alsoquin It's been a day since Varanim moved into the manse, and still, the black spot remains on the Sun.
alsoquin There's been quite an uproar throughout the Sunlands, especially, and poor Bertrand has had quite a challenge dealing with it: so he happens to have called Zahara and Lucent together to talk about it at about the same time that Cerin and Imrama have come to report the new information in their possession. (...)
alsoquin In the tea garden, Bertrand gesticulates, clearly having grown a little into his new role -- but not become noticeably less nervous in the process.
Bertrand "This is obviously something of a concern for the populace, you see. I mean, we've spent all this time telling everyone that the Chosen of the Sun are so wonderful and important and all!" He takes a long gulp of tea and waves uneasily to Cerin and Imrama as they enter.
Zahara paces with her hands gripped behind her back, tense but with a neutral expression. "Which we are."
Bertrand "Of course!" he says, and reaches for a piece of fruit -- causing him to spill his tea. "So when the sun starts to get black spots, people get worried!"
Zahara turns her gaze unerringly on Lucent's forehead. "Indeed."
Cerin Cerin is conversing with Imrama, about the gods, as they walk into the garden. Most notably different about him is the cloak of blue and white which is pinned to his shoulders. " ... entirely sure. But, I wonder if that has anything to do with his injured hand." He says, in response to Bertrand and Zahara.
Lucent laughs nervously. "... what?"
Cerin "When I saw the Sun, his hand was injured. Although it did not seem to be especially recent. It has been bandaged," he explains, as he walks over to Zahara, kissing her cheek.
Bertrand gapes at Cerin for a moment, then notices that he's spilling out what's left of his tea on the ground, puts down his mug, and sets about getting another one.
Lucent looks at Cerin, still... odd. Worried. "When you saw the Sun. Yes." It was hard to decide wether that made him blessed or heretic... or what. "What could have wounded HIM?"
Zahara embraces Cerin for a moment, then her gaze turns back to Lucent, brooding. "I take it your trip to the Jade Pleasure Dome went well?"
Cerin "I am not sure, Lucent. He declined to answer many of my questions," he answers, before Zahara embraces him. "It went ... well, yes," he says, thoughtfully.
Imrama turns to Lucent. "I can think of a few possibilities. Most of the pieces of him still extant in the world have been shredded into tiny fragments, and others of them have been polluted by the Void."
Lucent steals a glance to Cerin's cloak, but his eyes soon widen into the all-important question... "... how did you even get in the Jade Pleasure Dome?!? That place is off-limits! Sacred!"
Cerin "Well, I picked the locks on the entrances of Heaven, snuck past the Swords of Truth, scaled the unclimbable walls of the Dome, avoided the impossible array of traps, slipped through a wall of undying flame to within and then made my way into the Sereglio," he explains to Lucent.
Zahara smiles bemusedly at Cerin, "Of course."
Bertrand comes back in with his new cup of tea, hears Cerin's story, almost drops it again, quickly causes a nearby plant to steady his hand, grins in satisfaction, then -- "....WHAT?"
Cerin nods to Imrama. "That theory makes sense. A similar one had occured to me for the appearence of the spot."
Zahara "Ah yes, do you suppose that the Sun has a Malfaen in his head as well?"
Imrama "But then why would the spot only appear now?"
Cerin "Well, I had considered that perhaps the process of Darkening severed or weakened the link with the Sun. But what would happen if someone restored the link whilst keeping the Darkness?"
Lucent "... how are you even still ALIVE? That... that IS impossible..."
Zahara glances at Bertrand, "Do pick your jaw up off the floor, dear."
Bertrand closes his mouth, dusts off his fancy outfit, and attempts to very calmly take a sip of tea.
Cerin "Do you remember the discussion we had before the Calibration, Lucent?"
Imrama "We are purveyors of the impossible, Lucent. Cerin has simply raised the bar on the rest of us."
Zahara carves a circle of light from her anima, the light turning solid beneath her fingers and leaving a hole for a fraction of a second before new light flows in its place. "Cerin, can you see any changes to our Essences?" She holds the circle up speculatively, then adds a slice of Bertrand's shadow to it.
Bertrand does a very good job of not reacting to that. Instead he takes another piece of fruit. Score!
Cerin smiles appreciatively at the casual ease Zahara creates with, before he carefully studies the collective solar essences, comparing them to the patterns that he remembers.
Lucent "That... that is..." He sighs. "Some things should just remain impossible! It is the... principle of it. It just feels... feels... damn it." He pats on the table, unable to convey what he thinks in words. "And where did you get that damned cloak?"
Cerin "The Maiden of Secrets left it in a chest for me."
Lucent "I have... seen it before. Somewhere."
Zahara raises a brow. "You spoke with her?"
Cerin "I, too, had seen it before. Although where did you see it?"
Bertrand The secondhand Solar Essence Cerin gazes at seems quite normal -- no trace of a taint like might correspond with the spot on the sun is visible.
Cerin shakes his head. "No, she merely looked at me significantly."
Lucent "Hmmmm. Do you see anything amiss on your cloak...?"
Lucent "Why would the Maiden of Secrets give it to you? Why do I find it familiar? Does it have its own Essence? Some spell of some sort wrought into it?"
Cerin "I am not sure, Lucent. Perhaps it was whilst you were gazing into the void? It was whilst I saw you doing that, that I saw it being made," he offers. "Although there is no spell woven into in the sense of Zahara's sorcery, that I can see."
Cerin "As for the reason behind the gifting, I have very little idea. Perhaps it is something to do with Ymir, as I inherited a scrap which was missing through her."
Zahara "May I see it more closely?"
Cerin "Of course," he says warmly, unclipping it from his shoulders and handing it to her.
Zahara takes the cloak, first holding it up to the light, and then spreading it out on the the empty half of the table, which Bertrand has not yet spilled tea on or anything! She inspects it visually, then traces the seams with her fingers, to see how it is put together. Only then does she study the essence of the piece. "Fascinating."
Bertrand The cloak is interesting, its squares of blue and white; the pieces are of different sizes and shapes, though they line up in approximate rows from top to bottom, and many hav been carefully mended to repair the damage of flame or cut that was dealt to them long ago. (...)
Bertrand The edges of the pieces are traced with Essence, but they are not filled with it, as a normal Artifact or object ensorcelled by Exalted magic would be. Instead, Cerin notes as he looks deeper in, the structure enacts more subtle patterns on the level of mote alignment, in a fashion similar to that of the Shadowed Unlife Equation or the Malakim bond.
Cerin "It is, isn't it?"
Lucent "What is?"
Lucent once again curses his lack of Essence sight
Zahara "It's... not like any other Artifact I've seen. There's essence woven within it, along the edges, but not in the way I would expect. I wonder why the bottom edge is ragged?"
Bertrand There are, for any who choose to count, exactly 237 patches in the cloak.
Cerin "The fine structure of the cloak, Lucent," he says. "It is, as Zahara just said, unique."
Cerin "This is the one I sewed in," Cerin indicates with a finger.
Zahara "What is the significance of the number 237?"
Zahara looks at it, nipping off a trailing thread. "And that is the one Ymir had?"
Cerin nods. "She found it in the Southern Wastes. I would like to visit there."
Lucent closes his eyes, whispering to the darkness. The shadow crescent shines over his forehead as he speaks to the void within himself, to Glimpse of the Night. Asking about the number, about the cloak, about him.
Zahara takes a second look at the thread end, after a second, and smiles a little, blowing the hair off her finger.
Varanim wanders in, stuffing the last of a day-old muffin in her mouth and smelling--to extremely keen senses--slightly of expensive liquor. "Whuff at?"
Zahara "The shadows on the light."
Zahara looks up at Varanim. "Ah, hello."
Bertrand An icy breeze briefly blows across the room as Luc's mind touches the thoughts of a dead titan. (...)
Bertrand , thinking, suddenly realizes something. "Wait. That's not even why you went to Yu-Shan!" He reaches for another piece of fruit. "What about the Gods?"
Lucent The crescent seems to widen, as if Lucent's sun was besieged by shadows on both sides... his eyes opening to slits without pupils as he channels it all, pulling every last bit of his will into drawing information from the maws of the Void!
Cerin decides that he will wait until Lucent has finished his communion to answer Bertie, after all, a distraction could be bad.
Zahara watches Lucent with a hint of unease.
Varanim "The hell's he doing?" Varanim inquires mildly, after swallowing. She does not seem worried about distracting.
Zahara "Communing with a dead god, I would suppose."
Bertrand Lucent sees, in his mind's eye, in the black chicken-scratch of the Malfean's hand, the image of thirteen figures in front of thirteen thrones, seven of whom he is quite familiar with... and at the far end, the last one, proudly wearing what is recognizeable as the cloak.
Varanim grunts with apparent mild interest and slouches into a free chair, watching Lucent gloweringly.
Lucent His eyes jolt open, drawing a cold breath. "... the Thirteen. Thirteen Incarna. Thirteen higher Gods, the seven Incarna were there... the Thirteenth... that cloak belongs to the Thirteenth."
Zahara "The Thirteenth?"
Zahara counts in her head, and tilts her head to one side. "Hm. Then, we shall have to resurrect him."
Varanim leans over toward whoever's sitting closest to her. "Does that make sense with context, or is she raving?"
Lucent "She is helping us." Lucent smiles. The green jewel on the Coronal slides out, reshaping itself on the shape of a little Maiden of Secrets, nodding gravely. "That will probably help you put his Essence back together, Zahara."
Lucent "Oh, it does, see. We met Pluto. Inside of the Underworld's Red Sun. He is... ripped apart. We need to place him back together. And to give him back the spark of life. That... will certainly be a great help!"
Varanim "Why do you want to put him back together? He had his shot, right?"
Varanim is looking more awake by the moment.
Cerin "But to answer your question from before, Bertrand, what happens to the gods is now my responsibility."
Bertrand seems to be trying to follow, with a limited amount of success. "But... what does that have to do with Sol Invictus' arm being bandaged and turning black? Or the spot on the Sun?"
Cerin "Perhaps nothing or perhaps everything, Bertrand."
Lucent "Maybe he requires balance. Pluto was in the Sun of the Underworld, after all."
Cerin "Though why would that affect him only now. Pluto has been like that for some time. Unless it was the return of the Gentlemen."
Cerin (( only now? ))
Zahara "Perhaps he was affected by the death of the Ebon Dragon."
Imrama "Possible, but I do not see an obvious connection."
Lucent "Creation is larger than it was, as well. The Sun casts his glance to all of it... pehaps shining upon so much of Creation is..." Lucent stops, then strokes his chin. "... no, the First Age, the world was this large, and he was able to shine."
Zahara shakes her head. "We will find out."
Varanim "Fill me in," Varanim says. "Why do you care that Ol' Sol has an ouchie on his arm?"
Zahara "If you've looked into the sky recently, you will notice the shadow sliver..." she indicates the shining replica she'd made
Varanim "Is it growing?"
Lucent "I wonder if it has to do with... me."
Zahara "It does mirror your castemark alarmingly, doesn't it."
Varanim "Because if it's not growing," Varanim continues patiently, "why do you care? There's still plenty of sunlight to go around."
Lucent "... yes. And it was Quen who started me on this journey." Lucent thinks. "I had such a good arrangement with Glimpse, understanding him, wishing to lay him to rest... I never stopped to think of something like this."
Lucent "... because a corruption to the Sun may end up corrupting us all, Varanim! If he weakens, Creations weakens, if he dies, we all die!"
Zahara "I believe I pointed out something along those lines toyou."
Imrama "The Zenith caste served in the First Age as the conduits to Sol Invictus. And you, Lucent, are currently the only living Zenith I know. I think the possibility of a connection to your own sliver of darkness cannot be dismissed."
Varanim "Really? Because corruption is a pretty loaded term," Varanim says, drumming the fingers of her left hand on the table with a faintly metallic sound. "Not all change is bad." She looks increasingly interested by the puzzle.
Zahara eyes Varanim, looking at her Essence
Varanim flutters her eyelashes at Zahara elaborately.
Imrama "Creation lives by the light of the sun - take that away, and the cycle of life with sputter and end. I am prepared to say that that is not a change I endorse."
Lucent "No, it cannot..." Lucent says, forlornly.
Lucent stops. Then taps his forehead.
Lucent "... we need to take this out of me!"
Varanim looks unconvinced by Imrama's argument, but intrigued by the prospect of freaky Essence surgery on Lucent. "How long have you had it?"
Varanim "You're, what, fifteen?"
Lucent "Eighty-Three." He nods.
Lucent "And that... it happenned about two months ago."
Bertrand Varanim's Essence looks quite like that of any fine, upstanding Solar.
Varanim "Do you have any doctors worth the name around here, who've looked at it?" Varanim peers closer at Lucent.
Imrama "We have one, but he hasn't been around lately."
Bertrand There's something weird about Varanim's arm, when Zahara stares at it. The Solar's normal human Essence pattern seems to cut off in a rather abrupt fashion -- almost frayed edges, quite unlike what one would usually see on a severed limb -- before the artifact patterns of the limb begin. (...)
Bertrand Unlike the last Soulsteel artifact Zahara examined in depth, however, this one doesn't seem to be quite so tricky -- no special compartments for souls, or bizarre destinies, or odd Old Realm text describing its origins in darkest antiquity....
Imrama does some math in his head. "Lucent, do you mean eighty-three years, not counting time spent secluded from history?"
Zahara frowns a little at Varanim's arm, but she doesn't say anything."
Varanim gives Zahara a little finger-wave.
Lucent "Of course! Then... it would be something like Two-Thousand, Six Hundred and..."
Lucent puts a finger to his lips. "What year is it again?"
Varanim raises her eyebrows at Lucent. "Cats help with oversleeping, I'm told."
Bertrand "It's Realm Year 770, sir," Bertrand interjects helpfully.
Imrama "Speaking of which - we will need to create a new calendar system, at some point."
Lucent "Two thousand, six hundred and fourty-two." He nods, "Thank you, Bertrand!"
Bertrand pauses for a moment, then looks over at Varanim. His eyes glow green for a second as he shifts his perception, and then he blurts out "...what happened to your arm?"
Lucent "We could reinstate the Golden Age's." He nods. "The peasants would love the big numbers."
Zahara "The calendar seems to be the least of our worries for the moment.
Varanim "It was a gift," Varanim says to Bertrand, rolling her eyes. "C'mon, focus. We're talking about how Lucent is the freak, here."
Bertrand "I, um, I already knew that Lucent was really, really old." He blinks a few times. "Was something wrong with your old one?"
Zahara "Both of you mix darkness and light."
Zahara "And Cerin did as well, though his has been cleansed"
Varanim "I couldn't get my nail polish right. Also, it was sort of rotting off."
Varanim eyes Zahara and Lucent suspiciously. "This isn't going to turn into some sort of cathartic group hug cleansing quest, is it?"
Zahara "Pfft. I could simply chop your arm off."
Varanim "And I could decide to sit up straight, wear nicer clothes, and join the honored halls of academia. But I thought you were the one who wanted to talk about things that might actually happen."
Lucent "Hey, I am not a freak!" He points to Varanim. "You also talk to Malfeans!"
Varanim "Do not," Varanim says promptly. "I just hear them mumbling in their sleep, sometimes. If you think the difference is semantic, you haven't spent enough time in the Labyrinth."
Varanim "And what do you mean, also?" Varanim fixes Lucent with an ever-sharpening curious gaze. "Who've you been chatting with?"
Lucent "Glimpse of Night! I told you when we interviewed you!" He points to his dark crescent. "I was talking to you... you know, when you got on. What ELSE would I be doing?"
Zahara just lets them talk, their words washing over her as if from a distance as she contemplates what it could be that links everything.
Varanim "Huh." She looks at Bertrand. "He's got a bit of Neverborn in his head, and you're looking squiggly at my ARM?" She gives up on Bertrand as a creature of no priorities.
Varanim "So," she says to Lucent, getting back to the more interesting question. "What do you want to do about it?"
Lucent "Yes, but now we want him OUT!" He steps closer, and pokes Varanim's arm. "What's wrong with it?"
Zahara "It's Soulsteel."
Zahara "The essence where your arm was cut off is oddly ragged by the way."
Varanim "God's wounds, you're worse than the Small Whirlwind." Varanim reaches up to her shoulder and jerks loose the end of the wrapping on her arm, baring the upper part of its soulsteel musculature. "Nothing's wrong with it."
Varanim "I'm aware," she adds to Zahara. "It might be linked to the reason the original came off. Which," she finishes with a look that is simultaneously curious and annoyed at herself, "was a poorly documented disease called Creeping Black Sun sickness."
Lucent "... Black Sun?"
Varanim "That's what the doctor called it. I was too busy screaming for the next part to ask him for more details."
Zahara looks interested. "A sickness, hmm?"
Varanim "I'm the eighteenth recorded person to have ever caught it." Varanim sounds proud. "But the filthy publication-grubber took my old arm, so I didn't have a chance to study it."
Lucent "And the name DOESN'T seem like too much of a coincidence, on the current circumstances?"
Lucent "Especially considering that you are a Solar Exalted?"
Zahara "Hmm and Cerin had said it was his arm that was blackened..."
Lucent "Did you get this sickness before or after Exalting, Varanim? Before or after dabbling in Necromancy?"
Varanim is juggling answers, but stops to snort "Dabbling? If I chipped the jade off you people, I could retire."
Varanim "After Exalting," she continues, shaking her head at the things she has to work with. "The exact timing was... ambiguous, but it's safe to say it was before I learned any real necromancy."
Lucent "And you... you say know Glimpse?"
Varanim shakes her head. "Only in written form."
Zahara "It would be extremely interesting to know if - if they ARE in fact linked - if these things are being caused by the Sun's sickness, or if the Sun's sickness is being caused by us."
Lucent "But how can we even find that out?"
Lucent "... that's it, I'm learning how to interpret Essence flows YESTERDAY."
Zahara shakes her head. "I am not sure. Yet."
Lucent "I am starting to feel like I am blind here."
Varanim "The secret is," Varanim says to Lucent, "people who can see Essence still don't know what they're talking about. It's just a good fancy way of hiding that."
Varanim By 'they,' of course, she means 'we.'
Varanim "But I think you and I need to have a long talk about the thing in your head. I might have to call in the faculty on this one."
Imrama "Black Sun Sickness. This makes the third major medical issue on our agenda." Imrama muses aloud. "We need to see a doctor."
Lucent "What Faculty?"
Varanim "Oh," says Varanim to Imrama, with a peculiar expression that's perhaps nine parts interest and one part sinking dread. "I know a very good doctor."
Varanim In answer to Lucent, she leans momentarily closer to him, tapping her forehead and hissing quietly, "The ones in my head."
Zahara "You have a doctor in your head?"
Varanim "Enh." Varanim makes a hand-wiggling motion at Zahara. "I know as much about medicine as they do. No, I was thinking of the one who's got my arm."
Lucent "You are not making sense!"
Varanim "And now you know how I felt when I came in." She sighs. "I have several, um, consultants in a hearthstone. But none of them were particularly fine doctors."
Zahara "I apologize. Feel free to ask me about what we've spoken of here, when we have a moment alone."
Lucent "Fine, then. Ask them! Something. I... I may be killing the Sun! We have to do something about that!"
Varanim nods, sarcasm gone for a moment as she puts her work face on. "All right, screwing around aside: is there a suitable place in the Manse or immediate surroundings for me to engage in ritual, or would you prefer I did that work elsewhere?"
Varanim She shoots a brief look at Lucent that might almost be mistaken for sympathy.
Zahara "Well, we can't exactly kill Glimpse too much MORE than he already is."
Varanim "On the whole, I am not excessively worried that I will accidentally kill one of the Neverborn. The odds of killing Lucent are substantially higher, but still negligible."
Lucent "I cannot die." Lucent nods. "Do not worry about that." He dismisses that.
Zahara blinks "You can't?"
Varanim "Oh, that'll help." Varanim looks pleasantly surprised. "But if your majesty doesn't mind my icky soulsteel arm waving around a bit inside your Manse--or possibly a nearby shadowland--I can ask around."
Zahara "I'm sensing a bit of sarcasm."
Zahara "However, feel free to wave your arm about. I should check on the shadowland I cleansed, see if it's still progressing."
Varanim "See what you miss, not having amazing Essence sight? She picked that right out of the air," Varanim notes to Lucent.
Lucent "No. Ever since Hesiesh pointed out my inner sun, I made sure I could not die."
Lucent pouts at the lack of Essence Sight
Varanim "All right," Varanim says to Lucent, settling back into her chair and grabbing a teacup to spin on one finger by the handle. "Start at the beginning with this mark of yours, and the Glimpse."
Lucent "I went to meet the Mask of Winters - whom I knew in the First Age as Larquen Quen - and he... he took me to a place. A place with Cages for Exaltations. I looked into one, and..." He stops. It was hard to put that in WORDS...
Lucent "... and I saw the death of the Primordials. I saw when the weapons of the First Age, even one of Zahara's, were used to lay them low. I saw as Glimpse crashed into Netheos, turning it into the Underworld."
Bertrand Varanim recognizes the story from the Black Treatise.
Varanim "Sounds like an educational visit," Varanim says, waving her hand for him to continue while she spins the cup faster with the other.
Lucent "What happenned then... I was in a dark place. Surrounded by Glimpse of Night's souls. Only, when I walked closer... they were dead. And rotting... and we talked. And as I saw all of it... he asked me for help. He made me feel all the suffering he is in, how he only wanted to die..."
Lucent "... and then, I was out. It was... intense... but brief."
Varanim The teacup whirls still faster, until the loop of its handle slips off Varanim's finger and she has to reach swiftly out to catch it before it shatters. "NEAT."
Bertrand "Careful, those are easy to drop!" Bertrand offers, once again helpfully.
Varanim has decided that she can't hear Bertrand talking, for now. "And after that, you had both the mark and his voice?" she says to Lucent, fingers now drumming restlessly on the table.
Lucent "Yes. My mark shone, and... one of their Zeniths. He shone with a crescent of Gold."
Lucent "And Glimpse has been talking inside my soul, since then..."
Varanim "Where is that Zenith now?"
Lucent "Oh, wait. Midnight. It is their classification. Abyssals." Lucent sputters, a little shaken from all that. "And he is... here. They are the Masks' cultural emissaries for the Sunlands, Midnight and Dusk. Betrand, could you... go get him?"
Bertrand "R...right away," he says, and carries the rest of the bowl of fruit out with him as he leaves.
Varanim snaps her fingers at Bertrand as he goes--left hand--just to see if the strange chiming will make him jump.
Bertrand drops his fruit bowl all over the ground and has to resort to Essence-ing it back up to get on his way.