1629, Sea Season, Disorder Week, Wildday Eve
As evening approaches, Berra comes to check on Varanis.
The Vingan looks much better than she had earlier. She’s clearly had a bit of a rest and a chance to wash up.
“Hey. How’s the weather going to be?” Berra is holding a couple of bits of bread, one for Varanis with a scrape of herb butter, one for her, plain. “I got you not-breakfast.”
Absently accepting the bread, Varanis considers the weather. “Fine, think. More of what we had earlier.”
Varanis chews on the bread. “Did you get permission to do the rituals nearby?”
“We can slip out the gate now, but this place is one big corral, and I really don’t want to do it right inside. It’s setting up a Death Temple, no matter how polite they try to be about it.” Berra rolls out her shoulders, checking the lie of her cloak. She is in her leather armour, and the padding. Her left arm has an embroidered sleeve, far more intricate than the plain brown elsewhere, and definitely not armour, yet representative. She was embroidering something very like it all through the past year.
The sleeve gets a long stare. “Your work?”
“Yeah.” Berra looks at it. “I was making it because I thought I’d have to lose a whole set of armour.” Gold thread gleams here and there. “In the end I didn’t have it when everything started happening.”
“It looks good.”1Varanis fails Evaluate.
“Thanks.” Berra folds her dry bread in half and takes a bit. “You need anything else?” She is already moving.
The Vingan is in a tunic and trews, rather than properly kitted up. Given the damp frizz of her hair, it seems likely she talked her way into if not a bath, then at least some one on one time with a wash basin.
“How armoured do you want me?” she asks. “I can go full Wind Lord or stick to the basics.”
“We’re going to be unguarded. Everything on, and a cloak.” Berra looks contrite, although her toes wiggle as if she wants to be off. Her face wiggles a bit as well.
There’s a sigh. Varanis sniffs at the air again and says, “No rain. I’ll put the padding on then.” Her armour is neatly laid out by her saddle bags in a corner and she jerks her chin toward the pile to see if Berra will choose to follow.
Berra goes to help her on with it, casual-like. “It’ll probably get pretty muddy but I’ve seen a few places that might be dry and still mostly hidden.”
As they get to the pile, they spot a young child sitting on the floor beside the cuirass, gingerly tracing the designs with a finger. She scrambles to her feet at having been caught, eyes wide.
Berra pauses to look and then to look around, as if for other invaders. The child gets a look that is more confused than a glare. The Humakti might not have been been expecting someone shorter.
Varanis opts for a more benign look. She smiles, even as she warns, “Be mindful of touching strange armour, little one. You don’t know what magics might lurk within the metal.”
There’s a solemn nod. “Not afraid. S’pretty though an shiny too.”
“Would you like to help us buckle in on?” Varanis offers without thinking about the implications of involving a child in preparations for Humakt’s rites. Thankfully, before the girl could eagerly agree, someone who could only be her older sister swooped in to demand where she’d been hiding and haul her off to finish her chores.
Varanis stares in bemusement, then begins to armour up.
Berra says, “I am pretty sure Vingans do not just sprout after the rain,” and looks innocent as she helps with bracers.
It doesn’t take long before they get the Wind Lord into full kit, though Varanis does not bother to renew her usual Air and Movement runes. Full bronze, with the crested helmet, and the iron sword at her hip, she looks pretty impressive.
Berra nods in approval. “Right. Not gonna race you to the gate. I’m going to be a proper Wyter Priest and usher you. And we won’t scare anyone by running. But I wanna.” She gestures the way to the door, and takes it.
Varanis’ grin is a gleam of white. “Let’s go.”
Berra walks at a good clip, but true to her word, does not run. She gives people a wave on the way out of the gate. “Back in the morning, or if we get really cold. If she flies in – if we do – we’ll call out.” The Humakti then turns to go uphill. “We’re not going too far,” she tells Varanis. “You’re gonna be guarding while I set up the Temple, then I invite you in, then we pray a while. I’ll be here all night, but I can guard you sleeping as part of it if you need to.” That is, if you need to sleep. Grammar optional.
Following in Berra’s wake, Varanis accepts the instructions. Her only question is, “Just us?”
“Nobody else here I could find. Either they’re not up for praying, or they’ve gone to the places just up the road.” Berra nods towards the silhouette of the Finger, still visible in the deepening gloom. “But also, it’s going to be a rite to a Hero, so I didn’t try that hard. I want my efforts to… um… hard to put it into words. But if I just tell people about them and then leave, I don’t think that helps him.”
From all appearances, it seems Varanis is planning to do exactly as she’s asked and not get creative or give in to impulse.
Berra leads the way up to a place that is tolerably flat, has some rocks around it for something like privacy, and has a few scrubby trees to help stop the wind. It is not far, but it looks like a decent place. “Here. It’s big enough for both of us.” The place has no particular drawbacks, other than being relatively obvious to choose. People will know where they are, but then again, people may need to in a hurry.
Varanis checks it out, nods her approval, and waits for instructions.
“Keep out anything that isn’t going to join the ceremony,” Berra says, “Mostly people, but also sheep – that can be a bit awkward. Don’t worry about spirits unless you can see them.” She paces back and forth a couple of times in the middle of the flat area, and draws the sword from her right hip, left-handed, to lay it on the grass.
“Does it matter if my sword is sheathed or not?”
“Not yet. You’re just guarding – do it the best way you can.” Berra looks up. “You’re representing the outside that I can bring in, that’s all. Just be you.”
Varanis nods. Hand on her hilt, she takes up her vigil. It won’t be still or silent, because she is neither, but it will be as unobtrusive as she can make it.2GM tells Varanis to roll on anything she thinks is appropriate. ‘Regular but good passes on both Scan and Listen, even if someone were to attach penalties for her poor sleep habits lately, she’s safe. Pass Air too which I did as a check to see her general mood. I figure she’s alert, interested, proud of who she is and what she’s doing, and managing to not feel haunted just now.’
Sounds drift in from the hills. The distant hubbub of Beasts Gather, where the fires are lit and there is singing, competes with the silence. Night-crickets start to play their stolen fragments of the cosmic harp, mocking or sad as they will. Somewhere far away a fox is shouting that this is mine, mine, mine!
Rips in the cloud reveal starlight and the pale cold sun, enough light for travel and scouting. Some call it the Thief’s Sun. There is a full moon, and sometimes the light is red, sometimes pale, and sometimes the sky is lit by both.
Berra leaves Eril’s sword where it is, while she finds a few flat rocks and sticks with which to make a basic Sword shape, the blade a little longer than Varanis is tall, and about as wide as two people shoulder to shoulder. The cruel would call it a dagger. The largest stone she can find goes at the top of that space, where the altar would be in her own Temple. Eril’s sword and Wind Tooth are placed, pointing outwards, as the crossguard. That leaves her to be the handle as she murmurs ritual words and dedicates the space. As she finalises the magic, she puts a little wooden sword onto the altar, a tiny model of the one that holds Lord Raven.
She stands. The edges of the spell shimmer. As with all of these spells, it is centred around the altar. The inner shape of the cross, within the area, has less of a shimmer and more darkness to it.
Berra steps carefully around the altar to come down towards Varanis. “Welcome to my Temple, you who come in peace,” she says. The power of Humakt makes her words fall flat, each ending without echo.
Varanis bows silently to the priest who approaches.
“The main part of the Temple is open to you. Please do not endanger yourself by exploring.” Berra steps back and bows, leaving room for Varanis to enter the space.
Varanis considers Berra’s word and the temple she watched be laid out. Then she nods, bows again, and steps across the threshold.
Berra relaxes a little. “You know how this goes,” she says. “The only real difference is me being behind the altar, and him being further away. We’re in a Temple and Amling will be starting the ceremony around now.” She carefully goes to kneel down behind the flat rock. “Best to stay on your knees, or sitting. This is a pretty small place.”
It is still larger than the shapes of dead grass she sometimes leaves behind after praying, but as Temples go it is small indeed.
Varanis stands close to the tip of the blade, so that were she to kneel and then prostrate herself, she would not cross into the priest’s space. Before she kneels, she glances at Berra, silently asking if she’s chosen correctly.
Berra gives her a grin. Apparently so.
Varanis kneels and her highly polished bronze of her armour picks up the moonlight. The expression she turns to her friend is both trusting and determined. She is Orlanthi to the core, but she’s come to give Humakt and his Hero the reverence they are due.
“Close your eyes, think of the Wyter and the Hero. What do you know of them? What do you know of yourself?” Berra’s voice is quiet, with an edge that it does not usually have. Within the Temple she seems like she has control over these magical matters.3Varanis gets a special on Worship and a pass on Death.
The ritual slips into place, half familiar, half foreign. The words Berra uses are reminders more than instructions by now.
Varanis’ spirit touches on another, a wild thing bent to concentration, and both are scooped up and held by a community, a thing that is both Lord Raven and the cloak he wears. It is the wings that bear him, and the strength that moves him, and he directs it. She can feel others too, distantly, and the demigod in human form, a cold, precise presence that concentrates on …
On the one thing that Raven carries with care, the secret that he cannot put down. Death is a separation, and Humakt holds the shape of his own sword in his mind, as it hangs before him. The edges slice, even in stillness.
If that was a vision, it fades, becoming a memory more rapidly than it appeared. Lord Raven, the embodied mystery of separation made into a community, touches his fingers to Varaena’s brow, drawing the Truth sign there.
A soft rain falls by Beasts Gather, bringing Varanis out of her trance. Berra is still praying, in the glow that her two swords are making. Up there beyond the altar she looks terribly far away.
The Vingan puts her own fingers to her forehead, retracing the rune in wonder. It worked. Berra was able to reach them.
She stays where she is, kneeling and watching. Her eyes take in the worshipping Humakti, but also scan the night, watching for signs of trouble. She feels calm and alert as her vigil begins.4Fumbled CON means that Varanis falls asleep.
The night wears on, while the Humakti prays and the Vingan kneels. Her limbs begin to stiffen and her eyes burn, but still Varanis watches. When it becomes unbearable, she shifts a little. Then she shifts some more, carefully adjusting her position from one of kneeling to one of sitting. That’s better. She can feel the blood flow again and the buzz of it helps to keep her awake. But her eyes still burn. She closes them, just for a minute. Just for… her sinks to her chest as she loses the battle.5Varanis also rolls for her nightmares, and yes, she has another.
The Temple is peaceful, the little Priest having made it well. It is a fortress, a safe place, a… a…
There are familiar doorways here, and through every one of them, all at once, blackness begins to seep, with the smell of putrid flesh. A bloated hand forms and unbars the main door from within.
Varanis moans softly, the fear beginning to rise. Her hand fumbles for her sword.
Her fingers meet another hand, a dead one. Cold and clammy, it grasps for her.
She flinches away, twisting to try to see more clearly.
Humakti do not come back from the dead. The Devil does not care about rules. Berra Humakti, her features bloated, is there. She grasps for the sword that was once hers. The doors are all open now and all that prevents the Devil himself getting in is his mass. The darkness covers the Temple, and the lights come only from two swords, up by the great bloodsoaked altar.
Varanis scrambles to her feet, drawing her sword while being careful not to step out of the temple’s boundaries. The doors… she can’t hold them all, but there’s no time for reinforcements.
“Vinga, help me!” she cries out. Then she sucks in a deep breath and yells out the challenge:
“Foul slime, curse of existence, begone! Turn your back and flee from me. I will kill you; you are evil. Lie and whimper before me.”
… the lights of the altar go out. Berra’s voice asks, quite reasonably, “Are you alright?” It comes from a different direction to where the corpse stood.
Cold air blows past her.
She spins sword in hand, turning to face the new threat, hoping that it isn’t a threat after all. Her breath is coming in desperate gasps. “Berra?” Then she takes it in. The swords. The temple space. The Humakti. And she swears. “I’m sorry. I fucked it all up, didn’t I?”
“No, we’re mostly done.” The glowing edges are gone from the spell now. The cold sun of night is falling towards Hell, and the red moon is hidden by clouds. Much of the night has passed. “You’re fine. You’re safe.”
Varanis drops to her knees with a clang. “You were dead,” she says dully. “But your corpse…” She shudders. “And it was just me, trying to keep the Devil out on my own and I was going to have to fight the thing that was using you… and… Oh Vinga,” she sobs, having worked herself into terror again through the telling. “This is worse than the Lunar madness.”
“Hey hey.” Berra gets up and walks over to Varanis, still not stepping over the stone that was her altar. “Dreams, yeah?” She crouches beside her friend and does not offer a hug. She just exists, nearby.
Varanis nods, taking deep breaths as she tries to slow herself down. “It started with the Initiation,” she says finally. “But it wasn’t bad at first. Once in a while, perhaps. The dreams are brutal and the devil is always there, in some way. Since we left Boldhome, it’s been worse. Most nights.”
At last, she confides in her friend, telling her the details she’s kept as tightly locked up as she could until now. She talks about the visions during her Initiation and the dreams that have haunted her since. Once she starts, it seems she can’t stop. She pauses long enough to be sick once, but by the time she’s done the telling, Yelm’s ascent is near.
She looks wrung out when she’s through. Her eyes are bruises in her face and her skin is paler than usual. The look she turns on Berra is determined and despairing at once. “Don’t say anything,” she demands. “Not to anyone. Please. I’ll figure this out. I always do.”
Before Berra can reply, the exhausted Wind Lord glances at the horizon and says, “I need to greet him. He may be an arrogant Emperor, but he keeps the devil at bay too.”
Varanis gives Berra no time to argue. She pulls herself to her feet, steps out of Humakt’s temple, and begins her salute. It is competent and reverent, despite everything. It is a sword dance to welcome a god who is sometimes an enemy, but also an ally.6Pass on Worship and Rapier
Berra, who has listened in silence, her expression muted with some effort, lets Varanis go and kill Yelm. She collects her swords and waits for the ritual to be over. Only once it is finished does she speak. “I saw the Devil being born. It’s… it’s the worst thing, but it got better. I mostly…” She just offers her hand then, like a mother to a child, or a friend wanting to walk alongside, not a warrior to an equal. “I’ll be with you. You’re not alone.”
After a moment, Varanis accepts the hand. “Thank you.”
- 1Varanis fails Evaluate.
- 2GM tells Varanis to roll on anything she thinks is appropriate. ‘Regular but good passes on both Scan and Listen, even if someone were to attach penalties for her poor sleep habits lately, she’s safe. Pass Air too which I did as a check to see her general mood. I figure she’s alert, interested, proud of who she is and what she’s doing, and managing to not feel haunted just now.’
- 3Varanis gets a special on Worship and a pass on Death.
- 4Fumbled CON means that Varanis falls asleep.
- 5Varanis also rolls for her nightmares, and yes, she has another.
- 6Pass on Worship and Rapier