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Zahara paces along a corridor thoughtfully, considering, then, with two fingers, traces out a rectangular line just left of center. She presses against the center and concentrates for a moment, and there is a great deal of rumbling and grating of stone as the space beyond it forms. A few runes carved in an oval next to it, and she steps back, "Put your palm there, please."

Varanim flattens her right hand against the stone. "I feel that when I said 'nothing excessive,' you weren't hearing me."

Zahara snorts. "I can't have you sleeping in the corridors, you'll be in the way." While Varanim's palm is against the stone, she carves in the last few runes, and there is a tingling feeling in the woman's hand. "Hmm That should do it. Try it again."

Varanim Obliginly, Varanim pushes, although she says, "But I don't even have fleas, and I promise not to frighten the servants."

Zahara "I'm fairly certain you are not the most frightening thing my servants have seen." The newly-minted door activates, and slides into the wall, opening into a reasonably spacious, if rather bare, room beyond.

Varanim "I'd be surprised," Varanim agrees, stepping in. She leans her staff against the wall, drops the smallish bundle she was carrying, and says, "And fast to decorate, too. I'll take it."

Zahara smiles, "Well I'm glad you like it, I suppose. She pulls some zebrawood from the air and forms two chairs out of it, seating herself on one. "So. Do you prefer bare walls, or do you actually want something interesting in here?"

Varanim slouches in the other one. "I am pretty sure you meant that rhetorically. But let's be clear, I have no good taste in decorating."

Varanim "And I am fairly certain that a bed, a big desk, and a nightstand for my cheap booze is not your idea of a full complement of furniture."

Cerin There is the sound of a footstep in the almost empty room. "I wasn't allowed to get away with that," says a voice from behind Varanim, "So I doubt you will be," Cerin continues as he walks around, kissing Zahara then sitting on her lap.

Varanim "I'm pretty sure I couldn't get away with THAT, so I think we can assume non-perfect overlap."

Zahara grins and wraps her arms around Cerin, kissing him. "I suppose that depends on how much cheap booze has been bandied around."

Zahara "What exactly do you have against fine booze, however?"

Varanim "It comes in these little fancy glasses and fragile bottles," Varanim says, sketching an example shape with her hands. "No good."

Varanim She leans back on two legs of the chair, studying the ceiling. "I travel light, so I don't need lots of bookshelves."

Zahara arches a brow. "So you don't like the bottles?"

Varanim "It's the delicate artiste in me," Varanim assures her. "I'm Varanim," she adds to Cerin. "How many frills did you have to add before she let you off?"

Zahara "Why does no one ever appreciate my hard work?" she asks, somewhat rhetorically of the air.

Cerin "Cerin," he says with a nod to her before making a small show of counting. "Oh, quite a few."

Zahara runs her hand back through her hair and sighs. "Fine, I'll just stop at two - exceedingly nice - chairs."

Varanim Still leaning back, Varanim looks thoughtful. "Can you do ceilings, too? If you can put a geometric puzzle inlay on mine I haven't seen, I promise I'll answer at least three questions completely straight, no bitching."

Zahara "Words fail me."

Varanim shoots a glance at Zahara, to see if that's an 'off with her head' sort of word failure.

Zahara It seems that Varanim's head, though perhaps on shaky ground, is safe for the moment, as an ironic smile graces the empress' face.

Cerin "Oh, that never occured to me..." Cerin says thoughtfully.

Zahara "Do you want the puzzle to be movable, or simply something for you to solve in your spare time?"

Varanim "It's for brooding at," Varanim says to Zahara, "so no moving parts." She considers. "I suppose it's all right if it cheats and moves slowly."

Zahara muses, "Well, I do need to balance the light and dark in the room, so a puzzle on the ceiling should do nicely.

Varanim looks as though she is pondering some unfamiliar point of etiquette. "I'm not usually a guest," she grumbles.

Zahara "I can't imagine why," she says drily. With one last squeeze to Cerin, she rises, shifting him to sit upon her shoulder so that she has her hands free, and paces about the room. "A large desk, hmm. More of a study area or a work surface?"

Cerin Cerin hops off as she rises, not particularly wanting to tower over Varanim.

Varanim "Nations compete for the gracious blessing of my company, but I like to play hard to get," Varanim answers Zahara. "Study area. I don't think you want me doing much work in here."

Varanim leaves off staring at the ceiling for a few seconds to study Cerin, who she hadn't met before this.

Zahara "What sort of work do you do?" She conjures more raw wood, ebony to match the dark stripes of the zebrawood chairs. Once she has a large stack of it, she begins to fashion a large desk, with storage niches for pens, paper and the like, as well as shelve

Cerin returns the favour, although he seems more interesting in a point a few inches off her left arm. "And how exactly did you acquire your hmm 'new' arm?"

Varanim "Noticed that, hm?" Varanim raises her eyebrows at Cerin and for the first time loosens the wrappings around that arm, showing a rippling glint of soulsteel. "It was sort of a hiring bonus. I didn't take the job."

Varanim "I talk to dead people, when I can't avoid it," she adds to Zahara.

Cerin Cerin raises an eyebrow. "'Hiring bonus'?"

Zahara "Hmm do tell."

Varanim makes a face, wiggling her right hand dismissively. "It's a lousy story, mostly screaming and gooey noises. There was some communication trouble, so it seemed cleverest to leave before the contract negotiation process was finished."

Zahara raises a brow. "I think this will count as one of the questions you promise to answer straight."

Zahara starts fashioning the inlays while she awaits a response. Curious if Varanim is versed enough to know what runes she is carving into the desk.

Varanim "That depends on your ceiling, doesn't it?" Varanim rocks forward in her chair slightly, watching Zahara with mild curiosity.

Varanim "But I imagine if you started asking those questions of everyone here, you'd spend all your time detailing the freakshow."

Cerin "Well, perhaps. But the answers are often worth knowing."

Zahara "Indeed. And I have actually asked such questions of all that have joined me. For instance, when Kai showed up with her soulsteel sword. That, however, was not attached."

Zahara contemplates for a bit, sketching out designs in the air, then she crouches down, sketching out a long oval on the floor after shooing everyone out of the way

Zahara concentrates, hands pressed against the (more or less) center of the oval, and a rumbling commences, the flat marble of the floor splitting and shifting, other colors rising up to fit into a larger pattern, its opposite mirrored on the ceiling.

Varanim rolls her eyes heavenward, takes two deep breaths, then sighs. She says, "I... am not used to explaining myself to people. I generally go to some lengths to avoid it.

Varanim She sounds like she's... not apologizing, exactly, but trying to unbend.

Zahara nods, and continues to work, sensing that if she were to pay strict attention to her, it would make her even more uncomfortable.

Varanim unwraps the bandages around her arm--all the way up to the shoulder joint, it's gleaming soulsteel, actually a little more muscular than her flesh arm. Faint squiggles, like worms trying to form writing, spiral around the length of it.

Varanim "I went from a Shadowland, to the Labyrinth, to the Thousand," she says as she unwinds the wrapping, not looking at either of them.

Varanim "Then I was... operated on."

Zahara looks up, at the arm, trying to decipher the squiggles. "Ahh, the Thousand... the Lion? Why had you gone there?"

Varanim snorts. "I got lost. Trust me, it's easy to do in the Labyrinth."

Varanim Cerin's ears probably pick up the unease of a deeper and unresolved mystery behind the words.

Varanim She still does not know the particulars of her travel, and carries in her a fiercely driving curiosity on the subject.

Cerin "What were you doing ... down there?" Cerin is curious

Varanim "Hunting for hill barbarians," Varanim says, leaning back again and lacing her fingers behind her head. "They're surprisingly common down there."

Varanim Cerin also hears that she was hired to find them, although well past the point where any reasonable person would have given up well before that point.

Cerin Cerin grins, as though he noticed something he was amused by and approved of. "In the Labyrinth?" he raises an eyebrow

Varanim "They were REALLY lost."

Varanim Then she reminds herself why she's here. "Mm. And by 'lost' I mean 'stolen,' by servants of one particular Hundredfold."

Varanim "Anyway, I'm still owed my old arm back. It apparently had a rare disease, and I never got a chance to look at it."

Cerin "One of the Hundredfold? Do you know which race it was? Or did you see any of them?"

Cerin "Also, we will have to do something about getting that arm of yours back ..."

Varanim shakes her head. "Best I can tell, they were some kind of water-beings in life. But I haven't been able to get a close look."

Varanim "If nothing else, I want to mount it on my wall," she says about her arm.

Zahara chuckles. "It would make for an interesting conversation piece, that is for sure."

Zahara "May I see your castemark?"

Varanim looks briefly appalled at the thought of having something specifically to start MORE conversations, then shrugs agreement. She lights up her castemark with a thought.

Varanim "My teeth and gums are also in good condition," she says helpfully.

Cerin Cerin appears to scrutinize Varanim a little more at this admission.

Zahara tilts her head to the side slightly, and smiles. "Ah, good." ::Cerin:: You know, I am beginning to suspect that "Twilight" actually means "Grumpy" ::

Varanim bares her teeth at Cerin in a creepily wide smile, by way of demonstration.

Varanim "Anyway," she says, "much as I loathe to admit it, I've stretched necromancy and investigation about as far as I can, on my own. So here I am."

Cerin didn't actually need her to open her mouth to see her gums. He appreciates the gesture none-the-less though

Zahara seems rather impressed by the admission, and responds sincerely. "I am glad you came."

Varanim "Don't rush to judgment on that," Varanim says, reassuming her comfort level in the conversation.

Zahara grins, "If nothing else, I can always perform arcane experiments on you." The glint of laughter in her eye indicates, you would assume, that she is joking.

Varanim "Mm," Varanim says noncommittally to that. "A large bed would be nice," she adds, indicating a span of 'large' with her hands that suggests a much more modest affair than Zahara would probably picture.

Zahara considers the indicated space, "And a nightstand for your cheap booze, hmm?" She gets to the business of producing a "small" four-poster affair, with hidden compartments in each post, "So what does your new arm do, anyway?"

Varanim nods on the issue of the nightstand. "It does... arm-y things, mostly? It helps sometimes with spells. Oh, and it's great for scaring children. I do this thing where I pretend it's choking me, really hilarious."

Zahara smirks.

Varanim Cerin will know that aside from omitting technical details, Varanim is largely being accurate, although there is also a Hearthstone twined in the "muscle" fibers of the forearm.

Varanim She is mostly joking about the children thing.

Zahara "What sort of help?" She fashions a nightstand that looks formal on the outside, but inside has a rather nice bar storage area, with places for glasses and bottles. And napkins.

Varanim tilts her head at Zahara. "It's a little bendy to explain. I'll have you talk to the Professor sometime about it."

Zahara "Professor?"

Varanim Cerin doesn't know who the Professor is, but he gets the distinct impression that Varanim is blowing the Empress off. "Friend of mine. Well, not really. But he loves explaining things."

Cerin "I would like to meet him too at some point, very much so."

Zahara "Will he be needing a room for visits?"

Zahara "Hmm do we have any more of that ice-enchanted steel?"

Varanim One corner of Varanim's mouth twitches at Cerin, a quickly-suppressed smirk. She shakes her head to Zahara: "Thank you, no. He's just an occasional consultant."

Cerin "There is some in your workshop, yes." Cerin says quietly, after looking through the walls to check.

Zahara "Thank you, love." She looks back at Varanim, one brow raised, "You do like your cheap booze chilled, yes?"

Varanim "Oh, sure," Varanim says expansively. "Nothing but the finest."

Zahara thumbs toward the bed. "Cotton or silk?"

Varanim looks blank. "Uh. Cotton."

Zahara "Somehow I knew you were going to say that. Mmm In any case, I shall bring your ice-box later."

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