"There is," he says to the demon, "a way to travel between worlds without being summoned. I will trade you the knowledge of how to make it for three of them and some help identifying a habitable planet in our new dimension."
He gestures. They'll fit in this ship. "They take you to a completely arbitrary location in the new dimension, so you're almost guaranteed to land in vacuum. Then we'll need someone to conjure for Earthlike worlds and help us get coordinates for one so that we can lightleap to it."
And they don't actually need a lightleaper but he's not going to tell her about the teleport. "Okay. I will trade you information about how to travel between dimensions for three of the devices used to do that and then help identifying and travelling to an inhabited planet in a new dimension, is that a deal?"
"My pleasure." He sends her home. He teleports to the new planet and verifies that the air is breathable and the gravity tolerable. He parks the lightleaper in space somewhere in the intervening dimension so people can teleport through it without a ship. He bounces back to Issiak. "Got one, two-off from here, taking the ship there now, someone should check whether it's not by sheer bad luck neighbors to a discovered dimension. How long does Yeerk reproduction take?"
"It might not work, it seems worth trying. This ship's now in orbit over our new habitable planet. You want to go get spellbinders next. Not the Bell, they'll never stop chasing you if you take the Bell and she's indestructible anyway, but at least fifty others, you need thirty-six for indestructibility and I don't know if all of them can learn the charts. I am going to go move my kingdom somewhere out of their way while you do that."
"You should but you may run into timing problems there, I doubt it'll take more than a few hours for your hosts to be noticed missing and once they are they'll definitely conjure for Yeerks in known dimensions who aren't in your native universe. ...is it too late for you to impersonate your host, or is he spending too much time around people with flat Elf osanwë -"
"He's a fork and doesn't have much in the way of established behavior patterns that aren't just his original's," says Issiak, "but it would be a substantial risk. It's probably worth trying for a batch of spellbinder Yeerks; clustering doesn't take long. I'll take the daeva batch -" He gestures at Yomenië, who collects a separate set of would-be parents.
"All right. Now, as it stands, if they fork your hosts to try to use them to follow us to the new dimension I don't think they'll get anything, you didn't see the dimension we passed through. You should probably always use me or the Hork-Bajir hosts as your ride through that intermediate dimension, unless you've got a way of making sure the hosts can't see anything that'd let them identify the dimension for targeting."
He sends a mental image of the lightleaper he parked in the intervening dimension to the Yeerks and not their hosts. "All right. I will meet you back here once I've moved my kingdom. I'll be identifying people who will make suitable hosts, do you have Yeerks who can be agreeable enough towards their hosts that an Elf I order to cooperate is likely to not die?"
"Willing to at least pretend to adopt a posture of 'I am impressed with you and it speaks well of you that your King chose you for this, we are allies working together', willing to let them sing occasionally. I think that'd be enough to keep someone alive indefinitely but it's probably the minimum."
Pop. "These are my people. I would be delighted to provide hosts in the spirit of this alliance, but if you take them without my leave that would damage the trust between us. Unrelatedly, your host's crying and shrieking is likely to be vaguely upsetting to everyone within ten miles."
And he considers for a while and calls someone into his office and tells them that he's been hiding from his people for a long time the activities of the interdimensional collective which has been wavering on whether to oust and execute him, and that Independence is now safely out from under them by coalition with another people subjected to the same treatment, a people who innately have no senses and cannot see or sing or experience the beauty of the world without taking a host. And it is in the interests of this kingdom to help the Yeerks in this brief time before they are independent through the use of daeva, and to help them especially by lending eyes and hands and expertise, and is he willing to give the budding alliance a decade's service as a Yeerk's companion?
It does not take forty-eight hours to find two convinced Elves. He teleports them over to Issiak.
Issiak's new host is nervous, but he served on the front lines of the war against Melkor, facing a fate infinitely worse than death, for King and country, and he keeps reminding himself of this, and he is certainly regarding himself as a volunteer for an onerous duty and not as a prisoner. He promised the King a decade's service and he can do that, assuming they go pretty places and sing occasionally.
Yes, yes, osanwë will save enough time to be worth it. (Issiak does not put it in these terms to his host.)
The Yeerks get to work building a Kandrona generator; they don't have an infinite supply of the vegetative substitute and it would be nice not to cut it too close waiting on the demons.
Independence throws a festival. Elves are actually more willing than humans to be hosts, both because they're more obedient to their King and because they can keep talking to their friends and working on their projects. Someone determines that you can even enchant metal while a host and at that point there's a great deal of demand for Yeerks, assuming said Yeerks are willing to keep to-be-enchanted rings on their fingers, so the inventors can focus on their enchanting and not worry about sustenance and maintenance of their house and home. Elves are mostly interested in decade-long contracts; the interested humans are mostly not willing to commit that much time.
Midnight writes the peal. Letter to Cam: there's a recording of me swearing to the truth of the contents of this letter. We have no designs on you and yours. We would simply like to live independently of you. If you escalate our peaceful departure from your realm into a war, that war would harm many innocents; if you do not do that, we have no intention of disrupting your governance of people who want to live under you.
And he finds a audio recorder in the lightleaper and swears to the contents of the letter.
Two strangers appear in an empty field near a Yeerk pool. Humans, tall ones, a man and a woman, holding hands, both wearing obviously-magical glowing pendants. He's got a coily green thing like a very abstract snake, that tells onlookers about his warm heart and cynical, fatalistic sense of humour; she's got a ripply orange-pink rectangle that tells onlookers about her insatiable curiosity.
When the strangers wake up, they are confused and alarmed!
Their names are Sehana Irtezi Daeredh and Oravith-kelinre Aliharno Tyela. They are from a world called Nuime, which has never heard of the peal, although it's heard of an Arda. They are dimensional scouts. Sehana Daeredh - 'sehana' means refuge or sanctuary - was supposed to keep his wife safe from assorted strange hazards while she hopped them from world to world looking for interesting new places. He has no idea how the stun got past his defenses. He's pretty sure the world is doomed. Tyela, meanwhile, is too panicked to even think about that.
Sehana Daeredh's soul has a major passive shielding effect that protects him and anyone he touches against all sorts of things, not including the stun effect the Yeerks got him with but including most kinds of bodily harm and mind-affecting magic. He, or a Yeerk working through him, can extend the effect into a green-glowing aura with a radius of about six feet, but it takes serious concentration. His active soul powers are minor telekinesis and the ability to make sounds louder or quieter within about ten feet of him; both are Yeerk-accessible.
Tyela's soul has a teleportation power which only recently extended to work between dimensions. Her Yeerk can operate it as well as she can. Her soul also gives her a perfect memory and enhanced vision, which her Yeerk can access just as well as she does, although the Yeerk does not get a perfect memory of its own just from inhabiting her. She doesn't see quite as well as an Elf, but it's close.
Daeredh keeps himself entertained by imagining all the possible ways this unexpected development could lead to the world being doomed. It's not hard to think of a few. If the Yeerks took Emperor Esarkan, they'd have Nuime, and the Emperor's security arrangements take into account the fact that he considers assassination a form of peaceful protest. (Emperor Esarkan is very immortal.)
Tyela's chosen coping mechanism, once she gets past her initial panic, is to remember all the facts about rocks that she knows. She knows so, so many facts about rocks.
Well, this is promising. If the peal is chasing them then having magic powers the peal doesn't know to expect is pretty important.
The Yeerks send the King a courtesy notification and Issiak puts together a small strike force with which to collect Emperor Esarkan. The fact that the souls world knows of a Flat Arda complicates matters - osanwë does Yeerk detection - but should be possible to work around.
Some peaceful protestors with stunners and little sloshy containers make their way to Emperor Esarkan.
If you start doing this sort of thing to my subjects, I'm going to be increasingly annoyed with you. I can afford to be forgiving, but my mercy is not infinite. I have no idea of your numbers or your capabilities besides what you have demonstrated to me, but I will be very, very surprised if anything you've got can hold up against Dawn-shining Taliar.
He can guess that they've got the scouts - he should've sent Nezhefena; Nezhefena would've been safe - and he's pretty sure they got this notion from Sehana Daeredh's tendency to catastrophize. Well, as a counterbalance, he can point out to them that Elaneth-imire Kazaryne Taliar swats gods like flies. If these people want to try capturing Taliar, they are welcome to do so. Esarkan expects to be highly entertained by Taliar's account of their defeat.
That's all right. Esarkan is very patient. He can wait for them to surrender or be destroyed, whichever comes first.
His soul's powers are almost universally passive; the immortality takes up most of it, and the rest is a sort of general sense of how his empire is doing, with an attentional boost that lets him keep track of it all. When his occupant doesn't respond further immediately, he turns his attention to contemplating the input from that sense. He is completely unworried.
This works for the first fourteen soulbearers they try.
And then the fifteenth one wakes up just like the rest, and screams internally much like the rest, and is promptly engulfed in white-hot flames, which is new and different. The Yeerk pool where this operation is being conducted is vaporized in the blast. Outlying buildings are scattered across the countryside in molten flaming pieces. For twenty miles in every direction, the heat cooks birds in the sky and fuses soil into glass.
The Kandrona generator range is not actually that big. That's all the pools and all the Yeerks in them at the moment boiled away. There's still the ship tank with the vegetation supply, and anyone who was in a host and farther away than that; that's all. They scramble to figure out what happened; they send someone to summon the baby daeva-Yeerk casualties; they send the King word -
He hops over to somewhere within Elf-sight of her but well outside the apparent radius. He's also outside osanwë-range, inconveniently. He watches her anxiously. There's that other habitable planet to teleport her to if she looks likely to blow up his kingdom.
There is presumably a soulbearer somewhere inside that enormous white fireball. It shrinks slowly; molten glass begins to cool at the edges, pingpingping.
And then, abruptly and without warning, a lightning-fast lance of flame darts out toward the King, obliterating everything in its path. It's a mere sixty feet in diameter, so there will at least be less collateral damage on this one.
Your husband has been kidnapping soulbearers, she says, and sends him the memories - waking up a prisoner in her own body, blasting everything in range, inhabiting the fire of her soul and finally seeing him show up to watch. If you want to resurrect him and ask why, I won't stop you.
Shadows enfold them - Aeleva is with Corino, standing on an ice sheet in the middle of the open ocean - she doesn't even unwrap herself from the shadows, just vanishes right back into them to emerge in Arda in front of Taliar and Maitimo.
"I'm to bring you to your parents," she says to Taliar. "Emergency."
Taliar supposes that if he were being maximally merciful he would make some attempt to communicate with the brain slugs before he kills them all -
- but he means to have general resurrection someday and their tactics do not advertise an ability to negotiate in good faith.
He reaches out his senses. He burns slugs.
They go away.
He contacts the spirit.
Hi. I'm Dawn-shining Taliar. If you want me to resurrect you, come this way— and a path to follow.
(He is having serious trouble with the notion of a Maitimo under mind-altering oaths - his thoughts keep flinching away from it, it hurts to think about - he needs to get his head together, this is an emergency, but oh that poor Maitimo, no Taliar of his very own and brain-slugs all over his kingdom and mind-altering oaths...)
A moment later when that Maitimo regains his senses, he is lying in an improbable patch of fresh soft grass amid the charred flaming wreckage that is the rest of this area. The whole area is bathed in a gentle golden light emanating from Taliar's soul, and the light carries the soul's sense-of-personality - his drive to bring freedom and happiness and fulfillment and exaltation to everyone, his cheerful love of accomplishing the impossible, his integrity and insight and compassion and cleverness, his inexhaustible will.
And there must be a Silmaril around here somewhere, or - no, that's the soul hanging around this other Maitimo's neck, the Maitimo against whom Taliar is fretfully huddled; and the sense-of-personality in his soul is faint and slow and subtle, a whisper under Taliar's shout, but still enough to distinguish him as one of Midnight's type.
Also they're married. They are very much married. It somehow shows in Taliar's entirely human eyes, and there's a hint of it in the light of his soul too, if that wasn't enough.
He's letting the new Maitimo see all his thoughts - it would just feel wrong to do otherwise - and mostly right now his thoughts are concern for the new Maitimo's well-being. He knows one shouldn't rush newly reembodied Elves, but he so desperately wants this impossible duplicate of his husband to be okay, how can he help him be okay...
He organizes his memories of relevant information: brain slugs captured his Emperor and kidnapped his mother, his mother exploded at them, his mother thought this Maitimo was the one she knows and in her rage concluded that he was in league with the brain slugs and killed him - she's still a little iffy on their relationship because of all the rape and torture, even though Taliar himself is fine with it - and then she got in contact with Taliar and he killed all the brain slugs in Nuime and came here and killed all the brain slugs in this Arda except for the inexplicably indestructible ones and then he erased this Maitimo's oaths and resurrected him. Sorry if he wanted to keep any of those, but some of them were mind-altering and Taliar kind of freaked out. He can re-swear any that he wants back.
...and what do you mean by another necklace?
I had an eidetic memory necklace that gave me an interdimensional teleport, I would like to have it back. The genocide in your dimension sounds like it was unavoidable but most of the Yeerks in my dimension were children and all of them were partnered with consenting hosts.
Everything else he is still processing and is not going to comment on.
I somewhat regret being so hasty about it, but given the information I had at the time, leaving any of them alive wasn't worth the risk.
(They can go on the internal list alongside all the baby orcs from when he cleaned out Angband, and someday when he has general resurrection and has built enough paradises to hold everyone he'll bring them all back...)
I can get you another necklace if you know where to find one that isn't in use, or if you can get me the instruction set I can make you one pretty trivially.
Taliar isn't actually categorically immune to things. He'd be moderately inconvenienced if someone dropped another mountainside on him. But in any case the risk is more about the things he doesn't know: he doesn't know in detail how interdimensional transportation works between any set of worlds that isn't Nuime and his husband's Arda, he doesn't know any of the capabilities of the brain slugs except for taking over people's brains and those strange weapons they knocked people out with.
If they had access to an interdimensional teleport capable of taking passengers, and were willing to sacrifice someone to it or had a way to survive the trip, and were very quick-thinking, they could've put Taliar way out in the airless void between the stars, in this world or some other one, and then they could've grabbed all the dead souls from that crater over there and a couple of soulbearers with resurrection powers and run off to yet another world where Nezhefena wouldn't be able to easily follow them unless they happened to steal a soulbearer she had met. If they had other powers he hasn't even thought of, they could have done other things he can't predict.
They came into his world unannounced and started kidnapping and enslaving his people using terrifying otherworldly powers, and Esarkan suggested that they surrender before Taliar found them, and instead they kidnapped and attempted to enslave Taliar's mother. This implies both that their interests were very fundamentally hostile to his, and that they thought they could take him.
He does regret killing all those people. But he stands by his risk assessment.
(he doesn't have a Taliar - given the circumstances of their meeting he probably doesn't want one but Taliar is nonetheless strongly tempted to ask his soul for some kind of self-duplication power - it's painful to know you could make someone so happy, if things were just a little different - )
I guess I don't, he says. Where's Nezhefena - ah, she's over in the crater, picking up the souls of the soulbearers Aeleva incinerated and taking them back home to be resurrected. We can go as soon as Shadow-cloaked Nezhefena finishes collecting the dead. If you're interested in further contact with Nuime, and I don't blame you if you aren't, you can visit Esarkan's palace or send a representative - will your interdimensional teleport take you there without trouble? He's visited the palace with Maitimo, he has crystal-clear memories of it, it looks like so. Esarkan won't hold a grudge even if he thinks you condoned or supported the invasion, which he probably will because he tends to assume the worst of people until proven otherwise.
He murdered my people. If they hadn't been slugs, if you'd been invaded by a human civilization with scary powerful capabilities, would he have popped into their home dimension and turned them all to ash - because if so, I should put him in vacuum somewhere, that's how the Valar reacted when someone tried to invade Valinor -
(he sends this to Taliar, too, because why not -)
Maybe he should ask his soul for general resurrection first, then.
He doesn't know what he would've done if it had been humans. The nature of the brain slugs was relevant on multiple levels - they're really easy to tell apart from things that are not brain slugs; the population was small; he couldn't actually tell that their children were children, or he would've left those ones alone; given their displayed tactics, once Taliar got over his instinctive aversion to thinking about a Maitimo being enslaved by a brain slug, it seemed rather more plausible that they had invaded this Arda the same way they invaded Nuime than that they were here by the King's leave...
I didn't say I was going to, I said I don't want one. The additional safety against interdimensional invasion doesn't seem worth the risk that any attempted interdimensional invaders will be instantly extinguished as a species. Unless their infants are conveniently distinguishable to human senses. I have a lot of work to do; we were in the middle of a lot of important work and most of it's now lost but some might be salvageable. Does his world have computers?
There's another habitable planet in this dimension, I was going to take whoever had caused the giant horrible fireball there so she didn't hurt my people but then she murdered me - you can put them there - although they'll starve without a generator and no one alive knows how to make one -
Taliar remembers his mother's perspective on the event. Terrified and bewildered and utterly lost to rage, and there he was looking like a confirmation of all her worst fears... if he wants an apology from her, he won't have trouble getting one, once she's had some time to calm down.
If they'll starve without something that no one alive knows how to make, it sounds like mere general resurrection won't adequately solve the problem of them being dead and I'm going to need something more complicated. Should I go away and assume that if you want to talk about it you can send someone to Esarkan's palace and ask for me?
He is going to cry on his husband for a good long while at the next available opportunity - no amount of practical necessity is ever going to make killing children feel okay, and it's worse somehow that he didn't even know - at least with the baby orcs he knew he was doing it, and knew for sure that he could bring them back one day... well. Someday he will have general resurrection, and someday he will have a solution to the other practical issues, and that won't make it okay but it'll be a good start. (Are the ones he couldn't burn going to starve to death, that's horrible - well, if this Maitimo wants his help with it he knows how to ask - and he's not going to want his help with it because Taliar is just a Vala to him, and that hurts too, he's failed so badly at such a fundamental part of who he is - he could've made this Maitimo so happy...)
He catches Nezhefena's eye and nods to her.
He hugs him. "He killed them all instantly. Turns out that the alternate universe version of me's planet had an agreement where consenting people'd host the slug things and in exchange the slug things, which were from a much more technologically advanced civilization, would teach them their technology. It is unclear if my alt knew that on your planet they were kidnapping unconsenting people, I don't think he had any influence over what they did but he didn't consider himself out from under a threat either. And he can't stand Taliar, which I should have predicted - love, I'm sorry -"
"Does my emperor need me for anything else or can I go cuddle my husband somewhere—"
(and he's not actually sure how powerful the copy would be - might depend how he went about it - if they'd met a new Maitimo under more congenial circumstances and he'd looked at Taliar and decided he definitely wanted one, Taliar thinks his preferred approach would've been to sit down with him and explain everything about himself and his relationship with his husband, and then create a copy of himself from exactly the moment before he arrived in Arda, and tell the copy 'hello, I'm you from a year in the future and I'm matchmaking you with this inexplicable duplicate of my husband, I swear on my soul it'll all work out'... that copy would have the same power level Taliar had when he arrived in Arda, he's sure.)
And now Taliar would very much like to be picked up and carried off to his family's rooms in the palace where he is very sure they will be left alone to snuggle as long as they like.
He's - you, as far as I can tell, he's exactly you but a less lucky you - I want you to be happy and I want other people who are you to also be happy and I have the means to make people-who-are-you very very happy in a way I'm not sure anyone or anything else can. Of course I want to do that. But - I'm not just going to drop a copy of myself in his lap and walk away with no explanation - it'd be a disaster, they have no Melkor to fight, and without that I need him to be actively in favour of the project, the other me won't be able to look past the thing with Findekano if it's still going on - if it's not still going on and I swear on my soul that they're going to be happy together, the other me will stay with him even after finding out, but I can't think of many other ways around that, and I can't swear on my soul that they're going to be happy together unless I genuinely believe it's a sure thing. Which I would if I hadn't completely fucked everything up with the other you before ever meeting him.
It's not absolutely certain that he would, but it's pretty likely. And - some of the things that got us to where we are -
Soul-touching, bad days, rape and torture - those are not things Taliar would've agreed to if he'd arrived in a peaceful kingdom with his happily married future self offhandedly suggesting he date the king. If he swears on his soul that it'll work out, that's enough of an assurance for the other Taliar to decide to - put all of himself into the attempt. And Taliar is pretty sure that Taliars who are going to successfully date Maitimos need to do that. Theirs is not the kind of success that can be duplicated in half-measures; it's all or nothing.
...he might, but I could also see him, for example, killing himself out of spite... I'm pretty sure it's not feasible to prevent him from doing that, all he'd need to do is want it the right way, wait three days, and then ever be conscious and in his right mind again.
I suspect that if we tell my alt that could happen my alt'd be more careful than that - I was, with Findekáno - but I understand why you don't want to rely on my alt's ability to manage him into trying when my alt doesn't like you and might honestly just hurt him for fun -
- actually, that's exactly what he'd do, my alt'd resent being manipulated and decide to prove that he wouldn't like his you and he could get his you to hate him, just to hurt the real you -
...depends how hard he tries, I guess... if I was sending a copy of me into that I'd give him all my memories of you and explain the situation and let him decide whether he wanted to risk it, and if he went in, he would end up either killing himself or succeeding, I think.
They have arrived in his family's rooms and now he can curl up in his husband's lap. He does that.
Well. How do we get your alt to accept the gift of a me? I could give him all my memories of you, in the hope that he will come to understand the appeal... of course it'll also give him an in-depth guide to refer to if he wants to try to break his Taliar out of spite...
I have all these lovely memories of our relationship to convince him with, he says.
Show him the explanation of why Maitimo is not Nahira, show him both bad days, show him trust songs, show him soul contact from its best moments to its worst - if it works, if he's convinced enough to try it at all, he'll go in with his soul already willing to pretend it is being touched by strangers for Maitimo-alt's benefit. And he will go in competitive, wanting to prove that he can handle anything the first Taliar could.
He shudders. There's a part of him that feels like that would be preferable to having committed near-genocide. But then Nuime would've been vulnerable without him - Nezhefena could've pulled him out of a sun but they might've been able to use some sort of interdimensional trickery to make him harder to find, delay her until they could get away with a bunch of soulbearers to enslave... he was right. It's just that being right doesn't make it okay. If he was really the person he aspires to be, he would've figured out some clever way to guarantee everyone's safety long enough to negotiate a truce.
I love you too, says Taliar. He hugs his brilliant beautiful husband and manages a smile. So much. Forever. All right, let's plan out exactly how we are going to send my alt to seduce yours. Are you going to wait until he shows up to talk about something and then bring it up - is he going to show up to talk about something...
Be a little awkward to send an 'are you sure you don't want a present' through a diplomatic representative...
...and on a mostly unrelated note, it occurs to him that in the time between creating his alt and sending his alt to go seduce Maitimo's, there will be two Taliars around here... he's pretty sure that being borrowed before he's sent away will if anything help convince the second Taliar to go, if Maitimo would like to indulge himself and if he thinks his alt won't mind...
...also he should come up with a distinguishing name for the second Taliar. A different soulname, maybe, it's the most obvious thing. But his runner-up was Raika-linsi and the connotations seem really unhelpful, not to mention painfully ironic if the copy is going to be created as of the moment when Taliar's soul was the dimmest it's ever been...
The Elf introduces herself and says that the multiverse is big, hundreds of discovered planets, and most of it ruled by this well-intentioned but very overbearing collection of extremely powerful meddlers, and the collection had decided to deny Independence technologies like space travel and computers (computers are like this) and Independence had decided to skip a couple dimensions over and out of their influence, and they took a few hundred infants with them who would have grown up to have some of the powers that would make it possible to interact safely with the multiverse but, um.
The Elf understands why Taliar decided to just wipe out the whole species but anyway now they have no access to spellbinders and all the useful things they can do and no access to anyone who can explain advanced technology and they're trying to figure out how to reconstruct and would like to let their neighbors know what's going on.
"Well, your neighbours thank you for the courtesy," says Esarkan. "In your opinion, would it be worthwhile for me to send someone looking for these meddlers of yours and see if they'll be more generous to me than they were to you? I'll be happy to pass on the benefits if it works."
"Looking for them is straightforward; we can take them to you if you'd like. The path from your world to their collective runs through us, though, and the King tentatively expects they'll execute him on sight at this point, so we'd want a week's warning to move our world again to somewhere they can't find it. Our assessment is that if you don't mention us they will be happy to meet you and probably willing to share computers and almost certainly unwilling to share for example the interdimensional teleport, though that we can share with you ourselves."
"Certainly. They have mind-readers not limited by osanwë's, ah, politeness, but there are no instances known to us of them using it without consent save against known enemies and in the middle of a war. If in a week you have some scouts ready to 'stumble upon' the collective we can arrange for that."
"Oh, it's much worse than that, there's ten of us. The multiverse has recurring patterns, and Arda is one such pattern. About one in every fifty worlds you land on if you go world-hopping is an Arda, and they have all the same people in them. I've never heard of a parallel for Nuimë or any other versions of you, but my access to information about the multiverse was extremely restricted."
Quite a lot. Here are the worlds in the multiverse; here is their magic, which they won't give out to prevent acquiring unwanted competitors for power, here is how they met, scared the evil god Maitimo had a ceasefire with into running off to a torture dimension, asked Maitimo to dismantle his kingdom so they could execute him without disrupting anything, backtracked on that after a couple years and said they'd only do that if they had a superior solution for running his country. And then an anxious decade while they tried to learn anything at all about the technology and magic their world was being denied.
"Then they encountered the world to which the Yeerks were native and decided to go to war with them. I know almost nothing of the war, and knew nothing at all of it until a Yeerk controlling an Elf with the teleport spell arrived, asked to see me, and asked if I would ally with him in escaping the peal. I agreed, teleported my world over here, helped them give birth to a few hundred spellbinder-potential Yeerks and a few hundred daeva-potential Yeerks, and resettled us in Independence. The Yeerks had agreements with consenting hosts in my kingdom. I was notified that scouts from your dimension had landed on top of them and that they were sending people after them, and then a giant fireball swallowed most of them and Taliar killed the rest, which I would say would teach them a valuable lesson but they are not around to learn it.
So the peal knows that I aided the Yeerks in departing their jurisdiction and might suspect, if they hear about the Yeerks, that I'm somewhere to be found, but I don't think that'd color their impression of you too badly if you did decide you preferred to share it."
"I find that it's generally simplest to tell as few lies as possible," he says. "So, the brain slugs showed up and tried to conquer my world, and Dawn-shining Taliar dealt with them. This made me curious and cautious, which is why I'm sending Shadow-cloaked Nezhefena scouting to find out where they might have come from and whether there might be any more on the way. Does that sound to you like it'll hold up?"
"I am mildly surprised they didn't. They hadn't independently been doing any conquering, they must have realized they had more to lose than to gain - I think they had a very unhealthy incentive structure back in their original universe, the commander-executes-you-for-failure sort, and perhaps they never shook themselves out of it."
"Spellbinders when they're born have a sort of - phantom spirit animal, who only they can interact with, and who they can instantiate in the real world once they're older. No magic resurrection method known to me gets a dead familiar back or restores someone with their familiar."
"There are details of the first part that aren't common knowledge, because they would tend to alarm people. The second thing, I'm told, has to do with them both being soulbearers. The metaphysics of Elven marriage don't interest me especially, so I declined to ask for details."
"Excellent. Where do I meet him - also, in the case interdimensional contact goes poorly, do you want or is there someone you would designate to have the teleport? It can pick up a whole planet or anything less than that, fairly good specificity, and it has a range of anywhere in this or adjacent dimensions."
"If the supply is limited, I want Nezhefena to have it. If the supply is slightly less limited than that, Nezhefena and myself. If I get three, the third will be Taliar. Corino spends most of his time at the Elven settlement these days, but I expect he'd prefer to meet you here."
"The Yeerks in my world had an agreement with me that they'd take only consenting hosts, for fixed durations of time, and they'd teach us the technology of their lost homeworld. That works better in our world than yours because everyone has osanwë and a non-consenting host could easily make themself known. There were also a lot of Yeerk children. The, ah, explosion killed many of them, and Taliar on arriving killed all the rest. He then resurrected me, and was - concerned for me - and I told him that however strategically defensible the genocide I had friends to grieve and hoped he'd go away."
"I don't think it's your approval he was looking for, exactly," says Corino. "You're more or less the same person as his husband. He wants you to be happy. He regrets bringing you grief. Separately, he also regrets killing the Yeerks and especially their children. He grieves any time he finds himself in a situation where not everyone can come out alive and happy and safe; he grieves more when he has to harm someone to protect someone else. And then he does his best to make sure that next time he'll do better and no one will need to get hurt at all."
"They met when Taliar was inexplicably transported from Nuime to my son-in-law's Arda. They were having a problem with an evil god. Taliar offered to help. Then he fell in love. I'm missing some of the details, but they had been together for some time when Taliar found out that Maitimo's other boyfriend was being kept against his will. He didn't take it well. And... Do you know what happens when someone touches a soulbearer's soul?"
"It's considered the worst imaginable form of torture. People who have had it happen to them usually can't even describe the experience afterward, but they all tend to agree that they'd rather die than experience it again. While it's happening it's completely incapacitating; the soulbearer can't move or think or use their magic at all."
He smiles slightly.
"I don't know exactly what the shape of the dilemma was, although I could guess. I do know that Taliar's solution was to take off his soul-necklace and throw it at him."
His guesses are hard to put into words, so he sends them as thoughts. He's got it about right; he knows his son very well.
"After that, well, Taliar hasn't told me how they got to where they were when I first saw them together—" he sends the memory "—but I know that it involved a lot of that same willingness to make himself overwhelmingly vulnerable, and I know that Taliar doesn't regret any of it in the slightest. He's made that very clear."
"Ah. My son and his husband are... very, very good for each other. I don't think it would be a stretch to say they are each the best thing in the other's life. And I expect that when Taliar saw you, he wanted to give you a chance at that same happiness, and he regretted making such an awful first impression because it meant that you'd have every reason to reject the gift."
"After the war, Maitimo had Taliar erase Findekano's oaths, resurrect his family and a hundred or so of their friends and associates, and send them all to live in Nuime. They're settling in nicely; I'm working as their liaison because I'm two thousand years old and therefore just about patient enough to avoid rushing them."
I'm not even really upset about it for its own sake, Da called that one right - what upsets me is that I could make him so happy, and - he doesn't want me to - and I don't want to disregard that just because I think I know better, but, well, we definitely know better...
I ended up deciding to have him because he'd spent weeks wandering around my castle bubbling with how much he was in love with me, and Findekáno'd been out for a year and a half, and I thought, well, why not, he's easy to please and so obedient and he adores me - and he was, he was a delight, uncomplicated - his world doesn't have any taboos on it - and new to everything and convinced he was the luckiest boy in the world - and then he found out about Findekáno and his soul magic collapsed on him - it runs off how virtuous he thinks he's being. He was completely helpless. He's willing to give you one at that point, if you won't give him a try unless he's helpless.
Maybe, yeah... I'm definitely concerned with making sure not to tell my alt anything that'll end up making it harder for him when yours inevitably reads it in his head. Like, I have the feeling that if I show my alt the night my soul acknowledged you, I might as well not send him at all. I don't know how right I am about that, though, your alt is really hard for me to predict.
If my alt thought we were trying something along those lines, he'd get enormously offended and refuse to go. Or he'd go but he'd be trying to prove he could make your alt happy without changing him at all. I actually don't think I can stand to let my alt think that about me, though, even if that turned out to be the right attitude to send him with.
The way to get him there is to tell him that we are both happier than we imagined possible, and we think he has a chance to find that same happiness with your alt, so we want to give him to your alt as a present. And we have to warn him that the possibilities range from torture to being apparently-ignored-occasionally-analyzed. He'll tell me he should tell us both to go fuck ourselves, and then... I send him some memories of our relationship, to make the point about how happy we are and to give him a foundation for being able to love your alt the way he is, and I tell him that no matter what he thinks he's strong enough to handle whatever your alt does to him, and I maybe challenge him to prove it, and -
- he starts giggling.
If he does turn us down, how would you feel about keeping two of me? Because I am absolutely the sort of person where if I can honestly offer him that option, he'll look at the choice between being happy with us forever and going off to suffer enormously for a chance at maybe having the same sort of thing with your alt, and he'll want the second one more. I am so hopelessly myself, Maitimo.
Taliar kisses him. I love you. Okay. So we tell him that, and I bet he'll want to try being yours to see what it's like, and then I bet he'll be dissatisfied because there's another you out there who doesn't have one of him and all he has to do to fix that is go hand your alt his soul.
Taliar considers his memories.
...Has to be from between the moment my soul failed and the moment you told me you loved me. Anytime after that would make it much harder for him, and if there's anything after that point that we need him to know I can send him the memory and it won't be the same as having actually experienced it. Maybe I'll take him from right before he woke up that morning, and have him wake up in Nuime somewhere with me right there to explain things and you a short distance away to come in and meet him when he's ready for that...
If we tell him what Nahira's flower was and your alt decides to torture him with them, he'll get very me about it and it'll actually be easier for him to handle overall than if your alt just ignores him for weeks. It'll be awful but - it'll give him something to push against. Have I mentioned I am very hopelessly myself?
Although that does bring up a question of... how your alt is going to react to various levels of knowledge my alt could have about the ways you've tortured me. If I tell him nearly everything and my alt goes in convinced he's emotionally invincible, is yours going to try to prove him wrong - if I tell him hardly anything and he goes in knowing I've been through some shit but not what it was, is your alt going to end up giving him a nasty surprise - I think it was ultimately good for me that you undershot my first bad day, and if your alt isn't going to undershoot, I want mine to be prepared for that, but I don't want him to go in neatly wrapped up and labeled 'bet you can't break him', you know?
Not right now, but I'm assuming there's going to be torture at some point or why are we even bothering...
He pauses. He reviews what he just said.
...I mean - not that the torture is the point, but the degree of investment that leads to it - if he never cares that much, the gift will have failed.
Well, all right then. Okay. So I can tell him what Nahira's flower was and, hmm, I could see him going either way on how much he wants to know about all the torture, I can ask him about that...
He tries to build a mental list of all the things he's going to need to tell his alt. He should tell his alt about the identity song so his alt's soul will let Maitimo's alt inflict imaginary strangers on it and they won't ever have to use actual strangers. He should tell his alt that trust songs get him high because the context that got Taliar willing to try that at all was really specific and they might not stumble on it by themselves particularly not if Maitimo's alt is being really distant with him at first. He should tell his alt what Maitimo said about what he wanted, that first day, because it'll help put his alt in the right mental place to decide to hand the other Maitimo his soul.
Can you think of anything I could tell him that seems like it'd particularly help your alt figure out what the appeal of having a Taliar is...?
They should definitely do this in Nuime, for immediate and tangible proof that Taliar's fork is not waking up in the same situation he went to sleep in. Taliar internally debates whether to use his childhood home or his family's rooms at the palace, and finally decides that the house in the mountains runs too high a risk of encountering his grandfather. The palace suite will do. He can tell his father they shouldn't be disturbed and his father will arrange for them not to be.
So he sits on the edge of his bed in the palace, and closes his eyes, and remembers...
...and the light of his soul collects and solidifies into another Taliar, curled up sleeping right next to him. He is close enough to hug and he looks like he could use one.
As tends to happen with people embodied by the power of Taliar's soul, he isn't wearing any clothes. He was created with nothing but his body and his... soul...
...which is surely around here somewhere...
"The war is over, everything is fine, I killed Melkor and married Maitimo and it all turned out better than you can possibly imagine," he says. "But don't get excited just yet, because I'm about to convince you to do something nobody in their right mind would willingly do."
He has... complicated feelings about this. That's definitely a version of him who is deeply, happily in love - and Maitimo must be a soulbearer because that affectionate hint of Silmaril-light in the married Taliar's soul couldn't possibly have come from anywhere else - but his last memory of Maitimo is -
"Why me in particular, why this moment in particular? What do you need a maximally powerless Taliar for?"
Ah, fuck it.
"We encountered another Arda and it has its own Maitimo and I want to give him a present because I think we're the best thing that can possibly happen to them but he hates me because he had some allies who invaded Nuime and I killed them all."
He should've expected something like this. Convincing his fork to do things was never going to be like rearranging his own head - his own head tends to more or less hold still for him while he messes with it; his fork is definitely not doing that - but he's keeping on top of it, it's just surprising.
"I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Maitimo and I are happier than either of us could've imagined being. And I want to give that to the other one, but he won't take a me who's a sun-bright god-killer, he's a Maitimo, and he doesn't like me. So if you're lucky he'll torture you, if you're not he'll ignore you, listen in on your head once in a while to try to figure out how you're put together, decide in his own time whether he wants anything to do with you. And I can't even tell you for sure it'll work, he might decide he doesn't - we don't think so, but it's not a sure thing. And if he does want you, it'll be better than you're refraining from imagining, but not necessarily by much."
...He thinks about it.
He should obviously just say 'fuck you both', get dressed, pick up his soul, find his mother, and tell her to keep both these lunatics away from him by any means necessary. If they're in as good a place as they say, they won't stop him, and if they do stop him, he'll know what to expect from their lovely vision of eternity.
But fuck it all, he loves Maitimo, deeply and truly, for very good reasons. No matter how much that hurts, it's still true.
He nestles into the blankets and looks up at his - creator - and says, "Anybody ever tell you you don't play fair?"
He closes his eyes.
A thought half-occurs to him and it's insane it makes no sense he's not supposed to be this self-destructive but he can't get it out of his head - what the fuck does he think he's doing -
- he says to Maitimo, I would like you to bring me my soul, please.
"Thank you," he says, sitting up and taking it from the pillowcase.
He honesly expected Maitimo to just pick it up with his bare hands, but this works too, in a way - he turns and offers it to the other Taliar, saying, "We'll never live with ourselves if we don't find out what happens. And I assume yours is self-protecting already."
It's not like having his soul touched by an entirely different person, but it's - definitely not nothing - he's half out of his senses, but only half - his suspicion and admiration and envy and affection and annoyance and trust for his other self are all filling up his soul but he can still see and think and breathe - "wow," he says hazily, "wow."
Well, by the nature of soul contact, he'll have to let go to find out if they worked. The fork's soul doesn't visibly object, at least.
Also, his husband is over there giggling with his face in his hands, insulated from the songs by a touch of silver light. I should have expected this, why didn't I expect this, everything is going to work out exactly the way I planned but in the meantime he is going to fuck with us at every turn, there was no way that was ever not going to happen...
It's like -
He really really wants to be a part of this amazing relationship. He wants it so much. He envies them both - adores them both - and he's wryly aware that he's almost certainly going to take the other choice, but in the meantime he is so deeply fulfilled and delighted by being wrapped up between them like this - he was not expecting this outcome when he threw his soul at Maitimo, he just instinctively knew that if Maitimo was deliberately refraining from touching his soul the only way he was going to get him to do it would be to throw it at him instantly the moment the impulse crossed his mind - having his alt in the mix seems to pull him out of it a little, give him slightly more affordance for complex thoughts, although he hasn't exactly done this very often so he isn't sure - it's nice, it's lovely, the soul-contact intimacy feels like a warm hug, is this how good it gets, no it isn't, if it can be this good he bets it can be so much better -
...you actually can't leave him like this all day, says Taliar, there's a background risk that his soul will acknowledge you like mine did and then you will have two sun-bright god-killers and no nice helpless Taliars to give your alt and my alt will be making fun of us for months - it's not going to happen under most circumstances but the thing that'll do it is if he either decides to definitely stay with us, or gets so wrapped up in being in love with you that he forgets there's another one out there waiting for him.
He takes his hand off his alt's soul.
He only stays dazed for a few seconds, and the first thing he does when he recovers his senses is dissolve into helpless giggles. He actually won - he loves Maitimo so much, he loves them both so much - and he has independently figured out that he needs to make sure he doesn't let his soul get carried away on that, and it's kind of difficult because getting carried away is so tempting, but he's managing it.
"Were we always this adorable?" wonders Taliar. "I think we might always be this adorable, but wow, it's much more visible from the outside. My love, what if I'm tempted to keep him?"
He is totally tempted to keep him. The three of them, forever - it would be amazing. But his alt is going to go try his luck with the other Maitimo, that's pretty clear by now.
He is getting such a clear picture of what they're like together and he has no idea how they got there - well, he knows one of the prerequisites, but how the hell they managed it is a total mystery.
"I need a soul necklace," he says. "Sun-bright, use your godlike power and get me a soul necklace."
...that's amazingly appropriate.
He goes to the window and leans out it and uses his land-shaping power to summon up a chain and setting more or less like his, and then he comes back and attaches them to Sun-dark's soul and hands him the resulting necklace without touching the soul at any point.
He holds up his soul on its chain and looks contemplatively at it for a few seconds and then puts it on the bedside table.
"I know what I'm going to decide but I haven't actually decided it yet," he says, "and I'm sure I've thrown all your careful plans for how to shape me into the perfect gift completely off-course, and there's no way I'm passing up the opportunity here. Much as it will tempt me to make the sane and reasonable choice. You were planning to have us both at some point during this carefully planned campaign of manipulation, weren't you?" he asks, grinning up at Maitimo (and never mind the sudden sharp pain of remembering just last night - how long ago was it really, he wonders - when Maitimo wanted to indulge himself with both of his boyfriends...)
"I observe that you're happy. It could not possibly be clearer that you're happy. I have no fucking idea how you pulled it off, but," he gestures at Dawn-shining's soul, bright-blazing evidence of their happiness. "If I were sensible and prudent I'd wait to understand it before I accepted it as an option, but if I were sensible and prudent I would've climbed out the window and fled by now."
"His soul gave me powers, and then the marriage added new ones - I can make it feel like an arbitrary number of strangers are holding his soul, I can make it feel like I'm touching him, I can set off these cascades that way - I'll have to be more creative with you but I somehow think I'll rise to the occasion -" He lets go of Taliar's soul but leaves the imagined strangers in place.
Sun-dark watches his alt lie there on the bed utterly insensate, consumed by agony. He can tell that it hurts more than he can even conceive of, and it's terrifying, and - the way Dawn-shining looked at Maitimo when he gave him his soul - he knew this was coming and he wanted it, looked forward to it -
"I want to learn how to do that," he says. He's obviously capable of that same depth of - strength, of acceptance-of-pain - and he has no idea how to get there and he really badly wants to and he suspects that it involves getting tortured until you don't care anymore and there's something so enthralling about the way Dawn-shining looks right now...
He looks up at Maitimo and - he just wants, without even any clear idea of what it is he's wanting. It almost doesn't matter.
It's lovely, of course, Maitimo singing is always so lovely.
And it's soothing.
...kind of suspiciously soothing actually.
Songs can do that?
Okay admittedly this feels fucking amazing but - "hey," he says with half-joking indignation, "give that back, I was having fun with it."
That sounds like a great idea.
A substantial part of the reason why that sounds like a great idea is probably literal mind control, wow.
"You can't have sprung this on him like this," he muses, "he has to have agreed to it, how the fuck did you manage that, you can't possibly have known ahead of time that it'd get us this high - did you? I'd be very impressed... wow. Wow. This is amazing. And I will never be able to look my emperor in the eye again if I follow objectively terrifying suggestions made while I'm high on artificial trust."
...so that's what he meant by a cascade -
Fear and amazement and love and delight and confusion and back to fear, and the determination to win by not letting the fear take over, and all of these things going off like fireworks and feeding on each other and looping back around and chain-reacting and none of it ever goes away he can't handle this he's going to fall apart - he's a Taliar he's a miracle he will be okay -
He notices, sort of distantly, that he's shaking a little.
Oh come on, he thinks, with affectionate half-joking disappointment, that was your one opportunity to talk me into something while I was high on trust songs without having known they existed beforehand, I can't believe you didn't even try -
You still picked up my soul, he points out. I love you.
And he has to be careful about loving him - he could easily let himself get carried away on the wings of that revelation, it's not like he couldn't have guessed but it's very different to hear him say it - has to keep in mind that there's another Maitimo out there who presumably does not have this quirk and might not ever and Sun-dark is going to go seduce him anyway because he is stupidly, dangerously, gloriously in love with this absolute marvel of a person.
I actually think I could've thought around it to get a genuinely accurate idea of whether I would've agreed without the trust songs and then gone with that, which is much more impressive and also trickier to predict without trying it, he says, laughing softly. I love you.
Listening to the trust song and knowing what it means is its own kind of fascinating - he feels nervous and he feels the nervousness fade away and he is gloriously high on this, it's amazing, he wonders if it even is this good for Dawn-shining, who actually trusts Maitimo very deeply and entirely independently, whereas Sun-dark trusts him mostly by proxy, it's a much bigger jump from one state to the other...
Bet I will, he says dreamily. It's lovely, it's perfect, Maitimo is amazing, he actually can't imagine anything better than this... it's fascinating how he wants Maitimo right now, intensely but not urgently, his patience is infinite, he is content to just lie there and be kissed and touched, to move only when Maitimo tells him to move...
Watching you two is even better than I thought it would be, and my expectations were high, he says. Also my fork is adorable, and you can count me in on being disappointed, if I'd been awake I'd've suggested you try it, as long as you had him on trust songs without warning anyway. How many opportunities are we ever going to get for you to have a Taliar on trust songs without warning? As soon as we've heard of the concept while sober it gets much easier to think around.
Dawn-shining is contemplating trying to talk his soul into branching a power for reading his fork's memories just so he won't have to interrupt Maitimo to ask for a more complete summary. He needs it for strategic reasons, arranging his alt into the right shape is delicate work and he has to have as much information as possible, but Maitimo is busy right now and Taliar is extremely reluctant to substantially divide his attention. It's so beautiful, they're both so beautiful - the look on Sun-dark's face is amazing, is that what Taliar looks like on trust songs, he's so - he can't even think of a word for it, in any language - he looks like he's having the time of his life, but in a really calm dreamy way, and yet at the same time intensely focused -
Dawn-shining Taliar loves his husband sooooo much. His husband is the best.
And then it is time for cuddles again. The Taliars snuggle up happily.
Still a few things I need to tell him, muses Dawn-shining, trying to decide the best way... do you want to explain what you used to get out of not caring about consent, or would it be better if I sent the memory of what you said?
He reaches over and ruffles his alt's hair. Prepare to be enlightened, he says, and then sends the memory, with approximate context of when it was being said and what they'd been talking about beforehand. He stops short of including what he did after Maitimo finished speaking.
His breath catches.
"Oh," he says quietly.
It's - it makes perfect sense - and if the Maitimo of the past was in front of him right now, Sun-dark would want to kiss him - would want to put his soul in his hand and drown in loving him - and that Maitimo is not here, and the Maitimo that Sun-dark is going to seduce doesn't even want his undying devotion - but the war is over and there's another entire Taliar to go around being Dawn-shining at things, and Sun-dark can afford to go hand his soul to Maitimo's sad alt and love him undeterrably.
Well, yeah. If I didn't think I'd do him any good, I wouldn't even be considering it. He reflects on this assertion for a moment, and then adds, Well, not seriously, anyway. There's definitely a part of me that just wants to find out how badly he can fuck me up, but that is not the part that gets to call the shots.
So Taliar sends him just a flash of the moment he stopped feeling safe.
That's the night of the first time I encountered daffodils in Arda. And it went just about as badly as it could've gone, and I handled it.
It's surprisingly easy to extrapolate the parts of the context he isn't being directly told - there's enough substance in the brief memory to get across the concept of hypothetical consent, and it all falls into place neatly from there.
Sun-dark contemplates the feeling in the memory. Like being made of nothing but willpower and pain.
He observes that he is really extremely tempted to get competitive about it. Anything his alt can handle, he can handle just as well. Better, with an example to learn from.
I am crazy, he announces. You're crazy. We're both crazy.
"Sounds about right."
He gives Maitimo a kiss.
"It is really very tempting to stay," he says. "There's no way I'm going to do it. But it's tempting. It's... this," he gestures at the three of them snuggled up comfortably together, "this is what I want to have. But being a present for your alt is what I want to do."
"Mm. No, I don't think so," he says. "Going off to seduce your alt means giving up the option of staying with you two, and I'm genuinely losing something there, it really won't be the same even if we end up just as adorable. But that's okay. It's hardly the most significant thing I'm giving up."
Implicit in his choice to go be the other Maitimo's present is the possibility that he might never regain the full power of his soul, and the other Maitimo might never decide to start respecting his consent. That's why his chosen soulname embraces the loss of power. He is the Taliar whose soul is in eclipse, and he'd better be okay with that, because if he isn't okay with that he should definitely stay.
Yeah, he says. Between what I want to have and what I want to do, the second one always wins.
'Have', in this context, is about things that are rewarding on the level of personal enjoyment. 'Do' is about things that are rewarding on the level of challenge and accomplishment, difficult things that work toward valuable goals. And he's a Taliar. The outcome is inevitable.
Dawn-shining thinks back to all the things they wanted to say to his fork. They've hit most of them, but - the imaginary strangers thing is just so absurdly perfect and convenient - he wonders if it's worth trying the identity song on Sun-dark, to make sure his soul gets the picture.
"Sure I can. I can even show you. The trouble is - well, here."
He sends the memory.
"I have a perfect memory for everything related to Maitimo and I still can't remember it right because it fucks me up that much. And it's what prompted my soul to figure out how to do the imaginary strangers thing, and the imaginary strangers thing is amazingly convenient."
It's immediately obvious why Dawn-shining wants to do this to him. If his soul doesn't have the imaginary strangers thing, the other Maitimo will just go have his soul touched by actual strangers if he wants to produce that effect, and doing it with a soul power is obviously preferable on a multitude of levels, it's more convenient and does not require involving strangers in one's sex life - but wow, the way that memory felt -
- on the other hand, if there are kinds of torture he's too afraid to try, perhaps he should reconsider his decision -
- but no, there's a difference between what he's willing to sign himself up for and what he wants, and he does not want to get that fucked up right now. So he doesn't have to.
On yet another hand, there's something he wants to do before they send him off...
He looks at Dawn-shining.
Kissing himself is new and different and interesting! And very enjoyable! He's not sure exactly how far they're going to take it, but it's nice. They're not reading each other's minds but they almost don't have to, they can just guess, there's no deficiency in communication.
They have a delightful time together.
There is an unspoken question of who is going to take the role normally reserved for Maitimo. It stays unspoken, because the answer is perfectly obvious to both of them: if it turns out to be something they like enough to end up missing it the rest of the time, Dawn-shining is better placed to handle that. Sun-dark is going to be dealing with quite enough already in the genre of Things He Might Like His Sex Life To Include Which For The Forseeable Future It Won't, and there's no call to risk adding another one, however trivial.
He does turn out to like it, but not that much. It's new and different and interesting and fun, but in a way that's not substantially different from the rest of the being-with-one's-alt experience. He will be just fine if it never happens again, or only happens again the next time he needs a fork for something.
Afterward, they curl up together and snuggle, and Sun-dark finds himself running his fingers over the scars on Dawn-shining's back. They're really something, those scars. Exquisitely beautiful, and - evocative of a deep commitment. He kind of envies them. He suspects that if the other Maitimo ever does that to him, he is going to feel intensely validated and triumphant.
It did! Dawn-shining is proud of himself for handling his alt this well and proud of his alt for managing to be so extremely Taliar at them. Both in the sense where he messed with their plans and expectations, and in the sense where he ultimately cooperated anyway.
If Maitimo's worried then Sun-dark is definitely worried but, well, he is deliberately doing a very worrying thing. Some worry is to be expected.
For hard-to-articulate reasons, he wants to hand his soul to the other Maitimo himself. He has no other delivery preferences he can think of.
I should stay far away from her because I really don't want to argue with her about my choices, and same with Grandfather, but I want to catch up on what's been going on since my point of departure and I want to talk to Kelora. Unless she's going to argue with me about my choices.
He kind of wants to snuggle his alt and his alt's husband for a while longer and maybe have sex with them again and generally luxuriate in there not being a war on. But he's done plenty of that already. If he lets himself get too comfortable it'll be that much harder to go through with his decision.
Should he take that as a reason to get comfortable? Should he spend a few weeks living his life and then revisit the question when he's more settled?
He thinks about it, and concludes: no. All the reasons for his choice will still be true in a few weeks, and they'll still outweigh the lure of effortless comfort, but the lure of effortless comfort will have a stronger pull. He'll have a harder time with it but he won't have any useful new insights that he should fairly be taking into consideration. Given that, it's better to go as soon as possible.
She nods slowly.
"Yes. After how his first encounter with Nuime went, I imagine it wouldn't. Well."
She goes over and hugs Sun-dark, and hugs Dawn-shining, and then looks at Sun-dark consideringly and hugs him a second time.
"Good luck," she says. "Though I have every expectation you'll make your own."
There follows a discussion of politics in both worlds, the war against Melkor, thirty hours under a rockslide, the Yeerk invasion, and so on. Occasionally Kelora sends Sun-dark a moment of Dawn-shining's sex life, always when he least expects it. He's so cute when he blushes.
Independence has been moved. He's not satisfied the peal won't look for him so with the help of the daeva Yeerks Independence has been moved a lot, six hops over and with some false trails spiraling off in different directions. He should notice if anyone's coming for them. He notices their arrival and sends someone to greet them.
Wow he is really nervous.
"Hi. Raika-seren Taliar," he says. "Nice to meet you."
And in his thoughts, the full context of the soulname:
In Atialemain when he manifested his soul and went to war with Seofar, the first soulname he thought of was Raika-linsi, 'Sun-bright'. He decided against it, because the context made it too aggressive; by itself, it could mean anything in the range between 'the light that brings life to the world' and 'the fire that scours my enemies from the earth', but his mother Linsi-kelen ('bright flame') Aeleva is well-known for the destructive power of her fiery soul, and he was at that very moment preparing to go kill a bunch of people, and destructive wrath is not an aspect of himself he wants to advertise or encourage in the slightest. So he went with Elaneth-imire, 'Dawn-shining'; softer, prettier, more hopeful, evoking the kind of strength that lifts people up rather than the kind that burns them down.
And then he won the war and went around healing people and solving problems for a while, and he was transported to Arda and met Maitimo and agreed to fight his Enemy and got to know him and fell in love with him and found out the soul-shattering truth about him—
—and woke up the next morning in the imperial palace in Nuime, where his alt told him that the war with Melkor was over and he'd won and married Maitimo and everything was going to be great forever and oh by the way the reason you exist is as a present for Maitimo's alt who hates me, which is why you come from the moment in our life when our soul was at its weakest.
The obvious way to differentiate was to pick different soulnames. The obvious person to pick a different soulname was him. His soul does not shine like the dawn, and it won't for a while, it might not ever; in choosing to be this Maitimo's present, he is choosing to take that risk. So he is Raika-seren, Sun-dark. Eclipsed. The exact opposite of aggressive or powerful.
He considers how best to explain. This Maitimo doesn't know him - that might be the weirdest part of the whole thing - and therefore he can't just say 'because I am very hopelessly myself' and be understood, he has to actually start from the beginning...
"It's relevant that there's another one of me," he says. "Elaneth-imire is all set for soul power, he can - fulfill all the functions of my existence that rely on it. I'm not abdicating any responsibilities. There are no evil gods nearby that I need to fight and if there were, my alt could handle them. And he and his husband are rather magnificently happy together, so - in a sense I have a share in that, he's fulfilling that function of my existence too. I don't need to be powerful or happy or safe because Elaneth-imire has those angles covered. But what he can't do is make you happy the way he makes his husband happy. That's my niche, I'm the only Taliar who's got a chance at it."
He pauses, trying to articulate the next part in a way that sounds remotely sane. There does not appear to be such a way. He shrugs and says it anyway.
"And they told me that I could either stay with them and be powerful and happy and safe forever, or come here and be your present and be probably ignored and maybe tortured if I'm lucky, and - when you put it like that, there's no way I could've done anything but this. Because staying with them would be nice but being your present is - hard work toward a meaningful goal that I care very much about and that almost nobody else could conceivably accomplish as well as I can. I have a thing about challenges. I find them almost impossible to pass up." He smiles wryly. "And I love you and I want to make you happy. You're not the Maitimo I know, but you're a lot like him, you're - you're all the things I fell in love with. So. Does that explain it?"
"That's one way to put it, I guess," he says. "If you touch it—" he remembers the feeling, the few times it's happened to him, and the ones he got secondhand from Elaneth-imire. It's torture by default, because the circumstances required to make it not torture are kind of particular, but what it really is is just - soul contact. An unbearably intense sense of intimacy, an overwhelmingly vast magnification of everything you feel about the person who is touching your soul.
"Somebody somewhere might have a soul power that can make you untraceable," is his first thought. "Or my alt might be able to do it. Our souls have a three-day turnaround on major powershifts, which in my case means very little because my soul can't do much and is using most of its space for things it would be reluctant to give up, but in his case it means that if you want something done and don't think it's otherwise possible, 'tell Elaneth-imire and wait three days' is always an option, alongside 'ask Esarkan if he can find a soulbearer who happens to have something relevant'."
Healing aura, about six feet in radius but very robust; lie detection, completely passive; osanwe, with a branch for manufacturing magic items very quickly and another branch for enforcing his mental privacy and a sub-branch from there that prevents him from ever hiding any thoughts from Maitimo; a little bit of space probably in reserve for protection from hostile mind control in case he ever needs that; a little bit of space probably in reserve for letting Maitimo make him feel like his soul is being touched by imaginary strangers in case Maitimo ever feels like doing that.
"They're still - capacities my soul has, so, soul powers. Anyway, I'd argue that the privacy exception is more beneficial than otherwise. There is nothing I want to accomplish that could be accomplished better by hiding thoughts from you than by not doing that."
"Okay," he says, "so - does that mean 'go home' or does it mean 'stick around and consult on tactical problems and maybe do some magical engineering', or?"
Also, this is a Maitimo. Elaneth-imire will resurrect him as many times as it takes, fight as many gods as it takes; if the interdimensional meddlers come for him, they're going to have to go through Elaneth-imire first, and they will find that prohibitively difficult. But Raika-seren appreciates that he doesn't have a good reason to believe that and there wouldn't be a whole lot of point in trying to convince him.
"I would be delighted to make you eidetic memory necklaces. If I'm remembering right, in the current state of my soul I can do a year's work in three or four hours," he says. (Secondhand memories of a past/future that never happened to him are weird but useful.)
He grins and leans forward and reads them. Probably he should wear the first necklace he makes, he has a really good memory but it's not literally perfect and if he's going to be making a lot of artifacts the lost time from occasional mistakes will add up eventually...
Huh, that's right, Shadow-cloaked Nezhefena was wearing an obviously-Elven necklace and the way she brought them here was... not very soul-flavoured. "Useful," he says. "I bet Esarkan will appreciate it."
He also bets Esarkan likes the Maitimos a lot. Although depending on exactly how much he likes them, that may be difficult to pick up on without assistance from someone who knows Esarkan really well.
Well, yes. Although I'm sure he could find the multiverse civilization without your help if he felt like it. Which flavour of easy to work with was he? If he starts every conversation from the perspective that you both want to help each other and should figure out the most efficient and mutually beneficial way to do that, he respects you. If he also makes a lot of sarcastic comments, he likes you and wants to be your friend.
I don't know - it won't necessarily matter that he's consenting, I'd sworn by then never to touch Findekáno without his consent and that didn't help, but if he's insistent enough about wanting to stay - Findekáno was terrified by there suddenly being a dozen more of me around and he wasn't about to start expressing preferences about how they treated him -
What a mess. Yeah, Elaneth-imire will insist. We Taliars can get very insistent. If there were a dozen more of you why did they kidnap your Findekáno - I'd think alts would tend to cooperate well - actually if there were a dozen more of you why are the interdimensional meddlers like that at all...
They're not like me. In their Ardas Elves are naturally - exactly how the Valar want them, really really peaceable and virtuous - so the Valar don't even bother meddling - and my alts didn't have to deal with a civil war and they're mostly happily married to their Findekános and they all consider me an embarrassment and want to execute me so they can - avoid reminders - that they turn out like me under less idyllic circumstances.
Doubt it. They are talkable into not killing me because they don't have anyone better to run the country - though now that I tried to leave their jurisdiction I don't know if they could be talked down again - but they're never going to get to 'the way I am is, once it's not hurting anyone, an okay way to react to the world I came from'.
"I am constantly loudly being what I think I should be," he says. His hand goes to his chest but of course his soul is in Maitimo's pocket. "If 'they' is the Valar, I don't exactly conform flawlessly to their standards and I am glad not to because their standards are insane and their enforcement is unconscionable."
He can't help himself; he starts laughing. He's not even sure what's funny. It's just - he loves Maitimo, and Maitimo thinks he's a pest but will be useful for making eidetic memory necklaces and consulting on tactical problems, and maybe this is going to be it forever and honestly it's not nearly as bad as he would've expected, and - it's so bizarre how this Maitimo doesn't know him...
If you want to know what your alt sees in his husband you'll have to ask him.
"I'd certainly like him to but if you're giving Elaneth-imire one I take it that'll have nearly the same effects. You need either me or him - or, I suppose, again his husband - to transmit the contents of the actual teleport - should I stay around for that, or will you ask them?"
Dawn-shining Taliar puts on an eidetic memory necklace, immediately branches a soul power for eidetic memory from his relevant marital sense, takes off the eidetic memory necklace, and passes it along to his father, who was next on the list to get the teleport. He gets the teleport from Nezhefena and distributes it to Esarkan and Corino. He asks his soul for a power to render the other Maitimo and his planet and his people and so forth all magically untraceable. It isn't immediately obvious whether he's going to get one; he'll just have to wait three days and see.
He's in love with Maitimo. Being ignored is kind of hard on him but he has useful important work to do so he's handling it fine; he's just sort of aware in the back of his mind that if he gets less busy he's going to start having emotional problems. He thinks about magical engineering a lot. He's really, really in love with Maitimo. He can see the shape of Maitimo's influence on everything in the kingdom - the architecture, the people, the city planning, the way things are organized - and it feels comfortingly familiar and sort of bittersweet. This state of being is not indefinitely sustainable, but right now he's fine to keep making necklaces and not doing much else, and he is serenely confident that when he starts having trouble he'll figure out how to deal.
"Interesting magic you have there," she says. "Is Yeerk the proper name of the brain slugs? They made a short-lived but very inconvenient attempt to conquer the planet. They weren't especially talkative about it and Dawn-shining Taliar didn't stop to chat before he killed them all."
"Yes, the Yeerks are the brain slugs. The interdimensional alliance I belong to recently conquered their empire and remanded the population to the custody of a friendly anti-slavery faction of Yeerks. The ones who came through here were the only escapees and we've been trying to find them; they can be very dangerous to unprepared worlds."
"One of the magic rocks finally turned up with a better teleport-tracking power and finessed the maze they left on their way out." Magic rocks, it magically transpires, are a class of people with powers that are wished into place according to a certain magic system.
"My power is telling the truth! It doesn't let me lie convincingly to anyone who's heard me ever say anything true and I'm not even that good at it to people who haven't. It is not harmless, if I tell the truth too hard it can be damaging, but I don't plan to damage anybody here."
"Not in known locations. There's one that ran away from the same Arda that disappeared with the Yeerks, but we don't know where he went and unlike Yeerks he's not safe to follow by tracking power. Especially since he may be in Materia or one of its accessory dimensions."
"I'm very convenient!"
And according to his soul, he is also clever, charismatic, wise, resilient, insightful, loyal, determined, competitive, and married. His soul is very forthcoming about these things. If his soul can be believed, it makes for a pretty excellent recommendation.
"There's one nonflat one, where Valinor was a spherical planet and Endorë a different spherical planet and instead of Trees it had actual suns and everything is higher-tech. And there's an evil one where the Ainur are worse than usual and this had cascade effects on the population; that's the one that ran off with the Yeerks. I should fix your Valar as long as I'm nearby, it turns out that if incarnates are explained to them really thoroughly they become much less terrible at everything."
"Oh, the Halls become less unpleasant to be in and easier to talk people out of and they become able to understand problems people are having in terms more complicated than 'people are sad' and respond more sensitively to those and they become easier to reason with even for people who aren't me and they develop some concept of incentives. I don't make them more homophobic or anything. I don't make them that much less either, since Eru did actually tell them things and that's one of them and we are pretty sure his deficit is not a matter of not understanding what he's doing in the first place, but they get less disproportionate about it and learn to distinguish between 'stay dead or do this thing' and 'actual consent'."
"Hmm. I'll ask my husband what he thinks," he says.
Da needs to come back from Independence with an answer about whether or not we can mention that we know them. It's getting to the point where it'll be really awkward to keep concealing our knowledge with true but misleading statements.
They aren't looking trigger-happy at all. But if I were them I wouldn't necessarily give Honesty Girl all relevant information. Hmm. My instinct is that she's representing their position accurately, but there's that power of hers potentially interfering...
"You're clear to talk to my Emperor, by the way, and it might be simpler to include him in the conversation," he says to Elspeth.
"Its nickname is Shadow to distinguish it from all the other Ardas," she says helpfully. "It's not actually worse than most planets, it's just much worse than most Ardas in terms of people being antisocial, which isn't really the inhabitants' fault as such but most of them were not directly mind-controlled, just made worse people than they would have been indirectly, so there's no obvious way to act on it not being their fault. At least we're pretty sure now they're not contagious. Shadow really upsets regular Maitimos, who are heavily represented in peal affairs and don't like their Shadow alt 'Midnight' or having to think about him. And there are enough other planets-full-of-mediocre-populations-we-can't-trust-with-heavy-duty-stuff-but-do-want-to-help that it hasn't come to a point where the obvious next priority if not for that would be doing anything much with Shadow. So the strategy lately has been lightly supervised neglect because all the palatable non-neglect options keep turning out to be terrible ideas. Except then it skipped off with a bunch of Imperial loyalist Yeerks and that's a really big deal and we need to find all of those Yeerks."
"All of those Yeerks are dead and their infrastructure destroyed; the Yeerk daeva children are in the care of the Arda in question, which is known to me as Independence," says Esarkan. "Apart from the Yeerk invasion, which I understand was not under their control, they have been impeccably good neighbours. And it would be relevant to tell Dawn-shining Taliar how your explanations affected their Valar in particular."
"They didn't bring their Valar," blinks Elspeth. "The Shadow Valar were left floating in vacuum and very confused." (Shadow shall henceforth refer to the world between Aurum and Edda and Materia while Independence shall refer to the planet, her magic helpfully footnotes.) "Uh, we'll want to unsummon the daeva Yeerk children and then have them resummoned by someone working with Tide and brought back there, or maybe to Luster, which is an Arda with a small Yeerk population for irrelevant reasons in a neighborhood that would be easier to set up safely-with-respect-to-daeva. The Shadow Valar had different questions from a standard set but my results were ultimately similar."
"A representative from the interdimensional meddlers showed up in Nuime asking to speak with the Emperor," he says. "Esarkan would like to know if we have your permission to admit we've met you. If it comes up unavoidably before I return with an answer he's planning to consult Tivarante Maitimo."
"They're being friendly to Nuime; how friendly they feel about you wasn't clear as of my departure, but I could go back and check. There's a day and a half left before my son either comes up with an untraceability power or doesn't. Besides waiting for that, and Esarkan making it clear that he considers you a neighbour and ally, what can we do to help you?"
"I acknowledge that my son might have a little trouble with that one," says Corino. "Esarkan can send soulbearers with protective powers if you'd like some." If all such methods of extremely aggressive murder would require Maitimo to be removed from this universe against his will, protective soulbearers can almost certainly prevent that; it's been tested.
They're a representative of Tide, a non-enslaving-people polity of Yeerks, and would like to be introduced to the daeva Yeerks' summoner or summoners and be told all the daeva Yeerks' names so that the children can be taken elsewhere. They would also like a list of the dead Yeerks if one is available.
If any of the computer systems are still intact it may be possible to extract a list. The daeva Yeerks are all children too small to have ever taken hosts and learned things that way, and while Yeerks can in fact fend for themselves without parenting it is really not a good idea to have them grow up without any adults in the pool with them, they may already have pulsecoding deficits and nobody knows how having been summoned and gotten a non-pulse language that way will affect it; they appreciate the sentiment of asking the children but there is a serious child welfare concern here.
They have living aunts and uncles and cousins. In Tide. Yeerks have very large extended families and scatter around. The Visser who ran off with all of these Yeerks was Sovereign Ristrell's sibling. This very Yeerk talking to them right now is second cousin once removed to the daeva babies.
(That means: you should know better than to think I'd interfere in your life without your approval, and I know better than to think I'd have your approval to interfere, however badly you were doing.)
"Love you," he says, hugging his father again. "I'm doing fine. Lots of magical engineering. A little less theory work than I'd like, and it's going to get lonely sooner or later, but I'm all right for now."
"My son is Dawn-shining Taliar," he explains. "When the Yeerks invaded, they took the Emperor, then used him to collect soulbearers for kidnapping. One of them was my wife, Linsi-kelen Aeleva. When she awoke with a Yeerk in her head, she lashed out with her soul's fire and destroyed everything within twenty miles, killing most of the Yeerks. Midnight showed up to investigate the enormous fireball, and she saw him and mistook him for Tivarante Maitimo, since we didn't know about alts at the time. She assumed he was collaborating with the Yeerks and killed him. Then I noticed that soulbearers had been disappearing into the palace all morning, and summoned Taliar to investigate, and he discovered the Yeerks and killed all the ones in Nuime and went to Independence and killed all the remaining Yeerks there, except for the daeva children. And then he resurrected Midnight, because Midnight is an alt of his husband. 'Disoriented and grieving and immediately confronted with the killer of many of the people you're grieving for' is not a set of circumstances conducive to forming a good first impression."
"Yeerks are pretty harmlessly containable in pools as long as no one removes them and won't be able to perform the ritual to bind their spirit animals without a host - it's possible they'd have trouble even in a host; they might need to personally adopt humanoid forms for it."
"He's doing well. He correctly anticipates that he's going to get restless soon if he stays in this pattern of not doing much other than make magical artifacts, but he also correctly anticipates that he'll find a way around that before it gets to be too much of a problem. He is... very thoroughly aimed in the direction of emotional self-sufficiency. I don't think he realizes how thoroughly. But it's a necessary first step in his plan to avoid exalting his soul. The reason why Dawn-shining Taliar is so much more powerful than any other soulbearer is because he gains unprecedented amounts of power from having friends, knowing them well, caring about them, being invested in their happiness and personal growth. Raika-seren is going to isolate himself to avoid that."
"He'll find his balance with it. When Elaneth-imire was recovering from the same state Raika-seren is in now, he needed to befriend hundreds of people specifically selected to maximize compatibility before his soul started looking like its old self again, and it was still very weak compared to its former strength. Raika-seren doesn't need to categorically avoid making any friends."
It's certainly a fascinating environment. Taliar has not been around spaceships very much.
He still doesn't have any good guesses about what might be going on here, but he's not trying particularly hard. Too many unknowns for guessing to be very useful.
There is some mild discomfort associated with having a slug wriggle into his ear. Less than he was expecting, and he was expecting it to be pretty trivial.
Okay, Maitimo turned into a Yeerk to go in his brain. That's, uh, terrifying. He observes that he's terrified and he picks it apart in fascination: an abstract fear of loss-of-control, a more visceral fear prompted by being unable to move under his own power, uncertainty about what Maitimo wants from this, uncertainty about what is going to happen next... his alt would go crazy for this. His alt would be burning like a sun right about now. He can feel that reaction at one remove, it's not how he feels right now but it could be, he could go there. Being terrified is... weirdly comfortable, though, and it would feel sort of rude to deliberately ignite himself into a stellar furnace of lust when he has received no indication that Maitimo is interested in him in that way. He'll leave it.
And underneath those surface thoughts:
The entire architecture of Taliar's mind rests on an intricately interconnected set of foundational concepts. One is exaltation. His social skills are built around helping, encouraging, uplifting, giving people what they need to become more themselves, more the people they want to be, the people they aspire to be. And that flows into cooperation - he is highly gifted at analyzing situations from the right perspective to let everyone involved come out ahead, finding ways to bring different people's interests into genuine alignment. From there, integrity: he is able to make utterly unwavering commitments, he is the sort of person who would find it almost impossible to betray a trust. These things are a vital part of how his entire mind functions.
A lot of this information can be picked up by staring at his soul for long enough, but his soul only says what he is; this is a detailed look at how and why.
He is an extrovert. People, their personalities and interests, their loves and hopes and dreams, are a huge part of how he perceives and interacts with and understands the world. He wants to make people happy and safe and fulfilled, he wants to give them the things they want and need, he wants to help them achieve their dreams. He wants to be around them and interact with them and see them flourishing.
He is a problem-solver. He finds immense joy and fulfillment in fixing things that have gone wrong, in coming into a situation and leaving everyone in it better off than they were before he arrived. The very best thing is when he can leave people not just better off than they would've been without him, but better off than they could possibly have imagined being.
It's been said that a Taliar's favourite pastime is accomplishing the impossible. There is some truth to that. Challenges are intensely compelling, the more difficult the better, and Taliar has developed both the skill and the inclination to look at a problem, figure out what the best possible outcome is and what would be necessary in order to bring it about, and then do that. He is intensely ambitious but not quite in any of the ways people usually mean to evoke when they use that word: what drives him is the satisfaction of succeeding at difficult things and the fulfillment of achieving something meaningful, of making a positive difference in people's lives. There's some competitiveness in there too, but it's secondary to the rest.
He has an amazing ability to order his own mind around. It's built partly out of his integrity, the ability to make it absolutely psychologically inevitable that he will do this and he won't do that, to change which things he can even consider doing; partly out of his problem-solving skills, the ability to analyze a situation and figure out which levers to pull to make it go his way; and partly out of the machinery of exaltation, turned inward to act on himself instead of others, that instinctive understanding of what to do to help people be more of the things they value about themselves.
Right now he's in the middle of a major overhaul. He's pulling together the bits and pieces he's seen or heard from his alt's life into a model of how being his alt works, and he's expanding on that and tweaking it to better serve his own purposes. Corino was right that he's reaching for emotional self-sufficiency, and right that he's getting there even faster and more successfully than he thinks. He expects to spend an unknown amount of time getting absolutely no support, suppressing or redirecting several of his fundamental drives in order to avoid exalting his soul, being ignored or tortured by someone he really deeply loves and admires who dislikes him and finds him annoying; and with serene confidence and unwavering determination, he is figuring out how to turn himself into someone who can get through that, who can not just survive it for a little while but be genuinely okay that way indefinitely.
He speaks his native language with surpassing eloquence and Quenya almost as well. He's been riding and caring for horses since he was a tiny child. He's really really good at every strategy game he's ever played. He's good at learning; he picks up new skills easily and is quick to come to a deep understanding of new subjects and disciplines. On the strength of that talent he has learned enough magical engineering in months to keep up with people who've been doing it for centuries. There are all sorts of other tidbits of skill in here too, things he found it useful to do or interesting to try. He can knit, he can sew, he can play cards, he can pick locks.
All this information about the inner workings of his mind makes it overwhelmingly obvious why he decided to come here and be Maitimo's present. Everything he said and thought when he was trying to explain it was true, but there were details missing, things that he didn't think of or couldn't articulate. Inside his head it all fits together into a picture of perfect inevitability. He made this choice freely, but he was never going to do anything else. He loves Maitimo. He admires him and adores him and wants to make him happy, and as far as he knows, there is only one way to arrange for a Maitimo to have a chance at the kind of unbelievable idyllic happiness Elaneth-imire Taliar and Tivarante Maitimo have found together, and that is for a Taliar to make a gift of himself to that Maitimo, unreservedly, and just keep pouring himself into it for as long as it takes, even if that's forever. So if this Maitimo wants him to, Raika-seren is going to do exactly that.
It is going to be difficult and arduous and he is going to suffer and he is okay with that, he is looking forward to being tortured because he has had a taste of what it's like to be tortured by a Maitimo who is magnificently thrillingly fascinated by the things it does to his head, and it is fucking amazing and he knows exactly why his alt loves it so much. He has seen bits and pieces of Elaneth-imire's bad days and he feels the pull of wanting to prove himself like that; he's watched Elaneth-imire hand his soul to his husband in cheerful anticipation of being tortured with it, he's seen the look on Tivarante Maitimo's face, watching his Taliar lie on the bed drowning in unbearable agony. His alt showed him what it was like to be raped, and it made him feel competitive, he wants to go through something like that to prove that he can.
Speaking of which - he's got some trauma going on. Atialemain left its marks on his mind. Mostly not the part where he was actually fighting the war; mostly the part beforehand, where he was drifting uncertainly around Seofar's court, getting more horrified by the day. Most particularly that late-night conversation with Nahira. Being confronted with that much overt cruelty, so intense and so intensely personal, directed right at him from close range, with her soul radiating all the relevant parts of her nature right at him, and being completely trapped and helpless while she told him what she wanted to do to him, was terrifying and overwhelming and it really thoroughly fucked him up to the point where he has vivid immersive flashbacks if he smells the flower whose scent she wore that night. (It's daffodils. His alt told him so.) He really really does not like to think about Nahira. He hasn't had a nightmare about her in a while but he gets the impression from his alt that they're by no means gone for good.
Teleport. Beijing, it's the capital of this world, and in Taliar's body he won't stand out. He has two hours but Taliar doesn't know that, and watching Taliar rearrange his mind to be all right with the thought that it might be much longer will be fascinating, and - you can convincingly impersonate someone after half a second in their head, that's how they were able to do what they do, you pick up their whole self, all at once - I could think your thoughts for you now -
His first thought is bet you can't fool Da; his second thought is that his alt would be even more lit up by this than he initially predicted, he's kind of into it himself and not just by proxy anymore; his third thought is that he's mildly worried for Maitimo, and he hopes that suddenly being able to be Taliar won't make it any harder to be himself, that it isn't annoying or upsetting to be so deeply immersed in someone so - whatever Taliar is. And his fourth reaction is to be sort of shyly pleased that Maitimo decided to do this, glad that Maitimo now knows him.
...then the fear catches up with him again. He is going to spend an indefinite amount of time as a helpless passenger in his own head while Maitimo does whatever he likes with his body. Probably not weeks, Maitimo has a kingdom to run, but days is plausible if he arranged for some time off. Fuck.
Okay. He doesn't need to be okay. He can be terrified, he can feel trapped and helpless and almost-but-thankfully-not-quite reminded of being frozen in place by the power of Nahira's soul. He can feel these things, it is okay to feel them, he doesn't need to be calm right now, freaking out is a perfectly legitimate response to the situation.
And once he's settled into that perspective, it's easy to get back into the state where fear is comfortable, where it's something interesting that's happening in his head, it's not overwhelming him or making it hard to think. It hurts but it's okay that it hurts.
This is sustainable for now. He turns his attention back to what Maitimo is doing with his body. He's curious about what's going to happen. Terrified, sure, but curious.
Taliar grew up half in the imperial palace, half in the Kazaryne family home overlooking Lake Kalas, high in the mountains that separate the western edge of the continent from its center. His family's mountains are stunningly beautiful. He was an incorrigible little shit, but in an inexplicably charming sort of way. His childhood adventures were creative and intricate and occasionally property-damaging. He spent a lot of time in pain as a kid because he bruises really easily, legacy of an assassination attempt on his mother while she was pregnant with him.
He knew from very early on what sorts of things would exalt his soul if he had it in front of him to see, and what sorts of things would debase it. He knew from not long after that that he wanted to be the sort of person whose soul would shine brightly. He has been building the skill of self-creation ever since, learning through practice how to rearrange his head to make himself into the person he wants to be.
(And in the present: he's calming down gradually, enjoying the fascinating sights of this strange planet, listening to languages he doesn't understand and trying to see if he can pick up any words. But every time he absently tries to move and nothing happens, every time his head turns or his eyes shift without his input, he gets another little jolt of fear. He gives his mind a gentle push in the direction of enjoying that, recontextualizes it as a nicely exhilarating thrill, but doesn't send himself all the way into the intense incredible rush of delight and desire that Elaneth-imire would be feeling if Tivarante was doing this to him.)
It was an incredibly lovely and wonderful time, unquestionably the best thing that had ever happened to him, and then a moment of soul-shattering horror, and the rest, as they say, is history.
He's managing to get used to the experience of feeling himself move and not being the person making it happen. It's, yeah, it's kind of hot once he's less distracted by the fear. Although the fear is definitely a part of the draw. Okay, he can handle this. (So it's probably going to get worse. It's hopefully going to get worse. Torture means interest, torture means appreciation, torture means a chance to test himself.)
He can see the appeal, now, looking through it, the light on the horizon of a potential end to the war, its instrument totally open to him and in love with him and expecting nothing in return - it would have felt so delightfully effortless, taking a lover because why shouldn't he -
There's a florist.
...Raika-seren isn't familiar with the local context, but he manages to recognize the florist. It's not hard to guess what that's about, when his body turns in that direction.
He is abruptly, intensely terrified in a way that is not at all enjoyable.
In his panic, he tries to run, which of course doesn't work, which of course terrifies him more, and he fights and fights and it's no use at all and—
—then he stops. He can't close his eyes or take a deep breath or any of those other little calming rituals, he has to do it all in his head, and it's much harder that way, but he gets ahold of himself anyway, he makes himself stop struggling for control. He can't make himself calm, but he can put himself in a state where even if he could run away, he wouldn't be. And it is important to him to do that. It is important to him to cooperate, even when his cooperation or lack thereof has no practical effect on the outcome of a situation.
He feels a flash of warm affection, a glow of pride—I love you—and then he smells the flowers and he ceases to have any awareness of the present moment at all.
He is just turning the final corner on his way to his rooms in Seofar's castle, and there's a woman waiting for him there, at first anonymous in the low light—he sees her soul and recognizes it—Den-aminde Rysher Nahira, one of Seofar's crowd. She looks at him with an expression he can't quite decipher, and takes a step forward, a little farther into the light. The scent of her perfume begins to reach him, a lovely flower he's sure he's smelled before, but he can't put a name to it.
"Kazaryne," she says, and he flinches at being addressed in such overly familiar terms on such short acquaintance in that tone of voice, and she smiles, and smiles wider when he instinctively recoils. "I thought it was time we talked."
"Den-aminde Nahira," he says respectfully, trying to establish a little social distance without revealing enough discomfort to make her smile like that again. "About what?"
"Oh... let's start with family history," she murmurs, with an ambiguous glitter in her captivatingly beautiful eyes. "I knew your mother, once. Has she ever mentioned me?"
"Can't say that she has, no." Maybe she would have, if she'd had the chance. What's Esarkan's game, sending Taliar here so abruptly? He almost wishes he'd refused. He does not feel like his loyalty is being rewarded.
"No? Nothing? No stories of old times? No warnings?"
She smiles again, at that last part, but her eyes narrow slightly and Taliar reads a profound rage in that small movement. He is getting increasingly afraid. Whatever is going on here, it's on a different level from the awkward and upsetting conversations he has had with the other members of Tekhesin Seofar's court. Den-aminde Nahira means him harm, in a very real and immediate way, and he has no idea what she wants or how to talk her out of taking it - best to assume he can't possibly fight her, with her soul gleaming blood-red on its chain and Taliar seventeen and completely unarmed.
He hesitates too long. Nahira shakes her head and tsks. "Remiss of her. You'd think she'd have a word to spare for an old flame." His first thought is 'what a stupid pun' and his second is 'wait, my mother dated this woman?' and his incredulity must be visible, because she laughs and goes on, "Oh yes, once upon a time, we were in love. Well, I know I was in love. Aeleva was a little less free with her feelings."
"I've never known her to have trouble expressing herself," he says without thinking, and Nahira smiles at him and it's - almost physically painful, experiencing the intensity of how much she wants to hurt him. He flinches, then steadies himself. Maybe he'll be lucky and it'll be as easy as - "And I'm sorry, but it's been a long day and I am not interested in having this conversation right now."
It is not that easy.
He moves to step forward, and she holds up a finger as though rebuking a child for straying off the garden path, and he stops moving. There's no invisible force to strain against, nowhere to set his will and push, he just isn't going anywhere and can't make himself start.
"Let me explain how it's going to be," she says softly. "Tomorrow you join Seofar's household. You will live in our lovely castle, eat our lovely food, and bed our lovely princess. And you will be mine. Seofar promised me that, as soon as the marriage offer came in."
The way she says 'mine' is possibly the most deeply terrifying thing he has ever heard. He can feel her possessive cruelty, he can see it in her soul, hear it in her voice, read it in her eyes. It closes in around him like a suffocating cloud.
"I will hurt you in ways you've never dreamed of, and I will make you thank me prettily for it." She leans closer. The light of her soul glints from her cheek as she tilts her head and smiles, eyes alight with anticipation. "It won't always be awful, mind you. Your mother often came willingly to my bed; I'm sure you will too."
There's no escaping that implication. She has raped his mother and she is going to rape him too and he cannot stop her, he cannot get away, he cannot talk her out of it, she will take no bribe, yield to no charm, she is absolutely irrevocably intent on harming him for its own sake. He can't yell for help, and even if he could, no one would answer. Not in this place.
"I think I'll write her letters," Nahira continues in a dreamy, thoughtful tone. "Beloved Aeleva, today I tied your son to my bed and made him scream for hours until his voice gave out and he could only weep silently into my pillow. His tears are almost as beautiful as yours." Her eyes are mesmerizing. He doesn't know if it's her magic or his own sheer terror that prevents him from looking away. "What do you think? Will she come running to save you?"
Yes. Absolutely. She will petition Esarkan for an army, and he'll deny her, and she will come alone, burning with the fire of her soul, and at that point presumably Nahira has plans for what will happen next that Taliar would really rather not think about.
"I can't wait to see her face. But first, I want you all to myself for a while. I want to break you, Kazaryne Taliar. I want to make you my plaything. I can see in your eyes you don't think I can do it, and I am going to enjoy teaching you differently. You come from a strong-willed family, but you'll beg for mercy before I'm done, proud little Kazaryne."
He is utterly paralyzed in horror, not even trying to move anymore. Her soul shines red, and he can see her self in its light, the incontrovertible truth of her. This is what she lives for. Making people helpless and afraid, tearing them apart and laughing at the pieces. This is her deepest source of joy.
"Do you want to know what I'm going to do first?"
No he doesn't. There's a part of him that wishes he would just drop dead on the spot, it would be better than continuing to listen to her. Something of that reaction apparently shows, because she laughs, a beautiful sound that scares him more than he has ever been scared in his life.
"Seofar won't let me touch his daughter, so you'll have your wedding night undisturbed, if you're willing to use it. Kelora's such a shy little thing, though, I doubt you'll get anything from her you don't take by force."
What - what the fuck - is she really offering him a night's grace before she starts torturing him on the condition that he spend that night raping the princess—?
"No? Suit yourself. No wedding night for you. Tell me, Taliar, have you ever been with a woman?" He doesn't answer, wouldn't if he could. "A man, then?" Again no response. "Have you thought about it, or are you entirely innocent?" He doesn't feel very innocent right now. He feels like every sexual thought he has ever had is on display for her and she's going to take her time picking through them and defiling them one by one. Her laugh is musical, ethereal, terrifying. "Lucky me, having you all to myself. I'll take you to bed and show you every pleasure in the world. Before I ever hurt you, I'll claim you completely. And when there's nothing left of you that isn't mine, when there's no part of your body that doesn't remember my touch, then I will show you pain. I'll cut you and burn you and beat you and if I don't like how you scream the first time I'll heal you and do it over again until you get it right."
He wants to die. He wants to run away and climb the nearest tower and throw himself off of it. He can imagine her doing all these things, so vividly that his skin almost feels the touch of her imaginary hands.
"You'll beg for mercy, and I will not give it," she continues, staring into his eyes. "You'll promise me anything in the world."
Even now, even in this moment of utmost horror, he's pretty sure that isn't true. If it comes to it, he will endure. There's nothing to be gained from begging for mercy; it's clear she owns none. And it would satisfy her, and he finds himself strongly disinclined to satisfy her.
"You have that Kazaryne look," Nahira murmurs. "Oh, this will be lovely. The strong ones are my favorite, they're so much more surprised when I finally make them crack." She shifts, leaning forward slightly, and for a moment he thinks she's going to touch him and he tries with desperate urgency to scream, to run, to move at all, and he can't—and then she laughs her beautiful terrifying laugh, and shakes her head. "Don't worry, pet. The anticipation makes it all the sweeter."
If she's not going to touch him now then maybe he can kill himself before she gets the chance. He hates himself a little for being weak enough to consider it, but she is a walking nightmare, the most terrifying thing in the world, he is already suffering unbearably and she hasn't even started yet - surely there's no shame in escaping that the only way he can -
"Dream of me tonight," she whispers, watching him with devouring eyes. "As I will dream of you. And when we meet again, I'll show you what I dreamed of. I promise you, it will be worse than you can possibly imagine."
His mind immediately jumps to all the worst things he can possibly imagine, which is no doubt exactly what she meant to happen. She smiles, and leans down, and he tries to run again, but she only kisses the air just shy of his forehead. "Sleep well, my darling Kazaryne. I'll see you tomorrow."
Then she steps around him and walks away. The sound of her slippers on the stone floor is soft, and he strains his ears but he loses track of it almost immediately. He can't turn around to look. She could be standing right behind him, waiting. She could grab him at any moment and drag him into his bedroom and - it would be just like her, to half-promise not to touch him for a day, and then turn around and do it anyway the moment he let himself believe it -
Her soul's power releases him. He stumbles, shaking - bruises his hand catching himself on the wall - stands there for a moment, utterly unable to move, terrified that he's going to look up and she's going to be there, and standing around waiting won't help if that's the case but he still - can't - make - himself - move -
He clenches his fists until they ache, and he straightens and deliberately turns to look behind him. There is no one there. He turns back around and does not flinch at the sound of his own footsteps and does not turn back to look for her any of the dozen times it occurs to him as he walks the remaining five steps to his door, and he shuts himself in his room and bars the door from the inside and curls up on the bed and trembles silently for a long, long time.
He comes out of it gradually. He is outside, sitting in the sun. He can't move she has him she's going to— no. Nahira does not have him. Maitimo is the one who has him. So that's all right.
It doesn't feel all right.
It occurs to him in a distant sort of way that if Maitimo does anything sexual with him right now, he is going to very messily fall apart. He lets that awareness sit there in his mind, just a fact about the world, somehow not even a frightening one, or maybe it's just that he's so overwhelmingly terrified to begin with that he can't detect variations in response to specific frightening things. He feels sick and awful and shaky, exactly the way he did back then. It's got to be the eidetic memory necklace, making this flashback so much more prolonged and vivid and intense. He should've expected as much.
—he wonders if Maitimo is okay, if the intensity of the flashback might have affected him—he's operating Taliar's body with perfect calm, but Taliar could operate his body with perfect calm under these conditions too if he had to, probably—it's sort of not any of his business but he really hopes Maitimo didn't hurt himself doing this.
And from that genuine concern, he builds a shift in perspective. It is all right. He gave himself to Maitimo and now Maitimo has him and that is exactly as it should be, that is exactly what he wanted. He is here to be Maitimo's Taliar, and that means that whatever Maitimo does to him, however Maitimo hurts him, it's always all right; he will always cooperate, always forgive. He will accept no less from himself than that.
He doesn't even know if Maitimo still thinks he's annoying. He doesn't know if Maitimo finds his pain fascinating or just tedious. It's an awful, desolate feeling, not knowing that. And - he would take a deep breath if he owned his own lungs - it is all right.
I love you, he says, because it's true, he can still feel it, through the sick horror, through the echoing sound of Nahira's laughter. He loves Maitimo for true reasons, reasons that don't depend on being safe from him; it's a fact about their fundamental natures, that Taliar is the sort of person who loves the sort of person Maitimo is.
He hugs himself and shivers. The feeling of being respected for his strength is so intense it's almost terrifying in its own right. He can handle it. He knows he can. He doesn't doubt - not exactly. But he's never yet had to prove it, and he is very, very afraid.
"I don't want you to take me home to my alt," he says. "I want you to take me home to your palace."
And - if the history he remembers was one they shared, he'd walk right up and kiss him. But he hesitates. Not because he's afraid, although he certainly is. But because - he doesn't know if this is Maitimo wanting him or just Maitimo wanting to torture him, and if it's the second thing, he'll cooperate and he'll do what he's told but it would feel - wrong - to make spontaneous gestures of affection.
He makes a small sound, a half-stifled sob, and tears spill down his cheeks and he feels sick and awful and horrified and - he is going to be okay, they both know he is going to be okay, Maitimo said he wouldn't do this if Taliar couldn't handle it and Taliar trusts that. He closes his blurred and stinging eyes and says, I love you.
He smiles. He cries. He cries kind of a lot. He is perfectly cooperative and constantly terrified and he loves Maitimo so much and he doesn't regret this, he loses hold of that certainty a few times but it's always there when he goes looking for it, he would rather be doing this for Maitimo than be off with their alts partaking of uncomplicated adoration and happiness.
His present thinks:
Yeah he's really fucked up right now. He expected to be really fucked up and here he is, really fucked up. Good job predicting that one. Also, the sun is likely to rise tomorrow and Emperor Esarkan will live forever.
Being tortured by a Maitimo who visibly cares about him is amazing. Being tortured by a Maitimo who only occasionally lets slip an implication that he's interesting or worthwhile is... not amazing. It's pretty awful, in fact. He feels... only just barely appreciated enough, and he doesn't know to what extent that's intentional, but given what Maitimo said about how Yeerking works it probably wasn't as accidental as all that...
...which actually implies he might be more appreciated than Maitimo is letting on, but he's not going down that road. It would be - 'cheating' isn't quite the word, but it would feel unfair, uncooperative, to conclude that Maitimo feels differently about him than he seems to and then try to figure out what he really thinks. If Maitimo wants him to feel just-barely-appreciated-enough then Raika-seren will extend him the courtesy of not making him work any harder for it than he has to. He got all that sort of thing out of his system in his short time with their alts. He is not here to be difficult.
'Only just barely appreciated enough' might not even be the right way to describe it. There's definitely a threshold he is just barely clearing, but if he went below it he'd still make it through, it would just take him a lot more time and effort to recover.
...the thing is, he can't get out the way Elaneth-imire did. He can't go back over what just happened to him and make himself want it. Because he still doesn't know if Maitimo actually wants him, and until he knows that, it would feel - wrong, presumptuous, to deliberately cultivate desire. It would feel like he was making an imposition. He'll do it if Maitimo tells him to, or if Maitimo tells him that it would be interesting or pleasant or otherwise positive, but short of that, no.
Which leaves him curled up in bed shaking with horror and needing to find a new way through that.
And - in Maitimo's bed. He doesn't feel welcome here. He feels like he's intruding in Maitimo's space.
He takes a few deep breaths and then he gets up and gets dressed and makes himself stop crying and goes back to his own room. Then he hesitates, because it feels... weirdly self-indulgent to curl up and shake some more. Instead he sits on his bed and leans against the headboard and wraps his arms around his knees and closes his eyes and tries to keep still.
Okay. Okay. He feels awful. He has excellent reasons to feel awful. Maitimo just gave him the most intense Nahira flashback of his life and then fucked him just to watch him fall apart. Which is... flattering, in a way, and endearing in a way, and also rather intensely traumatic. Particularly given the parallels. He knows Maitimo is not like Nahira, but at the moment he's kind of undersupplied with evidence that Maitimo is not like Nahira, and there is definitely an uncomfortable resemblance between the two situations.
Well. That's an unfair comparison and he should dismantle it regardless of whether or not that'll help, but also, it will definitely help.
He knows better than to think Maitimo is in this to destroy him for personal amusement. Maitimo let him choose, and he chose this. He chose this because he loves Maitimo and wants him to be happy. He chose this because he wants to be Maitimo's present. Maitimo said he wouldn't do this if he didn't think Taliar could handle it, and Taliar trusts him completely about that. Maitimo said it would be fascinating, and the way Maitimo is fascinated by Taliar's pain is flattering and lovely and not at all about wanting to shred him beyond repair and then play with the scraps. So there's that association taken care of. Maitimo is not Nahira.
And now he's - actually now he's sobbing uncontrollably, why is he doing that, he's making progress - and he was half-numb before and now that he's doing better it hurts more, right, okay, that makes sense. Well. He's not going to make much more progress like this; might as well not fight himself over it. He curls up and huddles under a blanket and puts his face in his hands and cries.
He gives a couple capable people the teleport for famine relief; he composes a letter for Esarkan's attention saying that while the peal would not generally share their teleport, once the teleport is out they might be persuadable to share the healing; depending how easily Esarkan can get a hold of his miracle-worker it could be worth asking.
He cries for a while; eventually the tears slow, then stop.
He did choose this. He can get through it. If Maitimo is listening to this, Raika-seren sincerely hopes he's enjoying it. He is here to be a gift. That means that Maitimo can do whatever he wants with him, and Raika-seren will cooperate as fully as he can and then find a way to be okay afterward. It means that his entire purpose - the purpose of him being here, the purpose of him existing - is to bring joy and delight and fascination to Maitimo's life in whatever ways Maitimo wants, so he's going to do that, no matter the cost to himself, and then deal with those costs in his own time.
He loves Maitimo. It hurts a little, loving someone who does such awful things to him, but he does. And... he doesn't mind. He isn't angry, he doesn't feel betrayed. Maitimo wanted something from him and Raika-seren gave it to him willingly and now he is in a lot of pain but he accepts that, he's okay with that, he knew it was going to happen and he did it anyway. He prefers this pain to the pain of being completely ignored. And if Maitimo decides to go back to completely ignoring him, then he'll handle that too.
Elaneth-imire was right. This is something that no one in their right mind would willingly do. By any reasonable standard it's outrageously unfair. But Raika-seren doesn't have to care about anyone's standards but his own, and he thinks it's worth it. It's worth it even if Maitimo never likes him, even if Maitimo treats him like this for a hundred years and then sends him back to his alt; it's worth it just to give Maitimo the chance to have what Tivarante has with Elaneth-imire, even if he rejects that chance.
He sniffles; he rubs his face; he pokes his head out from under his blanket and resettles himself. He still feels very, very fucked up, but he's on top of it now, he could function normally if he had to.
Maitimo clearly has a very high opinion of his resilience. And his regard is clearly justified. That was incredibly awful, and here he is, already putting himself back together, already well on his way to recovering.
He can't tell himself that it won't happen again. He can't even tell himself that he'll get a choice every time; he might not. There's no easy way to make himself feel safe. But he did make a choice. He does think this was worth it. He is glad to have done this for Maitimo, and he hopes Maitimo enjoyed it. From an impartial perspective it's monstrously unfair to suffer so much for Maitimo's entertainment, monstrously unfair to have all his dedication be rewarded with a combination of torture and emotional neglect, monstrously unfair to do all this for someone who doesn't even like him - but it's his own perspective that matters in deciding which of the things that happen to him are okay, and he is okay with this. Really and truly okay with it.
It might happen again, and he might not get a choice next time... and he'll still think it was worth it, he'll still love Maitimo, he'll still - be okay with it, even when he is very much not okay. If Maitimo came into his room right now and handed him a bouquet of daffodils and then told him to take off his clothes, he'd do it. And he trusts that Maitimo wouldn't do that if Maitimo didn't expect him to recover. That's a kind of safety. Knowing that while awful things might happen to him, they will be things he ultimately chose to allow, and they will never be more than he can take.
The feeling of sick horror lingers, but it's lost its edge, it's just an experience he's having, it's not in control of him anymore. He gets up and washes his face and changes into clothes he hasn't spent two hours crying in, and he finds something to eat and then goes back to work.