Zahara (presumably) alights from the Fable of the Reconstruction, walking down the air as they come to rest outside the glittering, slightly incomprehensible walls of the Labyrinthine Cascade. "Welcome to the Sunlands, Varanim."
Varanim does not walk on air, but she jumps down to land with an economical if unmusical thunk. "You're all being very polite," she observes. "Did I catch you on a nice day, or are you just hard up with ghosts?"
Zahara "My politeness is legendary," she observes with a slight smile. "But your expertise in the matter of ghosts will indeed be useful, should you choose to lend it to us."
Phoenix` grins. "Good manners are the first hallmark of an excellent host." She prods a small winged servant, who flies off, presumably to fetch refreshments and warm towels for everyone to freshen up with.
Zahara leads the way through the exquisitely maintained gardens, complete with the occasional stone lion, koi pond, and unnecessary but pretty bridge. "Try not to get lost, the Cascade has a bit of a mind of its own."
Varanim "My sense of direction in other people's castles is flawless," Varanim assures them. "On the way here, I heard some tangle of local legends about the river spirit...?"
Phoenix` "He has been subdued." Phoenix pauses. "Right, Zee?"
Zahara quirks a brow, "Well, in that case, ask a servant when you get lost. As for the river spirit, he has not yet returned from his little... vacation."
Varanim "Vacation?" Varanim's tone suggests interest, although her gaze is roving all over the structure of the Manse instead of fixing respectfully on her hosts.
Phoenix` casts frantically about in her memory for some reference to this excursion. "Oh yes. We prefer to give the local gods plenty of time off to pursue their leisure."
Zahara notes to Phoenix, ::We must fetch him back, now that the Lily is destroyed. It will be interesting to hear his tale, and whether he will claim kidnap or outright betrayal.:: She moves serenely to the enormous, imposing golden doors, which slide silently open at their approach, and into the manse itself.
Varanim "Very thoughtful." As they step across the threshold, she leans a bit closer to Phoenix to whisper, "Does she do that every time?" She makes a little whooshing motion with her hands to indicate the doors.
Phoenix` snickers and whispers back, "Hardly. We usually land on the mecha-aerie up there, it's faster. None of these bridge mazes to deal with up there."
Varanim "Of course." Varanim resigns herself to the grand tour. "How old is it?" she raises her voice to ask Zahara.
Zahara "The Manse? Oh, not old at all. I, with some help from a friend, built it myself a few years back." There is a pause as she recalls how things have changed since then, with regret. "So, tell me about yourself, Varanim." She glances back, composed once more.
Varanim shrugs. "Little to tell. I walk, I write, I talk to dead people, most of whom are as bad as the living. I am not, to my knowledge, empress of anything."
Varanim considers. "I suppose I have a ghost army."
Zahara "Do you now? How did you acquire that?"
Varanim "Well, you're polite, so you'd probably call it a misunderstanding. Don't worry, I'm in the process of firing them. No designs on the empire."
Zahara walks forward, the twisting corridors shifting to align with her path as they walk, and then, somewhere behind them, shifting to a new configuration. "I'd love to hear the story, now that I am completely reassured you have no desire to steal my empire, as it were."
Varanim "It's a boring story. I found them in my basement. On the other hand, there are an exciting variety of rumors about your nation and certain Deathlords. Lots of problems?"
Zahara "That must be quite a basement. We do not have any direct problems as of right now, aside from assisting the Lookshyians return home. However there are a few Deathlords and their ghost armies that I plan to dispose of, I suppose."
Varanim looks sideways at Phoenix, jerking her thumb at Zahara in an is she serious? gesture. Aloud, she says, "And when you say 'dispose,' you mean...?"
Phoenix` "Probably 'destroy, convert to our cause, or enslave to the greatest possible degree'," Phoenix murmurs.
Varanim grunts with a profound lack of surprise. To Zahara: "Who's first on the list?"
Zahara "Eliminate as a problem." She wends her way toward a door, which she palms open. Varanim may note the wards inset into the floor and walls amidst the other decorations. She will certainly note the comfortable silk and velvet cushions strewn about the floor, with small tables every so often. Then again, she may also note that there is a dancing demon performing in the center. "Probably the Walker, or perhaps the Mask."
Varanim "Well, you're halfway to specificity. Nice floor show. Is it your intention to treat them like any living enemy?"
Zahara "The deathlords? No, I have not yet decided how to deal with them. Tell me, what would you do?"
Phoenix` "I understand that you have to bury them face-down so they don't dig their way back up."
Phoenix` suddenly turns her head as though hearing a distant sound.
Phoenix` "That reminds me, I think I left someone in my bed. I should go see how they are doing." She gets up, gently plumps the cushion she was sitting on, and saunters down the hallway.
Imrama Seemingly on its own, the door to Zahara's closet flies open, and Imrama tumbles out onto a pile of velvet cushions, looking abashed and perplexed. "You can't hold me back forever, you damnable fortress...!" Imrama shouts to nothing in particular before trailing off.
Imrama "Once again, this is not the kitchens."
Varanim "Have you considered sending your Circle as honored guests?" Varanim says to Zahara, observing. "That might be enough."
Imrama "Hello Empress, Madam Varanim. I'm...very sorry for the interruption."
Varanim winces a bit at 'madam,' but lets it pass. "Quick, keep her busy while I think of an impressive plan to solve Deathlords," she says to Imrama.
Imrama "Umm." Imrama thinks for a moment. "Well, Cerin and I have rediscovered some of the lost Yozi names. That's pretty interesting, I think."
Varanim "Really?" Varanim looks like she agrees. "Where had they put them?"
Imrama "What? Huh? Oh, no. Not lost to them, just lost to us."
Varanim "Hmm. What are you going to do with them?"
Imrama scratches his chin. "I'm not sure. They will add to the completeness of Cerin's demonological treatise, of course. I also simply like knowing who my enemies are."
Zahara "That is always important, yes."
Varanim "I suppose any collection that large benefits from some organization."
Zahara belatedly hides a grin at Imrama's entrance, "How did you discover the names?" She rings for a servant to bring in food and wine.
Imrama brings his hands to his golden spectacles, and opens his mouth to give a full explanation. After a moment, he closes it without speaking, and says simply, truthfully, "By cheating." He smiles.
Imrama "But I believe that Lady Varanim was about to address the problem of the Malfeans." Imrama looks in her direction, attentively.
Zahara chuckles "I see. How enlightening."
Varanim "Madam is bad enough, thank you," Varanim says tartly to Imrama. "I think it can be done, but the usual treatments of armies are probably not enough."
Zahara too turns her attention to Varanim. The servants come in, bearing trays of wine, and small finger foods. She takes a goblet and some sort of elaborately designed pastry, waits until the others have taken what they wish, and then leads the way through the other side of the room back to the twisting hallways.
Zahara "What treatments would you recommend instead?"
Imrama , with an uncharacteristic lack of manners, seizes four of the largest muffins and a scone. Shoveling two of the first into his mouth he explains sheepishly "I m vrry hnngry." He swallows and continues. "I have been looking for the kitchens for some time now."
Varanim grabs a handful nearly as large as Imrama's, considers his excuse, and offers, "Cripples need to eat a lot" as her own. She wiggles the fingers of her wrapped arm helpfully, following Zahara's lead.
Zahara contemplates teaching Imrama how to control the corridors, but decides against it once again. It is simply too amusing to watch him.
Varanim "Maybe not instead," she begins. "But there's a fundamental problem in trying to kill dead things."
Zahara "Indeed. Settling for returning their souls to be shredded in the soulfont may be enough." She pauses with a frown and runs her fingers over some chipped slate.
Varanim "I don't suppose you have any spectres locked in the basement?" Varanim asks, apparently apropos of nothing.
Zahara considers, lifting her fingers from the non-repaired slate. "Not specifically. I could show you the basement, or we could go visit the tea garden."
Varanim "Garden," Varanim says promptly. "I ask because I need to get my hands on one, preferably soon. I have a thing to try to fix them."
Zahara "You're going to fix the spectres? How?" She concentrates for a second, and the hallway trembles as it lifts upwards through the manse several floors worth, she walks toward the center of the manse, and repeates the maneuver.
Varanim "One at a time," Varanim says, looking surprised at the question. "Don't worry, my book swears it'll work."
Zahara "What book would this be?" She leads the way out into the Tea Garden (cue quin's description!)
The tea garden is indeed quite elegant: several demonic servitors wait with boiling pots for fresh brewing, while the local topiary has been specially crafted to produce leaves that produce gourmet teas, such that they can be specially brewed straight off of the plants. (...)
The table is well set, and the paths of white chipped stones lead generously over to it. All in all, the garden itself is quite inviting and beautiful in every way. (...)
What is rather unusual, however, is the Sun: which, while shining down just as it has always done, has... something on it: a shadow biting into it, much like the one that occludes the side of Lucent's castemark.
Varanim "Anonymous contribution to the library," Varanim says. Then she looks up at the sun and says, "Huh."
Imrama gulps. "Something is wrong."