Iallu Ember of Glory had quickly excused himself after their conversation, and Imrama had made himself scarce shortly after -- leaving just Lucent and Varanim to work out the implications of the discussion.
Lucent "Damnit. I thought that was a grand apotheosis." Lucent sighs. "So, what then? You think you can... put everything on their proper places again?"
Varanim "I'm losing track," Varanim says a little irritably. "Is it a meaningful spiritual experience that you'll treasure forever, or an oopsie you want fixed?"
Lucent "I will tell you when I find out."
Lucent "But part of it is you telling me how hard would it be to fix this."
Varanim "This is why I don't take patients anymore, you know. So many nagging questions." But Varanim looks like she's thinking, balancing precariously on a stool and twirling the melon-slicing knife in her fingers.
Varanim Then she perks up. "Could you call up one of your old boyfriends to get us a look at that Monstrance?"
Lucent "Not because you scared them all away?" He shakes his head. "... actually, I stole it!"
Lucent looks quite proud with himself, as if about to recount the tale of his daring theft!
Varanim "Oh, shit on a stick. And you didn't think that was worth mentioning?"
Lucent "I was afraid you might do unsavory things with it, actually."
Lucent turns around, a little Maiden of Journeys pointing their way to the Monstrance! "See, I had this friend who was very much into Necromancy. We killed the Grave-King of the Eastern Lotus once, and he found one of those terrible relics of the Neverborn.... and, well, he got too excited with it. It was just creepy."
Varanim "Look," says Varanim, hopping up to follow the direction, "only one of us in this conversation has half of Netheos in their little black book. I promise not to rub my naughty bits all over your stolen artifact."
Varanim "Hey," she says as a thought strikes her, "in fact, it would make way more sense if YOU were an Abyssal--I mean, just look at your Essence--trying to tempt a sweet little Twilight like myself into your Monstrance."
Lucent gives a sigh of relief, as if he actually expected she WOULD "We were completely platonic, actually!" And Lucent opens the door to that warded room in the Labyrinthine Cascade, letting her see a cage for all light to be dimmed in its full glory!
Lucent "Well, yes, but that would make me one of the bad guys." He smiles, "And I could never be a bad guy."
Varanim Only Varanim's total absorption with the revealed artifact prevents her from seizing that last reply.
Iallu The necromantic Essence that fills the Monstrance is incredibly strong. The cage extends from the living world into that of the dead, and the signature of a dead god crackles and rages across its bars with a surprising intensity for something that, in its very essence, is dead.
Lucent "Remember your promise, please."
Varanim circles it, so focused she forgets to be snide to Lucent. The muscles of her soulsteel arm quiver gently, and burnished ribbons of anima flicker about her shoulders, twining in half-patterns whose completions are invisible to living eyes.
Varanim "How much of you is left in there...?" she murmurs to the dead god's print. Lifting her left hand up before her face, the soulsteel skin peels back like flower petals and the tendons and bones crunchingly reshape into a ragged wireframe sphere at the end of her wrist. She gazes through it at the Monstrance, eyeball to eyeball.
Iallu Something heavy with the deep sloth of eternal sleep looks (metaphorically speaking) back at Varanim from somewhere deep within.
Lucent "What did you DO to yourself, Varanim...?"
Iallu The ties that hold this ghost to the world, though, are as vast as the dead gods themselves -- far too great to meaningfully be affected by the tiny pokes of but a single woman.
Varanim lets out a long breath, a little unsteady if Lucent listens for that kind of thing, and shakes her hand back into shape with a rattle and a little sloshing noise. "Huh?" she says, seeming to hear Lucent again. "What did I do? You're the one keeping a bit of a Malfean in your friend's basement."
Lucent is... horrified, stepping closer... "Your face, your arm... why did you do this to yourself? That... those are screaming souls! That is the stuff from the Labyrinth!" He reaches out, almost touching the soulsteel skin. "Why disfigure yourself like this...?"
Varanim "Wow, was that the Labyrinth? I sure am glad you told me that, Lucent, because I thought I was clamped down to a table in Yu-Shan while my arm was sawed off! Boy, that explains a lot." Varanim narrowly refrains from jerking her arm back, and instead leans closer to glare at him, eye-to-eye.
Lucent does not blink, shedding a golden tear. "You could have placed something else in its place... you did not need to taint yourself so. Not like... this."
Varanim Varanim's mouth flattens to a thin line, and she reaches up a soulsteel finger to flick away the tear, the entire motion jerky with suppressed anger. "Actually, it was a single operation--old arm out, new arm in--and my professional opinion was not sought on either the fitting or the tools used. I would say my memory is fuzzy on the particulars, but actually it's impeccable."
Varanim She smiles brilliantly, humorlessly. "I'm sure I could replicate it for you, if you're jealous."
Lucent "No, I am just horrified. Especially with how you act... PROUD of it! If it was done against your will, then let us hunt those responsible! Burn them all! Then find a way to make them grow again, to place Orichalcum on their place!"
Varanim "Enough!" she barks. Varanim, who has not raised a hand in anger in seven years, finds her fists curled. She looks at Lucent, eyes blazing, and then takes a step back.
Lucent silences, looking at the angry Twilight awkwardly, at a loss of words "Varanim...?"
Varanim spins away, silent for a few seconds, then slowly starts to wind the bandages back around her left arm. Without turning, she says quietly, "Reversing the Essence exchange is likely beyond my current abilities, but I will investigate. Let me know if your condition, or Ember's, changes."
Lucent curses under his breath. "Look... I am sorry, I... I just do not UNDERSTAND you..."
Varanim "That's quite all right," says Varanim, waving a hand in sharp irritation at the apology. "I understand enough for both of us." She runs a hand over her face and turns, with a trace of her usual smirk. "Don't worry, I won't sneak in here at night to disassemble the thing."
Lucent "That is no what I am worried about..." He shakes his head. "Look, when I knew Quen... he had no delusions about what he was. Rosada thinks he is the Hero, I bet. Lai thought he was the hero. I KNOW... Quen knows he is the Villain. He knows it and loves it. I understood him, but..."
Varanim "The sage known as the Small Whirlwind said the first step to enlightenment is to forget the names you think you know," Varanim says, tucking in the end of the bandage with a practiced one-handed knot. "But she was eight, so what did she know?"
Lucent "Then I will just understand you a whole lot LESS."
Varanim Varanim almost asks what label he's already given her, then shakes her head. "If you can bring yourself to stop assigning people one-word capitalized roles in the grand epic of your life, and instead look at the effects of what they do, you may find a different and ultimately more useful classification system."
Varanim Then she takes a breath and straightens her shoulders with a smirk. "Well, that was purging. What say we forget every part of this conversation except 'find out how to fix my Essence' and 'I'll work on it'?"
Lucent "I am not trying to label you." He mutters under his breath. "I am WORRIED about you!" He shouts... then composes himself, hiding that beneath a mask and smiling. "Suits me. Hope you can find a solution soon enough."
Varanim Varanim's smirk slips, and for a second she looks genuinely pained. "Don't waste your time, kiddo," she says with a strange half-smile, blowing him a perfect courtly kiss as she turns and limps out the door.