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Varanim When it's time to meet with Lucent before talking to Crow-Devours-Flame, Varanim is dressed as never seen before in the Cascade (or possibly in this life). The gown is black with midnight blue embroidery, low-cut and perfectly fitted, and the faint gleam of her bare soulsteel arm is matched by the ebony and lapis lazuli combs that neatly pin back her hair.

Varanim To the gifted wardrobe, she has added one accessory: the silk-thin metal scarf, black except for the gold tassel at one end and the green at the other, wrapped casually around her neck with the ends thrown back over her shoulders.

Lucent is dressed like a golden king, in a golden-and-brass-orange suit that formed designs of sunlight cast accross his body, parts that appeared to reflect and a red-and-gold coat with an abstract wing motiff. As Varanim appeared, he could not be brighter!

Lucent "Beautiful!" He whispered, holding her by the waist and locking their lips in a kiss!

Varanim returns the kiss for a moment, then remembers herself and pulls back. "Focus, please."

Lucent holds her hands to stop her from going, pulling them up and cradling them in his'. "I am focused. More than you could know, Varanim... I have been thinking, and I was all wrong. I will trust you, from now on." He looked into her eyes, "I will trust you. I promise. That I will try, at least, my hardest."

Varanim "Oh," Varanim says, looking briefly pained before straightening her expression. "I appreciate that."

Varanim "Also, this thing we've been doing is nice, but it's over now."

Lucent is still smiling, now a confused smile. "Fighting, you mean?"

Varanim "No, I mean the sex." Now at the door to the room where Crow is waiting, Varanim glances at Lucent. "All ready to do your priest thing?"

Lucent "... no. What, you mean..." He blinks. "... you cannot just do that."

Varanim "Actually, I just did. And, hm, on reflection, my question was rhetorical." Varanim pushes open the door.

Lucent holds her arm. "Wait!"

Varanim "Later." And Varanim sweeps into the room, focusing her attention on Crow regardless of Lucent's hold on her arm.

Lucent looks at Varanim, then at Crow, at a loss for words.

CrowDevoursFlame sits in a chair, her full-plate armor currently put away in exchange for a simple, conservative suit of black and red.

Varanim "I believe you know Lucent Copper Haze. I'm Varanim the Last." Then she lifts a hand to indicate that Lucent should begin.

Lucent looks at Varanim with a face of horror... and then at Crow. Something stretches in his mind, and he realises it. He closes his eyes and lets go of Varanim, taking heavy steps towards Crow. "Hello, Crow. How has your mission been treating you?"

CrowDevoursFlame looks humorlessly at Lucent. "My 'mission' proceeds according to its own measures," she says.

Lucent assents. His voice is perfectly calm. Controlled. Even somewhat cheerful. "Spreading culture much?"

Varanim ::I'm about to give her my best spooky glare, Lucent. Don't turn around for a minute or you'll ruin the impression, all right?::

CrowDevoursFlame "I killed a lizard and poisoned several small flowering plants in the spirit of cultural exchange," she says, flatly.

Lucent ::Right.:: His mental voice is cold. No, not cold. It is like it comes out of gritted teeth.

Varanim Behind Lucent there is a faint tearing noise, a momentary rustling, and then Varanim turns her terrible eyes on Crow-Devours-Flame, reading the bindings of her Essence that would exist were she to die and become a ghost this moment.

Lucent "Is that what a mighty Dusk Caste has been reduced to?" He looks at her with something that is... almost pity, but not. Yet, while showing he wanted her to be more, it avoids being condescending in the least. "Did you think about our last talk?"

CrowDevoursFlame Varanim sees the things that would anchor Crow to the world: a desire for vengeance. A scythe, simple and plain, that she keeps yet, her only reminder of a life long gone. A skull, marked in obscure symbols with a thumb's smudge of coal. Her memory of a single moment of nirvana -- a brief second where she understood the illusion that underlies all existence.

CrowDevoursFlame looks up at Varanim with a very odd expression on her face, but says nothing to her. "I did," she says.

Varanim ::She wants revenge. Is that a key you can turn, for your goal?::

Lucent ::Yes. Thank you.:: The last words comes as pained, almost crying. She can hear the mental curse over letting that out. He nods to Crow. "You have been with them, living here... seeing their smiles, seeing the flowers. All the different tastes and flavors of the world. Why did you do something as petty as poison them?"

CrowDevoursFlame "Because existence is illusory," she says. "If a flower grows, or a flower dies; both these things are the same, in the face of the truth."

Varanim "If you want oblivion, you know where to find it. But you cling to several of these illusions--the scythe, the coal-stroked skull--do you think you can hide that, from me?" There is a faint crackling under her voice, as from a distant fire.

Lucent "And yet, you took action to change that. And yet, you wished to do that. Because you are angry." He looks into her eyes. "You want to fight something. To destroy. You want to make THEM suffer. You think they will if you wither flowers? Did that make you feel better?" He asks, in tandem with Varanim.

CrowDevoursFlame narrows her eyes. "Your charade is not amusing," she says to Varanim. "Did you think your cheap theatrics would awaken some sort of hidden loyalty in me?" She sneers. "If I am an imperfect servant, it is because existence, too, is imperfect."

Lucent "Servant of... what?" He looks at Crow. "Of the man who sent you here to collect dust? Who has such a perfect blade, and squanders it? Why did the Mask do this, Crow... let me tell you why. Because he DOES NOT CARE. I know him, you saw us talking, you know that."

Lucent "He cares only about his research, using you, and then DISCARDING you. He never cares. He does not care. He will never aid you. He will never give you what you want. Your revenge."

CrowDevoursFlame "You are right," she says, though her expression does not truly change. "He does not care."

Varanim "Oh," Varanim says to Crow, a smile in her voice, "but I'm very amused. And I don't believe in loyalty OR perfection, so don't try to impress me with your debased ideals."

CrowDevoursFlame "I doubt you believe in anything," she says.

Varanim "I do, and certainly you do as well. Your cheap nihilism is wearying."

Lucent "More than that. You know it is not true, or you would not seek your revenge. You would not need an outlet for your fury. You wish the world to see you, and carve your anger upon it. You wish the world to feel it... that is the precise opposite of believing it all a lie. You are seeking affirmation."

CrowDevoursFlame has become angry now. "Who are you to ask me?" she says with a furor. "I might as well ask you of the flaws in your own self-righteousness in service of some empty concept of 'the Sun.'" She then takes a moment to compose herself. (...)

CrowDevoursFlame "Why am I even here?" she says. "Did the two of you dream up that costume as some sort of childish prank?"

Lucent "You are here because the Mask of Winters has squandered your talents, made a mockery of your Exaltation and spit on your resolve." Lucent says simply, his voice soothing. "You are here because we will offer you a chance to serve your own goals. As soon as you understand them. To fight again."

Varanim "Oh, you'll find little service of the Sun in me. You're here because Lucent wishes you to do something useful with your life, and I'm here because it amuses me. At the moment, I'm considering rewriting your emotional attachments again and again, just to see how many times it takes before you lose the feelings that you currently only think you've transcended."

CrowDevoursFlame Varanim seems to have threatened Crow enough for her to bristle at the comment, and after a moment's internal war, she calls her bluff. "Do it, then" she says.

Lucent "You want to lose your feelings." His hand reaches to Crow's, holding it warm. "They hurt, right? The memory of strawberries. The touch of my hand. The laughing of children. The blood, the faces of those who wronged you. It hurts. How can you feel it is right when every feeling you have are telling you it is wrong?"

Lucent takes his eyes off of Crow for but a moment, looking at Varanim for help.

Varanim Now turned, Lucent sees what was behind him before. Covering Varanim's face is a disc of fire caught in crystal, traced with orichalcum outlines, a many-tongued halo of orange and red and gold around a familiar grim visage: the Mask of Summers.

Lucent "Wha...?" Lucent's eyes went wide. The pools of gold spreadwith a ripple... and then stilled. completely still. Like a high tide, they rose, and rose, until they covered almost all of his eye, and for a moment he seemed about to start a diatribe... and then held himself back. But even that was jarring, as his expression did not change; nary a muscle moved. He was like a statue.

Lucent ::... what? Just WHAT?:: His mind shouted at her in horror. The still-eyes watched that mask, that grin, those bolted eyes, all cast in fire, with the Orichalcum-lined tongues forming the sunburst-pattern. ::What... the HELL do you think you are DOING? What is THAT?!?::

Varanim ::A source of nigh unprecedented hilarity, if I don't miss my guess.:: Varanim's mental voice is a little strained and distracted-sounding. ::Don't they teach children to be careful what they ask for, down South?::

Lucent remained still as a statue. But there was a small tick on his left eye. ::... you think that is FUNNY? You tihnk seeing you as... THAT is funny? What is that, a Mask of Summers?!?::

Varanim "Later," Varanim says a little distantly to Crow's challenge. "Mommy and Daddy are going to have a fight now."

CrowDevoursFlame continues to look at Varanim's mask with a sort of intellectually curious askance expression as the two argue silently.

Lucent ::I thought mommy and daddy were over.::

Varanim ::Hey, that's a catchy name. And I have no idea whether you think it's fun... well, actually, that's not true.::

Varanim coughs slightly, then lifts a black silken handkerchief--part of the complete wardrobe--to wipe away the blood from her mouth under the mask.

Lucent There is finally expression on his face, an expression of FURY as he swung an arm wide, as if to backhand the air... but then... there is a smile, a strained smile. ::... so this is a joke? All of this is just... a joke? You did not mean that?::

Varanim ::I assure you, I've meant nearly every thing I've ever said to you. Our talk outside the door was completely sincere, at least on my end.::

Varanim ::By the way, the proof-of-concept test just went brilliantly, thanks for asking.::

Lucent starts towards Varanim, holding her arm. "But you did NOT. It was NOT just that!"

Lucent ::It is not 'just sex.' It cannot be over like that.::

Varanim "Sure it can." Varanim's head tilts slightly down, to look at his hand on her arm.

Varanim ::It was always about that, or this conversation is going to get a lot uglier. Think carefully before continuing.::

CrowDevoursFlame mouths "What?" to herself and screws up her brow a little, but remains otherwise silent.

Lucent "All you said? All you whispered? All you cried?" His eyes narrow. "And that is IT?"

Lucent ::Just heat and seed, just kiss and lust? That is ALL it is for you?::

Varanim "It's sloppy to have two arguments at once."

Varanim ::You wanted a voice of the Underworld--queen of the damned, you said! Forgiving that bit of poetry, you specifically asked me to dress the part.::

Varanim "This is what it looks like."

Lucent "Of COURSE I did! With what I gave you! Not... that. Not like THAT!"

Lucent ::That is no answer. Do not DARE to change the topic. IS. THAT. ALL. IT. IS. TO. YOU?::

Varanim "Ah." The single syllable uttered aloud is frosty.

Varanim ::Is that what you need to hear, to end this particular farce of a conversation?::

Lucent steps closer, too close, his fingers entwining in hers'... "I want to hear you lie, yes."

Lucent ::You want this. You want me. You LIKE me. You know what you feel. It is not just that. It is not nothing. Our whispers in the night, what we talked with sweet smiles, it is not nothing for me, and NOT for you. You KNOW it.::

CrowDevoursFlame leans a bit further forward, clearly curious where Lucent is going with... whatever it is he is going with.

Varanim lifts one hand to pull off the mask. Her face is a little pale from the earlier strain of the spell, but Lucent might miss that behind the hard, bitter line of her smile and the proud tilt of her chin. "You're not worth my time."

Varanim ::Don't kid yourself--I did it just to see if you'd call Quen's name by mistake.::

Lucent He propped her chin up, as if for a kiss. His hands were shaking, and colder than they should be. His eyes were now raging back and forth, and she can feel it all. Fury. Hope. Sorrow. Anger. Disbelief. HOPE. "You are a terrible liar. Stop that, you are terrible at it, even though you ARE so much like Quen."

Lucent ::But I could never miss, not when I... not when we feel what we feel.::

Varanim There is no hope in Varanim's eyes, just a distant sort of weariness. "Lucent, there is no route in this conversation that will lead to you hearing what you want."

Varanim ::The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can move on.::

Varanim She takes a single step back, removing her face from his hands.

Lucent ::Then say what you think, then. Tell me your truth. NOW.::

Lucent "No." That expression, alone, stopped her step, and kept her there, like an Order from God.

CrowDevoursFlame makes a mental note at "...so much like Quen."

Varanim Varanim, halted mid-motion, lifts her chin with blazing eyes. ::My truth is that I have work to do, which ultimately interests me far more than anything that happens in my bed or yours.::

Varanim "I suggest you let go before I continue on to yours."

Lucent ::And I will continue with it. As soon as you tell me. Go on. Then we can go back.::

Lucent "Or you want to discuss yours'?" He cocks his head, "You met the GREEN LADY on Juggernaut, Crow?"

CrowDevoursFlame "I have not had any idea what either of you is talking about for several minutes," she says, sounding mildly exasperated.

Lucent "DID YOU?"

Varanim ::You're obsessed with saving people, presumably because of the many failures and dead friends that attend a sufficiently long life. You seek out relationships where you think the other person needs a protector figure--most preferably, they need to be saved from themselves, since that makes the triumph more personal for you. That's the first part.::

Varanim ::The second is that you seek partners you think are dirty or broken in some way, because you want to wallow in the cycle of guilt and recrimination and catharsis. And when it ends badly, as it inevitably does--'don't worry Lucent, be strong, it couldn't have been helped'--when the sorry predictable cycle is all played out, then you feel clean again. Until the next time.::

Varanim "My point."

Lucent ::What. Is. It. To. YOU?::

Lucent "Your point is a smokescreen. You stall as much as your Masked Namesake. So fitting."

CrowDevoursFlame "No I did not," Crow says, rising angrily from her seat. "And I do not appreciate your attempts to draw me into this quarrel you are having with your..." -- she mentally elides whatever word she is considering here -- "...because it is not sufficiently recriminatory for you."

Varanim ::To me, it doesn't even qualify as over, because it never was.::

Lucent "But you ARE in this quarrel, Crow. You have ALWAYS been." Something happens with his eyes. They shatter. Pieces of frozen gold falling down, until his eye is almost entirely white. His mental voice comes sobbing. ::So it is just like this, is it? Like THIS?:: He spins around, striding to Crow, taking her hand, pulling her up. "She is him. His shard, who he used to be. Your lord, with all his lies, using and discarding."

Lucent He spins her like a dance, placing her before Varanim. "You serve a manipulative THING like that." Everything was confusing, everything. But as he held her chin, from behind, as he propped her to look back, as he put his lips on hers', it was like the only solid thing in the world, the only right thing in the world, as he gave her the most perfect kiss, a thing that could only exist in faerie tales, a thing that could only exist in a fable...

Lucent "... or you can come with me."

Varanim "Ever thus," Varanim whispers, as she lifts the mask to cover her face again.

Lucent is shining so bright, light covering both, giving Crow images of a better life, of being with flowers, of following the kiss, of fighting, of having her revenge, of having blood on her blades and immense foes about her, all around his anima.

CrowDevoursFlame finds herself utterly wrapped up in the confusing, surprising, crazy moment, too much so to even think to object -- and when it is over, she sits there, almost in shock, uncertain what to say or even what to think about the experience she has just had.

Lucent smiles at her, still so close. "With me, there will be no manipulations, no deceit. With me, there will be fighting and blood, the greatest challenges in your victory. With us, there is. Never. A. Dull. Moment." He impresses those words in her mind, then steps away, leaving the confused Abyssal.

Lucent "Think about it. Come to me, tomorrow, at this time. I am waiting for your answer."

Varanim Varanim's face is hidden, but she sways on her feet slightly, hands clenched tight together, before recovering. Then she unclasps her hands, to lift the sides of her skirt out properly as she makes a low curtsy--the signal of acknowledgment for a match lost.

CrowDevoursFlame nods, quietly

Varanim nods to them both, and leaves the room with only a rustle of skirts to mark her passing.

Lucent turns around, then, triumphantly, striding away from the room. His mask breaks. Tears flow by his face. Finally. Not in front of them, not in front of them, never in front of them, he could finally let the tears go.

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