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Spring sits in the Cascade library, quietly perusing Phoenix's books, which are in his belly.

Varanim ambles in, sees Spring, and looks at him askance for a moment. "How is new-you at interesting problems?"

Spring "Capable."

Varanim "Cool. C'mon then, it's about an hour's walk to my office."

Spring raises an eyebrow. "Why is this excursion necessary?"

Varanim "Because there's an interruption problem around here lately, and I want to explain something complicated. Don't worry, I promise it'll be hilarious."

Varanim "I mean, possibly the funniest thing I've ever done."

Spring stares for a few more moments, then shrugs. "All right. I may read on the way."

Varanim "Good, I hate making conversation." Varanim seems relieved, as she leads the way out. (...)

Colapso left the room.

Varanim Varanim's "office," an hour or so of brisk walking distant from the Cascade, is the ancient ruins of a tiny shrine clinging to the side of a ravine. It's sparse inside: a rickety chair, a scattering of glass shards by the door, a bowl of marigolds on the front step, and a hammock slung between two pillars that used to frame the altar.

Varanim "Okay, so," she says, sprawling into the hammock. "I'm building a Manse in the Labyrinth."

Spring "I suppose we must all have hobbies." Spring sits in the chair and eats a marigold.

Varanim gets kind of a funny look on her face at that, then puts her thinking scowl on. "Verbena's worked out a lot of the details. I'm having her rip off some spectral architecture, but the Essence flows are still a bitch, because everything's chopped in pieces and--well--sort of dead down there."

Varanim "Verbles called it evil tapioca--bits of geography floating in a capital-P primordial gooshiness. There aren't any Essence flows like normal on the surface, so it's not just a connection of tying the dragon lines in a pretty bow, or whatever geomancers do."

Spring frowns, and glows slightly. He eats a piece of glass thoughtfully.

Spring "What is necessary, then, is to impose an artificial structure on the Essence tangles in a certain section of the Labyrinth."

Spring "The most straightforward way to do this is to create an obstruction with somewhat predictable effects on the surrounding area. While the response of the chaotic Essence will not be perfectly consistent, it can be limited such that the likelihood of various responses can be measured and accounted for."

Spring "Would you say this is a correct analysis?"

Varanim looks thoughtful. "That might work. There's still some dynamic plumbing needed, but one of the Faculty gave me an idea for that--it'll use the houses of the Netheos sky as an adjustment clock. Something like you describe would keep the fluctuations down to a manageable level, which is good, because I can't babysit the thing all the time."

Varanim "There's also the issue of keeping a crossroads area either defended or hidden, with the second preferred. I understand tactics was your bag."

Spring "I expect my solution can usefully address both these problems. We will merely have to deploy an Essence-manipulating construct which is capable of itself responding to the adjustments in environmental conditions, while providing useful feedback as to the situation nearby, allowing point defense."

Spring "The obvious course of action is to use a living being of some sort."

Spring "Of course, it would need to be extremely large, in order to provide the scale of effect required, and rather static and undemanding. It would be useful if it would grow constantly, providing for expansion as needed, while also being directable, even to the degree of pruning off growths that are antagonistic to our aims."

Spring "I suggest a tree. If it is made large enough, the house can be built directly into it. This would drastically simplify the construction difficulties associated with stabilizing the manse in relation to what would conceivably be a rather volatile Essence field in the best of circumstances."

Varanim closes her eyes for a full minute, as if visualizing something too complicated to otherwise contain, and one corner of her mouth turns up slowly. "Oh," she says quietly. "You can stay."

Varanim Then she sits up suddenly, stabilizes the hammock reflexively, and turns a piercing gaze on him. "What kind of tree?"

Spring "I am pleased that my solution meets with your approval."

Spring "That is a more difficult question. Thankfully, I have a tree in my stomach with which we may discuss the topic."

Varanim While Spring is talking, she reaches down with her soulsteel arm, patting around as if searching under invisible floorboards. Then she makes a little 'ah' face and pulls her hand up, and with a peculiar soft tearing sound draws a wrapped parcel from the other side of the Shroud. Then she looks at him, nonplussed.

Varanim "I hope you're not inviting me to get in your belly."

Spring "Oh, no. I can bring it forth as necessary, although I would prefer to do it someplace with better soil."

Spring "What is in the parcel?"

Varanim "Good soil like where? Zee did this nice thing with a taproot and a fixed Shadowland, if you need someplace special--bit of a hike, though." She tosses him the package for inspection. "Don't eat this one." It holds the mask Zahara made for her.

Spring "Hm."

Spring "Do you have specific expectations for the Hearthstone from this manse? It will be necessary to take them into account in choosing the tree."

Varanim rocks back and forth absently, frowning as she tries to put a shape around the idea that's been gestating in equal parts dreams and analysis. "It needs to... listen. To pick up signals beneath or beside or intermixed with the usual spiritual gibbering that usually clouds those neighborhoods. I want to take the pulse of the Labyrinth." She scowls, disliking the imprecision of attempting...

Varanim ...to describe a largely unstudied problem.

Spring "What interests you so about it?"

Spring "I must assume it is related to the nature of the event that led to the replacement of your arm."

Varanim "Hm? Oh, indirectly, I suppose. It's more that the world contains a very large number of boring problems, and a much smaller set of interesting ones. Somewhere on that list is the question, 'is the Labyrinth alive'?"

Varanim "I mean, I don't wonder why you plan army movements for world domination, right? I just assume that you have, because it's in your field and small problems are boring."

Spring "I enjoy small problems. Having time to concern yourselves with them indicates that you have no large problems immediately pressing."

Spring "At least, this is my theoretical understanding. I have never found myself in that situation."

Spring "You realize, of course, that if the Labyrinth turns out to be alive, it will presumably try to kill you."

Varanim smirks a bit at Spring's clarification, then spreads her hands at his point about the Labyrinth. "It's a lousy business for wusses, isn't it?"

Varanim "More specifically, that's possible, but not certain. And occasional large risks keep me happy."

Spring "Then you will be overjoyed to be in our company, Varanim, I have no doubt."

Varanim "Ah, is that the feeling? I'd mistaken it for indigestion."

Spring smiles at the witticism.

Spring "Tell me. Are you happy with your...prosthetic? I am fully capable of restoring your original arm with a minimum of effort."

Varanim looks surprised, then unsettled, then smirks. "Thanks, but over the years we've become--wait for it--attached to each other."

Spring ignores THAT witticism. "As you wish. If you change your mind in future, do be sure to let me know."

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