Colapso That was a time of revelations and of riveting talks and reunions that Lucent had watched and partaken in, but something was growing more and more irritant to him, and now when the talk begun to die down he took hold of Varanim's arm and begun to drag her away! "We had enough. Come here."
Varanim Varanim, who has been watching the proceedings with only the absent-minded sneer that suggests her mind is mostly elsewhere, glances over irritably at Lucent as she is dragged. "Oh, what NOW?"
Colapso drags the Necromancer far away from the Circle, then stops close to some still-smoking ruins. "You." He taps her flesh, "I should never had let curiosity get into the way of it. You need treatment, and it is getting worse. You spent too long without feeling, as well, I think that might be BAD."
Varanim "Are you kidding? I lit a cigar off my arm earlier, so convenient. I'm thinking about learning that trick so I can never turn it off."
Lucent "You miss the taste. The kiss. The feel of the wind and water. Has it been so long, Varanim, for you to forget?" He shakes his head, his other hand pulling a bit of burnt sleeve up so he can see the seared flesh on her arm, going "Hmmmm."
Varanim rolls her eyes. "Look, if it'll make you feel better, fix the burns and agonize for a while about how you all took me to the sun without mentioning that everyone else was FIREPROOF."
Varanim "Just... get it over with, okay? I have important slouching to do elsewhere."
Lucent "I will learn how to protect you, next time. I am not letting you burn or be hurt again, that I swear." He stops, then looks at a place where pieces of fallen Abaddon had made a great slab of glass... which Lucent instantly cool with a strike of the Moon orb. "Lie there for a moment, please?"
Varanim briefly glares at Lucent, then kicks back on the slab, folding her soulsteel arm under her head and flipping the empty bottle over and over in her other hand. "Have you ever thought about getting a puppy? It might be good for you."
Lucent "If you wish, think about it this way. You just saved us by calming Pluto. That is just returning the favor... what am I to do if you burn to a pile of ashes and I find myself before ANOTHER stupid angry Incarna?" He begins to look her over, touching here and there, lights of the Coronal shining around her, wavering into soothing, comforting hues.
Varanim snorts. "You'll think of something, or you won't and a slightly larger ton of people will die, and would you STOP that?" Although she can barely feel it, Varanim looks increasingly annoyed at being poked.
Lucent "... you are broken. When did that happen, Varanim?"
Varanim "I'm sorry, could you restate the question so it makes a GRAIN of sense? Even a small one would do."
Lucent "Your soul. There is a scar here. It ripped down through your ego... deep into your soul."
Varanim "Oh, that." Varanim shrugs. "Things have been on a little sideways since that Herald nonsense--who knew that spell could backlash so hard?" Then she considers and smirks. "Oh right, me."
Lucent "I think I can make that better." He paused. "No, wait, I am sure." He nodded, bringing the Orb of Serenity to his hand. It spread like a sapphire flower, touching Varanim's bosom, sinking in... and a rush of bliss is her first sensation as she finds herself whole once again. Not burnt, not charred, clean and pure.
Varanim "...huh. Nice buzz, you could sell that." Looking slightly dazed, Varanim lifts her flesh hand to check the missing finger. "Wait, what do you mean make that better?"
Lucent "Well, as you can see restoring your flesh was easy enough when I put my mind to it and learned exactly how hurt you were." He nods, proud enough as the cerulean petals fall from her heart and the orb begins to re-form. "But I can fix the scar in your soul as well. Restore your ego to what it once was. If you..." He looks almost... embarassed. "... let me."
Varanim Varanim's eyes narrow sharply. "You look like you're asking to look up my dress. What gives?" She leaves sitting a variety of obvious jokes about restoring her ego.
Lucent "Well... " He picks up the orb of secrets, and it opens into a diagram of the human soul and consciousness Varanim was likely familiar with. Even though it was rarely ever bright green. "... I have to be in you to do that."
Varanim Varanim, who had been sitting up with the impatient look of someone about to stalk off, choked. "I... you..." She shook her head after two starts, a frankly amazed look on her face. "You actually lobbed that one all the way beyond parody. Well played."
Varanim Then she turns her eyes to the diagram, flipping the bottle in her hand and scowling.
Lucent "Well, I DO consider your innermost subconscious to be a more private place than your naughty bits, frankly. Although I would be going there to set them right, not to make a mess." He bows, "I swear it as a good follower of the Chiurgeony Code."
Varanim "Codes are worthless," Varanim snorts, still glaring at the diagram. "And I'm trying to minimize the amount of time I waste having ridiculous arguments with you. Maybe another time, Adar--" she breaks off with a brief look of horror on her face, and the bottle shatters on the ground as she misses the catch.
Varanim Sitting back heavily, she says, "Fix it. Fix it NOW."
Lucent smiles. "Can I ask you to wait an hour? I need to do something first. I am not quite ready for it yet. Just need to be sat there, if you can amuse yourself for that long!" The Coronal begins to gather on the ground, forming a multihued mandala...
Varanim waves a hand in impatient dismissal, not even bothering to nod, her face set in a scowl.
Lucent sits in the mandala, floating in the air... and in broken pieces of glass in the air Varanim could see pieces of Lucent, pieces of his life, some smiling, some hurting, some crying... and some of them break, and new ones appear! Some of them, like a little Lucent are killed on the spot, changed into something else, something new.
Lucent He was reinventing himself.
Lucent The knowledge he had absorbed from the Life-Sphere resonated on the other Orbs, jolts of lore and understanding going by him... and then, past quite a long time, Lucent's foot touch the ground and he walks to Varanim. "I hope you did not change your mind?"
Varanim watches Lucent's transformation with opaque eyes, filing it away as she does everything she sees. When he steps back she gives him a long look before shaking her head wordlessly.
Lucent "I need to touch you there again, Varanim. Do I have your permission?"
Varanim looks like she almost cracks at that, some joke or dismissal only barely bit back. Then she turns one hand palm-up, in a 'get on with it' gesture.
Lucent touches Varanim's forehead, all the orbs breaking from the mandala and swirling inside of him. He was growing brighter, his skin like Adamant... and then his hand appeared to vanish in. And the world appeared to vanish. And Lucent was floating into the deepest recesses of Varanim's subconscious....
Varanim There was a lot of space. (...)
Varanim The sky was vast, dimming with dusk but still luminous over the ocean, which stretched as far as the eye could see. Lucent was standing on a hill, which was bare except for wild grass and the spreading branches of a great thorn tree just beginning to bud with spring. (...)
Varanim On one of the lower branches with her back against the trunk, Varanim sits--years younger, just past adolescence. Her hair is longer, a flower tucked behind one ear, and the set of her features is altogether less sharp, although her dress is as decidedly peasant as ever.
Varanim "Hello," she says. "You're not from around here."
Lucent was prepared for vast expanses of desolation, for the darkest seedy underbelly of Nexus, to see something broken and darkened... he was prepared to anything but... this. He blinks, and blinks, and appears frozen for a moment too many. "... Varanim?"
theYounger lifts a hand. "Hold on. This is my favorite part." The sun is just meeting the horizon, sinking faster than a real sunset. There is a blaze of reds and purples and golds, bathing the whole hill in honey-colored light.
theYounger For a moment, it seems to Lucent that there is some vast pattern of truth written on the display--the clouds are edged with tiny lines of script, the ocean scatters the light into flickering patterns, and a breath of sound hangs symphonic on the air. Then the moment passes, and Varanim sighs.
theYounger "That's what they call me," she agrees as she starts to climb down.
Lucent takes a deep breath, something clicks in his mind and he looks about. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Varanim. I am Lucent Copper Haze." He helps her down, "Do you... know me? Or about me?"
theYounger "Hmm." She considers him as she alights, smiling at him for the help. "You look familiar, but I try not to assume things." Then she bends, to press her lips briefly to the earth--and Lucent realizes that at the base of the tree where he stands are two recently-upturned holes in the ground, one about the size of an adult and the other much smaller.
theYounger "I'll be back," she murmurs to them, then straightens and turns back to Lucent. "Well, come on, then. It's not a good idea to stay out here after dark." She takes his hand, tugging him away from the tree.
Lucent goes with her. "Who was there?"
theYounger She taps his hand, and Lucent realizes that folded in it is the note from Varanim with the four names (though Piercing Ivory's is now smudged and indistinct, and the first two are underlined). "No wonder you looked familiar--you dug them up. That's all right, though; they'll be back."
theYounger Then she kneels to pull at a door of sunbleached wood set flat into the hill. The wind is beginning to pick up and change direction, carrying with it a sweet whiff of opium smoke and a distant hissing that grows in volume. "Why are you here?"
Lucent "I am here to help someone. She was hurt, she was hurt very bad. Here." He touches between his own eyes. "She is somewhere around here, I am just not sure where to find it."
theYounger The door swings open, letting out a sharp scent of alcohol which dissipates almost immediately. "Let's look downstairs, then, although it's pretty crowded." She waves him in, to a steep and narrow flight of stairs that winds down into the hill. "Are you sure you can help?"
Lucent nods to her. "I am. I have trained for it. I have remade myself for it." He steps in first, not wishing her to get hurt. "And even if I was not sure... when someone you care about is hurt like that, you have to do everything you can."
theYounger A moment before Lucent steps underground, in his peripheral vision he sees a distant, immense, solid-looking black gate, wreathed in heavy clouds and fitful flashes of lightning. Then she pulls the door closed behind them, and almost immediately something hits the outside with a dull thud, a scraping sound, and then a quiet laugh.
theYounger "Hm," she says, unperturbed by the noise. "You sound very determined. What will you do if you can't help?"
Lucent "I will try harder."
Lucent paces down the stair a moment in silence, before adding, "Is that how they died?"
theYounger The steps level into a hallway, dimly lit by phosphorescent fungus on the earthy walls. "Oh--mind the girls," she says from behind Lucent instead of answering. Just then his toe bumps something soft, and he realizes that the floor ahead is strewn with the broken-doll bodies of young girls, each looking something like Varanim or something like Zahara.
Lucent looks horrified for a moment. "Are they... your sisters?"
theYounger "I don't have any sisters, don't be stupid." Varanim pushes past Lucent from behind--she is again years younger, now of an age with the bodies on the floor. Her face is dirty, bruised, and sullenly furious, and her wrists are wrapped thickly in bandages. "They're just in the way."
theYounger She snatches the note with the names from his hand. "Look at you, you can't even read." As she runs her hand over it, the letters smear and rearrange, until the only thing it says is "Goodbye."
Lucent "NO!" He whirls about, take hold of her arm as the piece of paper flies to the wind! "They were your brothers, your family! Ten Oaks Adar, Black Mastodon, Piercing Ivory, Kelen! Killed by that laughing one, graves dug by you, you tried to bring them back!"
theYounger Pain flashes over child-Varanim's face, then she laughs mockingly. "You don't know ANYTHING. Why are you here? This is YOUR fault." She rips her arm from his grasp--a chunk of flesh actually remains in his hand for a moment before dissolving into worms--and strikes the wall with a fist.
theYounger It splits and in the darkness of the opening hole there is a tiny golden figure: Lucent on his knees, sun extinguished on his chest. Then that glimmer fades and sea water begins to pour from the hole, leaking from the ocean above as the patter of Varanim's feet vanishes down the hall.
Lucent stiffles a gasp. "... you pushed yourself that far to save me."
theYounger Varanim as a young woman appears further down the hall, leaning out of an archway between roots. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to leave you behind. The crowd is this way."
Lucent The sun appears on his chest, lighting the way. He touches Varanim's arm and reconstitutes it with pieces of the reignited sun, giving part of himself to that figment of her. "I never knew you cared." He almost whispers as he walks with her.
theYounger She smiles warmly at Lucent, patting her fixed arm. "Oh, that was thoughtful, thank you."
theYounger Then they turn the corner, and beyond the doorway between roots is a crowded, smoky, ramshackle drinking establishment. The edges of the room are indistinct--there might be dozens of people there, or hundreds, all laughing and drinking and talking in oddly muted voices. Some of them bear horrific death wounds, and some of them have flat soulsteel eyes when they turn their heads and catch...
theYounger ...the light.
theYounger "How will you know when you've found what you're looking for?" she asks as she tugs Lucent toward the bar.
Lucent "It is the only wound that is still fresh." He looks around, calmer now. "What is this place?"
theYounger "Thoughtful AND clever. You're lucky I'm married," she winks at him before glancing around. "Oh, this? It's a place for the forgotten ones to stay. You just missed Piercing Ivory--I think he may be gone for good, now."
theYounger As they pass by the bar, she asks politely, "Are you drinking anything? I never touch the stuff, myself." Over her shoulder, through a momentary parting in the crowd he can see an older woman with an obvious family resemblance, hunched over a bottle with a hard and bitter look on her face.
Lucent "She is the only one who survived. She and her daughter. They only went after the men." He states matter-of-factly, looking at Varanim with a bit of disbelief... "Married?" He looks about... "Is your husband here?" There is something unnerving him, about how all fits together...
theYounger She looks away. "He's sleeping--well, he was. You saw his bed upstairs." Then she looks back, tilting her head at Lucent with a curious smile. "Who only went after the men?" As they finish crossing the room, the noise and smoke cut off as suddenly as they started, and now the two are walking down a long hallway full of closed doors.
Lucent "The ones who killed your family. Your mother survived, did she not? Before she begun drinking."
Lucent touches them, wondering if they are literal or the way Varanim has closed herself.
theYounger "You have a lot of questions. You're getting closer, though." She smiles at Lucent a little sadly, as the first door he touches swings open. The room inside is dark, the only light shining on operating table with open iron clamps and a rounded face mask. There's a sharp tang of blood in the air, and a fading echo of a familiar genial voice: "Would you like to be awake for the procedure?"
Lucent feels the hair rising on the back of his neck "YOU"
theYounger "That's the way down," the young woman Varanim says quietly from behind him. The Doctor's voice fades, leaving only a faraway rushing sound like water in the walls.
Lucent He looks behind him. "You do not have to come."
theYounger "Oh, I'm sure we'll run into each other again. It's been very nice to meet you, Lucent Copper Haze." She smiles at him, rubbing her shoulder absently, and leans forward to kiss his cheek before shutting the door between them.
Lucent "It was very nice to meet you, Varanim the Younger." He holds her for a moment. Tight.
Lucent ... and the next moment his sun lights the way as he runs towards HIS voice.
Lucent "You stayed awake, I know you did. You are too damn STUBBORN not to."
theYounger "Every second of it." The voice is child-Varanim's, angry and hateful in agreement, and then there is a horrible racking pain, starting in Lucent's hand but crawling up his arm to consume him. Darkness covers his eyes, and the sense of something worse waiting when vision returns...
Lucent endures. Eyes close, this is not like the Herald. He is ready for it as he feels his arm ripped apart, as he looks at it and at the face of his torturer come light and consciousness...
theYounger For a moment Lucent realizes the thing is about to catch him, and he can't even see his own arm--then there's a metallic clank, a flash of viridian lips smiling in the darkness, and his vision slowly clears. Now he's in someplace totally different...
theYounger A silvery-gray space, marred by a number of jagged black-edged holes. They open to different places: the bar, a factory where dreams are dissected with exacting precision, the howling storm outside, deep water that smells of rose and cardamom.
theYounger The rents are oozing wider, melting into each other as they gradually spread. Roots from the base of the tree twine with hydraulic pipes, leaking sap and liquid gold; the smell of smoke and liquor vents into the outside shaft, and something high in the sky laughs and whispers louder at being fed.
Lucent looks up at it, the sun spreading its light. "Pipes to the alcohol. All in perfect precision. You are always in control all the time, are you not? Leaving the madness to the skies." He walks into the storm, into the heart of her Essence, where the wound to her ego would be.
theYounger In the storm are vicious winds, rain like stinging needles, occasional lightning flashes of the far-off gate--but it's not new, not the thing he's looking for. Lucent's light pierces the way to the eye of the tempest, through a final barrier of black poison clouds that would scour flesh from bone, if his flesh was still mortal. And then there is clarity...
theYounger In the center of it all hangs a wet pulpy knot of reddish black, like an oil slick wrapped around a mass of viscera, fed by--or feeding--a lattice of a hundred stringy veins to the surrounding clouds. The child-Varanim clings to it, looking over her shoulder with a venemous glare at Lucent. "Go AWAY. I made it, I'll fix it."
Lucent picks up a boat of alcohol clouds, a golden oar allowing him to steer himself closer to the young Varanim. Ripples in the sky spreading as he comes closer. "That is why it still hurts, you realise."
theYounger She bares her teeth at Lucent as he nears. He notices then that the shoulder seams of her dress are holding on not just her sleeves but also her arms, and that the string of beads around her neck is actually a ring of clumsy stitches.
theYounger As she pulls at the knot of veins, bits of her fingers keep flaking off, dissolving into insects and whirring away. "Why should I believe you? You're just being nice to feel better about yourself, I'm not stupid."
Lucent touches her arm, regrowing her. The more flakes off the more he reconstructs. "I had no idea that it was my fault when I walked in here. I had no idea." He shook his head, looking past her, at the veins, "This is it. Your anger, your loathing, you let it out of control. It is consuming you."
Lucent "You have to let go of it. You have to let this break away."
theYounger "That's what ALWAYS happens. I'm TIRED of letting go of it. All the other people get to be angry, why can't I?" She clutches at the mass of veins possessively, though it eats away at her skin. "And once it gets big enough, I can make it into a key for the gate, and then you'll be SORRY."
Lucent "You can be angry. You can ask Varanim to let you punch me, rip her room, rip her books. BE angry. But not like this." He pulls her away from them, holding her tight. "Do not let it hurt yourself. You deserve better than that. You deserve to be whole. You deserve to be unharmed."
Lucent "Let go. It only exists to make you suffer. It is raging at YOU. And you do not deserve that rage. You are innocent, Varanim the Younger. It was NOT your fault." He whispers, "Let go. And let me make it better. Trust me. You have a new family now. One that will not be hurt. One that will not die. One that will never hurt you."
Lucent "One that cannot stand to see you hurting yourself like this."
theYounger She reaches for the veins as Lucent pulls her away, straining, but she's not strong enough to hold on and she hisses in frustration. Then she twists in his grip to look Lucent eye-to-eye, listening to his words with a wild kindling look somewhere between scorn and hope.
theYounger "If you're wrong," she says deliberately, "I'll never forgive you. I PROMISE."
Lucent "I know."
theYounger She looks taken aback by Lucent's simple response. "Then burn it," she says finally, looking away with tears welling up in her eyes. "Burn it all."
Lucent plants a kiss on her forehead, letting go of her. "YOU." The sun glows brighter. "Beast at the heart of 'I'. This girl needs you. More than she believes. Your anger, your fury, your lust and your fear! But not here. You are not needed or wanted here! You are to the world, not to her own self! BEGONE!" Sunlight washes out, a wave of flame, burning it. Burning it until there are only silver ashes.
Lucent Two tears fall from his eyes, and he catches them, letting them fall where the storm lay. They spread within her, connecting all that was broken, sliding out to fill all it can... "You have been stronger than you had to."
theYounger For a moment in the brilliance, it seems that the young woman Varanim is next to Lucent, smiling in the sun and catching a fluttering scrap of ash. She blows him a kiss and then turns her head, laughing, as if called by a distant familiar voice...
theYounger Then she's gone, leaving only the rain-beaten smell of a passed storm, and beside him is nothing but a four-petaled paper flower resting on the ground. The pleats alter the names written there somewhat, so that "Adar" looks like "husband," while "Kelen" is clearly "son," and the final two are both slightly different ways of writing the character "duty."
Lucent holds the paper close to his chest, closing his eyes. And then he is out, white closing in until all that remains is his caste mark... his caste mark touching Varanim's as he opens his eyes and steps out of her space, watching her intently.
Varanim raises an eyebrow in sardonic inquiry. "Well, when are you going to..." She trails off, eyes going distant as she runs some internal survey. "...oh. Something's different."
Lucent "You are fixed. Your po is not going to rage in your soul anymore. I am sorry."
Varanim "You're already sorry? That didn't take long."
Lucent "You do not have to worry about me. I am immortal."
Lucent turns his back to her, starting to walk away, "Oh, and no worry."
Lucent "I am not going to tell anyone."
Varanim stares after him, opening her mouth to ask, and then closes it with a strange and thoughtful look.