Nice Ice Wall

1627, Earth Season, Stasis Week


Context

Berra takes Varanis to see the Ice Wall and trade with some dragonewts. After session 54 (Climactic Explosion).

Events

It is a blustery day in Movement Week. Yelm has risen into the air and battles Orlanth in the early morning, but there is a slight chill, and Berra looks under-dressed for the weather, in a light cloak and loose clothes. She has her swords, and her feather tucked into a leather headband, but she is unarmoured. She waits for Varanis not far from where she asked to meet; by the foot of the palace stairs. The plan is to go up to the head of the West arm of the city, and then swim once the day has warmed up a bit.

Varanis is heading down the stairs. She has a heavy blue wool cloak wrapped around her. Her hair is done up in small, tight plaits, and looks like it might just stay in place for once.

“Good morning, Berra!”

Berra turns, grins, bows. “Good morning, thane.” It is rare she uses the Heortling word. “How are you?” She is already in motion, walking backwards, relaxed, ready to move off.

“I’m well. Finally getting used to sleeping in that little room they’ve given me.” There’s colour in the Vingan’s cheeks and a smile on her lips. Up close, the cloak looks different from the one Varanis has been using. Although it’s the same blue, it lacks the wear of the other and the runes that decorate it are done in the Sartarite style.

Berra turns left, looks around briefly, and sets off at the right pace for Varanis to be able to catch up. “The Temple’s moved me to the Senior barracks. I’ve been banned from putting up a hammock.” She looks joyfully up at the mountains. “Lord Graria made up a new rule just for me!”

Varanis laughs. “Only one?”

Berra dares a look at Varanis. “So far.” The wind has made her cheeks pink, her lips pale. The fuzz of her hair growing in for the winter is not quite messy, but will be in a few days.

“This shift to the Senior barracks… is that a promotion of sorts? Or just a way to keep you from sleeping across the High Sword’s door?” The tone is teasing. Despite the lightheartedness, Varanis is keeping an eye on rooftops and alleys as they pass.

“Um, I don’t sleep across it. I sleep where he doesn’t get any warning I’m there when he’s about to step out. What do you think I am?” Today, one thing Berra is, is impish. “It’s them… Lord D’Val explained it to me. Partly it’s acknowledgement of my deeds. Partly it’s an announcement to watch out for me. People know I’m someone that Lord Eril is….” She waves her hands. “I need words. Help.”

“Keeping an eye on? Using to good effect? Testing?” Varanis supplies various possibilities.

“Yeah. All of those things. To the people in the Temple, it’s saying that I’ve done things he approves of. Teaches them how to be. Most people outside the Temple won’t notice so much, but the ones outside will get that sort of message too. And it happened after I’d been successful for a while – he’s not showing anyone he’s going easy on his initiates.” Berra relaxes only a little as they get out into green fields, but as any tension was largely converted to bounciness anyhow, it just means she is walking less like someone pretending to be an Impala.

As the strong breeze teases at the edge of her cloak, Varanis asks, “Are you sure about this? The swimming, I mean. Not Eril’s motivations. You have done well and I’m proud to call you my companion. You are worthy of his recognition.”

“Oh, the swimming’s a bit later, and yeah, I should do it. But have you ever been up beyond the… well, we’re not going as far as High Wyrm, but did you know there’s a dragonewt place up there?” Berra looks ahead “Sometimes they open the way.”

“Really? Are you hoping to swim with dragonewts?”

“No. I’m hoping to trade with them. There’s a trade place up there. Sometimes. And if not it’ll give the air time to warm up. Because the river’s bloody freezing, even back down in the valley.” Berra points to where the two cliffs narrow up ahead. “I want some obsidian arrow-heads, but mostly I just want to see dragonewts. They’re interesting.”

Varanis nods. “They are. Although, I’m not sure I fully forgive them for providing Mirava and her new husband with shelter,” she grumbles.

Berra shrugs. “You’d have to get annoyed with humans for doing that as well, and there are only some humans that annoy the hell out of me, so I’m alright with other dragonewts.” She is slowly bleeding out the extra energy, dancing as she walks.

“Oh trust me. I am annoyed with humans too. But,” she says, changing the subject, “tell me what kinds of things they have you working at in your Temple?”

“Well, right now they don’t really know what to do with me, because they didn’t know when I’d be back, but it’s mostly sword drills for the laiet… the lay members, and putting the initiates who think they know best back in their place for a bit. That’ll probably get more formal if I want to stay there more, but there are also services and teaching that I can do about Humakt’s things. And then I guess maybe they like to play hide and seek or something, or at least they keep coming to find me to ask where I’ve been, so I pretend they’re playing.”

Varanis laughs at that last. “Well, you are small and terribly quiet, so you just kind of disappear at times,” she tells Berra.

Berra smiles. “I really don’t like being in just one place, and there aren’t as many beds in the new barracks, so although I get a lot more room, I don’t really know what to do with it. They haven’t yet banned me from moving the bed around, though. Maybe I’ll work on that next. I’d forgotten what a long walk this was going to be, but I’ve got some apple-and-water and jerky. Maybe I’ll just talk like we’re already there for a bit. Wow, that was a long walk.”

The Vingan gives her a dubious stare. “You sure it won’t be dark by the time we get there?”

“Yeah – it’s just an hour or two up there. We’ve run up to the Temple before, remember? I mean, the Argan Argar Temple.” She speeds up, though, walking like someone trying to keep an appointment with Yelm.

“We could run?”

Varanis looks ready to do just that.

Berra looks at the cloak Varanis is wearing. “Bundle that first?” She swings her own off, and begins to strap it up with its own fastening. “I brought a bag, just in case, so we can put that in. I mean, just in case the market was open.”

“Take my cloak off?” Varanis looks aghast. “Berra, it’s cold out!”

“There…. yea? And we’re about to be running. Oh god. Humakt help you. You’re going to hate the snow if this is cold.”

“I survived the snow in Prax,” Varanis says, a trifle defensive.

“Um. Yes. But… yes, this is different.” Berra looks left to right. Right to left.

Despite her discomfort, the Vingan unclasps her cloak, sticking the heavy bronze pin back into the fabric and then rolling the cloak so that the pin is safely inside. The result is not a small bundle. Beneath the cloak, she is wearing a knee-length wool tunic and even woollen trews, both in shades of blue and decorated with strips of golden silk.

Berra has a string bag with a small pouch tied into it. She holds it open, letting Varanis pack the cloak. “I thought you wouldn’t want to run because that would be hot.” She is still smiling. “I can hang this on my back with my one.” Her clothes are linen, pale-dyed, but mostly new.

“I am capable of carrying it,” Varanis says, though obviously, she hasn’t really thought about how she’d attach it to herself. “Running will help warm me up.”

“I know, but you’re going to want to look flashy, and I’m the one that didn’t tell you not to wear big, and anyhow, I’ve got it now. I’m going to be carrying rocks again, I think. Might as well get used to it.” Berra rolls her cloak around the bag and manages to buckle it over her chest, not taking ‘I can’ for an answer.

That mulish expression flashes over the Vingan’s face, but vanishes nearly as quickly. “Fine. Let’s run then, before I freeze to death out here!”

Berra actually giggles. “Yeah.” She sets off pretty slowly. “Let’s remember it’s uphill, and all that? And that’s enough of me trying to be sensible.” And she breaks into a run.1Berra fails CON and tires towards the end of the journey. Varanis passes it.

Varanis lopes along beside the Humakti, keeping pace comfortably.

Yelm creeps upward, and the day gets warmer, and finally Berra groans, slowing, and says, “I don’t want to run more! I think I took on too much…” But by then they are almost at the cliff, where a narrow, half-cut half… pecked? trail leads up.

“Just a little further and then we… climb? Maybe I can take the pack for the climbing bit,” Varanis suggests. She is barely winded, though she’s sweating somewhat.

Berra nods. “Yeah. S’like your cloak’s put on weight. Make you a fine bed-wife…” She hands over the bag without reluctance, and her left hand flails at her waterbottle until her right is free. She is back to a boiled leather bottle, with a top that matches, for once.

There’s a laugh. “I have this feeling it might be cold in the palace in the coming seasons. I could use a bed-wife.” The laughter fades then. “I wonder what Serala is doing…”

Varanis covers her sudden sadness by fussing with the bag, struggling to get it into place. Although the Humakti is shorter, her muscles are more developed and her back is broader, so the straps don’t need a lot of adjustment.

“Probably heroic stuff,” Berra says, and gets done with her drink just a little too late to help with the bag. “You’re … wanna drink?” She looks well recovered, and maybe just needed the water.

“We’re headed to a river, yes? For your swimming?”

“N…. o We’re going to go back and do the swimming. Up here it’s different. If it’s open. Seriously – if it is, then you need to see it.” Berra looks bouncy-eager again, although just around the eyes.

“As long as we can refill your flask before you need it again. I don’t know why I didn’t thing to bring mine.” Varanis reaches for the bottle.

“S… there will be water.” Berra grins. The liquid inside the bottle is half water, half apple juice, with a little salt and pepper added. It is a very Berra drink.

Varanis wrinkles her nose at the pepper, but takes a second sip anyway before replacing the cap and handing it back.

“You sure you don’t want more?” Berra checks before fastening it on, but is already heading for the tiny pock-marked track.

“You climb first,” Varanis calls out as she follows Berra. “That way, if I slip, this pack and I won’t take you out on the way down.”

“It’s not too bad,” Berra says, although she does not argue, and there is definitely not too much room on the path – one at a time is wise and at some times all that is possible. “If you go, just try magic. If I go, try magic. But we won’t.” The steps are made for someone taller than Varanis, and Berra has to half-jump up some.2Varanis specials CON, and Berra passes.

By the time they reach the top, Varanis’ cheeks are flushed from the mild exertion and she’s grinning broadly. “I thought that would be harder,” she observes.

Berra replies, “I’m glad to be up.” It is properly cold up here, although the exercise had made it easier. “Anyhow. Have you ever seen an ice wall? We’ve got about half an hour more of walking to go now, I think. I’ve never been here, but I’ve heard. And the path just isn’t there if the place isn’t open. Apparently. I’ve been told. By truthful people.” So many words in her today.

“An ice wall? Is that a magical construction?” The Esrolian looks intrigued. Amazingly, her hair is still tidy, despite Orlanth’s constant teasing and the run. She clearly did not need to rely on her own skills today.

“It’s as close as we can get to Valind’s glacier. And I’ve never seen a glacier.” Berra walks on, and the chill grows despite the breeze dying a little. Now a soft wind teases from the valley ahead, and it smells like snow.

Varanis begins to shiver. “I’ve never seen one either. There’s a story I learned years ago. Vinga was chasing a group of trolls one night. She chased them right into Valind’s fields and when Yelm rose, the reflected light blinded them, allowing her to take them all on at once. Do you think it’ll be like that? Blinding light from all directions?”

“No, because people come back from it. Or if there is, then we’re trolls?” Berra hops along, still warm. A river on their left looks very clear – it runs off the snow-cap of the great mountain there, Quivin Peak itself.

“There’s a river. You could swim there…” Varanis points to the rather obvious part of the terrain.

“Uh… go put a hand in it. I’ll wait.” Berra looks impish once more. Maybe even alynxish.

Varanis gives her a look, suspicious. But then she shrugs and makes for the river bank.

The river is amazingly clear, beautiful, and swift. And cold. Bitingly incredibly cold, as cold as wet snow.

Berra pauses, watching.

Varanis snatches her hand back out of the water with a hiss. “Ow! It’s like it burns!” she exclaims. There’s a moment where she nearly slips as she backs away from the river’s edge, but she regains her balance and then directs an accusing glare at her companion. “That’s not water. That’s ice in liquid form.”

Berra relaxes a bit. “Yeah. Snow-melt. There’s a river back down in the valley that’s run over rocks, but I’m not getting in that.” Then she skips on for a bit, and not long later she stops skipping, cranes her neck, and then walks on, peering forward.

“It’s a good thing I have stopped making crocodiles,” Varanis grumbles. “They’d’ve turned into blocks of ice and floated downstream.” She jogs to catch up to the Humakti. “We could keep running. I’m cold. I either need to move faster or put my cloak back on.”

“Look. That’s weird.” Berra nods to where the side of the mountain ahead glistens.

“That’s… yes. That is weird. Is that it?” Varanis shades her eyes as she tries to see further. “It could be ice, I suppose.” She sounds uncertain.

“It’s definitely white.” The wall is still in shadow as Yelm has not yet reached his throne, but as the pair get closer, noon approaches, and it is clear it is just a wall of ice, accounting for the cold here. Blue-white, save where it has ground chunks of gravel and rock in it, the ice hangs a bowshot above the smallest of the stunted trees, in the valley where they are now, one almost as long as any of the spines of Boldhome.

Varanis is trying to take it in, but also scanning around the entire area.3Varanis passes Scan, Berra fails.

Here and there in the valley are huge, moving lumps of… feathers? Demibirds as big as very very big rocks. Rocs. And around them, huge dragonewts. Then suddenly, the image of them is gone – they are just ordinary in size, and rather closer than Varanis realised. One minute not there, then giant and a long way away, and now up close, and ordinary in size.

She blinks. “Um. Did you see that?”

“What?” Berra looks, and grins as the answer is clear in her question. However, she leaves it hanging there.

“They… dragonewts are weird,” Varanis says, still staring around her. “Looks like you found the right place.”

“Right. So, I’ve been told a bit about here. There are some tables that are like flat rocks. They look a bit like altars. You can put things on them to trade, and take things off, and then when you’re both done you go around the other side and pick up what you didn’t put down. The table needs to be clear, and they apparently let humans go first, so don’t put things down if they’ve got things on already. You can say what you’re after, or look at what they are holding in their hands or put down on the floor. And they do take money, but they might also want other things. I… I’m definitely after arrowheads, but there might be a time I have to send you away to be looking at something else, because there’s something I need for the temple.”

Varanis nods, looking fascinated. “I wish you’d told me more about this earlier. I might have brought some other things.” Her expression grows thoughtful. “I have some ideas though.”

“I didn’t really know it was all … sorry. I should have told you what I was hoping. I’ve been closed down for too long. You’re…. yeah. But really, things like beads and stuff are probably good, and that’s what’s in my pouch, plus they do take money.” She seems sorry, trying to find suggestions to make up for the lack of forethought.

“It’s ok. I have some options on my person.” Varanis shrugs. “I’m Esrolian. I always have some things to trade.”

Berra laughs. “Good woman. Oh. And this isn’t an Issaries place. So beware. But Humakt isn’t warning me of problems.” She steps forwards to look at the lumpy altar-tables and the strange merchants crouched beside them.

Varanis follows Berra. It seems she means to observe before venturing out on her own.

The Humakti certainly looks confident as she heads to one of the tables, puts a couple of silver coins and a handful of bits of jerky on the surface, and looks at the dragonewts nearby. Every single one is crouched down. “I’m looking for obsidian,” she says. “Black glass. Arrow heads, or lumps.” One of the dragonewts stirs itself, and from a bag of woven grass it pulls out several rocks – ordinary bits of granite – and some rags. One of the rags has a copper ring around it, which it pulls off, examines, and then puts onto another rag. The whole lot is dumped onto the table-altar.

Berra looks surprised, but not amazed, like this is unexpected but she has met dragonewts before.

Varanis watches the proceedings intently. She’s begun to shiver again, but doesn’t seem to care.

Berra considers the collection, and says, “I want something for Yehna,” to Varanis. Finally she scoops a silver coin off the table and puts on more jerky – when the dragonewt starts to pick thinks up, she has to put the coin back down. She’s lost the extra jerky as well.4Berra fails Bargain. Varanis passes.

“I hope there’s something special about that ring, Berra.” The doubt in those words is plain. “Still, it looks like good copper and it’s well shaped…”5Varanis passes a Craft (Jewellery) roll.

“I want to give her a thing that’s got a story.” Berra looks pleased despite over-paying. “Because she doesn’t get to leave the village much. I think she misses Esrolia. I mean, I guess she does.” For a moment, there is a shadow over Berra’s expression, as she walks around the table, picks up the rags and the stones and the ring, and looks it over. “Yeah, I like it.”

“Can I see one of those rags?” Varanis asks.

Berra offers one over; it is a scrap of brocade, once obviously expensive, and possibly some silk thread could be recovered, but it is essentially a rag. She looks at Varanis for a while after holding it out, and then says, “You should put your cloak on.”

“If this can be cleaned, and I’m not saying it can because Marta always dealt with that sort of thing for me, you could appliqué it onto something. Like this, but in squares instead of strips.” Varanis holds up her arm with the silk appliqué at the cuff. It’s some of the spider silk Serala gave her. Her hand, as she passes the brocade back, is trembling. “You’re right. I think I was just sweaty enough from the run that the cold is really seeping in.” She slips off the pack and fumbles at the cord that is binding Berra’s cloak around her own.

“I want the bag, anyhow.” Berra peered politely at the cuff, but is obviously not trying to imagine it. “Maybe I’ll ask Yehna what she can do about the things.” Aware she has used the wrong word, Berra casts about for the right one. “Cuffs. Clothes. Rags. Them.”

Finally, the knots are undone and Varanis sort of shoves everything except her cloak at the Humakti. She shakes the heavy wool out, flings it around her shoulders, and then fastens the brooch to hold it in place.

“We can either make a fire in a bit, or try to be quick. This is a weird place, but we’ve seen it.” Berra puts her own cloak on with a little less haste, taking the time to ignore Varanis looking cold.

“I want to try trading too. But… how do I see what they have to offer if I’m not looking for something in particular?”

“I think it’s sometimes by the tables. But also they’re sometimes walking around holding things.” Berra shrugs helplessly. “I didn’t think it would be like this.”

“Then let’s walk around a bit and see what we see,” Varanis suggests.

Berra falls in with that suggestion, and with Varanis. The cold wind is now from the side – it seems to ooze down from the ice wall, but with cloaks on it is bearable. Yelm has become high enough that he helps warm the place, and if not pleasant it is no worse than bracing. Berra tries the copper ring on her various fingers, and it fits her left thumb well enough that she keeps it on.

There are odd piles of what might be merchandise here and there, in no particular order. Bits of pottery, a jar, some black glass shards, a pot full of cinnamon, ice sculptures, rags, bones…

Varanis admires the ice sculptures.6And passes Scan to see an interesting thing.

Among the piles of skins over there, mostly boar and lizard, is something with a hunting paw… an alynx. Berra has become very interested in some bones elsewhere.

Varanis casually makes her way over to the hides and pretends to be looking over the lizard skins. She glances around, trying to ascertain who is associated with these trade goods.

Dragonewts sit in meditation or attitudes of disquieting calm. A giant dragonewt briefly blinks at her, and then is normal-sized and always has been.

She blinks at him. The sort of slow blink that you direct towards a wary alynx.

It blinks again. This time, it does not apparently change size.

She reaches a hand cautiously towards the hides. The movement is slow, giving the dragonewts plenty of time to tell her no.

There are a lot of hisses, from that and another. One crawls over towards her on its belly.

Over by another table, Berra’s pointing to the bones and announcing that she wants to pay too much again, by pointing to the bones.

Varanis stops, pulling her hand back. “I just want to know what it feels like, so I know what to offer,” she explains. “The way it feels matters to me.”

There is more hissing, this time from the one on the ground, and a dragonewt stands, puts the alynx skin on the floor, and unwraps it. Within, a long and slightly curved wand of amber was held; it picks that up and begins to stroke the skin.

Varanis lets out a little gasp of surprise. Her eyes light up with desire. She gives up all pretence of looking at lizard skins and points at the amber and alynx hide. Then she puts 10 Lunars on the table.

The dragonewt continues to stroke the skin with the amber wand for a while, faster and faster. Its claw is a blur.

“Nah, seriously, it’s my hair. You can’t have all of it!” Berra’s voice drifts over.

Varanis adds more coins.7A pass on Bargain.

The dragonewt stands, swaying left and right as it approaches Varanis, head down.

She watches him hopefully.

It holds up the wand, brings it softly in towards her cheek.

She holds herself steady, eyes wide. She should probably feel threatened – a strange creature coming so close, with claws that can easily rend flesh – but she doesn’t seem to. She certainly makes no effort to evade, anyway.

There is a tickling feeling, then a snapping sound, and a jolt, as the wand gets close. A tiny lightning bolt has hit her cheek, too small to burn, only big enough to hear. Crkc!

Varanis jumps. “Orlanth’s kiss!” she says, laughing, her fingers caressing where the lighting struck. “Oh please, I’d like the amber and the fur. It’s so beautiful.”

The Dragonewt looks at the coins on the table, and makes a few noises that humans could not manage. The one down on its belly says, ‘No silver. Much moon in,’ to Varanis’ foot.

“Hmmm.” The Vingan looks thoughtful. “Something else then. What do you desire?”

This seems to be quite a complicated question, and eventually the answer is passed on through the one on the ground as, ‘Peace that passes understanding and the thousand-fold oblivion’.

Berra’s contribution, halfway through, is, “I don’t want to buy a dragonewt! Look, they’re getting off the table, even! What are you…. arrrgh why would you do that?”

It seems the Humakti’s negotiation is going about as well as one might expect of a Sartarite warrior left alone in a market.

Varanis considers this, then sinks gracefully to the ground to sit cross legged in front of the dragonewt who has been speaking to her foot. “That is beyond my grasp, I’m afraid. I can offer you this.” She shows it the gold ring on her finger. “Or… hmmm…” She sorts through the coins in her pouch and draws out a spiral-shaped rock. The ridges that form the spiral are well polished from her fingers running over them. She looks at it thoughtfully.

The dragonewt trills for a while, and the one on the ground says, ‘Interest in air and inward meditation held within foreclaw’.

Varanis swaps the fossil for the coins she had placed on the table. “I can add some stories to that as well, if you like. I can speak of an ancient goddess who has re-entered the world.” She draws her crocodile tooth pendant out from under her tunic, to show it to the dragonewts. As she does, she glances at the amber and fur again, then pulls the thong over her head and places the necklace on the table too.

After consideration the dragonewt goes over to a pile of rocks, picks up a few, and comes to put those on the table on its own side, next to the amber and fur. It then stands back.

Varanis smiles, then rises to her feet and moves around to the dragonewt’s side of the table. She reaches for the objects he placed here.

The dragonewt walks around, picks up the fossil, and eats it. The tooth gets an inspection and a nod, and the thong gets a suspicious sniff.

“Would you like to hear about the goddess of Teeth and Salt?” Varanis asks.

There is a bit more hissing and the dragonewt changes colour around its throat, and then there is a ‘no’ from the translator. Apparently not.

Berra is staring at a dragonewt who is wrestling to put another one on the table. “Look, I really don’t want to buy a dragonewt!”

Varanis shrugs. “As you wish.” She picks up the alynx fur and amber wand. “Thank you,” she tells them both. Then, “How do I say thank you in your language?” she asks the translator.

The thing considers. ‘By achieving dragonewtness and saying it.’

“I will have to meditate on that,” she replies as she wraps the wand. She collects the rocks, looking at them with some bemusement. “Thank you,” she says again, before making her way to Berra’s commotion.

There are two dragonewts wrestling on the table now. Berra just takes what she was offering and goes to put it on a different surface, leaving the pair to try to sell each other to nobody. “Heya. I think I got most of the arrow-heads I need.” She has a lot of bloodied bones in the bag now, tied together with twisted grasses that look knotted in more complicated fashion than they need to be.

“I got some rocks,” Varanis tells her, holding out her hands to show off the rocks. There’s a fur rolled up and tucked under one arm. “And a treasure I will show you later. Can we look closer at the wall before we go?”

Berra grins. “I’ll be a little bit. One more thing I…” She pauses to listen, and then stares at a box. “Alright, that’s tutting. But I’m going to ignore it.” The box is indeed making a ticking noise. “I need one more thing. But it’s a Humakti thing. Can I get you to … can I catch you up?”

“You do the Humakti thing, I’ll keep looking around. Maybe I’ll find more treasures.”

Varanis adds, “I promise not to look at what you’re doing.”

Berra bows, serious. “Thank you. I hold you to this and trust you.” Sincerity is all over her.

There are a few things to look at here; a small pillow that is warm to the touch when pressed against Varanis’ face, briefly. It feels like down and smells of fires. A collection of obsidian fish-hooks. Grass, tied up in more grass. Some dragonewt saliva. A jar full of air, which is shown off and then re-sealed. A stone that looks ordinary, but in peripheral vision seems to gleam. A small model of an unknown town. Rags – many of them, sometimes with blood on. An egg that thumps when shaken. A pretty-looking feather that is half white fluff and half blue pinion. So many things. Sometimes the dragonewts just put rocks onto the table. Sometimes in a different order to the last rocks they put down.8Varanis gets lucky on spotting interesting things, but fails to note what is strange about the feather.

Varanis decides to trade for the stone, the feather, and the egg. She offers up the rocks she traded for earlier, lunars, and clacks as she makes her bargains.

Berra, meanwhile, buys something that goes into a bundle, and a human skull which she ties on around her waist, using the eye sockets. “It’s alright, I can’t carry you where you can see, but it’ll be fine,” she tells it. Then she comes to watch Varanis negotiate for the feather. “Mind if I stay here?”

There is something about that feather which is odd, although Varanis cannot quite work it out.

Varanis shrugs, focused on the feather.

“Why isn’t that touching the table?” Berra asks Varanis, which does make clear just what is odd about it. The shadow is subtly wrong – darkness hides from Yelm beneath it, impossibly.9Special Scan.

Varanis drops down to look at the space between the feather and the table. “You’re right!” She adds another coin to the table, hoping to seal the deal.

The dragonewt sways sideways, and then puts two silver coins down on its own side.

Varanis nods and steps around the table, as she has before.

The floating feather is hers, and Yelm is starting to tilt downwards. Berra is weighed down by bones and looks pleased.

“Shall we head back?” Varanis asks. “I don’t want to be out here when Yelm sets. It’ll be freezing.”

“Yeah, but a quick look at the wall?” Berra seems almost immune to the chill.