Summary:Varanim pays her hometown an unwanted visit, and then meets an interesting figure in Letheon.



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Varanim After packing her usual travel bag, plus a few extra drinks, Varanim makes her way east. She uses the usual dubious magical means to cover most of the distance, switching to foot only for the final day of the journey. At the end is what used to be a small mining village, tucked in the rolling wooded hills that she climbs now a little before sunset.

Cresting what the locals had always referred to simply as "the big hill," Varanim looks down to where the village sits nestled at the crux of two smaller hills, just next to where the jagged remnants of a rockslide hide the entrance to what was once a bountiful mine, and even from this distance, a familiar -- but undesirable -- smell reaches her nostrils on the cool wind.

As she hikes down a well-trodden path that curves across the surface of the big hill, she looks upon the place that was once her home, and it's clear that what used to be a "small mining village" is perhaps now best understood as a "small ghost town" --

the borders of the shadowland have expanded to cover no less than two-thirds of the village, and the relatively bustling activity on the nether side of things mirrors the almost complete quiet on the living side.

Varanim Not particularly surprised, Varanim examines the scene with flat eyes as she approaches. For the work she's here to do, it's necessary to find the geomantic center of the Shadowland, which may or may not be located in the mine. She doesn't expect to be able to avoid all contact with the locals, but still entertains some hope of postponing it.

Walking through the living-world portion of the village, at first no one seems particularly interested in stopping or even noting Varanim's presence at all -- she does not recognize the ghosts that go about their labors here, and they seem manifestly disinterested in events Meru-wards.

Passing huts and houses still familiar from another life, Varanim notes how almost all of those in the portion where the two worlds remain disjoint have fallen into disrepair from what looks like several years of disuse, even as those in the dead world remain immaculate and perfectly cared for.

Once she sets foot in the Shadowland itself, the uncanny effect becomes greater, as she sees unbroken houses both alike yet unalike those she remembers -- their colors shifted, their materials strange and alien, the crudely-carven Woodspeak signs on the shops replaced with ancient glyphs from a dead language.

Even as they enter the same phase, the ghosts continue to ignore her, now simply stepping carefully out of the way to avoid jostling her as they go about their business.

Varanim A little surprised, Varanim participates in the mutual lack of contact. As she passes rewritten signs or particularly strangely-shaped blocks, she brushes them with the tips of her soulsteel fingers and silently inquires of them the distance to their "owner." As the number of impressions accumulates, it will point toward the spiritual center of the disturbance.

The activity in which Varanim engages pushes her inexorably towards the center of the disturbance -- a spot, she triangulates out after a little careful consideration, that lies a middling distance beyond the entrance to the mine.

Varanim Relieved that the business won't require revisiting her old house, she takes the path out of town toward the mine. She eyes it thoughtfully to estimate whether she'll need to find a way to the collapsed interior, or whether a location on the hillside above will be sufficient.

The lines of Essence Varanim is following begin to point quite inexorably downwards as she nears the entrance of the mine, which certainly seems to put a kibosh on the more convenient approach to the issue.

In Varanim's past experience, most Shadowlands took to the shape of least resistance, usually some sort of vague circley blob, but as she advances through she notes that the Essence topography of this particular area is a little unusual.

The gravitational center of the Shadowland appears to be somewhere inside the mine, but rather than spreading out equally in every direction, it seems to have spread almost entirely in the direction of the village, in a wide arc shape like an extended hoop earring.

The actual mine entrance itself appears to be a local pocket of duality amidst the ring-shaped overlap area, with the end result being a very different status on each side: the mine still blocked by a vast pile of thousands of tons of rock on living side, but wide open and undisturbed, allowing easy access, in Netheos.

Varanim Not wanting to wait for sundown to cross completely, Varanim speaks tersely, cutting the shape of a door on the air with words. As she finishes, she cuts her palm open and kneels to press it to the ground, marking the threshold with blood. In a gust of cold air the door swings open, then shut, leaving her on the dead side of the Shroud where she can proceed into the mine.

The rocky entrance beckons to her, its wooden frame-beams reinforced by glowing green sigils and wan pyreflame lamps hanging at intervals down its long expanse to light the way of the ghosts who today work the Netheos mine much as her living neighbors once did the Meru equivalent.

Varanim Varanim's caste mark glints for a moment, and some of that gleam lingers in her eyes as she proceeds, now needing no light to see in the dark. In spite of herself she looks at the ghosts she passes as she proceeds deeper, checking for familiar faces and any hint of recognition.

Varanim has passed perhaps no more than an eighth-mile into the mine tunnel before an almost unpleasantly familiar voice calls out from behind her left shoulder: "You've come back."

Varanim Hand tightening on her staff briefly, she pauses and turns. "I won't be staying long."

Standing before her is the spectral emanation of Kiuka, the crotchety elder-woman at the end of whose stick Varanim had learned many painful and unpleasant lessons throughout the years; she seems somehow even more unpleasantly elderly now, despite being dead. "You shouldn't be 'staying' at all in the first place."

Varanim briefly fights against the urge to be surly, before she remembers that she's now an adult who's made a successful career of it. "Going where I'm not wanted to clean up other people's messes is my new calling in life. I could've sworn I sent a note about it."

"There is nothing to clean up here," she says, matching Varanim's surliness with a sour scowl of her own. "Everything is working fine. We've made do just fine since you abandoned the village, you know."

Varanim "Great. I'll just be shutting the ghost door, then, and you can enjoy being dead." She refrains from comment about the elder's choice of words, if only barely, as she turns to continue down the tunnel.

There's some sputtering behind her, but no obvious motion or efforts to stop her, as Varanim proceeds further down into the mine, and soon it's drowned out by the sounds of mining, digging, and of great unmentionables at work somewhere far, far beneath the earth.

It's another half-mine to get down to the spot she feels herself drawn to -- the tunnel widens out to a chamber that branches off in six directions, and at its center, a large, knobby rock protrusion that glows with an unholy green light -- the headstone of the vein of ghostly alloy that has driven the undead economy of this village since her departure.

The locus of the shadowland appears to be located right atop that stone.

Varanim goes slowly, making a circuit around the chamber and examining it with unhurried detail. Finally she winds in to the center and considers the stone itself, and the whole structure as an example of worked collective will, to check for unpleasant surprises (in particular a powerful guiding intelligence) before she begins the cleaning.

Unusually (for things Varanim makes a habit of examining, at least), there does not appear to be anything particularly sinister or occult about the rock (besides its fundamental nature as a vein of unnatural ghostly metal infused with the spirits of the dead, protruding into an unholy tear in the fabric of existence between the worlds of the living and dead, at least.)

Varanim settles herself cross-legged at the base of the rock and takes a drink before pulling on her mask and beginning to speak. As she describes the Essence structure--the tear between worlds, the spiritual wound that made it so--speaking in a language that hurts living ears, the lines of her anima gradually begin to sketch in like a great painting of light.

Varanim As minutes pass her voice trickles down the tunnels and corridors, running like water to every deep and hidden place, until when she is done it will fill up and encompass the entire shape of the Shadowland.

The very walls of the mine begin to vibrate in tune with Varanim's anima, and the light in the corridors begins to bend and twist to lock itself into alignment with the patterns laid down by her anima banner.

Varanim Face covered by the golden glare of the Mask of Summers, she finishes, and a final flare of Essence runs out along the structure she has described to untangle the fibers of one world from the next.

Varanim's inner soul-workings feel a powerful tug, the equivalent of feeling a chain suddenly grow taut as the anchor you just spent several minutes slowly pushing towards an edge finally goes over and sinks into the sea below; then, slowly, each lengthy tendril of her anima begins to twist and turn,

dragging the light of day back in from far-off places and blanketing the boundaries of the Shadowland with the knitted-together fabric of a restored Shroud.

There is a rush of sound like an ocean pouring into a shattered porthole, and then a corresponding rush of warmth and buoyancy like being caught up in those tropical ocean waves with nowhere to escape to -- and then, a moment later, it is over, and Varanim finds herself sitting in complete darkness, having been deposited in the entirely unlit and inaccessible mine of the living world.

Varanim Until now, it has been mostly possible--aside from the meeting with Kiuka--to think of this as any other Shadowland, but for the next stage of the trip acknowledging the personal attachment is essential. Without rising, she begins another spell. She exhales; breath coalesces into a sphere of light, which hangs heavy in the air for a moment before raining down gently.

Varanim Pooling at her feet, the light-become-water still gives off a faint glow. She stands and regards it for a moment, the crossover point to Letheon. "I am leaving," she says then, to the stale air and the press of the old dead around her. "Let any who have unfinished business with me come forward and lay it to rest."

The water swirls gently in its basin, its phosphorescent glow gently illuminating the dark cave in which she sits. At the very edge of its light, ghosts gather, dead souls of those who once called this place their home when they lived.

She scans the faces of the departed, and flickers of remembrance cross her mind -- an irritating neighbor, a pleasantly enthusiastic child from across the town, an elder who drank too much -- but though they all stare at Varanim, none steps forth... not one looks to resolve some ancient slight or heal an open wound, only to bear witness to a significant moment that is tied inextricably to the place they once called home.

Varanim scans their faces carefully, her own expression stony. Finally she nods, extracts her flask and uncorks it with a slightly shaking hand, and takes a long drink before waving with a smirk. "I'll be off, then." She steps forward to the pool.

The water is like a warm summer lake on Varanim's foot as she first touches its surface, its temperature perfectly matched to her own, but softer even than water: its waves like tiny feathers, enveloping and gently brushing her legs as she falls further in...

The Essence in Varanim's veins warms at the touch and seems to rush out into her upper body ahead of the slow speed of her actual descent, filling her with a feeling of youth and vigor, of easy motion and perfect balance...

As her torso slides in, the warmth begins to pool in the center of her being, the union of her souls where the Solar shard joins them together humming in harmony as the familiar waters of Lethe lap up against, like two friends smiling as they look at a painting of a far-distant homeland.

Altogether, the experience is one of falling into complete peace and happiness -- until her shoulders, the bottommost points of her upstretched arms, touch the water.

The first contact of the soulsteel arm against the water is like the feeling of someone suddenly grabbing your arm while you're running headlong across a field -- a sudden jerking dislocation that might hurt, but more than anything else comes with the complete shock of complete freedom suddenly crashing down into stifling confinement...

Even as the rest of her body peacefully slips into Lethe, dragging the arm behind her is like pulling teeth -- each inch is given up only with the greatest of resistance first,

and Varanim's mind -- long since used to the lack of sensory input from the surface of the arm -- brings back long-buried memories of what it's like to scrape yourself after a fall, mapping them imperfectly to the strange and alien sensation that springs now from the "skin" of her prosthetic.

After what seems like an eternity, finally the fingers of her metallic hand slip through the water with a final painful twinge, and suddenly Varanim is able to actually pay attention to anything at all besides her arm -- just in time to observe herself falling awkwardly into a heap on top of a small lump of free-floating rock.

Varanim Resigned to some physical pain in her line of work, but never appreciative of it, Varanim grits her teeth and grunts as the pulling and abrasion intensify. She has a moment to be relieved that the arm is still attached on the other side, then whumps down with a muffled obscenity. After a moment she rights herself, climbing to her feet to look around as she rubs her shoulder.

All around where Varanim sits, hundreds of other free-floating rocks fill the purplish-blue sky, before fog -- or something invisible but otherwise like fog, at least -- hides anything more than a five or six hundred yards out.

Many of them are just like the one she stands on now -- largely featureless, flat on top with jagged edges reaching down below -- while others have other rocks seated atop them that glow with strange and unearthly veins of unreal metals and yet others have strange abstract statuary --

or in a few cases, quite concrete carvings of single, mostly featureless humans performing basic actions: standing, sitting, bowing, eating, walking, drawing a weapon, and so on.

Varanim With a grim set to her jaw, she looks for specific types of carvings--those featuring children. She also ventures near the edges of her piece of rock, wiggling a bit to check its stability in the air.

The rock seems quite safely fastened to its specific location in the air, and has no risk of suddenly dropping out towards any ground that might or might not exist far below.

Meanwhile, as Varanim surveys the rocks, she notices that there does seem to be a certain pattern to their distribution: age shifts along one axis, activity another, and gender a third, suggesting that a certain downward direction would lead towards more childish rocks.

Varanim Hoping against precedent that the easy way will work, she experimentally jumps up and down on her rock to see if it will drop a bit.

The rock obstructionistically refuses to budge.

Varanim Grumbling and taking another drink, she paces in a circle before finally admitting the inevitable. She summons to her mind all she knows about Lethe and symbolic travel safety precautions, tries to remember what it's like to feel light and unburdened, fails, then shrugs and steps off the side anyway.

Varanim finds herself falling at a relatively swift, yet by no means headlong, speed, passing rock after rock as she moves towards the bottom of the rock field.

As she falls, the boundaries of the "fog" begin to push back, and she sees, first, the broad empty space beyond the rock field itself -- and then the large, jagged rockface beneath. Meanwhile, the statues on the rocks she falls past seem to be growing younger, suggesting that the pattern does indeed hold true.

Not too far from the bottom edge of the rock field, she falls into the section where the statues can safely be said to be of children.

Varanim After a few seconds of trying and failing to ignore the impending rock floor, arms flapping in an uncoordinated effort to steer, Varanim is still. She looks at the statues she's falling past for a sense of familiarity, a hint that she could have recognized this form if things had been different, and when the moment seems right she throws out her arm to grab a ledge.

Only perhaps two hundred feet before the edge of the rock field, Varanim reaches out to place a firm metallic grasp onto a passing ledge. The jolt she feels in her shoulder as her grip stops her fall this time actually seems remarkably minor in comparison to the experience entering Lethe in the first place.

As she pulls herself up, she looks to see what caught her eye on the way down. A few rocks over -- all just an easy skip across from where she's standing now -- is a short statue of a girl, perhaps five years old, standing in place; she is dressed in a loose, flowing robe, and has one hand up to her mouth while the other drags some formless object behind her.

It does indeed seem oddly familiar.

Varanim After a moment of profound gratitude that the others aren't around to witness her athletic endeavors, Varanim gathers herself and takes a running jump to the nearest rock, proceeding until she reaches the one with the child. Closer now, she squats to look at the girl face to face.

The statue is carved abstractly, sans detail; the face is a smooth, rounded surface, the hints of nose and mouth, two eyes that have a strange vitality for being only slight depressions in the surface.

Looking at the statue up close, Varanim recognizes something of herself in it: the shape of the face, and perhaps -- or maybe she's just imagining this -- a certain spark of contrariness, encoded in the angle the statue stands at?

Varanim After a long moment to make sure her expression and voice are suitably detached, Varanim says, "We need to talk," and reaches out to pull the child's hand away from her mouth.

Though it feels like rough granite beneath her fingers, the arm moves away much like that of a real person would as Varanim gently bends the arm into a new position, and a small voice comes free from within the statue's depths, though no other motion seems to accompany it: "Hello."

Varanim "...Hello," she says, mostly exhausting her store of pleasantries. "Do you know who I am?"

The statue nods -- that is, its head's angle shifts up and down slightly without moving in any other way. "Yes."

Varanim nods, happy not to inquire further about the details of that. "And why I'm here?"

The statue nods again. "Of course!"

Varanim Slightly taken aback by the lack of arguing necessary so far, Varanim sits back on her heels a bit. "That there are really crappy ghosts called Deathlords, it would be a very convenient symmetry if something from here could balance them, and I..." she has to pause for a moment to regroup, "I need to find a soul willing to do it?"

The statue nods one more time, and then takes one inanimate step towards Varanim. "I've been waiting!"

Varanim "And you're... okay with it? Great." After another moment of hesitation, she reaches out to take the statue's hand--then, because no one can see her here, she leans forward to fold her arms gingerly around the figure. "Thank you," she says quietly.

The statue hugs her somewhat stiffly with surprisingly gentle granite arms.

Varanim "Great," she repeats finally, sitting back a bit and clearing her throat. "When it's time to finish the job, how do I find you again?"

The statue leans over and picks up a tiny glittering pebble from the rock the two of them stand on and presses it into Varanim's hand.

Varanim just barely stops herself from saying 'great' again, clenching her hand around the pebble and standing abruptly. She takes one last look, brushes her knuckles along the girl's cheek, and then turns to head back to the flesh world without a backward glance or a drink.

< Slim to Nothingness | Sol Invictus Logs | What About Atomnos? >

Page last modified on May 04, 2010, at 03:57 PM