Varanim After the ghosts in the basement, Varanim had simply staggered to bed, seeking perhaps ten or twenty hours of unconsciousness and relief from all the world's ills. She had woken screaming after four hours, with a deplorable lack of alcohol in easy reach, and now sat cradling the Hearthstone in her mismatched hands, brooding in the general direction of its depths.
The generously shiny, opalescent exterior is in marked contrast to Varanim's restless night -- it is the gemstone equivalent of a cheerful (but well-behaved) puppy.
As she stares into it, she feels how the Essence of the place is centralized in the stone, notes the incredible power that lies within -- and then she notices what else it does. (...)
With but the slightest effort, she realizes, there is a place within the stone that she could journey to.
Varanim is curling her lip up in a sneer at the stone's irrepressibly pretty surface, then the expression falls from her face as she notices the Essence path winding into its depths. Writing the night (day?) off for sleep with a shrug, she gathers her concentration and projects herself inwards.
The process is altogether comfortable, like being carried upwards in a pleasant balloon. She feels herself ascending slowly through the air, as everything around her seems to fade out to a faint grey. (...)
Eventually, the ascent stops and she finds herself in an unusual, virtual space: all is grey still, but thin, elegant penlines of slightly darker grey sketch out the edge of elegant, curved benches and asymetrically-tall pillars ring a small cobbled plaza, broken up by tiny monochrome flower bushes. (...)
The air is just the right temperature here, and seems surprisingly fresh -- just breathing it is pleasant.
Varanim first looks down at herself, to see if she shares in the change of perspective, then moves to explore the place, rubbing the petals of a gray-on-gray flower between her fingers experimentally.
Varanim's grey-edged arm reaches out to feel the flower -- like smooth satin, she notes -- when she hears a rather haughty cough from behind her. "Ahem. Don't touch the flowers, please?"
Varanim "Why, are they rottingly poisonous? I've had more trouble with arms..." Varanim turns, trying to pretend she hadn't jumped a bit.
A thin, short person dressed in a rather antique set of university robes pushes his glasses up at her in a surprisingly aggressive fashion as he turns. "New here, I see."
Varanim Knowing that a counter-pose is necessary to avoid losing at the outset, Varanim stands up straighter--short people love that--and rests her hands on her hips. "No worries, the calendar said I was coming. What're you doing in my stone?"
The man is visibly nonplussed. "I am Professor Jardis Humboldt; I have resdiency here."
Varanim mouths the name, which sounds familiar, then frowns at him a little bit. "And are you the designated Protector of Flowers, or just generally fussy?"
"Just fussy," says a creakier male voice from a little further off. "And really more of a Professor Emeritus, given his current state of incarnation." An extremely elderly gentlemen hobbles over on a rather impressive walking stick, earning a "Hmph!" from Professor Emeritus Jardis Humboldt.
Varanim "Is the entire faculty in here?" says Varanim, starting to seriously consider the replaceability of Hearthstones. "Oh, I'm Varanim. The Last, I suppose, if we're being all entitled."
"Kivet Loa," he says with a bow and facial flourish that Varanim recognizes as tinged with a specific sort of old-man equal-opportunity lechery. "Everyone in here came to the Sanctuary for some purpose, one time or another," he says. (...)
"Some of us take matters more seriously than others," Professor Emeritus Jardis Humboldt adds with a sneer.
Varanim "I can see that," Varanim says to the professor, with an elaborate counter-sneer. To Kivet Loa, she asks, "How many is everyone? From the outside, I wouldn't have made this place for a one-bedroom."
"Oh, there's lots of us!" pipes up what seems to be the voice of a young girl from behind Varanim. The Professor elaborates: "There are six (or seven, depending on your method of counting) of us who frequent this garden regularly. And an indeterminate number of others that we see... occasionally."
Varanim spins to see the latest, arrests mid-motion, and twists at the waist to point at Kivet Loa. "Your monograph! Towards a more refined superstition: examining the evidence for birth- and death-stars." That spike of memory assuaged, she completes her turn to the girl.
"You read it?" Kivet seems notably excited at the prospect. (...)
The girl is a young girl, of nearly intolerably perfect features, of the ethereal northern variety that make her look as if her entire self will float away at one time. She smiles beatifically and curtsies to Varanim. "The Small Whirlwind is pleased to make your acquaintance!" she says, pronouncing it in the manner of a child eagerly speaking to grown-ups.
Varanim "I read AT it," Varanim says distractedly over her shoulder to Kivet. "It was just next door to inscrutable, and aren't you a little YOUNG to be hanging out disembodied in library stones?" The last part ends up directed at the Small Whirlwind, of course.
Varanim takes a step to the side so she has glaring angles open on everyone--best to be prepared.
"No! I'm seven hundred and thirty five, and seven months." She looks up and to the right and bites her lip a little as she calculates that figure. "I spread my message of peace and love to the world, and now I get to live here!" she says, and begins to skip around the garden, smelling the flowers. (...)
Loa points and mouths overdramatically to Varanim, SHE JUMPED OFF A CLIFF.
Varanim follows the Whirlwind's path with an expression in her eyes is at least a distant cousin to horror, snapping back to sanity with Loa's intervention. "If it's not ghosts in the basement..." Then she looks at the professor with sudden recognition. "And you're the Humboldt who wrote the thirty-five volume treatise on the various god-cults and their deficiencies compared to the Immaculate...
Varanim ...truth, aren't you?"
The professor nods, making the first thing that remotely resembles positive expression she's seen. "I did. As of my most recent information, it remains the definitive treatise on the subject." He pauses to breathe in preparation for a longer speech on the matter when he is interrupted by rustling in one of the bushes. (...)
A moment later, two figures stumble out of it, both looking a little unkempt: (...)
The first is a taller woman with a hard-as-nails -- yet strangely alluring -- face and long, tightly pulled back (though now slightly untucked) hair, dressed in well-worn battle leathers and wearing no fewer than four weapons in various places -- though a set of Shogunate rank insignia half-hidden beneath her collar give her away as a General. (...)
The second is an utterly bald man, rather wide in the manner of a well-muscled thug, a scar running across one of his eyes, a crooked smile across his lips, and elaborately interweaving tattoos over his head and down onto his exposed arms and legs. (...)
Loa stifles a guffaw while the Professor gawks in abject horror, but whatever disapproval he is about to issue is interrupted as the Small Whirlwind gallops rapidly past with an excited "Hi!"
Varanim "This," Varanim admits with a sort of grudging awe, "was worth waking up for."
"Oi," says the bald man. "The Dry Land Crocodile's 'ere."
The woman seems a little more embarrassed, and spends a moment straightening her outfit and hair before bowing formally to Varanim. "You must be the new possessor of the manse."
Varanim Varanim looks him up and down. "Librarians have mellowed since your day." She nods to the general, although reasonable conversation seems almost out of place at this point. "It looks that way."
Varanim Then she makes a quick count. "One and a half more, was it?"
"The twins are probably quizzing each other on the names of all 852 distinct demonic souls of Ymitri for kicks again," Loa says. "Nobody can really have a rewarding conversation with them except themselves. Themself?" He scratches his head and scrunches up one eye in thought.
Varanim slouches onto a bench, looking around the assembly. "And the lot of you are stuck with me, faithful sidekicks on my dashing adventures." She seems to be examining the idea, like a fine porcelain teapot unexpectedly filled with something that she thinks might be mud but could possibly be manure.
"So it would seem," the Professor says, but his composure is quickly interrupted as the Small Whirlwind gallops past him once more at a rapid clip, this time accidentally stepping on his foot.
Varanim "She's actually got the timing down to the second on that, doesn't she?" Varanim muses, looking after the girl before dragging her attention back to the rest. "Well, at least you won't take up more space in the basement," she says philosophically. "So long as you don't all talk in my head at once and make me crazy, I suppose it's only mostly slated to end in tears."
"We aim to please. Oi!" the Crocodile says, and winks at her. This triggers a brief, split-second look of some sort from the General, though it's gone before Varanim can figure out of what sort.
Varanim "I need to go find out why I have an army of ghostly slaves," Varanim says, deciding to stop hiding from the day. "Anything else I should know about this place right now?"
"Not really," Loa says. "You should generally be able to rustle any of us up when need be. And of course occasionally the others will show up." (...)
"You may wish to check in the final section of the Black Treatise," the Professor says, being mildly helpful -- to the visible surprise of most present. "I suspect the 'army of ghosts' you describe may relate to something you will find within." (...)
The Small Whirlwind ends her galloping by leaping into the Crocodile's arms with a giggle, who spins her around once, lifts her up in the air, and then places her back down again. "Be careful out there," he says with the same wry grin. "Wouldn't want a fine someone like you to wind up in 'ere before your time, oi?"
Varanim "Don't worry; I plan to live forever." Varanim reaches out with her Essence, tugging herself back down to earth.
Varanim glides back down to her body, in her new bed, landing as softly as a rather rough cloud.