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Leareth dies in early book 11 and comes back in the Eastern Empire
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Something is badly wrong in Valdemar. 

 

Leareth's spy-reports from Haven are inconclusive and confusing and deeply concerning. Herald-Mage Savil is probably dead. The Queen's five-year-old daughter might be dead?? The Queen of Karse is probably not dead but just the fact that there are rumors of it is alarming. Someone - maybe multiple someones - are badly injured at the House of Healing. 

There might have been a bloodpath mage. Or summoned demons. Or a Changecreature. The Heralds aren't making any announcements and the rumor mill is going wild. 

There are rumors that Vanyel is dead, and Leareth is not especially inclined to believe those - this smells of a godplot and it would be baffling for the gods to have steered for that - but it would also be, from his perspective, very bad news. 

 

Leareth hasn't had the Foresight dream in months. By itself this was only mildly odd. The fact that it still doesn't happen the night after he hears the news - or the night before the news arrived, which was, one assumes, after Vanyel was already well aware of it - is a lot more blatantly suspicious. 

 

 

 

Leareth's entire organization is on intensely high alert, which makes it a PARTICULARLY implausible and disastrously unlucky coincidence when a shipment of seasonings from Seejay proves to contain a mislabeled mushroom blend which, while nonpoisonous (they do check for that!! thoroughly!!!), causes Leareth to suffer a severe allergic reaction, with just enough of a delay that he happens to be alone in a shielded Work Room when the symptoms start and is thus moderately delayed in summoning medical attention. And the senior Healer on site has a migraine, and the more junior Healer who responds instead is distracted by a recent breakup with her fiancé and is perhaps slower to escalate this than she would have been otherwise, and this still really shouldn't have been enough but sometimes you get incredibly unlucky. More often when you're Leareth. 

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Leareth MIGHT feel slightly better about the situation if he were aware that the gods themselves are sometimes ALSO quite inconvenienced by the exact timing with which some long-shot nudges end up working out, and in this case there was a PLAN and its future prospects are now lost in noise.

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That looks like a suddenly-available nudge that - probably - results in substantially constraining the source-of-noise for a while? 

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THAT IS NOT OBVIOUSLY HELPFUL THERE WAS A PLAN

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Well, some elements of the plan may end up being less rather than more complicated. 

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(Not one of the higher-probability paths, but, possibly, an interesting one...) 

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The small barony of Assadar has seen hard times, in the last generation. (They're a long way from even the provincial capital, which of course means they don't get much attention or help when times are hard.) 

But things are looking up! They've had several years of good harvests, and a new gem-mine turned out to be unexpectedly productive, and of course the Baroness survived her last pregnancy and childbirth, and so did the babe, when that had looked far from a sure thing. No thanks to the Empire's trained Healers - they couldn't get one out in time, even though they sent a message with one of the mages - but the old village midwife did come in time. And later on, once she trusted them enough, she was the one who introduced the Baroness to the priest of the Sky-Father in hiding, and at this point Baron Tavis is definitely inclined to thank the Sky-Father and Earth-Mother for their recent change in fortunes. 

It's all very illegal, of course, and sheltering a priest in your cellar is a lot more illegal than occasionally whispering a prayer, or even keeping a little shrine tucked away in a corner. But the Emperor is very far away, and the Empire has never shown any sign before this of caring about their lives all the way out here. 

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The Baron's eldest legitimate son is still too young to be sent to foster at court - his wife's first two were daughters, and their eldest son is only seven. (The Baron figured there would be time to figure something out - bribe the right person, or convince them the boy is simple, or maybe the Sky-Mother will answer his wife's prayers not to be separated from her son and the problem will go away some other way.)

His illegitimate son from shortly before his marriage, almost-14-year-old Dalan, has been noticing the new strange things in his head for a few weeks now.

 

The usual thing to do would be to go to their house mage, but he would rather tell the Baron first, and - decide what to do. He isn't sure he really wants to be a mage. When he was eight it was one of his top fantasies, because everyone fantasizes about being a powerful mage and fighting in glorious battles for the Empire when they're eight, but - it's more complicated than that, isn't it. Mages are important to the Empire, and being important to the Empire does not feel like a good thing these days. 

So he goes to hide in his chamber, the door barred, before testing whether he can light the tinder in his fireplace by staring at it and thinking about it hard enough. 

(It takes a while to figure out.) 

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Leareth's last clear memory is of struggling to stay conscious and trying to emphatically tell Nayoki that they needed to talk to Vanyel - and find out what was happening in general, but communication with Vanyel seemed particularly important - before doing anything irreversible. 

He comes back to awareness in the middle of flailing for control of someone else's body–

 

 

...not someone else's body anymore. 

The memory-traces he inherits with a new body are fragmentary, and tend to fade over a few days as he gets his own mind established in its new substrate, but in this case, it's enough to piece together the general outline of his situation. 

It's an awkward situation! For one, he seems to be under a routine compulsion, placed solidly enough that it wasn't automatically dislodged by the turmoil happening underneath it. Not for loyalty to the Empire or Emperor, either, which might actually be easier to work around until he has a chance to get it removed (and it's self-protecting enough that he's certainly not getting it off himself right here and now.) It's for loyalty to the baron, to this household and family, which - there's almost certainly some way to arrange to ask for, and get, instructions from "his" lord that he can interpret far enough to leave,  but it's going to take some finessing. 

Also. There is apparently a priest of the Earth-Father living in the cellar???? He has no reason to think from the bits and pieces of inherited memory that the priest would be inclined to pay the baron's bastard son any attention in the next few days, and the gods don't necessarily have a lot of fine steering power in a situation that's inherently noisy to them because it abruptly contains Leareth, but he is still very unhappy about it. 

Also he's physically thirteen and a half, with a barely-starting-to-awaken mage-gift that was just about adequate to set some kindling on fire. He could probably manage basic wards on this room. He could cast a compulsion on someone else, if he could fit it into the wiggle room he has for "not disloyal to the household and family." He would be hard-pressed to do anything that would matter in a fight, including shielding himself properly. He's definitely not Gating anywhere anytime soon. 

Also, the gods are up to something big and his organization might be about to go to war with Valdemar without him. ...He has no idea how long it's been. His organization might have already decided to invade Valdemar without him. 

(Vanyel -)

 

 

It's not a great situation! But at least he's safely ensconced in a room - it even has basic shielding, this baron's house mage isn't completely incompetent - and no one is expecting the former inhabitant of his body to be anywhere before morning. He has time to consolidate his core memories, prepare himself to impersonate "Dalan", and come up with a strategy for what in the world he can say to his "lord father" that will get him something he can twist into permission to get out of the Eastern Empire. And it's not far to the border. Things could definitely be a lot worse.  

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This is, of course, why now - or, technically, thirteen minutes from now - happens to be when the Bureau of Cults kicks the door in.

Also of course, the kick is wholly immaterial! Cults sometimes do have unusual resources, and while they usually don't have access to any real mages (or the oft-rumored, rarely seen mental powers of western sorcerers), this is a Baron and he has a house mage, and so this involved a rapid scry followed by Gating into rooms of the house he wasn't in through doors that had nobody in position to target the frame until after the strike team struck, aiming at capturing him, his master the Baron, and the rest of the Baron's family. Bureau mages (their guards covering them) are dropping compulsions on everyone they see, backed by the military mages and soldiers (in full armor) they borrowed from the provincial governor, and as Mage-Director* Gerain strides into the building to brandish his formal writs of search and seizure, he expects resistance to already be over.

(*: Technically 'Mage-provincial-director,' but that's not seven syllables in the Imperial language and so it is being compressed for space.)

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Resistance would be incredibly stupid when his body is thirteen, but Leareth's room isn't one of the first targets; Dalan was treated fairly decently for an illegitimate son, even by the Baroness, but he was still bumped to one of the less-desirable attic rooms when the Baron's legitimate children filled up the good bedrooms. He has time to hear a commotion and, while he has no idea what's happening yet - and no magical way of finding out, given that scrying freehand without a focus is too challenging to pull off on the spot with his fledgling Gift, this is frustrating - he can guess that it's not good. And he can't exactly do anything loyal for the Baron if he's caught up in the same mess, so it's not even hard to decide he should, instead, not be. 

Unfortunately the attic room's window is too small even for a thirteen-year-old body to squeeze through, meaning that his options are to hide - which won't work if whatever is happening involves mages with mage-sight - or slip into the hallway and try to find an alternate exit route before he's spotted. Leareth goes with the latter, even though he's not really expecting it to work. 

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It doesn't! He gets a few seconds before Ministry of Cults personnel make it into the attic, and unfortunately (they spent a while inside Faun Kar province planning out their strike, instead of more sensibly doing it from the Imperial Capital) the hallway in the attic has Ministry of Cults personnel tearing through it. Even more unfortunately (people with careful knowledge of Imperial geography might note that Faun Kar is the westernmost province of the Empire) they include a mage, provided by the Governor himself as part of his firm belief that a key secret to averting wars and rebellions is to hit hard enough the first time that the other guy can't hit back.

"Stop taking volitional actions" is a really simple compulsion.

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...The situation indeed could have been a lot worse, and now it is! 

(It's fairly obvious, after a few seconds of confusion, what's happening and why. Priest in the cellar, and incredibly bad timing. Leareth is almost impressed.) 

 

Leareth is also longer taking any volitional actions. They are, for the moment, still letting him think - he's not very well shielded, but this is the Empire, and a distant province of it, they almost certainly don't have a Thoughtsenser - and so he really needs to take whatever opportunity they grant him to plan how he can get himself out of the hands of the...he can't remember what the department is actually called, the one that tracks down cultists. 

...He can at least say, if compulsioned to speak honestly, that he definitely doesn't worship the Sky-Father or Earth-Mother and is about as strongly opposed to the gods as anyone can be? Whenever they get around to questioning him, which would, you know, require first giving him the ability to talk. For now he's going to just be here on the floor until they decide to change that. 

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They're far too busy compulsioning everyone to stop fleeing and stop resisting for them to ask him questions! It's not as though he looks important enough to know anything. The Bureau troops will just charge past, opening or kicking down the doors of every door in the attic and hitting everyone else they find there with compulsions the way they did Dalan/Leareth. He'll have some time to think before the Bureau is out of combat mode and into interrogation mode, if he wants it.

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Right. Plan. 

...It's difficult to come up with a plan when he has so few predictions about how they're going to handle this. He doesn't remember the exact policies for investigations, the policies he was actually involved in setting have probably changed, and this close to the border they might not even be following them very closely. He...still thinks it's better for him, overall, to be in a backwater province like Faun Kar (and he doesn't need to look for reasons it's also better from the gods' point of view, it's probably just what They could get), but it definitely adds a factor of uncertainty. Incompetence might be helpful to an extent, but there's a degree of it that would just make things worse for him as well - though the operation so far seems tightly-run enough...

The main question is whether to use whatever leeway he ends up having - and he's deeply unsure how much that will be - to steer them to be less interested in him, or more. He...can, if he's trying for it, very likely pass as Dalan - give that 9 in 10 odds, because it wouldn't take that much of a shocking coincidence for a skilled interrogator to notice an inconsistency and start digging, and who knows if that's what the gods are steering for here. 

If he pulls that off, he thinks he can more likely than not eventually convince them that Dalan was innocent of godworship and wasn't meaningfully involved in the Baron's actions - since, in fact, he wasn't - but he would only give that, say, 6 in 10 odds, given how Dalan demonstrably did nothing to stop his father, and the investigators are really not going to be biased in his favor. His overall chances, from here, are probably close to 50/50. 

Also, that would take weeks if not months, and it's not even clear if that gets him out of the Empire, as opposed to identified as a mage and placed in a school under suspicious observation and at least the standard compulsions. 

If Leareth doesn't try to pass as Dalan, then...what...he has no idea what happens. It feels like it depends very heavily on who he's talking to. To the extent he has any ability to steer that, he can maybe push to be questioned in depth by someone more senior and (probably) more competent and more aligned with the Empire's goals – he could say that he has intelligence of interest to the Emperor, for example, and be telling the truth. He...isn't sure...if that improves the situation at all. Getting himself transported deeper into the Empire is better from a godinterference perspective, maybe, but definitely worse in terms of how many layers he has to evade to leave again... 

 

Leareth is also realizing that he's really not in good shape to be handling a stressful interrogation where he's inevitably going to be wildly improvising! He didn't have nearly as long as he'd mentally budgeted for to consolidate core memories, let alone sort through the fragments of his host body's memories before they start to fade. He...is maybe going to focus on that for the next while, actually, on the grounds that he needs more information to pick his strategy and it makes sense to focus on being as mentally intact as possible for it. 

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Once they get around to arresting him more formally (which takes a while, they need to make sure), he's going to be Compulsioned to answer questions honestly without withholding information, obey agents of the Emperor, not try to flee or escape, and have all the usual prisoner-compulsions applied. Then he's going to tell them if he's a cultist and where the hidden cultists are, or were when he last knew.

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Competent but not at all creative, so far. They could have been a lot more thorough on the not-withholding-information clause, as it is he's still only required to answer the exact questions they're asking without withholding anything directly relevant to that question. 

...Boring at least until he can get a better read on the interrogator, then. He doesn't worship the Sky-Father or Earth-Mother and never has, and he wasn't involved in deciding to hide a priest in the cellar and does not think this was a good idea. Though until now he was under a compulsion of familial loyalty to people who did think it was a good idea for some reason. 

He...knows that the priest was in the cellar? He doesn't know which cultists were "hidden" or where they would hide if they weren't in the manor? They were probably not really hiding since he thinks they didn't expect anyone to be coming to arrest them but he can...try...to name some places where someone could in theory hide...? 

 

(Leareth's attempts to navigate the compulsions while frantically digging through memory-shards that don't belong to him makes him come across as a somewhat confusing combination of "maybe a bit simple" and "disconcertingly careful with word choice for a child", if anyone is bothering to pay attention to that.) 

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The interrogators are really too busy to be creative. They have a lot of people to interrogate and they want to make sure this cult isn't coming back. Name and rank?

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...Yeah, while still very disoriented and facing a busy and preoccupied interrogator is not the best time to try high variance strategies. Leareth may end up regretting that if he ends up stuck in a cell for the next week, but that's - probably still better than attempting a high variance strategy badly. And this continues to seem competently done, it'll probably be less than a week and he probably won't be left without the ability to speak. 

He's been practicing holding the mental attitude that "Dalan" is his name - it's fairly usual for him to go by different names in each body, and not unusual to just take on the name of whoever he stole the body from - and can answer that without hesitation. Rank is more or less just a social framework anyway, and the description that gives them accurate anticipations about his resources and allies in this place is what everyone else thinks his rank is, which is "illegitimate son of Baron Tavis, claimed as part of the household but not in the succession." 

Are they going to leave him alone now. 

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Nope! They've determined that he is low ranking but not bottom ranking and they're going to throw him in jail (there's a Gate) until someone has time to pay actual attention to him with compulsions not to escape, plot escape, leave, et cetera. A tower cell with a cot and without rats, so not too bad, but not one of the "cells" that is for politically powerful people you need not to unnecessarily antagonize.

... THEN they're going to leave him alone.

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It's really not that bad. He would be sleeping in much worse conditions if he had managed to leave immediately and been on the road by now. He does badly need to get some sleep at some point - he has very little sense of what time it is right now, but it's probably late, and he doesn't have an adult's stamina right now. 

He lies down on the cot and pokes at his compulsions. How much leeway have they left him to do things that definitely don't involve escape or plotting escape? There are other reasons he shouldn't practice magic - probably they have wards up, and it seems like they haven't yet identified him as a mage and will probably compulsion him a lot more thoroughly once they catch on to that - but could he? 

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The compulsions weren't placed in the belief that he was a mage, and therefore there are compulsions to not destroy property and to not leave and to not break his compulsions, but no compulsions against any particular method of doing these things. If he wants to use magic, he absolutely could.

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In that case he's going to spend a while looking around with mage-sight, which both gives him some badly needed practice and calibration with this body's mage-gift (while still being undetectable), and lets him scope out how good their shielding is and what kinds of wards they have. Are they set up to immediately detect it if, for example, he were to practice casting low-power shields? 

 

(It's also occurred to him that if he does come up with a strategy that involves being interesting, casting some detectable magic on purpose is one route to avoid being forgotten in here for days.) 

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It looks like the jail has default wards that will detect if magic is used...

... No, whoever was in charge of enchanting this was sloppy. Only magic that affects the jail, and then a few specific patches to cover Gates and similar. Any heat-spell would be noticed, but shields that don't change detectable features of his cot/walls/windows et cetera won't be until someone with mage-sight takes a look at him.

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Well, his goal here isn't to escape or sabotage anything - since he's directly blocked from doing that - just to get a better sense of his current capabilities and start improving his control. Repeatedly casting and dismantling shields on himself, which definitely don't affect the jail infrastructure, would do fine for that goal. 

 

...He's going to sleep first, though. They might be efficient enough to talk to him first thing tomorrow, and given that no amount of magical practice is going to get him that far when he's so tightly limited on power output and total reserves, he would rather prioritize being well-rested. 

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