Sing fixes all of velgarth's problems. Leareth finds out after the fact.
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Karal thinks it'll be good for both of them if Vanyel knows a little more about Leareth as a person, not just of the terrifying immortal mage who can do the impossible.  Leareth could of course object to anything he says, but Karal doesn't really think he will.

"Of course that was important. Although I'm not sure how he could've told you the truth about everything and not wanted this."  Not that Karal is going to blame anyone for having trouble asking the maximally logical questions in a conversation with a strange otherworldly intelligence.

"And of course he'd choose this, if he was given a choice somehow.  It's exactly what he wanted, as far as we can tell, and with none of the costs.  Well, except a few days of terrifying disruption for everyone," a wry look that reflects something of just how much it's been like that for him, "and that should hardly count.  But... it's hard, to have shaped yourself entirely for pursuing a single goal for centuries, and have it disappear from the world in a day."


Which makes sense in theory, but still feels absolutely bizarre for Leareth, who is - 

- well, not the most powerful person in the world anymore, not that Sing is exactly a person but you know. Which is the part Vanyel had most expected might bother Leareth, given how Leareth apparently feels about the gods, but it sounds like he's strongly in favor of Sing doing exactly what it's doing.


It's true that Vanyel has been feeling - unmoored, in a way that started sinking in during the candlemarks after Sing's final announcement about Leareth. There's nothing burningly urgent that needs to be done. The war is over, or close enough. He's no longer Valdemar's only hope against Karse. 

And he might still be meeting Leareth in the dreamscape stage-play set of a northern pass with an army at his back, but it almost feels like a farce now. It's not going to happen. Maybe it never needed to happen at all, if Leareth was telling the truth all along and the real enemy was whichever god or gods set Vanyel on this path in the first place. 

He hadn't realized how much of an anchor it was, expecting that his path would end in a fiery sacrifice to maybe-futilely try to buy his kingdom more time. Tied to the world by a silver string, a pattern that won't walk away, but it wouldn't matter now if he did. Vanyel has mostly been flinching away from that thought, it...doesn't feel entirely safe to notice. 



- change the subject. "Obviously the end goal wasn't invading Valdemar," Vanyel hears himself say, almost snappishly. "It was - one of the costs?" 


....Vanyel also doesn't seem particularly okay, Leareth is abruptly noticing. He - doesn't feel especially advantaged in terms of knowing what to do about that, for all that they've been speaking for a lot longer than Karal has known Vanyel. 


That's true, and-- oh.  Maybe Karal shouldn't have said that, about living for a goal abruptly lost, if Vanyel feels the same way and hadn't noticed already.

He doesn't particularly know what to do either.  Vanyel is harder to talk to than Leareth ever was, but then most people are.


"It was, and I'm glad it doesn't have to happen. And - is our war," a gesture at himself and Vanyel, the meeting bringing back the memory of what both of them were doing only weeks ago, "over too?"  Somehow he managed not to think of it until now.  But surely Sing is not letting more people die at the front any more than anywhere else.


"It's not official yet but - I think it's already over?" Shrug. “There was apparently some sort of Vkandis miracle and someone from the royal family that was overthrown is in charge now? King Randale still wants to actually meet and negotiate a peace treaty, but - no one’s dying in the meantime.”


"Good."  Karal suddenly wants to know everything about it, and-- "You know, my first impulse is to go and ask Vkandis about it, which is just... insane, isn't it?  It was terrifying and disorienting enough the first time around, why does part of me want to do it again?"

"...Maybe I'm not doing that great a job of just trying to be a normal person either."


He thinks it'd do Vanyel good to tell someone about his own side of that problem, but... why would he want to talk to Karal about it, of all people?  So he leaves the opening but doesn't ask.  (He thinks Leareth has more standing to at least ask the question, but it still feels more important not to make Leareth feel like he has to do anything.  So Karal can keep having this conversation and see if he and Vanyel can get to know each other well enough for questions like that to make sense.  They'll probably need to do that sooner or later, in any case.)


….wait, what?

“You talked to Vkandis? Was that, er - I’m surprised Leareth was all right with it?” And that Leareth didn’t end up set on fire or something. 


"He was the one to think of it. I was shocked, but... he was right.  And - it's like him, really, to come up with some appalling thing that actually solves the most important problem, and then do it anyway even if he's terrified the entire time."

A tired and slightly embarrassed smile.  "Right, I should maybe... explain what I'm talking about, at all.  It was right after we got your letter - thank you for that," not just for the information, but for being a person who would drop everything and do something just as shocking as Leareth's decision to talk to Vkandis, and do it on the word of their maybe-enemy, just because he could see how important it was and that it was worth it... For being someone they could rely on to do that despite everything about the circumstances.  But he doesn't think Vanyel would appreciate hearing any of that, so he keeps the depth of his gratitude to a brief shift in the tone of his voice.

"And that was good news, but how sure could we really be, that it didn't fake the communication or control you somehow?  Of course probably it didn't, probably everything was all right and there was no need to do anything at all.  But there was some small chance that Sing was secretly evil, enough so that Vkandis would take even Leareth's help against it.  And some chance that He'd kill us anyway, but - we had no better options that weren't too slow to accomplish anything, and it would've been worth it, right."  He speaks about it matter-of-factly, like he's certain that Vanyel will see the logic and see nothing remarkable about that decision.


It’s also hard to imagine - and bizarrely upsetting?? - to picture Leareth being terrified of anything. 

There’s some sort of tension here, Vanyel thinks dully. It feels like he should be able to - just talk to Leareth - surely it shouldn’t be more awkward to navigate a conversation with him now that the threat of a war is no longer hanging over their heads, and they can more or less trust each other.

It just…maybe turns out that he doesn’t know how to approach it, when instead of talking about hypotheticals as they carefully dance around not revealing too much, all the problems are fixed and they’re…talking about feelings…? Also the fact that Karal seems to be taking the lead feels odd.


“…I’ve only spoken to the Star-Eyed Goddess, not Vkandis,” he says, partly because it feels good to share something he’s never actually told Leareth, but mostly because it’s awkward to just stand here and it was the first thing he thought of to say. “I sort of went to yell at Her, it was after I helped with a new Heartstone and,” he doesn’t actually want to talk about that or think about it.

He shrugs awkwardly. “I don’t think it’s good for people, talking to most of the gods. I guess the Shadow-Lover is - made for that. Talking to the Star-Eyed was - really disorienting? And honestly not even very helpful. I’m curious what Vkandis was like?”


"Painful and disorienting but - very helpful, actually. Surprisingly so. He didn't... understand a lot of things, like what mortals lying means or why we might want the dead back... but He answered everything I asked Him, when I could think the questions right.  I think that was Sing's influence - I cannot imagine Him being like that before.  And..." he feels odd about this, for multiple reasons, but it's true, "He was kind to me."


"It wouldn't have occurred to me to yell at Him."  He shakes his head, smiling.  "I'm not sure it would've occurred to Leareth, either, if only because he doesn't yell."  The smile fades and his voice softens.  "Or... think any of his emotions should matter to anyone.  I know why, but... it's not good for him."

(He... almost says more, but there are things that are his place to say, and things that, uninvited by either side, aren't.)


He can tell Vanyel cares, and it's so obvious he and Leareth should talk, if only they can figure out how.  Maybe they can at least stop having this odd surface conversation around the actual topic, if there's a way to do it without hitting any of the points that make Vanyel flinch and back away. 


Leareth knows he should talk to Vanyel. He wanted to have that chance, it’s just - hard to actually think of how to start, or find the determination to reach for control to say anything at all.

Most of his past conversations with Vanyel were - planned, carefully strategized in advance, every piece of new information he revealed a deliberate choice. 

But it’s not just that he’s unused to improvising what to say on the spot. It -

- it feels like something he could still get wrong, maybe? Sing will prevent anything really bad from happening, but he’s pretty sure it wouldn’t intervene to prevent missteps in his relationship with Vanyel, whatever that relationship even is. It’s something he wants to - get right, whatever than means, and he doesn’t feel nearly as solid as he prefers to on knowing how.

Leareth is - having a difficult adjustment, and in pain, and normally something like that would be entirely off-bounds in a conversation with Vanyel, but he thinks they have to talk about it in order to - just be human people in this strange new world. It does also feel important that Vanyel is in pain, and that isn’t new but it’s always been something they both stepped around. Leareth has a suspicion that there was something safer for Vanyel, too, about their careful adversarial negotiations that fundamentally were’t about his feelings? But he’s not sure he can pin it down any further than that.



….This is probably more a Karal sort of thing, does Karal have advice?


They could still get something wrong.  For the most obvious thing - if they ended up talking about Leareth's awful plan, now when everything still feels so fragile, instead of once when they feel safer with the world and each other. 

(It would still be fixable, probably, someday in the long safe future.  But it would be much better if it didn't need fixing.)


Leareth is right that they need to talk about their emotions first, to get their relationship to a place that makes sense now that the world is so different.  (And they should - they clearly both care about each other, and it will be easier to deal with all the other changes together with someone who's been through so many of the same things, even on a different side.)  Karal isn't worried about Leareth making some important misstep if he talks about his own difficulties, if he can get himself to a mindset where he wants to have that conversation rather than forcing himself through it.  It's not really the sort of topic that needs a strategic plan.

He's less sure about the other side of it - about whatever it is that hurts Vanyel so much and that he so clearly doesn't want to think about.  It feels fraught, or else Karal would have asked already.  But he's nearly a stranger to Vanyel, and the question might be easier coming from Leareth.


But first, he thinks Vanyel would want to know about Leareth's pain - he's clearly curious, even if he'll find it hard to deal with.  And afterward perhaps he'll feel easier talking about his own.


…That’s probably right.

It doesn’t all feel - safe to talk about or like he knows what to say - but he can somewhat gracefully segue to his own side of the Vkandis conversation.

He nudges Karal gently to take control. It’s fairly obvious from the outside given how different their body language is.

“We went to the Iftel barrier,” he says. “It seemed like the quickest way to obtain His attention, though probably more dangerous, and - my past experiences with trying to petition Him that way were not positive. We both - I suppose I did not exactly pray to Him, but I tried to make the questions for Him clear in my mind, and why I sought His answers and thought it would be in His interest to offer them. Karal did something closer to praying. I am not sure if that is why it worked, or if it was just that Karal was once one of Vkandis' people."

(Or just that Karal was less afraid. ...Was Karal much less afraid? Leareth sends a brief mental note of apology, that he apparently doesn't remember. He was quite reasonably distracted, but he does endorse tracking Karal's state a little more than that.) 

"Anyway. Karal was pulled into a vision, I assume, and I was - not. It was like the barrier was inside my mind, blocking me from his thoughts. ...I told Karal later that nothing bad happened, but it was incredibly terrifying in a way that - I am not sure it was damaging exactly, but I was very badly shaken afterward, even though it was good news." 

A slow deliberate shrug. "Which I suppose describes the entire experience of the last day." 


Leareth seems…different…and it feels like the rules shifting under his feet. Vanyel is briefly, pointlessly, almost resentful. The rules have changed enough for one day.


…It does make sense, if he tries to imagine a person who isn’t Leareth in that situation? And Leareth is still a person, not - the kind of alien thing the gods are, even if it’s sometimes felt like that. It makes sense that can be scared and feel vulnerable.

And obviously it would be rude and hurtful to respond with “I thought you were above all that” even if it’s what some part of him is thinking.


He fidgets. “You’re - going to be all right, though. Right? This is - Sing won’t let the gods hurt you now. And - I know it doesn’t always help right away, if a bad thing stops happening, but it’ll get easier.” 


(Karal was not afraid, then.  If he had been, Leareth would have probably noticed, but it's easier to remember a presence of something than an absence. ...He was afraid later, but in a way he mostly wasn't even aware of until afterward, because he was trying so hard to keep his mind clear of anything that wasn't a useful god-communication.  But in any case he expects it was some other factor, not that the god cared about their fear.)


He thinks Leareth is doing very well, and that this was the right thing - he didn't think of it, but of course it's true, that Vanyel face-to-face with Leareth would try to be kind to him, more than he instinctively was when hearing about his feelings secondhand.


Of course he would. It's - a little hard to figure out how to respond to it. Leareth isn’t used to people being earnestly and a little awkwardly kind to him. …He’s maybe not very used to people approaching him with the attitude of “trying to be kind” at all? Nayoki and plenty of others try to be helpful, but he feels like they’re usually doing a different thing.

He ducks his head. “I think it makes it harder, when a bad thing - when all the bad things - stop happening. It was easier to - set it aside, only have helpful feelings and save the rest for later - when everything is an emergency. At least, it is like that for me.”


On the one hand, it’s kind of VERY UPSETTING! …On the other hand, it continues to be incredibly rude to make this all about his stupid feelings.

Vanyel looks down at the snow. “…For me too. Well. Maybe not so much the only having helpful feelings, that’s - I guess I’m not surprised you can do that but I don’t know if anyone except you can. But - when there isn’t time for something to hurt until later?” 

His throat feels tight; he tries to clear it. “And you’ve been doing this for such a long time. I can’t imagine, I couldn’t - I’m still not sure how you could.”


Vanyel is clearly upset but - probably doesn’t want attention brought to it right now?

Leareth isn’t sure what else to say. He kept going for two thousand years because there was no acceptable alternative, but clearly it doesn’t work that way for most people, and for all his centuries of experience, Leareth still doesn’t feel like he gets what the underlying difference there was. Maybe it would help if he remembered more than a handful of things about being Ma’ar.

…Vanyel, he thinks, also has quite a lot of the trait that would make it feel unthinkable to walk away before the work is done. He was just…suffering more.


That's true, about Vanyel.  He'd never use Leareth's immortality method - and Karal doesn't think he could bear it even if he tried - but if the gods made him immortal some other way, what would happen?  Would he learn to suffer less, or would he just... spend centuries like that, and keep going... what an awful thought.  Karal isn't sure it's a safe question to ask him.


Leareth could talk about the extent to which he shaped himself to be someone who could do it for so long, Karal thinks - especially since that also makes it harder for him to be someone who can have a normal life.  Talk about how he did sometimes have to take the time to hurt, to come to grips with something he couldn't just set aside.


Or maybe it would be all right now to ask how Vanyel is coping with everything - whether he thinks he'll be all right too, in the end.


Or... he doesn't need to say anything, if it doesn't feel right.  They can be quietly sad together for a while.  It's a thing people do, when they have time.


…Now that Leareth has thought of the framing, it feels suddenly obvious that this probably is part of what makes the adjustment hard for Vanyel specifically. Vanyel almost certainly doesn’t want to be immortal in general (however strange and hard to comprehend Leareth finds that.) For a long time, he would have been living on the assumption that he would die for his kingdom — and if that somehow hadn’t been how it played out in Leareth’s future war with Valdemar, it’s not like Vanyel’s life was short in other ways to sacrifice himself for the people he swore the Heralds’ oath to serve.

There’s - a kind of simplicity that brings, Leareth muses, maybe not entirely unlike the simplicity and focus Leareth got from his oath. The ability to set grief and pain aside because now wasn’t the time, except he suddenly has a feeling that Vanyel never expected to make that time; that he wasn’t making plans for after the end of a road he didn’t expect he would live to see.

And now, of course, Sing is here and no one is dying anymore.


…It doesn’t feel like a safe observation to make to Vanyel right now, and asking Vanyel if he’s going to be all right feels - too close to acknowledging it. Leareth bows his head and doesn’t say anything for a long moment.


I am not sure how to explain how I worked before, he thinks to Karal eventually. I suppose I did shape myself, but - not stopping was not the part that felt as though it needed shaping?

It always felt like the simplest way to be - like instead having a point after which he would consider his part done would have been - adding epicycles, making the core of himself less coherent. Not stopping was - hard, certainly, but he thinks it mostly hadn’t felt like giving up was an alternate path that would be easier? 

Karal might have a better vantage point to try to explain it to Vanyel, if he wants to do that. 


Karal remembers that moment endless days ago when a flash of Leareth's memory made it painfully clear how much Vanyel wanted to die.  Does he, still, even now?  Or does he just not know what to do with the change?  But Leareth's right, that either way would take away something he was relying on to keep going.  A lot like Leareth, in an awful way that assumed he simply wouldn't live to see a time when he wasn't needed - but Karal can see how that might be easier.  Easier to tell yourself that you can just stop, when there's no more driving need to keep going.  He doesn't feel that way himself, when there's rest enough to be had without dying - but maybe for Vanyel there isn't.  (What is it that hurts him so much?  Can Sing fix it, somehow?  ...Would Sing let him die, if it couldn't?)


Karal isn't sure how well he really understands Leareth, let alone how well he can explain him, but - it does seem like it might be easier for him to explain, when he can at least clearly see the ways in which Leareth isn't anything like most people. 

He can take control of their body when Leareth offers, and lift his head, again visibly a different person.  "It might be easier for me to explain - Leareth doesn't really understand how unusual he is.  Not that I entirely do either, but... I can try."  He hopes Vanyel doesn't mind too much, that he's talking to Karal again.  They're still near-strangers, and it feels wrong to push against that so hard, but - they cannot stay near-strangers, not even if both of them wanted to, so they are going to have to do something else.

"You know what it's like, to care about something so much that you'd just never consider stopping - not that you wouldn't decide to stop, after struggling with the question for a while and pushing yourself to do the right thing, but that you'd never think of it at all.  The way people act when their small children might die."  (And not all people, even then.  Some will get tired and give up, eventually, when nothing seems like it's helping or will ever help.  But some won't, and Karal is sure Vanyel knows what he means.)  "... Leareth is like that about the entire world.  I don't know how.  I think he must have been born without... whatever it is that lets all the rest of us decide that some things are someone else's responsibility because they surely cannot be ours.  And..." more quietly, looking down, "he was right."  They shouldn't really have that argument now, but... speaking to Vkandis made it so completely obvious that Leareth was right, that the gods couldn't and wouldn't make the world the kind of place it should be, were too alien to even be capable of understanding what that was.  Karal believed it before too, but believed it half on Leareth's word and half on uncertain guesses - it wasn't really the sort of thing he felt he could wrap his mind around.  But it was simply true, and Leareth had seen it where nobody else had.

"And so he took that drive and he - built all of himself around it over lifetimes, keeping the core of what was important to him and losing so much of the rest."  He hadn't thought of it before, but he thinks that it must have helped, to start each life anew filled with the one all-important purpose and not with any of the common human concerns that everyone else accumulates before they even know what is truly important to them.  "And shaped himself to just... find what was needed and do it, every time, with almost nothing in his life beyond that - almost nothing he wanted and certainly nothing he wouldn't sacrifice.  Including himself, even though he wants to live more than anyone I've ever met.  He finds the next important task and he does it and he finds ways to make himself all right with it because it's the only thing that really matters - it's been the only thing that mattered to him for so long that he's half forgotten how to act for any other reasons.  How to care about his normal human feelings just because he has them, rather than because fixing them will let him do something important on the impossible scale he looks at the world in.  And... now there aren't any important things left, not really."


He still doesn't think he explained it right, what Leareth is, that impossibly stable core of him and the strange structure of the mind wrapped around it, still human but living as if all the human parts were beside the point.  But maybe he came close.  And whatever he got wrong, he hopes Leareth can explain - and that will be good for all three of them too.


Leareth doesn’t think he saw the gods as enemies, at first; that took until later, in the early years of what would later become the Eastern Empire, when he started to notice a pattern in churches and temple orders being the starting point for assassination plots. It’s just that even before that, he doesn’t think it would have occurred to him to look to the gods for building a better world? It seemed strictly less reasonable than looking to distant kings, who were at least human themselves, but in both cases, he thinks it must have seemed like surely if someone else were going to do it then it would already have happened.

(Maybe one difference is that many people will sort of - look at the way things already are, and define that as okay, good enough, or at least “how it’s meant to be” — that there’s a different angle where surely someone would already have done something if there was a problem? Leareth doesn’t think he’s ever had that tendency.)


He takes over again, and clears his throat. “I was - very arrogant, in my first time. It would never have occurred to me that just because no one else had done something, could not do it. That must make it easier - or possible at all - to decide to feel responsible for everything and everyone.”

A slight shrug. “I do not really remember my childhood, but I think at first, ‘everyone’ was not very many people? I had no idea the world was so big, or so messy. I learned better, but - it must have never felt like there was a good enough reason to…change how I thought about it and lower my expectations?”

Leareth shakes his head. Looks briefly down at the snow. “…I made mistakes, because I was arrogant. I suppose I was wrong about what I was capable of, at least at first.”


Vanyel doesn’t know about the Cataclysm, or Urtho. Leareth - wants him to, he thinks, but it feels suddenly very difficult to stand here and talk about it using actual words.


oh no Leareth is having feelings in front of him again, this is too awkward  Vanyel makes himself take a deep breath. 

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Wow, that was an inane thing to say and probably not comforting at all. “And I guess if you - do more things, and bigger things, you can make more and bigger mistakes. I don’t think it’d be better if no one tried to do things, but…”


(Many more people would, and do, devote their lives to fixing something that has gotten worse.  Karal isn't sure if the asymmetry is because they think surely if something was wrong in the long term someone would've already done something about it, or just another way of imposing a limit - if things used to be all right then it must be possible to get them back to that point, and then stop, instead of considering yourself responsible for everything forever.  He thinks essentially nobody is capable of considering themselves responsible for everything forever.  ...And perhaps they shouldn't, because most people in Leareth's position would make much worse mistakes than he did...  He wonders what the people in Sing's world are like - whether more of them would feel that responsibility, whether more of them would do well with it.  He hopes so, and not only so that Leareth can be less alone.)


It still doesn't occur to you that you couldn't do something just because nobody else had, he thinks fondly.  It's stopped occurring to me, either.  But most people who are that confident in themselves still do not decide to fix the world.



And then... Oh, that hurts.  The one thing Leareth keeps coming back to from so many angles and with so much unresolved distress - which Karal cannot in justice call out of proportion, but it feels so wrong, the way Leareth was hurt, back when he was too young to have sole responsibility for the world, and the way he blames only himself for it.

He instinctively reaches for control of their body, because it's not all right for Leareth to have to stand there in so much sudden pain, to have to be here when it feels too difficult to deal with.  It's still gentle, but he does not, exactly, ask permission.  (It may be the first time he's done that.)


There's pain in his eyes and his quiet voice, but none of Leareth's distressed hesitation or Vanyel's avoidance.  "Do you want the story of his biggest mistake? He might tell it better, or maybe not, but... it's hard for him.  And you should know."  And:  Do you want me to tell him?  I can - or I can start, at least, if that will make the rest easier.

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