Summary:Varanim sneaks around in the Thousand hoping to cause some problems.



< An Explosion of Bones | Sol Invictus Logs | A Visit to the Mountains >

Varanim Grabbing her trusty rucksack and a spare bottle, Varanim whistles a jaunty air as she pulls her mask down and flattens her soulsteel hand against the mirror. A few moments later, there is only a cold wind in the room.

Varanim pushes through the space between worlds, feeling the frigid cold of utter emptiness envelop her body and bite at her heels. She emerges, shivering but poised, into a vaguely familiar hallway: black and oppressive, the tiny rectangular mirror in a cul-de-sac having no obvious purpose except, perhaps, for use in exactly this fashion.

Varanim As she did on her previous visit, and with no apparent sense of irony, Varanim begins by sharpening her senses and attuning herself to the local flows of Essence as she peeps out of her niche.

The Thousand is, as always, a busy place, and death Essence flows through it at intense rates from top to bottom, but the section where she has emerged seems unusually quiet -- no Exalts or sufficiently serious ghosts are nearby, and no unusual and horrific dark magical energies seem to be active just at the moment.

Given the strength of presence that the Lion exuded simply by being here on a previous visit, Varanim can feel quite confident that he is not home.

Varanim After a moment's reflection on that happy fact, Varanim turns her attention inward, to the Jewel of the Immortal Mind. There she queries the collected wisdom of the bandit lord and the general--for a Deathlord is some of both--about the most obnoxious place in a fortress for a disruption during a major offensive.

There is some debate, and some squabbling, inside the gem-world, but after a long moment a sort of consensus finally emerges: with the primary force and the boss away, there ought to be a secondary "war plan" implemented by a lieutenant that deviates from usual procedure in running the place -- find the locus of that plan and cause a problem, and it ought to ripple out through the whole fortress.

Varanim After another moment of looking shifty, Varanim extracts from her bag and swirls on the bulkiest item--a voluminous and velvety black cloak, with a sinister deep hood and a silver filigree clasp that vaguely suggests two tiny hands desperately clutching each other. Having completed her disguise as one of those tacky necromantic types, she sets off for a more central corridor.

The hallway leads Varanim towards the centermost part of the vast fortress, well away from where she had previously visited, towards a huge central "courtyard" and a series of elaborately huge, multi-story chambers in which all matter of odd things seem to be stored.

In the courtyard, Varanim can see a number of ghosts going about what she would assume is their daily business, and on the opposite side, an overlooking tower that seems to be the source from which the current, on-the-ground lieutenant directs things in the master's absence.

Varanim summons to mind the time someone stole the last fried pork bun, so as to cloak herself in the proper air of aggreived and doom-tainted self-importance. Then she strides across the courtyard, making directly but unhurriedly for the base of the tower.

The ghosts do not even blink as Varanim strides across the courtyard; there is literally almost nothing that could possibly surprise them less than a formless, sullen shape in a black cloak storming through their midst.

As she crosses towards the tower, Varanim hears something -- at first difficult to place, but then louder and more clear -- laughter, some kind of hideous laughter, echoing from an unknown place and clearly putting a shiver down even the unliving spines of the shades and spectres who are hard at work around her.

Varanim Noting that the laughter is not just in her head, which is always important to check at times like these, Varanim doesn't break stride but checks her infallible memory for a familiar voice. She also listens for a break to breathe, since most dead things lose that habit.

Even with careful examination, Varanim can't say she's heard the voice before.

She reaches the door of the tower, a heavy wooden thing with a big black-iron handle that lets it push open, surprisingly easily, leading into an uneven stone stairway spiralling upwards, lit by a surprising number of torches, candles, tiny oil burners, and other odd flaming implements.

Varanim briefly considers snuffing each one as she passes, then decides that might be overacting. The mask dangles in her soulsteel hand, hidden by a fold of the cloak, as she continues the ascent--listening now to see if the laughter is at the top.

The laughter seems to grow incrementally louder with each step. As Varanim steps up, the lights continue, and in between them, patterns begin to appear on the wall -- whorls, curls, lightly carved in and seared to make them carbon-black -- all in the abstract shape of burgeoning flames.

Varanim Blissfully unaware of the duties she is neglecting above the Blessed Isle, Varanim scans the drawings as she passes, wholly disinterested in their artistic qualities but curious about the temperament of the person or being who marked them.

There is absolutely nothing right or sane about the person who made these markings.

Varanim Rolling her eyes, Varanim continues to climb, considering proceeding with greater caution but finally deciding that's not really her idiom.

The laughter abates as Varanim comes closer, replaced with an inauspiciously empty silence. She continues to climb, coming finally to the top, where another door much like the one she entered through stands between her and the top room of the tower.

Varanim takes a quick drink in preparation for what she expects to do on the other side. Then she sets down the bottle and pushes open the door, with a brisk but irretrievably wounded by the universe sort of air.

The room she enters into has a number of braziers, candles, urns, and other burning devices, but unlike in the hallway, these ones are out. The whole chamber is shrouded in darkness, and at first glance she can't make out anyone else in here with her.

Varanim In the darkness of the hood, there is a golden glint as Varanim adjusts her eyes to see in the dark. Her caste mark also glints, but there's only so many aspects of a perfect disguise one can pay attention to.

As Varanim looks, she notices something in front of her: where just a moment ago there was pure dark, now there's the slightest, flickering light, like a candle's reflection, as if something small were just ignited behind her. And then: she hears breathing... faint, raspy breathing.

Varanim can connect any two Underworld mirrors, and she stepped into the room with that spell half-framed in her mind. As she pulls down the mask, she speaks all but one of the words to hang it on her flaring anima. She bites her tongue on that final syllable, tilts her head back, and spits the word--now written on blood--into the air.

Varanim In that moment of delay the spell shudders, anchorless. Then she snaps the second spell, and reality tears open to uncover the Shattered Void Mirror, facing the thing before her. "Back in the hole for you," she says, and dives out of the way as the teleportation takes hold on whatever is forming and hurtles it into the Void.

The thing -- a distended, half-eaten corpse, puppet strings pulled by a spectre of no small ability -- barely has a chance to reach out towards her before it comes face to face with the nature of ultimate annihilation -- it spends a moment transfixed in negative across the back half of the room before it, body and animating ghost alike, is reduced to its component parts and scattered as a foul-smelling dust into the wind.

Varanim fights a brief war with herself about how thoroughly to frisk the place, considers the last time she visited the Thousand, and contents herself with only a cursory look around while listening for disturbance below.

A quick look around shows Varanim a few odd objects around the room -- a half-empty bottle of wine, a flask of oil, and a set of playing cards -- along with a variety of stacks of paper, small soulsteel objects, and other objects that seem to serve the purpose of whoever is, or was, maintaining order around here -- but which doesn't seem to be the same as whoever the tower belongs to.

Indeed, a few moments later, she hears the commotion down below as some of the ghosts come to investigate the brilliantly eye-searing blast of negative radiation from the tower -- and from above, like, up on top of the tower above -- she hears something else: slow, firm clapping.

Varanim makes a brief wincey face, then leans out the window or investigates up the stairs as available.

Varanim leans out the window and looks up, where she sees someone sitting, on the side of the tower, as if it were the most normal thing to do, slowly clapping in mock congratulation to the Twilight's achievement.

The figure she sees is a thin man. His outfit is a black court outfit, close-cut shirt and pants edged by elaborate triangular frills of grey and red.

His skin is pale to the point of being bone white -- and there is not a single hair visible anywhere on his body. But drawn onto his long, narrow hands and spiralling out from his bloodshot eyes to cover most of his bald head are marks --

tattoos or makeup, it's hard to be sure -- of red and yellow, in a pattern much like that in the tower: that of burning, burgeoning flames.

Varanim "I'm going to guess that's the ironic kind of applause," Varanim essays, squinting a bit through the blaze of her anima to verify that he is in fact that gaudy.

The man stops his clapping and grins wryly. A thin, odd voice emerges, one that she recognizes as definitely linked to the laughter she heard earlier: "You are still alive, after all," he says, and stands up, still oriented sideways as his feet are firmly planted on the wall. "You... must be Varanim," he says, glancing at her arm.

Varanim "Mm. I'll just cut my own arm off this time, shall I? Don't mind me." With that, she ducks back into the room and books it for the stairs.

"Don't run, we haven't had a chance to get to know each other yet!" the voice calls from above as Varanim rushes down out of the tower. Almost no sooner does she hit the ground floor and run out the door than the figure drops nimbly to the ground just a few feet away. "You should stay. I insist!" And with that last word, he stretches out his fists to each side, and both burst into flames, the fire running up his arms until soon it covers his entire body.

covers his entire body.

Varanim "You should diversify idioms," Varanim snaps, shrugging off her billowy cloak to throw in his face as she changes direction to head for the nearest open hallway.

Varanim ducks into a hallway, on the opposite side from where she entered the courtyard earlier, and shuts the door even as she hears the cloak burst into flames and her pursuer squawk in irritation. She runs rapidly down the hall, past rooms

where ghosts chained in soulsteel slave away on planning the Lion's vast assaults or squeeze out their own life-force to power his war-machines; she keeps running even after the door behind her explodes open in a burst of fire, until she finds herself in a two-floored room, several exits leaving it on each level even as a variety of odd statuary and strange antiquities from the living world fill much of the floor.

Varanim makes a track through what looks like the most flammable part of the decor, checking her Essence sight and for a change heading for the hall with the lowest necrotic concentration.

Varanim ::Anyone on this side of the Shroud? Nope, didn't think so.::

Varanim ducks down one hallway, then another, runs up a half-staircase, through a series of three doors, and then back down another floor-and-a-half, hearing the sounds of smashing and burning at a distance behind her, before finding herself in what seems to be, essentially, a storage closet, with a variety of strange objects:

among them a black feather pressed in a frame; a ceramic jar with red flowers painted on the sides; a small golden instrument key, tied to a charred wire; a scrap of white cloth knotted into itself; and a glass jar filled with... something, covered halfheartedly by a black throw.

Varanim Naturally, Varanim peeks under the cloth.

Floating in the jar, in a thick and viscous fluid, are five eyeballs, each a different color, and one black ivory sphere carved to look like an eyeball.

Varanim "Huh," she says, and pauses to consider exactly how much charring she could spare right now.

Varanim takes a moment to mentally converse with her compatriots, then quickly takes stock again: the smashing still sounds just far enough away that she should be fine to get away if she ducks back out again within the next fifteen seconds.

Varanim Casting a skeptical eye at the ceiling which may soon be shaking, Varanim finishes frisking the place like a fresh-out-of-adventuring-school looter, and shuts the door gently behind her before pelting off down the corridor again.

Varanim can feel the heat rushing up the corridor as she heads down the other direction, head kept low and feet eagerly moving.

A couple more turns bring her to a hexagonal chamber whose ceiling is the unworked, rough black stone of the mountain range, with five more hallways leading out in every direction and a single spiral staircase in the center leading upwards into a poorly-lit tower.

Varanim After a quick scan of the Essence horoscope, Varanim notes that going down is statistically associated with poor health in her Underworld travels, and takes the tower route.

Varanim takes to the rather rickety stairs and begins to dart up through the tower, passing a variety of thick black metal gratings which lead into chambers on every side, but which have no obvious means of being opened. Far below, she hears the laughter begin to creep in again. "Oh, the old climb up the tower in hopes of fortuitous escape trick!" calls the Abyssal's bizarre voice,

even as she sees flames begin to crawl around the bottom edges of the tower.

Varanim "You're funnier when you're not lucid," Varanim calls down, then pauses to listen at the gratings for any obvious points of interest.

The gratings reveal many of the expected sounds: horrific moaning, the grinding of metal against metal, wind sounds like mysterious whispering, etc. It's only at the third-from-the-top that Varanim hears anything interesting: a flute, quietly played in a gentle melody.

Varanim pauses and listens for an extra second. "Inappropriate much?" she queries.

A low, female voice that does not sound particularly dead answers after a second. "I do what I can."

Varanim "I'd love to stay and chat, but here's the short version: are you the sort of person where it would be funnier if you were... no longer behind bars in the Thousand?"

The voice gives a final "TWEET!" on the flute (it's important to always resolve the outstanding melodic progression, after all) before concluding, "Yes, I suppose I would be."

Varanim "Great, and I think the roof is about to blow off. Is that a problem?"

"I doubt it."

Varanim "Better and better. Oh, and who are you?"

"Not anyone you would know," she says.

As the flames climb higher and higher up the tower, Inferno's Jester finally steps out into the center of the spiral, seeming to glorify in the fire, exult in it, drawing a power that animates his lithe frame with palpable menace. He stares up, his eyes burning to match the room. "Ready or not, here I come!"

As if to punctuate his statement, the roof explodes, neatly severing everything above the top of the mystery flautist's cell and causing an inrush of air that in turn stokes a massive, powerful fireball to well up from the bottom of the tower and barrel upwards, the Jester riding on it with teeth bared and hands stretched out to each side.

Varanim "Right, if I already knew you, I wouldn't have ''asked/. See how that works?" Then the Jester appears, she grimaces, and the roof explodes. "Oop, time to go."

< An Explosion of Bones | Sol Invictus Logs | A Visit to the Mountains >

Page last modified on November 29, 2009, at 02:20 AM