Maalira — Heroquestions
1628, Sea Season, Fertility Week
Sea Season, probably Fertility Week, on the way to show Baby Berra to Queen Leika. [[[s03:session-2|Session 2]]]
Having obtained beer, and found a quiet table, Berra sits down where she can keep an eye on anyone approaching, the baby, the cluster of tables in the centre… she puts her back to the wall. “So. First off, I don’t know how much you actually know about Heroquests.” She says it flatly, but there is a pause which makes it a question.
“Assume I know nothing,” says Maalira, accurately.
“If I start where you know nothing I have to explain they’re you… actually, let’s do that, because it sounds like a good challenge. So, the gods are banned from the world, because if they came here, the world would finish off the dying that it started.” It’s certainly one way of putting the Great Compromise that keeps the world together. Probably as accurate as any other.
Maalira nods – this is familiar.
“But you need to keep on reliving it, to keep the world kept together. At Sacred Time, and I’m guessing your holy times and I’m permitted to tell you that much about my holy times, we enact the things that the gods did, and the power of the gods is close at those times, so it sits on us. So the re-enactments in those times are a sort of Heroquest, and they’re the most common, and I guess the easiest.” That’s also probably pretty close to true, although ‘the gods send us their power’ is another way of putting it. And at Sacred Time, of course, the world is renewed by that power.
“It’s a bit different for White Ladies but yes, something like that,” Maalira says carefully.
“Yeah. So those times people who are usually the priesthood and sometimes the more senior initiates are taking on the power of the gods, and bringing it close. But you can do that when it’s not a holy time as well, although the holy times help. You can bring their power into the world, and keep some of it here. You need a lot of worshippers to get through to that place, or a lot of power, but you can re-enact what the gods did, and your body and spirit can be changed, and then you come back with more knowledge, or blessings, or curses. Because you’re the god as much as you can be – goddess in your case. As much as you can be. And that changes you, and lets them change the world.”
Maalira’s eyes light up. “That sounds… incredible.”
Berra grins. “Yeah. I think that your goddess’s ability to bring people back – resurrection – could be that. It’s so powerful. Rune spells in themselves are a tiny bit of it, but not for long. I’m pretty sure of that. But there’s a famous Humakti called Sarostip who went into the god-world several times. He lives here. He’s got a lot of power – he can kill you by looking at you, because he understands Death.”
Maalira recoils, going ashen. “By LOOKING at you?”
“Yeah. He’s pretty terrifying. But because he’s a Humakti, he… let’s think, what can I tell you? He’s pretty good at controlling it. It doesn’t just happen. But Humakt’s power is Death, and there’s a tiny part of it with Lord Sarostip.”
Maalira swallows visibly, then nods. “All the same, I think I’ll give him a wide berth.”
“Yeah, well. Anyhow, I don’t know if he did anything new in the Hero World – that’s a sort of weird thing because sometimes it… no, alright. You’re not knowing anything. So, sometimes when you go into that state, you’re just walking through things in this world, and you have a really small effect. Sometimes, you’re in both worlds, and that you can control most because you’re you, but you’re also a goddess or a god so you get more. Sometimes, you go all the way into the place that the gods are in, and that’s really hard to get back from, you need to know what you’re doing.” Berra remembers her beer and sips it.
“And that’s a Hero Quest?”
“All of those are, but to be a Hero you need to be doing something really special – you need to be off the paths that people walk normally. Like… if you do the Lightbringers’ Quest at Sacred Time, you know bits of it already – you do those bits and it’s pretty safe. Just that you might meet opposition. But if you decide that Chalana Arroy needs to go ask Humakt about Death to understand it, before she goes to try to undo it, maybe nobody’s ever done that before. But because they’re gods, it’s possible. Because they don’t have time, that’s happening in the god-time too. So if you can find a new thing, and survive doing it, then you’re a Hero.”
“That sounds… dangerous. No wonder you need healers.” Maalira’s tone is light, but she looks uncomfortable.
“Yes. Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never done that. I’ve never… I don’t know if I could. But the next thing that I’m planning to do is because of someone who did. My High Sword. I’m … because he’s a Hero, I can do the same things he did, for the same sort of result. It’s a really strange thing that he’s alive, but it doesn’t really stop me, and it’s advantageous for him.”
“Being alive IS usually advantageous for living people, yes.” Maalira winks. “So… you aren’t ready to do a totally new thing yet, but you can do something someone else already did, because they did it already?”
Berra grins, amused. “He’d prefer to stay alive, yeah. And yes. And I should tell you about that as well. Is now good?”
“Yes, very good.”
“Okay. So, for all I don’t like him, he’s talented and powerful and smart. And apparently he was all of those things when he was younger, too, only a lot less of a petty … yeah, my temple probably doesn’t want me to reveal he’s a petty bigoted arsehole, but he is.1Berra fumbles Loyalty Eril. However, he’s pretty good for Sartar and he puts me in positions that make me stronger. That is, he sends me to do hard stuff. But he wasn’t like that once. He was just an initiate, and that’s actually surprisingly important. But the Lunars had invaded, and he was in Boldhome, and he had a plan to save the Regimental treasures.”
“Go on…” Maalira prompts.
“He got given a lot of things that nobody wanted the Lunars to have, and then he got banned from his Regiment – cut off from it. And everyone else died. The whole lot – everyone wiped out but for him. He had to live on.” That sobers Berra completely, and she looks down at her drink and then up at Amphelise. “Very Humakti,” she says quietly.
“Yeah. And we found out when Irillo got caught up in it, and it happened to him. Because of what Lord Eril did, that meant that Irillo ended up playing him in a Heroquest. So it all got … a bit political and weird after that. Not many people know – the city had mostly emptied out to go to war. And of those, really not many know what it means. But it meant Irillo could follow him and we could go with him and find out what had happened.”
Berra rolls her drink between her hands, although her attention is still as much on the room as on her own internal musings.
“I met Irillo, right?”
Berra nods. “The merchant. He’s… well, anyhow. Lord Eril’s the important one here. We followed him as he took a lot of things including some very dangerous relics out of Boldhome, while the gates were still dangerous to use, with Lunars everywhere, after the battle. He got them to his home, and he did something really desperate. Now, I think that he was able to make that as a Heroquest because of the power of what he had with him, but he was also being very much like Humakt, which had to have helped – he was alone in the wilderness, at least until he got there. Cut off from his family, his friends, and having just learned what Death was.”
Maalira frowns a little, trying to follow this. “I didn’t realise he was a hero. He seemed… ” she trails off.
“Irillo isn’t. He just got onto that path. And you can’t tell with Lord Eril just by looking at him. But it marked Irillo. It marked all of us. So, the really important thing to know here is that if you’re in a Heroquest, you can have enemies set against you. People you know who are your foes, people who come to oppose you – the more like a real event it is, the more powerful the result. So if Humakt needs to fight Zorak Zoran, you’ll probably end up with a troll or a berserker enemy, in the quest. Right?” Berra’s questions sounds like it has a follow-up.
“That makes sense.”
“So, that means that sometimes you might be someone else’s enemy. Before he got to Boldhome, Lord Eril had been trapped by someone who ran a Heroquest. And it was really really successful. So much that it cast him as the one who ended up losing, and created a change in the world. It put a magical marsh close to his home. One that he was mystically tied to.”
“HeroQuests handing out magical marshes is no basis for a system of religion,” murmurs Maalira indistinctly
Berra doesn’t get that, but she goes on, “So he used it. He used the power of being tied to it, and he went into the marsh, and he hid everything there. That’s the thing that was new, I think. He’s done other things since then, but taking the relics along the path and converting being an enemy made to lose into a win – it’s… well, it’s very Lord Eril, to be honest. Now that I think about it. But it was also a new thing that he did that nobody had ever done before, and then he came out alive again.”
“It’s very complicated, isn’t it.”
“Yeah. And we had to work out what was going on as it went along. But he got given a task, and he did it. But it cost him a lot, and I haven’t told you about that bit yet. The important thing for you is going to be in Boldhome, before he left, anyhow. He had to get rid of his clan markings – all his tattoos. And he needed not to have scars, so he needed a white lady’s help. The bits after he leaves and gets back home are probably all not a problem. It’s just that he couldn’t use an ordinary temple.”
Maalira leans in close, still looking a little puzzled but starting to get to grips. “So what will your Hero Quest be?”
“There’s a bit more to tell, but I’ll be following in his footsteps,” Berra says. She does not lean in or back, just stays where she can see the room. “I need to, to get to the last bit, where there’s a spirit.”
Berra’s face, as always, shows a cluster of emotions, meaning none of them are really readable.2Maalira fails Insight (Human).
“Are you scared?”
There’s a brief moment. “Kind of,” replies the Humakti. “It’s going to be really bad.” She looks at Maalira seriously, and one of the emotions coalesces as worry. “But I’ll survive it.”
“Well, you have to, don’t you.” Maalira’s voice might have wavered a wee bit. “Baby Berra needs to know her namesake.”
“I don’t have to die…” Berra trails off. “Sorry. I think I misheard you. Yes. I mean, if something else doesn’t kill me, that would be good. She’s…” Complicated things happen in her mind and heart, and she vents them by shrugging and having a bit more beer. “I don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid of it.”
“I meant you have to survive,” Maalira mumbles, flushing.
“Yeah. It took me a while, sorry.” For a moment it looks like Berra will reach out, and then she clasps her cup more firmly, and gives Maalira a moment to recover.
Maalira takes several swigs of her drink in a row, then hiccups.
Berra smirks. “You’re… are you alright? Need a thump on the back or anything?” Amused, maybe confused.
Maalira coughs a little and shakes her head. “I’m fine. Just clumsy.”
“You’re taking a lot in,” Berra says. A moment later she adds, “I didn’t mean that like you were breathing it.”
“Close enough.” Maalira grins, and takes another gulp of her drink.
That gets a wide smile. “So, I can tell you more if you like, or I can try to take your mind off it for a bit.”
Maalira’s eyebrows quirk ever so slightly. “It’s a bit heavy, but I don’t mind hearing more.” She considers a moment. “Take my mind off it with what?”
“Um, I had not actually thought that far ahead, but I was pretty sure I could think of something if that’s what you chose.” Berra looks like she has no regrets about her decision to say that.
Maalira smirks. “I almost want to choose that just to make you come up with something.”
“I get to talk to nervous soldiers a lot,” Berra says, which might not be a change of subject. “But I think you’re good to go on. Where had we got to? Oh, yes. He had to keep his clan safe.”
Maalira nods encouragingly.
“So that’s where you’ll be, dealing with him cutting off his clan markings. But later, he needed to do more. He’d got rid of the relics by then – I say got rid of but it was done with reverence frankly quite a lot of horror as far as I can tell and I’m going to have to have words with him about that. Then he got exiled from his clan.” She sounds like she still has more to say – that is just the starter.
“There’s a whole story there about the relics and everything that you’re skipping,” Maalira protests.
“Yeah. Want me to go back to it? It’s a pretty long story.” Berra checks if her beer tastes like it did a moment ago.
“Yes please. The more I know the more sense it all makes.”
“Alright. So, this is an old story, and he was caught up in it. There’s a place called the Upland Marsh that’s a bit West of here. It’s a very bad place, owned and some people say made by a vampire-thing or worse. Someone who thinks vampires are his tools. Delecti the Necromancer. A couple of hundred years ago, the Lismelder tribe settled there, and their war chief made a lot of mistakes learning to fight the marsh. They drove off the ducks that were holding it back and took the lands for their own. Then the undead started coming, and killed Queen Lismelda. Indrodar went into the marsh repeatedly to try to find her body for burial. He searched so long that his companions, half of them were dead, and he had to make peace with the ducks and learn how to fight with them. It took seven years, but there are points in the story when he found things. That’s the story that was used as a Heroquest, to trap Lord Eril the first time.”
Maalira nods. “So it’s a pattern that repeats – the marsh, the objects, the hiding and the finding?”
“Well, like any Heroquest, yes. Lord Eril made it work for him – Indrodar loses a lot of companions before he finds his way out, which was the trap, but he also finds safe places in the marsh, and that’s what he used. He put them in a place, but it did cost a lot. When we went in there, it did about, um… well, some of them ran away which counted, but it killed half the people we took in. And then in there, he killed a couple more himself.” Berra’s expression comes together into a mixture of angry rejection and gale-force disapproval.
Maalira looks shocked. “Why would he do that?”
“To make sure of it. I… am going to tell him I’m not going to. That he has to find another way. But he thought he was jus… no. He thought he was sealing them into the Heroquest, and he’d come back for them. But his plan fell apart later. But I’m not doing it. It’s wrong.”
Maalira nods. “I don’t fight anyone, but I know… sometimes things happen in battle. It’s different if you’re not in a battle though. You shouldn’t do it on purpose.”
“Yeah.” Berra looks down at her beer and lifts it then puts it down. “He thinks he has nothing else to do. And maybe because of him, and because of that, Sartar stayed strong. and maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s free – because he didn’t let the power be used, and because of …. well, I don’t know. I don’t want everything to hang on that. But I don’t know enough, and maybe it does.” The thoughts are too big for her, and make her shoulders slump a little.
Maalira reaches out and pats her on the hand. “I’m sure you’ll do it right.”
Berra gives Maalira a smile, and pulls herself out of that slump, or at least becomes calm. It settles on her like a cloak – her posture changes and her expression becomes neutral, and she speaks with more precision. “After leaving the swamp, he returned to his home, wounded and by the time he arrived delirious. His friend, and maybe lover, Thenaya, healed him, with his brother’s help. Then he faced his father, armed with having taken several of the clan’s warriors to die, and he was exiled. Then, with his brother Silor, he returned to Boldhome.” The tale could be told by someone completely devoid of emotion now – either Maalira’s hand is very calming, or Berra has some strange way of making herself calm.3Critical on Loyalty D’Val – Berra acts as she believes the duck would.
“How do you do that?” Maalira asks abruptly. “Switch to calm like that, I mean.”
Berra pauses, considers. “My Sword Lord is an inspiration to me,” she replies. “He would not need to be excited, and he would not give way to emotion. So, I follow his example in this.”
Maalira nods. “You are very committed to the shape of this, aren’t you,” she says. “I mean, seeing the shape of how all these heroes have moved through the world before you, and putting yourself into the right shape to follow them.”
That takes a little longer to think about, and all Berra says is, “I have to be, to be Humakti in the way I should. If I rested, paused, then someone else would have to take up the burden.” It might or might not be an answer.
Maalira tilts her head, quizzical. “That’s not exactly an answer.”
“It is the answer I have. I cannot rely on the future, and so I keep trying.” Berra gives Maalira a look which might have a touch of curiosity or calculation in, but little else.
Maalira catches the look and raises her eyebrows. “Yes?”
“It’s hard work,” Berra replies. “But worth it.” And it’s Maalira she’s looking away from, as she says that.
Maalira looks down at her drink, then drinks some of it. “I’m glad,” she says at last.
Berra waits, and then asks, “Good to go on? There is a little more left.”
“Yes, go on.”
“On the way to Boldhome, Lord Eril handed over at least some of the money he had been entrusted with to his brother. That is the other part of how he saved Sartar. It is possible he still keeps some part of the great treasury hidden, but unlikely. Silor was told where it was, to my knowledge, and spent it on keeping the South together.” Berra goes back to telling the tale blankly as if it is easy to do.
The next bit makes her perk up a little, like it is interesting even in her unnaturally calm state. “On his brother’s advice, and request, Silor betrayed Eril to the Lunars.”
Maalira’s eyebrows shoot up and her mouth opens, but she says nothing.
“This was to prevent him from dying, and to cement Silor’s reputation with them as someone reliable, further protecting clan and family.” The clan that had just exiled him. Berra seems to find no irony in that. “And then he paid Eurmali for one last Heroquest.”
“That must have taken a lot of courage, to do another one.”
“He had used their help before he left, and they knew he had money. He knew they wanted it, and had put it beyond their reach with his brother. However, they did not find this out until it was begun. He undertook Ikadz and Humakt.” Ikadz. A cursed name. The god of torturers, the cutter, the one who cuts and yet leaves alive. It is a name infamous enough to be known in New Pavis.
Maalira tenses herself as if suppressing a shudder
It’s shuddersome. “Everything that could incriminate him was cut away, and they did not find the money or the jewels, but he lost too much. He had left himself letters to be delivered, and coded clues that would return to him when he was done, but too much was taken from him. The Eurmali would have killed him, only the Lunars arrived, knowing where he was, and took him to question him, thinking the damage done to him was an argument among thieves. They too could get nothing from him, even with magic.”
“That sounds terrible. So much cruelty.”
“We found out, when Irillo went through it, that it was terrible, but we found out another thing as well. Because of the magic involved, what was cut from him was enough to make a spirit in itself. If I go through the Heroquest, then I’ll be able to summon it. Or, rather, it will arrive, I think. Last time I killed it, but while it was a true Death, it was also only an ending to the Heroquest. It can be remade, and this time called to service.”
“A spirit wandering around by itself?”
“Imprisoned, by the fact that the Indrodar story had not been finished, and it can be remade. It was in the spirit world, or the place of gods – I do not know which. However, it will rise again if I do this thing.” Berra does not even seem worried about it.
“That… that doesn’t sound entirely safe,” Maalira says, looking concerned.
“I mean, even for the rest of this very not safe thing.”
A burst of laughter comes from the other end of the room, where someone has just told a great joke or made a fine witticism.
“It will not wish me harm, but I know already that it will want to complete its task, and protect what we have already brought back. It is, as far as it knows, Eril of the Cinder Fox clan, and I will need to persuade it. I will probably have to fight it, and keep some of my magic back to do that. However, if I fail, there will be at least one other present that I trust to do what I cannot.”
“Ikadz will be played by Lord D’Val. He has the Separation and the power. He can do it and not be harmed too much by the association, and he will be alert as his part ends.”
Maalira nods. “It must take a lot of planning.”
“It has many parts, but each can be seen as separate from the next. Most need only that I get to the next.” Berra observes it almost politely, as if offering information. “Well. I think this is enough talk, for I should see what Thane Varanis wishes. Do you have any other questions?” It sounds like she means it – it’s not a dismissal, and Berra would stay if Maalira wanted to ask more.
“Not for now,” Maalira says slowly. “I’m still taking it all in. And I suspect Varanis wishes very much to be rescued from the baby again.”
Berra bows over her beer, with the same precision as Yamia uses all the time, and stands to go see to duty. For once, she moves with merely ordinary grace, as if the lithe athlete has been put away and something else is out and being used.
Maalira learns a little more about Heroquesting, and rather more about Lord Eril’s quest.
- 1Berra fumbles Loyalty Eril.
- 2Maalira fails Insight (Human).
- 3Critical on Loyalty D’Val – Berra acts as she believes the duck would.