guess who's getting a medical drama now
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Leareth is sleeping in a bedroom that isn't his – in fact, in a body that's only been his for less than a day, and even then not entirely. 

He's going to think about what to do with the man whose soul is now sharing it with him...later. Once he's north, and - safe, or as safe as it gets in this world. He's exhausted and disoriented and still doesn't have the faintest inkling how he died


...He's still not sure it's the right choice, staying here. It was a tradeoff he weighed and he's not in very good shape for weighing complicated tradeoffs right now. Vkandis could send someone after him much more easily here than if he had instead insisted on Gating a hundred miles away in a random direction and sleeping in some anonymous woods. On the other hand, it's not like he has the reserves yet to Gate far enough that he would leave Vkandis' influence entirely behind. Things could still go unluckily wrong, and here he's not in any danger from the weather or wild animals. Besides, sleeping in an actual bed will rebuild his - their - reserves faster. 

Probably some of it is that it seemed important to Karal, to have - closure, one final conversation with his lord, whatever happens afterward - and it felt cheap enough to offer. Leareth thinks it isn't very much that? He doesn't think he would compromise his safety for it. But he's not sure. He likes Karal, and it's - less obvious than usual that he's at all capable of separating that out in his own thoughts. 


He told him: 

It is not a fair trade. Bringing you home, in exchange for - the rest of your life - it does not make it any less monstrous, that I am willing to do this. But it - cost me very little, and I did want to– I am glad I could give you that much, whatever else happens. 

And Karal - wasn't angry, or even particularly upset. 

Do let me trade my own life away, will you? I won't tell you it's not monstrous, that you do this to people, but-- don't hate yourself on my account, when I'm glad you were there.

And, well, here they are. He genuinely doesn't know what's going to happen from here.


In any case, it's not worth dwelling on it. This is the gamble he made. 

He falls asleep with only a little difficulty. 

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Leareth was fully aware that it was a gamble, and that in some worlds it would be the wrong one. 

Maybe it turned out fine in most worlds. He's never going to know that now. 


In this world, the thing that happens next is that a Blackrobe priest - having half a candlemark ago received a vision from his god that was rather confusing in its particulars but not exactly ambiguous - Gates to the keep (he's never been there before but the vision was really quite impressively clear) with a party, several of whom are also mages. 

He's pretty sure that their instructions weren't to kill the...demon...spirit...? The whatever-it-is, which will look like it's wearing a human face. Unless it seems like the alternative is that it gets away, killing it would be better than that. 


He was also warned not to actually try to enter the room they were directed at before attempting to incapacitate the spirit, because it would see him coming. 


If Leareth had been less disoriented, or less exhausted, he might have laid better and more thorough wards. 


- as it is, the thing that wakes him is a spectacularly sloppy compulsion - apparently cast by someone who's never done them before, overpowered, and with the flavor of blood-magic to it - it's sufficiently sloppy that he can't tell what exactly it's for, but it's definitely getting in the way of - a lot - it might be an attempt at a block on taking volitional actions, which is actually very hard to do with a compulsion but maybe they don't know that - 



- fortunately flinging himself out of bed is not, exactly, a volitional action, and neither is flinging a fireball through the wall. 

(He almost gets as far as Gating out. He would have, if he were less newly in this body. The problem is that he has yet to visit any records caches, so none of them are Gate-locations, and he doesn't quite manage a purely instinctive Gate when he isn't sure where to.) 


- this successfully takes out more than half of the attacking party, but the Blackrobe priest has a shield-talisman. It's one of the last ones produced by their best Adept, before his death at the hands of the Butcher in White. 


He doesn't know what's wrong but it's not complicated to order an attack, and he's very prepared for powerful casting, right now, thanks to the executed prisoners. 


Where is he - 


Leareth would have been fine if he had any of his own talismans, or even if he had been able to deliberately raise any shields rather than just the ones that went up instinctively. 


He's - pretty sure he's not fine - 


- also, right, he - wasn't alone - at least apparently thinking loudly rather than clamping down doesn't count as whatever the compulsion was intended to block him from - 


Karal - under attack - 


(They're in a heap on the floor, having been smashed into a wall, which is now on fire. Leareth is still seizing control of the body - that's not volitional either - but he seems to be unable to actually move, whether because of the injuries or the sloppy compulsion is unclear. 

Karal is unaffected by the compulsion.)


The war did not leave Karal unused to being woken up in the middle of the night by attacks or orders, but nothing during the war had been like this.  It felt almost like another dream at first, his body moving without his volition and - what - flinging fire through the wall--  No, something is wrong, where is he--


Why is there a voice in his head--



The war also did not leave him with a habit of spending more than a split second searching for answers before acting.  It's not long enough to drag any clarity out of yesterday's exhausted pain and confusion, but he knows where he is and that there's something wrong with him, there's fire in his lord's hall and it's his fault, he shouldn't be here--

- why can't he move, gods, everything hurts but it doesn't hurt that much - maybe he's dying and just can't feel it yet - maybe it's good that he's dying, if he's dead then whatever is wrong will be over, and it would be so much easier than any of the other ways to not be here...



No, there was... something else, a promise, or almost one...  He doesn't remember what, but it's still enough to make him force his thoughts and his body a step further, to make him throw himself into another attempt to move and at least see what's happening - purely on instinct, he still doesn't understand what's keeping him from moving, but sheer force might be enough.

The voice can make him be elsewhere, he remembers in a flash - the effortless intricacy of the magic that took them here, stepping over the threshold home.

Can you get us out -


Leareth is still pretty thoroughly blocked from taking actions on purpose in full generality, but can he - yes, he can apparently just - make all his surface thoughts visible to Karal -


(which isn't going to add that much clarity, since Leareth is also incredibly disoriented and having trouble thinking especially clearly, but some things are sufficiently cached from when he was last conscious) 


- they're under attack, almost certainly by agents of Vkandis, that being what Leareth was worried about when considering whether to stay here or go. He doesn't actually know it for sure, and he's -  surprised and confused - this must be expensive and why do that just to kill him - 

oh, the plan...probably wasn't to kill him...the first thing they did was the compulsion, which is why he can't - do things - they're probably also badly injured but either one of them is very capable of pushing through that temporarily to get out.


Leareth cannot, right now, get them out. ...He feels like there's a solution to this somewhere but the sloppy compulsion is also affecting his problem-solving ability, unless the problem is that they hit their head in which case Karal is also affected and they might just be. Stuck. 


(There's a faint note of apology. It's absolutely not productive to dwell on it and Leareth isn't, but - this is his history and his business, and he wouldn't have chosen to drag Karal into it, let alone Balthin's keep.) 


Karal can think fine but he doesn't know anything.  If he was on his own, he'd surrender or die, or likely both - and he doesn't even want to fight Vkandis or his priests, not without knowing why.  But... seeing Leareth's thoughts makes him remember Leareth as a person, someone who he had conversations and the beginnings of cooperation with, not just the first second's memory of a bewildering voice and a Gate, and that is reason enough to try to do more than he would by himself.


What, though?  First, he needs his body if he's going to do anything at all - and it feels awful to lie here unable to move.  He wants it back, and reaches for it, forcefully and with more of an understanding of what he's doing - he knows that on some level it's Leareth he's fighting, but it's not as if Leareth wants to lie here without moving either, it's really the compulsion he's pushing against, whatever exactly one is...  It doesn't matter - it's his body, by birth and use and instinct, and he will have it back.


As he tries to push his way in, he thinks about what to do once he has it back.  He still doesn't want to fight these people, but if only they could disappear from here - Leareth does know how, he just can't do things, or even think clearly...  Can he show Karal how?  Or the opposite, do it if Karal prompts him enough?  Last time he just didn't know where to go until Karal showed him a place (why doesn't Leareth know any places? not the time to wonder about that) - here's the main gate of the capital, no that is the last place Leareth will want to be, here's a forest in Hardorn with a rock formation that looked like a door...


He has no idea if any of that will help. But if nothing else works, he can certainly find a way to kill them both.  Leareth's thoughts make it sound like the better option than whatever would happen otherwise.


It's definitely the better option. For Leareth and Leareth's goals. Leareth can find a moment for half-awed gratitude, that Karal is putting that first - Karal isn't the one they want to hurt - though, no, it's unlikely the priesthood of Vkandis has a plan for how to imprison Leareth separately, so one way or another they're - trapped in this together - 


The compulsion doesn't make him fight Karal for control, but it's incredibly disorienting - not quite enough that he instinctively attempts a Gate to get away from it, though, it's not the right kind of thing - 


And then there are footsteps – and, abruptly, rather clumsy ropes of magic trying to pin them down. 



If Karal, who's now in control of the body and also the only one of them who can reliably take any actions, manages to turn and look, he'll see a Blackrobe priest emerging from the pall of dust and smoke where the thoroughly demolished wall of his bedroom used to be. He's wearing - to mage-sight it's beautiful, and Leareth's thoughts it's obvious that it's a rather well-made shield-talisman - but not an exceptionally powerful one, and possible to get around - 




They want to take us prisoner, Leareth thinks. I think - need to make it - not worth their while - but he's not going to be able to cast offensive magic again, he could only do it because he was sufficiently startled that it didn't even count as voluntary. 


(They are trapped in this together, and Leareth is the only one of them with goals that can still be accomplished.  And - Leareth is right that this isn't the time to dwell on these things, but - Karal is the reason they were still here tonight.)


Karal can definitely turn and look, trying to twist out from under the invisible ropes in the same motion.  It hurts, but distantly, the way all pain is distant in the middle of a battle and it's a surprise to look down and see yourself bleeding.

He still isn't sure he wants to hurt a priest of Vkandis, but even if he did - the fight likely isn't a winnable one, they don't have a real plan for how to get out, and he doesn't think he can even make it imprisoning them not worth it, when one more compulsion would be the end of their ability to resist. 


But there's a long knife at the priest's belt, close enough to reach when he takes another step forward, and Karal knows where his own heart is.


…The priest was sufficiently not expecting THAT form of resistance that he doesn’t manage to stop Karal in time. (He’s confused, the compulsion is definitely right there, he’s not a Thoughtsenser but it seems like it should work why is it not working.)

He raises his arms to defend himself when he realizes that the demon spirit wearing a man’s face now has his knife. His threat model is not one that includes defending Karal from himself.


Leareth was also really not expecting that! He can’t defend against it; he’s shielded against physical blows but Karal is him, and is inside his shields - there’s a shock of confused betrayal, what, why - 


The pain blots out most of his remaining thoughts, before he can fully process that Karal is doing it to help him. There’s only the desperate reflexive need to get out when he’s clearly in no shape to fight.

The Gate-threshold goes up under them while he’s still skidding off his own thoughts flailing for a destination - oh, there was that anonymous rock that he has a mental image of for some reason, but he doesn’t want to go there he wants to go somewhere safe…


The Gate-spell bends and twists around itself and does something that even Karal can tell is not how Gates are supposed to work, and then they’re somewhere else.


Not a forest, though! If Karal is still capable of processing anything, after the burns and broken bones and self-inflicted stab wound and now overwhelming backlash, he might notice that the light is neither sunlight nor torchlight, the ground under them is cool and white and seems like it should be stone but isn’t - the surroundings are incredibly strange - 


Also a janitor is screaming in surprise at the bleeding man on the floor of the downtown Reno Walmart, who he swears wasn’t there five seconds ago!


Karal is sorry, he didn't mean it as a betrayal, he thought Leareth knew that...


He does not understand any of the strangeness that happens after, but he wasn't expecting to, and for the first few seconds isn't really trying.


The backlash is... confusing, why would it still be there if he's dead... but it's also too awful to let him take much notice of his surroundings, beyond the fact that nobody is doing anything he urgently needs to react to.  Just screaming really doesn't seem urgent enough.  He will close his eyes and try to ignore it pass out.

Even then he doesn't let go of the knife.


Leareth thinks it’s very important to understand where they are - even in the blur of confusion, he's pretty sure he successfully cast a Gate, but he somehow has no idea where to - but he's unable to do anything except think, and very impaired at that. 

(They're not dead. He - realized what Karal was trying to do, a second after the Gate was already happening, and he's - grateful - and also it was in fact enough to startle him into Gating. And maybe this is a better place to be, even if he has no idea whether it’s safe and no reason to expect that he’s among allies -)


This is approximately all the coherent thoughts he can manage before the backlash drags him under.


The early shift supervisor (it's still only 5:50 am, they open at six) is alerted that there someone unconscious and covered in blood holding a bloody knife in aisle six??????

Well. Reno. He calls 911. 

The paramedics dispatched are told that someone seemed to have stabbed themselves in the Walmart. At least it's the Walmart closeish to the hospital. 


Sometimes Marian makes questionable choices.

Like, for example, staying at the bar with the day shift staff from yesterday until 11 pm and only realizing when she got home and it was too late to go shopping that she was out of coffee, and had to be back again in the morning, and the hospital cafeteria doesn't actually open until 7 and she is absolutely not doing 6:45 am shift report on no caffeine and a bit less than six hours of sleep.

Which is why she's up and dressed in scrubs and locking her bike outside the Walmart at 5:57 am, when an ambulance passes her in the deserted parking lot, lights and sirens on. 



...Yeah okay she should probably go see what's going on. 


She and the paramedics will find a man unconscious on the floor! He's bleeding from what appears to be a stab wound in his chest (with a stressed-out Walmart employee using a random T-shirt from the clothing section to try to control the bleeding), he is in fact still holding a bloody knife, and he also looks - generally pretty banged up? To the extent that it's unclear how he could have ended up that way in this freshly-mopped aisle where absolutely nothing has recently been on fire. 


Wow!! That looks pretty bad! Marian is not technically at work yet but she does have her badge on her and it sure seems like the kind of situation that could use more hands. "Um, hey - I work in the ICU, I just happened to be here - can I help with anything?" 


Absolutely! Can she put the patient on the monitor and get vital signs while they place an IV and get him immobilized on a backboard just in case? 


She can definitely do that! And a neuro assessment while she's at it. 

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