1626, Storm Season, Truth Week
In Boldhome, sometime after Session 2.30 (Sha-MEN!).
The final days of Storm Season have come. Berra ambushes Varanis on Godday of Movement Week, after having been at the Temple all Wildday. She is wearing two swords, light padding, and a cloak. Over one shoulder she has a spear shaft with a backpack on it. “It’s a lovely morning. I met a Priest who said it would stay this way. Up the saddle and over?”
“Climbing?” the Vingan replies. “Happily! The walls are starting to close in. But…” She looks down at her fine woolens. “Give me a few? Padding only, not armour?”
“Yeah, I think so. Unless you want to challenge yourself. But I got ropes and bronzes. We can go somewhere we haven’t gone before.”
Varanis doesn’t leave Berra waiting long. When she returns, it’s in her padding with its lingering scent of zebra, rhino, and perhaps just a touch of bison. She has the Praxian cloak and a pack that hangs as if it is mostly empty.
Berra sets off at a good walk. “I’m thinking we could go up the saddle to the amphitheatre, look for a good way. But if you have anywhere else you want to try?” She pauses and considers. “Humakti Temple maybe?” There’s a dismissive shrug. She is in one of those moods.
Varanis grins mischievously. “The Humakti Temple is one of the few I haven’t climbed yet in Boldhome. But… I don’t know how Eril would feel about finding me on the roof. I haven’t climbed the Uroxi Temple yet….”
“I do not think Lord Eril would be very pleased with me,” Berra says seriously. “And to be honest I don’t know whether he would stop to find out who the intruders were before he had them dealt with. But there is a really good set of handholds inside one of the halls – I’ve been around that, because it’s all rough stone. If we do the Uroxi Temple, though, we have to get above the cave and paint it in our colours. And then they shout a lot.”
There’s a moment where it looks like the Vingan is giving it really serious consideration. Then she sighs. “I should probably not antagonize the Uroxi,” she says, slipping into her Esrolian dialect mid-sentence. Switching back to Heortling, she adds, “Kallyr and Tennebris might be… unhappy?”
Berra bounces along the road a bit, hopping as much as walking. “We need to be sensible,” she says. “And mature. And stuff.”
“And stuff,” Varanis repeats. “So… the saddle then?”
“Yeah.” Berra falls silent for a while, letting the road go beneath them, and cutting across grass now and again.
Varanis lets the silence grow, before she finally says, “The sword… you said you are to carry it and it will be a challenge. Can you tell me anything more?”1Varanis gets a special on insight.
Berra gives Varanis a glance, and a nod. “Yeah. So, I thought getting it here would be enough.” She does not sound afraid of the task, any more. “But Lord Eril’s not made it clear to people he’s a Hero. He wouldn’t hide it, and I’m telling you now because he … well, because you asked, and it’s not a thing you can hide. But he’s probably vulnerable – needs to find the right power, get to the point where he’s able to deal with threats. I could see it makes him a target, and that’s not a thing I want.” There is respect in her expression, and maybe sadness for someone else. “And even in the Temple, people don’t know. So there’s me. And I’ve thought about since I met D’Val that I needed to push myself, and if it killed me it wouldn’t be so much of a loss compared to what I might become. Because if I work hard, I can do what’s good for Sartar better, and I can fight the battle after Death better too.”
That is so obviously true as she speaks it, that it is probably the underpinning of her whole personality. That is Berra; unafraid, calculating, aspiring. Strange.
The Vingan listens without interruption. “It can’t be an easy path for either of you,” she says when Berra falls silent. “I’ve said it before, but I will say it again. I’m happy to have you by my side as long as your path allows it. More than happy. Honoured.”
Berra grins. “Yeah. I’m enjoying being here. But I need to push hard. But then, he wasn’t much older than us when he saved the Regalia. I’m sort of following his path, which is weird. His Temple supported him in what they wanted him to do, in the only way they could. They told him to do it. And so I get told to do the next thing. I need to find him a Wyter spirit. I guess that just being a Hero isn’t enough – you need to build a community around that.”
“A Wyter for the sword?”
“It’ll be the focus of his Cult.” It sounds like a yes, the way she says it.
Varanis’ eyes widen. “It sounds like something that could take a lifetime. I don’t think I know anyone who has undertaken a task like this.”
“You know him. He did it.” Berra looks proudly nervous of her Lord. “But yeah, it’s a hard thing.”
“Eril quested for a Wyter?”
“The Regiment. He formed it. He made the community spirit, or at least, made it what it is.” Berra indicates a turn that leads across the final stretch of ground up to the rocks, but there is still a decent stretch of sward before them.
Varanis shakes her head, though in amazement, rather than denial. “I’m glad he is on our side,” she says at last.
Berra nods. “I want him to stay that way. If he’s being careful, it’s not because he doesn’t want to be noticed. But I can’t say he doesn’t stretch me. That’s what I wanted when I joined him, so…” She runs out of words, and shrugs.
“Sometimes… I envy you, just a little,” Varanis admits. “You seem so certain of your place in the world. So certain of what you want and how to get there. It’s not an easy path you’ve chosen. But it feels like you know your path.”
Berra laughs. “No, really not. I have … I have less idea than you think. I’m made of water. I get pushed around a lot, and I change to the people I talk to. I know what I AM, I guess. But what I want isn’t a status. It’s learning. Pushing. Movement, I guess. And I’ve got a light up ahead to get to. But the path? No idea. And sometimes even the light’s hidden.”
Varanis laughs ruefully. “Well, you carry it well then. I rarely see the uncertainty I feel in your face. Sometimes, my way feels clear, but…” She shakes her head. She looks like she’s about to say something more when movement above them draws her gaze. “Look! I think that’s a vrok hawk.” In the distance high above them, there’s a large bird of prey. As its circles bring it beyond the cloud cover and into a patch of light, Varanis points. “There! Did you see the glimpse of gold?”
Berra smiles brightly, delighted. “Yes,” she says. “Do you think we can get that high? We could see if we could see if there’s a nest.” See if we could find out. Find out if we could climb that high. ‘see if we could see’. She makes a terrible teacher of Heortling.
The vrok hawk, oblivous to the pair below, continues its circles.
Varanis grins and picks up the pace. “We won’t know unless we try.”
Berra does the same. “Right. It’s … we could start with that double crack?” She points to where two narrow chimneys and a tiny ledge-based traverse lead up the right side of the saddle. “No… that dumps us off somewhere useless, tired.”2 Do a Climb to plan the route? Special.
The route up the face is pretty obvious – and the obvious route is wrong, for it peters out much like the way Berra noticed. There is, however, a patch of roughness that could give way to climbing with bronze hooks and ropes, and Berra having brought them gives everyone more options. Including, of course, short, stocky people who could not make that dangerous leap up there without help.
“Think you could make that if I get the ropes up there?” Varanis is studying the trickier part that might be a stretch for her companion.
“If you got the ropes up, sure.” Berra looks. “It’s just hooks and long-link.” That is, the ropes are joined by knotting them through short figure-of-Infinity loops, to make a cheaper material that is nearly as good.
“Hand them over and I’ll head up first, then.” Varanis has already removed her cloak and is shoving it into the pack she brought with her.
“Sure.” Berra fishes in the bag, and asks, “Would it be easier to keep them in the bag, or to take the end of the rope up?” It looks like she has not done this enough to know.
“Give me a couple? That should be enough for what we need.”
Berra hands over two long lengths of rope, each well cared for, if lumpy. One of them already has an iron hook attached. “I get to do more than just going up with ropes, right?” she checks.
“Of course,” Varanis replies. “I try very hard to never hold you back. There’s just one bit that might be hard for you to reach. The rope would only be there if you decided you needed it.”
“Yuhuh.” One of her Northern noises. “Well, where to first?” Berra drops the bag at the base of the cliff, making sure to leave the slashed-on Death rune visible.
By way of answering, the Vingan rubs her palms against her legs, then picks her spot on the rough face of the rock wall.3Critical pass on climb.
She nimbly picks her way up the surface. She makes this look easy as she progresses rapidly upwards. It’s several minutes before she remembers to pause and check on her companion’s progress.
Berra looks upwards, to the nearest rest point that might be feasible, and goes forwards to grab onto the nearest rock and start moving upwards. This is not natural to her as it is to Varanis, but she obviously enjoys it.4Simple pass on climb. By the time Varanis looks down, Berra is standing on a ledge, holding on to look outwards, and making her next decision. It is possible she is about to drift too far to the right.5 I think this is a 100m cliff, and with the ropes there shouldn’t be a penalty for fumbling that kills us, but if we don’t get up, we don’t get up. So 10 successes over the course of the day? It’s not easy all the way. Don’t roll them all yet – we might abstract some just to save time when we need rest.
“Shift a little left. Keeping going right and you run out of handholds,” Varanis calls down.
“Uhuh!” Berra looks left instead. “Got it.” And up she comes, faster now that she has started to remember how this works.
Varanis studies the rock face, trying to decide the best path up. She hesitates, then starts her ascent again.6Simple pass on climb.
That gives Berra time to catch up with the Vingan, and even to pause so as not to be beneath her, and look for the vrok hawk.7Special pass on climb.
When Berra reaches the point Varanis paused at, there’s no obvious reason for the hesitation. It’s all just rock wall.
The Vingan keeps climbing. “You pick. The best. Escapes.” Her voice drifts down to Berra, the sentence broken up by the effort it takes to reach for the next handhold.
“I’m good at escaping,” Berra calls away. Then she looks at the view as they start to move up. “I can see Yelmalio’s house from here!”
Berra goes out left of Varanis now, taking a route that the sun lights up for her at the right moment, and almost scampering her way up. There is a place up there where she can rest, but then she will need the ropes unless Humakt provides her with height.
The vrok hawk calls somewhere, announcing it has found prey.
Picking her path with care, Varanis catches up, then passes the Humakti. She’s not swift as she usually is, taking the careful route and making safe choices in a way that is almost uncharacteristic of her climbing.8Varanis barely passes climb.
Berra takes that time to rest, not crowing about getting there first or asking what is next, just letting Varanis get ahead. She does watch the Vingan go upwards, thoughtfully, but that is all.9Berra got a special on climb.
It takes some time to find the right place to secure the ropes. Varanis proceeds without rushing, making very certain of the knots. When she’s satisfied at last, she gives Berra the signal.10Series of 3 climb rolls passed, allowing V to climb and set up the ropes.
Berra’s easy climb up the next part leaves her grinning up by Varanis. She looks down and back to find they are higher than the saddle, and all the buildings and Temples. “Wow. We can see everyone’s house from here!”
“The view is always better from above,” Varanis agrees.
“Can we sit down for a bit and just look? I brought food.” Berra does indeed have her pouches, and a small water skin tied to her belt. She has learned from last time, and the thong is thin enough to break if it catches while she is moving.
Varanis nods. “I did too. No vegetables.”
“You’re great.” Berra sits outwards, kicking her little legs against the rock wall. “I… alright. Mostly I’m wondering how to take this place against the gates holding it, but it’s pretty too.”
There’s a little laugh. “If we were in Nochet, Marta would be chiding me for not getting enough vegetables in my meals.”
“Tell her you can have mine.” Berra has a couple of ryebread rolls, filled with apple butter and something salted and chewy. She offers one over. “We’re most of the way up,” she says. “And this is a good spot. Is it easier or harder from here?”
Munching on one of the ryebread rolls, Varanis studies the rock surface above them. “It looks easy enough, if you start at that hand hold, then shift up and to the right some.” She’s using the roll to point out the route.
“Past the bit of darker rock there,” Berra agrees. “Alright. We can do that. The bird was about as high as that patch of grass just there, if that’s the same one I could see from the ground.” She is eating like a delicate little barbarian today – all tiny bites and happy expression.
Varanis takes a swig from her water flask and offers it over to Berra. “That apple butter is nice! Rondrik’s?”
“Nah, Temple. Our kitchens have to be really complicated and we’re setting up for a big festival, so there’s a lot of food in, and they don’t really care who eats what as long as everyone stays out of the way and there’s enough for Sacred Time. All the different dishes have to be cooked at different times to make sure they don’t get the wrong things in but everyone can share.”
“I imagine it gets interesting with different geasa. I only had to manage one week of geasa when I was learning the Fire Sword spell from the Battalion. But I was prohibited meat, sweets, and alcohol. I pretty much lived on fruit, vegetables, nuts, and bread that week.” She turns her hand over, unmindful of the crumbs she spills in the process, to gaze at the Fire Rune tattooed into her skin. “That seems like a very long time ago.”
“You get different bits of the kitchen for different foods, and everyone knows how to deal with it.” Berra considers a moment. “It was a very long time ago. Seasons.”
“What has changed most for you?”
“The sword,” Berra says instantly. “I’m going to be a… I’ve got it to carry.” She looks up at Varanis. “You’ve changed more. You took off most of being Esrolian.”
Varanis snorts. “I doubt my Grandmother would appreciate that observation.” A sudden smile lights up her face. “You know what?”
“Mm?” Berra looks curious.
“I don’t actually care that she wouldn’t approve. By Eurmal’s scrawny ass, I don’t care.” It’s a revelation for her.11And for the record, that was a perfect 000 on Loyalty Saiciae.
Berra blinks. Stares. Blinks again.
“I was what she made me, but it’s been nearly a year since she thrust me at all of you, and the changes in me now? Those are mine.” There’s a fierce pride in that final statement.12And that would be that lovely Air rune that creeps ever closer to 80%.
Berra looks down, and nods. “If I’d known, I’d have brought wine,” she says. “To pour out for freedom.”
“Come on. I want to reach the top. That will be celebration enough!” Moving faster than is wise, Varanis leaps forward into action and for just a second, it looks like she might slip. She whoops with laughter, latching onto the rock face with one hand and staring over the side.1374/74
“You’re on,” Berra says, and picks herself up and gets to the rock. She gives Varanis time to start, and then sets off in the same track, trusting her friend not to fall and take them both down. Her strength holds out, and she keeps up.
“Oh Vinga… it would serve me right!” Varanis is gasping and laughing and seems more than a little giddy.
“Go go go. I’m waiting,” is all Berra says.14Berra rolls a special and Varanis rolls a critical.
The laughing Vingan put on a burst of speed, racing towards the top. Her long reach makes it easy for her to find handholds and she’s up and over in a remarkably short time.
Berra would seem to be fast by anyone else’s lights, and she comes over with her usual strength-based lithe movements, to sit up on the top of the spire they have just climbed. Up above them a vrok hawk calls. It cheated. It can fly.
Varanis’ face is triumphant. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes sparkle.
“Oh…. I didn’t tell you yet. Watch!” Varanis pushes herself forward and over the edge of the rock face and then she’s falling.
“Whaaa….?” Berra blinks, but for the moment follows instructions, and does not try to cast a major Shield spell.
The Vingan, with a wicked grin, soars up past Berra, circling the spire three times, before landing lightly next to her.
Berra grins. “I… alright, it was good you warned me, but warn me more? Are you going to fly me down?”
Varanis laughs. “Want to try?”
“I’d love to,” Berra says. “Can I?”
“How do you want to do this?”
“Uh?” Berra looks confused.
“Well, I think I can make you fly. I know I could carry you and fly.” She shrugs.
“I want to fly,” the Humakti says with determination. “Really want to.”
The Vingan concentrates. She shifts on her feet, sighs, and closes her eyes. She murmurs something under her breath. ((Successful listen would tell you that it was something incomprehensible in Stormspeech.)) When she opens her eyes again, Berra can see the echoes of lightning in their depths. Varanis reaches out to place her hand on the Humakti’s shoulder and a tiny spark closes the gap first.
“There.” She blinks and the lightning fades. “I think that’s it.” Nervous anticipation plays across her features. “Maybe keep the ground close while you check?”
Berra looks hopeful, and then rises up into the air, with a look of delight. “!!!!!” And then she looks down on Varanis. “Big!”
Varanis whoops with unadulterated glee and launches herself into the sky. The vrok hawk shrieks a challenge at having his space be so abruptly invaded by these loud humans.
With one native of the air, and one using borrowed magic, it is clear who will win out if they compete, but after a brief moment of trying to keep up, Berra does not compete. Instead, she starts zipping around, flailing for balance and change of direction, with a lot of happy laughing.
- 1Varanis gets a special on insight.
- 2Do a Climb to plan the route? Special.
- 3Critical pass on climb.
- 4Simple pass on climb.
- 5I think this is a 100m cliff, and with the ropes there shouldn’t be a penalty for fumbling that kills us, but if we don’t get up, we don’t get up. So 10 successes over the course of the day? It’s not easy all the way. Don’t roll them all yet – we might abstract some just to save time when we need rest.
- 6Simple pass on climb.
- 7Special pass on climb.
- 8Varanis barely passes climb.
- 9Berra got a special on climb.
- 10Series of 3 climb rolls passed, allowing V to climb and set up the ropes.
- 11And for the record, that was a perfect 000 on Loyalty Saiciae.
- 12And that would be that lovely Air rune that creeps ever closer to 80%.
- 14Berra rolls a special and Varanis rolls a critical.