Varanim hasn't slept for about a day and a half when she drops into the Hearthstone, which makes it something like late afternoon by her internal clock. She goes looking for Kivet with the gleam of a mission in her eye.
Things inside the stone have come back a little closer to "normal" since the mysterious basement creature has been showing up a little bit less, but there's still a bit of a chill about the place. She finds Kivet enjoying a drink in one of the office-like chambers, rather than his more usual position out on the courtyard.
Varanim "I need your brain," Varanim says, then pauses to look at him. "You guys can drink in here?"
Kivet "It's not real," he says, swirling the contents of his glass around and letting the light show off its ethereal qualities. "But I still can't think very well if I don't have it in my hand," he says, a little sadly.
Varanim "Hm. If I can bring in Lucent, I bet I could bring something actually useful, like booze." Varanim looks taken with this question for a minute, then remembers herself and slouches into another chair. "I'm building a treehouse," she begins.
Varanim "With a 'no boys' sign and everything, it's going to be great. The thing is, the local Essence flows don't actually flow, and they jump around besides, so I need to regulate the inputs."
Varanim "I want to know if it's feasible to use the stars to set the regulation, some natural rhythms resonance garbage like that."
Kivet "Hmmm," he says. "Can you elaborate a little more?" Then he takes a swig of his non-existent drink.
Varanim "Well," she says, hunting in her pockets for some non-existent chalk and drawing a diagram on the nearest flat surface, "by 'treehouse' I mostly mean 'Manse' and by 'local Essence flows' I mostly mean 'in the Labyrinth'."
Varanim "So it would probably be useful to do it right the first time."
Kivet "I would be inclined to agree."
Varanim She sketches a sample junction, representing the discontinuity described by Verbena as best she can.
Varanim "I can't be there to babysit the thing, so it needs some kind of regulatory force. So tell me about Netheos stars."
Kivet "Luckily for you, I know quite a bit about this topic," he says, and pulls out a scroll from under the desk. "When the Primordials were slain, the stars that were bound to their life force were pulled violently down into Netheos, where they took some time to reorganize themselves." (...)
Kivet "As the Malfeans settled into their new undeath, the stars settled into the dark sky of the Underworld, forming new Houses and constellations. There are twenty-one constellations in the Underworld, and they tell of fates reversed from those of the world above," he says, and unrolls the scroll to indicate the names and descriptions of these stars.
Varanim "I know most of the signs," Varanim nods, "but I hate all that divination bullshit. What do you mean by reversed?"
Kivet sighs in that professorial way at the word "bullshit," and thinks for a moment before deciding on how to proceed. "How much do you know about fate?"
Varanim "It's that thing people invoke whenever they want to avoid responsibility for their screwups, which is usually."
Kivet looks a little distant as he talks. "The purpose of the stars, and their relation to the living world of Creation, is a complex system that humanity has seen fit to label 'fate.' The totality of it is something that, I am certain, no mortal beneath the skies understands, but the central axiom is that the flows of Essence work to make some actions easy, and some hard, and these flows are marked in the stars." (...)
Kivet "Those who set the stars in the sky shaped those flows in their own inscrutable ways, and history has unfolded along the paths of least resistance ever since." He unrolls a second scroll, featuring the skies above, as a visual aid.
Varanim "Sloppy," Varanim sniffs, but she nods. "Assuming I buy it for the argument, who made the plan for the Netheos skies?"
Kivet "The dead gods. The Malfeans, just as they and their siblings did to the living skies when Creation was first cast." He points to Creation's stars for a moment. "You can see the influence of the living stars in the affairs of mankind quite easily: think of how many stories you've seen that follow a hero on a Journey, watch him find love, fight a war, and reveal a secret, only to end in a great climax."
Varanim "Mm. Then his love wants him to pick up his own damn clothes once in a while, the war is just the latest in a string of petty gore-soaked squabbles, and life goes on mostly as before, but maybe that's in the footnotes somewhere." She looks pensive, though.
Varanim "It sounds like a good fit for regulating the Essence shifts, then. Assuming we can figure out how to build the thing at all."
Kivet nods. "Things are different in Netheos. The beginning of every story is vitally important: that's the moment of someone's death, after all. But even beset by self-doubt, turmoil, and hatred, in the end: that person is still dead," he says, pointing to the Houses of the Underworld in order. (...)
Kivet "The futility of all action is the ultimate message of the dead stars, so your design will have to take that into explicit account."
Varanim It's not easy to glare and look inspired at the same time, but Varanim's face is used to accommodating those expressions. "Huh. I... might be able to work with that."
Kivet "Oh?" he says, clearly intrigued by whatever thought process has inspired Varanim today.
Varanim looks cagey for a minute, then seems to reach some decision and reaches out a finger to trace around the edges of her diagram. "Verbles is going to find me a good spot for the thing--probably some kind of crossroads, who knows." (...)
Varanim "And Zahara is going to make me a mask to socket the hearthstone. I think"--her fingers fidget for a moment, feeling the texture of an incomplete idea--"it's going to be kind of a reassociation engine for sensory inputs." (...)
Varanim "I want to take the signals from the Labyrinth and jiggle them sideways, use them to merge the views from both sides of the Shroud and sort of... adjust the picture."
Kivet "That will be complicated," he says, in a tone of voice she imagines he might have used with an apprentice who said they wanted to jump into a volcano for a study project.
Varanim "If any idiot could do it, I wouldn't be interested," Varanim snorts, then turns her gesturing hand palm-up and fixes Kivet with a peculiarly direct look. "Normally I have a rule to follow about whether to try ideas like this, but it's ambiguous here. So. You're one of the only people I know who's maybe as smart as me."
Varanim "Is this a bad idea?"
Kivet thinks for a long, hard minute about it, before finally issuing a ringing endorsement: "Not... necessarily."
Varanim leans back, raising her eyebrows invitingly.
Kivet "If you adjust for the entropic spiral inherent in the Essence of the dead stars, and you create a narrative circle that draws lifeforce across the Shroud to counterbalance the energy of Netheos..." he scrunches up one eye and does a few brief mental calculations. "It might work."
Varanim "Mm. How much lifeforce?" Varanim says. "Or is that going to be one of those cutesy emergent things?"
Kivet "One of those, yes."
Varanim nods, looking faintly disgusted and not the least bit surprised. "Anything else I should know?"
Kivet "Well," he says, gesturing around him, "this place should at least ensure that you don't need to worry about a Last Will and Testament. You are probably as ready as you are going to get."
Varanim A smirk flickers over Varanim's face, then fades. "I'm tired," she says after a moment, staring down at the incomplete diagram. "So tired."
Kivet tries to be vaguely comforting. "It'll be alright. You're a tough girl."
Varanim She looks up and smirks brilliantly at him. "Course I am. And this is going to be the best treehouse ever." She slouches up to her feet, turns to go, then pauses. "Hey, you don't know anything about the doomy thing in the basement, do you? The Twins were a little less coy than usual about it."
Kivet looks at the ground in something like a gesture of defeat and says "No. No I don't."
Varanim shrugs. "The potential janitors all have problems: disappearing behind every speck of dust, can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar, planning to kill me for my own good, that sort of thing. But maybe I can pull one of them in as a temp."
Varanim There's a little space there, where a person might thank Kivet for his help, and Varanim instead heads out. "Me and fate!" she says over her shoulder. "This is going to be hilarious."