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1629, Sea Season, Illusion Week, Godsday


The group are still travelling from Nochet to Boldhome. Just before S-5S-01.


On the road, Berra insists on getting Kesten’s news first, before she talks. What have the years been like? What has he been doing? Her interest seems more than mere politeness. If someone did not know her enthusiasm for others, it would seem strange in a Humakti. To someone who has never seen it before, it could seem strange in anybody.

Jessidan, the bodyguard, relaxes after a signal from Kesten. Apparently if his ward finds it normal, Jessidan can take it.

There is little there to convince a teenager who has the wrong idea about what the right idea is.

Still, after that she starts telling him what she has been up to. After about half an hour of riding and talking and gesticulating, she stops, and says, “Um, that’s still only Storm Season. Three Sacred Times ago. I mean, we got weeks, but I’m gonna be talking a lot. Lemme think this one through, because if I tell you everything we won’t be done by Boldhome unless we stay up nights.”

Definitely nothing suspicious in that.

“Riiiight. So let’s go back to before we met, then. Lord Eril didn’t like me much – I’d suggested a Heroquest which solved a problem at Whitewall, but wasn’t actually … it’s complicated. And then Irillo ended up somehow in a Heroquest, as Lord Eril. That’s pretty much impossible, but at the time everything was happening so fast and so much that I didn’t really think it through.” Berra does not seem to mind the not-twins getting slightly closer to listen in.

“Irillo was pretty badly hurt, but the same things happened to the… I don’t know if he was a Hero then. Maybe. To the High Sword.” Berra’s eyes narrow. “He’d been told to hide some of the relics of his Temple, and cut away from the Household of Death. No Regiment, no support, Just an oath to defend Boldhome to the Death, which… he kinda did, although he left and came back. I think the Separation from his Regiment counted, or at least, the god was satisfied.” Berra tries to get across what she is saying by waving her hands.

“Going back a bit more – a lot more – when he was young he’d led a raid on a clan next to his which they’d met with a Heroquest. That’s not usual. But they’d used it to trap him. We later found out there was a lot more going on than that. But that’s what he used, it was a thing he could trigger again. He took enough people with him to act as worshippers, I think, and he went through it. The whole thing’s called Indrodar’s Mistake, and it takes seven years. He knew the way within the Heroquest, anyhow, to where he could leave the relics.” Berra does not mention the circumstances. “Then, to make sure he couldn’t give away what had happened, he undertook the Quest of Ikadz.” Berra wince-shudders, and lets that sink in. “He got too much cut away, and even the things he set and sent to remind him, couldn’t.”

Varanis shudders at the mention of Ikadz. Her expression turns stormy and she looks like she is beginning to consider chasing the youngsters off.

The youngsters are hanging on Berra’s story, like they know it and are checking details.

“That’s why I still… that was a strange time. He was broken by the Heroquest, far more than Irillo was, because he’d been hit with his own past. He wasn’t able to give an order, he wasn’t even the High Sword for a while, and he was still putting everything into serving Sartar. Kallyr’d apparently been killed at that point, and he arranged for us to start the Lightbringers’ Quest.” Berra looks to Varanis. “They brought her back.”

The Vingan just nods, still looking angry.

“After that, well. We came down to Nochet. That was the first time we’d really pissed off Queen Leika. She’d burned a body that wasn’t Kallyr’s, and everyone pretty much advised us to get out of town for a while. It was sad – I wanted to stay, but I’d have ended up getting other people into trouble, so I let myself be sent away. Lord Tennebris had enough to do without me making it harder. So yeah, still working out that not annoying Queens bit.” Berra gives Kesten a moment to acknowledge she remembered his words, before going on.

Through the telling of it, Varanis mostly looks tumultuous. There are times when she nearly interjects, but surprisingly, she guards her tongue.

Berra is leaving Kesten with the option of speech, but he is in turn leaving her with the option of going on. She elects to fill the silence, and he does not say anything politically inappropriate about the Colymar. A double win.

“Then I met you, in Nochet. That was a while back. You know what happened. An’ I was fed up with… I went to Prax with Nala, and that’s back to where I started telling this. The Raus household was well run, and I was impressed by the Duke’s thinking and the way it was put together. You could trust his hospitality if you was there, I figure. But I’d had time to think, on the way to Corflu, and up the river. So in the desert, I asked the god Humakt if Eril was worthy to worship as a hero. I saw the sword made by our blacksmith, which is a whole other pot of me going hmmm because how he knew I don’t know. He probably does. And I woke with an iron sword that needed to be taught right how to be the two Runes together.” Berra looks down at where Lord Raven rides. “It didn’t have a spirit then, but I already knew he was a Torch.”

Nearby, Varanis drops her hand to Dezar’s hilt, tracing the Truth rune that matches the Wyter sword.

Nayale and Harmakt are both remembering to keep a look-out. There isn’t a Humakti who isn’t, save Jessiden, who is up ahead of the group and not really listening, and therefore does not have to remember.

Berra is not just looking out, but occasionally signalling to her people to show them points of interest as they pass: a potential spy-hawk, or the way the ground undulates in a way that could hide a small ambush party.

“I talked to the High Sword at New Pavis, who said that my vision was clear to him – Lord Eril was ready, but I wasn’t. But the sword was made from iron that I’d won, and … actually now I think about it, Harrek gave me the iron, kind’v, and that’s probably important.”

Berra ignores Kesten’s reaction, or does not notice it. She is thinking deeply, having unhorsed her thoughts. Behind them, as if giving due deference to the phrase, Nayale slips off the bison so she can walk beside her brother and listen more easily.

Varanis chews her lip. “I hadn’t thought about that. What’s the connection between Harrek and the Torch?”

Berra sighs. “Dunno. But I think he’s Death. And he gave me the looting of the building I found it in – there was nothing else there. It was kind’ve just a … sort of a Temple? A big hollow building. That was a weird fortnight.” There’s a very small-Humakti shrug. “I think it’s probably… we’re linked together still.”

Her friend nods. “Which would be why he turned up at the battle… but, I’m getting ahead of you.”

“Yeah, that…” Berra looks at Kesten, and then back at Varanis. “Kinda. I’m not sure how much of that I’m skipping yet. But anyhow, lemme scuff over the next few years.” She releases the reins to gesture about her. “Actually, first of all, I went back over the altar when I talked to High Sword Roneer. Got the sense for Assassins then – an’ I also taught the sword a bit of how to bring Death cleanly. I know that ain’t usual, but he said that if the God would accept me, he wasn’t going to stop me. Then… yeah, also, on the way back to Sartar we met the Eternal Battle… I think? Yeah, that time. And I picked up a grudge at Tourney Altar I need to go back and check, and under some circumstances a rhino and me on a bison can outrace light cavalry, which was really funny. You gotta go through deep mud and rivers. Heh. ‘Heavy’ going.” She takes a moment to have the giggles.

Behind them, Nayale explains to Harmakt that the Eternal Battle’s the rage of Storm Bull in Prax, and it’s full of skeletons that fight Chaos and everything else, and if you die in it–

“Shhh! She’s still talkin’!”

“It was around that time that I rather accidentally stole him,” Varanis muses. “Orlanth’s balls, but you came in swinging hard.”

“Yeah. Snow-storm. New sword. Vulnerable time. So Vinga had him.” Berra grins at Kesten’s latest compressed expression. “I ended up wandering through a Bison camp, trying to put Death together. I knew it wasn’t Vinga … wasn’t Varanis stealing him, and it was caused because the sword was new, but it was still hard not to have him. Then we killed a camp of ogres and… do you want a drink?”

“I had slipped into the Hero Plane while meditating. It happens on occasion,” Varanis says with a shrug, as if that’s normal.

Nayale gives her a dubious stare.

Berra makes sure everyone is good to go. “So yeah, we killed the ogres. That was enough for Orlanth to be proving his worth.” She thinks back, and then forward again. “So, I was going to move forward a bit, right? We’re back in Sartar, the sword is at the Temple, and that’s how things stayed for a bit-while.”

Varanis frowns, remembering. “We went to Tarsh…” Her fingers are restless on Dezar’s hilt.

“Yeah. So… alright, I think that our followers might burst if we don’t give them a bit of filling-in on what we did in the mean time. But maybe later, huh?” She looks back at the youths and the borrowed bison.

They are still alert to their surroundings, but Berra has a large share of their attention.

The Vingan sighs. “My poor choices are not relevant anyway. Except perhaps in terms of holding you up as an exemplary Humakti. But I think those two already know that you are.”

Berra takes a sip of her water, and gives Varanis a look. “Enough of that. Right. So. It was pretty clear I didn’t know how to be a Wyter Priest, and I still don’t… well, it’s awkward. But we got to the point where I was looking for a reason to be… I worked out who the Wyter had to be. And that counts for something, because I meant to do it. I just didn’t mean to do it when it happened. Kids, drop back for a bit. This bit isn’t for you.” Berra also checks where Jessidan is, up ahead, and slows her horse to let the spacing change a little.

There’s a flash of rebellion swiftly quelled. Harmakt slows the bison and his sister stays beside it.

Varanis arches a brow and glances at them then back at Berra. “Want me to keep them amused? Or shall I stay?”

Berra shrugs. “Don’t mind really,” she says. “S’not taking long.” Still she is obviously thinking about what to say next, and how.

Kesten gives her as much time as she needs.

Varanis decides to stay where she is.

“In trying to keep the Crimson Bat away, we ended up in Tarsh, in a Heroquest.” Berra is obviously working out sentence by sentence what to say. She is suddenly very interested in her horse’s mane. “And during that, Vinga-” She indicates Varanis. “… ended up with my sword. Which is why hers is a rapier, and this one’s a bit different, but if you look carefully, you can still see some of the same polishing marks.” Berra’s sword has a crystal set into the Y of the Truth Rune, and the leather handle is the plain green of the alynxfish skin. “And when I was on my own, I ended up doing a thing that meant that the White Bear was alerted. And he hates Jar-eel. That’s important. He really doesn’t like the Lunars. Or maybe the other way around. And then I ended up back in Boldhome, and ready for battle, and we went to what they’re calling the Battle of Heroes.”

Varanis has the grace to look embarrassed.

Berra now falls naturally into another style of speaking. “Then, in good order, the army of Kallyr Starbrow marched to war, passing the River and turning West. I was set above the lay Malani, for the march.” She does not bother explaining geography or tribe names to Kesten. “Allies in the field were King Koraki of Alda Chur commanding, then King Argrath of New Pavis. Battle was offered west of Alda Chur, in the shade of the Falling Ruins. The enemy was led by the Red Emperor, but not the Emperor favoured by Jar-eel. She took the field also. The spears of Yelmalio were our anvil, and upon the ground the Humakti were to their side, and the army’s wings were Praxians. King Koraki was central, the other commanders staying back. I was set within the Regiment.” She is reciting a report of some kind. “King Kallyr called on the strength of the star in her brow and the star captains wrestled with the Lunar powers. Praxian shamans unleashed spirits and the sky was filled with them. The Lunar College of Magic was pushed back in its magical defences.”

Someone watching would see Berra frown momentarily. “Jar-eel began to dance. She cut her way through the forward troops to the anvil, and Lord Eril revealed himself as a Hero. She turned towards him, preserving the spears. As he approached her through general melee, the White Bear emerged within the Humakti Regiment.” Hardly a hesitation. Reciting the facts as presumably written somewhere means that Berra is avoiding giving away as much as she usually does. “I split the front line to allow him through and followed, but I did not need to warn my Lord. He gave room.” That is a funny way of saying, ‘The Hero managed to throw himself out of the way and not die’, but battle reports are like that. “The White Bear killed Jar-eel’s mortal part, and then took me to the Emperor’s camp, without meeting resistance that slowed us.” Translation: he killed everything that got in his way. “The Emperor fled him.”

Kesten continues to be alert, interested. Much of this is obviously new to him, but he has a good face for court.

Berra shortens the rest of the tale. “After that, people wanted to talk to me a lot – I punched Koraki and he exiled me. That got us an escort out, and also I had been itching to punch him for a while. So the arguing with Kings bit… well, he’s a lot more relaxed than Queen Leika. But I felt I should mention that because it doesn’t necessarily reflect well on me. I didn’t get talked to by anyone except my Lord, though. And then… I got back home. And I’d been told not to do the Heroquest that would find the Hero his Wyter, but I still… well. I don’t know if I wanted to, but I think it was important I wasn’t prepared, and had to do it anyhow. I got thrown into it unexpectedly.” Berra shrugs, thinks, and gestures the young warriors back. More secret bits.

They obey.

Varanis looks troubled again.

“Now, he’s a great man, but he’s got his faults. A lot of them. So one of the things I set off to do was change him. Once I knew what was going on – he wasn’t going to have things happening the same way. I’d told him that I wasn’t going to do it like that. And I’d told him to find another way. So when it was me instead, I did that. I made allies, tried to start a different bit of the quest in the marsh. He’s… small-minded sometimes. He doesn’t give enough respect to people who aren’t human, or people who can’t help his plans. So I made sure that a lot of ducks helped him, and I think it’s made a difference, but I don’t know. That’s… yeah. I also don’t think he knows I’m trying like this.”

Varanis stares resolutely at the spot between her horse’s ears.

Berra goes on, quietly. “We met some of the remains of the people he’d killed. They went for him – me. I’d be dead but for my friends. I was closer to Death there than on the battlefield with Jar-eel. But we also met the vampire that his brother said started it all, and that’s dead now too.” Then she pulls herself together into that strange calmness she has sometimes. Her voice changes a little, her expression clears. “I do believe that having people who were not me do that will have changed the Hero. That is my main aim. I have done enough, outside the Temple, and I intend to concentrate on him.” Something about her indicates she has lost her will to go out and look for fights. Some essential Berra-ness is missing, somehow.

Varanis rides alongside, still silent. She glances up like she is thinking of speaking up, but then changes her mind.

“I think that is all that needs telling,” Berra says, calmly. “We finished the Heroquest, and you have met the Wyter, Lord Raven. He was created, because I had killed the first, but he was made in the same way. I do not believe that the conditions could be recreated, but they do not have to be. Any new initiates will have a path to follow. There is a cult now.”

“I didn’t expect to follow him this way,” Varanis admits finally. “But we need Heroes to fight the Lunars and he is a strong one.”

Berra gives Varanis a look, and a polite smile, and a nod. “I did not expect it either,” she says. “Still, I think there is little more to say. I would like to ride quietly now, unless you have anything more?”

Her friend says nothing, but nods her acknowledgment.