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Day eight -- presumably.

The person who threw their apple all those hours ago has not removed the glorious golden mask that hides their features from the world in the interim, and has not slept either... only wandered through the halls and chambers of the Blight of Aeons as the process of rewiring that began at the lip of the Void continues its process slowly in the unseen depths of the mind.

After some time of this wandering, she emerges once more, as if by intention, into one of the larger chambers, a twisted arboretum of plasmic trees and flowers, united only in their complete lack of living status and, therefore, the unnecessarity of direct sunlight for their growth (and therefore the resulting shadowed appearance of the room.)

At the moment, the Mask of Winters is here, contemplatively watering what seems to be a collection of ghost orchids what what appears to be blood, and he looks up as his visitor arrives:

MaskOfWinters "I hope your journey has been... revelatory," he says.

Varanim She considers that for a long moment. "Indeed." After another thoughtful pause, she reaches up to carefully remove the mask. "I find myself briefly beyond sarcasm."

MaskOfWinters "Sarcasm is but a pitiful and blunt knife, worn down through overuse, before the might of the Void," he says, carefully distributing the blood in precise proportions to each orchid, that they might flourish.

MaskOfWinters looks over at Varanim for just a moment as she removes her own Mask, though his expression betrays no emotion, as usual.

Varanim smirks at him, briefly and brilliantly. "But condescension is an ever-renewing fountain, yes." Her hands shake as she lowers the mask, and she takes a seat under the anguished filigree of a delicate tree with more than her usual care.

Varanim "I think... I have the beginnings of what I need," she says after a moment, with a frown that suggests she was trying to wrap words around something larger and inexpressible.

MaskOfWinters "That is a feeling very much akin to my own," he says, placing his decanter of blood down for a moment in order to sprinkle bone meal around the roots of several large, tentacular ghost-trees.

Varanim Still frowning absently, as if she was trying to read her own thoughts off of a slightly smudged page, she says, "Soon I think I'll want to leave and stretch my legs. I'd like to know, first, what you expect in return for your investment. And I have... a few things to ask you."

MaskOfWinters "I would hope that our emerging relationship would be something that goes beyond mere petty barter," he says, quickly drawing out a small knife to prune an undesirable growth on one of the trees.

MaskOfWinters "We are kindred souls, you and I; we face the same challenges... and seek the same answers." He takes a single long look at Varanim, then goes back to watering.

MaskOfWinters "Nonetheless, I understand your wariness. The nature of the true respect between peers was lost with the declining age," he says. "What I desire from you is something very simple. You see" -- he puts down his decanter again and walks towards Varanim -- "I am looking for something."

MaskOfWinters "If you see it, I want you to let me know."

Varanim folds her hands and rests her chin on them with a moody scowl as she watches him. "It's not at all clear to me that we want the same answers, but I knew that when I came. And it will be much more interesting to talk to you than not."

Varanim She leans back a bit to look up, involuntarily, as he approaches. "What's the something?"

MaskOfWinters "You," he says, his face grinning in its icy rictus, "will know it when you see it."

Varanim "Oh," she says after a moment with an air of resignation, "one of those."

MaskOfWinters "Yes," he says. "One of those."

Varanim After another faintly frowning pause, she nods.

MaskOfWinters "Good," he says. He walks over to behind one of the nearby trees, where he has apparently secreted something within one of the bushes, and draws it out.

MaskOfWinters It appears to be a curving golden cylinder, decorated with the faintest traceries of red and white jade in elaborate, curving abstract patterns; at the bottom is a footed base, that one might set it on a desk, and at the top a small golden ring, that one might hang it from above.

MaskOfWinters Set into its side at intervals of both rotation and height are oval holes, revealing within the space for tiny candle-flames; of the three, two are currently lit.

MaskOfWinters wordlessly lights the third candle-flame, and then gently returns the lantern to whence it came. Walking back towards Varanim and his paused garden tasks, he says, "Now then. I believe you had other matters to discuss with me."

Varanim watches him with troubled eyes, then nods shortly. "Your old girlfriend has some sort of obsession with this shard. Do you know how to make her go away, or failing that, at least what she wants?"

MaskOfWinters sighs deeply. "She knows something," he says, with a trace of irritation.

Varanim opens her mouth to comment on the obviousness of that, then pauses and her eyes sharpen. "Something you don't know?"

MaskOfWinters "Of a 'great destiny,'" he says, and then waves his hand dismissively.

Varanim "Oh," she says with some disgust. "Those don't much interest me." She looks briefly pensive, then shrugs. "I suppose it will sort itself out, if you don't know or won't tell me any specifics. It's just that she's starting to get creepy, by my admittedly jaded standards."

MaskOfWinters "As an Exalt," he says, "I would expect that you would be well-used to unwanted and unneded attention by now."

Varanim spreads her hands. "It looks like my happy sabbatical in obscurity is over, yes."

Varanim "The other thing..."

MaskOfWinters "Yes?" he says, carefully checking the splints holding up a set of ghost-flowers.

Varanim leans back to look up through the branches above her head, then turns her eyes back down to the Mask with a neutral expression. "Tell me about you and Lucent."

MaskOfWinters laughs uproariously.

Varanim looks briefly taken aback, then her eyebrows raise in a more normal well? expression. "I'm sure that's not the funniest thing I've said since I arrived."

MaskOfWinters "Why," he says, "does this topic interest you so?" The Mask reaches over and snaps off an ill-placed branch from a nearby tree.

Varanim closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose as if pained by a sudden headache. "Because whatever passed between you, he's still not over it, and now it's my problem."

MaskOfWinters "Had you the perspective and wisdom granted only by age and cold, harsh experience, you would know: this matter is no one's problem but Lucent's."

MaskOfWinters begins moving several of the small potted flowers into a more pleasing arrangement.

MaskOfWinters "If you have spent any time whatsoever with him, I am certain you are familiar with the broad strokes: he was paranoid regarding the intentions of his friends, willing to decry others for 'faults' that he saw in himself as merely proof of his own character, and able to swear slavish and eternal devotion to a cause one moment, then off to a new fancy just moments after."

Varanim "Indeed, I've lost count of his fancies." Varanim watches the flower arrangement with half an eye, then scowls fresh. "His fixation on you is pretty consistent, though. And he thinks I'm turning into you--can't imagine why--so his paranoia is transmuting from the comfortable state of being his problem into being mine."

MaskOfWinters "His concerns were always projection, Varanim. We were born in the same year, and trained under some of the same teachers... but as I went on to glory and high esteem amongst the Deliberative, he languished in obscurity." He repositions one more flower, just an inch.

MaskOfWinters "Perhaps if he had dedicated himself to his duties and been willing to reach outside the boundaries of the Solar orthodoxy when called to do so, he too might have aspired to greater fortune." He stands back to admire the flowers as currently positioned.

MaskOfWinters "I retain a great fondness for him despite his misdirected rage," he says, "but just as nothing I did to him lies at the root cause of said anger, nothing I -- or, perhaps, you -- shall do now will sate it."

Varanim "I wouldn't say I've made him less angry, no," Varanim admits after a moment. "But you make it sound like jealousy, which is one of the few flaws I've yet to see in him."

MaskOfWinters "Call it what you will," he says. "Does it truly seem to you believable that he might resent us for the nature of our work" -- he pauses to snip a dead flower from a nearby bush -- "and not for that which our work can bring to us?"

Varanim looks a little surprised. "Of course."

Varanim "He defines himself by beauty and vitality, so he's both repulsed and attracted by the opposite--well, what he sees as opposite."

Varanim "He's not very smart, so he keeps getting that part wrong," she adds with a confiding air.

MaskOfWinters "Perhaps," he says, and begins to pack up his gardening tools. "Is this all that you wished to speak to me of?"

Varanim "Hm, yes." Varanim stands, picking up her mask and looking less wobbly than before. "You've been a peach."

Varanim "I mean, if a peach was all dead and creepy, but in a mostly interesting way."

MaskOfWinters "Indeed," he says. "You should be certain to receive a full night's sleep tonight," he adds, "because you will want to be fresh and alert tomorrow."

Varanim gives him a deeply skeptical look, then assents with a shrug.

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