Varanim was uncharacteristically quiet on the way back to the Cascade, not even speaking up to be snide. In her room, she pulls a bottle of rum from the nightstand, drinks about a quarter of it in one go, then lies on her bed and stares at the ceiling as she sips on the rest.
Varanim She hums faintly, a harvest song from a now-dead down, as she sinks into sleep.
The world seems just a little... off for Varanim, ever since the fight with the Herald. Unlike previous uses of the spell, her lower soul has settled back into her body with an uncomfortable fit, like clothes riding up after a night in the rain, and it has been bothering her.
Her fall into sleep is unsettled and rough, and she slips in and out a few times before finally settling into an unconscious state. It is a deep but fitful sleep, and after a few hours she slides into a dream... one rather more vivid than she is used to. (...)
She finds herself in an opulent palace, its walls of glimmering moonstone, its carpets woven of gemstones and precious metals, the flora growing in strange and intricate patterns coaxed by a fine artisan. (...)
Her sleeves, she sees, are ivory-white, with brilliant golden sun cufflinks, and she remembers why she is here: to find the Azure Urn.
Varanim tugs at her sleeves as if troubled by them for a moment, then tries to recollect where the Azure Urn is supposed to be. Failing that, she strides down the hall in search of someone to order around in her search.
The hallway begins to bend and angle around as its opulence only seems to grow, with greater treasures and new delights filling it after each turn. (...)
After one particular turn, she encounters a great wave of servants, their white pants and bronze-buttoned cranberry jackets momentarily distracting her from their faceless visages. (...)
Four of those towards the back bend and open great silver serving trays, revealing elaborate gourmet platters built around jaggedly carved cuts of raw, still bleeding meat, while those in front bow generously to her with an understated elegance.
Varanim "Oh. Um, thank you, that's... fairly disgusting," says Varanim, still feeling discombobulated. "I don't suppose any of you perky fellows have seen the Urn?"
Varanim She inspects the cuts of meat with a semiprofessional eye, however.
"Of course it is in the Chamber," the disembodied voices of the Servants say in unison. "It is as it has always been," says the first servant alone.
Varanim "Right, see, I was just testing. And of course the Chamber is..." she trails off suggestively, hoping they will point in a slightly creepy synchronized dance or something.
The crowd of servants peels open like a zipper, their arms swooping in an elegantly disturbing gesture to point towards a smaller side hallway that bends off of the main hall.
Varanim goes, casting shifty-eyed looks as she passes through the double line. "Uh, carry on, or something, I guess."
The smaller hallway changes its decor, the opulent treasures changing into elegant lapis and silver tapestries and a navy and white carpet built out of elaborate, spiralling square maze patterns. (...)
There's an odd, smoky smell in the air, and the hallway begins to curve subtly to the left side, growing narrower as it does.
Varanim Varanim, though grudgingly admitting to herself that the decor is nice, is resignedly waiting for the other shoe to drop. She sniffs at the air, trying to match the scent against her excellent memory, and fidgets with the cufflinks again as she walks.
After a few more curves, the carpet deposts Varanim directly at the end of the hallway, in front of a single door, painted black, its doorframe built of delicately interlocking carved wooden vines, amongst which have been carefully hung what look like human bones. (...)
The door handle, an elegant golden flourish, is tarnished and dark, but looks ready to be turned nonetheless.
Varanim Varanim's fingers travel idly up the carvings, finding something familiar about them, while her other hand reaches out decisively to open the dor.
The door slides open gently, revealing an ornate, delicate chamber -- a bedchamber. (...)
On the edges of the room, wide open arched windows look out upon a pale, elegant city of ivory filigree and opaline rock, spreading out in every direction under a brilliantly starred sky. (...)
On the edges of the room, a variety of columns, each of different heights, hold a variety of strange items, each set alone away from the others: a golden skull; an elaborate lantern with three lights within; a jade dagger, delicately balanced on its tip... and on one of them, a generously-sized, fluted blue urn. (...)
But her gaze cannot linger overlong on it, for in the center of the room, the vast four-poster bed is occupied. (...)
The emerald-green sheets are pulled tightly down around the sensuous curves of the woman who fills it, leaving little to the imagination and no room for clothing. Long blonde hair falls down in beautiful locks around her head, but much like the servants, she has no face -- just one feature that Varanim recognizes immediately: full viridian lips.
Varanim After a very long moment of silent contemplation, Varanim says, "We have to stop meeting like this."
The woman in the bed (in?)decorously pulls the satiny sheets up around herself and slides her legs to one side, making room for her visitor to sit.
Varanim "Look," Varanim sighs, though she goes over to sit anyway. "I think you have me mixed up with someone else."
"No, I don't think so," the woman says, in the voice that Varanim remembers so clearly from the frozen wastes up north. "You came here. You always come here." The green lips smile in an alluring, almost slightly guilty way.
Varanim "Ah, see, we're hitting the root of the problem. Because I've never been here, which means you probably have me mixed up with your crazy dead boyfriend. And I get that enough from Lucent. Although," she considers the last, "he's never sprung me from the Labyrinth, so maybe I should be kicking HIM to the curb, instead."
Varanim "And what is the urn, anyway?" she adds irritably.
"But you remember it," she says. "You remember what day it is," and Varanim does: the eighth of Ascending Water. "And what city we are in," and Varanim does: Eleara-Joris, in the northeast. "And why you came here to take the Urn," and Varanim does: to prove a point to the woman in the bed, right now.
Varanim A look of irritation passes over Varanim's face, even as she stands to inspect the urn. "You're mistaking the house for the person living in it," she says. "If all the important people are such sloppy thinkers, it's no wonder the First Age ended so lousy."
"I think," she says, "I know more about this than you." Varanim looks closely at the urn -- a carefully wrought piece of work, jade inlay and golden images of men and women hard at labor carefully placed in its surface. (...)
"Death," she adds, "is an illusion for us. Even time itself is unreal, imposed from without." She moves her legs softly under the sheet, and it makes a rather pleasant sound. "Now is when you feel the need to come back over," she says, and indeed, Varanim does.
Varanim Varanim, who loses her license if she admits easily that someone knows more at her, shoots a disparaging look at the woman on the bed. "Death isn't an illusion, it's a tediously well-studied process. But some people can't imagine they only get one life, so they invest Essence structures with weepy sentimentality."
Varanim Still, she goes to the bed, if only to glare better.
She looks at Varanim silently for a moment, though without a face her expresssion is obviously unreadable. "You have always tried to escape your destiny," she finally says, in a more muted voice. "But you can't escape destiny, even when you know it is tragic."
Varanim "Ah," says Varanim in a tone that suggests she is weary beyond even sarcasm. "Destiny, traditional refuge of the intellectually lazy and the retroactive armchair prophet. I should charge by the hour for people who want to have these conversations with their inner guilt complexes using me as a proxy." She sits, looking vexed.
"You've always distanced yourself from the things that make you uncomfortable this way, too," she adds. "But one way or another, the destiny that is yours will find you." She runs one hand down Varanim's arm in a rather sensual way. (...)
"We are almost at the end, here," she says. "It is time for this to come to an end," and Varanim remembers that suddenly retrieving the urn is no longer her goal in journeying here after all.
Varanim "I don't know why I bother talking to any of you people," Varanim sighs, though she catches the hand on her arm for a moment in a brief clasp. Then tilts her head, as she tries to remember why she's really here.
As Varanim tries to remember why she came there, the viridian lips provide an answer of their own, and -- not quite against her own will -- she finds herself dragged down to the bed. (...)
Just before, though, Varanim notices something new, that was not there just a moment ago: the city on the horizon, in the time that they were talking, has burst into flames.