Varanim comes around the dojo to find Spring. "Nobody does things for free. What do I owe you for the treehouse?" she says by way of hello.
Spring "Varanim, I am always glad to assist my friends and companions in our work against the forces who seek nothing less than the total annihilation of Creation itself."
Spring "However, if you will not be appeased until you do a service for me, there is something I might ask of you."
Varanim "Right, right, 'think nothing of it, but...'" Varanim waves a hand for him to go on. "Come on, you have reliably non-boring ideas." She looks a little bemused at the admission.
Spring "You may have heard from your...from Lucent that I intend to begin educating the younger Solars and other Celestial Exalts."
Varanim gives him a bit of a hairy eyeball at the start, then apparently decides she's being baited and doesn't pick that up. Instead she says, "It sounds familiar. You want to make them better... what, exactly?"
Spring "Also, Exalts."
Varanim "I'm pretty sure there's an argument about whether it's possible to do both simultaneously, but I'm not remotely high enough to be suckered into it. Where's the favor?" Varanim pulls a couple of oranges out of her pockets, tossing one to Spring
Spring eats it immediately. "I wish you to speak to them."
Spring "I am given to understand that you have strong, perhaps unusual views on the subject of gods."
Varanim "I don't have much use for them, but I gather that's a pretty broad trait around here. You mean the whole thing where I think people are overly superstitious about Exaltation, past lives, fate, various mandates from the heavens, and like that, right?"
Varanim "Also, how big a fruit CAN you eat?"
Spring "I can eat anything I can get into my throat."
Spring "That is precisely the thing I mean."
Spring "Perhaps you might lecture my students on the virtues of skepticism."
Varanim "So I can pretty much assume you've heard or thought of every sex-related joke on the swallowing thing, right?" Varanim clarifies first things first.
Varanim "And... let me get this straight, you WANT me to explain to impressionable kids why they should hold nothing holy?"
Spring "It might be as well for you to assume that."
Spring "I do. I think it will make a nice counterpoint to Lucent's speech."
Varanim has a brief but noticeable facial twitch. "I'd ask you what he's talking about, but to my sorrow I can already envision the whole thing."
Spring "I believe the combination of you two will do even more than one of you alone could do to teach the virtues of awareness and intellectual self-reliance."
Varanim "On one hand, I hate school and authority positions in general. But... it might be funny, and there is the treehouse thing." Varanim looks torn.
Spring "You hate authority in general, or merely possessing it yourself?"
Varanim "Oh, both. I'm multifaceted like that." Then Varanim looks as if an idea has struck her. "Hey, do you have a minute? I need to ask the general in my head about something, and having you along would help butter her up. She'll squeal like a schoolgirl at the idea of meeting Wei Dan's heir."
Spring "I would love to."
Spring "Where does your distaste for authority derive?"
Varanim ambles over to slouch into a seat near Spring, unwrapping her arm and parting the muscle fibers of the forearm enough to expose the fragile-looking bubble of the Hearthstone. "Touch there and project yourself inward after me. And I suppose it comes from the usual place--living under, and then without."
Spring "Yes, I have little experience with that."
Spring touches the Hearthstone.
Varanim hurtles herself inward with a familiar flexing of will, to the grey-tinted stylized plaza with its benches and columns and mere suggestions of detail.
Spring follows her, after a moment of observation.
Nesula The plaza is looking a little haphazard today; there's what looks to be garbage and detritus strewn across what is normally an immaculately clean surface, and several of the trees and bushes have been partially unrooted. (...)
Nesula Conveniently enough, the General is standing -- her hair pulled back so tight that it looks like it might tear itself off and go freelance, her sword held at the ready in one hand -- right there.
Varanim "Problem?" Varanim says in lieu of introduction, narrowing her eyes at the General's stance.
Nesula "It's a goddamn mess in here," she says, and turns around, as if looking for something.
Varanim "Has the thing in the basement been eating people?"
Varanim "Oh. This is Long-Awaited Spring, whose shard used to be Wei Dan. Spring, this is General Oteiza, from back in the day. Welcome to my head-rock; it looks like the monster in the basement is feeling frisky."
Spring "I would like to meet that as well."
Nesula Oteiza is a little surprised. "Really? Wei Dan?" Whatever embarrassment the General by rights should be feeling over her knowledge of the forbidden works of Anathema strategy does not seem to restrain her from impressment. "You bear the weight of tremendous glories, sir."
Spring "And responsibilities as well. Thank you."
Varanim "I came in to hear what you know about Tara Zhan keep. But if the basement monster has been eating things I should worry about, feel free to mention that first."
Nesula "It's nothing we can't handle. I think." She looks around again, in case it's snuck back into the plaza. Then she thinks about what Varanim just asked. "Tara Zhan? Why would you want to know about something like that?"
Spring "Your defense of the Diamond Plain was a masterpiece of application of limited resources," Spring mentions in an aside to the General.
Nesula The General starts to respond, halts herself, and then blushes.
Varanim "Like a schoolgirl," Varanim says to Spring. To the General, "Funny story, it's recently resurfaced and the local Empress is related. Place was pretty busted up when we visited."
GeneralOteiza "That's Jinanna's fortress," she says.
Varanim "So the songs say. What was the last you heard about it?"
GeneralOteiza "The last I had heard of it was not long before I... journeyed here," she says. "The forces barracked in that region had been deployed against potential excursions from the Underworld. I believe they had increased the garrison by 150% from its standard complement."
Spring "Were such excursions common?"
GeneralOteiza "Yes, and growing increasingly moreso. The Shogunate was never at war with the dead, openly -- but there was little to lose, for them, so it was not uncommon to send such meaningless attacks against us."
Varanim "Any particular reason that someone would send half the spectres in the Labyrinth riding down on top of them?"
GeneralOteiza "As opposed to anyone else?" She thinks for a moment. "The Zhans weren't exactly a lucky family. It could just be poor fortune."
Varanim "Like all good peasants I believe in bad luck, but I mostly don't believe in giant water-based spectres romping around at random with all of their friends into heavily guarded castles--unless you're saying there was a shortage of easier targets at the time?"
Spring "Were they historically unlucky?"
GeneralOteiza "There may have been. After several embarrassing defeats, the Southern Daimyos had regrouped and redeployed their resources more effectively, which had halted most activity in their region. And there was almost never any meaningful activity in the West." She then turns to Spring. (...)
GeneralOteiza "There was a bit of a reputation, you know? The Zhan name stretches back, and their success was always followed with a bit of oddness." She shakes her head. "I didn't know any of them myself; you'd just... hear things."
Varanim "Oh, things are a key part of my business. Do go on." Varanim cracks her knuckles.
GeneralOteiza "Rezal Zhan had the misfortune of having the only Dominion that was completely destroyed during the Magma Rains. Kifid Zhan was killed by his own wives who mistook him for an invader."
Spring "And the general feeling was that this familial streak of inexplicable misfortunate was simply coincidence?" Spring's voice holds just a tinge of disbelief.
Varanim Varanim's eyes go distant, as she considers the details of a possibly relevant dream.
GeneralOteiza "The Zhans were also aloof, reckless, and stubborn. Would you want to be the one to tell them there was something worth looking into?"
Spring "Mm. Your point is well taken."
Spring "I suppose I will have to be the one in any event."
Varanim "A white snake tying together a pile of corpses--that sound at all familiar?" she asks with a frown as her gaze re-sharpens.
Varanim "Green lips," she adds with a faintly disgusted look to Spring.
GeneralOteiza "Not... specifically," she says. "A white snake -- I suppose that could be the mark of the Dragon of Salt and Bone; it was worn frequently by the champions of undeath that we engaged with."
Varanim "If you can tell Zahara in a way that avoids fueling her persecution complex, I'll give you a shiny nickel," she says to Spring.
Varanim To the general, she adds, "Any other hilarities to report in here?"
Spring "An unreasonably safe wager."
Spring "Perhaps I will tell Cerin."
Varanim "Ooh, chicken but clever. I like it."
Spring "No doubt you meant to say prudent. Thank you. I agree."
GeneralOteiza "Nothing that's really too odd going on here, the intruder aside. If Jardis stops being a little bitch, then I'll start to worry."
Spring "What is this intruder?"
Varanim starts to answer, then waits to hear the general's take instead.
GeneralOteiza "There's some creature in here that's just... not supposed to be here. All black cloaks and hidden faces. It rolls through here chanting about how THE TIME IS NIGH and ALL SHALL PERISH!" (...)
GeneralOteiza looks around, sword at the ready. "It hasn't eaten anyone. Yet. But most of the folks in here are too spooked to go about their usual business."
Spring "Might I meet this visitor? It is rude to bring guests to your home and keep them separate."
GeneralOteiza "Hard to say. We don't exactly have a little bell we ring to bring him out for tricks and sandwiches."
Spring "He must have a room of his own."
Varanim "It sleeps in the basement, and the twins claimed it's been here for a long time." She considers, then adds to Spring, "It has six faces hidden inside, one of which is mine. It bit me when I tried to look up its skirt for more details."
Spring "This sounds more entertaining by the minute. Let us go to the basement at once."