Zahara paces restlessly through a meadow of sweetgrass, tall trees arching upwards on either side through which shadowed light filters through. In the distance, the peaceful smoke of hearthfires drifts through the air. All seems peaceful on the surface, but there is an air of unease and forboding. Occasionally there is movement, too quick to see and then gone.
Cerin steps into the dreamworld from half a world away as he, too, sleeps. He steps out of the trees, walking towards Zahara
Zahara spins to face him, her eyes seeking his, then his chest, and back. "Cerin?"
Cerin nods, closing the last few paces and drawing Zahara into a close embrace. "Zahara."
Zahara leans into his embrace, resting her head against his shoulder. "I... I've missed you."
Cerin strokes her hair, gently kissing her. "I'll be back soon," he says, reassuringly.
Zahara nods, her gaze skittering past his face and to the trees. "It's not safe here. Something's wrong."
Cerin "Here?" he looks about to the dreamworld around them.
Zahara breaks the embrace and steps away from him, moving to the ragged edge of the clearing. "It's... I don't know."
Cerin "My love, you are not yourself," he says, concern lacing his voice.
Zahara As Zahara paces near the trees, Cerin realizes that the shape of the clearing - which had seemed simply irregular at first - that she's tracing with her footsteps, is the occult symbol "Ne." Looking up to the sky, he can see that the smoke from the heartfires is similarly tracing her path, becoming thicker and darker as the symbol nears completion. "I'm fine." she insists tensely.
Cerin "What is 'Ne'?" he asks her softly. "What is happening back home?" he kisses her. "Tell me," he draws her into an embrace once more. "Please?"
Zahara "Ne? Where did you see that?" Her hands go to her chest, and tear at her dress, even as he pulls her towards him. Bright red blood streaks her breast, flowing.
Cerin "It is written into the dream, my love. It is written over your heart."
Zahara x1;ACTION smears the blood away, with a shudder. The wound is outlined in charring black but it is not whole, and it shows for but a moment before the blood covers it once more. "Not me, not my heart -- not yet. Jiris. This - this isn't real." She closes her eyes and very deliberately lowers her hands from the wound, and takes a deep breath, asserting some control over herself and the dream. She continues tersely, "Jiris Ara-Zhan came
Zahara "Jiris Ara-Zhan came to the summer palace. The mark was on him, and... others of my line." Her hands shake only a little as she weaves the emblem from the Aether - a knife, crossed by a feather, surrounded by a hexagon. "The Zhan line." she repeats.
Cerin "And what does the mark mean?" he asks, softly.
Zahara She closes her fist over the emblem of her family line, as it begins to drip black blood of its own. "It is a necromantic curse... Death - and servitude beyond death." Her expression and manner change to one far more familiar to Cerin. Cold anger.
Cerin "The being who did this will cease to be," he says, still quiet.
Zahara looks into Cerin's eyes, and nods. "They will. How dare they kill my family?" She almost stumbles over the last word.
Cerin "Because they wish to hurt you. Because they wish for us to act rashly."
Zahara "There must be something more...a sorcerous tie to my blood perhaps. I didn't even know they existed until now... and now they will use them against me."
Cerin "If there is a tie one way, there is a tie the other ..."
Zahara "Hmm.. maybe... I can find him through Jiris... I'll have to ask Varanim."
Varanim It's not clear that Varanim has left the garden at all since the incident with the body. She stands, untroubled by the darkness, leaning on a stick and contemplating a marble dais that is now half-covered with charcoal markings. Her soulsteel hand flexes absently, as if the joints pain her.
Zahara comes down the path slowly, somewhat warily as she eyes the shadows. "You don't like your room?"
Varanim looks up, gold glinting in her eyes as her head changes angle. "I hadn't thought about it much. I'll try to form a stronger opinion the next time I go back to sleep."
Varanim "Fancied a night walk, or are you and daddy fighting?"
Zahara smiles slightly. "Daddy's not here."
Varanim bends down suddenly, drawing a line between two symbols, then scowls and swipes her across the diagram in an obliterating arc. "You're either here for the magnetic pleasure of my company, or you want something." She quirks an eyebrow at Zahara, as if daring her to pick the first.
Varanim ("swipes her foot", not that it's a key point or anything)
Zahara cocks her head to one side and sashays her hips a little as she finishes her approach. "Who better to spend a night with than a necromancer?"
Varanim smirks in appreciation. "Necromancers do it to death, as the kids in Sijan say. But then, they're all pricks. What do you want?" She smudges her foot across the rest of the diagram, wiping it out.
Zahara gestures at the ground, "What was that?"
Varanim "A simplified branch diagram of investigative routes which meandered into a correlation matrix for what might have been. Altogether a muddled exercise. Now, you led with banter instead of nosiness, which probably means something's unsettled you."
Varanim tilts her head at Zahara, gold glinting maliciously in her eyes until the angle changes again.
Zahara raises a brow, considers a snide retort, and then shakes her head a little. "Just a bad dream."
Varanim "Ah. I usually prescribe drinking until the details get fuzzy, for those. Talking to me instead is virtually guaranteed to annoy you. Is her majesty feeling masochistic tonight?" Varanim lounges onto a bench, reaching up to pluck at a night-blooming flower vine above her head.
Zahara "I usually tend towards sadism, not masochism." She paces slowly, hands clasped behind her back. Abruptly, she says, "Thank you."
Varanim "Ooh." Varanim narrows her eyes slightly. "None of that, now. It looks almost as uncomfortable for you as it is for me."
Varanim "So." She leans forward a bit, hands twining a pulled-off length of ivy. "You see many long-lost relatives?"
Zahara "Just one."
Varanim "Really." Her eyebrows shoot up. "It's traditional for monarchs to be besieged by relatives; how else do you expect to fill all the high ranks of government?"
Zahara sighs and fashions a chair from a handy rosebush, thorns pointed away from her skin. She slumps in the chair, "They were probably afraid of me. I didn't even know they existed until today."
Varanim Settling into a dedicated slouch, Varanim looks at Zahara with innocent curiosity. "I may be frolicking into another of those abysses of the past you people collect around here, but... you didn't know they existed? Did you, perhaps, spring full-fledged from the womb of the earth?"
Zahara "Yes, didn't you?"
Zahara looks just as innocent as Varanim
Varanim "In fact, I was the long-lost daughter of a king, who fell in love with my beautiful mother on a hunting trip..." Varanim looks elaborately misty-eyed for a moment, then her expression clears. "Oh, wait, that's not my family, that's yours. Don't tell me you killed them all, and that's why the stray cousins are afraid of you?"
Zahara laughs, and then, as it dies away, she regards the woman with a calculating gaze. "Close. They, and the rest of my peaceful little village were all slaughtered, but not by me. I was too young to accomplish such a task. No, I am merely the Anathema that knew not the meaning of love-surely you've heard?"
Varanim finishes braiding the strand of flowers into a circlet, which she holds up before her to frame a lazy look at Zahara. "Hm. Once you get used to the idea of not having any family, I imagine it's a little curdling having one show up suddenly."
Zahara "One might say, yes." She rises again, trailing a gold-runed finger along the petals of a rich red rose. "Especially to have one show up suddenly only to die in your garden with a curse on your entire family line - like the family line in your basement apparently."
Varanim Wiggling a hand, Varanim says, "Not exactly the same, or he'd be your slave instead of... whatever was happening to him. But the spell I used was intended for breaking ties of worship, which suggests that some of your other relatives may already be spectres."
Zahara "If they survived that - whatever was tryign to consume Jiris' soul."
Varanim "Right, but a one-way road to the Mouth of the Void is boring, so let's ignore that possibility. If someone is collecting the ghosts of your family, that's way more interesting. And I might be able to fix them." Briefly, Varanim looks like she regrets saying that last bit, then she throws the flower circlet at Zahara. "Catch."
Zahara catches the circlet, and looks up at Varanim. "Fix them?"
Varanim grimaces. "Look, I don't usually bother consulting the families of dead people, but I'll make an exception in your case on account of you're likely to execute me if the mood strikes you. What do you want to get out of this thing?"
Zahara blinks, somewhat taken aback. "I want to... save them, I suppose." She doesn't particularly sound as if she is used to the concept there, but her voice becomes more sure when she continues. "And get vengeance on whoever did this to them. Find out why, what they want from me - from my bloodline."
Varanim "All right. Depending on the end state of this curse, I might be able to clean them up a bit if we can find them. But they might be in ugly places, and the third circle of necromancy is closed to me, so don't get your hopes up." Varanim says it with her face turned away, whether to ignore Zahara's discomfiture or hide her own expression is unclear.
Zahara frowns, "Ah, yes... only the Abyssals and Deathlords can cast the third circle..." she narrows her eyes thoughtfully as she plays with the crown, "Maybe an artifact like Brigid's mantle, or... soul surgery..."
Varanim "That's not how it works," Varanim snaps, then she looks over with a smirk and her tone is back to its normal flippancy. "But slice your own soul to your heart's content. It'll make a good story for me to tell the faculty."
Zahara "Pray tell, how DOES it work then?"
Varanim "Ooh, it's complicated, lots of yucky fluids and unspeakable diagrams and stuff. Not the sort of thing for ladies' ears." Varanim tells the hollow outline of the truth with a brazen grin and a delicate wave of her hand.
Zahara "As it happens, those are rather specialties of mine."
Varanim "Mm, so I hear. How many people a year do you torture to death? Just an order-of-magnitude estimate; I understand there are accountants to track the details of these things."
Zahara "What fun is it if they die?"
Varanim "Well, I don't think living OR dead people are fun, so clearly I can't be expected guess your strange preferences."
Zahara "What do you think is fun?"
Varanim blinks, looking genuinely taken aback. "Why on earth do you want to know that?"
Zahara "Why, so I can crush all your hopes and dreams, of course." she says drily. "Or perhaps I was attempting to be nice. One can never tell with these things."
Varanim grins, folding her arms behind her head. "Abandoned libraries, sweaty nights with pretty paid-hourly company. Annoying Professor Humboldt, peasant music. Good puzzles. Gardening."
Zahara sets the flower crown in her hair and takes her seat back on the rosebush. "Sounds fun."
Varanim shoots a look sideways at Zahara. "We are none of us nice people, you know. Why start now, when you don't have the practice for it?" The words could be cutting, but her tone--for once--is neutral.
Zahara looks away, the shadows hiding her face. Her response is quiet and barely heard. "I am compelled by the heart I foolishly wrested back from the faerie I spent months torturing for my vengeance." The breeze stirs the leaves and their hair, covering the sound of her breathing as it becomes slightly ragged.
Varanim The solar glint of Varanim's eyes is the only motion she makes for a number of seconds. As quietly, she finally says, "The secret of necromancy is payment up front; past suffering becomes a crucible from which knowledge is extracted. After the loss of my arm, I took the first steps. Because I will never sleep soundly again, I was able to learn the second circle. I am not a brave woman,...
Varanim ...Zahara, and I fear the loss that would open the last teachings of the Void to me."
Zahara is silent for a long moment before she turns back to Varanim. "I know that loss. It is the same for Sorcery - I should have known it would be so. It is..." she pauses, "The price is steep. You are right to fear it."
Varanim Grinning up at the stars, Varanim says, "'Course I am. The bad part about being so smart is that it gets boring being right all the time." She rolls up to her feet, grabbing her staff again and pausing. "Am I right in thinking that in the morning we'll both mostly pretend this conversation never happened?"
Zahara "Perhaps it didn't, and this is merely an elaborate dream." She rises once more and walks over to the necromancer, "A gift in return for the crown." She holds her hand out with, presumably, an object in her closed fingers.
Varanim turns her right palm up, eyebrows lifting. "It's not a dead rat, is it? Because Admiral Longwhiskers already gave me one of those."
Zahara chuckles and drops it into her hand. "No such luck. It's a ring. Do you want the real use, or shall I tell you a story about how it will play sweet music that will slowly drive you insane?"
Varanim "The second choice would explain entirely too much about how things work around here. So the real story is...?"
Zahara "Put it on and, I will demonstrate - assuming you trust me, of course."
Varanim "Cute, but you can't fake me out that easily." Varanim slips it on.
Zahara grins, and music indeed does begin to filter into Varanim's brain as Zahara sings a nonsense rhyme to her via the ring's telepathy. ::I did warn you, didn't I?::
Varanim Varanim's eyes narrow in contemplation. ::Does this mean I can drunk-call the Circle early in the morning to carry me home from cheap bars?::
Zahara ::You and your insistence on cheap liquor.:: She sounds amused.
Varanim ::People are either true to their roots, or fooling themselves.:: Aloud, she says, "Sweet dreams. I have some basement ghosts to call."
Zahara "Good night, then." She tips her crown to Varanim, and wanders back off into the darkness.