1628, late Fire Season.
Contains some spoilers.
“Thank you for seeing me, High One. Sword D’Val. I’m going to start a bit before the beginning, but that’s in the Temple of Humakt. I asked the hero Eril for his orders, telling him that we were separated from Varanis. He told me to go and find her, being very clear about that, and to do Onjur’s Heroquest ‘if you think you can make it yours, not his’. There isn’t much of a chance he meant everyone – it’s a really personal understanding of who’s talking. He was addressing me alone, but I had flank-room with how I did that. I let my friends know that we had orders which I had been given at the Temple, and we turned back towards Tarsh to look for Varanis. It was my assumption she had been captured. I was thinking of ways to extract her, but I did not have confidence in any of them. She had Xenofos with her and would never leave him to flee, and-“
“Are these particulars really necessary?”
“Dunno, Lord. But I’m getting to ones that are pretty quickly. I had Irillo with me, and Maalira, the White Lady. I told them it was very important to do the Lightbringers’ Quest, not the version that Onjur had said…”
Berra stops, closes her eyes for a moment, and goes on. “I also told them that Harmast didn’t look for a person. He looked for a solution. What he got was a person, but the Lightbringers didn’t know that.”
“There is a certain weight of history on the side of those who say otherwise.”
“Yeah, Lord. But every sacred time we don’t get a person back – we strengthen the solution that Orlanth found. There was enough difference that I wanted to give Onjur a really hard time by pushing that way. I wanted to start out by not doing the thing he wanted.”
“Did you think the Lightbringers’ Quest was the thing he wanted?”
“No, Lord. I thought it could give him what he wanted, though. He wanted us to do it his way, or failing that, any way that gave him back the Emperor he was after.”
“So, I was telling those two to do something he didn’t expect. To find the real Lightbringer part. One of them’s from Esrolia, one’s from Prax. They didn’t know all the same versions as me.”
Berra runs her finger around the top of the flask she has brought with her, but does not open it.
“So then we reached the Temple. There was a young girl as the gate guard, and she took us in. I can map a bit of the Temple later, but other than the corridors forming a shape of Separation from the outside I don’t think it’s important except to say they couldn’t be got out of there without Maran Gor’s help, and it’s a Maran Gor Temple. Varanis said she had agreed to do the Quest. Xenofos was there, so that was three and me. I was angry at Varanis. Unjust, at that time. She shouldn’t have agreed.”
“Was that for you to decide?”
“No, Lord. Not for me, not for her. But I figured she’d been captured and they’d threatened Xenofos. He didn’t look good. Right. So at that point, I’m angry but asking her to leave. I’m still not Humakt, and it’s just an argument. I’m not in any holy state, just angry. A bit Airish – we’re probably going to be forced into a thing but why make it easy? And then we hear harp music. Xenofos vanishes, following it. We follow him, and she’s there.”
“For the Sword’s sake?”
“Jar-eel. She was playing on a harp, really well, and had two scimitars with her. Not quite scimitars. I won’t draw that shape here, but they were straight then curved. She introduced herself. Her voice went well with the harp. Her trade-talk is great. And yeah, that kinda thing is important later. Specially the harp.” Berra gives a smile that has no kindness in, but a promise of killing. “Varanis.. I ain’t gonna say she realised what she had agreed to all along, but she realised what she’d gotten into. And we were doomed before then, I guess, but after that we were ensnared. Like when a web-fisher’s creeping up, and then when it’s flung the web. But we…” She trails off, goes on.
“Alright, there’s a bit more there. She asked if she could do us any service, and I asked her if that included… if that included fucking off. Because now I was starting to get angry. I got a lot of stages of that, and this is… this was the sort of level where y’d have arguments with enemies because they were there, but not arguments with friends. Me and being angry are important here too. Don’t think I’m wasting your time. I’m just letting you know the things you gotta know. So she seemed delighted and set the question as music. Not to music. As music. It changed what she played, and I think that ended up important too, but I ain’t a musician so I can’t tell. And we dragged Xenofos away and they were all packed up to go, and we set off.”
Berra has become interested enough in the tale-telling to forget to fiddle with the wine flask.
“The corridors shouldn’t have let us get lost, but they did, and the music stayed with us. At that point I was pretty seething. Irillo was resigned to it. He thought we’d been doomed since we turned back. And we had, only there’s a thing he doesn’t realise. You fight even if you’re doomed. So Varanis was looking for a way out like maybe she thought she had a chance. I don’t know. Irillo was coping with it by… well, how he does it. Maalira was trying to look after us all, and I was still pissed off with Varanis. I’d called her a coward – that was wrong of me. But I’m pretty sure it was fear of the Bat that drove her, because she said she had turned for the Temple on purpose. She meant to do it. And I think something in me heard her, because my heart went cold and round, and even though I had emotions on the outside, inside I was just telling myself this was good for the ritual. Like I was watching it. And I left them in the tunnels, after goodbyes. She couldn’t handle saying goodbye without gifts, which is why I don’t have a flint knife right now. I told her to look after it right. She gave me woad. She was still trying to hang onto me, but underneath I was gone. Didn’t care, was just annoyed she was hanging around trying to soften the ritual moment. If it had just been the two of us I’d have walked away, but the others needed comfort. So then I departed, and that’s when I started thinking just how to mess up Jar-eel.” Berra is faltering a little as she talks, just thinking back.
“Go on, initiate.”
The sound of Eril’s voice jerks Berra back closer to this world. “I figured your orders still held, Lord.” She looks off into the past. “We’ll get to the bits where I managed it later… would D’Val like a drink?”
“A feather in his throat, no more. Go on.”
“I was on a road. Ahead of me, I could spot in waiting a brown man. I could feel myself being pulled to being Yanafil Tarnils. And to being Humakt. But I should have just felt I was Humakt, so that pull was wrong too. I looked behind me, and the road stretched on, but going down that part seemed like the wrong rebellion. It probably wasn’t – I should have done it but I felt it was more important not to be the … not to be Yanafil Tarnils. I could feel him at the edges of me. And so I concentrated on Humakt. The straight sword, the great warrior, the sage of the sword. And I went towards that bandit.”
“The part of me that was me, the part that had become cold, I think recognised him. He was a road robber. His name’s Devolin. I’d encountered him before.” Berra looks from Eril to D’Val, briefly.
D’Val shifts uneasily, but doesn’t interrupt.
“I was big enough to get my hand around his neck, and as I did that I mostly remembered who I was. Enough that I could threaten him. He knew me too. And he was confused, but I told him to be Eurmal, as hard as he could, because the Lunars were using us in a Heroquest.” Berra pauses, looks at the wine, and signals for water. She barely looks at D’Val, who brings it to her where she kneels. She is examining the past again. “I was confused too. I didn’t know where to go, but because Devolin and I have … because I’ve been trying to catch him for a while, he knows me, and he knows I’m violent but I wouldn’t lie. And he’s just the opposite. So I took his ransom and we talked. It happened in that order. And he was asking what next, and then we were in a city, and he knew where it was. In Carmania. And he could pronounce it. And he wasn’t sure how he knew. And then he robbed a guard for the ransom, and it was… it was so him and so Eurmal that I didn’t stop it. And then I told him to cause a fuss in the city, and that he had to be the best Eurmal he could be. By the time I got to the Temple of Humakt there, a big building was on fire. He really went for it. Eurmali proper! So in some ways that was the city of where he should be found and rescued by Orlanth, but it was also the Tarnils home, and so I went to the Temple there. I was looking for a way down to the Underworld. I’m pretty sure there’s one in this Temple, so I’m pretty sure there had to be one there. Uh, I’ll let you know how I know when we’re not busy here?”
“Indeed. I hope nobody has been indiscreet?” Eril does not glance at the only other person present.
“Uh, no, Lord. But sometimes the cellar smells of the rituals you hold down there, and I can show Lord D’Val the crawl space. Can I go on?”
After a little more water, and a little staring into the past before her, Berra says, “This is the first time I leaned into being him. And the only time. But when I did, he was still a Humakti. So I think it was about… I mean, the icongographhie…”
“Yes. I had two swords where each of mine should be. Like when you know you are in the quest but also know who you are, but for being the Yanafil Tarnils person playing in the quest. So I ain’t going to stop for that but I think part of the plan was to make us – including Varanis – into what we wasn’t. Weren’t.”
Eril wrinkles his nose slightly, “At that point, he had not betrayed the Truth.”
“So, neither did I, but I did kinda pull rank. I didn’t say who I was, but I asked if they knew. And I got let down a stair. I can probably still map that bit. It was weird being tall. But it did make my sword more curved or make the curved part stronger. So then I decided not to do that again, and I walked down into Hell.” Berra looks exactly like she is readying for action, as she thinks about what is coming.
Berra sighs. “There’s a thing I forgot to add, because it wasn’t important to me. Earlier, in the tunnel in the Temple, I’d felt that there was wind, and I had a beard. I figured that wasn’t me, and just rejected it, because I was still thinking about how to mess up the Quest. But that is also going to come up later. Anyhow. I walked down into Hell. On the way down, I figured I was too close to Yanafil Tarnils. The Ic’nography was still too much him. So, I wanted to be further away, and I concentrated on being me. Short. Peasant. Ducky. All of those thing he ain’t. Weren’t. And that pulled me out of that pretty hard, because now there were two of me – Berra and Humakt – and only one of him. Which I ain’t ever had happen before, but I reckon I was playing myself in the Heroquest. An’ I got to the bottom of the steps, and there was the girl there, from the front of the Temple. They’d killed her to send her to me. I think it was because I’d gone this route that they’d used her. I mean, used her like that. I could have waited and she’d’ve been in a different place. But she was there, and that pissed me off for two reasons. First, they were messing with me. Second, she was a child and honour said I couldn’t leave her. So they were using me to mess with me.” Berra leans back a little, and every part of her posture bar the fact she is kneeling says that Eril should come and have a go if he thinks he’s hard enough. “I don’t much like that. She didn’t belong in my story, and I wanted her out of the way, and I wanted her out of where she could help Jar-eel. Like, if I got her a really long way away, maybe the Seven Mothers bit of the story couln’t be done. And I told her she was Voria, and took her to Ty Kora Tek’s house. I knew the way. I had been there before. And I was so angry that the cold bit of me and the bit that was in action were working together. I mean, how fucking dare they?”
Berra probably does not realise that she has brought the gutter and its contents into the Temple.
Eril smoothly says, “Do not presume too much. An innocent dies in the Seven Mothers story. If they were doing that Heroquest her death was incidental to you.”
“Yeah. Not what I’m saying. They put her in front of me. She could’ve been in a different place. It could have been any of them, but they gave me a child to look after. I figured they knew I needed some kind of thing to keep me going the right way, but anyhow, I walked away from both of those things they gave me the option of, and into the Forest. And Ty Kora Tek had red hair. Jar-eel had to step in, and the harp music stopped, and I didn’t win that, but I won her looking at me instead of everything.”
That is greeted with a patrician nod.
Berra sighs. “At about this point, stuff stops being Humakt’s secrets. I think it’s the secrets of the Red Goddess, now. So I was at least not doing what was expected, and… well, I brought wine to take away the taste of some of this because I don’t even want to think it. And I ain’t gonna want to think about it but I can’t not, and it needs to be me that wins in the end, not what she was trying to do to me.”1Fail Insight Duck at +20. Berra cannot read him. Or anything.
“First off, I sent Voria into the house, because I wanted her away – past Ty Kora Tek. But the Jar-eel part of her just let the girl out. I think she was called Teela. Teelo. I think. On the way there I’d explained to her how you should never do what people told you to, unless you’d decided it was the right thing to do. That nobody could make her do anything. I didn’t know anything about making her into the Earth Tribe, but I could try to do things that she’d think about later. I didn’t think anything would change then, but if I’d been the wolf and had managed to be it strong enough to bring Chalana Arroy, we’d’ve had a Voria right there. But anyhow, that din’t happen. Ty Kora Tek let’er out of the ‘ou… the house. No. Didn’t quite. Just revealed a way out of it. We were by a crocodile. Water, and there was a big crocodile in it. Jar-eel, or someone, called herself Sethenya, had got that secret from Nala, about how to be born again under the Earth. It’s one she could tell you, or Minstar. The shaman that…” She trails off, closes her eyes, and looks a bit queasy. Finally the top comes off the wine. It is a flask shape, and the top is shaped to be a cup. Berra pours herself a bit of cheap red, but does not drink. She just inhales, and then goes on. It is a Sambari red.
“I didn’t see how she got out of the house. I think I’d call it cheating. But then she was showing Teelo the crocodile and telling her about its secrets and how it could help her come back, and I got angry because I was the top predator there, so I jumped. I was aiming to carry off the kid. Didn’t get there.”
“Jar-eel pretty much crippled me. I didn’t have time to work out what she was doing, let alone work out how to get aside. Took out the tendons in my front paw.” Berra holds up her left hand, showing the faint scar on the underside. “And she wasn’t really interested in the kid. That…” Now she takes a sip of wine. “Then she got interested in me.”
“She told me I was a rebel. Not like the others. And I should have agreed. I mean, I did. Inside. It’s true. The best hope I had for the others would be that they’d make the Lightbringers’ Quest happen. They can’t understand being alone and just fighting.”
Her voice has changed. “But that wasn’t… That wasn’t the important thing. Because I knew she was wrong, as well. I know why. I still do. Anyhow, she got close enough to kiss me, so I tried to bite her.” Berra speaks more slowly now, like she is both striving to remember and trying to forget. “Can’t launch at someone without a front paw. I fell into that.” Her left hand holds her wine. With her right, she rubs angrily at a spot on her forehead. “So next time, I guess punching?” Anyone who can read her knows that she is pausing before she gets to the next bit. Indeed, she becomes more honest about it, just stopping to think and arrange words.
The silence stretches.
Berra takes time to consider, and then time to face speaking again. “Right. So. I found myself in the Court of Yelm. She…” Berra sighs. “No, before that. She was meditating naked. Talking to me. She wanted me to take her hand and come with her, and be shown something.” She puts down her wine and takes a sip of water. “I was still concentrating on how to beat her, even if that just meant keeping her attention. That’s when she called me the rebel, but it all sort of pushes into itself, because I’ve been trying really hard not to think about it. It’s going to claim me if I get it wrong. She said another thing that’s true, which is that I’m a Humakti who loves.” Berra shrugs. “I dunno if she’s listened to my sagas or just saw it in me. And she said there were secrets of rebellion and asked me to come with her. And I asked her how long I had to think.” There’s a tiny smile. “I asked Harrek that as well, when I was deciding if I should bite him. So… I wanted to ask her as well. And she said an eternity like that was the most natural thing and everyone has one. Like she believes it. And then I wouldn’t take her hand and she just clicked her fingers and we were in the hall of Yelm. But… I didn’t say no to her. I said that if she took me, she wouldn’t get my hand. Because I wanted to take up her time, still, and I didn’t think she’d let me go anyhow. Every sentence I could say was more time.”
“An… well, I’m not so sure that all this is important to the Heroquest. Not this bit. But there’s a Lunar thing called Illumination. She told me. And she showed me things I think I need to tell you.” Berra’s hand trembles. Only water stains her clothes, and she puts it down.
The duck frowns, but doesn’t intervene. The human’s eyes narrow and his tone is colder, “This is a thing of Chaos. Go on.”
“Humakt didn’t tell me that Yelm’s death was assassination, mind you. Otherwise I think I’d have interfered. But she told me a few things and then she asked me – kept on asking me – what Rebellion was. And even when I gave her an answer that she liked, that it isn’t an outside thing, that it comes from within, she didn’t stop. She showed me the great Darkness. And she compared I Fought We Won to her Lunar thing. Her way. Said it was a unity. But I didn’t tell her she was wrong. I didn’t want to give her anything. So she still thinks that.”
Berra is almost white as she speaks, and now she has another drink of water. The marks on her cheek are faintly visible, although they are never exactly easy to see at their most obvious.
“Go on?” It’s the Duck this time, earning him a frown from the High Sword
“She wanted to know if the Unholy Trio were successful rebels, Lord.” Berra seems buoyed, briefly, by having been spoken to. “I did not like seeing that at all – if I never attend the birth of the Devil again it’s been one time too many.” This time, wine, just a sip, before she goes on. She rolls it around her tongue for a while, apparently thinking about that and nothing else, before swallowing and saying, “Then she offered me her hand again so I offered mine in the same way, because I wanted her to have to change. But she took it, and it turns out that was a mistake because she was walking beside me then, and she showed me the path of the Red Goddess.” There’s a shudder, probably downgraded from full body, with some effort.
After getting past the Devil’s birth, Berra only needs water once more, and while she does pay more attention to rolling the beaker around on the floor beside her than is strictly necessary, she is ready to go on a moment later, although she stares at the moving clay in a way that could be construed by others as sullen or rude. “So, this is true, but it is not the whole truth, and Jar-eel thought it was more important than I think she should’ve. Because her goddess is a goddess, but isn’t the only being in the world or out of it that knows truths. First, she took off all her powerful things. She went naked into the underworld. Jar-eel was wearing being naked like she was just hanging around. It was time for her to relax and maybe reveal things. But the Red Goddess went alone, without aid, without help. Probably also worth remembering that bit, because in a bit, we’ll get back to it, probably. And the Devil ambushed her, and trampled her down. Which to be honest, I think couldn’t have happened unless she’d messed up pretty badly. I think she let him out into time. But I’m still pretty angry to be honest. It’s kind’ve keeping me going. And so you can’t trust my judgement on that.”
More water. Berra is angry, not upset. “Afterwards, she gained knowledge from Arachne Solara, who I’m pretty sure was Cragspider, which is odd, because I don’t think the Devil or the Red Goddess were people or things at that time. They were just things that she was showing me. Jar-eel I mean.” Because there might have been someone else. “But the spider seemed a bit different, and I got to wondering how spiders wink. Like, with lots of eyes? All eyes but one? Only one? So I winked at the spider and… well, I can’t describe how, but it winked back. And that wasn’t just for wondering. I was having a hell of a time trying to remember who I was, and all the coldness was gone from me, but it turns out I can be really angry because Jar-eel’s holding onto my hand, not despite it. So there’s that.” More wine. Mentioning Jar-eel is one of the reasons she needs the sour taste.
“Um. Alright. So then I saw a golden person being freed from a terrible thing. That’s what they call Nysalor and Gbaji. I didn’t know, but I kinda remembered because it got mentioned later. And he opened the goddess’s third eye, and I had a pretty bad moment then, to be honest. I’m not actually sure how often I went around that cycle. Just… it could only have been once because Jar-eel had to get away, but also it was forever and I’ve been there forever and I … it’s not that I still am. It’s that I didn’t get the idea I was connected with Time or things were happening right. And I’m still having a hard time, to be honest.” That is her saying-obvious-things voice.
The duck takes a half step forward but is stilled with a gesture.
Usually the obvious pointing out of things is accompanied by a smile, or an earnest look, and not a moment spent looking downwards until tears stop. After a moment she gives the ritual request for more time for the answer, lies down on her back with her ankles crossed and her arms out, and takes a few deep breaths. She speaks from there. “S’weird. I can’t put it all into words. But I think you couldn’t either, Lord. There’s not words for it.” Berra examines the ceiling as her eyes clear. “I… I think about this time I worked out that I was still holding her hand. And I could fight, but I just forgot I could ask to be let go of. Whatever she said would be reasonable, even if she didn’t do anything. She’d really believe it. And she’d believe she was doing it for the best. And… well, I didn’t stop being angry. Give me the Moon up close and I’d swing for it right now, reflex…” It takes a few breaths for her to calm herself, and then she rolls up fluidly to her knees once more, and bows to the High Sword to show she is ready to go on.
“After that, she tamed the Sky Bear, and rode him to find Wakboth. There’s some stuff again that I shouldn’t tell you – you shouldn’t have to know it. But nothing that’s a thing you need to know. And… that’s… well, again, time was awkward, and it’s been hard to remember all of this, but I was pretty sure she could beat Harrek. It seemed to me that Jar-eel was on the White Bear. Was the goddess. As well as walking beside me.” Berra flexes her hand like she really wants to be rid of the feeling of something there, and with an effort gets it back to resting on her knee. Then she showed me the Bat. It was another of her reasonable things. That she said it was a horrible thing but by being in the world the Lunars denied it to Wakboth. And I’ve got my thoughts on that but calling her those kinda names was beyond me at that point, and I don’t want to meet her again. But yeah, she thinks it’s terrible and such, but they’ll never not use it while they’re afraid of the Devil getting its … his… power back. And so… back to me thinking the Red Goddess is to blame there. Ain’t shifting from that hill for a while. An’ that’s… ‘arright, that’s a big part of her – that she’s so in love with being kind and good and all, she thinks everything she does is kind and good. She can never be persuaded. By this point there wasn’t much of me left, but it turns out that the middle of me is just angry all the time, because that’s when she said about I Fought We Won. When the Bat was there, I was holding her hand, and I stepped back. And I’d have stopped after one step, because even though I found a new thing I’m afraid of, doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight it. Just means I stepped back. But she thought she helped me. So I don’t know how that goes in that kind’v Heroquest. But there’s things about me she doesn’t know, even if she thought she knew me. She can’t just know people by looking.”
Berra shrugs. “It’s not just the Underworld. But that’s a good… a good way of putting that …. not just there, but it was close enough, and that’s another thing I don’t think I have to explain, because no matter what it was, she was Heroquesting, and she’s bound into this. The binding to the world’s the important bit.” She seems to mean in more ways than one.
“Anyhow, after that, she touched my cheek – I tried to not let her. It’s important to keep fighting that. And then she was gone.” Berra rubs with three fingers on the Truth Rune – no, just off the Truth Rune – on her cheek. “So that’s a thing that happened. And I don’t know how many times, but there was two important times. That one that was all of them, and when she put me into the Heroquest.”
“Very well. Go on, Initiate.”
“When you’re thure you’re ready.”
“She is ready.”
“I’ll let you know if I’m not. I just have to get through this. So, first off, I spent some time in the Temple again then. I think. They had some really strong Air there, and I ended up a bit lost. But s’fine. I concentrated on… yeah, it must have been then. I think. But at one point…. Yeah. I went down pretty hard at one point but that was just my body failing me. And I ended up with my weapons. And I’m not taking my armour off in a dark place with no armour. So yeah. I could see all the spirits in the Underworld. That’s it. All the rocks, all the walls and things of Darkness, squeezed together. Even the Air that flows there. I didn’t know there was Air there, but I guess there is. Powerful, sometimes, but quiet. And… I talked to the rock I was sitting on for a while. It seemed important. Everything was as important as everything else. Except inside, I knew I had to keep going. Even before I knew who I was again. And I got up and kept looking for ways to mess her up. Which was probably not good for me, but I figured… yeah, I could hear… damnit, I can’t remember when I could hear the music. And I think I could for a while. She just left me in the Underworld and went to get the others back on the right track. But I ended up walking, and I got ambushed by the Devil. Only I wasn’t naked and without protection, and I called upon Humakt.” Berra seems softly wistful about that part.
“So there’s the first part that I think really went wrong for her, not because I was victorious and didn’t do the rest right, but because the Devil – Chaos – can be killed early. I hated him too. I was pretty sure of who he was, with the part of me that was still me, and I’m good at hating. It doesn’t come out often, but she’d taken off all the … oh alright, so I was apparently naked in that sense, because it was only what I could keep of myself there, but I didn’t take off the armour, and the Devil can be beaten if you go at him hard and early and unexpected.”2…I descended naked into this world of matter and illusion.
Berra pours some of her wine – only a little of it – into the water, sips, and grimaces at the taste. She signals for water, and even as D’Val brings it, she goes on. “I could hear drums, and I went towards them. I was still… I don’t know how I could see. It wasn’t really my eyes, but that’s kinda important because the drums were off to my left and I saw light ahead. And that was the golden man. He had red hair.”
“Now, I’d been trying to keep you out of my mind, High Lord. Because if Jar-eel could tell things I cared about, that… well, I didn’t want her to get you. So there I was, and… I only knew of one Hero that Jar-eel definitely knew of, and I wanted to break her Heroquest. And I wanted to draw out that power. I… felt a bit dumb when I worked out later who Nysalor had been, to be honest. I mean, I thought the red hair was his mark on Jar-eel, not Jar-eel’s on him. So it’s possible …. no, definite, that she doesn’t know that I didn’t know who she was. She’ll have thought I did that in a state of knowledge.” Berra looks at her water, tries some, pours a little of the wine-tainted water into it, and sips, and seems to like it. For the first time she takes a long drink. Then with her finger and thumb she pinches her lip dry, and then she searches for a place to wipe her hand. “It gets everywhere,” she says, and uses her knee as a towel. “But yeah, that tasted good and it wasn’t as important when I started drinking. Everything ended up important, like I say. It still sometimes hits me. Like when you’re at the shore and… …” Closed eyes a long moment, and she goes on once more.
“Time was wrong, but not just time. Because I remembered what you said about Chaos, and about promises, and it was fine, I could sacrifice him because he was Chaotic, and that was fine. But also at the same time he was the Lunar thing that … he’s the parts that… it’s weird. I didn’t sacrifice a Chaotic thing to Kallyr. That’s what I know. But it was Jar-eel. And it was Nysalor.” Berra glances at D’Val like she has just remembered he is there, and wonders how he is taking this, then Eril gets her attention once more.
The Duck’s expression is hard to read. A game fathe.
Maybe she expected something more from Eril. Still, her look at him could be weighing up her words, or her reaction. “Then I went towards the drums. They were a thing. Until I saw Nysalor I’d been trying to find them because I thought they might be some part of the ritual. I had the idea of finding the centre of things and killing it.” Where Jar-eel would have been, and Onjur alone would be a match for her. She sounds entirely serious. “But now I knew what was happening, I ended up following them because I knew I had missed a thing and I was really interested in spiders. The eyes. What’s winking really mean?” Berra gestures her frustration with her hands. “Gotta say it was not the only question, but it helped to keep me going, again. And away from Jar-eel I could think a bit more. And then I met a spider with knees taller than I was.” She considers briefly. “Taller than you are, Lord.” Berra actually smiles at the memory. “I liked her. It was a rest. And she was Cragspider. Properly the Dark Woman with Fire. She didn’t tell me the same things Arachne Solara told the Red Goddess. And she says she won’t eat me next time we meet. But she did tell me I had freed Nysalor. I’d been trying to do the opposite, which is why I’d directed his death, but apparently the separation was enough. I stayed there a bit talking, but nothing you need to know. And then I went on. The chains where Nysalor had been held were empty now. And then I had this creeping feeling like I knew something. Because people from a long way away had been called in. Drazn’k was closely linked to me.” Berra gestures to show her right hand, undamaged once more. She seems unworried by that memory. “But Cragspider? She’s… I figured that Jar-eel was trying to bind all of Dragon Pass in one Heroquest, and using me to grab extra bits. But it was done in a hurry. Anyhow, I knew the Sky Bear was coming, and I figured I knew who it was.”
Either she is bored with kneeling, or she is getting comfortable telling the tale. Berra folds herself back into a seated position, ends up half-lotus with the palms of her feet facing almost up, and leans forward to stretch. She puts the empty water cup just out of reach. “So, he arrived, and… you know that thumbing a lift on a wagon works for sea-wolves as well? I mean, they’ll laugh and kidnap you but they know what it means. So I thumbed a lift on the Sky-bear.” Her pronunciation of it changes. She is relaxing. “And it was him, but not really. So that’s a mistake. Or something. All the other things there were physical, had someone behind it. But I got that idea that Harrek wasn’t really into it. Didn’t like… alright, he doesn’t like most things. But he was barely there. I tried to tell him what was going on, because I wanted him to be able to fight her, and… that’s maybe two mistakes and one of them I made happen. There’s a Sky Bear that didn’t get tamed and will be powerful in Tarsh, and there’s Harrek and maybe he won’t turn up, but something powerful will. When Suuraki saw that omen on the way back, I think it was accompanying us. I think if I do meet the Lunar forces, there could be that power. It’ll break me if I meet her again, though. So’s you know.” Berra throws that out lightly. She is concentrating on counting things on her fingers. “And the bit with the beard. That’s important now, although it happens later. Jar-eel could step into any part, and I think she could put people into other parts. I think. I don’t know, but I think that it was her. Her planning, not the power of the worlds coming together.” Berra shrugs. “What I’m saying is she might be able to take some of the things that happened to me and put them on herself. Steal some of the results.” She pushes the water cup entirely out of reach, and uses her fingertips to walk her hands back to where she can push upwards, and rocks back to merely being seated.
“And I … another thing is that if there are two things that are both true, she could choose between them. Maybe not now she’s out of that Quest, but the… I don’t know if she’ll have side-stepped what the Emperor’s vows were, and we’ll be more bound by them. And maybe the Emperor can’t but she could steal it for him. Only it makes a lot more sense in my head. But I don’t think I’m misleading you. I don’t know if she can, but while she’s as bound as any of us, she’s also…” Berra sighs. “What I said. That.” The cup out of reach gets a stare like she has forgotten why it is there, or meant it to be part of her argument. If anyone has been watching how she drank, and interpreting better than she can, it probably is. “Uh… so then there was no Devil to sw…” She manages to stop herself before finishing the word. Swallow? Swap with? Swaddle? “To fight. I’d fought him already. The Chaos part’ve the Empire will be weaker.” And grudgingly she adds, “Ekspecislly if I am there.” Pause, repronounce. “Ek-specially.” Better.
“And that bears on… heh. Didn’t mean it like that. On timing. Gotta be more armed or more armoured than the Devil expects. Or get there first. That’s about to happen. Happen again. But I got out of Hell. On the White Bear. And he left me by some gates…”
“And then there… well, you got the story from Varanis but you didn’t get my side. Back in the beard. But now I’d decided I wasn’t doing this quest either. So I sat down, and said I was Berra Jarang’s Daughter. Humakti. I didn’t claim the god’s place. Just being me.” Berra grins. “So then she had to step in again.” There is genuine pride there, both in herself, and at the notion of inconveniencing a god. For a moment she looks at Eril as if she wants to share the joy.
He merely nods. As if an expectation had been fulfilled.
That is enough. Berra says, “So that’s how I know she can step into any part. Keep the bearing of it going. That weight isn’t a weight to her, but it wasn’t to me either. It was a thing I could refuse. I mean, the damage would fall on me but it’s an option. I’d never really felt like that before. Everything can be questioned.” Berra tilts her head. “But I don’t have to. I made some decisions when… sorry. Getting off the path. She was Lhankor Mhy. Probably hunted through his mind for knowledge if she hadn’t already. I don’t care. I ended up as Humakt because I didn’t want to get chucked out completely. It was the first time I had seen my friends in a while. I tried to tell them they had to stop. Should go do different things. But by then, they’d made the Oath of Companionship. So even if they wanted to, they couldn’t.” Berra pauses. “I’m a bit worried Jar-eel could get around that too. Does an oath have room for not being obeyed? I mean, she could just load the promise bit on someone else. And I know it can be done the other way, just not if she can do it that way. But I couldn’t stop Orlanth – Varanis was a really good Orlanth. There was no riks… risk of the Seven Mothers creeping in. But I couldn’t get through to them. And then I … yeah. That was when the bad Air was.” Berra bows to D’Val in thanks, without explaining why. “And by then my sword was just a straight sword. A bit damaged where Drazn’k had hit it. But its fundamentul shape was straight. And then after a bit of time in the Temple, trying to find a part of the ritual there to break… I forgot to mention. Dormal was Eurmal now. So that was another thing I figured she could do. Pull in the right people. Devolin might be bound to Varanis though. I dunno.” No glance at D’Val. Berra, if asked, would be surprised to remember any significance. “I ended up back as Lhankor Mhy. This was the third time, if you’ll remember back. And this time I couldn’t get out.”
Berra frowns slightly. “So, I think that each time, she was putting more into keeping me there. The first time could have been the worlds doing it, but the second, I think I could have been done and she wanted me back in. Maybe to keep an eye on me, maybe to make the promise bind me. But it doesn’t, I think. It did for a moment, though. I tried to tell Orlanth that I had not made any promises but the Truth was that I.” Berra stops dead, without even trailing off, and freezes, thinking. “I… yeah. So when I was him that held me. But I’m not him. And when I was … when she was him it held her but she could slip out any time. I wonder if she can slip out of the consequences too. I think… I ran out of words again but I think it makes sense. She’d tell me that… yeah. I don’t know about anyone else but I think she can take off that kind of binding like she sheds her clothes, Lord. I think it’d only sink in if she let it.” Berra casts around for a drink. She must have arrived pretty thirsty, for she signals for more, acknowledged D’Val’s existence briefly when she gets it, and stares into it. Then she shudders, seeing something in the cup that reminds her of her experience, and drops it in horror, stepping back and away. By the time the shards have settled her expression has changed to loathing, and has steadied herself. True to what she said, she only took one step away. More, she did it in a way that left her balanced and ready to fight.
“Uh, right. Give me a moment. Need to get it back.”3Passed a roll to remember the Magasta’s Bowl moment and put it together with the cup, Darkness to steady herself, and Battle to be ready for action throughout.
The High Sword remains impassive. The Durulz’ hand dropped automatically to his sword hilt.4And in his bothy the Blacksmith sighs and reaches for nothing anyone can see.
Berra gestures D’Val to relax. It is a softer, gentler version of the way the High Sword kept him back from her. “Ugh. Yeah. Right. So I could say I wasn’t me. Wasn’t him. But I couldn’t say I was free of that oath. So I sat down to try to meditate. Only I found my legs were moving. I’d explained… yeah, you heard that bit. I’d explained to Dormal what was going on. He … I don’t like him, but he was the only person who gave me any help here. He sees differently, even if he’s the wrong person to trust. So I asked him if he wanted to stab me. Free shot, take out a leg. I never told him any secret but sometimes I think pretty damned hard about people who say Eurmal and Humakt were the same until they found the sword and separated. Because we both knew why that was funny. But we there isn’t a middle for us to meet on. And the reason I did that was because I wanted to be free of what Jar-eel wanted for me. That had to be her doing it by now. So if she wanted me in there that hard, she wasn’t going to get it. And Dormal wasn’t me, and I was pretty sure she couldn’t control us both. And then he struck and I was back in the corridor. In the Earth Temple. And she was back stuck… back being Lhankor Mhy.” Berra tries for accuracy instead of that boast, ‘I made her do a thing’.
“Now I didn’t really know what to do. There was nothing there to kick against.” Berra’s smile is more a compression of the edges of her lips, a thing of cruelty and… and back to calm. “Then I finally met Onjur again. He was a bit pissed off.” She steps back, picks up the wine, and drinks casually, like she is finally enjoying the experience.
“Also, he wanted me to know he was. He was playing it cold later, trying to impress me with how right it was going for him, how I’d fallen into doing what he wanted me to do. But he’s … he got that, but he was also pissed off. Said he wouldn’t ask if I knew how much I’d inconvenienced his lady, because I obviously did. That was true but it wasn’t why he was there. So I tried to push past at that point but I couldn’t – he drew but he wouldn’t attack. Tried to get me to. And frankly, Lord, he was a Sword Lord and I’m not and I was already ragged around the edges, and he wanted me to fight him, so the right fight was walking away. I was still trying to get to the middle of things.” Berra rolls her carved cup musingly in her hand, fingers sliding over it until they settle in comfortable places around the wood.
“He was blocking a passage so I went down the next one because I figured there was a guard there. And there kind of was. There was a walktapus. Um, I guess you know what they are? Creature of Chaos, anyhow. So I think, but I can’t promise you, that it was supposed to be forces of Chaos. I don’t know if the Seven Mothers need one of those and they got rid of it when they didn’t need it, but I do know that later, the last bit of the Compromise didn’t happen properly. So I think I killed the Devil early again. Maybe even in a way that damaged the later part, because the Great Enemy was easier.”
Berra shrugs. “We’ll get to that. But anyhow, I killed the walktapus. Walked out, saw light. I had no idea which way I was facing. Thought the walktapus was a guard. I should have gone back and scouted more, found more passages. So… well, I went forward. But it was what Onjur wanted. And I was on the outside of the Temple for a bit. His men acclaimed me. So my instant reaction was to tell them the war was over, go home. Didn’t occur to me that wasn’t true. It was just a thing to say. I… I mean… well, yeah. That was an error of understanding. But I figured while I was Yanafil Tarnils – or they thought I was – I might as well tell them things. So I told them all I heard from a Lunar cult we stayed with one time. Not god-cult. Moon cult. They couldn’t practice it in their homeland and they’re out by. Um. By the Dragon Pass. On the hillsides there. They grow hazia and have visions and I told the group everything I could about them, and they should go… no, not that they should. I told them to join. To seek out other things like that. So Onjur’s people had that happen, and the power of the Heroquest was there or they wouldn’t have done it to me. Bat-shaped balcony.” Berra has another drink, and reaches to pour out some of the wine into the spilled water, then stops. She rotates her hand back carefully, leaving the water unsullied.
“So I know I said before I wasn’t going to be him again, but when I was, there wasn’t much left so I had to use what they tried to make me, and make it into a weapon. I din’t have the energy for that one fight, and they gave me the chance to harm him, so I did. And then I… well, first of all I chipped some bits off their bat balcony. Didn’t have time for proper gruffiti… graffiti… but I did the best job I could. Then I went in and Onjur had taken a torch to the walktapus. Pretty near the end now. But he was trying to walk with me. Talk. Wear me down, make sure I knew how well he was doing. And I couldn’t match that so I went back to the balcony and climbed off it. He’s heavier than me, even in armour, and cavalry wears the wrong things for climbing. So I got stuck a bit, but I got away. Hated him enough to risk falling and then I wasn’t getting back.”
Eril says calmly, “What did his scimitar look like as he tried to goad you?”
Berra thinks back. “He was Yanafil Tarnils. It was a smoothly curved blade, no hook forward, sharpened inner third as well as the outer length. I think there was only one of it, and it was pretty much what I’ve seen him with before. Not too specialised. And not straight.”
There is a short sigh from her. “Sorry. I just assume he was Yanafil Tarnils. But he did try to get me to because I was a rebel. So maybe he wanted me to be set back into the wrong person again. That wasn’t really much of a Heroquest, Lord. I got the idea it was just what he could throw at me. They… that they didn’t have much left. So not much of the Hero Realm sitting over us. Just the edges.” She shrugs. “Not a fight where either outcome was a win, except if I got him to be Humakt, then I died. But I didn’t think I could do that and be sure enough of it. But I think it was just his scimitar.” Then she pauses, holding up her hand in the symbol for ‘more time’ and shaking her head to clear it.
Then Berra closes her eyes. “No. Crap. That was the first time I saw him. It’s… It was darker this time. And he… yeah, he was hiding it. So if it was his then he had the angle perfect. Musta been straight. And that was in the shadow… In the tunnel. Not the tower.”
Erils smile thins, “So why do you suppose he was goading you to fight?”
“In that case I think he was trying to get me to be the rebel Yanafil Tarnils, Lord.” Berra has already thought about that.
“Quite so. Proceed.”
“There’s one other thing there, though. He doesn’t underand rebellion. Not in the way Jar-eel was trying to tell me. Or he’d never have tried it like he did. I don’t think … I don’t think she explained to him, or if she did then he couldn’t understand. He thinks it’s just … he can’t get this. Right. So I climbed about two hours. It gave my head a bit of a rest but I was pretty tired by the end of it. Came up over the top. There’s a ring there.”
“So, at the top you can see the inner tower, and see down into it. Inside the main wall it’s just a garden. Well planted, half wild. The kind of cultivated place that’s mostly safe to walk in. From the top I could see down into the central part. It was just the ring, no circle at the centre. There was a Priestess there. Now I was pretty much fit for glue. Just looking for the next thing to fight. But she wasn’t it. I think she was the High Priestess but she never said and at the time I could just tell she was one of the eaters of flesh. She wasn’t armed. I’d been hoping they’d send soldiers to try to bring me in. But the soldiers were behind me. Tiny, down there. And up at the top, if you got in any other way but climbing, I think there would be just the good ground visible. It didn’t matter that I’d climbed the outside – I still went along the rock. And I couldn’t persuade her to mess up the Heroquest for the joy of it, and I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my friends. Some of them hadn’t made the decision to be there, and there was a White Lady, and Maran Gor isn’t for me. But then she had a soldier brought up to her. The man who had brought the walktapus into her Temple.”
Berra adds, “I am pretty impressed if a single person managed that, to be honest. He was one of Onjur’s. And he knew he was in for it – was explaining how he’d just been following orders. I mean, if it was just one person who did it then the Empire’s got easy ways of moving that kind of thing around. And she said people should take responsibility for their actions, and kicked him into the middle of the ring. So I got a grudge to hold against that Temple because Onjur and Jar-eel had been responsible too. They gave the orders, and the Temple didn’t care about that, or about serving the Lunar Empire.” She glances at D’Val to reassure him. “But don’t worry. It’s just the kind where you end up being really glad you’ve outlived the other people. And anyhow, that made a circle inside the ring. That was another Heroquest, the Priestess said. The Earth calling down her lover Yelm.
“I remember this bit pretty clearly. I asked about getting the centre of the ritual. She said there were plenty…’There’s the lightbringers, and then there’s the Seven Mothers they tried to trick you into, and there’s the call of Earth to her lover Yelm – here – and doubtless there is an eternal battle, and probably there will be some sort of great compromise…’. So I figured I was running out of time.
“So then screw it. Onjur is not allowed to mess with me or my friends, and his soldiers were below, and there were some good-sized stones, and I made a sling-shot and took target practice. Because if he brings a tool along I’m going to try to break that tool. I broke in the head of someone dressed in silver, and caused a lot of fuss, but that wasn’t how to win. So I asked one of the guards the Priestess gave me to take me down. I asked her and there was no more Chaos left in the place, so I couldn’t go there, and because I had a guide I couldn’t keep exploring. I mean, they probably had prisoners and stuff but that was only ever an edge plan. And I went to the middle of the ring of stone, and that’s where I ended up as Humakt for the last time.”
Berra pours her wine into the gutter that takes blood from sacrifices never seen by initiates, and half-fills the wooden cup with water to clean it, swirling it around. “By then, even being Humakt wasn’t right. I refused that as well, as much as I could. But it… I had a couple of bits of plans. First, I did see Yelm, but Humakt wouldn’t answer my call to have him share the gift of restful Death.” Berra shrugs. “Long stone to cast, but I’d got a few so I had to try them all.”
Beat-pause, and then, tiredly, “Not wouldn’t. Didn’t. But I was calling on him from outside. I was being me. Flesh Man was already there, but I didn’t get to talk to him. The others came in. Jar-eel was there. And Orlanth. She – Varanis – couldn’t hear me. I talked to Dormal instead, and we… I… shit, I’m tired. I’m forgetting things properly. Just big blanks in places now. I told him enough that he knew that I was sure I was right about having to fight things. But then Orlanth started singing the Dead to life again, and I had to go deal with that. That was fist time. I made her helmet ring, and she stopped, but enough were alive that they could grab me, and it turns out they don’t count as Undead. Although I tried. I mean, if I could have forced them to be, they would have been. But either the world stopped me doing that, or Jar-eel did. But I could feel the way of how to define them. So I could destroy them.” That may well be an admission of having attempted to create abominations, right there.
It is probably not that admission, ‘I wanted them to be undead’, that makes Berra pause now. “So, I was nearly out of plans, and in fact I didn’t get to make another one happen. I was trying to meditate. To get into a holy state so I could claim my place. But Lord D’Val knows how I react to having to stay still, and there were four of them holding me. I reckon if it had only been three you couldn’t have decided which way to bet. But I was not calm. I was about as far from calm as I could be. And Xenofos pulled one off me, but then… he tried to calm me by holding me down. So that went badly for everyone.”
“Now, the reason he could even get to me, was happening elsewhere. About that time, Orlanth was making a path for Yelm, and making a deal with him. And Dormal was stealing stuff that was nailed to the wall. I don’t… alright. I really don’t like him. But I think he wasn’t doing that for himself. I don’t know why he was doing it – maybe he had a plan too. But some of us – the ones that knew the weight of the Torch – stayed still. And the rest of’m, and the room, moved. I swear it was that way round. That’s when he started trying to hold me in person, and that’s when I bit him. And then there was a web, just like that, and then we were out. So… she stopped when she got what she wanted. But the Heroquest isn’t properly finished. The next thing I had an idea how to do was to interfere when the web happened. But the rest of the gods? They ain’t bound right now. Not in the same strength everything else is.”
“After that, I was pretty useless for a while. I was just curled up. I heard the Emperor thanking people. Jar-eel said something like… she didn’t get everything she wanted but… and I think it was going to be something about what she was looking forward to. It felt like that. I was pretty sensitive to her voice by then.” Berra scowls at the gutter, where her wine is long-gone. And Varanis went for her. She… she sang a song. I had to listen, but I managed not to move. And I managed to keep fighting against her, inside. I never stopped that. And then she was gone too.”
The two swords look at each other. The Duck speaks first. “Berra. She’th a God. You went up againtht her and didn’t loothe. You shoul…”
Then Eril interjects, “Your efforts were acceptable, Initiate. Do you have anything to add?”
Berra fails to keep a straight face at ‘acceptable’. “I have the troop dispositions for you if you need them,” she says. “And I think you got all of that. The bits I remember were the Devil dying early, the Whi-the Sky Bear, and the net. I don’t think there was anything else you need to know.”
“You may retire.”
Berra looks to D’Val. “I got a bit more to say to the High Sword. Can you get me something to eat?”5Athanu probably throws a small fit.
The Duck heads for the door, “Of courth. You want shrimps with that?”
Berra stares in confusion for a moment before shrugging. Even before the door is closed, she says to Eril, “I don’t want land in the Sambari – but if it’s useful to the Temple to have anything near the crocodile, or to you, then I’ll ask it for the Temple and you can assign it to me. If you want.” Then she looks at the door and back at him, and is obviously about to get to the point.
“And where would you like it?”
“In the Colymar, near to where my sister lives, or maybe the Alynx Clan so that I’ve got warriors up there but don’t need to muster in the Blue Tree.” Berra pauses. “But I also want to be a Rune Lord as soon as I can, so handy for any place the Temple will assign me would be good. And I’ll need help with that.”
“Oh? Do go on.”
Berra looks back at the door. “Lord D’Val’s good for me. He really is. But he can’t make me all I need to be. He can just stop me from being stuff I shouldn’t. I need you for the rest.”
“I dunno. But when I asked the Hero Eril, he knew. What… what are the deficiencies I need to address, Lord?” Other than committing sacrilege before his private altar, and a lot of swearing.
“You have too many doubts. You must trust the God and emulate him more.”
Berra takes a moment to think that through. “So I’m asking to be considered as soon as you think I’m ready, and for any guidance you give me. And… if this kills me, then Varanis is going to blame herself. Make sure she knows I’d do it again and harder.” That seems to be it. The young Humakt is looking down, looking tired.
“Very well. Fall out and dine. And perhaps bathe.” A patrician nostril wrinkles
Berra gives him a slightly longer look than usual, and when she says, “Thank you for your advice,” she means that too.
- 1Fail Insight Duck at +20. Berra cannot read him. Or anything.
- 2…I descended naked into this world of matter and illusion.
- 3Passed a roll to remember the Magasta’s Bowl moment and put it together with the cup, Darkness to steady herself, and Battle to be ready for action throughout.
- 4And in his bothy the Blacksmith sighs and reaches for nothing anyone can see.
- 5Athanu probably throws a small fit.