Back from their encounter with Pluto, the circle had communicated via ghostly emissary with the Doctor, and worked out an arrangement: a meeting place, within a Shadowland in the South, in the Black Lion desert, with half the Doctor's fee paid upfront and the other half upon successful completion of the surgery. (...)
Using one of the dwindlingly few airships currently in fully functional condition, the group has arrived in the stated location -- a great sand-valley in the midst of this black-sand desert, what once was likely a verdant oasis now forming a stagnant swamp-pit at its center. (...)
The Doctor, his elegant outfit swapped for a set of pitch-black surgical scrubs and mask, stands ready, an onyx surgical table (complete with thick leather restraints and blood channels) standing in front of him. (...)
To his sides are the escort that have accompanied him here. One is a lanky, almost skeletal woman in a flowing white gown, her thin gray hair floating freely on the breeze; a blindfold is tied across her eyes, and she wields a massive soulsteel sword. (...)
The other is a larger man, thick leathery armor, studded with soulsteel, covering him from head to toe; he holds two vicious-looking soulsteel clubs, one in each hand, and looks like he's ready for any trouble that might happen to arise.
zahara looks over the surgical table with a professional eye, nodding with grudging admiration. "You seem well-prepared." A flickering smile towards his two guards.
Doctor "I am always well prepared," he says. "Have you brought the patient?"
Adrienne As per usual, Varanim has slouched along for the ride and looks not particularly interested in the proceedings yet.
zahara gestures for Lucent to bring Imrama forward.
Cerin Cerin studies the trio intently from behind his mask as Lucent sets Imrama down on the table.
Doctor They form quite a well-experienced and powerful trio of corrupted, undead Exalts. Each of them has effects at the ready should a fight break out, and the active telepathic effect in use by the woman suggests that more probably wait somewhere outside his 500 yard range of vision, should such a thing come to pass.
Lucent "Of course." He lowers Imrama, touching the Eclipse's Caste Mark and whispering a prayer. "But there are two conditions. One of them is that I will be watching the procedure closely."
Doctor raises an eyebrow and his surgical mask crinkles a little bit. "Of course. I have no objection to that."
zahara steps back and watches, a slight frown on her face. She... DID want him to come back, didn't she?
Lucent "And the other comes after." He says, disgusted at that. "Shall we begin?"
Doctor "No," he says. "If there's another condition, I think I'd prefer to hear it before we begin the surgery."
Lucent "Alright, then." Before a blink could pass Lucent impressed his fist on the man's left cheek, a sharp glance to the soulsteel-armed man, who was sure to make a move. "You can stop there; If I wanted to kill him I would not do this." He says imperiously before regarding the Doctor. "But NOW we can work together."
Doctor The Doctor reels backwards a little from the surprise attack, but does not seem tremendously phased by it otherwise. He spits once, and looks at Luc with a new sparkle in his eyes. "How quaint. Can we begin the business at hand now?" (...)
Doctor The man with the clubs stands forward in a more aggressive, ready stance, but does not otherwise move towards Lucent.
zahara raises a brow and deliberately does not smile
Lucent shakes his fist, but otherwise looks as if that should have brought far, far more peace of mind than it did. "Yes. Let us hope you can work void out of people as well as you work it into them."
Varanim "PLEASE. I'm missing my favorite street theater for this."
Doctor nods as he pulls his gloves up tighter around his hands, then unfolds his surgical kit, containing an astonishing array of unusual -- and unpleasant-looking -- soulsteel tools. He tightens the restraints around Imrama's limbs, and draws out a flat tool with a glowing edge. (...)
Doctor "And now I shall begin." He draws the tool across Imrama's sleeping form, and anyone with Essence vision can see that he is using it to gently separate the two souls, pulling the hun upwards and outwards while dragging the po back down, in order to leave the central portion of Imrama's soul -- where his Solar essence resides -- uncomfortably open. (...)
Doctor "Varanim, can I rely on you to secure these in place while we perform the remainder of the procedure?"
Lucent is not in the very least surprised by his ability. Or angered. Not in the least.
Varanim Varanim shuffles forward with a nod, her hands reaching out to frame the air about six inches away from the incision. She hums quietly to herself for a moment as she gets the feel of it, fingers twitching slightly as motes glimmer along them, then she nods. "Do that icky thing you do."
zahara can't but help but inspect the wicked array with an avaricious eye. And then a slightly sick feeling. She forces herself to watch the procedure.
Cerin watches it all with interest, whilst simultaneously observing the abyssal guards.
Doctor nods. "Thank you, Varanim." He then begins the initial portions of the surgery: using a variety of tools to locate a variety of of key flow points within both of Imrama's component souls, others to peel back the occluding portions of Essence, and yet others to make minor soul-incisions, letting the Essence in each such place begin to gently leak out of its given soul. (...)
Doctor As the surgery is performed, the man with the clubs seems consistently on edge, and anticipating possible misbehavior on the part of the Solars, while the woman remains preternaturally calm.
Lucent fumes as Varanim regards him. And as he thanks her. But otherwise, his eyes are intent on Imrama, touching his friend, feeling the beat of his Essence and the Doctor's work on him. "He is bleeding Essence. Will that not make him weaker after this?"
Doctor "The illness facing the patient is a result of tainted Essence. As long as it continues to circulate within his system, he will become weaker until he dies." He puts his scalpel away and draws out what looks to be a set of seven tiny lenses, set on a soulsteel handle. (...)
Cerin considers the woman and the subtle array of essence around her, comparing it mentally to a much more subtle arrangement of essence he had seen recently, that which had surrounded the book which had had taken from Juche. He wondered perhaps if they shared the same creator.
Doctor "In this procedure, we forcefully replace his Essence with a rapid infusion, which requires the current Essence to have an escape channel," he says, and looks at Lucent with a hint of venom that was not present previously.
Varanim "We don't want him to pop," Varanim adds helpfully.
zahara "Where do you expect to find a massive source of Solar essence to replace his with? I assume it will be Solar essence, of course."
Lucent "Just make sure only ENOUGH Essence escapes. It would be terrible for our arrangement if we found out you used this chance to weaken one of the Lion's foes. Very terrible." Lucent's gaze answers him in kind.
Doctor "Indeed. I had expected that one of you would provide this resource of which I, myself, possess quite limited supply." He looks over at Lucent, and the eye-daggers seem to grow manifestly greater. "You needlessly shame me to suggest that I do anything but take the greatest pride in my work," he says, darkly.
Varanim "Lucent, keep it in your pants. We're WORKING, here." Varanim wiggles her soul-restraining hands slightly to illustrate.
Lucent "We did." He turns his hand back, to Zahara. "Empress, the prayers?"
zahara nods her approval.
Doctor Cerin's investigation certainly suggests that such a correspondence is indeed quite likely.
Cerin nods a little to himself.
Doctor And indeed, for just earlier that day...
Lucent Using the Auric Temple, Lucent had sent his image far and wide accross Creation, His voice reaching all those who were aligned with the Sun and with the Sunlands. "This is Lucent Coppr Haze of the Exalted Deliberative, calling all of the host and humanity in all Creation, accross all languages. I come to you to ask for a moment, for an hour, at twilight in this day, to pray for Imrama Stormfound."
Lucent "Those in Solaria know him as one of its Heroes, one who saved so many lives as it was besieged by dire enemies. Those in the West know of him as an ally to its great heroes, one who stood against the Silver Prince. Those in the South know him as the liberator of Harborhead and the Son of the Bull God. Those in the North, as the scion of flight, bringing back freedom that man should always have had!"
Lucent "And those of you in the Exalted Deliberative know him as the most level-headed, most compassionate of us all, the one most likely to seek compromises, to work for a brighter Creation. One who believed we could all be together."
Lucent "And he is hurt."
Lucent "Hurt by those who seek Creation's twilight, those who would wish us broken. He is hurt, but this is not the end. I ask you, all of you, who have heard of him, who have been saved by him, helped by him, or who even just look up at the sun, to think of him, to burn offerings in his name, to wish for Imrama Stormfound to return. For the most romantic hero of his age to come back to us."
Lucent "We have saved you. Now we need your help. Pray." His image appared to all, deep in prayer. "Pray with me." And indeed, prayers came, to be touched by Zahara, to be made into a beautiful ensemble of wishes and romance and hope!
Lucent "Of course we did, see. We have the love of those we have touched." And he hands it to the doctor.
Doctor seems a little impressed by Lucent, despite his not particularly diminished earlier anger and irritation. "Place it here," he says, indicating a region that corresponds very closely to the very heart-center of Imrama's solar shard.
Lucent does it with consummate skill. He did not have the doctor's knowledge, but he placed it with care, leaving it ready for the hope of many to be pushed within Imrama's Essence.
Doctor nods. "And now, on the count of five, I'll need one of you to... detonate it." He looks down at the small offering briefly, and looks back up. "One of you is capable of that, I would presume."
zahara gestures to Cerin, to hold up one of his arrows
Cerin "I am going to summon my bow. It is to shatter the heart of essence," he announces, and then he summons it with a gesture. He plucks a mote of sunlight from the air.
Doctor nods. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five."
zahara walks over to Cerin, her fingers caressing his bow slowly, stopping at the mote of sunlight. She concentrates, transmitting her knowledge of the Shattering into the shining point of light, into Cerin via the Unity and the Ring. Then she steps back just in time for the doctor to call out Five.
Varanim would shift her hands for a surer grip, if she was the sort of person who didn't get it right the first time.
Lucent would tell Cerin to be careful, but that would be a waste of breath
Cerin On the count of five, Cerin lets fly with his arrow of essence, a bolt of purest sunfire which sears across the eyes of all those adapted to the dim halflight of the Shadowland, plunging into the one flaw he had noted with the insight Zahara had granted him, shattering the essence perfectly, totally, instantly. Driving it into Imrama.
Doctor The cohered prayer explodes with a dazzling flare of sunlight that can be seen from miles away, as the flow of those prayers, tinted with the light of the sun itself, shoots outward into the soul incisions that the Doctor has made, driving out a torrent of tainted motes that fly outwards from Imrama's soul like mud off of a shaking pig. (...)
Doctor After an incredibly long moment, the great light begins to fade, and the doctor moves in to swiftly and confidently suture each of the incisions with a jade-tipped soulsteel needle. (...)
Lucent "Beautiful..." Lucent looked up at the light, dazzled.
Doctor looks over at the patient, and with a look of satisfaction, speaks up. "I believe you can release your grip now, Varanim. The procedure appears to have been a success."
Varanim "Garish." Varanim squints, annoyed, at the closing procedure. Then she releases the components of Imrama's soul, dusting her hands together afterward.
Lucent touches Imrama, examining the beat of his heart and essence, not trusting the doctor any farther than he could throw him.
Imrama As Lucent's fingers touch Imrama's skin, the skycaptain's body goes suddenly rigid, and he sits bolt upright on the operating table. Eyes wild, face contorted in a panicked mask he shouts, "Look out, he's got a trumpet!"