Berra — Snow Man
????, Dark Season, Death Week
Dark Season, Death Week, Windsday, in the afternoon. Snow has been falling all day. [[[s02:session-20|Session 20]]]
Snow drifts down, already far more than Esrolia would see in a week, a fortnight, a season. Visibility is low. The bison ignore it stoically and the clan folk are unperturbed. Strange things loom, most of which then turn out to be animals or people.
Xenofos is blinking to keep snow out of his eyelashes while navigating the labyrinth the camp has become.1Blinking may hide tears. And he Failed a Scan roll.
There is a voice from behind him. Berra’s. “Grey one. I am glad to see a bearer of knowledge here.”
Startled the scribe turns around. “Little cousin. All is not well, I hear.”
“My secret has escaped into the world.” Berra is wearing her leather armour, with a furred cloak over it. Under her eyes she has kohl, slightly smudged as snow melts on her. She looks cold, and determined, and her stare has no softness in it. Despite having said she is pleased to see him, she does not look it.
She seldom wears make-up. She would not put it on for no reason.
“So I heard, Berr…. Humakt. How are you doing? I will not ask if you are all right, but do you cope?”
“I am searching – seeking.” She looks around and it does not seem to be acting. “So many places it seems to be now. So many shapes it takes. Have you seen any?”
“Have I seen what… Humakt?”
“My secret. Death.” Humakt looks around again, her brown eyes searching. A flake of snow melts on the dark patch under one eye, greying slightly. She has not used enough oil, if that is happening.
“Have I seen Death? ” he raises an eyebrow. “Every man born of a woman walks his life with Death at his side, though not everyone notices.”
“Have I seen Death!” his voice is starting to get louder and he is laughing hollowly.
Berra blinks, and for a moment it’s her, and then she shakes her head, musingly, and says, “That is the case, and I have failed. Yet still I am its guardian, and must find those parts that were broken and changed. I have seen it in many shapes, found some.” Her eyes are steady on him. “But if you will, I will leave you alone. It is best I take on what I have to do without companions, for searching for this must bring it.”
“You can find it in the sound of Ditali arrows. You can see it in gleaming blades. You can find it in the crying of a hungry child. You can hear it in the hooves of Stormbull’s bisons or the drums praising Zorak Zoran. You can seek all those places and find death, but not what you are looking for. So it is better you speak with me, for I am here because Orlanth sent me.”
“All of these things, I will find,” Humakt says, “But not all will listen. Death hides in grain, and in clubs, and in axes, and in the teeth of snakes.” He breaks into a walk. “And is misused.”
He… she. It’s Berra. That’s Berra. She’s just walking like someone else right now.
He walks along. “I say again, you will find all these things and not what you are looking for.”2Xenofos passes Scan.
Humakt sighs. “You do not understand what I am saying, Lord of Knowledge. Be thankful, if you cannot be knowledgeable.” Beyond her, as she looks up at Xenofos in reply, there is a big figure approaching, half dressed in the snow.
“And you are not really listening, little cousin.” He is paying scant attention to the big apparition, concentrating on Berra.
The big man shouts something as he approaches, slapping his chest and pointing at Berra. She looks up at him, and rolls her shoulders, trying to take it in. He says it again, or something like, this time in a shared language.3Pass on Tradetalk for both.
It is a challenge for the little warrior to face him, and prove her bravery. “I will even let you keep your armour, tiny one. Gives me something to grip!”
Berra shuffles her feet in the snow, getting her weight set right.
“You are being impolite, warrior, interrupting a discussion. Do you have a reason?”
“I’ve been challenged,” Berra says, suddenly cold. “So for one moment please, Lord of Scratchings on Bark and Stone?” As she looks at Xenofos, the big bison dips a shoulder and charges. Snow clings to his body hair, slides off his thick leather skirt.
“Berra, watch out!” Xenofos dives knee height to incoming mass.
The incoming mass is huge, and heavy, and ploughs forward without a particular thought, just as Berra yells, “NO!” But by then Xenofos is committed and so is the knee of the man he is grabbing and twisting.
The Praxian’s knee meets with Xenofos’ nose with a sickening noise filling his head with white pain. He holds blindly to the man’s foot for and twists until he hears a satisfactory snap of something breaking in his leg.4A special at grappling and a successful Resistance roll to pin, and Xenofos then goes further.
Meanwhile, someone else’s hands, unfriendly, are clutching at him. “GET OFF! I NEED TO FIGHT HIM!” Berra sounds frantic.
Disoriented Xenofos tries to get to his feet like Berra shouted and tries to get his hand free from the new assailant. A failed strike with elbow.
When Xenofos gets up, Berra lets go of him – the arm she is holding is suddenly free. The elbow strike fails because she is kneeling down next to the downed man, who is groaning on the ground, and her lips are moving in a healing spell. Her hand is flat on the man’s snowy, hairy skin.
Xenofos looks with bewilderment, holding his nose to assess damage. “Bhy bhould you need to fight some rude bison rider who happens to shout a challenge and tries to attack you when you are talking to someone else?” Oh, hand is red, maybe better cast something to stop the bleeding.
Berra looks up, eyes unfriendly. “Because I was challenged. Please go away.” Then she looks down at the foe, and he stops looking pained and smiles, and his eyes look even less than friendly as he sees Berra there.5Berra passes her spirit magic roll to heal him.
“So? You are not required to answer every challenge some stranger yells, are you?” He makes no sign of leaving. Drops of blood fall to the snow.
“Yes, if it’s at me. Now-“
She is cut off by the big man trying to grab at her.
“Wooooo! You show cowardice Praxian.” In tradetalk. “Afraid to attack her when she can see…”
“For FUCK’S SAKE Xenofos!” Berra snakes her way free of a clumsy hold. “Shut up! You are not helping!” She fails herself to get a solid grip on huge muscles. Her hands are just too small.
“Warrior must be prepared!” The huge man seems to have no shame about his underhanded attack, as he takes advantage of Berra’s failure to roll to his feet.
He shakes his head, grimaces from the pain on the nose and starts the healing incantation.
The big man takes a roaring charge at Berra, aiming to grab her. She ducks, taking a wrist as she goes under the arm and striking with her fist at the elbow she has just locked out. There is a crack, and a yell, but he manages to pull away despite her grip. Now pain is back on his face, added to cruelty. He wants her hurt.6He has failed his roll on Darkness to boost his Grapple and prove that the tiny runt is not a warrior. Berra has specialled a roll using Death as her inspiration, to get back what is being misused.
Xenofos looks at the fight, trying to understand when these savages consider it finished, with a sinking feeling in his gut telling there probably are no honorable rules for that.
There are a few people drifting in to watch, but nobody interferes. “Go, Fargaa!” someone yells. Someone else mutters something highly Praxian.
The big man – Fargaa, it seems – advances a little more slowly now, his right hand grasping and his left closer to his body. Berra gets under the arm, takes a Sartarite but perfectly good hold on his belt, and bounces off him as she tries to throw – he is just too big and she could not manage it. She falls, and he stamps on her back, with the creak of leather giving way. Her armour is the brown leather of her scouting gear, and the back plate just distorted.
Xenofos throws his cloak back to free his right arm.
Berra rolls out of the way and up to her feet as the man slams a foot down, and then she takes his arm as he over-swings with the right hand, and this time he is already half falling as he tries to grab. The snow does the rest for her, and she does the same to his right arm as she did to his left, but this time he is braced against the ground. Her fist drives through his elbow and it bends the wrong way with the sound of the joint tearing. He screams, but this time cannot get away.
Scribe tugs his beard and looks at the blood thoughtfully.
Now, Berra twists. The arm is almost at the popping point when her hands – strong but too small – cannot hold on. She has to scramble to get away from his huge sidearm swipe. Still, she is faster than him, and as he gets up laboriously she is already waiting, a tempting target that he goes for, too fast, and a moment later she is kneeling in the dirt with his hand up on her shoulder, his arm twisted. He is too strong for her to break. She is too fast for him to catch.
In tradetalk, Xenofos asks, “Out of curiosity, when do these bouts end by custom?”
“When she is beaten or he is!” Someone offers him a pat on the back and a broad smile.
“That will cost him lots of pain. Unless he gets very lucky.”
There is another bout of shouting, and Fargaa flexes his arms and his magic flows – the bruising goes down on the right hand side. Those watching jeer or cheer – it is hard to tell. Berra manages not to be captured, but it takes her a flurry of hands and a lot of dodging and swaying, and despite several good grips, Berra just cannot hold on.
The companion Xenofos has found is – obviously – watching for his bison tribe companion to come up victorious. The expectation is there.7Xenofos fumbles Insight (Human) and does not realise Fargaa is disliked enough for some of the clan to be enjoying this.
Again and again, Berra shows herself faster, and again and again the big man’s wet skin and huge bones defeat her. The cheering and shouting from the crowd is growing now.
Finally she manages to get an arm around Fargaa’s neck and another supporting her wrist and she starts to squeeze. In sympathy, the watchers breathe in. Fargaa, on the other hand, does not. He struggles to throw her, and fails, and he falls to his knees purple-lipped, as Berra clings on furiously. Once she can put her feet on the ground and keep him from falling further, it is all over. She lets him go when he goes limp.8A Special to grapple after a lot of rolls including CON, and a Critical on the Pin.
Xenofos nods to the spectator that shared the show with. He keeps his eyes trained on the unconscious brute as he approaches the fighters.
Berra looks at the mark that is now on her left forearm arm – the man’s necklace has bruised her, cutting the skin. She covers it, re-tying the cord that closes up the fur she is using as a makeshift sleeve. “I got a part of it,” she says to Xenofos. “And I have stopped his danger for a time.”9Xenofos fails Scan and First Aid. He does not see that the bruise on Berra’s arm is cross-shaped, or that she is holding herself very carefully.
He looks at her ruddy face and brown eyes. “And does that guy understand he was beaten when he wakes up? Are you hurt?”
“I’m good to go on,” she says. “I’ll need to bend my armour out. A bit bruised. And I think he sprang a rib or two, to be honest.” She shrugs, and looks down at him, and then at those surrounding the fight. Some are surging forwards, and she looks wary.
Xenofos observes the approaching natives with distrust despite the cheering. Encounter has shown that these people seem to lack understanding of finer points of honour.
A couple of people bend to check on Fargaa, and several congratulate the tiny warrior, and one offers her a drink. She thinks a moment, and bows – with a wince – and takes a slug from the liquid-filled skin. There is a bit of blinking but she pulls herself together.
“Do you need healing?”
“I can do it myself. I’m not in a bad way.” Berra looks pained and victorious, determined rather than happy.
“Are you Berra or Humakt now?”
“Yes.” She looks off into the distance, and gets a punch on the shoulder from someone, and gives them a smile and steps back. “I am going to find my secret.” Back to that. She looks past the crowd, bows to them, and steps back again.
Xenofos furrows his brow and follows the Humakti.10Xenofos checks, and notices that Berra only has one sword, Wind Tooth, in its usual position on her left hip.
Berra manages to disentangle from the others, but does not try to get rid of Xenofos. As she walks, she takes off her armour and pauses a short distance away to kneel on the back plate and start pulling it back into shape. Then she sighs and heals herself.
“I heard something from Varanis, but some things are unclear. Are you two going to fight?””
Berra shrugs. “She stole Death from me. If I can get it back no other way, I will take it by violence but I prefer to ask than to demand – as he did.”
Xenofos tugs at his beard “So fight is not required if Orlanth gives in to the demand?”
He adds as an afterthought, “If she can do it.”
Berra sighs, and it is Berra. “I’m going to prepare myself on Fireday, and see what I can do in the darkness of Wildday. But until then, I must search, and if I meet Orlanth, I will ask him for my Death back.”
“I trust you know she did not do that with intention and is prepared to pay highest price to correct Orlanth’s error.” voice of scribe is calm and melodious but tears flow from his eyes without impediment.
“Of course.” Berra does not see that, for she does not look. She is dedicated to her task. “And I think that taking it back is probably the best way – on Wildday, when I can best be what I am. But I just fought a big, cold, dark thing, and I should try to find nature with Death in it too.” Then she looks up, and looks down again, away from what she sees.
“I bid you farewell. Don’t lose Berra while you seek Death Humakt.” He nods to the form of his beloved and turns to return to the shell of his liegelady.