1628, Sacred Time, Fate Week, Godday
With a nod of thanks, she heads into Berra’s chambers. The room is well lit, with half a dozen lamps. It is almost as bare as before; the bed is still in the same position, but now next to it are two armour stands. One has Berra’s bronze on it, with the left vambrace tied as well as buckled. It is part of the set even if she does not wear it. The other stand has the Humakti’s brown leather piled neatly at its foot.
From the doorway to the right, Varanis can hear someone coming down stairs. The Vingan waits politely in the doorway, rather than invading the space.
Berra pauses as she comes into the room. “Hello,” she says cheerily. “How are you doing?” She looks tired, but happy to see Varanis.1Varanis fails Insight (Human).
“Good. Vaguely worried about you. We thought to see you again sooner,” her friend replies. “Yehna is making you soup, though I’m afraid you may not be able to eat it. It’s her way of coping with concern.” Varanis glances around the room, looking for a suitable place to perch.
“She’s not going to put anything I can’t eat into it,” Berra says confidently. “She wouldn’t. I can come back with you if you like?” Her hand moves to the iron sword she is wearing on her right hip.
“Oh, please do. It will make your sister very happy. And me too, for that matter. I don’t mind if Lord Raven wants to come along.” She nods in the direction of the sword.
“He should stay in the Temple now,” Berra says, and adds to the sword, “I’ll be fine. And you’ll be fine. We should go put you on your altar, though.”
“Can I come?” Varanis asks. “Hey Raven, I won’t keep her for long. I hope you don’t mind sharing her though. We miss her.”
“He can’t hear you clearly unless you pray,” Berra says. “He can hear me because I’m touching him. Just concentrate on the message to give him – he should get it.” The Humakti looks back the way she came, and up, then comes over to Varanis, walking lightly.
Varanis’ brow furrows as she concentrates, trying to send the prayer towards the sword. The feeling of prayer, directed as it is, seems satisfied.2Special POWx5 In fact, more than that – there is an answer. A feeling like the brushing of wings against her. Then Raven’s voice, or perhaps just his personality, tells her as a command, Look after her. It is the briefest of moments, and then the sensation is gone. Up close, Berra looks like she has been crying lately, but is happier now.[/footnote]Pass Scan.[/footnote]
Startled, Varanis takes a closer look at the little Humakti.3… and fails Insight (Human) again.
Berra gives Varanis a grin. “We can cut past the High Sword’s room. He’s probably not going to …” She fades off for a moment, and apparently changes her mind. “Maybe not?”
“I can move quickly when I need to,” Varanis says with an answering grin. “But, you get to lead in this case.”
Berra gestures to the door, suddenly serious and silent. As she does, Lord Raven begins to form on her right.
Varanis schools her own features into a suitably respectful expression, bowing to the spirit as he forms.
He nods his head, a return of the respect to one of his worshippers. “Lady Berra, we will put the lights out here,” he says. “You will be faster going to my altar alone. Can you go put me there, and bring Wind Tooth back?” He sounds a little like he is mocking her with the simple instructions, but he also sounds like he is really checking whether she can.4This time, Varanis passes Insight (Human).
“Uhuh.” Berra does not look at Varanis, just makes for the door, determined.
Varanis looks at Lord Raven then at Berra, alarm slipping into her expression. “Lord Raven?” she asks softly, not quite managing to find the words for her question.
He waits until Berra has gone and makes sure the door is closed before he says anything other than, “Good evening.” When he turns back to her, his expression is carefully schooled. “My Priest is not very good at thinking at the best of times,” he observes, “And is currently getting lost in hypotheticals.”
Varanis frowns, staring after Berra. “Meaning?”
True to what he said, he goes over to put out a lamp. “From my point of view her thoughts are always incoherent. She jumps from thought to thought with very little understanding of how to connect them. I can see why the High Sword – being something like me… ah, that is not germane.” He goes to pinch out another wick. “She might pass from going past his rooms to what he is doing, whether he is resting, whether he will hear or be annoyed, and land on an answer without apparently having considered any of those things in depth, possibly while talking about lunch, or a passing fancy about shiny pebbles. Ordinarily, she arrives at her destination.”
“You didn’t like it when her thoughts were so slow that they’d become like ice, and now that they are rapids, you are unhappy once again?” Varanis asks, arching a brow at him. “She will always be a river, sweeping onward but with various eddies and the occasional waterfall. You disrupted the flow when you came into being and she needs to find her path again. Be patient.”
The Wyter glares. “Your expertise is appreciated but misplaced. Lady Berra is not experiencing an occasional waterfall.” Despite arguably having no need to breathe he takes a slow breath as if to steady himself. “Her curiosity is leading her to ask why things happen, but that is causing her great problems. She is unable to answer, and that is hurting her.”
Varanis huffs. “You didn’t say that part and I’m a terrible mind-reader.” She heaves out a sigh, then holds up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “Peace, my lord. We both want her to be well, so if you have thoughts on how I can support our mutual goal, please share them with me. Remember, perhaps, that Heortling is not my first language, nor even my second and so perhaps I misunderstand things at times.”
To that, Lord Raven nods. “Do you ever get the sensation when at the top of a cliff that you are about to fall, even when your feet are firm?” He makes for the door beyond Berra’s room, the one with a tall room beyond.
She grins, in reply. “I do. It’s a marvellous feeling.”
He gives a dry chuckle of amusement. “Apparently my Priest has never felt it at all. We were forced to find other descriptions. Do you know some people find it terrifying?”
She responds to his chuckle with one of her own. “My cousin, Xenofos, hates it.”
“Something akin to that feeling is pressing on her.” Lord Raven holds up a hand for a moment’s pause, and goes to the tall room beyond. “Can you do the lamps in there? Leave any you need.”
She follows his instructions, leaving only one candle, closest to the exit.
As it turns out they are lamps, not candles. Candles are for rich Orlanthi, and for people who like pleasant surroundings. The Wyter Priest of Lord Eril’s temple has lamps which are a varied set, from ornate but cheap mould-formed clay to small stone bowls with wicks leaning against the edge.
When Lord Raven comes back he can only be distinguished from the darkness by the scar that glows as an ember. “I do not believe that the Priest knows what is causing the effect, but from observation I think that her emotions and her mind are exhausted. She should chase down these possibilities, and she cannot.”
“I see,” Varanis says. “She’s been here for two days… was there no rest for her during that time?”
“Of course I cannot tell you secrets of the Temple, but her duties were light. Minimal. She has had no true rest for seasons.” Lord Raven has a good scowl, with a wrathful flowering of brightness over his right eye. “You are right, that she is only starting to return to herself. More, that self has little stamina left, yet tries to run.”
Varanis sags a little, then straightens her spine and rolls her shoulders back. “Lord Raven, with the greatest respect, none of us have had true rest for seasons. The Lunar Empire and its machinations have not permitted it. You’ve been in her head. Her memories. You know what we have been through and what we face. How can we truly rest when they never ease up? We have a lull right now, hard won through efforts I’d rather not dwell on. But how long will it last? I’ll try to encourage what rest I can, but she and I both… and those who fight with us… we will spend our lives for Kallyr and the kingdom. It’s who we are.”5Lord Raven fails Insight (Human) in turn.
He shakes his head regretfully. “With the same respect, then – you have had Dark Season and Storm Season to worry over her, but she was forced to live through them.” Lord Raven tilts his head almost like Berra does when thinking. “Please. It is the High Sword’s responsibility to ensure his Wyter Priest is up to all challenges. He is currently being kind enough not to notice Lady Berra’s repeated attacks of vertigo, but at some point he will have to investigate why I am protecting her.”
“Yes, sorry. I hadn’t realised that I’d been sleeping through these last seasons when I wasn’t directly helping Berra,” Varanis replies tartly. “Look, I’ll do my best for her. I truly will. I don’t know if I can help, but I will try. Also, just to be clear, when you mention vertigo, you are still talking metaphorically? Or is she suffering from still more physical consequences of her ordeal?”
“When she tries to understand things she does not know, Lady Berra is experiencing something that I feel through her. I am calling it vertigo for lack of a better word. As I say, her mind is not suited to deep thought at the best of times, and currently any attempt to solve a problem with unknown parts is catastrophic. I cannot read her thoughts directly, only echoes of them, yet I can tell when she has none that are coherent.” Lord Raven looks at the door, but does not open it. “Like a school of fish finding a shark within its midst.”
“So, it’s not that she is about to fall over, but rather that she feels like she is. And it occurs when she is thinking about things that are unknown, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable?” Varanis looks as if she’s about to rake her fingers through her hair, but for once, she manages to stop herself, letting her hand fall rest on her hilt instead.
“Put bluntly, that works as a first-order approximation.” A lot of words to say ‘yes’. “Meditational practices and in particular controlled breathing work best, of those things I have tried so far.”
“I’ll work on that with her and see what else we can do too,” Varanis says.
“She tends to recover fast.” Lord Raven’s tone is unsure, but he seems to have reached the end of what he is saying.
“That’s part of the problem for each of us,” Varanis says. “We recover enough that we leap back into trouble too soon.” She sighs again. “Go do whatever you do, and I’ll try to help.”6Pass Insight: It seems Lord Raven is annoyed by the comparison. He must believe Berra’s situation is different – or else he knows just how much he could lose. Varanis: Aw. He wants his Berra to be special, but can’t see that she’s a special person who hangs out with other special people. Berra: She means the world to him… Varanis: He wouldn’t exist without her, so that’s not surprising. Shame he broke her.
“If I time things right she will be coming back up the blade when we intersect her,” is all he says, though. Nothing more about his worries.
“May it be so.” She bows to him again and turns to wait for Berra.
He does manage to wait patiently, although his posture screams of anticipation. Where someone else might stand calmly, he does fit in a couple of familiar-looking stretches, subtle but present. It is just like a little Humakti limbering for battle, suppressed by someone who has always been in charge of his emotions.
“Just how far did she have to go?”
“We could go meet her. I simply hesitate to surprise her. To avoid going past my Hero’s door, she would have to go through or around the altar room, and she is too respectful to go through. Three times the distance across the temple, once you are out of this corridor. About thrice as far from my own altar to the kitchen.” Lord Raven concentrates for a moment. “Yes. The sword has not yet arrived there. Shall we intersect?”
“Let’s.” Varanis snuffs the last lamp after taking note of the door. She makes her way unerringly through the dark and holds the door open for the spirit.
He says, “Thank you.” He is easy to spot in the dark, at least for the moment he faces her.
Unlike Berra, Lord Raven has no compunctions about cutting past Eril’s room. He takes the most efficient route, walking almost noiselessly. “She tells me that she will be travelling to support Mellia Lightbringer.”
“I’ll be going with them, provided my Temple hasn’t got other plans for me that they haven’t notified me about. A Blue Tree thane ought to be helping support the temples and shrines there, even if I am still banned from setting foot on the lands for a while longer.” Varanis scowls, her fierce expression an indication of her willingness to fight for this one.
“Well done.” Lord Raven’s tone says he respects that.
He bows to Eril’s door as they pass it, deeply enough to show respect, precisely enough to show other emotions entirely. “She will need to be back for the start of Fertility Week, even if she misses lesser days.” That gives a two-week window.
Varanis gives a nod at the High Sword’s door. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“Don’t let her bring him back any souvenirs.” It might be a joke.
There is just enough light to walk to the next torch.
“I brought him a rock once. I thought maybe it would trigger a memory of who he was before Ikadz. He was badly wounded and… I don’t know. I guess I wanted to remind him that there were other things that mattered. Sadly, it was meaningless to him. Too completely cut away.” She shrugs as she shares the story, but her words are shaded with pity.
“I showed someone how to tame them,” says Raven in a suddenly quiet voice, strengthening as he recovers from whatever struck him. “The trick… it’s to teach them what they already want to do. A typical rock is very stubborn.”
She glances sideways at him and winces. “I’m sorry. I spoke without thinking.”
His expression is politely controlled, like the politician he has always been. His voice, when he speaks, is light. “It is strange to me sometimes, too. Fortunately my altar is close by and I can leave you with Lady Berra, who seems to enjoy stamping on tact in an attempt to spread it. At least she is not boring.”
“You probably don’t care to hear this, but I think you’re better off than he is. You have the good memories along with the bad. I have plenty of hurt from my youth too,” she says as if her youth wasn’t only a few years behind her. “But it helped make me who I am now, and well… I do have some good sides.” She shrugs again, this time with a wry smile. “Not always easy to spot under the bluster, I’ll admit, but I try…” She trails off, sinking her teeth into her lower lip. “How is it that you and he both manage to muddle me up so completely? I’m usually pretty good at words. What I’m trying to say is that I think remembering is better than forgetting, even when it hurts.”
“Ah, you share Lady Berra’s delights,” he says with a smile. “I suspect that whether a matter is better or worse depends on the person. Lord Eril, for all his many complexities of personality, is exactly what he wishes to be. I know there were other options. Strange, no? There is an interesting question in whether it is better to have knowledge of what one might have been, or… oh, and here we are, before I can draw any further conclusion.” He must have timed that for where he knew the altar room was. The break comes at the perfect point.
Varanis bows to him, acknowledging the end of the conversation.
- 1Varanis fails Insight (Human).
- 2Special POWx5
- 3… and fails Insight (Human) again.
- 4This time, Varanis passes Insight (Human).
- 5Lord Raven fails Insight (Human) in turn.
- 6Pass Insight: It seems Lord Raven is annoyed by the comparison. He must believe Berra’s situation is different – or else he knows just how much he could lose. Varanis: Aw. He wants his Berra to be special, but can’t see that she’s a special person who hangs out with other special people. Berra: She means the world to him… Varanis: He wouldn’t exist without her, so that’s not surprising. Shame he broke her.