Sing fixes all of velgarth's problems. Leareth finds out after the fact.
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(Leareth is, among other things, scared. He’s setting it aside without dwelling on it, so Karal can’t pick up much detail, but it seems like he’s not just scared of the scenarios where something is terribly wrong.)

Maybe someone could have hidden entirely from the gods, and entirely from Leareth in the process? It doesn’t feel very plausible, but if someone had hypothetically disappeared into a cave at some point to spend centuries in solitary magical research, the gods would have had limited visibility and even more limited angles on intervening. Leareth wouldn’t have expected there to be a possible plan that would work within that constraint, or he would have tried it himself, but it’s not as though it’s impossible in terms of physical law…

- Karal is right, though, it’s unproductive to speculate with limited information when they’ll know more very soon. 

(Leareth is perhaps having more trouble than usual staying focused on only lines of thought that are productive. This isn’t a problem he usually has, especially not during an emergency, but, well, this is either a very unusual sort of emergency or the precise opposite of one…)

He can put in other contingencies to learn more about how various churches are reacting. And, other than that, there’s not much to do except wait.


Nayoki isn’t scared.

It’s not like the entity or entities can do worse than— all right, fine, plausibly they can do a lot worse than just kill her. But that would be very informative for Leareth too! And it probably isn’t what’s going to happen. Probably, if this is a trap, it’s a subtler one than that, and the entity has something better to do with Nayoki than torturemurder her.

Mostly, it’s driving her wild not knowing what’s going on. She’s always hated not being one of the first people in on a secret.



Nayoki approaches one of the flying things. She tells it that she thinks she has information it would find useful for its mission, and definitely has some requests!

Would it be willing to answer some questions first, like where it came from, why it has those particular goals, and why it’s suddenly here and doing things now when no one she knows has ever heard of it before?


"On another planet very far from here, the intelligence which created me and other things like me has operated for many years! A person from that planet had an accident which resulted in her appearing on the other continent of this planet. There, she spent the past several years reconstructing the machinery necessary to support the intelligence and allow it to accelerate production of everything it needs to repair the problems of this planet, and send her home."


Well! That would in fact explain most of the parts that were incredibly confusing without that information! She should check if Leareth’s guess accords with hers - and whether he thinks “accidentally ending up in a different world” is at all plausible as a bizarre magical accident - but it seems likely that someone from another world would be less visible to the gods. And based on Leareth’s investigation centuries ago, the gods on the other continent weren’t cooperative enough to make it worth trying to operate there when most of Leareth’s resource base (and nearly all of his descendants, in case he dies midway through the work) are here, but Leareth did judge that, with Their greater insulation from the Cataclysm, They might be less extremely conservative about the unknown. 

And, of course, it’s not at all mysterious why Leareth would have been blindsided by a project on the other continent, if it only took a few years because it was retreading work that had already been done in another world.

It’s still kind of suspicious? But mostly in the sense that “a lost traveler from another world fixes everything wrong with Velgarth” sounds like the sort of thing that would happen in a ballad that isn’t even trying to seem realistic or make any sense. It’s still the case that any other theory for how this might have been faked by a nefarious actor seems strictly less probable than the story itself. Once you’ve observed something that really does seem better explained by “a visitor from another world with an absurdly powerful not-actually-a-god-but-close-enough was lost here and decided to get un-lost by building a new local version of their not-god”, AND the agents of the not-god have been observed preventing a lot of people from dying and haven’t been observed doing anything harmful, it’s at least a little bit of a stretch to posit that the not-god is actually secretly evil. Right?


…Nayoki is still absolutely not convinced. She’s going to interrogate this particular mouthpiece of the “artificial intelligence” in a bit more depth about the other world and its history, and then - since she did say she would - she’ll give it some pointers. Nothing that would make it obvious she works for a secret organization in the north run by an immortal mage, but she can give some background on the Haighlei Empire, how she expects it to be difficult to make changes there without upsetting a lot of people, and what kinds of approaches might help. 

And then she’ll Gate to a secure base in Rethwellan, give Leareth a preliminary update in cipher over comms-spell, and send out new orders to a few dozen of Leareth’s other most trusted agents. She still wants everyone to be discreet, only use approaches that would seem plausible for a proactive individual and not hint too hard that there’s an organization behind it. It’s already starting to feel a bit pointless, but - Nayoki knows Leareth rather well. He might not have shown it at all when giving her her most recent orders, and he’s capable of ignoring it to take sensible correct-in-expectation actions anyway, but it’s not hard to guess that he’s scared. 


Leareth has been putting in place other lines of investigation and followup in parallel. Multiple kingdoms are now trying to open various kinds of diplomatic contact with the flying things to figure out what’s going on, as are some of the big academies in Rethwellan. Leareth has agents in enough places to gather real-time intelligence on how that plays out, and - where he can, without showing his hand - try to nudge toward the most sane and reasonable responses. The Eastern Empire is predictably not going to be sane or reasonable, and Leareth hasn’t in this lifetime set up a lot of avenues to influence that and mostly has to hope that the powerful "artificial intelligence" behind the flying things will be smart about this, but he can at least arrange to know what's happening over there. 


(He's taking a few risks, here, not being maximally careful. In particular, a lot of his agents, in the process of getting information back to him faster or trying to affect on-the-ground decisions being made, are going to end up revealing, not necessarily who they work for, but that they work for someone. It's worth it, for something this big - it would be worth burning a lot more irreplaceable resources than this if it were going to help things go even a little better - Leareth is just quietly noting that this is, in fact, the tradeoff he's making.

And that a sufficiently intelligent entity probably could pick out patterns and infer the existence of someone like him, and probably quite a lot of facts about what that person is doing. It doesn't matter, obviously. Either something irreversible and bad is happening very very fast with a rapidly disappearing window to do anything at all and it's worth the risk to himself for even a tiny chance of averting or mitigating it, or - and this is rapidly starting to dominate in his assessment - it's what it looks like, and incredibly good news for Leareth's goals, and nothing else matters beside that. 

Leareth is still so scared, quietly in the background, and he's still not unpacking it at all, it's really not high among the things that matter, but it's starting to be clearer to Karal that, if anything, most of that fear is about the scenario where this is all real.) 


Not just the other continent but another world... Karal should be even more surprised at that, but he's been out of surprise levels to escalate to for a while already.  And this does, in a way, make more sense of things.  In a very odd way.  (What is the other world like?  Can people go there?  --Questions for later.)

He tentatively flagged his discomfort with taking that many risks, but he was assuming that if something was wrong they'd need to - hide, somehow, although Leareth is right that that's probably impossible... and spend years or decades or centuries on researching what could be done about it.  But if Leareth thinks that to the extent that anything might need to be done it needs doing now, then of course it's worth risking everything.

...Karal cannot imagine what they could possibly do to avert this impossible, worldwide change.  Is there anything specific Leareth is thinking of, here?  Is this new thing similar enough to his planned god for the analogy to give him a direction to act in?  Karal is nowhere near oriented enough in all the magical theory to have any concept of an answer.  (If he had to do something himself - which is almost never the right answer, but he's been trying to get into the habit of at least asking himself the question - he'd talk to the gods, he thinks, and see if They changed Their priorities when faced with this thing that must've been even more of a shock to Them.)


But first, back away even further toward the large-scale view.

How do we tell when we- know enough?  (When can they consider themselves sure that things are as good as they look like, he means - sure enough to stop planning for the increasingly unlikely alternative.  Yes, he just asked straight-out about the thing Leareth is clearly afraid of, but even beside the fact that Leareth's emotions aren't the priority right now, in Karal's experience confronting the issue and making it into a practical question instead of an inchoate worry helps more often than not.)


(Leareth seems oddly unsurprised by the premise that other worlds exist, though it might be partly because he, too, hit the limit for maximum surprise he was capable of feeling. But he also knows that other planes exist, with their own physical laws and intelligent inhabitants, and it had already seemed likely there were more planes than the ones easily accessible enough from Velgarth that Leareth knows about them. And of course there's an entire sky full of stars, which are also suns, and some of them must have worlds around them and it always seemed possible that maybe some of those worlds had their own kinds of people. Leareth isn't sure if the world in question is around a distant sun or in another plane, and the details don't actually matter right now, just that the "another world" part isn't what seems most unlikely and implausible to him.)

- anyway. Probably there's nothing they could do with much chance of success. But there are possible scenarios where the entity is hostile but is still consolidating its power in this world, and now is the best time, or the only possible time, to learn enough to – find the other world, maybe, not that Leareth has more than the barest inklings of what he would do if he could Gate there.

Or - yes, actually, talking to Velgarth gods is among his main ideas. He could try to communicate to Them that They need to coordinate on stopping...whatever this is...which is also pretty unlikely to work but Leareth has invested a very long time and a great deal of effort into the problem of translating concepts between mortals and gods, and the gods of Velgarth may not like him much but They do, actually, have common interests with humanity, and might be more possible to work with if the alternative is scary enough. 



...Leareth doesn't actually have an answer to "how do they tell when they know enough." There's only a strange blankness there when he reaches it. The practical answer is probably "when Nayoki comes back to say that she's convinced and there's a consensus among everyone else he trusted to investigate." That, too, feels like a wall with nothing on the other side, even though Leareth can already notice that it's...basically what he expects to happen, that at this point he would be surprised if Nayoki came back and reported that she thinks this is a trap.


(The stars are what now?? ...Not important in the next ten minutes, but yes, that does make everything less surprising.)



...The lack of the sort of thoughtful and decisive answer he has come to expect from Leareth is maybe more disquieting than anything else that's happened today.  It's wrong, for Leareth's mind to feel like it does right now, filled with so much blankness and strange fear that it nearly makes Karal feel like he should start making decisions himself.  (He shouldn't - even if does turn out that Leareth can't, Nayoki is more senior and knows far more than Karal does about approximately everything. Well, just about everyone is more senior, but that isn't really the thing that matters.)

He wonders for a moment if the "artificial intelligence" did something to make Leareth like this, somehow - but no, it makes sense, when all the things he spent thousands of years doing and planning are suddenly not needed... Karal can feel simple relief about all the people they won't need to kill, but Karal hasn't already sacrificed lives and nations to this project.  Of course it hurts.  Of course it feels so much more like falling than any of the comparable changes in Karal's life so far, when he has never felt in control or even like he understood the world, hasn't had centuries to get used to feeling that way just to lose it in a single shock...

And it's still not the time for dealing with that reaction.



Karal could be wrong, but he doesn't think a consensus among everyone who went and asked questions of the strange flying things is going to be enough to be sure.  It only really means that the flying things are convincing - it all feels like a single source of information, and he'd like more than that.  Is he wrong?  Or missing something else that Nayoki or other people are probably already doing?

Both trying to find the other world and talking to the gods sound like potentially good ideas, that might yield more information as well as solutions, and that are not inherently adversarial or destructive - so they don't actually need to wait until they're sure what's happening.  Should they try one of those things now, instead of waiting for information they don't expect to add anything new?  (He feels odd being this pushy, and he's ready to back off the moment he's sure Leareth will not... get stuck, on his own.  His thoughts are apologetic about it, but only faintly, because after another week in one body he's confident that even in circumstances as bizarre as these they're on the same page about how to talk to each other, and that if Leareth wants him to act differently he'll just say so.)


...Leareth gives himself something like an internal mental shake. Focus

(He's - not sure that it's entirely right, that it's not the time to deal with whatever emotional reaction he's apparently having to this? It feels like maybe the blankness is happening because he's boxing up and not looking at how this affecting him. But it's still only been about twenty-five minutes, total, since the first report reached him. It's still probably not the time in the next two minutes to focus on unpacking his own feelings.) 


- is Karal right, that trying to find the other world isn't adversarial? Leareth - was definitely feeling on some level like it would be read as adversarial, apparently. And like this would be relevant even - maybe especially? - in the world where the artificial intelligence does basically share Leareth’s goals. 

Huh. When he tries to ask why it feels that way, Leareth is still mostly getting blankness, or - maybe more accurately, the feeling that whatever is there is something he doesn’t want to look at. But he can at least try to assess the reaction on its own merits. It does seem like he should be able to approach “learning enough to try to reach the other world” in a way that isn’t actually destructive of any value that he — or the version of the artificial intelligence that really in on his and humanity’s side — care about.

(He’s noticing that some part of him - doesn’t want to try? It wants to hide. Things are happening too fast and he feels more disoriented than he ever has before and it feels incredibly dangerous to be taking actions from this information state. But he can notice the reaction, notice that it isn’t helpful, and - mostly - set it aside.)

…Contacting the gods is differently terrifying, but he also has a lot more applicable preexisting plans. 

One of those plans is to get a message through to Vanyel, who he suspects - doesn’t know for sure, but has suspected for a while - has a better chance of demanding answers from a god and getting them than Leareth himself has. (Leareth isn’t unpacking this belief for Karal’s benefit, but there’s a flicker in his thoughts of - there’s a conversation he had been vaguely planning for with Vanyel, at some future point when Vanyel decided to initiate it…)


Karal thinks that if the artificial intelligence (still a bizarre concept, but maybe he's getting used to it just by continuing to mentally use the phrase and getting past the weirdness of it faster each time) shares their goals, then there is essentially nothing they can do that will cause anything very wrong to happen. 

(There may be things they can do that will cause it to kill them, but that seems... essentially fine?  The same shape of risk as risking Nayoki's life in talking to one of the things.  If he should be thinking about that differently, Leareth should tell him so.)

Or, of course that's wrong, if it's on their side then fighting it and winning would be causing something very wrong to happen - but anything short of that, anything where they're treating it as an enemy but not attacking it, seems to him like it should be fine to any reasonable entity that surely has the capability to, if not understand on its own what they're doing and why, pause and ask them.  (A flicker of a mental/emotional image - the way Leareth is with Vanyel, who keeps declaring himself his enemy but they're still talking.)

... Oh, is it the thing where Leareth thinks all good people will inevitably hate him?  He has a lot of reason to think that, granted, but Karal is really quite sure that he's wrong.  Either this thing is like the current gods and they do need to act against it, or it's better than that and it'll understand.  Or, incredibly unlikely but still not an awful outcome, it'll kill them but it won't make the world worse because of something they did.



Karal's first instinct was also to hide - it was Leareth who thought that whatever might need to be done should be done quickly, and Karal can't really evaluate that himself but he trusts that he's right.  But in any case that too is irrelevant now, because Leareth is definitely right that his organization has already done enough to be noticed.  Hiding won't work.  Staying in an underground bunker probably won't work either - the artificial intelligence doesn't seem like a god Whose territory you can be outside of, its flying machines came fast and came everywhere.

So, what can they do quickly enough for it to still matter?  He only now realizes that finding the other world might be a long research project.  (And notes wryly that yes, he definitely doesn't know enough to be in charge of anything.)  Leareth can do just about anything, but he cannot necessarily do it fast.  A message to Vanyel would be faster, and - is there a reason not to?  If the gods are cooperating with the artificial intelligence, then surely it knows all about Leareth already, and trying to talk to them without personally risking getting set on fire won't make anything worse on that front.

How would talking to Vanyel work?  Will there be a half-hour's free time between initiating it and having to do anything complicated and irreversible?  Karal feels a pressure to start doing things now (and maybe that isn't entirely rational either), but... probably anything they can do will take time, and it does seem like before they get to the important stage of any of the possible plans, Leareth should sit down and take the time to look at his emotions.  He'll need a clearer head than he has right now, for something like a god-negotiation or exploring a different world. 

...Karal wishes he had a better idea of how to help.  But just being himself helps somewhat, apparently, and he can at least be relied on for that.


The first message Leareth wants to send to Vanyel would be, mainly, trying to gather information, rather than put any particular plan of action in motion. Maybe the gods don't know any more than Leareth does, but - maybe They do. Certainly it seems like a sufficiently quick-thinking intelligence, operating on a similar power level to the gods, with the goal of making everyone in Velgarth safe and giving them what they need to flourish, ought to notice rather quickly that the gods of Velgarth are important actors to be negotiating with.

(And communicating with the gods is meaningfully a negotiation, Leareth thinks, in the way that Nayoki's conversation with the flying metal thing wasn't. The gods, especially if They manage to work together, probably do have enough power to at least make things a lot more inconvenient for the artificial intelligence.) 

Leareth definitely isn't sure if Vanyel can get any useful information. But Valdemar has the Companions, including the Groveborn Companion - an immortal entity one step closer than the rest of the Companions to operating the way the gods do - and Valdemar also has the Web, now anchored on the Heartstone that Vanyel built, which should provide an avenue to get the attention of the Star-Eyed Goddess.

And Leareth is pretty sure that Vanyel will understand the stakes involved here. He wouldn't be entirely shocked if Vanyel had already decided of his own accord to go get some answers. Of course, Vanyel might or might not decide to share anything he learns with Leareth, but - overall, Leareth thinks that after all the years they've spent talking, if Vanyel has to make an on-the-spot decision of how far to trust Leareth and to what extent their goals here are aligned, he'll probably land on the side of sharing whatever he can learn. 

(His plan for getting a message to Vanyel quasi-instantly would be to send in one of the low-level agents he has operating in Haven, which obviously involves burning their cover and might put them in danger from the Heralds, but - worth it, if the message itself is worth sending.)  


- Leareth thinks that he should do that now, and then spend some of the inevitable wait-time looking at his emotional reactions and figuring out how to think more clearly about all of this, but he's going to hold that out to Karal for a moment, checking whether Karal thinks that he should spend longer thinking about this decision as well. 


Karal thinks it's a good plan. (And is having some sort of emotion about Leareth explicitly checking this important a decision with him, but that is very far down on the priority list.)  Vanyel definitely seems like a plausible ally in this bizarre new situation, and apparently has more routes toward communicating with the gods than Karal realized even existed.

If there's a similarly simple first step toward the plan of visiting the other world, which could be initiated now and would make a difference compared to doing it in a few hours, it might be worth doing that as well, but he knows even less about how that could possibly work.


Unfortunately Leareth cannot at this moment think of a non-adversarial way to directly try to get more information about the other world, rather than just waiting to see if one of his many other information-gathering avenues results in a tidbit he can use. His top direct idea involves - at a remove, probably using one of the groups that technically works for him but is somewhere between a mercenary company and a bandit group - trying to capture one of the flying things and taking it apart to see what it's made of and whether that includes anything sufficiently distinctive to use as a target for a Gate-search (which would only work quickly if the other world is naively within Gate range, but that's not impossible, if it's in another plane that Leareth just hadn't known to search for.) That is way more of a hostile opening move than he feels like making given his current assessment of the situation. Trying to find and kidnap the person who landed on the other continent is both harder - because, one assumes, they're still on the other continent, and Leareth's only vaguely replicable way of getting there somewhat quickly and arriving in functional fighting condition involves chaining blind Gates across the ocean using blood-magic for power, which the flying things would almost certainly intervene to stop - and also comparably hostile. 

He will draft and dispatch a short message to Vanyel. 


They should definitely not kidnap the person for whose sake all of this is partially happening!  Capturing a flying thing is probably reasonable - do they have minds, did Nayoki say? It sounded more like a messaging device than like a person, to him - but Leareth is right that it's a big enough step that it should wait until they try the first option.

...Although he bets someone somewhere has already tried attacking one of the things, and perhaps succeeded, and if so then maybe they could steal some of the resulting pieces and bypass any hostility.  Or if people have only tried and failed, it would be worth finding out how.  Either way it seems worth telling people to look into, assuming they aren't already doing that.



Besides that... Time to take a moment to focus on what's going on in their head instead of all the confusion out in the world, and slow down out of the mode in which every minute matters, because this can't be done in a few minutes, and it does need to be done.  And he is rather worried about Leareth, now that he's letting himself focus on it, although carefully not worried enough to make his own reaction an additional problem to solve.  They can make sense of it and find a way forward, whatever it is that's happening.

Does Leareth want to be alone, for this?  Karal wouldn't, but he knows Leareth is a very different sort of person, so of course he can hide his thoughts if he needs to.  (Karal would also be tempted to use Empathy-sight, turned inward like he learned to do in the first days, just to get a better feeling for what's happening, but if that would make it harder for Leareth to bring his emotions out of hiding then of course he won't.)

And does Leareth want control of their body while he thinks, or will it be easier if Karal has it and keeps it calm?


Leareth has to take a moment to consider that, but - no, he doesn’t think he wants to be alone. He does seem to want to retain control of the body, but - on a moment’s reflection, it feels like leaning away from that might make it easier to actually slow down and feel things.

He relinquishes control, both of the body and its Gifts. It feels like - falling, dizzy, whatever was holding up the wall of blankness in his thoughts is dissolving now but he’s not sure yet what’s on the other side of it.

- Karal is welcome to turn their Empathy inward, it might help - 


Leareth feels helpless, and - lost, confused, unmoored - and so so so scared. 


There are a lot of parts of it. Leareth inherently hates being disoriented and not being in control, and even more hates not feeling like he can prioritize his continued safety and ability to act the the world. It wasn’t a complicated decision, to prioritize learning what’s going on while he has the highest chances - if still not very good chances - of being able to do anything about it, but it wasn’t an easy decision, and he didn’t take any time to wrangle his emotions on board with it.

He’s terrified of the possibility Karal flagged, that the entity, even if it really does want what it claims to want, might kill him, and be able to make it permanent. Karal is right, it seems unlikely, and Karal is also right that it wouldn’t be awful for Leareth’s goals and it wouldn’t, at that point, matter if there was still a Leareth in the world and so he can’t justify trading off anything that does matter to reduce the odds of it happening, but. Leareth doesn’t want to die and he cannot actually force himself to feel even slightly okay about any of this.

He’s afraid of making a mistake, a fear caught up in distant agonizing memories of a war gone disastrously wrong, a tower going up in violent fire, a world burned down in its wake - 




— and there’s something else, fragmented, muddy and tangling and too painful to look at directly, but Karal can vaguely sense that it’s not only coming from the abrupt new events, it’s a groove worn deeper and older than that…


Karal feels Leareth falling, and tries to-- not hold him stable, he cannot and shouldn't do that-- but be the stable ground for him to find when he can, or at least to see while he can't find it.

But gods, it's disorienting, to see Leareth go in an instant from holding all of that in to maintain his ability to think and make decisions, to... this, this much pain and fear and formless distress.  It hurts, but Karal said he'd be calm and can't let himself hurt as much as this deserves... Or, no, what he can do is hurt and still be calm, be all right with it the way Leareth clearly can't right now. 



Karal did not know, until now, that Leareth was that afraid of dying.  They're still in agreement about whether it's worth trading for anything else (and he knows which side of that question he has sworn himself to if they weren't, and how much that would hurt - Leareth's death far, far more than his own ever could) - but it must be so much harder, to make that decision when feeling nothing like the calm acceptance that is the only feeling about his own death Karal remembers having ever since he was given a sword.

It makes sense, when he sees it from the right angle for an instant, that this is what Leareth is like - that this screaming refusal to accept death or stagnation or helplessness or ignorance, for himself just like for anyone else in the world, is what kept him going the way he did, two thousand years trying one thing after the other and failing and trying again.  And now suddenly everything is different and that is not the right shape to be any more - or, it still might be, but very likely isn't, and that seems even worse, to have to keep the balance between the two possibilities that demand entirely incompatible ways of thinking...



And what is that old tangle of painful emotions?  He turns their Empathy-sight on it, but it's still hard to see much of something so complicatedly turned inward on itself.  He tries to think about it, gently and watching for reactions that would tell him he touched a thread that truly hurts.  It kept feeling like Leareth was not only afraid of something going wrong, but maybe even more afraid of everything going right.  It's natural enough, to feel that way about a life suddenly missing any real purpose, when a purpose has been most of what he's had for all these many lives.  But it's older, and more than that...  And Karal has seen, over and over, Leareth's deeply-ingrained assumption that he's made himself into someone no good person would simply care about and want to help.  And when everything is fixed and there's nothing anybody needs him for...  Does he think everyone will hate him, in that new world where nobody will ever need to do anything like what he did?


(It does help, to be feeling Karal's mind there and calm in the way that, indeed, Leareth is currently finding pretty incompatible with experiencing any of his emotions.) 


It's not news to him that he's terrified of dying. It's most of what made it so hard, in Matteir's lifetime and later, to consider bringing himself any more to the attention of the gods, even if after all those centuries it seemed unlikely They could destroy his immortality. He's stared that fear in the face before and decided on the best plan anyway, in a way where his emotions were on board with it, and - he's not succeeding at carrying out that mental motion right now, but he's sure he can find it around here somewhere, when it's time to focus again. 

The other part, the old tangled pain, is - 


- it's not just, or even mostly, that he expects everyone to hate him. That wouldn't bother him nearly this much by itself; it matters instrumentally, but Karal is right that he's accepted and resigned himself to using strategies that will predictably make most reasonable and good people hate him now, and he's not ongoingly distressed about that. If he had carried out his work and succeeded, he wouldn't have expected or needed the people affected to be grateful to him for it. 

But it feels like on a deeper level, the world he wanted to build doesn't have room in it for someone shaped like him - no, stronger than that, that it shouldn't have room for him, that a world where everyone is fine with Leareth's past is one where he hasn't really succeeded

(Leareth isn't sure whether he thinks this feeling is particularly reasonable or sane. He's mostly not trying to assess it on that level right now.) 


- and it's not like he's never thought about this before. It wasn't productive to try to plan how he would respond to it or cope with it, when success was still on the other side of multiple decades of awful sacrifices (and he can notice a brief flicker of gratitude that all of this is happening now, and not halfway through the worst parts of his plan, at least he hadn't already paid that cost for nothing) - but he did at least spend a little time staring into that pit, knowing it was something he could and would deal with when he came to it. 

But it would have been different if it had come as a result of his own work. He had expected to have more time. 


And he wasn't afraid that his god would kill him for creating it.


Karal's first reaction, fierce and immediate, is no.  No, that's wrong, that can't be what a truly good world is like.  If it doesn't have space in it for Leareth then either it doesn't have space in it for half the people who exist, all the people who have done small awful things for whatever small human reasons, without weighing the cost or thinking much about it - or it has space for them but not for Leareth, and why, because he really meant what he did, while others mostly weren't really thinking about the harm they were doing so they can grow up and change and learn to fit in?  No.  If the future cannot take the greatest people of the present, flawed as they are, if it can't take people who exist now without molding them all into the same smaller form, it can't be the right future.

And what about the next generations, the ones who grow up with everything being right?  It would be far too narrow a world, if all of them are people who could read Matteir's notes and see-- what, some incomprehensible evil, rather than a good man who was trying to do the best he could in an awful situation?  Whether or not the future decides his best was good enough, surely he deserves to be understood, not dismissed as someone who shouldn't exist, as if all the people before the perfect world should've simply accepted their fate and waited for something, somehow, to make things better.

He won't be surprised or upset if their choices are judged wrong and their lives tragic.  Or some other, stranger thing, maybe.  But if the future cannot find a place in it for people whose lives were tragic, whose choices were wrong because the world had no better ones visible to them, it will not be good enough.



The same, when he thinks about it, is true of Leareth's death, or nearly enough.  Leareth said his god would be able to resurrect people (the idea that Leareth might be wrong about what's possible doesn't even cross Karal's mind) - will this new one do less?  Or if it does resurrect people, will it judge who should and shouldn't exist, out of - what?  How could it possibly decide?  There is nobody who was ever alive who someone, somewhere, wouldn't want back - wouldn't work to bring back, given enough time and freedom and resources, given all the things that people should have, in a world with flying devices all over it.  Will the intelligence decide not to let these people have what they want, when it can surely make it safe?  Will it decide Karal too shouldn't be allowed to live, or that he can live but isn't allowed to think Leareth should?  Neither of these outcomes makes sense, on a level more fundamental than he can justify by logic.


If Leareth imagines the good future to have no place for him, he is imagining it wrong.


…It does feel obvious that Leareth wouldn’t think that someone else, even someone who had done comparably awful things to what’s in Leareth’s own past, wouldn’t find a place in the future he thinks should exist. He - still can’t actually manage to feel like he would have grounds to object, if the artificial intelligence wants to build a world where everyone except Leareth has room to be okay, but he can at least recognize that that’s an absurd way to feel, and it does help that Karal objects.


….Maybe part of what makes it hard to think about or find tolerable is that they still have so much uncertainty, and Leareth’s emotions are sort of blurring together all of it, the possibility where the intelligence is hostile to at least some extent and might try to kill them, alongside the scenario where everything really is fixed and he has to deal with his entire current way of being not making sense anymore — and it also feels roaringly salient that he could misjudge which world they’re in and cause another Cataclysm accidentally do enormous damage. Each of those fears would be less painful and overwhelming in isolation, but it’s hard to keep it nearly separated on an emotional level when he still doesn’t know.


It's not entirely incomprehensible, for Leareth to think of himself as being in a category apart from all other people - in many ways he is.  But not in that way, no.  In addition to being an immortal mage who spent thousands of years trying to fix the world, he is a person Karal cares about, for himself and not only for his effects on the world, and would not stop caring about if none of the rest mattered any more.  He doesn't think Nayoki would, either.  And so Leareth, for all that he thinks of himself as different, is attached to the usual weave of human connections, in which it's impossible for everyone except him to be okay, because if he wasn't then they wouldn't be.


(And Karal takes a deeper breath and notices that he has not, after all, succeeded in keeping their body calm, because he objected to Leareth's idea of the future rather too much to manage it.  He relaxes again now, deliberate slow breaths to slow his heartbeat, and the flare of outrage fades out into a steady warmth.  You matter, and you aren't alone.)



Yes, the uncertainty makes everything harder, in a situation already enormously complicated and high-stakes - and Karal cannot claim there's no reason to be afraid of mistakes or confusion, or that the consequences might not be terrible.  But Leareth is good at this, and he's had a very long time to get better since those early mistakes that hurt so much to remember.  And it should be a little easier to keep the fears separated now that they've taken the time to look at all of them. 


That seems right.


Leareth can notice, now, that in the scenario where the intelligence is on their side and everything will ultimately almost certainly be fine, he still wishes that all of this were playing out differently — that it could somehow happen in a way that was less maximally terrifying and upsetting. It’s a petty desire, obviously, it doesn’t matter, but it is terrifying and upsetting and it feels important to spend a moment noticing that he’s on some level resenting this enormously.


- and he thinks that’s everything? A lot of things are stressful right now, that makes sense, but he doesn’t think there are any other pieces that he’s not recognizing or acknowledging because it hurts too much to look at head-on? 

(There’s a soft questioning note there, quietly holding it up for Karal to check whether he agrees.)


It is terrifying, and probably to a lot of people!  Karal himself is mostly upset by the hypothetical in which it happened later, when they had already murdered so many people, and whoever was building it could have told them years before how much things would change, but didn't...  For the same reason as why they couldn't tell anyone what they were planning, or simply do something less horrible, he assumes - so it can be folded in with his unhappiness about so many other things about the world, all because the gods are the way they are.


He thinks through the earlier conversation for a moment (and the flavor of the warmth in the background of his mind changes, as he lets himself notice the fulfillment he feels when Leareth relies on him enough to ask for his opinion).  Hmm, there was one more thing that he's not sure they've thought through - maybe it was part of something they did look at, but if so he hasn't realized it yet.  There was a moment earlier where Leareth felt like even if the intelligence was basically on their side, it might still read things as adversarial that weren't meant that way and that it was important to be careful about it?

... All right, it's obvious now that Karal took a moment to put it into words - that's the memory of Urtho and his easily triggered enmity, while Karal has been modeling the intelligence more like Leareth or Leareth's god, who would never refuse to talk to someone just because of one hostile action.  He's not sure which one of them is right, now that he thinks about it.  He assumed that superhuman enough intelligences that were right about what the world should look like tended in Leareth's direction, that being his only example, but maybe they could be more clueless and less inclined to negotiate than he's been imagining, while still being right about other things... Leareth may be right to be careful, but there's still clearly an old fear there and he should be aware of that.


Nothing else unacknowledged, that he has noticed.  He looks over Leareth's mind with Empathy-sight again, and it does seem like everything is - not fixed, it couldn't and shouldn't be, but less tangled and inflamed than it was before, no unrecognized pain interfering with the naturally ordered flow of his thoughts in a way he can't see and compensate for.


...Interesting, that's a good point and Leareth hadn't recognized on his own to what extent his threat assessment here might be driven by his experiences with Urtho. He thinks it's not just that – it's a lesson he's learned the hard way repeatedly over the years, that cooperation is always much more of an uphill climb than it feels like it should be, that it takes reaching out over and over, being the first one to de-escalate or offer costly signals of non-hostility. The god he had intended to build wouldn't have been like that, no, but he wasn't the one making design choices for the artificial intelligence from another world, and it's not necessarily obvious to him that there's a single way that superhuman intelligences that want in general to make the world safe for everyone would automatically converge on the same approach. "What the world should look like" to achieve that is complicated, it's going to be messy and nuanced and often in tension with itself. Leareth does expect some convergence but - he expects less, knowing that the entity is from another world entirely, and it's possible the people of that world - who he knows nothing about - are more psychologically alien than, say, the difference between humans and gryphons. 

Anyway, Karal is probably right that he's more worried about his intentions being misread than is really justified, but he does think it's worth being careful. 


That being said, it's likely true that the dangers and possible mistakes here that scare him the most, or are the most salient on an instinctive level, aren't necessarily the same as the ones he should rationally be prioritizing avoiding or mitigating. - in particular, now that there's space to think about it without so much internal screaming, Leareth finds it plausible that he was overrating the escalatory nature of capturing and studying one of the flying things. There's at least some reason to think that they aren't people and are, as Karal put it, more like message-artifacts - in particular, the preliminary reports included that Thoughtsensing and compulsions don't work on them, and in fact they don't show up as minds at all, or even as living things to mage-sight. Leareth had been weighing this as a reason why running an interrogation wasn't an option, which would leave the intuitively-more-hostile-seeming option of trying to take one apart– oh! Now that he's thinking about it properly, Leareth thinks it's actually rather likely that someone, somewhere, has already tried to grab and dismantle one of the flying things. Which is a good way to check whether that even works - if the Eastern Empire with all of its resources couldn't pull it off, it's probably not worth it for Leareth to try either - and he might be able to just steal the parts from them directly. That definitely seems worth investigating, and can be done quickly... 

(Leareth is already tucking away his emotions again. It's difficult in the way that lifting a very heavy rock would be, but it feels a lot less like he's fighting himself about it.) 


Vanyel's main feeling, right now, is that he's far too tired for this to be happening right now and desperately wishes it could have waited for next week


No one has any idea what to make of the flying things that are suddenly everywhere. Randi is incredibly stressed. The Companions are buzzing with confusion. The Web can't even see them and Savil is deeply alarmed about it. Kilchas is the only one who seems unabashedly and unconflictedly delighted and curious. 

Vanyel is hurrying back from the currently useless Web-room to the Heralds' wing for an emergency meeting of the Senior Circle when one of the palace groundskeepers hands him a letter. He's distracted enough that he doesn't even remark on whether it's an odd time to be communicating by written message when the Companions are mostly bouncing messages back and forth in real time; he takes it with an absent nod of thanks, jogs to the rest of the way, and leans on the wall outside the door to close his eyes for a moment before - well, he might as well see what it is, in case it's relevant to Randi... 

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