< There Is Always Another Way | Sol Invictus Logs | Timeline For Book Fifteen >

Cerin "The Shroud," he murmurs. "The Shroud of Eternities."

Lucent "Interesting. Pehaps one of the secrets to Pluto lies in it?"

Cerin "I think that it belonged to him, once."

Varanim reaches into the deepest folds of her cold-granting cloak from Zahara, pulls out the bottle wrapped there, and takes a swallow with a grimace. The whole time, her scowling gaze is fixed on Pluto. "Something's missing," she mutters.

The God's corpse slowly churns in the space below.

Cerin "Beyond his vital spark, you mean?"

Varanim scowls harder at Cerin's question, or possibly because her bottle is now empty. Eyes boring down at Pluto, she summons to her mind the frozen dissected slides of half a dozen dreams, holding each in her mind's eye for an instant and placing two fingers against the wrist of her soulsteel arm as if feeling for a pulse.

Varanim As she reviews the nightmares of a year in the span of a few seconds, her fingertips wait for the peculiar resonance that indicates an echo from the depths below sleep, from whence the worst and truest dreams come.

Varanim looks carefully and thoroughly, trying to piece together what the missing piece she sees is, until finally it comes to her: where the figure in her dream seems properly defined, the great dead God is a jumble -- the living quintessence of a spiritual being and the dead essence of Netheos jumbled together, each infused into every part of his vast being, with no proper separation between the two.

Varanim "Oh," Varanim says, eyes widening a bit. "He's got no lines anymore between his living and dead bits. I suppose that would hurt rather a lot."

Varanim She leans against the rail for a closer look downward, not noticing as it burns her hand.

Lucent "So we just need to put the eggs on the right baskets?"

Varanim "Right, only someone went and made an omlet already." Then she looks over at Cerin. "And what's that thing you're wearing?"

Lucent "A Gift from the Sun."

Cerin "The Shroud of Eternities. It was repaired by the five Maidens and Gaia, I think."

Cerin "And it was Jupiter who gave it to me."

Lucent waves that correction away "Yes, yes."

Varanim "I don't suppose ol' Jupers happened to mention how to use it to fix a scrambled Incarna?" Varanim's eyes are getting the gleam of a new puzzle, marred slightly by some odd extra annoyance.

Cerin "She was remarkably silent on that, and indeed every other, matter."

Lucent "Cerin, you are able to read impressions in objects, right? All the people who touched it. Can you not see what Pluto used to be, to know what his Essence used to be like? If you can give me a diagram... we can try to begin the surgery."

Cerin "No, I am merely good at seeing what has happened before. Pluto has been like this for no small length of time."

Varanim "Hm." Varanim leans further over the rail, filling her entire field of vision with Pluto's writhing bulk. "Just how much of a corpse are you, anyway...?" She sketches the sign of the River on the air, motes glimmering in place of stars.

Lucent "Oh, yes, that was Ymir."

Varanim's thoughts bring her back to the distant, distant past, to a form that is intensely familiar to her: the visage of Pluto, utterly alive and commanding in his funereal presence, the Shroud of Eternities entire and hung elegantly from his back, all his living and dead parts held properly into place. (...)

She has a brief, flashing image: of the vast undead corpse of Auna crashing into the Netherworld, of Pluto's own spiritual form bending and breaking under the assault, of the Shroud tearing off and shattering, the scraps flitting this way and that upon the dead winds, a few even slipping down to follow Auna into her final rest beneath the lip of the Maw.

Varanim straightens, turning back to the others with a slightly distant look on her face. "You're a sexy one, Cerin, but I have to say he wore it better. But..." she shakes her head. "The rest of the Shroud is scattered, so we'd better hope it's not needed for whatever crazy plan Lucent is hatching."

Varanim Then she notices the extra-burned place where her hand rested on the rail and pokes it experimentally, smirking when the slightly charred flesh brings no pain.

Zahara hauls herself off the deck, flips her hair back from her face, and joins the others at the rail to stare at Pluto. "He is sexy, isn't he?" Experimentally, she directs an elaborate prayer in his direction to watch the essence as it flies.

Lucent "You could see him, right? Can you recall the image? Try to sketch his Essence from there?"

Zahara's prayer flits downward, clear and unwavering in its destination, but its tiny fragment of Essence is lost within the muddied structure of the Incarna's damaged form.

Zahara "Hm."

Varanim frowns. "I could try, but I don't have Cerin's eye for detail--do you want to operate from a stick-figure diagram?"

Varanim Then she scowls, leaning on the rail again. "If there was a way to make some centrifuge or resonance, to separate the mixed pieces, and then impose a memory-blueprint for where they used to be..."

Cerin "That would, I think, need an accurate picture of where that was, no?"

Cerin "Perhaps we can use the cloak as a guide. It was part of him."

Varanim "I..." Varanim breaks off to lift her hand from the rail, sniffing. "Mm, bacony. Anyway, I can--I can see how he should be, but I can't render it easily." Her face has an intense look of concentration as she contemplates the pieces of dream and memory.

Zahara eyes the enormous God. "I could possibly reform his body, as I did with Ssithumi's."

Cerin "Would it help if his cloak was on his shoulders? As a kind of reference?"

Lucent "And after you are done I can see about reforming his living parts. It will be a good training for when the time comes to operate on Imrama." Lucent nods.

Zahara "One way to find out!" she gestures downwards rather grandly, which comes off oddly as she looks rather too bedraggled to be grand at the moment.

Varanim Varanim's eyes flicker a bit as she adjusts some mental schematic, then she nods at Cerin. "Yes."

Zahara laughs, "Oh, yes, practice on the god that's been dead for an Age, before you get around to the Solar."

Cerin nods, "I'll be back shortly then." And then he heads off to the roiling essence which is or was Pluto.

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Lucent "Well, he HAS proven more resilient than our Northern friend."

Cerin Climbing on an Incarna was new even for Cerin, and he could not even claim that the principles were sound, climbing as he was a constantly changing wall of nearly dead essence, making his way ever upwards, avoiding the most turbulent sections, and the places where the essence was turned inside out, climbing higher and higher through the unbearable brightness of the black essence until at last he reached Pluto's shoulder!

Though it is a tricky process at best, Cerin successfully navigates himself to the shoulder.

Cerin unclipped the cloak from his shoulders.

Zahara guides the airship down closer to Pluto, which she supposes she could have done before Cerin climbed the semi-dead god, but then he wouldn't have had any fun. She waits, eyes focused on his Essence, for the cloak to be secured.

Varanim "Oh," says Varanim, watching Cerin, "that helps." She stares down at Pluto for another long minute, mind's eye adding layers of memory and identifying rough groupings of his being that are misaligned from the pattern. Above her, the tower of eyes of her anima blinks awake.

Cerin And then, with a little bit of flourish, he shook out the cape, and it suddenly grew to take on the dimensions appropriate for the incarna, spilling out down his body.

The effect is indeed magnificent, and the edges between the fragments seem to take on a new glow as Cerin does so.

Zahara "My my..."

Varanim "Much better." Needing a rearrangeable set of keys as a concentration aid, Varanim takes her recently-emptied bottle and slams it against the deck, shattering it into dozens of slivers.

Varanim Half of them she touches with her left hand, moving them into locations to match the dead places in the jumble below. The other half she arranges with her right hand, glass cutting into her fingers and leaving a bright coating of blood to mark these as the living half of the puzzle pieces.

Zahara hops over the edge of the airship, landing a foot or so above Pluto, and experimentally tries to rearrange a bit of him

With the God in the state he is in, Zahara finds that it is not tremendously difficult to rearrange what passes for his substance.

Zahara "Well now. That's rather fun."

Lucent "A girl and her almighty clay doll."

Zahara "Two girls." She gestures for Varanim to come down next to her. "Here, I'll show you something."

Varanim finishes rearranging glass, pauses another moment to fix the sequence in her mind, then rises to join Zahara.

Zahara whips out her blue jade daiklave, and solemnly touches the flat of the blade to each of Varanim's shoulders in turn. "I dub thee, a master crafter," she declares with a smile, the glow of her anima flaring then flowing through the sword to melt into Varanim's skin. "Look upon him with new eyes!"

Varanim Varanim, who is actually concentrating too hard to be sarcastic, turns to contemplate Pluto and begin the rearrangement.

Zahara finds the jagged edges of Pluto's Essence, realigning them carefully as an elaborate puzzle, keeping to the bits that are still alive. She recalls with sudden force the mending of Ssithumi's shattered body, a momentary pang of regret that is quickly subsumed by her current project. As she works, she raises her voice in the familiar humming song, shifting it to harmonize with the living essence she is manipulating.

Lucent Lucent watches Pluto, and the Coronal flares to life. Seven Hallowed Devil Orbs begin to shift about the Solar. Luna falls down and becomes a silver plataform for the Solar, rising upwards as the Sun orb shines with the symbol of the twilight over his shoulder. "Supported by the Moon. Enlightened by the Sun. Your brothers and sisters wish you back, Pluto, Lord of Netheos, Guardian of Timeless Rememberance."

Lucent He sees the body and the weave of his life. His body. The Essence of his life, clear before him. He could not see Essence, but he could see life and change it. This was just flesh by any other name, in a Realm where all were one. And there he is. "I am but their instrument. Show me." He touches a Maelstrom that would vaporize a lesser being. The sun Orb shines. And Lucent understands.

Varanim follows the road in her mind, plunging her left arm to the shoulder into vast dead chunks of Pluto's corpse and reshaping them like clay. Her hands move in symmetry to realign the outer countours of each piece, one inside and one outside, palms and fingers separated by a millimeter of distance and a thin boundary layer of blood. Her lips move, but neither formula nor prayer is audible.

Lucent His hand leaves the maelstrom at Pluto's heart, and the Orbs of Maidens become as scalpels about him. "Theirs' is a Fate I have written, mine is the Fate I have chosen, to break you free of your chains, to restore that which is right for the world." His anima flares to encompass so much of the beyind, ghostly images of him manipulating sand as he did long before, moving with the scalpels to adjust open that Essence, to set it right. Cutting where he has t

Lucent A prayer to Heaven, "Do you remember them, oh Dead Lord?"

Lucent "They miss you, caretaker of the eternal journey." The Mercury Scalpel strikes.

Lucent "They miss your laugh, nostalgia and blissful forgetfulness." The Venus Scalpel strikes.

Lucent "They miss your secrets, hidden from all who yet live." The Jupiter Scalpel strikes.

Lucent "They miss your constant struggle against those who would corrupt death." The Mars Scalpel strikes.

Lucent "They miss you, their brother, who knows the truth." The Saturn Scalpel strikes, the last one. "There's always an ending."

Lucent (( * Cutting where he has to, rerouting Essence, life and soul.))

Zahara pauses as she reaches the face, or what is left of it. She stares, searching for an expression, for a hint of who he was before, then gently, almost reverently, she kneels on his enormous features, and begins the work of sculpting his face into an expression of peaceful repose, lifting it from the eternal torment of brokenness.

Lucent As it finished Lucent stepped out of the Primal Hell within him. The Shell and the Life within fixed in perfect harmony, as the Southern Prince finished his side and met Zahara, looking down at the peaceful ace. "No Primordial could have done better."

Zahara stands next to Lucent, as Varanim finishes her part and smiles. "Working together we can achieve extraordinary things."

Varanim watches Zahara's work on the face, nodding. She kneels in the center of the forehead, cupping her hands around a silvery glow--the summoned shred of Lethe that sends lesser creatures on to their rest. She presses her luminous palms against Pluto's forehead, releasing the glow with a weary set in her shoulders, her face turned away from the others.

Lucent "The Gods do the extraordinary, my Empress." He smiles, "We do the Impossible."

There is a long pause as the Solars finish their great project, and regather on the deck of the ship to look upon their handiwork -- the shape of the God, reassembled, wrought once again in the form that he ought to have.


Then, suddenly, something begins to shake.

Zahara glances at her companions, and steps slightly off the deck, just in case. She whispers a new prayer to Pluto, one that slips into his new Essence channels.

Varanim Varanim, her anima slowly subsiding into ruddy streamers and then to dusk, leans on her scorched staff and watches Pluto with glittering eyes.

Lucent stays between him and the others, watching as the Sun begins to shake, closing his eyes to recall the proper rituals to Pluto, to recall his sacrifices and offerings. And to be between him and his companions should a mistake turn him into a momentaneous sun.

With a sudden, shockingly quick motion, Pluto's prone form stretches out, his arms and legs flung out into stiff extension, his head thrown back and his eyes glowing so intensely that only Cerin can look at them -- and lets out an incredible, almost unbearable scream. (...)

At the same time, his movement throws off an immense shockwave of Essence, a powerful symbol of his rebirth -- but unfortunately, one with very poor likely results for the tiny vessel that flew up to revive him.

Varanim "Huh," says Varanim, a moment before the shockwave hits.

Zahara "Oh, shit."

Lucent Lucent whispers a prayer to Pluto. Not a simple prayer. That of a Zenith exploding out of him with a wave! Priests are not merely to worship, but to placate the Gods, to prevent the forces of nature to act upon their people with sacrifice and offering. And with an offering of Essence, prayer strikes the wave like rocks, sending the shockwave scurrying to all sides but his friend's.

The shockwave breaks on Lucent's immovable form, but the ship itself is not so lucky -- it strikes with an audible groan and crunch as it flings the ship violently outward from the awakening God. (...)

The Solars are flung to their feet as the ship is flung suddenly downwards, even as the rapidly-advancing shockwave tears through the fiery circle of Abbadon like a fist through paper, leaving nothing to stand in the way of the ship as it rapidly plummets downwards towards the city of Stygia.

Varanim "On the bright side," Varanim says grimly, holding onto the rail, "it's a really long way to the bottom."

Zahara does not really has time to respond to Varanim's remark, as she is flung clear across the deck into the cabin where her head meets the shattering sunlight with a sharp crack.

Lucent forms a plataform in the air with the Mercury-Disk, pulling Varanim to it! "ZAHARA!"

The ship plummets yet further, making a swift and dramatic arc towards one of the districts of Stygia bordering the central ring. While Lucent and Varanim hang in midair, the ship -- with Zahara and Cerin still aboard -- rapidly approaches its destination.

Varanim Rather than looking after the plummeting Zahara and Cerin--for whom she can do nothing, after all--Varanim's head is thrown back to watch the sun, one hand half-shielding her eyes.

Lucent "... PLUTO!" The Seal of Zenith, mark of communication with all that exists, unifying feature of the Sword of Creation appears from Lucent's sleeve, pointed out to the Incarna, in what is voice and prayer, "IN THE NAME OF THE INCARNA'S FREEDOM, OF THE EXALTED HOST, WE HAVE BROUGHT YOU BACK! YOUR SAVIORS ARE IN THAT CONSTRUCT, THAT FALLING CONSTRUCT, THEY ARE GOING TO DIE! DO SOMETHING!!!!!!!"

Varanim looks up to see what's happened -- (...)

the red fires of Abbadon have been dispersed on the winds, but are now falling down on the unsuspecting Underworld as magma rain, while Pluto, now unquestionably alive but almost as certainly not in control of his own faculties, writhes with the powerful essence of reincarnation, sending off more powerful shockwaves to follow the first one.

Lucent Moves in front of Varanim, holding her arm, crying out, tears on his eyes as his feet fix into the Mercury Disk, a voyage that will not be taken. That cannot be taken. He cannot fall, they cannot die.... "YOU STUPID INCARNA!"

Far below, an immense sound echoes upwards as the ship crashes into a group of Stygian buildings, kicking up a vast wave of dust -- on the edge of which, someone watching closely might notice Cerin, leaping out of the ship with Zahara in tow.

Varanim Behind him, Lucent can hear Varanim mutter: "Haunt my dreams for a week running, then don't even call me in the morning? I don't think so." With the shield of Lucent's invulnerable body still between her and the sun, Varanim steps close behind him, her head above his shoulder.

Varanim She extends her left arm past him, over his shoulder while her other arm grips his as an anchor. Words that devour sound and shatter prayer pour from her lips, half-syllables crawling sideways onto the air and vanishing as they pass by Lucent's ear. They shiver along her arm, turning soulsteel into conductor, and blossom from her fingertips to fly up in a halo of smothering blissful quiet...

Varanim ...to Pluto.

Varanim's tiny spell propels itself upwards towards Pluto's vast form, and against all hope, it settles in like a harsh, cold blanket on a patient burning with fever: as the millennia of unanswered prayers are quieted in Pluto's ears and the sensory overload of sudden life are quieted, the god's flailing form slowly quiets and grows still.

Lucent stood still as a mountain, his grip on Varanim never wavering throughout the storm that battered him. Tears had vanished from his eyes as shockwave after shockwave touched his brow, and then... they are not there anymore. "... you did it."

Varanim sags for a moment, leaning on him, then she straightens up and tries to edge away, even on the tiny platform. "'Course I did," she smirks tiredly. "I have lots of questions for him."

Zahara shudders as the jolt of the shockwave and the whistling of the wind on her face awakens her, cradled in Cerin's arms. Her eyes fly open and she stares at the destruction around her. "My ship!"

Lucent looks down at Stygia, drawing a melancholic breath. "Zahara... Cerin..."

Lucent He does not let go of Varanim, however, even as she tries to edge away. The last one.

Zahara notes that the shockwave seems to be running out, and squirms from Cerin's grasp, planting her feet solidly on the air, while he rides upon a strand of her hair, as she makes her way back up towards the others.

Lucent notices Zahara coming after a long, pregnant pause, pulling Varanim carefully to him, pointing down at their ascending friend. "She is alive! They are alive! Varanim..." He held her, for a moment. They did it. And suddenly the skies seemed the safest place in the world.

Varanim "'Course they are," Varanim says in the same weary tone, but she does finally look away from Abbadon to see the ascending pair. "I can slouch without your help," she adds testily after a moment, as Lucent doesn't let go.

Lucent The Mars Orb becomes a trail towards the Dead Incarna, as Lucent lets go... and then offers his arm to her again, in his sight him, the red carpet, and the Incarna, "What, are you going to the Homecoming Party without a date? Miss Varanim, the Perfect Circle will scold you."

Zahara trudges towards Lucent and Varanim, clearly peeved. When she finally reaches them, she eyes Lucent and his proffered arm. "A match made in Abaddon."

Though the active shockwaves of Pluto's awakening have calmed, the area around him is still filled with a good amount of hot magma and newly-formed tiny storms that have sprung up around his godliness.

It does not look tremendously safe to walk into at the moment.

Varanim inspects her arm with one eye narrower than the other--shirt scorched, skin blistered, hand seared by burns and smeared with blood. "Only since I'm dressed for it already," she smirks, and lays her hand on his arm with a curtsy.

Zahara glances back down at what's left of Stygia and winces. "This will probably not improve out diplomatic relations." She sighs.

Lucent follows her gaze and perceives all of that, realising that there are... still a few things to be done. "I am going to get you better, later. Sorry about that." He nods, and looks towards Zahara. "Sorry I was not fast enough."

Varanim "Don't apologize, it makes you sound almost human," Varanim is starting to say, then she follows Zahara's gaze to the city and stiffens. "Son of a bitch!"

Varanim She points, to a circle of seven stones off to one side of the city. "Down there."

Zahara looks down

There is a faint blue light emenating from within that circle.

Lucent "... well, it is faring better than Gem."

Zahara "What's uh... that light coming from?"

Varanim "That's a fairly interesting question that we could maybe find out if we WENT there. Don't worry, I'm pretty sure we can find the sun again."

Lucent "Going down on the disks is going to be a little dangerous, you know."

Zahara glances behind her at Pluto, then down towards the glowing circle near Stygia. She shrugs philosophically. "I think he needs time to cool off anyway." She rubs her head, and starts plodding back down, feeling drained.

Varanim is scowling fiercely now. "Right, but we'll have to go down sometime unless you like this view for always. Pretend that I wouldn't have mentioned the circle thing if it wasn't important."

Lucent The six other disks make six steps of a stair beneath them, and Lucent takes the first step down on the stairway to earth. "Careful now... careful..." And on they went!

the Exalts walk slowly and determinedly down, until finally they alight on the solid ground, just next to the circle of standing stones, from which the faint blue glow can easily be seen.

Lucent takes the final step down, straightening his hair, "So, people-who-can-see-Essence?"

Lucent "What am I looking at?"

Varanim As she hops off the last step, Varanim mutters, "Thanks," so quietly that Lucent might miss it. Then she turns her eyes to the stones.

Varanim scans the stones, and quickly realizes that the glow is coming not just from anything, but from people standing within the ring. She does not have long to ponder just what people they might be, however, for after just a moment one of them steps forward: the familiar form of her once-travelling-companion Piercing Ivory, but... different.

Zahara looks at them blankly.

PiercingIvory "Oh. Hello, Varanim." He looks over the surprised Twilight and her companions. "I haven't seen you in some time."

Lucent gasps "Shadeborn."

Zahara "Friend of yours?"

Varanim Varanim, after a visibly stunned moment, says, "...Huh." After another moment, she says, "Hey, Piercing Ivory. We just put Pluto back together--what have you done lately?"

Lucent gets a smile on the corner of his lips, looking at Varanim over his shoulder. "Piercing Ivory!"

PiercingIvory looks up to the sky with a wry grin, and says "Some of us been waiting for someone to do just that."

Zahara "I don't suppose you have an extra airship handy?"

Varanim turns a flash of chagrin into a withering look at Lucent, then shuffles her way forward to glare at Piercing Ivory with an unobstructed view. "Waiting to do what?"

PiercingIvory "No, we don't," he says. "My compatriots and I have not really had the chance to work on that sort of thing."

Lucent "You were chosen, right? The Higher Souls of Men, and the Lower Souls that would be merged into the Shadeborn. You were still chosen, even while he lays dormant?"

PiercingIvory nods. "Once the Incarna reassembled our shards, brought back together what once was scattered."

Zahara "The cloak?"

Lucent "... oh, so you were chosen during the Eclipse, and have been waiting only since then?"

PiercingIvory "The cloak." He looks over the gathered Solars. "Of course, I don't understand all this that well myself, I've had to have people explain it to me." He looks at Zahara. "I don't suppose you'd like to meet some of the others?"

Zahara "...Why do I suspect I might regret saying yes? But yes, of course."

Lucent "Lead away!"

PiercingIvory steps to one side, and gestures towards the stones, where a few others of the shadowy figures who stand within step forward, a little uncertainly:

Varanim shoves her hands in her pockets, assuming a mild 'what fresh hell is this' expression that can't completely hide the interest burning in her eyes.

PiercingIvory First, two figures that the Solars do not remember with any manner of fondness: the bald man and vicious woman who once stood as Lai Misuna's lieutenants in the Red Lily war: Holbar and Shikaya.

Zahara studies them for any sign of aggression. "Welcome...back, as it were."

Lucent "You have been given a second chance, it seems. Guardian of the North, Dragonslayer of the South."

PiercingIvory Neither seems aggressive in the slightest; if anything, a cool, sad demeanor seems to sit over their faces. Both bow awkwardly and step to the side, with only a stiff "...thank you" from Shikaya for speech.

PiercingIvory Next is another familiar face: the slain Western Solar, Saraya, who looks crestfallen as she sees the other Solars standing to meet her.

Zahara raises a brow. "Second chances abound today."

Lucent "I saw the result of your work recently. Where do you stand now?"

PiercingIvory "I am Chosen of Pluto," she says, also stiffly, and like the others, moves aside quickly.

PiercingIvory And finally, from the far back, one more figure walks forward: a broad chest, tousled hair, the fur of a large animal slung across his back: Markuran the Bear, his form blue and insubstantial, but no less recognizable than it was when he lived. (...)

PiercingIvory He walks to the front and unlike the others, he speaks clearly and confidently: "Hello Cerin, Zahara."

Zahara twitches involuntarily as Markuran walks towards her, taking a half-step back. She studies his face for a long moment, seeking the lingering signs of the one who once controlled him. "Markuran," she says quietly. She had been prepared for Nesula, but somehow seeing him again as himself is harder.

< There Is Always Another Way | Sol Invictus Logs | Timeline For Book Fifteen >