1628, Fire Season
On the way to the Lunar Empire the group stopped at Dwarf Mine, and helped out the Dwarf there. Session 3.12.
The meal is over and X11 has gone to recharge or whatever it is Mostali do when not in active use. Varanis and Berra have a bit of quiet time.
“Berra…” Varanis begins, “Do I really report that poorly?”
Berra has been staring into space for a moment, which becomes obvious when she jumps, settles, and stares at Varanis. “No, no you don’t,” she says after a moment. “But the Dwarf’s older than Time.” That seems to be an answer that explains everything to her.
“Maybe I could learn to be more efficient… have you noticed how fond the Mostali are of efficiency? I feel like this is a trait that Tennebris would approve of.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I noticed a bit. A lot. But I gave a frankly terrible report as well. At the end.” Berra shrugs, looks down. She seems distracted.
“What’s on your mind?”
“A lot of things,” the Humakti admits. “I… lots of things. But I’m getting soft. I should have been able to give the reward better. Dwarfs are good at not having things they don’t need, although it’s not really Separation.”
Berra looks down at her hands, examining her nails. They are neatly trimmed but for the torn one on her right thumb. “It’s not Separation if you don’t know what you’re missing,” she says. “But he didn’t know what a reward was. I’d wondered. But I meant to say report there.”
“You mean X11? He’s interesting… More interesting than any others bar T’Dwarf. That’s why I invited him to eat with us. I do wonder what he’d make of a gift.” There’s an alynx-like mix of curiosity and mischief present.
“I think it might break him,” Berra says. “I didn’t want to try, because once you know – if he understood it, what would he do? Would it make him happier?”
“He was very useful. He could come with us…”
“I thought of that too. But… people are different, Varanis. This is a whole different species. Much more different than ducks, and maybe even trolls. But it would be… strange but maybe good? We’d be asking to take one of the Mine Manager’s tools, though. One of his useful things.”
“Yes… and I can’t really afford to pay for the iron. It’s just… intriguing, I suppose.” The Vingan shrugs.
Berra stares at the table for a moment. “Listen. If we go into the Lunar Empire, and things go a particular way, we’re going to meet Onjur.”
“Yes, I am aware,” Varanis replies.
“He… you know all this, I guess. But …” There’s a shrug. “Been thinking too much. Didn’t have anything to hit. I think that’s why I gave a bad report. I messed that bit up. But the rest was good.” Something inside Berra’s eyes is dulled.
“Something is still wrong. I can see it, but not what it is. Did you take an injury you haven’t mentionned?” Varanis stares at her friend.
Berra looks at Varanis, and says miserably, “I can’t protect you from his plans. Not there.”
Varanis snorts. “Nor I you and the others. I’m taking you into danger with me and I’m responsible for all of you and I don’t know how to keep you safe.” She reaches out to lay a hand on Berra’s, then stops herself. “But, as you have told me in your own way, we’re all choosing this. We know the risks.”
Berra is already curling her hand to move it away. “He doesn’t want us there for the same reason as Kallyr,” she says, like someone exploring the edges of a broken tooth. “He’ll want us to stop it. That’s different.”
Varanis nods. “And maybe we need to. We won’t know until we get there what we can do and what will be needed.”
Berra sighs. “We know what we’ve been told to do. Find out if it’s coming.” There’s another shrug. “Maybe the Mine Manager will be able to let us know for certain. But Onjur knows we’re coming, and he’ll know about what you’ve been sent to find out. We need to make sure we can get a message out before that happens. So we do the bit that the Prince is waiting for.”
Varanis nods. “Do the Lunars show White Ladies the proper respect?” she muses.
“I think so. But you can still stop them. You … well, Onjur’s an honourless bastard who thinks he has honour. He wouldn’t do it himself, but he’d order her hurt for the good of the Empire, by suggesting it and not ordering it. I just said ordering a lot.”
Varanis chews her lip. “I was thinking of sending Maalira and Valseena with whatever intel we gather, and asking Suuraki to try to get them out alive. He and Valseena deserve a chance at a life together.”
“Bisons and a High Llama. They’ll stick out. He will. If we really have to, we should probably all split up. But if it’s… we could find proof in three ways, right? Political, physical, and seeing the damned thing move. One of those, we need to deal with right away.” Berra is trying to break down the world into bits small enough to understand.
“Mhmmm?” Varanis prompts, nibbling the end of a plait. Her hair has grown a lot since she gave it to Humakt.
“Y’re eating y’hair. If we see places where people could be kept, and they’re empty, and new built, we can be pretty sure it’s coming. Or if we see them being built. That’s the physical way. That’s pretty easy. We end up knowing what’s going to happen, with enough time to get back. But we don’t know the route they’d build on. It’s more likely that he’ll try to scoop us up and give us info we have to act on. Political stuff – go here do that, spoil the plans. Whatever they are. That’s his aim.”
Varanis lets the plait fall, glaring at it as if it has deeply offended her. “Can you pray directly to Eril yet?”
Berra closes her eyes briefly, opens them, and looks around. “It’s complicated. He’s… ” There’s a shrug. “Not directly, like he… No.” She looks very uncomfortable.
There’s a sigh. “Too much to hope for. Sorry – didn’t mean to add any pressure. It just seemed like a thing that might not have been…” Varanis fumbles for the right words. “A thing that might have been hard for them to eavesdrop on.”
“No change,” says Berra with a shrug. So, from what is already known to at least some of the group, she can perform Divinations. Slow, and somewhat flashy. “There are ways of getting old messages out, and if we don’t stop them then they go. But we can basically just try to stop his plans and not our plans. I keep losing my sense of Separation, Varanis.” One of those things is not like the others – it’s a classic blurt, followed by a pause as Berra works out what she just said.
“Because you are worried about me?”
“That’s kind of part of it, but for once no this is about me. I’m letting myself be won over by easy things. That bath was… not necessary. I can get clean without hot water. Without water, if I have to.” Her hair is still at the Very Spiky stage, made worse by helmet hair. “But I didn’t think. It was available so I used it.”
“And surely that’s fine? Did you glory in it like Xenofos and I do, or was it simply for the purpose of getting clean? Not stinking helps prevent the enemy from smelling you coming, so it’s a practical thing.”
Berra, who does manage to be mostly clean in the field, almost takes offence. Then she fights it back. There is more evidence, right there, that she has a lot on her mind. “It’s our padding that gets bad,” she says quietly, without even the semblance of amusement. She enjoyed the bath.
Varanis frowns. “Look, there’s a difference between simple enjoyment and hedonism!”
“Truth is a torch. I can see in the light. I’m too close to coming off the path. Off the right way – for me, there’s a right way. And I… look, thanks for saying, but I do know me. I’m going to be concentrating on that more.” Berra gives Varanis a smile of awkward determination.
Varanis sighs and nods. “As you wish.”
“This place is good for me. I … sort of don’t understand it, but it acts a lot like a Humakti Temple should, in places. No luxuries. It’s just that here, they don’t know what luxuries are, necessarily.” Berra shrugs once more. “I need to think about how I should have given that report. And I want to punch things, so I’m not going to be good company for a bit. But it was good of you to ask.” She looks jumpy, and does not get up.