1626, Dark Season, Disorder Week, Wildday morning
In Pavis. During Death and Taxes (Session 2.19)
“Berra, I’m going to pick up that armour if it’s ready. Then I’m heading to the Temple. If you’re coming, it has to be now. I need to move.” Varanis is shifting restlessly from foot to foot. There are circles under her eyes, but she looks alert and impatient.
“We were going to take Xenofos,” Berra suggests. She looks up from her work, and stretches her legs from being crossed. Her new sword is being oiled, and for that she has chosen to be in a place where she can oversee most of the comings and goings in the fountained courtyard. “He needs to go to the library.” But she is leaning over and putting the oil amphora back onto its rag, getting ready to go.
“Rajar can take him.”
“Uhuh.” Berra gets swept along, or decides to go. “I guess you couldn’t sleep last night.”
“I didn’t want to risk being taken by surprise. I’ll have to sleep eventually, but first we need to get out of the city. I don’t know this city. I don’t know where the attacks are likely to come from.” Frustration threads through the words. Varanis breathes slowly, centering herself. “I got a little rest,” she admits. “Xenofos insisted. But I couldn’t….” She shrugs and trails off.
“No. Sleep is important, because you can take turns doing that. Rajar slept last night. Tiwr probably did too. Tonight, we two should. Together, in a room, but we should.” Berra rolls up the oil and the rags into a leather pouch with tie-strings on, and stands. “I need to get a new scabbard. “Yeah. It’s hard. You’ve got a lot on your mind, plus some bastards are trying to KILL you. Hard to sleep with a focussed mind.”
The moment Berra is on her feet, Varanis starts moving. “Where do you want to leave that?” she asks, lifting her chin in the direction of the leather pouch. “We can talk about sleep later. I want to know about your new sword. What did it cost you?” The emphasis on cost suggests she isn’t talking about coins.
“It goes in my kit,” Berra says. She is moving slowly, carefully. “It didn’t cost me anything, but making it did.” She takes a detour via her bedroom, so far unused save for storage, and puts the pouch down just inside the door. Her bed roll is outside the room where Xenofos was sleeping, if sleep he did.
Varanis slows down and studies Berra, looking at her properly for the moment.1Pass on Insight.
Insight: Berra is wired, maybe even high. she is working very, very hard to be calm. She’s managing it, but it is clear that it is a layer of calm over something that could easily be screaming.
“What’s wrong?” Concern overtakes impatience.
“Huh?” Berra blinks. “Nothing.” That at least seems to be true, or she thinks so. “I’m just a bit tired.”
Varanis gives the Humakti a dubious stare. “I’m not convinced that’s true, though I can tell you believe it to be so.”
Berra takes a slow breath, and lets it out even more slowly. “I’ve had a lot to take in today. And I’ve still got holy woad on me. So I’m sort of… twitchy. Jumpy. I keep thinking things are crawling on my skin as it tightens. But it shouldn’t come off until the end of Wildday. Then I get to see if it leaves any shapes I should tattoo.”
“Well, at least you are unlikely to have to worry about rain here, even in this season.” Varanis watches Berra for a moment more. “You’re sure you’re good for this?”
“Rain would be fine. But removing it isn’t.” Berra shrugs.2Failed Air, but a critical pass on Truth. Not proud, but she knows she is dangerous to herself. “I… I would notice problems but I might notice problems that are not there yet, or that I make, right now. But I should try. I can’t not do it. Not today.” She looks oddly determined, in a way that tightens her jaw and sets her shoulders broad. She looks like she would happily – no… like she would angrily fight the world. Having volunteered to do so.
First Aid: Berra looks low-grade ill, like she is running a minor fever. It is nothing that needs immediate treatment, but she is nineteen Lunars to the Wheel right now.
Varanis pulls up short. “Maybe we shouldn’t go without more support. I don’t like the idea of you coming back alone while I stay at my Temple.”
Berra blinks, thinks, considers. “I came back fine this morning,” she says. “And I was on the look-out. I said no travelling alone if you are not a warrior… I think I could as a warrior. But I should go to my Temple anyhow. I have questions to ask. And I want to get a scabbard for Wind Tooth. I… don’t know what to get for …” She looks down at the iron sword and up at Varanis in astonishment. “For him. It. Him.”
Varanis winces, but says nothing.
“I can do it.” Berra puts another layer of calm onto herself, and it sticks. Peaceful.
Eventually Varanis says, “Fine. If you feel like you are safe, then I’ll take your word for it.” Her tone is flat.
Berra smiles, peacefully, and gestures towards the way out. “I’ll be concentrating on the way,” she says. “Trying to get a sense of the far voice.”
The Vingan stalks out, trusting Berra to follow. She is not careless, but she is moving quickly and with determination.
At the door, Berra says, “Hold,” in her unnaturally peaceful way, and looks from side to side, thinking. Then she mutters the spell she uses, and walks out. “I can’t hear it clearly all the time,” she says, but her attention is mostly on the surrounds and not the conversation now.
Varanis allows Berra to control her departure, but the moment they are outside, she lengthens her stride to overtake the Humakti.
Berra does not ask for the pace to be slower, but scurries along like the infanteer she is. “You know the way, right? I’ve never been there.”
Varanis strides confidently through the streets of Pavis.3Fails INTx5 to remember the way. As she walks, she obviously expects people to move out of her way. She doesn’t speak to Berra for a long time until she stops short again. She looks around and begins swearing in Pure Horse Tongue.
Berra goes instantly from mostly alert to fully alert. “What have you seen?” She is suddenly behind Varanis, facing the other way, looking.
“I’m lost,” Varanis mutters just loudly enough that Berra can hear her. “I need to find a landmark I recognize.”
“High place?” the short one suggests.
She turns in place, looking around her. “Yes. There.” She nods at a nearby building. “I’m going up.”
She glances at Berra. “You coming up or keeping watch from the ground?”
“I’m going up. I should probably go first, but how do you feel about putting your head up?” She is walking towards the place as she speaks, casually.
“What do you mean?”
The taller woman is already looking for handholds, picking out her route as she walks toward the wall.
“I don’t think there’s any danger here, but I should probably go first. By habit.” There is what looks like a ladder moulded into the wall. Shades of the Krarsht Temple…
There’s a frustrated inhalation. “Yes, warriors first. Fine. Climb.”
“Warriors who are not you.” Berra’s voice is oddly flat. She goes for the ladder, and a moment later is at the top, speaking in Trade Talk.
Varanis makes short work of the climb, arriving on the rooftop not long after Berra.
Berra has to move sideways on the ladder a bit, which she does, although she is trying to explain herself, <<I’m lost. Sorry, I didn’t realise this was your house.>>4Berra fails at Charm.
The family at work sorting and stretching hides on their roof look unimpressed, and the oldest man there – there are several – replies, <<Well it had to be somebody’s house and it is mine, and you are on it.>>5Both pass Tradetalk.
He turns to Varanis, and mutters, <<My house.>> Trade talk has several gradations for property, and he is using own-and-defend.
Varanis pulls herself the rest of the way onto the roof, and on rising to her feet holds her hands palm up and away from her hilt. <<Apologies. My fault, not hers. I’m lost. Can you help us?>> She gives him a friendly smile.6Varanis has passed Charm.
<<Well, at least you know how to greet a man,>> comes the reply. <<And you are here already. Come have water.>> With bad grace,, the man picks up a small bowl. <<Water. You are a guest.>>
The Vingan accepts his offer of water courteously. <<My thanks, good sir,>> she replies. <<I am Vareena and my companion is Berra.>>
Berra pulls herself up onto the roof with a strong motion that brings her feet up level and lets her lean forward, get them under her, and stand. From anyone else it would be showing off. From her, it is probably that she has forgotten not to do that.
The man bows over the bowl, sees Berra fully, and looks back at Vareena. <<Who…?>>7Reputation checks at -50%. Berra, amazingly, passes.
“Berra Jarang’s Daughter,” Berra says with a bow. She says it in Heortling, however, and dusts off her fingers.
Varanis watches, just a hint of wariness entering her expression, before being quickly replaced with courtesy.
There is a muttered instruction to one of the younger men who bows his head and goes down a ladder into the inner house, and then a bit of staring at Berra from all of them. She stares back, in her special way.8Berra does not like being stared at. Passes Intimidate.
Varanis breaks the silence finally. <<Your hospitality is generous. Thank you.>> Berra gets a quick glare.
Berra gives Varanis a blink, and then bows her head. “Sorry.” After that, she relaxes a little, although she does by habit look all around and not just at the gathering.
One of the words that rushes by in Praxian is, ~Humakt~. ~Birrra-Yr’angsal’Umakti~. Berra does not seem to have heard it.9Varanis passes the Listen Check required, and an Insight on her hosts to boot. Berra does not.
“You are known here,” Varanis murmurs softly.
<<My poor hospitality shames me. I have only water, salt, dates, a little meat of cattle, a roof…>> The old man gives Varanis a bow, but watches Berra from the corner of his eye.
Insight: This man is scared. Not a lot, but nervous of getting something wrong and giving offence. While on the roof of a house that a moment ago was his property to defend.
“For fu… for crying out loud?” Berra looks at Varanis in amazed annoyance. “… How?” She, apparently, missed all that.
Varanis raises an eyebrow at Berra, but doesn’t bother answering except to say, “Be nice.” To their host, she says, <<The sharing of water is a most generous gift. You do us great honour. The shame is mine for intruding uninvited.>>
Quietly, she murmurs to Berra, “Do you have any of that dried fruit on you?”
The man who was sent down comes back up again with a tray with small plates on it, and some slightly chipped brown-glazed cups.
“Yeah. I need to organise my belt again, but here…” Berra hands over the pouch, easily unlooped from her belt. “It’s all fruit, no vegetables. And a water skin if you want some.” Then she goes to sit with one leg up on the adobe wall, looking out at the city rather than inwards. It happens to hide the sword from those who are up here, although they get to see Wind Tooth.
<<I am Marbaal. You do my house honour,>> their host says.
<<It would be most kind of you to accept this poor token of thanks from my companion and me,>> Varanis replies as she withdraws a few carefully wrapped pieces of fruit from Berra’s pouch. <<It is but a small taste of my homeland.>> Tucking the pouch into her own belt, she offers the wrapped fruit to Marbaal. The gesture is similar to her earlier greeting, though this time the fruit is balanced on her upturned palms.
Marbaal bows over it, and as he should he takes it and puts it onto a plate, and a small part of it is offered around and the rest kept. <<You said, great warrior, that you required help,>> he says after food and water have been passed around. Berra has taken a bit of date, dipped in salt, and some water. She has looked worried about Varanis taking food, but not spoken up.
Varanis accepts small amounts of food and water, careful not to take too much from a family that has so much less than her, but enough so that she does not offer insult. <<I was seeking the street with the armourers,>> she tells him. <<Harjoon of the Black Shield Clan has new armour for me. But I am afraid I got turned around. Could you direct us?>>
She adds with a smile, <<We would be further in your debt, for such a kindness.>>
<<You are not so far from where you wish to be,>> comes the reply, <<But it is over roofs and not on the earth you must walk. You will find this is your path, Air-Lord. And your Death carries a sword used in storms, so she may go also. My cousin will show the way.>>
Berra looks a bit confused, and then her face clears, and she says, “Oh. Right.”
Varanis gives him a little bow. <<I will remember your name, Marbaal, and carry the memory of your hospitality to these two strangers in my heart. Thank you.>>
There is a little more talk before the cousin rises – the same man who went to fetch food. When Berra stands everything becomes momentarily more tense, but she bows deeply to Marbaal, and says, <<Debt is owed for intrusion, given freely back to me. I see this. It was well done.>> Trade talk can be very precise. <<And for passage through your home, I am grateful.>> She steps off the wall, and walks across to their guide to give him a little nod, leaving room for Varanis to step in front of her.
Varanis offers Marbaal a smile that reaches even her eyes, and with a final bow, she joins Berra and their guide.
The cousin mutters something in Trade Talk – a greeting? Something. His accent is thicker than Marbaal’s, and it is hard to make out.10Berra is all at sea. Varanis understands.
To Varanis, who travelled with someone with just that accent, the words are clear. <<Follow. Walls only. No roof-rooms. No looking into house.>>
“Urrr….” Berra has obviously not caught the words.
“Just follow his path, Berra. Careful not to look into people’s homes,” Varanis murmurs softly. <<Of course,>> she replies to the guide. <<We will follow your guidance strictly. We have no desire to give disrespect to any.>>
“Right. Gotcha. And this time don’t look at them like I’m thinking of their ends, when I see people?” She seems serious.
The guide nods and turns, going along a foot-wide wall with the assurance of someone who knows exactly where he is going.
Varanis follows with the ease of someone who walks on rooftops and walls more often than she does the ground. Or at least, she would if everyone else could just keep up. She watches their surroundings, careful not to look in the direction of the entrances to the various homes they pass.
Berra’s passage is marked by the sound of her stopping every now at then as if to listen, and then hurrying to catch up on the straighter paths. Her footsteps pause and patter, pause and patter. As their guide pauses to exchange pleasantries with a family group of men and women, she says to Varanis, “They’d heard of Wind Tooth.” Her voice is quiet.
“And this surprises you?” Varanis asks just as quietly.
“Nala sang it. I guess. And asked. About him.” Berra shrugs. “We-“
The guide sets off again, with a <<Follow,>> and Berra shuts up.
Varanis shrugs and follows the guide.11GM calls for another Insight (Human) from Varanis.
Insight: Berra’s mind is not on that. Part of her is far away and worried.
A few moments later they are at a place that is familiar to Varanis, not by sound or sight, but by smell. Leather work is done here, and then there is a babble of conversation in the street below, and it suddenly looks half familiar. Harjoon’s shop was in a place a lot like this. The guide points, and yes, that’s it just there. <<I watch ladder. You down. I see you go.>>
Varanis gives him a pleased smile. <<Thank you.>> She turns to Berra and nods at the ladder. “I suppose you should go first,” she says neutrally.
“You should, so I keep an eye out,” Berra says, and gives Marbaal’s cousin a glance. Then she smiles slightly, almost managing to relax. “But let me.” There is a ladder there, and she makes for it.
As soon as Berra‘s head vanishes, Varanis turns again to their guide. <<She walks close to her god,>> she says quietly, as if that explains everything. Perhaps it does. <<May Waha watch over you and yours and may you always have water when you need it.>>
<<Go swift. Straight. With water, food, and beasts.>> That’s the reply, and then the man sets off at a dignified walk, without bowing.
Berra, on the ground, rolls out her shoulders and looks around her.
Varanis makes her way nimbly to the ground, dropping beside Berra to look around. “Why are you so worried?”
Berra almost starts, catches herself, and looks around. “I… I have a lot to think about. I haven’t had time yet.” Worried. She’s worried. “I’ve been busy.” That last phrase is almost a joke, somehow, like she plucked it from elsewhere.
“If you are worried about something else, you are not fully with me.” To some, the comment might be heard as chiding, but Berra picks up the note of concern that underlies it.12Berra passes her own Insight roll. She knows Varanis well enough.
“It’s… um. Armour first.” Berra nods to the way.
Varanis nods and leads the way to Harjoon’s shop.
Berra strides almost beside her, looking like Death should when it walks. She either can’t keep up or decides not to be alongside entirely.
In Harjoon’s tent, the work is mostly done, and the last bit of sewing happens as Berra bargains – in her usual style – for a scabbard. She just asks for one, and reaches for her money. Here, the iron sword does not seem to impress, or else has simply not been noticed in the dim, busy atmosphere. Meanwhile, Varanis is asked to try on what has been made, as the last of the straps is finished.
The Vingan buckles each piece into place, admiring the work as she does so. It isn’t flashy, but the quality of the craftsmanship is evident nonetheless. As she buckles the hauberk into place, she smiles at how easily she is able to do so. No awkward twisting is required to reach the straps.
Berra looks at the armour, and nods. “It’s not bad,” she says, and for a while that overcomes the deeper feelings she is holding in. Pleasure for Varanis is clear there. “You look tough.”
Varanis laughs, some of her earlier frustration seeming to dissipate with the laughter. When Harjoon is ready, she pays him the price they agreed on the day before. <<I will tell my friends to seek out the skills of Harjoon,>> she promises. <<Indeed, I already have.>> She nods in Berra’s direction, mischief in her eyes. <<Did you know this is the fierce Berra Jarang’s Daughter? Her deeds are sung in taverns across Sartar and Esrolia.>>13A combo of Air and Loyalty (Blue Clan) has Varanis boasting about Berra.
<<Who?>> Harjoon does not, apparently know of her. Berra looks amused, and gives Varanis a grin. “I’m fierce,” she agrees.
<<I’d share one of her songs with you, but you look rather busy, and I’m not sure I could do it justice in TradeTalk,>> Varanis admits with a grin.
<<Trade talk is for trade. Can you dance it?>> He counts the money twice, on a dished tray, to be sure there are no mistakes, and smiles over it. <<She already knows. She has bought my work and surely there is nobody famous in Sartar who does not owe me visiting now?>>
Varanis gives him a wink. <<I’d tell the Prince herself if I thought she’d listen.>> She rolls her shoulders in the armour, listening to the creak of the hide, but enjoying the ease of movement. <<This feels good. Thank you.>>
<<A bargain is a bargain and a price is a price. Bring it back bloodied with my enemies if you return.>> Harjoon addresses Varanis, not Berra. Berra is obviously looking to fight a Varanis in new armour, bouncing from foot to foot. As so often happens, her mood has changed again.
Varanis salutes him and then looks to Berra, “Ready?”
Berra nods. Leads the way out, after a moment stopping at the door. “Drink? Rajar thinks you should only eat rations but I think you’re safe if we’re in places we’ve not been before and won’t be expected. We should talk about that. But I still have fruit and nuts.”
“I want real food, not rations. Let’s find somewhere unexpected and with flavour. Maybe a street vendor so we can watch it being prepared.”
“Something ready-made, or prepared. But I can’t eat vegetables, so until I know what that means, we need to be really careful.” Berra looks up at Yelm. “Any idea which way market… no, let’s head back towards the Temple and find something on the way.” And there’s that little worried twitch in her again. This time it is quickly soothed into satisfaction and peace, but it was there.
Varanis watches Berra for a long moment before nodding. “Fine. Do you want to lead this time?”
“No, not really.” Berra replies quietly. “I wanted a place to drink because it’s a place to sit. You asked and I should answer.” But she points along a road in approximately the right direction.14Passed INT x 5, so nobody gets lost. Berra is sad about this OOC.
“Let’s find a place to sit. I want to talk.” Varanis is still studying Berra. “There’s something you aren’t telling me.”
“Yeah…” And a few minutes later, there are two drinks. Berra has ordered kumiss made with bison milk and whatever Varanis wanted. Mostly, what is on offer is beer or lightly acidic yoghurt.
Varanis decides to drink the kumiss. She had it last time she was in Prax and while she didn’t develop a taste for it, there’s something about the novelty that appeals to her.
Berra does seem to be enjoying hers, but after a couple of minutes she says, “I’m being pulled two ways, and I hate it, and I can’t be both, and I’m not… well, I am sort of both. But it made me not good at one.”
Berra looks into her milky beaker, and swirls the drink. “The last time you were in danger, I thought of going to my Temple, and asking for one of Humakt’s gifts. If I had, this would not be happening now. But I feared to, because I thought it might harm me – make me less of a capable warrior, or scar me so that I could not do the work properly. But if I had – I still don’t know if I should have – it would have let me do only that. By the time I got there at dusk today, I had the sword. I had to …” She trails off, trying to work out how to say something. “I had to, you see?” Maybe that’s hope, not confidence. Maybe she does not even dare say what she is thinking.
“No. I don’t see. I still don’t understand where the sword came from or how. I don’t understand what you’ve done or why.” Varanis gives her an intense look.
“Because we’re cut off, because we’re Humakti, we can ask him for help. For … his power, in places. So our swords are better than anyone else’s, and our bodies are tougher, if we ask for that. And if we ask, we can hear the sound of harm coming to those we protect. Even to ourselves. But I couldn’t ask for it fully, because I had this sword in my hand. There is a limit to what an Initiate can do. Can hold. So I can hear the warning, but only faintly, because I had to … because I chose to do both things.” She says it finally, grimly determined to get the words out, and looks down at her drink.
Varanis raises an eyebrow, but does not fill the silence following Berra’s admission.
“I keep on nearly being able to make it out. I don’t know if I chose wrong. Last time I asked for something, I regretted for years not asking for more, and I only found out recently it gave me more choice this time. But this time I think I chose wrong. I should have kept the sword away from eyes, and it… it would… I don’t know that. This is something special, or might be.” Her shoulders sag, which is visible mostly on the left – no armour covers that arm now.
“Away from whose eyes?”
“Everyone’s. You see, normally swords are made by people who just make… make the whole thing at once. But the one the Blacksmith made, he understood Death. And he made it like it was before. Before there was such a thing. But for people to see it would have been bad. It would have just become a sword. Like any other. Only… if this one goes right it’s going to be something more.”
“You said something before… about awakening it? I don’t quite remember. This morning feels like a long time ago for some reason. And I still don’t understand what you are worried about. The decisions have been made. Now you live with them as best you can.” She says this like she have never second-guessed herself or spent months riddled with self-doubt.
“It’s the choice I made. On the… I showed it what Death was. I taught it. So it knows. In my hand this sword will bite deeply, always seeking to give that secret. It’ll be a fit place for a Wyter spirit. It’s taken the story of the first Death, as its model. It… he… is not awake, and more than Wind Tooth is, because he has no spirit yet. But he has a stronger model to follow than other swords do. He went from a world where Death was not, to himself being that secret.”
Berra gives Varanis a look as if to check that makes sense.
Varanis finally nods. “I think I understand, as much as I can understand Humakt’s secrets anyway. Is there anything else you need to tell me?”
“No, but you should know to let people know up front about the food, if they offer hospitality, and I can’t use my shield any more. I left it at the Temple as an offering. And the armour.” Berra flexes her left hand, and looks at the sturdy forearm muscles shortening. “And I cannot refuse a challenge to single combat. Humakt made me… well, I can’t tell you that bit, but it might have been he was prepared to see me make up for my last regrets by dedicating myself to the new life ahead. It’ll be harder. Going through the asking again before you’re a Rune Lord is rare.”
“I don’t know if I can refuse food, Berra. It as much as accuses my hosts of trying to kill me.” The Vingan frowns. “Or do you mean about you and the vegetables?”
“Oh, sorry, yes. Just the vegetables. But it does mean I can’t taste them for you, though. Which is strange but maybe it helps people be properly cut off if they can’t join in feasts.” Berra’s face flickers through puzzlement and settles in being unworried. “Anyhow. That’s the choice I made. My sword is Death, because it has to be, but I can’t really hear the voice well. Not clearly. Only some of the time. So it is not the warning it should be.”
In typical fashion Berra then adds, “I mean, not to me. It’s not a problem with the warning, just with me getting it.” Her left forefinger draws a Truth Rune in the air.
Varanis wrinkles her nose as she finishes her kumiss. “It still tastes odd. Are you ready to go to the Temple? I need to see if Vinga will hear me.”
“Yes. And then I want to find out what a vegetable really is. Berra looks into her cup, and pauses before draining it. “I really will miss garlic. I know that’s one.” After that, she needs a drink…
- 1Pass on Insight.
- 2Failed Air, but a critical pass on Truth. Not proud, but she knows she is dangerous to herself.
- 3Fails INTx5 to remember the way.
- 4Berra fails at Charm.
- 5Both pass Tradetalk.
- 6Varanis has passed Charm.
- 7Reputation checks at -50%. Berra, amazingly, passes.
- 8Berra does not like being stared at. Passes Intimidate.
- 9Varanis passes the Listen Check required, and an Insight on her hosts to boot. Berra does not.
- 10Berra is all at sea. Varanis understands.
- 11GM calls for another Insight (Human) from Varanis.
- 12Berra passes her own Insight roll. She knows Varanis well enough.
- 13A combo of Air and Loyalty (Blue Clan) has Varanis boasting about Berra.
- 14Passed INT x 5, so nobody gets lost. Berra is sad about this OOC.