Cerin From the top of a nearby hill, the town of Kingsfield looked much the same in death as it did in life, although quite a bit smaller, the dead shadow not yet having grown to keep up with the living version. It's still a fairly sizable town though. Cerin, after a few moments studying the town, turns to Varanim. "So, these sigils. If we remove them, the spies will revert, if I am understanding that conversation correctly?"
Varanim Scowling down at Kingsfield, Varanim answers, "That's not clear yet--we only realized the lion badge was the leash after snuffing the first spy. So it might not work, but should be tried first."
Varanim "Actual spectres are another game entirely, but if you can catch one, I may be able to... try something." There's a research-related gleam in her eye, at that last bit.
Cerin "Try something?" he asks, curious. "Though assuming it does not work, you have no objection to me rending their essence and consuming them?"
Varanim "Sunlands policy on conscripted invaders is delightfully none of my business," Varanim acknowledges with a half-smirk. "And I think I can turn off the Labyrinth bits in a spectre's head, but I haven't actually tried yet. C'mon, it'll be neat."
Cerin "I feel at some point in the future I will need to have more in depth discussion with you on this subject," he remarks as they start to walk towards Kingsfield, his vision ranging out for ghosts bearing the Lion's mark.
Varanim "What, spectres? Boring guys, lousy home life, all of them crazy. Those are the key bits, pretty much." Varanim follows, keeping her own senses alert as backup.
Cerin examines the town carefully; there are many ghosts moving about in the area, each performing their own particular imitations of the daily activities of the living, but at first he does not notice any of them bearing the unique Lion sigil that the Solars had discovered in the area near Solaria. (...)
It is only as they draw closer, and his vision extends out to the furthest-afield portions of the city -- a set of largely empty, crumbling estates whose borders lie beyond the city proper and whose living complements have long since been razed for additional farmland -- that he sees them: three ghosts, the Lion emblems clenched tightly in their fists or held in their bags.
Cerin "Ah, they're on the far side of the town," he remarks to Varanim. "Three of them. No spectres yet."
Varanim "I'm sure they're just shy," she assures him. "You're the hunter, though--do we watch the kids and hope for big brother to come home, or speed things up by going to take their lunch treats?"
Cerin "The latter I think," he says after brief consideration. "I don't particularly want to spend days waiting here."
Varanim nods. "Let's go bully some ghosts, then."
Cerin leads her through the town and out to the old estates. As they get nearer he starts to listen, to find out why they might be gathered in this building.
The ghostly whispers on the wind seem to suggest that the ghosts are compiling a batch of gathered information for delivery to their unseen masters.
Cerin "How would a ghost send a message home?" Cerin asks softly.
Varanim "The usual ways--personal magic, gooey messenger pigeons--plus a couple others, like being summoned elsewhere to answer or sending directly up a spell link." Varanim spreads her hands to indicate the uncertainty of the problem.
Cerin "Well, they're currently compiling a report," he says. "I'm sure if we interupt that, someone will be sent."
Varanim "Oh, good," she brightens, "annoying people so they do what I want is my favorite. Shall we?"
Cerin "Somehow that does not surprise me," he remarks dryly.
Cerin waits until the report is completely compiled, listening to the facts they have gleaned, and then obtains entry to the room by the simple expident of blowing the door down with a trio of well placed arrows.
Varanim "And for my next trick...!" Varanim announces grandly in Cerin's wake, throwing up an arm as if she was responsible for his entrance.
The ghosts react fairly quickly -- for the dead, anyway -- by rapidly throwing themselves behind nearby objects, hoping to briefly shield themselves from deadly missiles. (...)
Cerin, of course, knows at almost the instant that he lets loose his arrows that a more threatening response is well on its way.
Cerin ::I hope you're ready for something a little more threatening than a trio of surprised ghosts. It's certainly on its way:: he remarks, as he shoots the straps off one of the bags with the symbols in it, yanking it away from the ghost.
As if on cue, a distant spot on the floor splits open like an overripe grape, and without delay, spectres begin to pour out.
Varanim ::We'll find out, won't we?:: Varanim replies with a sort of grim delight in her voice. She steps through the confusion of the room, batting aside a clumsily thrown projectile with her staff, and seats herself in a rickety chair facing the hole. Essence swirls about her shoulders in a bruised and roiling anima, a thunderstorm waiting to break at sunset. ::Leave me one.::
Varanim ::Wait, make that two.::
Cerin :: Who is the second one for? :: curiousity colouring his mental tone.
Varanim ::A special lady-friend. Must shut up now, tweaking Neverborn.::
Cerin ::I see:: he remarks in a voice which promises further questions to be evaded later. Then he shoots the nearest two spectres with one arrow which shatters in mid-flight to a trio of brillant shards, each one flying onwards faster, wrapped in a hungry halo of shadow.
Varanim begins the strange syllables of a spell rarely spoken in this age or earlier, dragging her left hand through her anima and tugging free a handful of shadows that seethe around some inner golden radiance. She bends her gaze on the erupting spectres, and a mote flares on the brow of one of them, marking her target.
Cerin's arrows shred the ghostly flesh of two of the foremost spectres into tiny black wisps on the Netheos air, but others pour out of the breach to fill the space that the frontline troops occupied almost immediately. (...)
On the faces of the Abyss-tainted ghosts are frozen expressions of pain and horror, and as their distended and thin limbs reach out awkwardly at the Solars, the ones still further back in the newly-opened tunnel begin to keen a terrible, high-pitched song, with no rhythm or melody, that seems to chill the entire room.
The song rattles through the Solars' brains, making their senses hazy and unreliable. The song's very tunelessness seems to take on a twisted sense and beauty as it continues on, which somehow just makes the experience yet more horrifying. (...)
Taking the chance while their foes are off-balance, the frontmost shock-troops leap forward and strike!
Despite the thick mental interference of the Malfean song that echoes up from below, Cerin and Varanim turn to defend against the grasping claws of the spectres. Cerin avoids his foes handily, but several slip in underneath Varanim's reflexively twirling staff, and she feels the cold chill of abyssal claws tear at her arms and shoulders.
Cerin ::Are you alright?:: Cerin enquires as he watches the essence of the spell wildly fluctuate. Then he unleashes a fan of brilliant blazing motes that slice through air and shadow and toneless song with equal ease, cutting into the five spectres within the room and then racing beyond into the labyrinth to impale the next spectre unfortunate enough to be emerging into the room.
Varanim ::Don't... worry your pretty little... head about it.:: The words come oddly spaced, flickers of strange cyclopean depths leaking through the mental communication as Varanim balances the wounds of her body against the cadence of the spell.
Cerin's arrows tear viciously through the spectres, tearing their twisted forms into the tiniest of scraps, and the assault is so fierce that even the masses of spectres down in the newly-opened labyrinth tunnel pause for a moment -- the Abyss has vast resources, after all, but they are not actually infinite.
Varanim cups her blood-spattered hands around the ball of shadow and begins to squeeze, compressing it. Shafts of light escape between her fingers, glinting off disturbing patterns on the walls and floor--the hidden capillaries of the Labyrinth that carry rhythms from below even up to this great height. The same light details the foulness that riddles the chosen spectre.
Varanim As she reaches the final words and claps her hands together, the distilled golden light within floods the spectre like a bonfire glow through a thin paper screen, throwing up shadows--scenes of its existence before falling--onto the surrounding air. As more of them form, they enfold the ghost, attempting to efface the Labyrinth brands on its soul to reveal the older pattern beneath.
Varanim's Essence burns through the spectre like a dropped match through her expensive bottle of 140-proof liquor; there is a brilliant flash and the cleansed ghost drops to the ground, utterly unconscious, while the other spectres decide that discretion is the better part of valor and turn to flee back into the labyrinth's depths.
Cerin ::Nicely done. Do you really desperately want a second spectre right now? And if so, can you stop that hole closing up?::
Varanim digs in her bag for said bottle, uncorking it with her teeth to take a long swig before standing to shuffle over to the ghost. ::I can get the second one later, when they haven't brought five hundred friends to play. Someone's mighty touchy about his intel, I'd say.::
Cerin ::Well, it would be no trouble. I'd just prefer not to be trapped in the Labyrinth, if it's all the same to you.:: He's currently sighting one ghost through the tunnel.
Varanim ::Oh, that.:: A tiny pause as she mentally calculates her remaining energies, then, ::Don't worry, I can pull you out if the walls try to play gooshy-nice.::
Cerin ::I shall be back shortly then.:: He says, and then launches a scything bolt of essence which takes a leg off one of the fleeing spectres before running down the hole and into the Labyrinth tunnel, drawing from his pocket a strange collection of vines which he charges with essence before pressing to the spectre, binding it in life. Then he picks him up and scurries back out again.
The labyrinth tunnel closes up behind him, and he finds himself back in the room with one ex-spectre, three terrified sigiled ghosts, and Varanim.
Varanim When he returns, Cerin catches the fading end of a smile on Varanim's face as she looks down at the unconscious former spectre, then she turns to the other ghosts and briskly claps her hands together. "Your badges or your balls, kids."