Hungry like the Wolf

Berra — Hunger 01

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Context

A few days after completing a HeroQuest in in which Humakt allows a return from Death, Berra finds it an effort to remember how to be human. [[[s01:session-26|Session 26]]]

Events

Outside of the Temple of Vinga, the roads are wide and well kept, as far as Boldhome goes. They are quieter than Nochet, and far more sloped, but Vinga’s temple stands with pillared gates and a courtyard for the Lay Members and all the things a temple should have. However, there is a thing a Temple of Vinga does not need, and that is a Humakti, leaning against one of the pillars, expression blank, waiting. She is causing a little fuss, merely because people take a detour around her, but not enough for anyone to try to move her on.

Berra has her head back against the pillar, and seems to be dozing, but every now and again it is obvious from the way she is suddenly alert that she is in fact generally alert, and her eyes are not fully closed.

Varanis emerges through the gate, pausing before entering the street, seeming to be carefully taking in the surroundings. She stops completely when she notices the Humakti. “Hello Berra,” she says in greeting.

Berra looks peaceful, in the way of someone who is not entirely connected to the world. She gives Varanis a look from bright, feverish eyes. “I need your help,” she says. “I can’t remember about eating. Can we go for a meal? I… I need to be out of the temple.” Her eyes are sunken in, her lips dry. She might be forgetting about drinking too. Her eyes are only half focused.

Varanis looks at Berra closely. There’s a pause, but then she seems to come to a decision. “Alright. We can do that. Do you have a place you want to go?”

“Away. Away is good. Just not at the Temple. Not today.” Berra’s voice strengthens with that. “But somewhere they don’t make you bring your own bowls. I need to remember why people eat, not what eating is. The social bit. But where people don’t know me.”

Varanis nods briskly, then starts moving rapidly up the street. She glances to see if Berra is keeping up and slows her pace to match that of the oddly dreamy Humakti.

Berra manages to keep up, but she stumbles, and that’s almost unheard of. Her grace is gone, and the effort makes her pale. Still, she does not ask Varanis to slow down, and keeps to the pace as it was set. It leaves her no breath for talking, though.

Varanis selects an inn that seems to have particularly nice smells of baking bread wafting from it, over and above the usual unpleasantness of urban smells. And, on the way in, she casts Detect Enemies.

After allowing her eyes to adjust to the lower light levels, Varanis leads the way in. She picks a table where she can put her back to the wall and keep an eye on both the main entrance and the entrance from the kitchens.

Berra stops being tired when the spell goes off. She still looks ill, but now the alertness is with her, and she is casting round to find out what she can see. She follows Varanis like she thinks she should be going first, to make sure of the place.

When the young woman from the bar approaches to take their orders, Varanis orders for both. “Stew, some steamed vegetables if they are fresh, fruit of any sort, and some of that lovely bread I can smell.” Varanis smiles at the woman (and if Berra’s paying attention now, the smile is a bit strained). “Beer for my friend, and some wine for me.”

Berra has, oddly, relaxed a lot. She’s just in a position where she can see the door and get up easily. Her sword is clear of the table, so she can draw it easily, and she’s looking alert. She is also looking like she has been a couple of days without water, and when the beer arrives she picks it up, holds it a moment, and puts it back down. “So, how are you feeling?”

Varanis catches the hand of the young woman as she starts to step away from the table. “A pitcher of water and a cup too,” she requests. When the water comes, she fills the cup for Berra and adds some to her own wine.

Berra is watching the door, one foot casually hooked under her chair in a way that would let her get up very quickly. She has not noticed the water, or has not come to any conclusions about it.

“I’m fine, Berra. But you aren’t. Pick up the water and drink it.” Varanis’ voice has a patience that isn’t often heard in it.

Berra reaches absently for a cup, gets the beer, and looks at it. “You think you’re in danger,” she says. “I should be alert.” Her eyes do not leave the door for long.

“It’s fine. Listen, for you to be what I need, you have to be healthy. Please drink the water.” Varanis’ voice has taken a coaxing tone. She gently swaps cups in Berra’s hands.

Berra looks down at the cup. “You’re Vinga,” she says quietly. “I’m …” she trails off, and then mouths the name of her god, silently. Humakt… “I was the wolf. That’s not going to go away. He was cut off from most of his hunger. I can still feel that separation.”

The serving woman brings a ridiculous array of food to the table. Steaming bowls of stew, a dish of lightly steamed vegetables with mild seasoning, and a platter of fresh fruit. There’s a loaf of bread, still radiating heat.

Varanis looks at it all, and carefully selects a piece of fruit. “Try this, Berra.” Again, the coaxing tone. “I need Berra back. The wolf… he can’t help me here.”

Berra looks at the water again, and manages a sip. “It’s not that I’m not hungry. I just can’t feel the hunger. I know it’s there.” Finally allowing herself not to be alert, she takes another sip. “I can only remember what food is for if I really concentrate.”

“Try this,” Varanis encourages her again, offering some purple berries.

Berra manages to eat them, but seems puzzled over it. “It seems to me that eating is denying what Humakt did to wolf,” she says. “Or maybe that’s just eating all the time. But I… remember being Humakt, and this is a HeroQuest that the Humakti don’t do, for several good reasons.”

“Food fuels your body so it is easier to be alert. Food will make your reflexes quicker and give you the strength and stamina to do what Humakt needs of you.” Her tone remains patient and coaxing. “I know you know this, Berra. But you need to feel it again. There will be a time when Humakt calls you to his halls, but I don’t think this is the time. So, you need to remember to eat and keep yourself strong for him.”

Berra frowns, thoughtfully. She is obviously trying to think it through. “I need to keep myself strong for my duty. He does not care – he can’t. He’s a god. Only I care, and those who know me.” It’s her normal, conversational tone of voice, as she looks at Varanis, and there is a moment of normalcy and she takes a sip of water, stares at the cup, and then chugs the whole thing back. “So thirsty!”

Varanis refills the cup.

Berra gulps that one too, like she can’t believe how she is feeling. Halfway through she starts choking on the water, going too fast. The splutter makes her slam down the cup, alarmed.

Varanis looks over the fruit, looking for varieties that seem particularly juicy, and puts those in front of Berra too.

Berra is staring at her cup. “Right. Not too much. Greed. I am reminded.”

“Slow down. Deep breaths. You are ok.”

Berra nods, and hold back a retch. “Damnit. Not NOW. Not after the Quest. That would… that would be bad. No being sick.”

“Hmmmm…. how about a small piece of the bread? Just a bite. Maybe it will settle your stomach.”

“Mhm. I don’t use teeth. I break it.” Berra does that with an automatic motion, and then pulls off the softest bit. “Let’s keep away from the berries for the moment. That would be horrib… I wonder if I could swallow an ember.”

“Is there anything else that appeals just now, or shall we stick to bread?” Varanis asks, indicating the food?

“Bread. It’s good. Just nothing that Voria brought.” Berra seems more sure of herself. “Not the flame, then. But the wolf could.”

Varanis carefully tops up her wine cup with more water and sips, giving her companion an assessing look.

She uses her knife to cut slices of apple and offers one to Berra. It is small enough that it could likely be managed without chewing, but honestly, chewing is better.

Berra is a little more with the world right now. She looks underfed and the marks of dehydration are on her, but she responds to the apple by taking it and biting off a tiny fragment. “Humakt pays a price. He was tricked, but he’s still… well, he’s the Death God. He let a thing return.”

Varanis listens intently and hands over another slice of apple.

Berra nibbles on the one she has, like it’s the out of season treat it is. “There are mysteries I’m not allowed to reveal,” she notes, her voice small. “But that’s the bit that … well, it’s dangerous for the Humakti. It would be forbidden to do it to bring someone back. I’m glad I could take that risk. Eril or D’Val have more to lose.”

The berries disappear from the platter, as Varanis eats them herself, but the apple slices keep appearing in front the Humakti, as soon as the previous one disappears. Small pieces of cheese are added to the apples, with a careful look to make sure they too are tolerated and consumed. “They also have you to lose.”

Berra eventually stops concentrating on eating the food, and is still eating it. “Yes – but the High Sword should not be blunted, and D’Val is a hero too. And I can’t say to them that I am glad to have protected them. That’s … frankly too blunt even for me. Could I?” She is obviously considering it.

“Perhaps not.” Varanis smiles. As the fruit disappears, she puts a chunk of bread in front of Berra. It has a bit of butter spread on it, melting into the warmth.

Berra shakes her head. “I’ve eaten enough,” she says, “But I can remember that now. I don’t feel hungry, but I know how it feels.” Her voice is croaky and dry, but she picks up the beer and with a bit of effort takes one of her understated sips.

After a moment of quiet, the Vingan adds, “I was envious at first, that you had been chosen for this and I was not. But…” she shrugs helplessly. “You were so clearly worthy of serving the Prince and the gods in this way.”

Varanis waves the serving woman over and quietly asks her to take the food away. She hands her coins and asks her to ensure the food reaches someone who needs it.

Berra”s mouth twitches in half a smile. “This one hurts. I mean, I … alright, there’s one that I would choose as worse, but that’s got Ikadz the Torturer in it. I can pay – but I find it’s best if the person doing the helping does. Which means I owe you for the beer in Nochet.”

Varanis shrugs. “It will balance out in the end, I’m sure.”

“Probably. So. You said you needed me. What’s your problem?” Berra drinks her beer rather faster than usual, as she watches Varanis.

Varanis considers a moment.

“On our first morning here, I woke up to find my armour cleaned and polished on a stand next to my bed. I can’t believe I slept through someone setting it up, though I was completely exhausted.” She smiles for a brief moment, before continuing in a serious voice. “But when I looked closely, there was charcoal dust and a tiny bit of wax caught up in one of the runes. I think… I think someone may have copied part of my armour.”

She continues in a rush, seeming to change subjects. “When we first met with Tennebris… did it seem to you like he stared at me over long?”

Berra frowns, trying to take that in. “He looked at you rudely,” she says in answer. “Halfway through another introduction. He didn’t just weigh his gaze on the moment – he took it from Xenofos. Women don’t rate that up here, although the armour is impressive.”

“Dormal thinks…” she stops at Berra’s expression when Dormal’s name is mentioned. “Look, he’s my cousin. Regardless of what lies between the two of you, I know he has my back,” she says earnestly. “He thinks Tennebris recognized me in some way. But I’ve never been here.”

Berra, who had scowled briefly, “He has your back, but he doesn’t have mine. That’s what I don’t like about him. He tries to put me down for fun, and he like my pain. Has Tennebris ever been to Nochet?”

A shadow crosses Varanis’ face at the mention of Berra’s pain, and there’s a tiny shudder. “Not that I know of. I’ve certainly never seen him before,” she says, refocusing.

“And he didn’t recognise you, anyway. He asked who you were. That’s different. He recognised something about you. Or he thought he saw something.” Berra narrows her eyes, thinking. “Whatever it was, it was not a small detail. It was big enough to get his attention while he was talking to Xenofos.”

“Something doesn’t feel right, but I don’t know what it is.”

“You said two things,” Berra said. “I was thinking about the first when you said the second. The armour. If they had moved it after it was set out, would that have woken you?”

“I would have thought so, but… I slept more soundly than usual.” She shrugs helplessly and looks a little sheepish. (Morning after meeting Kalis. :rofl:)

“Think back to the meeting, then. Did he look at you, or did he look at the armour? Which of them was valuable to his eyes?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t notice, it was Dormal who pointed it out to me later. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing.”

Berra gets to the bottom of her beer and holds it up for a refill in the manner of someone used to much cheaper bars. “I think you are, but not for the reason Dormal fears. Why don’t you ask Tennebris?”

“I’ve had to be… careful most of my life. I can’t afford to trust too easily.” She looks at Berra as if puzzled for a moment. “You … why is it so easy to tell you things I don’t normally share? You and Serala both seem to do that to me.” Varanis looks conflicted and frustrated. She takes another sip of her wine. “Serala is avoiding me.”

She looks like she regrets the words as soon as she says them.

“Hungry again yet?” she says, trying to redirect the conversation.

“Because we have honour, and that is its worth. Because we will not lie to you.” Berra shrugs. “You did a stupid thing. Serala is… no, but I could have some more beer. Serala is as straight as an arrow, and I suspect she was disappointed in you. Don’t push it. It’s like chasing a … well, an anything that does it want to be caught. But you can’t trust so when you find someone you can trust, the words spill out.” Berra needs to take a few deep breaths at the end of that little speech, but she is starting to look more alive.

There is a lull in conversation as the serving woman delivers more beer to Berra. Varanis waves away a refill on the wine and pours more water into her cup.

Berra nods briefly to the water. “Good.”

“I’ve not had a lot of opportunities to trust,” she says finally. “Let me tell you about what it was like for me.”