Burning Cheeks

Berra — Burning Cheeks

????, Earth Season, Illusion Week


Context

Earth Season, Illusion Week, Waterday Eve Follows on from [[[xenofos:travel-plans|Travel Plans]]] [[[s02:session-17|Session 17]]]


Events
The inn does good business, and the place is crowded, and there is a lot of talk, warm and convivial. Berra has finished her beer, checked on the level of Xenofos’ wine bowl, and is partway into the second beer when she suddenly freezes, like she has heard something far away.1Berra passes a listen check. Xenofos fails his. A moment later she is in action, rising from her seat to stand on it, step on the table as she goes over it, and so onto a direct line for the door.

The place is crowded with plebs, noisy and with air that has character. But it does not matter, for some reason.

And then suddenly she is on the move, bouncing over table.

Xenofos sets his cup down, goes smoothly around the table and follows in the wake the rushing Humakti left.

The rushing Humakti is held up briefly at the door by the necessity of finishing her spell, begun as her foot hit the table. It is the standard detection spell she often uses when stepping out of a doorway. By the time she gets the door open Xenofos is only trailing by a couple of metres and can come through not far behind.

In the alleyway, Berra looks left and right, and dashes left after a hasty decision. There is only one other figure there, a man dressed in bright clothing of cheap materials, who is walking away from them, singing something. The words are surreally apposite, if not strictly true. “When Berra served the Saiciae as oathbound as was…”

Berra is not slowing down.

Xenofos follows Berra as quickly as he can and barks an order to the vagrant when spotting him “You! Minstrel! Halt!”

At about that point, Berra grabs him by the shoulder, attempts to spin him round, misses in that attempt, and is missed by his return swing as the man tries to punch her in desperation.

“What in hell are you singing?” she yells.

Xenofos rushes to the site, grabs the churl’s hand and continues on his way in attempt to unbalance him. Preferably to a wall. 2Special on grappling, and his opponent fails to break away.

The man is slammed up against the side of a building, which is some rendered surface Xenofos would be able to name if he were not in a hurry. He has the breath knocked out of him, but is able to gasp, “Please, I have no money!”

“Lady made you a question, churl.” Xenofos loosens his grip, shocked by being addressed like a common streetthug.

The man stares, and for a moment he is shocked, then he says, “Please, don’t hurt me! I’ll do anything!” He stays back against the wall, where he was put. A bruise that is growing on his face has the imprint of the wall’s rendered texture.

“So, why don’t you answer to the question the good lady asked you?”

“Wh…what question?”

“I asked you what the hell that song was,” Berra says. Her voice has a hint of threat in it, but it does not make the man sensible – he is already beyond the state where she can make him more afraid.

“You were singing a ditty while you passed, one lady Berra here found objectionable, and of which she now requests information? If I understood correctly, that is.” Xenofos assists the chap.

“W..well obviously I don’t mean any Berra who’s here,” he says, words tumbling out in haste and fear. “It’s just a song. About Humakti!”

Xenofos shakes his head. “I am afraid you might be mistaken. Pay attention to Death and Truth runes on her kit and cheek, unless you are too shaken you should find her cult loyalty obvious. And how many Berra Humaktis there are worth a song? Not many, not in Nochet anyway.” Look he gives minstrel is sympathetic.

“Oh Donander ward off anger,” the man sobs.

“We’re not going to hurt you,” Berra says. “But we really really want to hear that song. Well, I don’t want to. But I have to.”

“Are you sure, Berra?” scribe looks at the Humakti questioningly.

“I’m pretty sure I heard another name too,” Berra says. “So yes. I should, so I have to.”

Xenofos looks at Humakti again, reaches for his pouch and pulls what clacks he got in change at the inn. “Three, four – five clacks. Your payment for the song and some satisfaction for the rash way you were called in to perform it. You will not be hurt. She promised.”

The man’s eyes widen, and Berra nods to Xenofos. “What he said. I’ll even defend you, if you’re performing for me.”

“V…very well then.” The minstrel, if he is such, sidles along the wall a little to be closer to Xenofos, shielded by what bulk he has. “It’s… do you want the romantic version or the sailor version?”

“Oh fuck,” Berra mutters.

“By sound of it I don’t want to hear either. But if a wound is to be lanced it must be done to the bottom of the injury, lest pus would remain.” He looks at Berra “Proceed with sailor version?”

The alleyway has little light in it, making it hard to see if Berra is blushing, but she sounds like she did when she was listening to the letter from Lanasha. “Uh, start with the one with less actions?” She might be guessing.

The minstrel says, “It’s mostly just an extra stanza and a bit of delivery,” to Xenofos, hopefully.

“You heard what the lady preferred.”

The man takes a deep, steadying breath. His voice, when he starts, is good. It could carry well but apparently he has decided that an intimate tone is appropriate. Maybe he does not want to attract a further audience.

The tune is a pretty basic one, designed for singing with some backing, but workable on its own.

A Servant of the Sword was she, Humakti Berra cold
Who caught the eye and then the heart of Kesten young and bold…

Berra groans. Whatever she mutters is quiet, but it sounds resigned.

(Xenofos thinks to himself, ‘Unsurprising – with their weird duel there was bound to be talk.’)

A Lord within the Hulta House who followed Truth and War
Whose duty was in honour and whose honour was in law
When Berra served the Saiciae as oathbound as was he
Within the Temple of the Sword his doom he chanced to see…

There is a pause there, as the minstrel times his next line. Presumably in his head he hears an instrument.

Berra is staring in growing horror.

Xenofos looks quite calm.

She followed in his footsteps as he sought a dang’rous trail
Together seeking Truth in blood where lesser swords might fail
When finding that his master Rill’ had fallen on his sword
And given up all honour Kesten still stood by his Lord
So moving Berra to his cause that she would stand by him
And offer him her blade to keep his life from parting grim…

Berra switches from embarrassed horror to embarrassed worried anticipation of more horror when it turns out Kesten is featuring heavily, but at the name Rillo, she makes a little sound of sudden interest.

There is pity in Xenofos’ eyes as he observes Berra listening to the slander.

‘Twas by the gate of Orlanth wild that Berra showed her art
With honesty within her thoughts she won the swordsman’s heart
Declaring she would stand with him till blood fell all around
And to the loyal Kesten such a vow found fertile ground
His trust he gave to Berra who was fair of form and face
And unaware he gave his love to one of foreign race…

Berra looks now like she does not know if she wants to argue facts, punch someone, or hide.

Xenofos looks with side eyed gaze for possible signs of Humakti losing her temper violently.

Even in the dim evening lightly, Berra is obviously blushing now. Her helmet got left on the chair beside hers, and with her hair short there is nothing to hide behind. She looks acutely embarrassed, on the edge of action but not bursting over into it.

Two hours they spent in argument for Kesten’s honour’s sake
He would not let her stand with him or Hulta’s anger take
So silently she bowed her head and bade him have his will
And as he looked on his desire he asked to have his fill
She stared aghast then held him fast and gave him but a kiss
And for a moment in his arms she tasted living bliss…

Berra winces, eyes narrowing, as the song version of her is desired. As the narrative turns to kissing she puts her hands over her ears and closes her eyes, hunching her shoulders to keep the words away.

“They say Troll-lords are geased to listen to end of their minstrels performance before giving their verdict, that is quite strict geas at times. Is there more, minstrel?” Xenofos tone is conversational.

“Uh, a bit more? She refuses him and they part. But…” the man looks at Berra. “Enough?” He asks Xenofos.

Xenofos looks at Berra. “I think so. I think we can both imagine how a sailor version would be ornamented?”

Berra is breathing evenly, slowly, deeply, apparently interested in a fern growing from a crack in the alley wall. “It’s longer than a moment,” says the minstrel. “They don’t part for a while.” He makes sure that is loud enough for Berra to hear as well.3Xenofos fails Insight (Human), and never guesses what the minstrel is thinking.

“That suffices as is…. ” Xenofos takes a quick look at Berra ” I suggest you remove yourself from this location and remove this ditty from your repertoire.”

Xenofos is polite and his suggestion is given in kindly voice.

Berra steps back to lean against the wall and look upwards, which is a place without people in it. “If I can die of embarrassment make it now?” she says quietly. It might be a genuine prayer.

The minstrel takes his money and goes, at a fast walk, head down.

“Well that was awkward.”

“Nnnnnnnyeah.” Berra closes her eyes, pained. The alleyways hides most of her colour, but what light there is shows even her ears have gone red.

“You should not take it personally. Songsmiths don’t need a shred of truth for their yarns. Why, there is even a bawdy song of Varanis and Kallyr going around.”

“Um yeah. Not helping.” Berra opens her eyes for long enough to avoid eye contact with Xenofos. “I need a moment.” She pushes off the wall with her shoulders and breaks into a fast walk down the alleyway, further away from the door.

Xenofos releases his grip from his rapier pommel, opening his fingers one by one and stretching them and looks thoughtfully at her.4And fails the Insight (Human) roll that would have applied to her. He follows her, but does not try to overtake her if she does not wish to talk yet.

She is speeding up as she walks, either hurrying to stay ahead, or just starting to break into a run.

“Berra, wait!?” Xenofos is worried Berra would dash to flight and tries to calm her with a call, afraid the call itself will send her fleeing.

Berra slows down just enough that she can no longer be said to be readying herself to run, but she does not stop. “Go! away!” She holds her left arm out and back, her hand held in an order for distance. Halt. Come no closer, go no further.

Xenofos takes couple more steps.

She keeps going, head down, away. She walks fast for someone so short.

He stops for a moment to consider. Worried by seeing how upset she is, unwilling to coerce her to talk he still strides after her. Not trying to overtake, not letting her out of his sight.

She does, perhaps inevitably, break into a run. A few steps give her speed, and then she is at full armoured sprint, spending Air as if she has plenty.

The scholar’s feet are faster than his thoughts this time. Despite his misgivings he dashes after her.5DEX x 5 checks are equal, but Xenofos takes it on CON in the end.

Berra has the knack of running in a city, even when she cannot see much. The darkness of the alley gives way to a wider road, and she takes it, palming her weight off a wall to change direction. She dashes down that road, south towards the sea, and turns west once she is close to a plaza. She might lose the scholar behind her, but for his height, which lets him see where the evening crowd is thinnest. Where she has to dodge, he can choose his path. Her speed steadies after her impulsive dash, and she keeps that up for several minutes, unable to lose her pursuer, but always managing to stay ahead, twisting away every time his advantage gets too great. It is not until they hit the smoke of a fish-drying house that she slows, coughing, unable to keep up her usual rhythm.

Xenofos closes the distance as Humakti slows down. “I don’t wish to shout for whole fishmarket Berra, but I will if I have to…”

Berra gives him a look of fury and hate and fear, but mostly of exhaustion. “Stay back,” she splutters. “I need space.” She is still backing away, towards a narrow, dark road, even though she is finding it hard to breathe enough.

He approaches slowly like a hunter not wishing to scare his prey, leaving ample space for her. “Will you promise not to harm others or yourself?”

She is walking backwards, keeping the distance between them, footsure despite that and the darkness. “Like you followed me to be sure I wouldn’t kill Kesten? Now you’re making …” she shrugs, and trails off. “No promises. But the more you alynx me, the more I want to fight my way out.”

He stops. “Please? Come talk to me when you can. “

Berra gives the sort of nod you make under strain. Just a lift of the chin, a tiny dip. Then she backs off into the wall, fumbles her way into the next road without looking, and turns to stumble away.

Xenofos says something but his voice is too soft to carry to Berra.6Failure at Listen, and a waste of a critical Truth roll.

Berra is, obviously, not concentrating on that.

Around the scholar, life goes on, the plaza full of action as the night workers move about their early business.

Xenofos stands and watches her vanish to shadows.

Gone. Nothing there now. Just the darkness where she was.