keys to use it, but non-destructively. 

Only a handful of months later, when a different Gate-terminus is captured, this one he does use to trigger an explosion and kill everyone within ten miles. 

It isn't enough. The war is moving fast, now, and going very badly for Urtho. 

He mentions that Ma'ar is still trying to send messages, to propose talks, to de-escalate the war he claims never to have wanted. Urtho is apparently not answering them. He writes that they must be some kind of ruse, and that in any case it doesn't matter; Ma'ar is too far gone, monsters cannot be bargained with. 

Ma'ar's army draws nearer to the Tower itself. Urtho plans a frantic evacuation. (The entry describing this is very short, hurried.) 

In the final note, his handwriting wanders up and down the page, barely legible at all. 

...

I wish there were magics that might let one take back the past, and do it over. 

There is no such spell; this is my bed, I have made it and I must lie in it. 

I think now it was a mistake to let Leodhan push for war. Perhaps it would have ended so all the same, and with Tantara in a weaker position as the unprepared defender – and yet, I sometimes think that if it had, it might have been over more quickly, mercifully, and with less bloodshed on either side. 

What is wrong with me? War has left me so weary, I catch myself wishing that my worst enemy might have won sooner. 

I never wished to call Ma’ar my enemy. 

Perhaps I made a wrong turn sooner, and in some other world I might have salvaged my young student, and guided him to a kinder and less destructive path. Perhaps in some other world, we work together now, as allies and friends. I long to step out of this world and into that, and of course I cannot. 

I am a sentimental old man, it seems, and unsuited to commanding an army. 

This is not how I wished it to end, and I am sure Ma’ar did not wish for it either. Even now, he sends letters, and tries to broker an alliance that I can no longer offer him. He has strayed too far. The atrocities of this war are unforgivable. 

No matter what comes, he must not take the Tower, and the powers that lie within my sanctum. I am glad beyond measure that I never spoke of this to him, though I revealed far more than I should have. I trusted him more than I should have. 

And so it will end as it ends, as we tear apart each other’s armies in fiery destruction, and perhaps history will remember a foolish old man who misjudged his greatest enemy. 

I wish it were otherwise. 

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WHAT THE HELL, URTHO.

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Urtho's journals do not have any further answers on the question of what the hell he was thinking. 

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A few minutes later, Dara reaches out with Mindspeech. :I'm headed to bed. Do you need anything else first?: 

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:I'm fine but these journals are inconsistent with what I know and I'm concerned they may have been extensively falsified. Either that or the artifact didn't just time travel me but rather erased me from existence before depositing me into now:

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:I - what - but who in all hells would've falsified them and somehow gotten them into Urtho's private basement? I don't...: 

A pause. 

:This seems important but Rolan says I should sleep first and we can talk about it tomorrow, does that work for you?: 

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:Yeah:

Aza doesn't go right to sleep herself, but she organizes her notes again a little pointlessly and sits up staring at them for only a little while before turning in.

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Nothing disturbs her overnight. 

Dara reaches out with Mindspeech again shortly after dawn, touching her shields gently enough that it shouldn't wake her if she's still sleeping. 

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Aza's awake, though not up. :Mm?:

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:Er, want to let me know when you're ready for breakfast, and we can meet and talk at the same time?: 

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:Give me ten minutes:

And ten minutes later she Mindtouches Dara.

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:Be right there:

Dara arrives two minutes later at her door with a breakfast tray. :Figured it'd be simplest to meet in here. Tea?: 

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:Thanks. So, uh, the stuff in the journals is -

- I'm Ma'ar's best and only friend, have been for years, it's actually really, really weird that I wouldn't come up even once in a series of diary entries about him and his moral development and ambition and stuff for that reason alone, not least because Urtho's the one who told me we had a new student and maybe I could help him catch up on things in the first place. But also I told Urtho off about how he was managing the gryphons and there's no sign that he was ever checked on that at all, and between that and other lesser tells I can't quite verbalize I think this is somehow a set of journals from a - situation in which I did not exist, not just one where I vanished mysteriously and never came back:

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Dara freezes. Stares at her in silence for a long moment. 

:I - wow - that's even weirder than the other way? Right? Er, I don't know, maybe they're both equally weird...: She rubs her forehead. :...Do you think that explains Leareth being, um, more willing to murder people than you expected - would Ma'ar have grown up that way if you hadn't been around, if Urtho were the closest he had to a friend...?: 

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:Maybe. Urtho doesn't really - speak his language. I can't see him being a particularly useful guide to ethics for... anybody, let alone Ma'ar, though most people are more conventionally minded than Ma'ar so Urtho had lots of chances to not notice that he sucks at it. And Ma'ar starts out pretty - hm - expectant of conflict, not really conscious of how all the social systems around him grew into place, that sort of thing:

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Dara shakes her head. :That's– gods, it's mostly incredibly tragic? If - if this could've gone better, in the world where Ma'ar did have you as a friend... 'Expectant of conflict' seems like a decent description of Leareth even now - or, well, expects most people to be his enemies, expects that things won't work unless he's incredibly paranoid and ruthless about it...: 

Her eyes turn back to Azabel. :Van thought he must have felt so hurt and betrayed, when Urtho attacked first. How - you know him better, what - how would that affect him?: 

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:My Ma'ar and Urtho aren't actually that close! If I imagine that - uh - that I wind up in charge of one country and he winds up in charge of another and then I for some insane reason decide to attack him just because he looks like he's having too much fun over there and I imagine he might want to steal my country - if I imagine that it would fuck him up real bad, yeah, but, like, I would not do that, because I am not as poorly rounded a person as Urtho or apparently the King of Tantara:

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:You don't sound very impressed with Urtho: 

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:He's a brilliant mage, absolutely brilliant, able to pull off incredible feats of invention and enchantment.

He's also a dumbass:

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Dara snickers, half-heartedly trying to hide it. :It really sounds like it: 

Her smile fades quickly. 

:If you're right, then - it might be a lot harder for, er, your versions of Urtho and Ma'ar to come find you here?: 

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:Yeah. I don't - think I should expect to go home:

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:I'm sorry: 

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:Thanks:

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:Well. I, um, given that...: Dara sort of shrugs. :What do you want to do? You're welcome to stay here, of course - whether or not you want to help us with the war. I'd understand if you don't, if the Ma'ar you knew was a close friend: 

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:I mean, I don't want him to roll in and murder ten million people! I'm very fond of him but I am not 'let him murder ten million people' fond! But I am not a combatant and apparently don't have nearly as much personal insight into Leareth as you may have hoped what with this one never having met me: She sighs. :Any joy on the truth spell?:

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:...Um, we talked about it. I'm pushing for yes, but Treven, er, wants to ask you some questions first. In particular, you're strongly Gifted enough to cast the coercive version, and, er, we would be more comfortable about that if you reassured us you wouldn't use that to dig state secrets out of any Heralds: 

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:One of the tells that this Ma'ar never met me is that he's apparently real compulsion-happy. I am not okay with that sort of thing and you can ask me that under the spell if you want:

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Dara looks relieved. :That would help a lot. Hmm - if you're done eating, want to come with me and talk to Treven again?: 

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:Sure:

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Dara offers her arm again, and they troop back across the path to the meeting-room building. It's still snowing, though not quite a blizzard anymore. 

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Treven is waiting for them, freshly-bathed and dressed in immaculate Herald's Whites, but with dark shadows under his eyes. :Azabel! I hope you slept well?: 

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:I was comfortable, thank you:

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:My Companion passed on the quick version of, er, what you and Dara just talked about, with the journals not matching, but it's bizarre, and - could you summarize it for me again?: 

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:Ma'ar and I have been best friends for years and I have influenced him substantially; I also have influenced Urtho, though less. The journals aren't consistent with that and it appears they were written by an Urtho who didn't have me around:

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:The other explanation being that they were modified or falsified somehow, which doesn't make sense either: Treven runs his blond ponytail through his fingers. :Anyway. May I have Dara cast a first-level Truth Spell for a few minutes?: 

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:Yes:

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He waits for Dara's nod. :Right. First - have you been keeping any secrets from us? If not, are there conditions where you would choose to in future?: 

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:Uh, yes, I have not decided to tell you literally everything I know, but I don't think anything I'm withholding has strategic implications for your war:

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:That'll do. Second. Are there any conditions - events that could happen, or information you could learn - where you could imagine yourself deciding to sabotage our war effort or go over to Leareth's side?: 

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:...I guess I'd go to his side if I determined he was right? This would require a lot of the information you've given me to turn out to be false though:

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:Tran won't like that: This is directed more to Dara than Azabel, but not actively excluding her. 

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Dara nods, then turns to Azabel. :We don't know for sure that the recent attacks were him. That's why Van went north, right, in case we were wrong and actually he's still trying to cooperate if he can. The other information we told you is almost all things that Leareth said to Vanyel himself: 

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:Sure, but I have it thirdhand, and I'm short on context and will be for a while, I just don't have enough confidence to commit absolutely at this time:

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:I think that's fair enough. Trev?: 

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He seems less happy with it, but nods. :And, if it turns out that teaching you Truth Spell even works, do you promise you won't use the coercive Truth Spell on any Herald?: 

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:Er, unless we give you express permission to for some reason, I don't want to rule that out: 

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:Yes:

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Treven takes a deep breath, and nods. :All right. Dara, you can teach her, I have to go meet with Joshel about the treasury -: 

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:I've never tried to teach someone who wasn't a Herald before! I would consider asking Shavri but, um, this is the worst time for that: She turns to Azabel and smiles reassuringly. :I'll give it a good try. You've got mage-sight, that may help– oh! Gods. If we ask you to do a lot of magic for us, we'll need a solution for the vrondi - I'll see if I can get you one of the talismans...: 

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:- a solution for the vrondi?:

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:Vanyel, er, made them part of the Web-alarms - sorry, the Web is a sort of giant ward system over the whole kingdom. If someone who's not keyed into it - which means anyone who's not a Herald - does significant mage-work here, they trigger an alarm for us, and also cluster and watch them. Most people find it really distracting and bothersome. It was, um, part of our plan for having warning if Leareth invades, but it's...kind of inconvenient right now: 

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:I would like to be able to do magic without being bothered by vrondi:

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:I'll get that sorted out. Pretty sure we have spare talismans, it's just - an issue that we're going to be bringing dozens of mages in from other countries, and we don't have dozens of them: Sigh. :Anyway. The way Vanyel explained it, the Truth Spell is a degenerate version of an elemental summoning, modified so it can be done with any mind-gift as well as mage-gift. Deedre, one of our Herald-Mages from the previous generation, researched and invented it. It's easy for any Herald to learn, but partly that's because their link to the Web makes them recognizable and trustworthy to the vrondi, it might take you more work. The basic version is this rhyme, you recite it in your head and visualize calling the vrondi like so...: 

 And she explains how to cast a Truth Spell. It's simple, but incredibly elegant, an impressive invention; even the concept of modifying a mage-working to be doable by a Mindspeaker is a brilliant one. 

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:That's really cool!

- uh, now is the part where I admit I slightly wasted your time, I have a way to detect lies already but I thought it would be useful information if you would or wouldn't teach me yours:

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:I see: Dara gives her a long, intent look. :...Guess I can't blame you, really, this isn't an easy position for you to be in: Her eyes light up with curiosity. :What's your way? I don't think we know of any others: 

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:I use Mindhealing but it's possible to do it with Thoughtsensing too, and I've heard other gifts can stretch for it too, you just sort of - blur out your Sight till that's all you see. It took a lot of practice:

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:Huh! Neat. I should ask Melody if she can do that, I never thought of it. This is something they taught at Urtho's Tower?: 

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:I was physically located there at the time but I actually self-taught it based on a rumor my Mindhealing teacher told me:

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:Huh! That's proactive of you. Anyway - who do you want to talk to now that you know the Truth Spell? King Randale thinks he's feeling well enough to meet you later this morning, he's quite curious: 

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:Oh, anyone who can verify to me that they'd know for sure if your country had struck first or planned to do so will be fine:

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:Right. Um, as the King's Own, I'm pretty sure I would know. We're calling in our allies and we're going to be staging troops at the border, after the recent attacks, but we don't intend to attack first. For one, we have very little idea where his army is, aside from 'north of the Ice Wall mountains': 

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:Okay, but if you found out where it is?:

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:Valdemar has a longstanding policy against invading other territories. Which, honestly, I think we carried too far in the last war, but - it's hard to imagine what would push Randi into marching north without, er, a much stronger indication that his army was actually invading: 

She stops. Goes silent for a moment. 

:...Iftel might. They're our neighbours and allies and we just sent Queen Karis over to ask for their help: 

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:Well, that's not great but I'm not going to withhold weather-magic in your own territory because you have allies who might be itching for a fight, I suppose:

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Nod. :I appreciate it: 

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:Can someone tell me what the weather is supposed to be like around here this time of year and I can start?:

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:I think Kilchas has a book on it, he does a lot of our weather magic - I can have him swing by and give you the rundown?: 

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:That would help as I cannot read your language:

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A few minutes later, Kilchas arrives to explain local weather patterns and weather-magic practices to her. He's an older man, wizened and grey-haired, visibly out of breath from his walk over. 

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She takes notes in her own language to consult and then she's just waiting on a talisman to get started taking care of the snow situation.

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Dara invites her to join them for lunch again, and has a talisman for her. 

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Aza eats up - weather is hungry work - and puts it around her neck. :Thanks:

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:You're welcome. We really, really appreciate that you're willing to help with this: 

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:I mean I wouldn't have felt great about occupying a room and eating your food and not doing literally anything, and I like weather work:

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:Makes sense: Dara shakes her head. :No other news for you, I'm afraid. Jisa will be raising a Gate to White Winds again in three days, to bring their recruits over, so we might hear from them if your people came looking for you. ...But I'm not hopeful: 

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:Me either:

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The rest of that day is uneventful. Kilchas is a strong Mindspeaker and occasionally touches base with her about weather-working. Later in the afternoon, Dara asks if she would also be willing to cover some badly-neglected routine maintenance - does she know book-preservation or stone-fortifying spells? 

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She knows book-preservation and would be happy to learn stone-fortifying if they want to teach her.

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They would be! Sandra can teach her. Also King Randale is available to meet her tomorrow morning, if she’s interested in that.

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Sure, why not, she's never met a king before.

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Then Dara will take her over the next morning after breakfast.

She pauses just outside what’s apparently the royal suite; it’s still not very fancy, even compared to standard classrooms at the Tower. 

:I should warn you. Randi has - some sort of incurable illness. He’s...well, he’s dying. And looks it. I didn’t want that to be a total surprise:

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:I understand:

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And they go in.

King Randale, indeed, looks like a man on his deathbed. Skeletally thin, skin loose and papery over his bones, hair not so much prematurely grey as colorless, eyes sunk deep into their sockets. 

“Azabel,” he says out loud.

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:He’s barely a Mindspeaker: the green-robed woman sitting at his bedside explains. :I can relay, if that’s easiest:

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:This is Healer Shavri: Dara explains. And then adds, in private Mindspeech, :Randi’s lifebonded:

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Aza's fine at talking to people who aren't Mindspeakers at all. :Hello, it's nice to meet you:

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King Randale seems startled, but not displeased. After a moment he answers.

:I’m sorry about your situation. It must be - a lot to absorb. But we’re grateful for your help here, and - for the information you brought us about Ma’ar, whatever it means:

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:I don't think it will be terribly useful, unfortunately:

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:Maybe not: A sigh. :You’re a Mindhealer as well as a mage, no? I realize the language barrier will be difficult, but if you’re willing, I think the dean of our Mindhealers’ Collegium would be delighted to speak with you about your education and practices. We have very few Mindhealers in the Kingdom, and the Collegium was founded only a handful of years ago, so Melody definitely wants all the advice she can get:

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:That sounds interesting!:

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:I’m glad. Dara will organize something: 

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Dara sighs slightly at the addition of another task, but makes a note on her slate.

:Should we arrange you some lessons on the language?: she adds. :Since we aren’t sure when or if you’ll be able to go home:

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:I'd appreciate that. I don't mind Mindspeaking but I'd like to be able to read:

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:Of course. We’ll sort something out: 

And she escorts Azabel away from the dying king’s bedside.

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Aza follows along. :Is there anyone who speaks my language at all? You read the journals somehow, right?:

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:It was a Shin’a’in historian who did the translation. We could potentially try to reach her? But the Dhorisha Plains and what’s left of Urtho’s Tower are pretty far away, and none of the mages here have a Gate-location there:

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:Oh. Oh well:

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:Sorry. I’ll let you know if anything changes there: 

Kilchas visits her again that afternoon to work together on the weather; it’s finally stopped snowing but a fresh storm-front is on its way.

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Just before supper she’s introduced to Herald Sandra, a tall, scarred, blind woman, who wears some sort of odd magical artifact on a necklace. It’s not a shield; it seems to be...doing something to the air?

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:Hi. You're going to teach me to fortify stone?:

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:That's the plan! We can start out on the roof of the guest wing, it's overdue anyway. Lots of things are: 

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:How come?:

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:Well, we lost a lot of mages in the war with Karse. And, er, probably before that, since apparently Leareth was killing or kidnapping our mages for a while. I guess maybe we've been trying to figure out how to adapt the schedule we had twenty years ago, with fewer personnel, and - haven't actually gotten all the way to something that works: 

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Twenty years is a long time to fail at that but Aza doesn't say anything, just learns the spell.

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Sandra is a decent teacher, despite being tired and preoccupied, and they manage to finish the roof on the guest-wing and then head out for a late supper. 

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At which point Dara joins up with them again. 

:Melody says she'd love to talk to you after breakfast tomorrow: 

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:Sure, will she come get me?:

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:Oh, right, you don't know where the House of Healing is. I'll tell her to do that: 

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Aza works on the weather and eats and after breakfast expects a colleague.

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And, a few minutes after breakfast, there's a polite knock on her door. 

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:Come in:

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Melody nudges the door open. :Azabel, right? I'm Melody. You're a Mindhealer too?: 

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:Yes. What's your metaphor? Mine's clockwork:

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:Mine is tapestries. And I never got much in the way of formal training, my apprenticeship was with a Healer-Empath. You?: 

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:My teacher is a -

- my teacher was a Mindhealer. Lionwind k'Leshya. He saw rivers. And we had books, and correspondences, with other people...:

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Melody ducks her head. :....I'm sorry, you must - still be getting used to not being there anymore: 

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:It's not great:

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:Anyway. I've been trying to set up systems here in Valdemar where there can be books written about this, and letters exchanged, but - well, we haven't had that for a long time. So you may well have better training than I do: 

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:Okay. I can try to write down what I remember from our books and what Lionwind taught me:

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:I appreciate it. I also - hmm...: Melody tugs at the collar of her robes. :I know the language barrier is an issue, right now, but I do have at least one patient who's a Mindspeaker. And it's something where I'm a bit too close to the situation to be objective about it. Do you think that's something where you'd be willing to help?: 

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:I'm used to seeing patients with some supervision - not in the sessions but going over reports after - but I can do it. Also I can Mindspeak to non-Mindspeakers:

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:Right, of course, I'd be happy to go over reports with you after - and talk through mine with you, honestly, I think it'd be very valuable. I'll keep in mind that I can maybe give you un-Gifted patients, if they're comfortable with that. And probably we shouldn't plan to start any of this until tomorrow, anyway: 

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:Sure. Is there anything in particular you're curious about from my educational background?:

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:Hmm. I guess I'm curious what you learned about redirects and blocks - er, if those even match over to terms you were taught at all...?: 

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:We called those 'shunts'. Both of them. They're not very different in kind, just degree: And she explains what she knows about shunts.

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Melody listens intently. :How fascinating! Yes, I see your point, how they're not fundamentally different...: 

And she goes on to explain a bit of the curriculum she's come up with for the new Mindhealers' Collegium, and then excuses herself to go see a patient. 

:- Could you come by the House of Healing tomorrow morning?: she asks Azabel on her way out. :If you're up for seeing a patient or two, at least - we really could use the extra help, we're incredibly swamped right now: 

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:You'll have to tell me where it is:

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:Oh, right - I'll send a trainee over to grab you, how's that?: 

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:Sounds good:

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The next morning, as promised, a pale-green-robed young student shows up at the dining hall when Azabel is eating breakfast with the Heralds, and once she's done, escorts her to the House of Healing. It's not far, and the weather is much better now; the sun is out, and the snow framing the paths looks quite pretty. 

Melody meets her at a sort of high round table at the nexus of several spreading-out hallways. :Good morning. Want some chava?: She's holding a cup filled with some sort of of steaming, fragrant beverage.

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:What is it?:

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:It's a drink we get from Seejay! It helps you wake up and stay alert, and also it tastes pretty good - in my opinion, at least, lots of people only like it with cream and honey: 

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:I'm awake enough, thanks. Who am I seeing today?:

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:I've got a handful of new patients on the waiting list that I thought I might give you, but that'd be later. For a start, I think I want to introduce you to Brightstar. We can see him together, I'm hoping you might have some advice: 

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:Sure. Can you give me an overview?:

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:Yes, of course. Let's go sit down in my office, this might take a bit: 

She starts leading the way. :Er, to start, has anyone explained much about the Tayledras to you? They're one-half of what used to be the Kaled'a'in people, so I suppose you'd know Brightstar's ancestors, but...well, it's been an eventful few thousand years: 

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:I won't expect him to be too much like the Kaled'a'in I know:

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They reach a door at the end of the hall, which opens onto a pleasant little office; there's a desk, and a slate on the wall with the start of a day-schedule on it. There are four doors opening off it; two are closed and have little signs on them warning that the occupants aren't to be disturbed. 

Melody pulls Azabel into a third room and shuts the door, gesturing to an armchair.

:Some history - after the Cataclysm, the surviving Kaled'a'in schismed. Both halves formed different pacts with their Goddess, taking on some ongoing responsibility, in exchange for help staying alive I guess. Some of the clans became the Shin'a'in; they stay put guarding the Plains, which we now know really means guarding Urtho's Tower and his damned weapons, and they swore off the use of magic except for a few shamanic duties. The rest became the Tayledras. Their pact is to clean up and fix the land damaged by the Cataclysm, which we call the Pelagirs. They live in Vales, a couple hundred people with shields to keep out the dangerous beasties, and they have something called Heartstones, which are a very unusual magic that the Star-Eyed granted them. Supposedly each Heartstone has a fragment of Her inside it. They're - hmm, I'm not a mage, but my best understanding is that they're like nodes except stable and...somewhat intelligent. Vanyel built one here in Haven, a decade or so ago, with advice from his Tayledras friends; it's what supports the new Web: 

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:Huh, okay... the damaged land produces "beasties"?:

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:I don't understand the exact details, but there's a lot of strange magical residue, and it...changes...the plants and animals living nearby. Kills lots of them, but the surviving ones often end up with odd magical abilities, like invisibility. They're called Changecreatures: 

A pause. :The monster that swam down the river and killed Savil may have been a Changecreature, coming from hundreds of miles upstream where the river runs through the Pelagirs. Or could be a mage-construct designed to look like one, we don't know: 

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:Do you still have it?:

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:Its body, yes. Half taken apart, but it should still be in the Healers' stillroom: Melody's eyes narrow. :Why?: 

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:I wrote a book on gryphons out of Urtho's notes, I don't know if a mage-construct with modern techniques would have any similar signs of being made that way but I could give it a shot:

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:Oh! Yes, please - I'll have to run it by Dara of course, but it seems like an excellent idea to get your impression too: A pause. :Especially since if it was made by Leareth, well, he could plausibly have learned that sort of magic at Urtho's Tower too: 

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:Plausibly, yeah, if he didn't update it much in the last two thousand years:

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:Seems worth checking, anyway: Melody sighs. :After. Back to Brightstar. He's a Healing-Adept; it's a particular mix of Gifts that seems unique to the Tayledras. Adept-strength mage-gift, comparably strong Healing, and...probably some other, third, Gift, that lets him use Healing on the land itself and not just people or animals. Healing-Adepts handle the most important elements of cleansing the land and making it safe and inhabitable again:

She pauses for a moment, frowning and tugging at the sleeve of her robe. :Sorry, just thinking how to explain. They're also, hmm – they're unusually sensitive in some ways, and especially closely-bound to their homeland. It's a sort of sacred duty: 

Melody closes her eyes. Takes a slow breath. :...You heard what happened to k'Treva Vale?: 

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:It got blown up:

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:Yes. Specifically, the Heartstone was destabilized. We suspect by Leareth, somehow, though it's not at all clear how - or why, honestly, it seems like an unusually difficult mission to pull off and there must be ways to hurt us worse with less work: 

Shrug. :Brightstar was here in Haven when it happened. We learned of it when he and Jisa Gated over to investigate. Brightstar...saw what had happened to his home, up close. All his family and friends there are dead. The land he's spent his entire life working to repair is destroyed. Also the magical residue hit him hard, physically, because of his Healing-Adept Gifts. So he's quite ill as well as incredibly traumatized: 

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:Oh, yikes. Okay, that's... a little more difficult than I normally would have been seeing at this point but I can give it a go:

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:I would appreciate it. You won't be seeing him alone the first time, I want to be there and introduce you - mostly I want another set of eyes on this, to be honest feel a bit out of my depth with him: 

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:Okay. Do you have policy on degree of appropriate personal rapport - like, apparently my home also blew up and everyone I knew is dead except the one who has turned into a mass murderer -:

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:Oh, hmm, good question. Our Collegium doesn't have a firm policy on it - personally I don't tend to lean on that sort of personal rapport, but that's more a matter of my style, not because I think it's objectively correct. What do you think your teacher would've said about it?: 

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:Probably that I should use my best judgment after I get to know Brightstar a little more and see if what I'm doing to cope would work for him:

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:Makes sense. Any more questions, or do you feel ready to go see him?:

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:I'm ready if he is:

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:Gemma said now’s as good as any time. Just a moment...:

Melody drains the rest of her chava, sets down the cup, and stands. :Let’s go: 

She forges back out into the main hallway, past the Healers’ central station again, and eventually pauses at a door. She knocks, saying something in Valdemaran, and waits for the equally incomprehensible answer before opening the door.

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Brightstar is a young man - he looks a couple of years older than Azabel - with waist-length silver-white hair, currently tangled and splayed everywhere. He’s curled up in bed, hugging himself tightly; he does look ill, pale and clammy, eyes dark-ringed.

The Healing trainee sitting at his bedside says something else to Melody, who nods briskly.

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:Hello, Brightstar, I'm Azabel:

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Melody pulls over two chairs for them. :Brightstar, this is the new visiting Mindhealer I told you about. Are you still willing to see her?:

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After a long hesitation, he nods without speaking.

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:Anything in particular you want to talk about today?:

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Shrug.

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:Is it all right if we start by both having a look at your mind, then?:

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Nod.

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:Do you want me to show you what I see or would you prefer I not?:

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He shakes his head without speaking.

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She has a look at his gears.

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They sure are some very messed up gears!

It’s a bit as though most of his mind was struck head-on with some sort of overwhelming force. Half of the gears are entirely out of contact with each other, knocked out of place and spinning uselessly with no purchase. One of the key drive-shafts looks almost melted, warped and useless.

Nearly all the still-functional pathways run through a different drive-shaft; previously more peripheral to his mind, but now supporting everything. Without context, it’s hard to tell at a glance what that area does, but it’s in the region that corresponds to basic, primal emotions.

In this case, plausibly rage.

More subtly, but quite noticeable after she’s acclimatized to the distracting damage, there are copious signs of very heavy shunts, probably corresponding to what Melody was calling “blocks”. They scaffold the most-affected areas, redirecting some of the pathways that would otherwise end in pointlessly-spinning disconnected gears. 

...And there’s something else, too. Something less familiar. The patterns of his mind are - oddly constrained, in a way that seems neither intrinsic to him, nor done by a Mindhealer. The most comparable metaphor that her Sight reaches for is...magnetic ball bearings? They’re small and tucked in amidst the rest, hard to see directly, but the effects, once she’s remarked on them, are much clearer. In some places they appear to hold together badly damaged paths, taking some of the load from non-functional gears. In other parts, it’s more like they’re gumming things up, or even blocking some routes entirely. 

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Aza suppresses a little gasp.

:- Melody? Can I try to show you something?:

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Melody’s eyes widen slightly. :Yes, of course:

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Brightstar is still staring blankly at nothing.

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:Here, look at - that, and that, and that - it looks like little magnets to me, I don't know what it'd be in a tapsestry...:

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:Wow! Fascinating. I - think that does correspond to something I was noticing, but your metaphor shows a different angle on it? Here, I can show you mine if you want...?: 

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:Couldn't hurt:

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Then Melody can show her! 

Melody's tapestry-metaphor is more informative in some ways; it makes the shunts/blocks much clearer, and it better distinguishes which areas are specific memories now associated with Brightstar's horrific trauma, versus emotional tangles, versus non-memory mental pathways that have been thoroughly disrupted.

Large swaths of the tapestry are torn, half-unravelled, or stretched almost beyond recognition; one central pathway is almost entirely shredded. 

The strange distorting effect that corresponds to the mysterious metaphorical-ball-bearings in Azabel's Sight is still noticeable from the way the tapestry is rucked up into folds, in some places, tucking certain mental regions out of reach; other areas are holding their shape inexplicably well despite the snapped warp-threads. It's harder to see the cause of this, though. 

:One moment: And Melody dives in closer, deeper, focusing entirely on one of the ruffled-folded areas. There still isn't much to see; the native-to-Brightstar threads of tapestry are twisted, in a way that could correspond to some sort of knot holding them, but the thread of said knot is nearly invisible. 

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:I've never seen anything exactly like this before but the thing it's least unlike is the time I saw someone who'd been possessed - or, probably possessed, it's hard to distinguish from a mundane psychotic break:

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:...Huh: Melody gives a little shudder. :You've seen that? I haven't - er, the closest I've seen is a patient of mine who had a conversation with a goddess: Her features twist into a brief scowl. :A goddess who hid the memories of said conversation, afterward. I detest it when divine meddling makes it impossible for me to do my job!: 

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:She explained to us that Vkandis had possessed her to heal her friend who was having a difficult time in childbirth. It didn't look that much like this, but it's what came to mind:

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Melody nods. :I still don't know how to interpret it, but I don't like it. Anyway, I'd be inclined to coax him into talking to us a bit, now, unless you have other ideas?: 

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:He doesn't seem very chatty, do you normally get him to talk?:

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:Depends. I don't press too hard, aside from the times I've had to get his input when I was placing a block - though I'd really rather get some of those blocks down, they make it easier in the short run but they're not doing him any favours long-term: 

She shakes her head. :Anyway - sometimes he won't engage at all, sometimes all he wants is to list off the gruesome things he wants to do to Leareth, I really wish I could get something in between: 

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Aza nods. :Brightstar, I've heard a basic summary but not from you. Can you tell me your perspective on what-all's going on?:

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A flat stare. :Everyone I love is gone. There is nothing I can do to bring them back. I have lost everything that matters to me: 

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Nod nod. :- may I ask what brings you here? What are your connections to people in Haven?:

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Brightstar starts to answer, then glances at Melody. 

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She nods. 

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Brightstar turns back to Azabel, his eyes distant yet blazing. :Herald Vanyel is my father by blood. I...had dreams, before this. My  Goddess wished me to be here in Haven. To help with the war: 

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:Were the dreams any more specific than that, or only that?:

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Shrug. 

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Are the gears - or the magnets - twitching when he talks -

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There's a lot of movement in the damaged/detached gears when he mentions Vanyel. The probably-primal-anger part of his mind surges stronger when he talks about the war. 

Whatever the magnets are doing, it's subtle and in the background, but - maybe more distinct when he mentions the dreams? 

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:Do you mind if I nudge some parts of your mind, not to change anything lastingly but to see how the nudges propagate, how they feel for you...?:

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:You can do that if you want: 

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She - looks where the damaged driveshaft is supposed to hook up - recalls how much the separated gears spun when he talked about his father -

- gives the clockwork on the end of the destroyed connection a little spin -

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Brightstar goes rigid. Stares at her in shocked silence for a long moment - 

- and then bursts into tears. 

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...yay? oh no?? She looks at Melody.

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Melody's eyebrow twitches. :He does that sometimes. I reckon it's promising for him ending up in a mood to talk, at least: 

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The gears that make up Brightstar's mind are wobbling wildly, spinning without making contact, pouring his will and emotions pointlessly into nothing... 

The remaining intact gearshaft jiggles as well, and then finds purchase. 

Brightstar's hand clenches down on the bedrail. The wood splinters slightly under his fingers.

:I wish him DEAD: he snarls. :I want him to die screaming at my hand while I watch. It will– it will not...fix it...I cannot bring them back...but it is the only thing I might still give them: 

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:He's running entirely on anger, nothing else is hooked up how it should be. I could - sweep it all closer together but it'd be clumsy, I didn't see it intact...:

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:Hmm - that matches what I'm seeing, I think. Have you dealt with a similar situation before? I'm...a little concerned that nudging him in most directions will end up worse, he's got so little underlying stability right now: 

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:Nothing very like, no, I'm not confident enough to try much right now:

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Before Melody can answer, Brightstar lunges to grab the cup of water on the table beside his bed, and flings it at the wall, where it shatters and sprays water everywhere. 

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Melody winces. :...I would lean toward not intervening and waiting to see, except he keeps doing...things like that...: 

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:And he's a mage to boot, that could get worse than a broken glass! I wonder if - your metaphor would make it easy enough to find where everything belongs that I could click it together, which seems maybe harder with yours?:

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:Oh! Combining our Sight, you mean, to try to get the advantages of both? ...Sure, I'd be willing to give it a try. Though it'll be easier if I can get him to calm down first: 

She starts speaking to Brightstar, out loud; the language sounds half-familiar, some of the phonemes recognizable from Tantaran, but not quite enough that Azabel can understand anything. 

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Aza waits, looking concernedly at lonely gears and loose springs, trying to figure out what will be the most high priority stuff to put back.

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Brightstar gradually calms, and goes back to hugging himself and rocking from side to side, weeping silently. 

The damage is so extensive, it's hard to pick out any parts as especially broken, but the greatest disruption is in two main places. One of them wiggles and sways every time he refers to his parents' deaths, or to Vanyel; the other is harder to interpret, and has substantially more of the bizarre hidden-magnets effect going on. 

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:Er, how do you want to do this - should I just share my Sight with you...?: 

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:Yeah, I'm used to mage-concert-work and not Mindhealing-concert-work but it should be applicable:

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Melody opens her shields and shares her Sight. 

Via her metaphor, it's much more visible how the damaged connections around the family-and-Vanyel reactions are, not just torn, but shredded - some thread-ends even look charred - it's not at all clear how most of it could be put back together. A few trailing links are less thoroughly destroyed, though, and possibly still strong enough to withstand being woven in elsewhere. 

The other, less legible area of particular damage was, in Melody's Sight, not so much ripped or broken as unravelled - and then partially re-ravelled into a new pattern, this one linking directly to the primal-anger at multiple points. 

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With the metaphors superimposed are there any obvious repairs that can be made - reweaving, screwing gears back into place -

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Well, she could try to re-weave / re-screw the few remaining fragments in the personal-loyalty area that aren't too destroyed; it won't be much but at least it might be a pathway running through something other than anger. 

The other region looks a lot more intractable to put back the way it used to be, since there are so many new points of contact established elsewhere, but she could maybe try to link up the repairs in the shredded area to this part too, just to give his mind more possible directions to go. 

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She lobs these ideas wordlessly at Melody.

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:Hmm. Both at once is a lot to subject him to in one go. I'd be comfortable having you try the first thing - my guess is that this would correspond to helping him focus more on who and what he still has, rather than who he lost - and we'll see how that goes, and reconsider the second thing tomorrow?: 

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:Yeah. Do you want to ask him?:

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:Yes, all right: 

She does this out loud again; Brightstar is shielding and blocking Mindspeech, though their Mindhealing Sight can still get through. 

:...He says you can try it if you want but he doesn't think it will help: she relays eventually, wearily. 

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:Well, I guess that's consent. Ready?:

And they can try to piece it together ever so gently.

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His mind is VERY fragile, she has to go quite slowly and cautiously to avoid damaging it worse, and Brightstar spends pretty much the entire time sobbing. But they get it done. 

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:Aaaaaand I think we'd better call it a day: Melody is looking somewhat worried. :I'll check in on him later this afternoon, make sure he's handling it all right: 

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:Yeah, agreed. Keep me posted?:

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:Of course. I'm guessing you've got other things to do, but I'll Mindspeak you later if I have any other patients I might want you to see, if that's all right? Er, less complicated patients than him:

She sighs, and says some more things to Brightstar, which he fails to acknowledge in any way. 

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:Sure:

And she heads back to her room.

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The rest of her morning and early afternoon are taken up with mage-work; Sandra visits again and asks for her help on a different section of building, and Kilchas delegates more weather-work to her. They're both clearly stressed and harried, but friendly enough with her, and clearly grateful to have her help. 

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Midway through the afternoon, Melody Mindtouches her. :Got a moment?: 

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:Yes:

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:Update on Brightstar. On the one hand, er, he seems a little better - like more of him is there? On the other hand, he's apparently been crying for candlemarks, and he told me he doesn't want to see you again. I'm hoping he changes his mind once he's had some time to settle down, but...well, we'll see:

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:That's understandable:

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:I wanted to say again that I deeply appreciate your help with him, and I'm curious if you've had any more ideas shake loose over the morning? I just– I don't know what to do for him, and I hate it: 

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:I haven't thought of anything new, no:

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A heavy mental sigh. :No worries. Um, I do have a couple of very straightforward patients who I could put on our schedule tomorrow if you're willing to come in after breakfast, but it's up to you: 

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:I can come in after breakfast:

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:Thank you! It's so good to have a bit of extra help: 

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After breakfast Aza shows up at Healer's to be introduced to straightforward patients.

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The next few days start to fall into a routine. She does mage-work with the Heralds, and sees a few patients for Melody, who also takes advantage of her presence to invite her over for lunch and talk through some carefully anonymized patient scenarios with her, asking what she would do or what she thinks Lionwind would recommend. 

Dara arranges language lessons for her. The first is with a young woman, Herald Siri, but all of the Heralds are very swamped, and Dara signs off on delegating it to a young man who works as a clerk for them; he's not a Mindspeaker, but Azabel can Mindspeak anyone, so it ought to work out. 

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A couple of days later, Dara pulls her aside at the dining hall. :Sorry, I keep forgetting to ask you - Melody mentioned you'd be willing to examine the Changecreature's remains, the one that attacked the princess? Said you might have some relevant background in recognizing whether it's a mage-construct or natural: 

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:I can give it a shot, yeah:

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Once they're both done eating, Dara walks her over to the Healers' stillroom, which has its own separate entrance in back. It's also currently very cold. 

:To preserve the, er, samples they keep here: Dara explains. :Oh, and I suppose it saves on firewood. The creature is here: 

The body on the table is long and black, like a snake or eel, coiled up in endless loops; at its widest girth, it's about as big across as a toddler's waist. Its head rests at one end of the table: jaws unnaturally long as though stretched, far too many teeth in rows, bulging yellow eyes gone dull and milky in death. A slit in its underside marks where, presumably, the Healers went in to examine its internal organs. The spots of dried blood on the table are an appalling shade of blue-green. 

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Aza looks it over. Eventually she reports that she has no reason to believe that a person made it but given her previous exposure to people-made organisms that mostly means that Urtho didn't make it, which they knew.

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Dara sighs and thanks her and walks her back to the guest-wing. 

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Jisa has been appallingly busy; Azabel's seen her only in snatches at the dining hall.

The next day, though, she raises a Gate on the permanent terminus and brings over almost sixty mages from White Winds. 

:- Azabel? I'm sorry, I – I asked Gervase, they...haven't seen or heard anything from, er, your friends: 

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:I figured, but thank you:

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:Anyway, we just got a lot more hands to help with weatherworking, but they'll need training. And talismans, for the vrondi. Have you done much artifact-work? Sandra can make them but I'm no good at it: 

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:I've taken artifacts classes:

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:Well, maybe you can sit down with Sandra and see if you're up for making them too– oh, sorry, need to go–: And she breaks off. 

The rest of that day is a lot more hectic, as the Heralds try to wrap sixty new foreign mages into their existing structure and plans; Sandra drags Azabel into the artifact-work and figures out which pieces she can delegate. At least the weather-magic has more coverage, now, to make up for the Gate. 

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Dara Mindspeaks her the next morning. :Azabel? If you've got a minute, there's something we could use your input on: 

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:What is it?:

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:Leareth just sent us a message. Claiming the attacks weren't his doing: 

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:That's... interesting... is there some meeting I should be showing up to about it?:

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:Right now it's just me and Treven staring at it - if you want to come join us, it's the same meeting room -: 

She flashes a mental image to Azabel; it's in the core wing of the Palace, where she's by now spent a fair amount of time doing mage-work maintenance with Kilchas or Sandra. 

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When she arrives, the letter is on the table between the two of them. Dara nudges it closer to her, and translates in Mindspeech since Azabel hasn't had that much time yet to learn the Valdemaran script. 

...

A message for King Randale of Valdemar. I have observed the redeployment on your Border, and my spies have ascertained that there was an attack in Haven which resulted in the death of a Herald-Mage. I cannot blame you for ascribing it to my work, nor for the precautions you take, and yet I would swear to you, by every star in the sky, that I was not responsible. I have made no decision to betray your Kingdom, and it seems likely that some third power wishes ruin on both of us.

I am aware that it is difficult to prove a negative. However, you will have noticed that the strategic purpose of this attack is unclear, and, as I hope you have reason to believe, I am a careful man and would not act rashly. I can offer you this: my word that I will not interpret your troop movements as a hostile move, but rather a sensible precaution, and that I will not move my own troops while I await your reply. I grant you also the included documents, which I hope you will take as the offers of good faith that I intend.

The signature at the bottom, though, is perfectly legible to Azabel; it's the Kaled'a'in word for 'the night sky'. 

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:Well: she says, :he - he always thought stars were important, that's not just a random thing to swear by:

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:No, I know - he told Vanyel...: 

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Treven fidgets, unhappily. :I realize you only knew a - a different Ma'ar, and thousands of years ago, but.... If you had to bet on it, how likely would you think it is that he's lying?: 

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:I'd bet he's not. But I wouldn't go all in on it, not - two thousand years later:

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Treven sighs heavily. :That makes sense. Thank you for your advice: 

A second later he and Dara are deep in what's clearly a private Mindspeech conversation; apparently even Dara is tired and distracted enough to forget about walking Azabel out. 

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She can find her way on her own.

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The rest of that day is just as hectic. At this point, the Heralds seem to have entirely gotten used to Azabel's presence, and keep throwing tasks at her. 

Tran Mindspeaks her in the late afternoon, exhausted and harried. :Sorry, are you busy? I just got a note, apparently a couple of the White Winds mages want your help with something - they're using one of the outlying Work Rooms, would you have time to head over there and sort it out?: 

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:Uh, sure: And she heads Work Roomward.

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The days are short, and it's already almost sunset; the weather-working is falling behind again, after half a dozen military-logistics-related Gates over the course of the day, and the sky is a tangle of dark grey clouds. The path is mostly clear, but has enough thawed-and-refrozen lumps of slush and patches of slippery ice that Azabel needs to pay a lot of attention to her feet. 

The person lurking in one of the little gardens is out of sight behind a stone bench and a bush, and incredibly well shielded, invisible to mage-sight and Thoughtsensing, and blurred out even to Mindhealing Sight.

Which is why Azabel has approximately no warning as he rises to his feet and his hands flash into motion. Something slams into the physical-level of her shielding, from the talisman that Ma'ar gave her, and splinters it - 

- and then, within about half a second, a perfectly-aimed, completely non-magical dart finds the side of her neck, penetrating deep enough to sting if not to cause serious injury - 

And the world starts to fade. 

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Half a second is enough to get off a :NO: clumsy set-command but not enough to actually interrupt the dart's trajectory in the process.

She wobbles, she slips on a bit of ice she'd so carefully stepped over, she collapses into the snow.

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When she wakes up, she's in a comfortable bed - which is the first off note, it's a lot more comfortable than her slightly-lumpy bed in the palace guest wing in Haven - and it's very quiet and still, mostly dark, and she has a headache. 

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Aaaaaaaaah what the fuck - she sits up, casts out enough Thoughtsensing to see who's around, blinks against the darkness and casts a mage-light -

- casts a -

- she screams.

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The room continues to be dark. Nothing else happens.

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Does her Sight work - okay can she see what's been done to her -

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All of her Sight works! Her projective Mindspeech also seems like it ought to work, not that there's anyone to Mindspeak right now. 

...Those sure are some compulsions. The ghost-outline of their effects is visible to Mindhealing, and the traces of magic to her mage-sight. They're - actually very tidy, minimally restrictive, clearly done with skill and efficiency, not at all like the sloppy overpowered compulsions she's sometimes seen in rescued bandits' victims.

Tidy, but thorough. The projective aspects of her mage-gift and Mindhealing are very, very, very thoroughly cut off, with no obvious way to route around it. 

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Well, is it projecting in the sense these compulsions care about if she, say, tries to remove the compulsions on herself, that's all very tidily internal.

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She cannot do that! Possibly if she spent long enough trying from different angles with the aid of Mindhealing Sight, she could wrangle it. 

However, she doesn't have time to explore this, because a minute later there's a knock on the door. 

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If this knock had arrived immediately post-scream she'd think they might be concerned about her well-being but as it is she's going to ignore them and keep poking at different angles on the clockwork. Suppose she THINKS VERY HARD about things to make it spin this way and that, does that get anything close enough that she can give the compulsion the slip -

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Someone opens the door. 

The woman is tall and muscular, with startlingly dark skin, an especially sharp contrast given her white hair, tightly curled like wool against her scalp, and her brilliant blue eyes. 

She's wearing an absurd quantity of shielding, several different talismans, and she seems to have a native shield up even against Mindhealing Sight, which is approximately unheard-of. 

She's also holding herself a little as though Azabel is some sort of dangerous and terrifying wild animal. 

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Aza folds her arms irritably.

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"Do you speak Valdemaran?" the woman says out loud, with a strong accent. 

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"Not good."

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A nod. 

The woman taps one of her talismans and does something to it; apparently, this is in order to allow Mindspeech. 

:My name is Nayoki. I am a Mindhealer and hail from the Haighlei Empire. I work for the mage who calls himself Leareth:  

She bows her head, briefly. :I - would prefer to be no more invasive than needed, since perhaps you are not our enemy. I want to ask you some questions. I was Truthsayer, before; I will know if you lie:

She looks like someone who is trying VERY HARD not to be visibly nervous, and almost but not quite succeeding. 

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:Is this your way of saying that if I don't answer your questions you'll fuck around in my head some more:

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:I would ask Leareth what to do in that case, I suppose:

The woman takes a deep breath. :My first question is, are you immortal: 

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:Well that's not a threatening question at all, is it!:

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Nayoki sighs. She glances around briefly, and then pulls a stool from beside the wall and sits. 

:Leareth does not want to threaten you, except to the extent that you are in Haven to threaten him. But, events are escalating rapidly and in baffling ways, and - now you. A mage who, according to our sources, knew Urtho personally, for all that the man died two thousand years ago. You are familiar with creating new species. It was claimed that you carried an artifact from Urtho's Tower, of unknown purpose. And you chose now, of all times, to travel to Haven and aid them in their war preparations. This is– the way Leareth put it was, an out-of-model event. Something is badly wrong, here, and if it is the gods who have sent you here, as Their pawn, then - well, one thing Leareth has learned over the centuries is that, when it comes to fighting the gods, there is no such thing as overkill: 

She sits back. :But we know little, and what we do know is unconfirmed: 

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:So he decided to open with KIDNAPPING ME AND PUTTING COMPULSIONS ON ME:

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:You seem to find this surprising: 

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:I mean, does he WANT me to be hostile? This is how you get that:

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:I believe his prior is that you were already hostile and dangerous all along. That is generally how it goes, in his experience: A little shrug. :I do have permission to remove the compulsions if I discover that you did not, in fact, come to Haven in order to help the gods defeat Leareth, or that the situation is less alarming than we thought in some other way. But that judgement will be faster and easier to make if you answer my questions: 

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:We can see what I think of your questions, then. Let's hear them all before I decide if I'm answering them:

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Nayoki nods, expressionless. :My questions are as follows: is it true that you knew Urtho personally; if so, how and why are you still alive now; do you in fact have an artifact of Urtho's and if so is it a weapon; why did you choose this timing to travel to Valdemar; was this of your own choosing or were you sent; what do you know of Leareth and what are your intentions toward him at this time: 

A pause. 

:...Also, it seems likely that half of these are not the right questions at all, given our limited information: 

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:I had a time travel accident:

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Nayoki freezes. Stares at her for a long moment. 

:...You are not lying: she says finally, wonderingly. :But - it ought not be possible - it was a hypothesis Leareth considered, he knew of no way that time travel could be done in our world, even with magic...: 

She doesn't seem to know where to go with this; she keeps looking at Azabel, uncertain. And, again, with not-quite-fully-concealed terror. 

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:Can you let me out now:

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:...If I do take off the compulsions, would you be willing to explain to me - or to Leareth directly, if he is willing - exactly what is going on here?: 

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:I want a guarantee of my safety and my freedom after the explanation:

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:I understand. I - will have to ask Leareth, but it will not take long: 

Nayoki rises, then stops at the door and gives Azabel one last piercing look. :If Leareth is to speak with you, he will want an agreement from you that you do not intend to kill him. Do you?: 

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:Has he considered not kidnapping people if he doesn't want them to have killing him as a possibility in mind. Just a thought:

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Nayoki's lips actually twitch slightly.

:My impression is that not kidnapping any people did not actually reduce the rate of assassinations, historically, but perhaps you can ask him. I will be back very shortly. There is food and water in the cupboard, if you want it: 

And she ducks out. 

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Aza gets a cup of water - realizes she can't clean it by magic right now - puts it back. She is trying not to spiral into despair because it would be SO embarrassing to start crying while being interrogated by her boyfriend's two thousand year old evil future self. She is not sure where she will go after this. She can probably gate to Urtho's remaining Tower if she gets close enough, which Haven might be, but once there she doesn't have a plan at all - she could go to White Winds, which while it supplies mages to the war is not itself a party to it, and go from there? - Ma'ar was always jumpy and defensive but he didn't kidnap innocent people or even seem like that was appealing to him -

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More than five minutes later, but less than ten, there's a knock on the door again, and Nayoki's mindvoice. :I am here to remove the compulsions - may I come in?: 

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:Yes:

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Nayoki comes in. She looks...less scared, maybe? But more stressed in some other, hard-to-describe way. 

She doesn't say anything, just makes eye contact and then reaches in with a delicate tendril of mage-energy and neatly snips the compulsions.

Then she steps aside and gestures at the open door. :You are, of course, welcome to Gate out; if you are indeed an Adept, Haven ought be within your range. However, Leareth is interested in hearing your side of things, if you are willing, and is waiting. He would meet you unarmed, has given me his word that he will not harm you nor make use of mind-controlling magic, and will let you depart in peace afterward:

She looks worried, but mostly very tired. 

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This is much more Aza's speed. She gives herself a little mental shake to make sure all the compulsions are fully out of the way and her clockwork ticks as it should, and she nods and follows Nayoki.

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Nayoki leads her in silence down a windowless stone hallway.

Eventually they stop at a door, and she opens it. 

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A man dressed in black, dark-haired and dark-eyed, rises from his chair. :Azabel?: 

He is almost as thoroughly shielded as Nayoki, but unlike her, he doesn't have native shields against Mindhealing Sight. 

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Yeah, she's gonna look. Just - to have a picture of what happened to her friend. :That's me:

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It's certainly the strangest mind she's ever seen! For one, it...seems almost to be made of a conglomerate of different metals, different styles of gear, but taken apart and reassembled into an elegant, ruthlessly efficient machine. Maybe that's what it looks like, when someone takes over another person's body and makes it their own. 

For anyone except her, it would be difficult to interpret at all, from a single glance; it's as though nearly all of his essential load-bearing driveshafts are tucked away, buried and protected beneath layer upon layer of what must be intensely honed combat reflexes.

But Azabel has seen Ma'ar's mind, in detail, and the similarities are recognizable. Enough to guess at what must be hidden underneath that impassible surface. 

The self-stabilizing internal gyroscope isn't visible, but it must still be present, somewhere in those guarded depths; the signs of it are everywhere, if anything it's far more extreme than with Ma'ar. Leareth's mind is one with no attachment-points, carefully optimized to hold steady by himself, without friends or allies, century after century. 

...And, even without any emotional leakage, Azabel can tell that Leareth is scared, just from the patterns and reflexes currently active in his mind. Scared, and confused, and curious, trying-to-understand, searching for answers to an impossible puzzle... 

He looks into her eyes, his expression utterly neutral.

:I am told that you knew Urtho. Did you -: A pause. :Did the two of us ever meet: 

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:I think... that you don't know me:

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:...I see. Why do you think that?: 

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:I read some of Urtho's journals the Valdemarans have. They were - about - a past I wasn't in. I don't know why:

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Leareth goes even more still. 

:- You are saying that you did know Urtho, and - the implication is that you knew Ma'ar, but that I, specifically, do not know you, and our respective pasts contain incompatible events...: 

His eyes lock onto her. :There is more than one world. More than one - version of this world - and yours is somehow much earlier...: His eyelids flicker slightly. :That makes far more sense than time-travel. What, exactly, is different in your Velgarth?: 

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:Just me, I think. And the date. I guess it could be another world but that makes much less sense of the fact that nobody's come looking for me yet:

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:- Well, how long have you been here? And what were the details of your magical accident? If it is another world, it...seems quite possible that time passes in parallel, in both worlds, and that replicating a low-probability accident might take a great deal of research: 

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:A few days. I was in Urtho's office waiting for him and there was nowhere to sit and I moved an artifact off a chair and it did this. It didn't come along:

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Leareth nods. The curiosity-seeking pathways along the surface of his mind are especially bright and active, but after a moment he tucks them away. 

:I doubt I can replicate it merely from that description, to find you a way home - certainly not in weeks rather than years, and I am rather busy with other matters. I...: 

And he hesitates. 

:- Do you have truth magic?: he asks finally. :There are some things I would say to you, and it would be convenient if you could verify my honesty: 

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:Yes, I do:

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:Whenever you are ready, then:

Leareth pauses, waiting for her acknowledgement and then looks her in the eye. 

:I was not responsible for either of the recent attacks on Valdemar and its allies. I had no contingency plans of that sort, nor any short-term hostile intent toward Valdemar; I had been focused on my negotiations with Vanyel, until this happened. I did not delegate the creation of any such plans without my knowledge, and after my investigation, I am close to certain that no one from my organization could have done this without my knowledge: 

His eyes bore into her. :The obvious implication is that someone – or Someone – else is responsible: The capital letter comes across quite clearly. 

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:It seems out of character for the Star-Eyed to explode one of her people's villages:

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:- Is that what happened in k'Treva? The intelligence I received was nonspecific - do you know the cause of the explosion...?:

Her blurred-out Mindhealing Sight truth-detection shows not the slightest hint of dishonestly. 

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:Heartstone blew up:

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Leareth's breath hitches, freezing for a moment. 

:...I could not do that. I - suppose it is flattering that the Heralds think I could: He shakes his head a little. :And yet, I agree, it is a baffling act for the Star-Eyed to commit against Her own people - and surely unnecessary, if the goal were to push Valdemar over the brink into a war, the Changecreature ought have been sufficient for that. I am very confused, and I mislike it: 

Again, Leareth is obviously telling the truth. 

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...hm. Thinking about it from that angle she has half an idea but it doesn't seem like his business.

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:And the timing of your arrival here is...interesting: Leareth says, slowly. :Though I do not see how world-hopping accidents could be arranged even by the gods, so this is confusing as well: 

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:Maybe Urtho will come get me and we can ask him how his artifact works:

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Leareth nods, seriously, and bows his head. :I hope he does. It - would mean a great deal to me, if he - could be warned of what happened, in my timeline. I do not think he ever wanted such an outcome. Certainly my younger self did not. If I had known...:

He trails off into silence. 

After a long pause, he meets Azabel's eyes again. :You are free to do as you wish now, of course, but - I would appreciate if you could pass on to the Heralds of Valdemar what I have said to you. And, if you have any questions of your own, you are welcome to ask them first: 

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:What happened to you?:

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Leareth blinks. :...I am not sure what you mean: 

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:I know Ma'ar. We're friends. He's about my age. I recognize the gyroscope in your head.

What happened to you:

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Leareth looks thoughtful, or maybe just distant, it's hard to tell. 

:I am still not sure I understand your question, but. Hmm. ...I suppose that I have a question for you, first - when you arrived in Haven, was there anything that was surprising to you, in terms of comparing it to Tantara and the Tower?: 

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:It didn't seem very two thousand years later?:

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:You had expected it to be - better, nicer, a pleasanter place to live, no? And it is...not: 

Leareth's breath eases out. He stares past her, at nothing in particular. 

:A very long time ago, I grew up in a place that was broken. And then I saw Tantara, I saw how things could be, and - I wanted to make everywhere like that. To make everywhere better than that. I swore a vow on the stars that I would do so. I tried. The war happened, and the Cataclysm; I assume that I made mistakes, though I am afraid I can no longer remember it clearly enough to be sure what those mistakes were: 

A pause. 

:...I spent a thousand years trying to rebuild the world around me. My plans failed, over and over, even when I they ought have worked. It took...longer than it ought have, perhaps, to realize that this went beyond mere ill luck. Even now, I am not sure why the gods of this world, who operate through coincidence and subtle nudges, so firmly resist innovation and progress. I have tried to speak with Them many times. They seem uninterested in communication, and Vkandis set me on fire for my trouble. Twice: 

His eyes return to Azabel's face, boring into her. :Valdemar is one of the better places to live, on this continent, right now - and nonetheless, children starve in the streets of their capital each winter. I want to build a world that has fewer such pointlessly tragic problems. The gods apparently oppose this, and for that reason, I cannot get anything done unless I am very paranoid, and - far more ruthless than would have seemed justified to my younger self. Perhaps that answers your question?: 

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:I think so.

Do you want to know what was in the journals?:

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:Urtho's journals? Vanyel gave a summary, before, but - I suppose I would appreciate your perspective as well, if you knew me - a different version of me...:

Leareth's expression is hard to read. His mind is...a little less scared, less vigilant, though the change is subtle. 

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:Mostly Urtho comes off really badly - in his own diary! - but it - seems relevant - that you seem to be having a pattern where other entities you might wish to treat with believe that nothing is beyond the pale for you and this justifies an extreme response:

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:...I made mistakes with Urtho. I think that - giving him that impression - was one of them: 

He pauses for a long moment, and then closes his eyes. :I did try the other way. Many times. Mostly it...did not help, not in the long run. I died, often; my allies died, or betrayed me; our plans fell apart. I - do not prefer needing to be the shape of person that I am, now, but - but I will take that path over abandoning my vow, and leaving the world to be broken forever: 

He looks at her again. :And I did try very hard, with Vanyel, to - do something different. ...If you have any knowledge of why he left for the north, it would help. I wish to talk to him, if he wants to talk to me, but I am not sure if he is coming instead to kill us both in a blaze of fire, as he has been destined by the gods to do since he was a boy of sixteen: 

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:I haven't met him, he was already gone when I arrived:

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Leareth nods. 

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:But it would be fairly understandable if you told him 'I plan to invade your country to murder ten million people there' and he decided to show up and murder you: This is such a weird conversation, this is SUCH a weird conversation.

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:I know: 

Leareth is silent for a long moment; it's not clear if he wants to say something else, or is deep in thought, or something else entirely. The gears of his mind are even more closed-off than before. 

- And then something shifts. A pathway that might be curiosity-anticipation-hope, and...a flicker of something, deep under the surface; it's not exactly a structure present in Ma'ar's mind - except for the odd sense that maybe with Ma'ar it's all of his mind, and Leareth is the one who keeps it boxed up and hidden from the light... 

:If there are other worlds: Leareth says, :then - that changes everything. I - I suppose I have been hoping for some new revelation that would change everything for...a long, long time: 

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:How do you mean?:

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:...I do not like my current plan, it is just that I have spent a thousand years trying to find another option, and the possibilities here in this world are exhausted. But, if there are other worlds - and it would be strange if there were only two - then, perhaps, I can find a path with a lower cost. It calls for a reevaluation, certainly: 

Leareth’s expression is unreadable, but his mind shows - a loosening, a deep sense of relief...

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:You looked really really hard for a thousand years and the plan you came up with was 'murder ten million people'?: She is pretty sure she could have thought of a better plan than that in a thousand years. Also it was two thousand years, wasn't it?

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:Yes:

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:While apparently Urtho had an interworld transit artifact sitting on a chair in his office: That's proof of concept, right.

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:- Do you think it was deliberately intended to do that? I...have investigated this before - well, not that exact question, I did not previously anticipate that there were other worlds, it is just a very strong update that you apparently come from one and much more physically plausible than time travel. In any case, I never previously found anything reliable or replicable: 

His shoulder twitches a little. :Perhaps I am not as brilliant as Urtho. There is the fact that I tend to end up dead through implausible accidents at inconvenient times during my research: 

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:It seems unlikely that he decided to make a pretty sculpture and it also happens to send people who pick it up to alternate universes of its own accord, though it's possible he meant it to do something else entirely:

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Leareth nods. :Oh, I am sure it was intended to perform some highly innovative magic, but - well, given the events of the Cataclysm among other things, I am not sure that Urtho was always calibrated in his predictions of what his work would lead to: 

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:Yes, but... 'it exploded' is a less weird accident than 'it sent me to another universe':

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:It is an incredibly bizarre accident. I confess I will need much longer than this to fully think through the implications: