Leareth and Karal work together
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Leareth is starting to find his footing, perhaps surprisingly quickly to Karal, though not surprisingly to anyone else. By evening of the same day of the - everything - he's wanting to continue reading more of his records, though he'll stick with less emotionally intense ones.

(There are going to be a a lot. His autobiography, nearly two thousand years of it, but also all the fields of study he's learned over centuries; he's retained some of that, mental skills or floating facts that rise to mind when prompted, but he needs to get back to a point when he can access that more fluently. He's fully prepared for this to be the work of months, and plans to spread it out. Especially the math, since it seems likely to bore Karal.) 

He gets the two-candlemark version of the briefing on his northern operations - and his outside-the-north opereations - the next morning. Karal will learn that Leareth has been slowly and patiently recruiting mercenaries for decades, though in many cases he's just building the contacts for future rather than staging thousands of people in the north a decade before he needs them. He's been recruiting mages for even longer, in combat roles as well as research roles, and has access to several hundreds of Adepts, a number unimaginable for Karse or Valdemar. He has a spy-network across - well, most of the continent, but the currently-most-relevant branches are in Valdemar and Rethwellan and Hardorn and Lineas and Baires. He has some in Karse, but - less so, it's harder to operate there - and he has very little direct visibility in the Pelagirs, the Star-Eyed is particularly hostile. For Iftel, he only has what information he can discreetly buy (or have his spies mindread) off merchants and random travelers who are allowed in and out of their barrier. Many of his agents aren't - people he particularly trusts, or would get along with, just people where he's considered the tradeoffs and decided that working with them at arms' length is worthwhile. 

(They should go in more depth on the actual invasion plan later, but the tentative kickoff point isn't for nearly a decade, and it's less a case of having a plan and much more a case of "several hundred branching plans, depending what goes catastrophically wrong first.") 


Leareth wants to prioritize reading the notes of his conversations with Vanyel. It's probably going to be upsetting for Karal, but - he wants to be reoriented to that relationship, so that by the time they have the dream next, he can try his best to pick up where he left off.  

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Leareth must have a lot of experience at quickly recovering his previous life, to the extent that this experience is itself something that transfers between incarnations.  And Karal isn't surprised that things are less difficult, now that the two of them are settled in their strange situation.  He himself finds it much easier now to fade into the background and let his lord do things.  (Not having control of his body stopped feeling unnatural and vaguely unpleasant nearly immediately, and the way he processes new information is different - he still pays attention, but he doesn't worry as much, because he doesn't need to make his own decisions about most of it.)  He finds all their interaction modes easier, really, now that he feels like he knows what his place is here, and more so because it's such a familiar one.  Or maybe it's not so much a change in him as a reaction to the way Leareth feels more willing to not just trust him not to do anything unhelpful, but to rely on him.  (He still has to put effort into calming the burst of happy fulfillment every time he notices Leareth being straightforwardly reassured by his existence.  It's a little embarrassing, as if he was fifteen again - not the feeling itself, which he never lost and would never want to, but having it be so visible.)


A while of less emotionally intense reading sounds like a good idea, and he contentedly sits still for some history.  (He expects to be very uninterested in math, and will of course deal with it, but if they could figure out a way for him to do something while math is going on without distracting Leareth from it, that would be helpful.  Mage-gift or Empathy exercises, maybe, since math seems unlikely to require the former and very unlikely to have any use for the latter.)


The briefing is unsurprising in all but the number of Adepts, incredible even thought he was trying to adjust his expectations to the new level of power.  He has some soldier's questions about the army, probably a few suggestions, but nothing major in any sense.  Questions about the tradeoffs of working with what are clearly awful people should wait until he has more context, he thinks - none of this is new and the payoff is a decade away, so it's unlikely to be urgent.


The Foresight dream makes Vanyel one of the more time-sensitive issues, and Karal only sighs a little.  I expect I've already been as upset about him as I ever will be.  Which doesn't mean he won't still be upset, but... it's a known thing, now.  And of course it needs to happen - he's seen enough of Vanyel to understand how uniquely worth talking to he is, and no longer calls him the Butcher in his mind.  And I admit I'm curious what all your strange conversations were like.  It's such a strange, but fascinating and a little touching view of Leareth, when he's trying to be emotionlessly fair to his enemy and clearly getting attached to him in the process.


Then after a good lunch - and both Leareth and Karal getting a chance to talk to Rosta in the dining hall, and Karal getting the opportunity to be properly introduced to a few of the main researchers, though they mostly want to talk to Leareth about math related to the god-project - they can bring Leareth's crate of dream notes to the library, and sit down for some reading. 


The first instance of the Foresight dream happened in late autumn of 789, in the Valdemaran calendar, and recurs at intervals. It's always the same. Leareth is standing at the front of his army, assembled in the snow on the northern side of the passage through the Ice Wall mountains. (In the dream, this always feels like a normal expected way for things to be, and not a moderately baffling tactical decision.) The dream comes with a vague sense of knowledge that it's the future, when the invasion force is ready, though it doesn't come with Leareth actually knowing what year it's supposed to take place.

A Herald in Whites, with node-bleached hair and silver eyes, is standing at the mouth of the pass; he's thin, haggard, maybe in his late thirties. The dream, for some reason, informs Leareth quietly that this mage is unusually powerful. Not very much actually happens. They look at each other. They...seem to know each other's names? Herald-Mage Vanyel, Leareth greets the man. Leareth, the Herald of Valdemar says to him, and raises his hand to fight. 

...Leareth was immensely confused, the first time the dream happened, because he doesn't...actually...have the Gift of Foresight? And isn't sure he's ever had a long-range Foresight vision, though he's occasionally inherited a body with a short-range Foresight Gift. It's never seemed before like the gods wanted him to know Their plans for his future, and he's baffled about why now.

He quickly determined that there indeed wasn't a Herald-Mage Vanyel who he had somehow missed in his record of active Herald-Mages. But, of course, the dream was set in the future. He sent out feelers via his agents, and determined that there was a nobleborn Vanyel related to Herald-Mage Savil, known to him as one of Valdemar's most powerful Adepts. Future updates confirmed that some poorly-documented but fairly disastrous events in a border landholding had involved Vanyel, who was now a trainee, and...had been spirited off away from Haven, possibly-according-to-rumor to stay with Herald-Mage Savil's Tayledras allies, though this was one of a half-dozen rumors. Leareth sent agents to follow up on all of them, and (not particularly to his surprise) never heard anything. He did eventually learn that Vanyel was back in Haven and had been promoted to full Herald after an unusually short apprenticeship, maybe with the justification that he was already sixteen and had a noble's education. 


The first lucid Foresight dream was in the spring of 791. Vanyel was the one who initiated the conversation, by saying this is a dream, and startling Leareth out of the dream-state where it all seemed to make sense. 

His notes have a transcription of their exchange, which was quite short, written down as verbatim as he could recall it. It seemed important. 

A Foresight-dream with two individuals, and we can speak to one another. Very novel. I have dreamed of this future for many months. It appears we are to meet here, and fight. Still, prophecies are not bound to come true. I have seen more than one averted. [after a long silence] You see I have my army with me – will have them with me, in this future. I intend to bring my men through this pass and conquer the area beyond, which I suppose contains your kingdom, Herald of Valdemar. I do not come to place your people in bondage; I intend to shed the least blood I can, to build my empire, and I intend this empire to be a better place to live than your Valdemar currently is or can ever be. This plan has been in motion for a thousand years. I have no desire to kill you, but you will not deter me.

I can’t let you just march an army into Valdemar.

I would not expect anything less of a Herald. 

The notes add that Herald Vanyel, though he still wore the face of his future, older self, looked visibly overwhelmed and terrified.  


Of course he does.  Karal has never personally found Leareth overwhelming and terrifying, but he very much realizes he is.  (He thinks for a moment that of course meeting him as an enemy would be different, before realizing their first meeting also could be quite fairly described as that.  But... a different sort of that, still.)  And that speech certainly was.  It's almost impressive, how Leareth manages to say something that should by all rights be reassuring and, in his care not to convince people by emotional appeals, not have it sound that way at all to someone who doesn't know him already.

And the Vanyel having this first dream, for all that he looks much older, was... eighteen?  Gods, what a shock that must have been, to a boy barely out of training.  And... Why is he alone?

(Of course there are all the questions about why this is happening - Someone must be responsible, but what's the point?  It's obvious why Vanyel would have this dream, but why Leareth too and why does it let them talk - almost certainly two goals here, separate and at odds.  The second one is a little like Karal's own circumstances, positive enough on the surface that you have to wonder why.  And two such interventions start seeming like more than coincidence.  But he should wait and find out the rest before getting too tangled up thinking about it.)


Vanyel would have been seventeen, Leareth thinks. In fairness to him, Leareth wasn't actually trying not to be terrifying. He was caught off guard and didn't have a lot of time to think of a strategy, but - maybe more importantly, it would have felt like lying to try to seem reassuring and unthreatening to Vanyel (and probably couldn't have worked, when the format of the dream itself made his intentions blatantly clear.) The situation when he met Karal was different – and, after the fact, Leareth can admit that he was less inclined to be upfront about his intentions when his priority was getting off the battlefield and to a place of safety. The dream, for all its ominous stage-imagery, was almost perfectly set up to be a place where neither Leareth nor Vanyel were in actual danger, or had any way to directly threaten each other. 

Leareth was also confused at the time, and assigned significant - maybe greater than 50% - odds that this was the last time the dream would happen, because the intended message, whatever it was, had been conveyed. (His best guess was - so that Vanyel would know, not only his destined future, but that Leareth knew, with the obvious implications for how he would be prepared and Vanyel would need to take that into account. Though it still felt very confusing.) 

He still thought in depth about what he would say if the dream did recur. It seemed likely to him that if it happened again, it would happen over and over - it would be much stranger for it to happen exactly twice - and, in addition to whatever confounding implications that would have about the goals of the intervention, it would be an opportunity for communication, even negotiation. Which, however confused and suspicious he was, Leareth didn't intend to turn down. His planning for what to say to Vanyel if the dream recurred was mainly on the assumption that it would be the start of a long back and forth. 


And then, of course, it did happen again, a matter of weeks later. Again, Leareth has approximately-verbatim notes. 

Welcome, Herald Vanyel. I was not sure if we would have this opportunity to speak again. It appears that yes. If you have questions, I will answer them. I do not wish to waste my breath on a conversation you are not willing to have.

I’m willing to speak with you. I would like to know what exactly you’re trying to do here. And why. You’re claiming your empire will be a better place to live than Valdemar. 

I am not sure my intentions will count for anything to you, Herald out of Valdemar. However, I will speak of them anyway. Your Valdemar does not compare so badly, among other kingdoms I have seen, but it does contain a great deal of pointless suffering. You are a Herald. You have dedicated your life to protecting the people of your kingdom, and yet you cannot protect those children that starve in the streets each winter, nor those murdered by bandits on the roads each year. You have seen it too, and it it disturbs you. I would like there to be less of it in the world. 

You’re bringing in an army. I know what happens in war. Even leaving aside the people your men would kill, there would be looting, farmers having to abandon their crops. If you want fewer people starving, it doesn’t seem like a good way to go about it.

In the short run, yes. It is a cost I accept. Have you ever killed a man to save those he would otherwise kill later, Herald? You have. To protect your people, I imagine, and you would do the same again. I say it is no different if those you save are children who would otherwise have starved in twenty years. I choose the path that will save the most lives, not only now but in the future.

Why lead with an army in the first place? If you really just want to help, why not come to us peacefully?

Why do you think I have not tried already? I have been working towards this for very long time, and I have tested every path less costly than this. I now judge that this is the plan most likely to succeed.

All right, assume I believe you about what you’re trying to do. Why do you think you can even do it? You’re not the first person to try to make the world a better place.

I know what I am capable of. I have done this before.

That’s impossible. 

I understand why you might think so. I will lay my cards on the table, Herald, since otherwise I do not see how we can trust one another. I am not a mortal man. I have lived for many centuries. I know the ways of men well, and I have tested my plans thoroughly. Your Queen Elspeth is a good enough ruler, as mortals go, but there is an unfair comparison. She has not the hundredth part of my experience or learning. 

Why should I believe you?

There is a statue of King Valdemar in the grounds of your Palace. It was carved the year after his death, and has not been altered since; you can confirm this easily. If you look carefully at the scroll he holds, it bears a very large number. I chose that number, and I know the prime factors; that is, two numbers that I multiplied to obtain it. I will tell them to you now. [I did so.] There is another thing you could check. Taver is currently your Monarch’s Own Companion, no? Taver and I met once, a long time ago, and we spoke mind to mind. I believe he will still remember what I said to him. [After a pause] I can offer a final item of proof, and it will serve as a gesture of goodwill. A great deal of lore was lost at the time of the Mage Wars, as you know. I was there, and I remember. I will tell you of a communication-spell I once used. The instructions are as such...

Leareth's main reaction afterward, according to the terse notes he took, is that he was - very impressed. Vanyel might be young and overwhelmed, but he could think on his feet, and ask insightful questions. ...And he seemed willing to talk. Leareth wasn't at all sure that most Heralds would be. 



The next set of dream-notes is dated another few weeks later. 

I followed up on the information that you gave me. I’m not convinced, everything you offered could be explained another way. Not easily, but becoming immortal wouldn’t be very easy either.

I think you are not as skeptical as you try to appear. Nonetheless, I am prepared to act in good faith. It is true that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. [Demonstrate a map by dream-illusion, the dream allows this.] See this? By this place that you call Horn, under a hill shaped like so, there is a cave. I built and sealed it nine hundred years ago. There is a spell to test the air that will show this, which I will teach you and you may test in other circumstances. There is also a spell you will need to pass through the wards. I will tell you this as well. I placed useful supplies there, that I might use in future, and so I tell you this as an offer of goodwill as well as evidence. [Explanation, pause for Vanyel to memorize this] Is there anything else you would like to know?

I’d like to know how you became immortal. And why. 

I will not tell you the details of my method, since we do not yet have such a level of trust. I can tell you that it involves magecraft, and that it did not involve preserving the flesh of my original body. As to why, I spoke of this already. You have noticed, as have I, that the world is not a good place. I decided that it ought to be better, and I judged this a goal I could not accomplish in a single lifetime. I also did not wish to die.

What do you intend to do, if the time comes and I’m here at the pass to stop you from entering Valdemar?

I will stop you by whichever means necessary, and continue with my plan. I do not wish to kill you, Herald Vanyel, but I will not hesitate to do what I must.

I have another question. If you’re trying to do good in the world, why do you call yourself something that literally means ‘darkness’?

You know the Kaled'a'in language? Interesting. That is one translation, but the word has several meanings. One can speak of the ‘leareth’ to mean the night sky. There is darkness there, but also many lights. The lights are those things that matter, and the darkness is what must be crossed. I have always found hope in looking at the stars.

Again, Leareth's notes on his own reactions to this are very sparse, but - he was impressed. He was deeply and genuinely impressed. ...He also wrote that Vanyel "seemed like a deeply troubled and unhappy young man", though - who wouldn't be, in that situation. 

(He was amused, he thinks, by the question about his name. In ancient Kaled'a'in it primarily means 'night sky' - you certainly wouldn't choose it to talk about metaphorical darkness-of-character - and Leareth is much more fluent in the archaic version of the language that spawned the modern Tayledras and Shin'a'in dialects. It was spoken in Urtho's Tower, and where he first incarnated after the Cataclysm, and by many of the small groups barely surviving in that first century. His earliest records are mostly in that language, he thinks, rather than his actual mother tongue.) 

He doesn't remember anything else about what he thought of Vanyel that far back, though he does remember at least flickers of the conversations themselves. Vanyel's face, trying so hard to match Leareth's controlled calm and give nothing away. 


Yes, it's impossible not to, if not like, then at least appreciate how willing Vanyel is not just to talk but to really try to understand.  But it still seems... hard, nearly impossible, to convince him to agree with conquering his country and killing ten million of its people.  Who could possibly agree to that?  Vanyel is a Herald sworn to his king, Karal knows that - and the king has obligations to his people, not to some unbelievable bright future.  It's one thing to understand in principle that this might be the right thing to do, and another to agree for it to be done to your home.

(... Would Karal still be here, if Leareth meant to take Karse, not Valdemar, for his sacrifice?  Gods, what a nearly impossible question to even think about. 


He thinks he would.  But only because he was cut adrift from all his obligations before he found out - and even so, it would be much harder not to feel like Leareth lied to him by not making it clear early on, that they were this much on opposite sides.  And Valdemar is... better than Karse, right now, Karal knows that even if he doesn't want to see it.  A harder loss to reconcile oneself to.  Gods, what a horror all this is.)


... He wants to know if Vanyel knows that part of the plan, yet.  But he should wait and do all this in order.


That is so much strange proof.  (Math, even. How can you prove something real by showing someone some numbers?? If Vanyel believed it then Karal doesn't really need to know.)  And so much effort and preparation, on Leareth's part.  Karal isn't sure how any amount of such things would truly work to prove immortality, when Leareth clearly has so much knowledge and magic he might have used to falsify his evidence - but it doesn't really matter so much, in the end, because whether or not it's a proof of immortality it's proof of immense and strange power, and that seems like it comes down to nearly the same thing.

(Karal only just now realized that Leareth was already finished with the Eastern Empire by the time Valdemar was even founded.  This shouldn't really be news, Leareth lived through the Cataclysm and so he was obviously here before any of the countries Karal knows, but it's the first time this piece of information connected to anything actually familiar.  That is such an incredibly long time.)


Was Vanyel already deeply unhappy, at seventeen?  He obviously was when Karal saw him, but he thought it was the war that made him so.  Though perhaps knowing of the foretold invasion would be enough to upset someone enough for Leareth to remark on it...  It wouldn't be for most boys, Karal thinks, but he doesn't know Vanyel very well.  (Yet.  He will get to know him, and he still can't quite bring himself to want to, but... one does many difficult things in life, and this clearly needs to be one of them.  They should keep going.)


- oh, if and when he does tell Vanyel the entirety of the plan, Leareth absolutely expects that Vanyel's response will not, will never, be "all right, I'm on board." The best case scenario Leareth can imagine, in terms of ways he might react, is that he would try to convince Leareth in turn to do something else instead

And - there probably isn't something else - and so, very likely, they end up on opposite sides, as enemies who might understand each other perfectly but still cannot do anything other than fight. Which would be another stupid tragedy, to add to the very long list of them in Leareth's past, but - better than not trying to look for other, less stupid, things they could do instead. But - if there is another option, then Leareth thinks the most plausible way he ends up learning of it is by - a route like this, someone approaching the problem from a very different angle, and with very strong reason to find an alternative. It's not that it's likely to work, just - it doesn't seem impossible. 


(A quiet note of acknowledgement, that it would have been unfair to Karal for Leareth to act exactly as he did if Karse had been his intended target. He's glad they aren't in that world, though - he does think that, for some sort of symmetry or fairness or just understanding, it's good for Karal to think about how he would feel in that scenario.) 


He's pretty sure that he's ended up giving Vanyel rather a lot of information that will strengthen Valdemar's position, in the unsurprising and more-likely case where it comes to war. Though he's also fairly sure - at least, his not-necessarily-trustworthy memory thinks he was sure - that Vanyel hasn't been filling in the other Heralds about anything more than the existence of the Foresight dream. They would be acting differently, if they knew more of the details.

Leareth agrees that it doesn't, really, matter whether Vanyel believes that he's immortal, or just that he has the knowledge and magic he claims to. He does think that at a certain point, it would get to be more implausible for someone not immortal to have the resources Leareth has. 


...Vanyel has been deeply unhappy the entire time Leareth has known him. Leareth...doesn't have all the context for why, and isn't sure if he's forgotten or never knew, but it feels like one of the more fundamental Vanyel facts. He - suspects it's about more than just the invasion. 


What a tragic frame to read all these conversations in, that most probably they won't succeed at anything more than understanding and they'll have to fight anyway, with more knowledge about each other and so much more pain.  But... yes, it does seem the most likely thing.

And Leareth is still trying, is chasing a tiny chance of something better through a decade of difficult conversations and expensive attempts at proof - and more than just proof, he said he stopped some of his plans as a show of good faith, in the dream, Karal thinks he remembers that...  It must be incredibly hard, to keep trying something that almost certainly will only make things worse, but that might still be worth it.  But it's what Leareth has been doing all across his many lives.  No wonder his mind is so strange - it would have to be, to manage all this at all.  Of course some part of him assumes nothing ever just goes well, when so much of what he does has to end that way.

Karal couldn't do it.  He doesn't think almost anyone could.  But maybe he can help a little, reading these notes and giving another perspective.

... Would it help for him to try not have so many feelings about it?  He's not sure where they are, on that.


Leareth doesn't mind the feelings. It may result in him needing a break from this sooner, but - if anything he thinks it will help get all of this deeply into his memory. 



The dreams fall into something of a routine, after that. Vanyel is suspicious and wary and still, despite himself, curious. They talk mainly about magic and history. Vanyel seems to prefer talking around the enormity of what's coming in both of their futures, and Leareth is, for now, content to follow that lead. They have decades. 

The next particularly-contentful dream is over a year later, in summer of 792, and includes a note that Vanyel appeared in it visibly angry. 

We do not have to talk, if you would prefer not to.

I only have one question for you. I have reason to think you’re up to something on our borders. And that you’re not exactly being honourable about it. What do you have to say about that?

We are still enemies, Herald Vanyel. I have made no promises to you, or to Valdemar. Honour is not a word I find useful in this context. I do what I can to increase the chance that my plans will succeed, and I am sure you do the same. I would like it if we could recognize our shared interests, but I would be foolish to count on this.

I understand. I think we may not agree on acceptable costs. There are lines I won’t cross, no matter how many lives it might save in some distant future.

This is as I would expect, from a Herald. I draw different lines. I think it wrong to flinch from a course of action that will save the largest number of people, simply because my enemies might think it dishonourable. I do not consider it to be a valid constraint.
[After a long pause in conversation] Have you read your Herald Seldasen’s treatise on ethics?

You’ve read Seldasen?

Yes. He was an exceptionally sane man. I would have liked to have–

At which point the dream was abruptly cut off, after a much shorter time than usual. Nothing in particular was happening where Leareth was, so his suspicion was that Vanyel had been shaken awake by some outside event. His notes include brief speculation on whether Someone didn't want them talking about Seldasen. 

(Herald Seldasen lived several hundred years earlier, during a particular turbulent time in Valdemar's history. His writing on ethics is - probably about as close to Leareth's way of thinking as a Herald, bound to a Companion, can realistically get.) 


Hopefully they managed to get back to Seldasen later.  If not, that really would have unfortunate implications, although it's even more confusing, to think Someone might want them to talk but only about specific things that aren't... treatises on ethics... for some reason??  Well, it'll be clearer later, whatever's going on, he hopes.


Should you look up what it was he complained about you doing?  Karal wonders what Vanyel's idea of honor is.  He sounds like... well, Karal can't really know, but he can guess based on some of what he knows about what Valdemar is like - they have a lot of lines they won't cross, and good reasons for most of them, but...  they're different reasons, some more important or more absolute than others, and it seems as if they're treating them all the same.  They wouldn't come into Karsite territory, not even for temporary occupation, because at some point one of their kings said they wouldn't, and it's not as if it was a bad principle in general, but it would've been better for everyone, really, if they just invaded, and he thinks they knew that and still didn't.  He hates them a little for that, for dragging it all out over so many years and so many deaths, just for their stupid principle.

... But there are still some things you shouldn't do, even if an individual case of them would have a better result than not doing it, because it's that important to predictably be someone who wouldn't.  But... not everything is like that, he thinks?  He's not sure, he doesn't build his principles by thinking through them.  But it seems like if everyone involved would actually be better off if you did it--  No, that's not quite right either, if everyone would be better off and you could make this obvious to anyone else who might need to know-- Oh, this was Ma'ar's problem, wasn't it.  He sends a mental sigh.  If what Valdemar is doing is trying very hard not to go the way Predain went, there's only so much he can blame them for that.  But... they're giving up so much for it, and of course there are better ways, normal diplomacy exists now, you don't need to bind yourself to this narrow a path just to never scare anyone.  Never scaring anyone doesn't really... seem like the correct goal for what he thinks of as honor.

Ah, he doesn't know.  It's all complicated, too much disconnected abstract thought for him - he gets the impression that reading Seldasen would make his head hurt.  But he does think Valdemar's Heralds are missing something.  Focusing so much on their vision of how a good person acts that they don't notice it's possible to be... honorable, trustworthy, something... without holding to all the rest of their code.


The analysis notes from the morning might say more, but - no, they don't that much, he thinks his initial guess was right and he was deeply unclear on what specifically Vanyel had just found out about and was accusing him of doing, especially given that high likelihood that it wasn't something he had set in motion especially recently, just something Vanyel had happened to learn of at some point in the couple of months since their last dream. And, of course, many ways of probing for more detail would have involved revealing activities in the north that Vanyel might not know about.

He can make a note to ask Nayoki, it's entirely possible he tried to follow up via his agents in Haven and guess at which recent Heraldic missions might have led to Vanyel learning about it and he just didn't cross-reference it with these particular notes, but - he's not sure it mattered that much to him at the time? He undeniably was up to various plots on Valdemar's borders, that a Herald might reasonably call dishonorable. Also he's worked with rather a large number of contractors for one-off missions, and it wouldn't be entirely surprising if some of them had been claiming to have more active backing from the shadowy mage in the north than they, in fact, did. Anyway, Leareth doesn't think he would have been inclined to try to - justify himself to Vanyel, or make himself sound less hostile or ruthless, even if he had known for a fact what Vanyel was talking about. 


...Leareth thinks that Vanyel's sense of honor at the time would have been - very confused, mostly, a pile of received wisdom and gut feelings and half-thought-out principles that he hadn't yet come to terms with. Not because Heralds are like that, because eighteen-year-olds are like that. Leareth is fairly sure that Ma'ar was at least that confused, albeit probably in very different directions, when he was eighteen. 

The Heralds as a whole are at least mostly doing something coherent, and the interpretation that they're trying to steer as far as possible from the class of mistake that Ma'ar made in Predain is - not false. There are real upsides to it, things Valdemar can have that Leareth never will, but - no, he absolutely doesn't think it's worth it, or he would be doing something different himself. 

For what it's worth, Leareth is fairly sure that at this point Vanyel agrees. Vanyel still makes different tradeoffs than the ones Leareth does, but - seeing it as a trade, rather than a bright line unthinkable to cross, is something that's seeped into him. And he hasn't said so outright, but he might well think that his King is choosing the wrong trade, in refusing to invade. 


- the next dream, it turns out, absolutely does involve talking about Seldasen's treatises. 

I see why you called him very sane. But I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have marched an army into another country unawares. Wouldn’t have used blood-magic.

His goals were not my goals. Your Valdemar is an odd place. Your Heralds have such commitment, and that is something I can respect, but it is to so limited a cause. You protect and serve those who live within your borders from certain dangers. Yet a child who dies of hunger and illness in the streets of your capital is just as dead as one who dies in a border raid. And a child of Hardorn is just as human as a child of Valdemar.

Hardorn has its own king. We take care of our people, they take care of theirs. 


(Leareth is thinking about Vanyel turning away a band of Hardornen refugees at the Valdemaran border - and then crossing, against orders, to find and neutralize the threat to them. And the way a Bard penned it and put it to song - and I protect all helpless, not just those of Valdemar -

Vanyel has changed a lot since he was eighteen. 

He wonders if Vanyel had been thinking of that long-ago conversation.)


No one can hold up the weight of the whole world.

One can try.

We’re only human.

Then we must become more. I do not make excuses for what is beyond my strength. I find a way to become stronger. There are things I cannot do, but I do not set down limits that are false.

If you’re willing to kill innocents, for power… I can’t see how that’s a limit I would ever think it was all right to cross.

You would kill a man to save ten, Herald Vanyel. If your Valdemar was under attack, you would kill a hundred enemy soldiers with a wave of your hand, never seeing their faces, and consider it right. What is the difference?


No doubt Leareth was up to all sorts of things a Herald might call dishonorable, and Karal understands his disinclination to justify himself and even mostly agrees, but he would've still wanted to know what specific thing it was and what it said about Vanyel's opinion.  But it's true that it doesn't matter now - it's so easy to keep forgetting how young Vanyel is in these records.  Of course he was all tangled up and unsure and trying to act sure anyway - Karal certainly wasn't any better, at that age.  It'll be interesting, to see how the repeated conversations with Leareth make him grow.

But that's another one of those things - what is Valdemar's obsession with blood-magic?  Why is it supposed to be so much more wrong to take power from a dead enemy than to kill him?  --Karal does see some reasons for the prohibition when he thinks about it, it's a temptation to kill people you wouldn't and it's harder to judge that than to just not let yourself be tempted, but---  Valdemar is doing that thing again, where they decide on a prohibition for some sensible but a few steps removed reason and start acting as if it's an immutable moral law that everyone else is wrong in not following.  And... it's hard not to suspect they're like that because the Butcher in White can flood any place on the border with power without resorting to blood-magic, and their enemies can't. It's an easy position from which to feel morally superior.  He wonders if they'd truly die for the principle, if things were otherwise.  (But would it be an even more awful war, if both sides were doing that... Maybe it would.  Ah, he doesn't know, and he keeps slipping into hating them but he knows it's not really right.)

And the next thing, too - yes, there's value in protecting just your people from just some dangers, when that's all you can do.  It's better to pick some lines to defend than try for everything at once - but again people will pick their lines and then declare them to be the correct lines and everything beyond them to be irrelevant, and that's... not how the world works.  No one can hold up the weight of the whole world, yes, but you can... grieve for the inability, realize the wrong in the world and the choice you make in not trying to fix it, not turn away at least from seeing it.

(And then there's Leareth, who can do more than that - who will simply find a way to do more and more with no limits on his thoughts or goals or actions.  Karal called him halfway to a god, before, and by Leareth's own admission he was not wrong.  Nobody else is like this.  For these few sentences, Karal's thoughts are full of awe.)


And then... "you would kill a hundred enemy soldiers with a wave of your hand" - he would and he has--

--and just like that Karal is back at the moment that broke his mind open, watching Vanyel's power crash down and kill everyone in its path--

He struggles for the body or the mage-gift, in pure horrified instinct, and it only takes an instant of Leareth's resistance to make some part of him remember enough to stop, make him realize it's not real - but he still doesn't really know where he is.  He curls into himself as much as he can, just inside his mind since the body isn't his, but he feels like he can't breathe, or the body isn't doing enough breathing, something is awful and disorienting and wrong--


The blood-magic thing - and they're like that about compulsions, too, and that and the no-expansion rule all date back to the Founding - is, Leareth suspects, because Valdemar was founded by refugees from the Eastern Empire. Specifically during - oh, huh, another memory he hadn't realized he had retained until it was prompted the right way - during a particularly heinous period in its history. Leareth doesn't recall any detail, but does remember that it was almost bad enough to prompt him to go back - but it felt like a trap, and in fact the Empire didn't collapse. He's less sure of his post-Valdemar's-founding recall, but thinks it recovered to a moderately less corrupt state, and has swung back and forth within the range of "corrupt but not quite enough to cause an enormous disaster".

This is besides the point. Leareth focuses on reading.


He's distracted, and becomes aware of Karal's panic only after he instinctively shoves Karal's grasp for control aside and clamps down.

- was that a helpful way to react, he has no idea, but it doesn't seem like offering Karal back control of the body now is going to help - the thing he would benefit from most if he were this panicked would be to be alone, somewhere behind very good shields, but that seems like the opposite of what Karal would find helpful - 


He can be calm, at least, keep his breathing slow and even, setting aside the notes to focus entirely on that. He can hold his thoughts fully open to Karal, not shoving them at him but making everything as transparent as possible, and he can make sure that his mind is mostly full of the room around them - they're not on a battlefield, they're in a quiet library, it's warm and the air smells like paper, and mage-sight sees only the bright set-spells for the permanent mage-lights and the beautifully intricate layered wards - 

He unshields their Empathy fully as well, because it would probably help Karal to be aware of people around them, but inconveniently the library is thoroughly shielded and nobody else is in range. Leareth will keep sitting here being calm, then, and decide in a minute if it seems like he should instead get up and go ask Nayoki for help. 


It doesn't help immediately - Karal spends another dozen endless seconds in uncomprehending shock, suspended in the void and too panicked to pay attention to anything that isn't right there.  But slowly he does start to notice the things around him that aren't quite a void, the faint calm light-filled thoughts and sensations that... aren't quite his?... the magic bright enough to catch his attention and lovely enough to hold it, but why is there magic--  why are there thoughts--

... The first subconscious instant of recognition is enough to calm him, safety and warmth and belonging, before he remembers the name of the presence or anything else about it.  But that knowledge comes back quickly enough too, and soon after it the memory of where he is and why and what they were doing.

Oh.  I-- I'm sorry, I didn't--  I didn't know that could happen--

He still feels like curling up and crying, but not in the awful confused way from a moment ago.


You need not be sorry. Leareth is emphatically not angry or upset or frustrated, and is doing his best not to be impatient, though that part takes some actual effort. It is not that unexpected - everything happened so recently for you - it will be easier with time, I think. 

(And Leareth vaguely recalls that he has some sort of process for getting his mind to stop doing that after some horrible thing happened, not that he remembers what the process is right now, sorry. He doesn't think he ever gets as disoriented as Karal was just then unless he's, for example, injured and in pain and has also just woken up from dreaming about the thing happening again, but he's pretty sure he has absolutely reflex-Gated to a random records cache in that state. And plausibly, for Karal, not having control of his body is - unbalancing in the same way as being injured and half-asleep.)


He sits there being calm for another few seconds before asking, would it help to have the body back for a little while, or no? 


There was no expectation in Karal's mind that Leareth would be angry about this (--safety, belonging--), but it's still not a good thing to suddenly have happen, and it would be worse if it happened at some moment that wasn't them sitting alone in a library. 

It probably will be.  (And he'd appreciate if Leareth could find his notes on the not-doing-that process, when he has time.)  I just-- wasn't expecting that, so it caught me by surprise...  Earlier, when talking to Vanyel or thinking about the war, he'd known to be careful of his thoughts, felt enough of the grief to instinctively clamp down on it - but today he managed to relax into the discussion of ethics and decade-old dreams, and didn't expect the present to come up so suddenly.

He does think it was not having control of his body that made him feel so disoriented (--suspended in the void with nothing there to touch or push against... There's a moment's sharper distress, but he manages to stop it without spiraling down into that state again--), yes, it would help, please-- 

The conversation and another few seconds of Leareth's enforced calm were enough that he doesn't in fact curl up and cry, just sits there and breathe more heavily, wraps his arms around himself to feel a bit more anchored for a moment.  Stands up to walk around the library, only a little shakily.  I do think it would've helped, to have that immediately, but - I don't know what I would've done, and, a touch of amusement, you did let me wear a sword into your library.  ...Definitely don't let me have the mage-gift, but I can't imagine you would have.


I was also not sure what you would do. Also the physical correlates of that sort of panic-reaction are genuinely very unpleasant; Leareth could stay out of the way and let Karal have full control of the body anyway, if it were what Karal needed, but he knows he wouldn't like it. ...They can talk about how to handle it if it happens again later. It would have been a lot worse if it had happened, for example, in the Foresight dream, though it might have been much less likely to happen if Karal hadn't been relaxed and thus off-guard. 

He can give Karal a few minutes now, until he's definitely calm again, and then - he does kind of want to finish the notes on that particular dream, and after that they can take a break? 


Probably not worth giving him control, then - losing the fight for the body helped too, in a different way, and-- right, later, yes of course.

He will walk another slow circle around the library, touching some of the shelves and wishing vaguely for a window to look out of, then sit back down and let his lord take over for more reading.

(If Leareth pays attention, he might notice Karal still being off-balance and maybe a little too quick to ignore it when prompted to, but not in a way that will do him harm or that can't wait to be addressed until later or for that matter never.)


(Leareth is not paying close attention to Karal's feelings right now, he has other things on his mind, but he is intending to pay attention later, and to make sure Karal has a chance to do things that are relaxing for him - just on priors, five minutes isn't nearly enough time for him to have fully recovered. He does remark on the wistfulness about lack of windows, and makes a mental note that they should get outside in the next day or two.) 



From the point in the conversation where they left off earlier, Leareth goes into some hypotheticals that he was, in fact, grabbing directly from Seldasen. There's an example involving a woman and children trapped outside the castle walls during a siege, but known to be infected with a plague, and the commander's decision is whether to allow them in - or whether to kill the woman if she's about to scale the walls.

I don't know, Vanyel admits, clearly frustrated. And, it's not the same.

What would you say, Leareth asks him, if you were in your position? Would you accept your own death, to save hundreds? And Vanyel answers without hesitation, yes - and Leareth remembers that image, Vanyel's face, the flash of relief he saw...

People do not always take those actions they would know to be right, if they had the time and space to think, Leareth said. People make mistakes, and I agree that it does not make them evil, and that they are still worth protecting. He remembers that, too, and - how Vanyel for a moment failed to hide the distress in his face, and Leareth wondered what it was reminding him of...

The problem with treating every life as sacred is that it does not allow us to make good trades, he said, and Vanyel mostly looked confused, the off-balance expression of someone struggling to wrap his head around the framing, on some level not wanting to understand, but not actually able to flinch away from thinking about it entirely.


and -

It would take a very long time to explain all of my plan, and there is information of strategic value that I will not reveal to you. However, given what I work towards, in expectation, this plan will bring good that far outweighs the costs.

In expectation? You don’t know? You mean you’re willing to kill thousands of people, invade my kingdom, and whatever it is you’re even trying to do, you don’t know if it’s going to work? It might just fail and you’ll have killed all those people for nothing!

We never have certainty, Herald Vanyel, not for anything in this world. We must act anyway, and deciding not to act is also a choice.


(It's a sort of safety, too, that Leareth will ignore him if he wants to do something else, so Karal doesn't need to preemptively worry about worrying him in turn.  Good.)  He focuses on the records easily enough.  Asks to look back to the line they stopped on (and only feels the normal muted ache of grief, when he reads it this time), because there was a beginning of a thought he had there, before that happened--

You're right.  I wanted to say that to him, earlier, but of course you already did a decade ago.  That there's only a difference of degree, between what he does and what you do.  He can draw a line - everyone draws a line somewhere - except you, a faint touch of fondness and awe - but the lines aren't real, and they... dissolve, when you think about them enough.  But of course he's terrified, of having everything dissolved like that.

Of course you kill the woman and the children - it's a tragedy but it's a straightforward one, and it's another point of frustration, the way Vanyel thinks he lives in the kind of world where he could afford to do anything else.  (But he was eighteen, Karal reminds himself. No doubt he knows the answer, now.)  And yes, you do it even though you don't know - maybe they have the plague or maybe they don't, maybe you'd manage to isolate them well enough that nobody else would die of it - sometimes you do end up killing people for nothing, that's how human war and human justice inevitably is, and even the gods don't seem to do better.  He realizes that this too is not really different from what Leareth is doing except in degree, and in Leareth's willingness to consider possible outcomes that nobody has ever seen happen before, and to trust himself to predict them anyway.

(... Maybe he would like Seldasen well enough after all.)

But it he thinks he sees the arc of the future conversations now - Vanyel doesn't like all the lines dissolving, but he's thinking about it (and it's admirable, Karal thinks half unwillingly, the way he's still thinking about it despite how much he clearly hates the idea), of course he will keep thinking about it, and Karal has little doubt that he'll come closer to Leareth's way of thinking, over time.  He's curious to see how far.  Although he remembers from yesterday night's dream that it may not be that simple - things happen in the waking world that make it impossible to have a relaxed conversation about ethics, to Vanyel just as much as to Karal.


... And Vanyel wants to die.  Something awful happened - someone he cares about did something awful, that pain is clear enough to see, and Karal feels the echo of it in himself even though he's never felt it - and he wishes that duty would require him to die rather than keep living.  He's wished it for a decade, and kept living anyway, to serve all the people who are clearly relying on him so much that it feels like everything would collapse without him.  Of course he couldn't do otherwise, but it's one more note of pain in the entire tragic story they're tangled together in.

(Karal hasn't met anyone like that before, but there's still something familiar about it... Another memory of Leareth's, not his own, and he doesn't have so many of them yet that he can't look through them and find it...  Bastran, that's who was like that.  The thought doesn't go anywhere further, but he notices the similarity, and both of them being close to Leareth in lives a thousand years apart.  It's not surprising, really, that Leareth would feel drawn to people like that, or that it would happen twice, in such a long time.)


Leareth thinks that for many people, it - feels like damageto have to face the reality of a decision where there are no good options, and any choice they make will involve hurting someone or crossing a line - it feels like becoming the kind person who would hurt people and cross moral lines - and so having to consider in advance what they would do, if the question came up, feels like a weaker version of that same damage. 

There's...not nothing true to that viewpoint? War often does damage people, Leareth thinks, not just the parts that involve awful things happening to them, but the part where they need to do awful things to others. But Karal is also right, that it's naive for someone to think they live in a world where those choices won't come up, where it's viable at all to be someone who ever does the "right"  thing and not just the least awful thing. At best, some people will face fewer hard choices because they got lucky, but - Leareth doesn't, actually, think that any real person has ever been lucky enough not to face any hard choices. Not in this world. Maybe in a better one, someday. Most of the time, if someone thinks they've never faced a choice where all the options involved hurting people, it's - more likely the case that the people they ended up hurting are far away and they never had to see it. 

(...A lot more lines dissolve if you expand your view beyond the choice in front of you, if you're trying to track how the ripples of that choice affect the wider world and the more distant future, and especially if you treat inaction as a choice just as deliberate as acting. But Leareth recognizes that it's very difficult to live and make decisions that way, and not just emotionally. The more you try to take responsibility for, the bigger your potential miscalculations. Ma'ar learned that the hard way. Leareth...doesn't actually think most people should try it. There's an argument that Ma'ar shouldn't have been trying it, given that he was clearly without the resources to learn to do it right before he caused enormous harm.) 


- huh, now that Karal is noticing it, he does see some similarity between Vanyel and Bastran – and the pattern where of course he's drawn to mentor people with those qualities, people who will keep trying even when it hurts very badly. (Not that Leareth is the one who picked out Vanyel in particular; the gods seem to have done that for him, without asking either of them for input on the matter.)  

Which feels like a deeply sad thought - why - maybe just because imagining Vanyel in the Eastern Empire makes it starkly clear how awful a place it must have been for someone like Bastran. Leareth wonders if, at the time, he really understood how much he was asking. Of course there's an obvious argument for why, if you have to give anyone enormous power over others, it's in many ways better - at least from the point of view of the people living under that power - for it to be someone who doesn't want it, who questions themselves constantly and feels unworthy of it, who is deeply distressed by having to choose options that hurt people, but still refuses to flinch away from seeing the consequences of their actions and live in comfortable denial instead. 

But it's still tragic, if the people with the most integrity and - Leareth doesn't really like the word honor, it smuggles in too many other associations, but there's a concept underneath that does feel important and real - are also the ones who will suffer the most from holding positions of power in such a broken world. 

On the bright side, at least Vanyel has a Companion, and is surrounded by fellow Heralds who understand him? ...On the less bright side, Leareth is not at all sure that the Heraldic culture is a good thing, for someone already overly inclined toward self-sacrifice. 


Leareth is right, of course, about the damage.  It's not good for people, to have to live like this.  But... there are no very good options, unless you're lucky, and he doesn't think many people are.  And, yes - if you think you aren't hurting anyone, you probably still are, you just don't know, and it'll be worse when you find out.

Karal doesn't think this life, knowledge of the awful choices they're making, will damage him - hurt, yes, but not damage, and there's a bigger difference between those for him than for most people, he suspects - but he might be wrong.  Well, he will inevitably find out, in this service, and at least for the moment he can still manage a pensive smile about that inevitability.  Trying to be Leareth would damage him, and like most people he shouldn't try, but he doesn't need to.  Ma'ar... no, Karal doesn't think he shouldn't have taken responsibility, just that he should have - learned more, realized the world was bigger than he knew of, tried to find more options before acting.  (Found allies who could understand him well enough to tell him that.)  But it's clear how thoroughly Leareth has learned that lesson.  (That's another piece falling into place in the puzzle of Leareth's personality - of course he tries so hard to find other options and research even the most unlikely thing, when that happened to him.)


He's not sure that either Altarrin or Bastran, under all their compulsions, were capable of understanding how much Altarrin was asking, let alone of doing anything differently.  He's glad Leareth is free of that place.  Yes, it was still likely the right choice, but a tragic one, and - again, it feels like there must be something better, but he doesn't know what it is, doesn't even really know what direction to look in.

But it makes more sense to think about Vanyel, who is at least still alive.  And free to at least think for himself, if not to make his own decisions.  Karal wonders if he's talked to his fellow Heralds, if not about Leareth then maybe about Seldasen.  Their culture is doing many things wrong - and should likely be considered responsible for a lot of what led to Vanyel as they last saw him, miserable and exhausted and alone - but maybe it's at least capable of change.

... What is a Companion exactly?  Fancy (and possibly magic??) horses, is his understanding, but that doesn't seem like that much of a helpful thing to have, and Leareth makes it sound as if there's more to it.


- right, in Karse they wouldn't know all that much about Companions. 

First of all, Companions are divinely created entities; legend says they appeared in Valdemar in response to a prayer by the first King, and Leareth wasn't personally there or anything, but he was operating in the region not very long afterward, and a weirdly specific miracle does seem like the best explanation. It was initially done at the same time as the Web, which– ...he'll get into that later. 

They look like horses, but they aren't, exactly. They have human minds - literally, he thinks, formerly human souls - wedged into a body that resembles a horse, but is definitely innately magical; Companions have much greater stamina than horses, and are generally more physically resilient. They all have innate Mindspeech, with substantial range particularly between themselves, and - possibly other innate magical abilities, Leareth isn't sure, they're quite cagey about it. They do all seem to have, not exactly the Gift of Foresight as humans have it, but at least a kind of sensitivity that gives them premonitions of danger. 

They also have an innate ability to form soulbonds with Heralds, bearing some resemblance to lifebonds but without the romantic-love element, in response to a "call" that seems to come as a Foresight premonition. That part is presumably added on purpose by the god or gods that created them. Companions invariably die when their Heralds do, and Heralds rarely survive the death of a Companion either. The story told is that Companions Choose particularly virtuous people, though as far as Leareth can tell they mostly Choose all the Gifted people, and rely on the fact that anyone pulled into the Heraldic culture and expectations at age thirteen or fourteen - which is considered an honor and privilege, in Valdemar - and then mentored for years by someone who's constantly in their head, is likely to turn out as an upstanding citizen. 

...It's possible for a Companion to repudiate their Herald, generally in response to the Herald doing something that breaks the Companions' moral rules. It's happened a single-digit number of times in Valdemar's entire history, but Leareth suspects it has a disproportionate effect on the culture. Valdemar's entire government is more or less built on the premise that Heralds are automatically trustworthy.



(While he's thinking this, Leareth is going to mark his place for next time in the notes and put them away, and then give Karal control of the body. It still seems like a good time for a break, and Leareth is much less exhausted today and is more up for interacting with people or riding along while Karal does that, if Karal is in the mood for socializing.) 


The gods did what??  That is just... Karal is sorry, but that's an incredibly bizarre thing to exist.  And a rather good explanation for why Valdemar is... like that... 

Not that Karal has any standing to complain about people showing up in other people's heads, he supposes, but... it'd be different, if he was thirteen.  (Yes, Leareth's hosts usually are, he knows.  Leareth is not claiming this is a good thing for them, and Karal is quite certain he wouldn't be claiming it even if he didn't generally kill them.  There's a moment's grief in his mind for this, as there always is, but... it's not many lives, compared to everything else.)  And with a lifebond on top of that - he barely knows what those are, something out of stories rather than something that happens to real people he's heard of - but it doesn't sound like a situation in which you can grow up to be yourself.  Nor a situation you can - not just leave, but even think of wanting to leave.

He knows, trying to be fair for a moment, that if he had grown up in Valdemar no doubt he'd also think it an honor and a privilege, and that part of why he instinctively dislikes it is just that's it's a custom of his enemies, an accident of birth.  And another part is Leareth's dislike of the gods - if the Sunlord did something like this, Karal a few years ago would've thought it wonderful, and Karal a month ago likely wouldn't be difficult to convince either--  No, the Sunlord has done something very much like this!  There are so many stories about Suncats choosing a virtuous king or high priest or lord at a time when one was needed.  (And why hadn't now been one of those times??)  Augh.  Karal does not know how he feels about all that, and it's probably not urgent to figure it out.

Back to Valdemar and its Heralds - they have something like that, but all the time and for nearly everyone important.  The part of him that's learning Leareth's suspicion of the gods notices how very convenient it is, but...  It might be worth it, really.  The ability to give the country so many people who are automatically and visibly trustworthy would be worth quite a lot, if they truly are, and... thinking fairly, he has no reason to think they're not.  They have a country in which the coup currently strangling Karse could never happen, and he's not sure he wouldn't give up one in a hundred children for that.

... He still doesn't like it.  It's...  Valdemar was built out of refugees from the Eastern Empire.  What they have is a better system, clearly, and certainly a happier one, but... there are still too many similarities there to be comfortable.  (He wonders, a little, what Vanyel would think of the comparison.  Hate it and find it insulting and still admit there was some truth to it, he suspects, having known the man for one dream and one morning of record-reading.)


A break does sound like a good idea.  Karal stands up, stretches, takes a few deeper breaths - and yes, he would love to interact with people.  Hmm, he could ask Nayoki to introduce him to someone he should know, but... he has to admit he enjoys just running into people in the hallways.  It's the way it makes it feel like a home and not just an organization, maybe - something structured by the natural ties of people spending their lives around each other, and not only by their duties.  It will do him good, to have a little more of that.

So he'll take a random turn out of the library, and walk, with a slight smile and his usual un-Leareth-like body language, until he finds someone who doesn't look too busy to be asked a few questions (and doesn't look like they'd prefer to avoid him, for whatever reason). 

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