Summary:Lucent and Varanim unearth the root problem in Jena's mindscape.

XP:L1, V1

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The door slides open easily with a push, and Varanim finds herself inside a chamber, its walls covered in elaborate geometric designs. Though there is no obvious source of light, a pale glow seems to suffuse the entire area.

Varanim walks to the center to stand and consider the designs, taking them in for a few silent seconds before sending her impressions back to Lucent and looking for the path to continue.

As she stares at them, the designs seem to resolve, grow clearer: circles, squares, hexagons... but all of them bearing Lunar phases, inked upon them in grey wash. They range from full to new, but then, there are some others that are different -- whose rock is dyed jet black, utterly invisible even to the the faint light that fills the chamber.

Varanim Always more interested by the obscure than the plain, Varanim crosses to that section of the wall, lifting her hands to run her fingers over the blackened rock.

It's as if something is... missing. The very touch of the symbols beneath her fingers seems off somehow, as if the rock is just barely even there.

Varanim "You asked for it," Varanim shrugs to the empty air, then slams the butt of the stick sharply against the semi-present barrier.

The particular symbol Varanim strikes slides into the wall with an oddly smooth motion, and a moment later cracks are appearing in the wall, forming an irregular pattern from ceiling to floor around a certain set of the symbols.

When it's done, the whole section falls backwards as a single chunk, revealing what lies beyond: a cliff-face, looking out over a broad vista: another desert, this time with seven houses rising up from in it, one of them flying a flag with a crescent moon.

Varanim marks the symbols that formed the focus of the shifting, then steps forward onto the cliff. ::Seven houses in the desert, one with a crescent moon flag. Anything familiar?::

Varanim While waiting for his answer, she looks for a good route down the cliff.

A conveniently placed stairway of rocks appears to be waiting for just such an occasion.

Varanim Shouldering the bundle again, she heads down the stairway and hopes for a lack of sudden landslides.

As she hikes down, she starts to see some activity over between the houses: streams of... ants? Moving back and forth between them.

Varanim Frowning, she moves closer. ::Jena has... bugs in her mind?:: she thinks back to Lucent.

Lucent ::Bugs? Hmmm, spying on her? Changing her thoughts?::

Varanim ::They look like ants, so I hope she shut her pantry door tight.::

Colapso ::They are already inside her mind.::

Varanim ::It's a meta... never mind.::

Varanim ::What do you get out of this, anyway?:: she adds as she hikes closer. ::You like the feeling of peeking in people's heads, do you?::

Colapso ::It makes all problems simple. Instead of dealing with words, I can, with one fell swoop, cut away the problem. I said once that we are Solars, and we burn all that does not work. It is a simple way to do so.:: He sighs, ::If only the ouside world was this simple.::

Varanim ::Most things, inside and out, are very simple--or would be, if people thought a bit before acting.::

Lucent ::Why, yes, that must be why we fight so much.::

Varanim ::Sadly, it only works if both people think before acting.::

Lucent ::And here I thought you always thought before acting. Now my dreams are crushed.:: He sighs melodramatically.

Lucent ::It is a way of feeling useful, as well. This is like the First Age, it never seems like I can do enough around any of you.::

As Varanim draws closer, she can see the silver sigils that mark the ants' backs, seven different logos in all -- one of them the same crescent that appears on the flag -- as they move between the houses.

And once she steps down onto the desert floor, she feels something... underneath her feet, like something huge is moving slowly, somewhere far underneath.

Varanim ::That's so absurd I'm not even sure where to begin answering. Also, there's something big moving underground.::

Varanim moves closer to the crescent house, listening carefully for the sounds of her feet on the sands and any echoes they might call up from below.

Lucent ::Hmmm. On one of the books, there is a mention of 'underground'... as a place where a mind holds multiple personalities that are not in use.:: Lucent ponders. ::Take care, now...::

The sounds from below continue to occur irregularly, but now they are mixed with the tiny chitters of the ants and what sounds like faint human voices inside the Crescent hut.

Varanim ::What happens if something eats me in here?:: She cocks her head to listen to the voices for a minute, to pick up whether it's a conversation or an argument inside.

Lucent ::There is the possibility of the backlash shattering your mind.::

Lucent ::Not unlike a lobotomy.::

Varanim ::Neat. I trust someone will have the sense to put the meat out of its misery, if that happens to me.::

Lucent ::Do not worry. I would shatter Jena's before allowing you to come to harm.::

Imrama aw, sweet, char: you have a Wee Little Puppet-Man doll

As she listens, Varanim notices that there aren't actually two voices... just one, with emptiness seeming to fill in the other half of the conversation. The voice she hears is clearly Jena's.

It's a little too muffled by the walls of the house to make out the words, though.

Varanim ::...I'll keep that in mind.:: She moves closer to catch the words, taking a slightly firmer grip on her hobo stick, and if they prove inaudible she knocks sharply on the door.

The words remaining muffled and thick even with her ear to the door, Varanim takes the next step and knocks. Without any person moving to make it so, the door slides open slowly to let Varanim in.

She sees Jena sitting within, clad in a black velvet dress and with a silver circlet on her brow; her eyes are glazed and her hands folded passively on the table in front of her.

"It stirs beneath," she says, "Can't you hear it?"

Varanim "I hear it. What happens when it comes up?"

Jena "No, I can't," she says. "It's too far away."

Varanim ::She's in the crescent house, talking to herself. Doesn't seem to hear me.::

Varanim ::Well, either herself or voices I can't hear, which usually means crazy, but I'm trying not to be judgmental now.::

Jena "There are thousands to consider here," she says. "It's not just about what I want."

Varanim frowns at that bit of the conversation, palming the black steel coin from the parcel and rolling it through her fingers.

Lucent ::Hmmmm.:: He considers, thinking back to ailments he has heard of in his short span of time as a doctor... ::Does she appear to be talking to someone who talks back? Or just carrying a monologue to an audience that she believes listens, but does not appear to talk back to her?::

Varanim ::Someone's definitely replying, at least in her crazy little brain.::

Lucent ::What you are seeing are Mnemonic Echoes. Repressed memories. You see, memories earn to be seen, to be heard. Something repressed takes an importance all of its own, and it is continues to echo within her mind, within... stone walls. Well, that explains the place you are in.::

Lucent ::Jena must be under terrible strain. Those things are not forgotten, merely repressed, and the whole point of repressed memories is that by dint of their intensity they cannot be forgotten. She must experience a feeling of incompletitude in every second of every single day.:: He ponders, ::You are either before the memories themselves, or their outlet.::

Varanim ::Hmm.::

Varanim scowls, leaning on the table across from the woman who delivered her to the First and Forsaken Lion. She reaches out and clasps Jena's folded hands in her own, the coin pressed between their fingers.

Jena suddenly lurches forward, her eyes going wide, and shouts. "THE TEETH!"

Varanim doesn't let go, although she looks a little alarmed. ::Yep, definitely a little bit crazy in here. What does a person SAY to a repressed memory outlet?::

Varanim "Show me," she mutters aloud, glaring fiercely at the problematic Jena.

Jena grips the coin fiercely, and from outside, underneath -- really, from pretty much everywhere -- Varanim hears a growing rumbling....

Varanim Varanim's own grip is like--wait for it--steel. ::Huh, I think something interesting is about to happen.::

There is a sudden, unimaginably loud noise, and Varanim feels the ground come out from under her as the entire house shakes, and Jena finds herself thrown to the floor.

Colapso ::If things appear dangerous, please do RUN.::

Varanim ::As a totally hypothetical thing, if there were something big coming to the surface, is it more likely to be the memories or the thing that ate them?::

It takes only a moment after she is thrown to the ground for dream-Jena to snap out of her reverie; she leaps up and runs out the door before Varanim can do aught to stop her.

Colapso ::Memories, of course. To walk around with an ravenous construct of essence inside one's subconscious would be... horrible.::

Varanim rolls her eyes at Jena's interior unhelpfulness, pushing herself to her feet and running after. ::Oh, good.::

Varanim exits the hut just in time to see the ghostly-white jaws of a vast, blind serpent as they rise up from the great crevice between the seven huts that has been broken open by its massive snout.

Jena runs out to a position perilously close to the vast Malfean maw and raises her arms, shouting: "These people are under my protection!"

Varanim ::Great, I think she's reliving her shining sell-out moment,:: Varanim thinks grimly as she follows up. ::If there was a ravenous construct of Essence in her subconscious, would it look anything like a giant blind worm?::

Colapso ::Conceivably, that is a classic motiff. I believe it harkens back to some primal fear of humanity, or pehaps to some Demon.:: He considers. ::Hmmm, shining sell-out moment, eh?::

Varanim makes her way across the sand until she stands directly behind Jena, so close she can speak directly into her ear. "Remember," she says, one hand lifting to jerk the other woman back if she seems set on doing something stupid.

The tug seems to be... surprisingly easy, and the cloak that Jena stood in collapses into Varanim's hand as if it had been hung on nothing at all.

It's enough of a surprise that Varanim seems to lose her balance, fall backwards, until she is on her back, looking up into the sky, and the horrifically loud sounds around her seem to fade away...

Varanim Without sitting up, Varanim reaches for the bundle, because it never does to misplace your traveling supplies. She contemplates the arrangement of the stars for a moment, while she feels around for the silver ring to slip on her finger.

She finds it, and finds that it slips on easily... and when she sits up again, she is no longer in the shattered plain, but somewhere else entirely: a busy desert city, with what looks like a royal caravan of some kind processing through the streets.

Varanim ::I'm in a city now, and Jena's not here. Bonus, the worm didn't eat me.::

Varanim Having given that update, she rises and dusts herself off absently as she goes to investigate the procession.

Lucent ::... there WAS a worm? Look, maybe you should leave. We can just crash down the gates. Brute force can apply, and I thought there was something very suspicious about this whole setup to begin with. Just come back, right?::

Varanim ::Don't be silly, this is interesting.::

Lucent ::... silly? SILLY? Look, you cannot possibly be asking me to stand idly while yo*::

Lucent The words break down on gasp.

Varanim After a short pause, Varanim says, ::Lucent?::

Lucent There is no reply.

Varanim ::Come on, sulk later. I'm going to need more interpretation of her head-bits soon.::

Varanim draws closer to the procession, and she spots a few notable facts.

There's a litter at the center, curtained off by thick black curtains, with a flag bearing that same sigil she saw on the one house's flag earlier, and surrounded by big, tough-looking bouncers -- and off to one side, in the crowds, wearing rags and ratty hair but still unmistakably the same person and watching the procession with a grim look, is Jena.

Lucent There is still no reply from Lucent.

Varanim slouches her way through the crowd in Jena's direction, absently rubbing the ring and frowning a bit. ::Found Jena again. Look, if you got off the chair and lost the door or something, I'm going to be cranky.::

Varanim sees as she gets closer the way that the procession seems to interact with the impoverished crowds -- badly. She sees the bouncers jostle and strike the children who push up close for handouts, sees the angry looks on the faces of the onlookers, sees that hateful glare that's still plastered on Jena's face....

Varanim "No revolutionary violence while I'm in town, please," she mutters as she shuffles her way closer to Jena, steering clear of the bouncers as long as possible.

As she draws nearer, Varanim can see, just slightly, a very familiar rock clutched tightly in Jena's hand.

Varanim "Oh, hell." Operating on the I-didn't-get-eaten-last-time genetic fallacy, she pushes closer to see this one out to the end, too.

Without warning, almost faster than the eye can see, Jena's hand flings the rock at the center of the litter at incredible speed, a bolt of silver light trailing it on its flight; Varanim sees it burst through the side curtains and nearly explode out through the other side, black fluid and bone fragments scattering out in its wake.

Instantly the crowd is in an uproar; two of the litter-carriers drop their corners and flee, while the bouncers drop into martial poses and begin to strike out at any of the crowd who get too near and the other assembled crowd either flee themselves or join in the rock-throwing...

Varanim elbows closer and cranes her neck at the now-lopsided litter, hoping to see it spill the occupant and with it a clue to what's happening. ::No really Lucent, any time now.::

Varanim gets just the briefest peek inside the litter; she can't quite tell what was in there, but it absolutely was not human, and the unmistakable stench of necrosis hangs about it in a way that makes its origins fairly unambiguous.

Varanim With that identification made, she fades back into the crowd, looking around for Jena or the next transition and reaching into the bundle again for inspiration.

Varanim feels the thin, delicate tines of the red jade comb in her hand, and when she turns around she is somewhere else, yet again -- on a rocky outcropping, surrounded on all sides by rising hills, and what seems like some kind of strange city, hundreds of platforms and ramps and walls, all carved from a single giant rock, off in the distance.

Varanim ::...it's too bad you're not here, you'd like this one.:: She sighs, and sets out for the city.

She starts walking towards it, cresting the nearest hill, when she smells something on the air: blood.

Varanim Varanim, who actually has a phenomenal memory for smell, sniffs experimentally. Fresh? Human? She ambles to investigate.

Lucent "VARANIM!" Lucent's familiar face cries out from one of the mountains!

Varanim "What the... Lucent?" she calls back, striking off in that direction.

Lucent "Oh, it IS you! I met one before, but it was not you!" He calls out, projecting his voice without a strain. "That damned blind serpent struck at me! Demolished the throne! It was a mess, I lost the direction and fell somewhere on her subconscious. Everything is broken here."

Varanim "Sit on the chair, that was your job. How hard is that?" She sounds annoyed, but she hurries her steps a bit to find him.

Lucent slides down the mountain in no time. "Well, I am not the one who took her chances with a MIND-DEVOURING SNAKE."

Lucent doesn't seem to be source of the blood, which the wind seems to be suggesting is coming from a little bit further down the mountain.

Varanim "First, there's no solid evidence it was actually mind-devouring, and second, there's a blood trail to follow, so come on." She takes his hand, rather unnecessarily, to pull him in that direction.

Lucent follows. "... and you never answered me about the sell-out standing."

Varanim "Oh, that. Best I can tell from what she said in the Thousand, she works for the Lion because she made a deal to save her territory. Probably a dumb idea, but that's people for you."

Lucent "Hm. So she is still Exalted." He sighs, "A poor one, but one nonetheless."

Varanim "What's that supposed to mean--you want some kind of Essence-based monopoly on stupidity?"

Lucent "Exalted are meant to protect Creation, you know. To save things in it."

Varanim "You can say the cutest things with a straight face."

Somewhere down below, Varanim sees the outline of a person, down where she expects the smell must have originated... and the faint tinge of red on the rocks all around.

Varanim frowns, and looks for a good path down.

Lucent picks Varanim and just jumps down below, absorbing all the shock of the fall!

Varanim "Agh!" she says with little dignity, then clears her throat after a few seconds at the bottom. "Ahem."

The scene is rather ghastly. Fifteen men lie broken, beaten, and twisted on the rocks, their spears and shields flung to the winds; a man in an elaborate jade armor, a symbol of stone and flame proudly borne on his chest, is ripped in half, his legs flung off somewhere down the mountain...

A confused and slightly horrified-looking Jena, dressed in the clothes of a Veltann youth, leans over him, looking for some sign of who he was, why he was dead now in such a horrifying way.... Her hand falls to the red jade comb in his hair....

Varanim turns the comb over in her hand, frowning down at the echo of the memory. "Anyway, it's probably good that you're here," she adds quietly to Lucent as she walks up behind Jena, bending to murmur "Remember" by her ear.

Varanim Straightening with a lingering frown, she reaches into the bundle again.

Lucent watches Jena and the dead, letting Varanim do the work, as Jena herself would prefer.

Before her hand can make it into the bundle, the ground shakes, and the white beast bursts quite suddenly out of the earth again, off to the side. Jena turns to look up at it with a horrified expression, and Varanim sees the very fabric of the reality around it seem to tremble, as if even her memories remember that it... really shouldn't be there.

Varanim "About it not being the memory eater? I changed my mind."

Lucent "You stop RIGHT THERE!" Lucent places himself between the serpent and the women... and he grows. He begins to grow to stand before the serpent, the scalpels of light he had created before arraying themselves around him. "Your diseased presence in this mind has outstayed its welcome."

The white beast reels back with a horrifyingly pained howl, and for a moment it seems like the battle is already over, but then it seems to regroup itself slightly, and Lucent hears in the back of his own brain, in that familiar, burnt-paper voice: SHE IS HERE.

Lucent attempts to pin it with his scalpels, his eyes losing focus. "Varanim! I was just told that SHE is here. Glimpse told me that... can you look into this thing? Tell me wether it is some... Malfean thing?" Who is Here? He attempts to ask.

THE DRAGON, the voice continues, even as the white beast pulls itself up again and flings its head down, jaws wide open, towards exactly where Varanim stands.

Lucent interposes between them, placing himself on the defensive! "ANYTIME NOW, NIM. This thing is not a malady!"

Varanim steps to the side of Lucent so she can see clear of his shadow, tossing the bundle of memory-keys to the figure of Jena and clapping her hands together. The joints of her arm shift and split, then chain-sinews flay forth like questing threads on the wind, dancing in the Essence currents of the beast's presence. "Show me," she says to the air, for this moment serene in the face of death.

The very air seems to split along its Essential fault lines in the wake of Varanim's pronouncement, and the false front of the creature's manifestation in this mental world seems to crumble and disintegrate before her eyes, letting her see through to the pure truth underneath:

the infinitely complex strands of necrotic essence, holding the place of what was once living, breathing Essence just as semi-precious stone fills the veins of petrified wood; the faces of hundreds of dead and rotting malakim, written in darkness across its secret heart; blasphemous words seething through its hollow gullet....

...the name AUNA, encoded at the deepest level of its very Essence. But she sees further: how this is just an echo of the true dead Primordial, the psychic link to her great dead bulk that infects Jena's mind, not the entirety of the grand Malfean -- and how there's some single point from which its entry here is enabled.

Varanim holds the vast, seething pattern of it in her mind for a moment--and then she pares her awareness down, focusing narrowly on the hole in Jena's mind and the path through the falseness covering it. "Borrow my eyes, Lucent," she says, pressing his hand to her brow. "There."

Lucent pulls out her memories with the light of his old armor... and sees it. "Whispers."

Lucent One hand holding the Serpent as it strikes at him, between himself and Varanim...

Lucent "Sever it. ANY WAY YOU CAN."

Varanim smirks, holding up the branching and many-inhabited pattern of necrotic Essence before her inner vision. "Vanity," she says clearly, and the shape of it cuts through faith, through the borrowed power of others--and the psychic link, for a moment, is shredded.

The emenation of Auna, the Dragon of Bone and Salt, screams in horrified pain, and the very air around them seems to shatter and fall into pieces around them, until finally she and Lucent are standing in an endless black expanse.

Lucent sighs in relief, then looks angrily at nothing in particular. Are YOU eating my memories?

CAN YOU REMEMBER? the voice says as its only reply.

Meanwhile, Varanim notices a dot of light, off quite a distance to one side.

Varanim "There," she says, pointing, and focuses her will on bringing it closer--since there is no actual landscape to traverse.

Lucent stands to Varanim's side. I THINK I can. That is no answer.

Lucent "Varanim, when you went into my mind, was I losing memories?"

Varanim "Not obviously, but I can't pretend to answer for all of your weird internal symbology."

Varanim feels herself -- and Lucent -- slide towards the light, and as it grows nearer, she sees what it is, though the edges are fuzzy, indistinct: a metal examination table, with a figure tied down upon it... another black-clad figure standing over it, holding a jar in which wriggles a tiny white worm.

Varanim Varanim's hands curl into fists, then relax. "Huh," she says quietly.

Lucent puts a hand on her shoulder. "So you are alike, after all."

As she draws nearer, she begins to see more detail -- the bloody scalpel, placed gently on the operating tray to one side of the table; the innumerable cuts, across her entire body; the collar around her neck, of a make that anyone who has spent time around Zahara might recognize;

and the look on the patient's face, the one that says that although the first four hundred and ninety nine cuts were acceptable, and she had resisted, this last one had been too much, and so now the look is only of resigned acceptance.

The Doctor uses a pair of tweezers to gently remove the white worm, place it on her forehead (where it uses lamprey-like jaws to bite and wriggle partway in), pauses for a moment, gently removes a thin metal chain from around her neck, and then walks away into the darkness.

The patient lolls off into some disturbed and troubled state of unconsciousness, while the white worm wriggles weakly, only halfway driven in to its destination.

Varanim is still for a moment, then shrugs off Lucent's hand with an unreadable expression and steps forward. She pinches the worm between two soulsteel fingers, smiles a bit, and crushes it with a twist.

Lucent sends his orbs around it, calterizing the wound and sterelizing any remains of it.

There is a moment in which nothing happens, and then the table and its occupant fade from view, so that there is only darkness again.... and then, after another long moment, Luc and Varanim find themselves back in the manse, outside the mind-world once again, with a thoroughly unconscious Jena Roderick.

Lucent touches Jena reassuringly. "So it seems like the word was guided and protected by Auna."

Lucent "I believe it will take a few days of rest for her to recover from this, and with the proper therapy, I can allow her to make sense of the returning memories." He finishes telling Varanim. "Nothing is quite as quick and easy out here, I told you."

Varanim "Good."


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Page last modified on March 16, 2009, at 08:36 PM