Lucent was walking back from the Kashaen feast over their immense new cathedral, the jewel of the Manse, burn in multicolored flames before Lucent in the climax of the third day shining bright on the Coronal. He did not want to leave earlier... but he would not leave Varanim alone. ".. and that is what it represents now. The Maidens, the Gentlemen, Luna... all in harmony, you see? Like so."
Lucent waves to the flowers in bloom. "All the beauty ruled by Heaven..."
Varanim "Bullshit. No one manages a long track record for harmony, and least of all gods--it's too boring, not ego-stroking enough." Varanim doesn't even look up from the book she's reading.
Lucent "There is harmony born from chaos - that is the work of the Maidens under the sun."
Varanim "Intellectual laziness; people want to blame or praise various sky-pixies for their actions instead of taking even a bit of responsibility."
Lucent "But prayers call upon the will of the Gods that make the world move; Love, Secrets, Journeys, to receive their blessings makes our lives more complete, Varanim. And to understand that harmony... more beautiful."
Varanim One hand absently groping for her half-empty bottle, still not looking up, Varanim says, "I've met ninety-year-old incotinent drunks more reliable than the gods. Some people are exploring the crazy new technique of looking for solutions themselves, rather than waiting for an answer to pop out of the air."
Spring Abruptly, a familiar buzzing arises as the shape of an agatae portal appears ten feet in front of the Solars.
Lucent leaps in front of Varanim, seven orbs springing to life! "Incoming!"
Varanim looks up with an interested expression. "Well, that's an unexpectedly ironic response."
Varanim She rolls to her feet, grabbing for her stick and barely remembering to leave a bookmark.
Lucent "Next time, ask for world peace."
Spring The wasp-demon chitters merrily, oblivious to its response, as it tunnels its way into Meru. The spare figure atop it steps down, pats the creature on its insectoid head, and turns to face the pair of Solars.
Spring "Excuse me. Can you...ah, Lucent."
Lucent is a pyre of power, all manner of combat magic active. "Who are you?"
Lucent "From your eyes, I take it you are a demon."
Spring Before the two stands a wiry figure with the pale skin and fine white hair so typical of Wasirrans. Around his torso is wrapped a thin red cloth, which glints as the sun strikes it, giving off hints of gold. He wears a fine black hakama, fastened with an Immaculate monk's belt in bright gold, though with the white trim of an apprentice. (...)
Spring As he turns his face to them, his multifaceted eyes become visible, with an oddly shaped violet pupil over a crystalline humour -- and just a hint of something deeper within. His hands are empty.
Spring "My name is Long-Awaited Spring. I have come seeking Zahara Zhan, the Empress of the Sunlands."
Spring quirks a slight smile at Lucent's accusation, and the faintest glimmer of a Twilight caste symbol becomes visible on his forehead, then fades again.
Lucent "ANOTHER Wassirrunian Twilight?" That does, however, get Lucent to drop his guard
Varanim Varanim, who has both an extraordinary memory and Essence sight, considers Spring for a moment. "I'm pretty sure you were vomiting poison the last time I saw you."
Spring "That was not me, but he who came before me. I am glad on his behalf that you found your way to the Cascade, though, although I...," he glances at Lucent, and changes the subject.
Spring "Not another, Lucent. I am he who was once Thirteen Blooming Flowers, who was once Wei Dan."
Lucent looks over his shoulder, "You know him?"
Lucent "Thirteen... is dead?"
Spring "He found another way."
Varanim shrugs at Lucent. "There was this thing in Netheos. Did I not mention it?"
Spring "Indeed, we have much to discuss with regards to the Lion's plot. It is unfortunate that I could not have apprised you of it before, but I was occupied with the Sidereals."
Spring "Have you seen Kai Buckthorn recently?"
Lucent "No. You did not." He answers Varanim before striding towards Thirteen, the orbs flying far and wide, touching his caste mark... and feeling. And knowing. "... you BASTARD."
Spring blinks at Lucent.
Varanim "Oops," Varanim says to Lucent, then looks back at Spring. "Who?"
Spring "I am sorry if this causes you dismay, Lucent. I confess that I did not intend it completely myself."
Lucent "... why the hell did you do THAT? After Birds? After we went through with her?" The hand leaves his forehead almost like a slap.
Lucent "Sun knows I had no love lost for Thirteen, but..."
Varanim "I hate to inject some out-of-place relevance here, but what were you doing with the Sidereals?"
Spring "I did not do it. It happened. I went to the Wasirranu, to find...to find a way that we could work together."
Spring "Perhaps you remember what happened following the Eclipse?"
Lucent stares at the distance, laconic "Yes..."
Spring "Assembling them, madam. They have been too long derelict in their duty, and needed a guiding hand."
Spring "Then you understand why something needed to change, Lucent."
Spring "It turned out that that something was I."
Lucent closes his eyes, nodding, understanding. "We will talk about this later."
Spring "Indeed we will."
Lucent picks up pace for Thirteen to follow, "It is good you wish to guide the Sidereals, Spring. We have just been to what is left of the Chrysanthemum. It appears one of the killers is Lilith, the Owl-Woman... and documents we have found there seem to suggest ties with Lai Mitsuna."
Varanim "Huh." Varanim studies Spring for a long moment, then shrugs. "No madams, thanks, I'm just Varanim." She scoops up her book and follows along.
Spring "I can see we have much to do."
Lucent "What do you know about the Lion's plot? Is it Abadis?"
Spring "It is good to meet you formally, Varanim. I can see that you have already become...deeply involved with the Circle, and I am...glad of your presence."
Spring "It is possible, Lucent. I know only the smallest portion of it, yet it gives me grave concern for Kai."
Spring "He has means of drawing his enemies to him, as he drew Varanim and I."
Varanim "I'm passing through for a while," Varanim shrugs, looking at Spring with an expression suggesting that she's trying to figure out if he's for real.
Spring "Surely you will stay longer than that. For Lucent's sake, if nothing else."
Lucent winces, "She... she has. No. Kind of. COMPLICATED. NOT for my sake!"
Varanim "Yes, I gather that outrage is good for his digestion, but I'm trying to convince him there are herbs you can take for that instead." Varanim now shoots the strange look at Lucent, then glances back to Spring. "Everyone else around here has elaborate emotional damage with each other. What's yours, just to save me the hour of going to a party so Zahara can show it off?"
Spring "No? But it appeared that you two had become a couple."
Spring glances at Varanim thoughtfully.
Lucent "We are? NO! Ho... er, WHO told you that? We fight all the time!"
Spring "My relationships with the Circle are...complex." The emphasis he places on that word reveals to Varanim exactly how complex they are.
Lucent is quite a few shades darker than usual
Varanim "Easy confusion," Varanim smirks at Spring. "He hangs around me because he's hoping I'll turn into Little Mask of Winters. Everyone needs hobbies, I guess."
Spring "I can see relationships between people. Or at least, I thought I could." He taps his eye thoughtfully.
Lucent "NOT!" He snaps at 'nim, "Yes, you cannot! It is WRONG! Fine-tune that better!"
Spring "I had thought that things would have gotten less internecine in my absence. Clearly this was a feeble hope at best."
Varanim considers. "We put Pluto back together, which was a pretty nice group hug moment if you're into that sort of thing."
Spring "That sounds fascinating. You must tell me all about it.":
Lucent "AND brought back the Shadeborn, at that! New celestial flowers bloomed!" He looks quite relieved at the topic changing, the blush vanishing from his cheeks as he... realises something. "... must the shard of Wei Dan always pick such cosmological names?"
Spring "What do you mean?"
Lucent "The Thirteenth Flower has bloomed, and Creation walks into its Long-Awaited Spring. Pluto returned, pehaps at the same moment as you were reborn. And all abstractions we have found represent the Incarna and Exalted as flowers... that are blooming again, Shadeborn and Elementalists, in the Long-Awaited Spring."
Varanim "It was pretty neat, actually," Varanim admits. Then she winces as Lucent connects everything with his speech, and adds, "Come over sometime, I'll show you my diagrams for the no-poetry version."
Spring "It must be serendipitous, for I intended no such connection, but I do hope that my return will be auspicious as the age we are creating."
Spring "I confess that I am not sure what meaning Wei Dan might have, though."
Spring "Thank you, Varanim. I am sure that will be quite interesting."
Lucent rolls his eyes "Diagrams, Varanim? Attempt to pin down such things into letters and numbers?"
Varanim shakes her head a little incredulously at Spring's continued politeness, then rolls her eyes at Lucent. "Yes, some time ago a few people got the clever idea of making marks on things with pointy sticks, so that other people could see an idea without having to talk to anyone--it should be pretty clear why I'm pro-that. Anyway, they called it 'writing,' and it's sort of caught on."
Spring "Are you sure you are not a couple?"
Lucent sighs, "I am not debating writing, but it takes a certain degree of ART to illustrate such an experience, something lost on crude diagrams and equat... YES, WE ARE."
Spring "As I was not there, it seems I must console myself with diagrams, Lucent."
Spring "Perhaps Cerin will paint it for me."
Lucent snaps his fingers as he begins to tell the tale, sunlight spreading far and wide, touching the calendar wheel behind him and Thirteen sees it all flickering in the light... the surgery. The explosions. The fury. The fear. The tears. Varanim leaning on Lucent.
Varanim "I'm pretty sure all the really cool sages agree that form is an illusion, or something like that," Varanim sniffs to Lucent. Then he starts his retelling, and she sighs and takes a drink.
Spring glances at Varanim absently and reaches out a hand for the bottle, watching the performance with interest.
Varanim gives Spring a brief and deeply suspicious look, then hands it over.
Lucent The ship falls, they fear for Cerin and Zahara, Lucent can barely hold the tide. Varanim calms the Incarna... and they meet them again, Holbar, Shikaya, Markuran, Saraya. All as Shadeborn. And thus the tale ends. "Zahara was quite shaken after that."
Spring pours some of the liquor into his hand, where it takes on a shimmery golden quality, and flings it casually into Varanim's face.
Lucent is oblivious to that
Spring "Thank you, Lucent. That was fascinating."
Spring "I must speak with you at length about your presentation skills. I fear I may have need of some myself in the near future."
Varanim had been not watching for most of Lucent's performance, absorbed in her own thoughts, so the splash of liquid takes her by surprise. She blinks for a minute, then again, then shoots Spring an incredulous glare. "What the HELL was that for?"
Lucent "Oh, I would love to teach you that. There is much I need to learn as well... and I think you would be a good Sifu, now." Indeed, this man was quite different than Thirteen. And yet he was Thirteen. He felt... at ease.
Lucent "... oh, probably just a joke, Varanim. Or is that some Wassirrunian custom?"
Spring "I merely wished to repay you for the help you had given me in Netheos. It occurred to me that I was not direct enough in expressing my gratitude."
Varanim "Next time, send a library," Varanim snaps at Spring. "It's going to take me weeks to recalibrate that."
Lucent smiles "See, a Wassirrunian custom!"
Spring pauses. "Am I to understand that you intend to redevelop your harmful dependency?"
Varanim narrows her eyes at them both. "Weren't you talking about flowers or watching Lucent's pretty picture show or something?"
Lucent "Redevelop... dependency?"
Spring "I cured her drinking problem, Lucent. Though only temporarily, it seems."
Spring "Did I err?"
Lucent "Oh? Good! I was actually trying to talk her into dropping that."
Varanim rolls her eyes. "I spent a year once addicting myself to opium, to see how long it would take while trying to avoid the habit, and then the length and severity of withdrawal. With that baseline, I checked a variety of other drugs until settling on good old booze as the best cross section of clarity blunting and slow health effects."
Varanim "In short... the only time I have a drinking problem is when my bottle is empty."
Varanim throws her hands up at both of them.
Varanim "Be... cause then I have to stand up and find a new one?" Varanim looks increasingly boggled at this entire conversation.
Spring "No. Why do you choose to addict yourself to anything at all?"
Lucent considers saying something, lifts his hand... and then drops it, back to considering.
Varanim appears about to snap at Spring again, then her eyes go unfocused for a few seconds, then she looks at him more calmly. "It's a useful pacing mechanism."
Varanim "Now, what were you doing in Netheos?"
Spring "I was seeking such artifacts as would be necessary for the Sidereals I have gathered to perform their duties. Since they are as yet so young, they require more assistance than perhaps their predecessors might, but needs must."
Varanim "Was the kitty useful?" Aside to Lucent, she says, "our favoritest Lion wanted to talk to us and used some mantel ornaments as bait, it was really hilarious."
Lucent "The Lion set a trap for you? Hmmm. And that is when Thirteen told you to come to us?"
Spring "Indeed. It seemed obvious..." he coughs, "that is, I felt that she could do with more protection than a handful of ghosts could provide her. Life as a Solar can be dangerous."
Varanim shrugs at Spring. "I SAID I'd come if I ran out of better ideas, didn't I?"
Lucent bows, "Than you, Thirtee... er, Spring. What was this trap?"
Spring "I am pleased that you did so so rapidly."
Varanim "Oh, it was pretty standard. Chain one set of clues to another, draw the marks to your lair, deliver prepared tacky monologue, end day choking on own blood."
Spring "It occurred to me, though, that we are not the only two enemies of the Lion."
Varanim "It's possible, yes."
Lucent "Oh, I see. Of course you are not. Rosada was never very nice, and we are talking about a Deathlord. From what I was able to gather, all other Deathlords are their enemies to BEGIN WITH."
Spring "Well, I suspect the spell is limited in scope somewhat, but clearly not so limited that Solars of our power level are immune."
Spring "And I saw something in a dream that made me determine that I must investigate Kai's well-being."
Varanim "You have to watch putting too much weight on dreams. What was it?"
Lucent "Count me on that. Kai was the most grounded of us. It was disheartening when she disappeared..."
Spring "I saw her face on a milk bottle."
Varanim "Was it a... special milk bottle?"
Lucent "So, she is missing. How is that new information?"
Spring "It was a milk bottle in a dream. How special are you expecting it to be?"
Varanim "What, you aren't just going to poke him in the forehead and steal it?"
Spring "It is new, Lucent, because the Lion's spell may give some insight as to why she is missing this time."
Lucent sighs. "I was angry, I apologized!"
Spring "In addition, I have brought someone who we may be able to discuss the topic with."
Lucent "Oh? A source of knowledge from the Lion?" His eyes shine more than they should! "Who?"
Spring "I am not sure."
Varanim "I could check for signs of her..." she trails off, looking askance at Spring.
Spring "Once they were Loss of Innocence."
Varanim Her eyes go sharp. "You need to explain that more."
Lucent "Quite a title. 'They'? A composite Demon?"
Varanim "That's not the interesting word in that sentence."
Lucent "You know this... Loss?"
Spring "They is a third personal plural which may be used to describe a person whose gender is uncertain, such as one who has changed such due to the effects of a spell of rebirth."
Spring "Hopefully that answers both your questions."
Varanim "You... put him in your belly, and now he is a she?" Varanim bypasses Lucent's question.
Spring "Indeed. Your acumen is as keen as ever, I see."
Varanim "But your digestion is more freakish. And they say people can't change..."
Lucent looks back and forth
Varanim "It was an Abyssal," she snaps at Lucent.
Lucent "ANOTHER Abyssal of the Lion? What, was she an old boyfriend?"
Varanim "Of yours? I didn't know to ask, at the time, but playing the odds I'd say yes."
Lucent "Oh, very mature."
Varanim "More to the point," she looks over at Spring, "what makes you think it'll be any more capable of interesting conversation than last time?"
Lucent "We have the Wolf on our side. He does not need to WANT to give out anything."
Spring "I suspect we will be able to gather information in some way." He nods to Lucent.
Lucent "Should we ask you, too?" He looks at Varanim, "You were quite friendly with them."
Varanim "I treat all the world with equal benevolence and kindness," Varanim says loftily to Lucent. "And I still don't know what the Lion's problem is, except that he needs a new hobby, possibly knitting."
Spring "And yet your aims are clearly antithetical to his, or the spell would not have drawn you in."
Lucent smiles. "Ooh."
Varanim shrugs. "Some people have trouble understanding short simple words, like 'no'. But if you're convinced there's a grand plan, I could start looking for traces."
Varanim She barely dignifies Lucent's air of happy surprise with an eyeroll.
Lucent is too delighted to notice!
Spring "Perhaps that would be as well."
Varanim "I'll put it on my list of current projects. Any other obnoxiousness you'd like to lay on me while you're saying hello? You're having this really fascinating resonance effect with Lucent."
Spring raises an eyebrow. "You need not investigate it if you find it such a burden. I am sure our current resources will be more than sufficient."
Varanim waves a hand. "I didn't mean THAT, new puzzles are always okay. In fact..." looks speculative, then trails off with a glance at Lucent. "Never mind. Are you sticking around, or just visiting?"
Lucent "We do need all information we can about the Lion now, however. Before Abadis awakens, before..." He stops, pondering. "Yes. But you should not do that, Varanim, we understand you are busy."
Varanim raises her eyebrows at Lucent. "Now you're just being transparent. You never understand that I'm busy."
Spring "That depends on Zahara, of course, but I hope to stay for a while. As always, there is much I would like to accomplish for the good of Creation."
Varanim A sort of gleam lights in Varanim's eyes. "We'll talk."
Lucent just smiles, not answering Varanim... as they get to the edge of the Cascade, the great Manse rising before them. "So, do you want me to come with us when you see Zahara, or...?"
Spring "Certainly, if you wish."
Lucent "I would prefer you did it alone, actually. You two have too much between you to get through, and my presence would be more of a barrier to that than anything, I believe." He nods, "But if you want my support, or mediation, I could be there."
Spring "If it is your belief that meeting her alone would be appropriate, I will attempt it."
Lucent looks up at the Cascade, hope on his face. "Good luck."
Varanim Varanim, who is apparently not paying attention at all, says to Spring ::If she throws you in the dungeon, dibs on Loss.::