< Where Strange Trees Grew | Sol Invictus Logs | There's Always Been a Risk >

Lucent Varanim felt herself falling into the darkness, and then there was nothing. As her eyes opened, they met a sky filled with... string. Strings criss-crossed the firmament, all stars hanging off of them. The sun was on the sky as well, hanging by the threads, and yet it was black beyond those golden threads; there was no light to be had from it, and yet she could see perfectly.

Lucent The face of a little boy peeked upside-down on her field of vision, looking like Lucent and yet so much younger, "Hello! Are you alive?"

Varanim frowns, first at the threaded assembly of sun and stars and then more sharply at the boy leaning over her. "I'm pretty sure my death will look nothing like this, so yes." She sits up to look around. "You're the symbol of innocence, I suppose?"

Lucent As she sits up, she sees herself amongst moss-covered cobblestones, with the sounds of the sea coming from behind her and statues on pedestals all around her... yet, their features were weathered by the elements so they are little more than human-shaped lumps. "Oh, me? No, I'm just the fill-in! Shouldn't even be here, but he won't let me go!" He nods! "You're HER, aren't you? You're famous around here." He nods again.

Varanim "I don't especially want to be famous, but I suspect I'm her, yes. The latest fill-in, at least." She inhales deeply of the sea air and turns back to him only after a measured look around.

Varanim "Are you here to show me around?"

Lucent As she turns to the sea to inhale, it smells like deja vu, like lost memories. The 'sea' is made out of endless broken pieces of manniquins, their faces still smiling or frowning, broken amidst arms and legs and torsos, all washing ashore like waves and back...

Varanim "Hm." She frowns, rising to her feet to approach the sea for a closer look.

Lucent The boy puts a hand to his chin, "Maybe? Nobody tells me anything anymore." He pouts, "I miss them." He looks down to his feet and figets. The robes, the face... there was no doubt that was the Lucent she read about and never met, the storytelling prince the Circle had first met. "I am Lucent Copper Haze! Well, one of them. You can call me Haze!"

Haze All of them were Lucent, in a way or another. They looked very different, and yet were all the same man. Different personas, knights and merchants and monsters and fanatics and husbands and lovers, all broken to the scent of memories.

Varanim "Why did they leave you alone here?" She says it looking down at the sea of Lucent pieces, not turning back to address him--seeing him so young seems to make her a little uncomfortable.

Haze "He did not need me anymore." he boy shakes her head. "I was supposed to be in the sea."

Haze "But... I am still here." He shrugs! "I guess I am just lucky?"

Varanim tucks her hands in her pockets, scowling at the horizon. Finally she says, "Since you're not doing anything, how about you show me around?"

Haze The horizon has the strings t ouching to the sea, knotting at the end. Closing a globe she was into. Haze tugged on her dress' sleeve and begun to guide her, "Oh, of course. I do not understand everything here, but I can try... it is not like I am doing anything. I get out even less than usual lately..."

Varanim "Why's that--lost your taste for it?" Varanim looks briefly irritable as he tugs her sleeve, but stops herself before snapping at him, and follows.

Haze They go down a glade with trees of the like Varanim has never seen before, which mix and match... different tones, different styles. Silver trees of Szoreny, glass trees of the south, Red trees of Ekael... and colorful statues between the trees, forming a path. "He does not call me much anymore..."

Varanim "Hm. Do you only come when you're called?" Her tone is appraising, curious, but not especially sharp, as she eyes each of the trees in turn.

Haze "Usually... I used to be front and center. But now it is like I am just... around. Like I said, I was supposed to be gone, but not. He brought me out when he was laughing with Zahara." He nods, "I miss her..."

Haze Around them there is the image of a great man clad in the sky. The image of a green-haired woman smiling. The image of a haughty swordsman holding a balde of red sands. There was a statue of twelve men, although most of their faces were gone.

Varanim "Tell me about the missing faces," she suggests, nodding at the statue after a moment of frowning at the other images.

Haze "They were his friends! His old, old, old friends. When he was still Mortal. Yiris-of-Glories attacked them," He pointed, and the larger statue of the Behemoth could be seen through the trees! "And the twelve helped him! They fought together, and beat it, and he Exalted! But they died... they lived so little. He tries to remember them, but.. it has been so long."

Haze "Even cleaning every day, we still lose some faces..."

Varanim "Forgetting is normal; it's part of saying goodbye." She looks at Haze a little curiously, though. "Are mortals so important to him? And here he seemed to have eyes only for the sun."

Haze "Of course! He always cared about them. More than many others! He always tried to remind himself how he was human, how he was fallible. He has always loved Mortals, but it just got hard to deal with them... after seeing so many of them die. He tried again with me, though. It was fun to bring the Kashaen back together."

Varanim "Fun--is that what it's about? They're going to die in the thousands for him." She frowns, shaking her head a bit. "There are other ways to feel young again."

Haze frowns. "They always die." He turns around and begins to walk away, sullen, amidst the statues!

Varanim scowls at his back for a second, then sighs almost inaudibly. "Hell." She closes her eyes for a moment, then opens them again and walks after him. "It matters less that they all die if none of them are special, you know. That's one of the tricks." She offers it with palm upturned, tone almost hesitant.

Haze He stops. The statues around him are new ones of the sky-clad man, the swordsman and the green-haired girl, all three of them now wicked. "But... they are all special. Every one of them. When you get to know them... they all matter." He looks over his shoulder. "They all do."

Varanim "I know that," she says quietly. "But it's so much easier to love them in the abstract."

Varanim Then she clears her throat. "Tell me about these," she says, waving her hand to indicate the new three.

Haze blinks at her. As if she said something so... strange. "Easy?"

Varanim blinks at him in return. "Did I stutter? Obviously they're all important. But everything brought close can wound, either by its presence or its absence. Trying to hold them all tightly, every one, is about as clever as hugging a sack of knives."

Varanim She sighs. "So, I suppose he would."

Haze "No, love."

Haze "Love is NEVER easy."

Haze shrugs at her sigh. "We are not very smart, are we?"

Varanim "Oh, that." She shrugs, looking away. "I'm quite sure you have more interesting things to do than talk to me about love." Then she reaches out without looking, to lightly ruffle his hair before she pulls her hand back. "Not terribly smart, no. Don't worry; few people are, and there's no evidence it's correlated with happiness."

Haze smiles as she ruffles his hair, warm, before winking, "I can see that."

Varanim "Don't be snippy, now. That's my job." She looks down at him, wincing briefly at the recollection of the same wink seen recently in the memories of the Mask.

Varanim "What did he ask me here to see, Haze? What's at the bottom of the sea of faces?"

Haze looks around, pointing to the man clad in the sky. Older, mighty... such a presence. "Xalat. He was his teacher, you know. He taught Helios what it meant, to be a Solar, to be an Exalted. He was evil." He points to the woman of green hair, "His first crush. Adiele. She was evil." He turns around, pointing to the haughty swordsman, "Eckardt. His rival. He was evil, too."

Haze "They wanted him to be evil, but he said no."

Haze "He ran, he tried to tell, but they had friends with the rulers. They dragged him and hurt him until he learned to lie." He nods. "You can still feel the love and the hurt if you touch the statues. It is so distant, but... it is still there."

Haze There was a demon around Xalat's statue that Varanim remembers reading about. Sarifen. He had fought the Circle in more than one occasion...

Varanim frowns at him, but reaches out to touch the statues.

Haze Varanim touches Xalat's: Admiration. Learning. Wisdom. Sunlight. Betrayal. Pain. Nothing is safe.

Haze Varanim touches Adiele's: Crush. Love. Betrayal. Sarifen. Comeuppance, deserved. She had survived the first strike, she was there with Sarifen. PAIN when Helios' eyes were ripped out of him. And he deserved it. He betrayed his teacher, his friends. He deserved it.

Haze Varanim touches Eckardt's: Rival. Friend. Smiles at sunset. Talking about life, looking up at the sky. Creation belonged to them, and there was nothing, NOTHING they could not do. Last gasps, Eckardt's last gasp on the tip of Helio's blade, blood pouring on his chest...

Haze "He beat them." Haze nodded! "That is what good guys do!"

Varanim "That's what the stories say, at least." Varanim looks back from the statues, grimacing a bit. "And what happened to Helios in the end?"

Haze "He was broken, he was shattered, he found out all he believed was in LIES." Came a voice from behind her, heralded by the shrieks of souls torn asunder! "And then, he got named Lucent Copper Haze, the Infernal, Testament of Creation. Zahara cleansed him, but he kept that name, you know why? Damn shame, but we were never good at letting go." A sneer, "You ARE living proof of that, right?"

Haze The young one gasps. "Copper!"

Varanim "Ah," says Varanim sharply, turning to face the new voice. "Everyone is living proof of lots of things, kiddo. Don't be trite."

Haze He was clad in red, his eyes the color of brass, head cocked with a slanted grin. "Well, I threw you out. I thought that would make us let go of at least one thing, but heeere you are. Proof of our commensurate stupidity."

Haze gets between them! "Shut UP! GO AWAY!"

Varanim "Oh, don't beat yourself up. It was a good idea, worth a try," Varanim smirks to Copper, eyes glinting. "Have you been in the wings all this time, waiting for the bitter part so you could trot out?" She takes a step nearer, standing close at Haze's back.

Haze "No." Copper answers Haze, "I do not think so. I have more right to this conversation than YOU do; I know this slut. Very well." He grins, then shakes his head, "Naah, I was just passing by, trying to find some way to get rid of this." He waves dismissively and a crippled, broken mortal falls from his sleeve and at Haze's feet.

Haze There is not even a blink, but the scenario has changed so he is sitting atop a pile of them.

Haze "I have too many, these days." Copper grins.

Haze scowls. "She is NOT that!"

Varanim folds her arms, looking at Copper. "Bodies and insults--not exactly breathtakingly original, but I suppose there's always room for a few more. Do you really have that much left unsaid to me?"

Varanim "Because if you do," she says thoughtfully, "I'm listening."

Haze "Who knows..." He grins. "Why are you curious, anyway? Because his first cruch looked like you? Helios is but a shadow of a man, and his story will serve for nothing but to make you feel jealous... wish to know his wives, wish to see his friends?"

Haze touches the broken man and he is buried in the cobblestones. "Because she CARES."

Haze The young boy looks up, angry. "We love her and you know that!"

Haze Copper shrugs, "Yes, yes, I also know we are stupid."

Varanim looks at Copper appraisingly. "I'm curious because it's a puzzle, what would make a person so obviously present as Lucent believe he wasn't real. Also because once I begin things, I try to finish them, no matter how inanely small the odds of success."

Varanim "And because I care."

Haze "And after all the trouble I went through to replace you..." He was sat now not in a pile of crippled people, but of green-haired women, some with darker skin, some not. He got up, walking to her, and pushed her, "There is nothing to care about here, understand?" As he touches her, she sees him killing, maiming, 'your days a bypedal vertebrate are over!' "NOTHING."

Haze dives at him, throwing both of them to the floor, shrieking! "GET AWAY FROM HER!"

Haze The earth begins to shake, in a rhytm, almost like steps...

Varanim Varanim's head lifts sharply at the sight of the green-haired women, she actually stumbles a bit at the flash of Lucent's bloody spree, and then Haze knocks them both over. "Stop that," she snaps, pulling the boy toward her, whether to break up his scuffle with Copper or to protect him isn't entirely clear. "I can take care of myself."

Haze struggles on her grasp "Bu... but I have to protect you!"

Haze Copper struggles to his feet, noticing the shaking, "Oh, now look what you have done." He looks up, exhasperated, as the trees begin to break, and an immense man appears atop of them, a man that is a shadow with red eyes, breaking trees and coming closer... "You woke up Helios."

CopperHaze The ground shook under her feet as the red-eyed shadow lumbered from behind the trees towards them, with Haze and Copper looking up in fright... "You HAD to do that, you little idiot..."

Varanim "Um." Varanim looks up at the approaching giant, disconcerted. "He seems... unhappy. Not to stand on ceremony, should we be running?"

CopperHaze "Yes!" said Copper

CopperHaze "No!" said Haze

Varanim "Not helpful." She scowls at them both, but doesn't back away yet, though she lays a hand on Haze's shoulder possibly in preparation to pull him along. "What does he want?"

CopperHaze "To hurt you!" said Copper

CopperHaze "To make things quiet!" said Haze

CopperHaze And the giant crossed the trees, almost getting to them...

Varanim "Hell." Varanim grits her teeth and stays, stepping in front of Haze.

CopperHaze And the immense shadow stopped in front of them, looking down with red eyes. He does not move further, just... looks. And Copper shrugs, "Fine." He begins to walk away, the piles of people following him.

Varanim grimaces as Copper's morbid entourage moves with him. Then she swallows, looks back up at Helios, and says, "Well?"

Haze bites his lip. "He... never speaks. He forgot how." The shadow, indeed, does not.

Varanim With a frown, Varanim thinks for a moment. Then she addresses the giant in a slightly less sharp tone, though her hands are still shaking at her sides. "I'm looking for Lucent. Are you another of his pieces?"

Haze "He is not a piece." Haze shakes his head, "He was the first. When we were whole... he is more real than anyone here. But they broke him, made him just a shadow..." Haze looks down. "... just made of pain. You just as much as touch him and you feel it all, white-hot, it hurts..."

Haze The shadow, on the other hand, turns west and points as she mentions looking for Lucent.

Varanim "And he thinks I have trouble moving on," Varanim mutters. She looks west, looks up at Helios again, and reaches a hand out to touch him before she follows where he points.

Haze "No, DON'T - -" But Haze's warnings don't come in time, and Varanim touches... and the stimuli goes through her like white-hot knives to her soul. {Love = Lie | Humanity = Nothing | Life = Worthless | Life + Love + Friendship + History = illusion < Primordial | Accomplishments = Futile + Useless - Worth - Need - Necessary}

Haze She sees as lies tore him apart. She sees as Adiele handed him to the Yozi, as Sarifen ripped his eyes out and placed molten brass upon them. She feels as he was made to never appreciate friendship or love again. To be so tore into sensations as to never understand pleasure nor pain ever again. She sees his memories eroded away, and looking back the memories she saw on the garden were too... idealized.

Haze He had no emotional connection with them anymore, not true, all twisted by Yozi's lies. Of all the feelings she felt when touching the statues, betrayal was the only one that felt really true. He could never remember what being Helios was like anymore, leaving it just as a shadow over his life.

Haze Of when he had a past, he had pure emotions, he had a clean soul.

Varanim cries out and falls to her knees, clutching her chest although the pain is elusive, unphysical. After a minute or so of harsh breathing, with a look of both pain and concentration on her face, she pushes herself to her feet and starts for the west.

Haze looked cross. "I TOLD you not to!" He said as he walked with her, now past statues of the Circle of the Sunlands. Zahara surrounded by bandaged wounded animals, Cerin surrounded by scary trees and cast in shadow, and an unkempt, forgotten glade leading to forgotten paths at his side. And foward, Imrama as a young boy doging falling books, and Thirteen with the expression of a scheming, power-hungry vizier.

Haze "That is not good to remember. Not at all."

Varanim smirks at Haze, though she's still a little pale. "If I wasn't curious about unpleasant things, I'd be in a pretty silly line of work, now, wouldn't I?" With perhaps a little more hesitation than before, she touches these statues, too, in passing.

Varanim "I didn't realize it was so bad for him," she adds quietly.

Haze "We hate to inconvenience people. And what could he say that would make them understand?"

Haze She touches Zahara's statue, feeling a kinship, trust. Horror. Disappointment. Love. And a single phrase: 'Big Sister.' She touches Cerin's statue, feeling a bit of fear, understanding, deja vu, and a single word: 'Alike.' She touches Imrama's statue, to warm feelings to admiration, smiles, and a single word: 'Kid.' She touches Thirteen's statue, and there is anger, annoyance, rage, and a single word: 'Bastard.'

Haze She touches Spring's statue, and there is understanding, there is joy, and there is a set of characters: '????' she sees no statues of Phoenix or Birds, although the forgotten glade going off to the side might be where they were hidden. And there was a pedestal where hers' used to be, but it is gone now.

Varanim "Well played," Varanim says to Haze with a bit of a wince. She's silent for a while, considering the latest array of emotional impressions. Then, with a thoughtful look on her face, she rolls up her right sleeve and draws a long, shallow cut down her forearm.

Varanim As blood runs down in a thin stream to slowly fill her cupped palm, she walks among the statues, leaving a trail of red drops behind her that traces out the character for "Clarity." It connects the present statues, an open-ended stroke including the grove by suggestion. At the end of the drawing she stands in the center of the word.

Varanim There, she closes her eyes, listens and breathes the air as it threads the statue garden, and lets it tell her if these effigies are as desperately hollow as the last.

Haze She touches them... and feels them clear as crystal, all of their emotions true. More sound than the one from the last ones, love, friendship, amusement and annoyance all as strong as betrayal had been. Clearer. Purer. In ways that his memories from the time of Helios could not be, anymore.

Varanim lets out a breath, opening her eyes and smirking at Haze with a little less strain than she'd showed a minute before. "Just listening. Where next--into the trees, or further on?"

Haze "The trees have nothing interesting in them." He waves it away. "I... cannot go further on."

Haze looks down at his feet. "That is not for me."

Varanim looks at him curiously, then shrugs. "All right." She turns to go, frowns a bit, then reaches back to squeeze his shoulder. "Thanks, kid." Then she sets off for the west again, a thoughtful look on her face.

Haze She goes down a slope, a great pillar of strings rising from the center of it. She sees the strings reaching up to heaven and forming the globe that covers the sky with string, a smiling Moon and Sun looking down at her, tied-up in the golden string under the background of pitch black. She goes further down...

Haze ... and she reaches Lucent.

Haze Seven strings coming from the ground touched seven foot-sized temples above him, going all the way to heaven and passing through the crystalline pieces. Religion held his heaven and his world together. The broken crystalline pieces of Lucent. Two arms broken and holding the strings, legs disjointed in the middle of it, one pointing to the side, another up, and his face, just a mask with a wide smile and wider eyes, cast in crystal, front and center. 'LUCENT

Haze In the center of the arrangement of body-pieces there was a statuette of Varanim, far too beautiful, of such a beautiful that it was almost literally blinding, right where his heart should be. It seemed to grow a bit every passing moment, touching the other strings, as if it would grow until it touched all seven strings.

Haze All around him on the bottom of the slope were enshrined thoughts - Hesiesh's words and his sun, the Chime's sound and Zahara's words, Spring's teachings, all those... but closer to him, now, were many of the things she had told him recently.

Haze (( 'LUCENT' was written on its forehead.))

Varanim "Oh... hell," she says softly, looking on the scene with open dismay. She begins to move around the outside, gathering up the pieces as she circles closer. When she reaches her own words, she looks at them for a long moment, and then up at the broken crystal figure. "I wasn't supposed to be that important to you," she says, a little accusingly.

Haze The smiling face did not move, did not change its expression. And yet, around her, she heard 'She broke my heart!' coming from Lucent, 'You have a responsibility' coming from Spring and, finally, 'be honest with yourself' coming from Cerin. The honesty was before her.

Varanim looks at the figure a little helplessly, then shakes her head. She reaches out to a nearby fragment of her words--it doesn't even qualify as over, because it never was--and shatters them, breaking the pieces into smaller ones until only dust remains in her hands. Then she sighs and looks up at the perfect, smiling face.

Varanim "I'm sorry I hurt you. I love you."

Copper "He knows." Copper is there, atop one of the shrines, smiling. "I was pulling the strings, but those damned words clustered up and pushed me away, when he realised that." He nods... then looks at what she shattered. "Still means the world that you did that, 'course."

Varanim looks up at him, dusting her hands off. "At the time, it seemed necessary to push him away. I didn't know he'd take it so hard." She narrows her eyes. "What did you want, controlling him?"

Copper "What do you think? Having him live a little. Enjoy something. Look at him." He waves, "Going through the motions, faking it somehow. Religion holding this whole bubble together, and if it snaps, there goes the whole thing. He just reacts."

Copper "And you pushed him to the point he needed me to DO something."

Varanim "He shouldn't need religion. If only he'd see..." She breaks off, frustrated, and looks hard at Copper. "But if he needs it, for now, let it be. It's not my job to fix him, and it's not yours to break him."

Copper "He does. He put Haze in place because he needed a Mask, but he never went to the Sea of Masks... there was nothing to take his place, you see? No true personality. Like I said, he goes through the motions, with religion on one hand, and Haze's traits on the other, hoping the strings will not slip. And now... you."

Copper "You are going to be hurt in the end, you know."

Varanim spreads her hands. "That's life. You think I came this far without knowing it?" Her hands shake a bit, but she tucks them in her pockets.

Copper "Guess not." He shakes his head. "So, I guess it is time for you to get going. This is embarassing enough as-is. I will see you tonight?"

Varanim considers him a moment longer with a slightly uneasy look on her face, then smirks and lifts her hand in a little finger-wave. "Be seeing you."

Copper "Oh." He waves, "You should meet Haze sometime. He's stupid, naive, and tell no one I said this, but... fun." The image begins to blur, everything begins to blur...

Copper ... and she sees Haze in Copper's shoulder, "Tell Cerin and Zahara I miss them, pleeease?"

Copper ... and she wakes up.

Varanim inhales sharply and shakes herself a bit. She catches Lucent's face between her hands, studies it for a moment as if memorizing, and then wordlessly wraps her arms around him.

Copper opens his eyes, sliding his own arms around her. "You understand now?"

Varanim "More than I did," she says quietly. "I'm sorry."

Tags: (:tags :) < Where Strange Trees Grew | Sol Invictus Logs | There's Always Been a Risk >