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Cerin Cerin raps lightly upon Varanim's door. When it is opened, he smiles. "Hello, Varanim. I was wondering if you would like a short trip from the Cascade, to deal with our ghosts in the basement."

Varanim From the state of things on the desk, Varanim appears to have been draining some blood from her arm into a bottle. At Cerin's invitation she nods and pops the bottle into her ice-cooled nightstand, pausing only long enough to tie a small bandage around her arm before grabbing staff and bag.

Varanim "The lack of metaphor in that invitation is delightful. Let's go."

Cerin "And the blood?" he asks, a little curious, as they walk from the cascade, heading for the nearest Shadowland.

Varanim "Oh, sometimes I need several gallons at once, and a lot of awkwardness can be avoided with a little preparation work. Where exactly are we headed?"

Cerin "Ah, I see," he nods. "You are the one who knows where they are, yes?"

Varanim "Not yet," she says cheerfully, "but I know a guy who knows a guy." She leads Cerin to the prearranged contact point with Black Mastodon.

Cerin "You know a guy ..." he grins and shakes his head, following her, and wondering who her contact is.

Varanim "Big spoiler: he's dead!" Out of the Cascade, Varanim seems almost chipper, or maybe that's just the prospect of necromancy to come.

Cerin "No, really?"

Varanim Near the Shadowland through which they cross, a town long devoured by fire and earthquake lingers on in the memory of Netheos. Among the ruins, half-repaired over time by ghosts, is a courtyard of houses taken over as an impromptu local base by Black Mastodon and company. Varanim leads Cerin into the central space, her staff clanging on the archway to announce their arrival.

Varanim "Why yes, he's... oh, I see your sarcasm there. That's a terrible habit, you know."

Cerin "So I am informed."

BlackMastodon Sitting at the central fountain, which flows slowly with opaque, milky water, is Varanim's quarry: his archaic clothes immediately belying his age (in ghost years), and the red sigil on his forehead brightly shining amidst the murk and darkness of the area.

Varanim "Do you have a present for me?" Varanim asks him, then vaguely remembers manners. "Oh, this is Cerin. Cerin, on the off chance you don't know everything already, this is Black Mastodon."

Cerin "If I knew everything, I would get terribly bored. What would I have left to find out?" he remarks. "Greetings, Black Mastodon."

BlackMastodon bows in a rather stiff fashion. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Cerin."

Varanim "So what's the deal with those naughty trespassing soul-shackled ghosts?" Varanim appears to have exhausted her store of courtesies for the day.

BlackMastodon looks over the two Solars and adopts a serious tone. "I showed off that emblem you left here -- carefully avoiding letting anyone touch it, of course -- and set the Red Fire Elk branch of the family to the task of scouring the Sunlands countryside for evidence of incursion," he says. (...)

BlackMastodon "So far... the picture is not good."

Varanim waits a moment, then glares at him. "You're enjoying this, I can tell. Well?"

BlackMastodon "They're everywhere," he says flatly. "We've found them placed throughout the region, one for every five hundred square miles of land, plus anywhere between one and ten in each major settlement. When we've looked into it, the ghosts bearing the sigils don't tend to be unusual in themselves -- mostly they're locals who have previously interacted normally with Netheos society, not imported spies." (...)

BlackMastodon "The real problem, though, is that they have... backup."

Cerin "Backup?"

BlackMastodon "Ultimately, no place in Netheos is secure because of the Labyrinth," he says. "We've been able to pick off some of the wilderness spies, but when we made a move on Kingsfield..." He shakes his head. "Spectres. Inhuman-looking. Came right out of the walls."

Varanim leans on her staff with her thinking scowl on. "Just to check before we get our hands plasmy: you didn't happen to catch one of those spectres, did you?"

BlackMastodon shakes his head. "We got out without anyone suffering an injury that a few months of serious plasmic recuperation wouldn't fix. I consider that to be an accomplishment, given the circumstances."

Cerin "How many of them were there?"

BlackMastodon "We saw three," he says. "I think there were more, but they didn't give chase and we didn't stick around to make sure."

Varanim "Do you need anything from us right now? Otherwise, I think it's time for Cerin to hunt and me to do that thing I do."

BlackMastodon shakes his head. "I think we're as set as we're going to get," he says. "We can plot out for you where a large number of these spies are, at least."

Cerin "That would be appreciated. When you are going to hunt, it is wise to know where best to wait."

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