Varanim slept fitfully, as is so often the case, but the cause is a bit different. Usually when Varanim can't sleep, the dreams are an elaborate production of twisted pageantry, but today, all she could see, every time she closed her eyes, was a single image, like an evil visual mantra:
A stunted golden infant, its skin glowing faintly and its face hidden behind a skull mask, banging its fists against the walls of the cavern of bleeding flesh and bones it is trapped within, each slam producing a low, reverberating gong.
z knocks on the door.
Varanim There is a bit of scraping and thumping from inside and then Varanim opens the door, rumpled and glaring and smelling freshly of alcohol. "What?"
Zahara waves away the fumes. "Ah... good morning Varanim!" She smiles with irritating brightness.
Varanim "Is it? I hadn't noticed." Varanim squints at Zahara, as if the smile brought a little too much sunshine with it. "And nobody knocks on my door to exchange pleasantries, so what do you want?"
Zahara wipes the smile off her face, in deference to the whole kindness thing she's vaguely working on. "Our last trip to study the nearby shadowlands got cut short. I thought you'd like to continue it."
Varanim A twitch goes down Varanim's arm, like she was just starting the motion to slam the door and then stopped it. She looks suspicious, then says grudgingly, "Let me get my pretty traveling clothes on."
Zahara The smile returns, halfway and genuine as she imagines Varanim with properly pretty traveling clothes. "I'll meet you in the courtyard."
Varanim Varanim shuffles out to the courtyard a few minutes later, appearances suggesting that 'pretty traveling clothes' consist of putting on her sagging wide-brimmed hat, her bag for holding ritual supplies like rum, and a rumpled coat. She does look a little more lively, however. "Demon wasp things again? They were almost as much fun as spitting over the side of the airship."
Zahara shrugs "Unless you'd rather take the scout ship"
Varanim waves a hand. "Let's go."
Zahara mounts up, annnnnd they're off!
Zahara takes the most direct route to what was once a large shadowland within her borders. It's a fairly long trip but the wasp and manticore are fast and the weather is reasonable.
Varanim On the way, Varanim isn't chatty, brooding down at the landscape and smoking a cigar whose smoke is mercifully lost in the wind.
The former Shadowland is slowly but surely recovering. Where Zahara cast the staff of wood down upon the land, a rather sizeable oak has sprung up, its bark gnarled and black but its foliage healthy and lush; around it, the tiny flowers that signalled the rebirth of the land bloom brilliantly, while thin patches of grass grow in through the once-dead ground around them. (...)
All in all, the land looks closer to an area that survived a huge forest fire than one which had ever so recently formed a hole between worlds, a gash in the Shroud through which necrotic energy flowed into the living world.
Zahara alights just outside the border, and walks through, feeling for the tingle of shadowland-crossing that she'd felt before. "So, this is it."
Varanim Varanim was sitting bolt upright by the time they landed, drumming her fingers on the nearest surface in a fashion that was possibly annoying for the wasp. She loops her arms around her staff, slung over her shoulder, and gives the whole place a narrow-eyed once-over, eyes lingering on the tree. "Tell."
Zahara "Hm. We were speaking about how the shadowland within our borders was a potential threat." she laughs shortly. "As was recently proven." She cocks her head slightly, following Nim's gaze and continues. "I was talking to some of the tribespeople who were working on reclaiming another one, and I had the idea to try a Solar Circle spell to hmmm speed the process up quite a lot."
Varanim "Speed up by how much?" Varanim has already dripped blood in her left eye, looking on the landscape with a restlessly shifting gaze and barely pausing to shoot an inquiring look at Zahara.
Zahara "I cast the spell about a month and a half ago."
Varanim There's a flicker of something in Varanim's eyes, almost too fast to see, gone when she turns her head fully to look at Zahara. "How practical is the spell to cast repeatedly?"
Zahara "Not particularly practical. There are esoteric components, of course, and the spell itself takes a full day."
Varanim "Boy, a day," Varanim says. "That's a pretty steep price to avoid decades of work, certainly." The sarcasm loosens a bit as she turns back to shop talk. "What kind of esoteric?"
Zahara "You said repeatedly. I assumed you meant without needing time to recover my energies."
Varanim "Sleep is for wusses," Varanim says, waving a hand. "That tree, the focal point--what was the component?"
Zahara "The taproot of an ancient tree."
Varanim Varanim, who rarely admits to ignorance on any subject, looks thoughtful and leans on her staff. "That sounds familiar."
Zahara glances over at her dubiously
Varanim rolls her eyes. "But if I knew, I'd have said something so you could appreciate how smart I am. So fill in."
Zahara "I just have a hard time imagining you and trees getting along. The taproot is the primary root, essentially. It digs into the earth vertically to a great depth, which brings both elements together."
Varanim "You can either believe that I used to keep a fine garden, or you can remember that Eastern funeral rites are all about death-trees," Varanim shrugs away her interest in horticulture. "So a giant dies for every Shadowland that breathes again. Sorcerers and their symmetries are so goddamned cute."
Zahara smirks. "Cute indeed." She surveys the land, shifting her vision into the realm of Essence. "It seems to have taken well, but I am unsure how fragile its grip on Creation is."
Varanim Varanim moves further into the cleansed area, talking over her shoulder to Zahara as she bends to run her fingers through the recovering soil. "Given a lack of serious Essence shocks, I'd put money on the recovery lasting--but what are the odds of that, really?" She looks back over. "How large was the area?"
Zahara "I've been thinking I should re-walk the borders anyway, infuse a little extra cough sunshine into it." She sets off along the line, trailing the tip of her daiklave in the ground behind her and marking similar runes to the ones she'd created in the last one, little trails of gold melting into the ground behind her.
Varanim "Did she actually just say that?" Varanim asks the air grouchily, but she keeps pace with Zahara on the inner side of the border. "Was there resistance to the spell?"
Zahara "Oh, not really. Just a behemoth," she says off-handedly. "The others took care of it while I was busy."
Varanim Rolling her eyes a bit, Varanim presses, "Was the behemoth--which is really hardly worth mentioning, if that's all the trouble you had--triggered by the spell, or just in the neighborhood? Because that's the sort of consequence that would be interesting to know ahead of time."
Zahara "Frankly I wasn't paying full attention to it. I believe it was triggered by the spell. It was sleeping beneath the shadowland."
Varanim blinks. "That's pretty neat. Were you stupid enough to pick it or just unlucky?"
Zahara "Well it was underneath where we couldn't particularly see it or know that it was alive or animate or whatever it was. I suppose that counts as unlucky.
Varanim "What did you do with the remains?" Varanim asks, then visibly jerks herself back on topic. "A full day of casting makes the spell tactically problematic, but still worth doing for your home territories. Or are you really worried about killing too many trees?"
Zahara veers away from the border and heads back towards the center, where what's left of the behemoth lies, inert. "I believe Lucent blessed them or some such. As for the trees, the sacrifice would be worth it for the greater good. And when I get the chance I will certainly cleanse the last one we visited."
Varanim inspects the behemoth remains with her usual hobbyist interest in uninhabited corpses, curious if there are lingering Essence traces of unusual flavor.
The creature's remnants still hold the faintest traces of necrotic essence, the only signs of deathly essence still remaining in the restored land.
Varanim "Huh," she says. "Unstoppable broom meets immobile stain." She looks up at Zahara. "Has Verbena been out here? Be interesting to get her read on the dragon lines."
Zahara "Hmm that would be interesting. I shall have to get her out here."
Varanim stands, dusting her hands on her knees. "Besides the obvious gloating points, was there anything else you especially wanted me to draw from here?"
Zahara "What, gloating isn't enough for you, woman?"
Varanim "Oh, no, it's very well-played gloating," Varanim assures her. "I'm actually moderately impressed, but I lose my license if I say that."
Zahara "Ah, well we can't have that." she half-grins, half-smirks. But I did want to see if you noticed anything that I could not detect myself, and I thought it was about time to re-check the borders."
Varanim shakes her head. "No, it's pretty clean. And quite beautiful, really." She contemplates the tree for a moment, half-smiling. "Anyway, I'm sure the tribes will move in soon and properly filthy it up with grudges and ghosts and little wars again."
Zahara "Oh, I don't know. I was thinking about turning it into a garden."
Varanim "Not to nitpick, but don't you torture people in your gardens? In case you were unclear, that does in fact make grumpy ghosts."
Zahara "No, I torture people in my dungeon although bone meal is rather good for the roses."
Varanim "Just as a friendly suggestion, not that I'm an expert or anything, but you mostly want to keep your desecrated remains away from the flowerbeds. If nothing else, it draws dogs."
Zahara "All the dogs allowed within range of my gardens are extremely well trained. Besides, I only torture them, I don't desecrate them."
Varanim "Ah, so you only torture people of the Grindy Bones tribe, that populous group of people whose burial rites involve a shallow grave and a root system. That must take some careful selection."
Zahara "It's a better burial than they'd have otherwise."
Varanim "Boy, it's a good thing we're talking about a totally hypothetical garden here. Because anyone who wasn't keen on the idea of being eaten by the Malfeans someday would clearly know that people who die in extremities of pain and humiliation, then are improperly buried, are lucky to end up as hungry ghosts. Frequently, they skip that stage altogether and slide straight to Oblivion."
Varanim "But, I mean, I'm sure you know that, and you just don't want the Neverborn to get too hungry down there."
Zahara "Of course. I've had a few here and there, but I can deal with them. Also, Cerin has a habit of consuming their essence when they get too pesky."
Varanim "Mmhmm. Well, anything else on this trip?"
Zahara "i just need to finish the last section of the border, and then we can either go, or have a picnic or something" she waves her hand vaguely.
Varanim "Oh," Varanim brightens, "I brought picnic supplies. I'm not sure there's enough for two, though." She pulls out a bottle of rum and eyes it dubiously.
Zahara chuckles. "Worry not, I brought my own supplies. You would probably not be impressed though, due to the quality."
Varanim "I'm sure you can't help it," Varanim says comfortingly. "Rich people always have lousy taste."
Zahara "It's a curse, really," she agrees sadly.