Serala — Darkness Beckons
????, Fire Season, Season/Movement Week
Fire Season/Movement Week/Freezeday/Mid Afternoon
At the White Grapes, Dormal’s room, Dormal and Finarvi talk so much sense that Serala finds herself completely buying into their twistyness.
Dormal returns some time in the afternoon, and pauses when he finds Serala and Finarvi sitting companionably, leaning against the door to his room, deep in conversation in their own language. They both look tired, and Serala is definitely carrying an air of ‘irritation’ with her. It would appear Dormal has either visitors, squatters or a suddenly acquired fanbase.
Serala looks on the tired side of tired by this point, leaning against Finarvi as though for moral support. Although it could be closer to immoral support, knowing the Redsmith. “Dormal,” Serala says quietly. “Do you have some time to talk?” She gestures to the door, “See, I’m knocking, and everything.” Rat a tat go her knuckles on the wood.
Dormal raises an eyebrow. “I don’t see why not. Come in.”
Serala nods and comes to her feet, offering a hand to help Finarvi up if he wants it. Then she steps into the room with her cousin, pausing to see if she’s invited to sit. If not, she will lean herself up against the wall. Someone really is on her best behaviour at this point. Or just too drained of emotion to even try and throw her weight around.
There isn’t much furniture in the room – a bed and some rugs.
Dormal sits on the floor by the bed. “Pull up a… well, there aren’t any chairs. Help yourself to some floor.” He looks over at Serala. “Now you… I have no questions for, right now.” He looks at Finarvi. “You, on the other hand, have some explaining to do, I think.”
Finarvi hesitates before settling into a squat on the floor. “I can’t take all the credit. I share some of the responsibility with Varanis, whose lead I followed. I woke to see her leaving, and followed her, not knowing she was following you.”
Serala seems content to watch Finarvi squirm a little, letting her eyes half close as she very nearly relaxes. “Because following Varanis is always a good idea, isn’t it?” she asks sardonically, unwilling to let the opportunity to poke fun at her cousin slip by.
“Given that last time we were here, she vanished and nearly ended up feeding the vultures, it seemed wise.” Finarvi pulls a face, half grimace, half wry smile. “I thought she was sneaking out to meditate again. I wanted to know where she was. It doesn’t matter. When I caught up with her, she had lost you, but some rat-faced fellow told her when to be at the temple of Lhankor Mhy. She took the lead then, gathering everyone who was sleeping here together and making sure we were armed. I think her intention was to protect you.” The wry smile is winning through now.
“Somebody… told you where I’d be? What did he look like? Tall? Short? Scars?” asks Dormal. “And what, you just trusted some random stranger who told you where I’d be? What else did he say?”
“That is, in itself, a fascinating question,” Serala murmurs, positively enthralled to hear the rationale.
Finarvi looks defensive. “I didn’t trust him. I tried to tell Varanis, but she was focused.” He shakes his head. “Short, thin, looked like a rat that had fallen on hard times. Didn’t see any scars, but it was dark and he was closer to Varanis than me, and I wasn’t really taking notice of his looks. I was more concerned with putting a knife in him if he tried to harm Varanis.”
“Naturally you asked him how he came by this information and why he was giving it to you?”
“He said divination, but I thought he was lying. He tried to charge her 20 Lunars for it. Said he needed money to get out of town so he could sell this information to more people,” explains Finarvi.
“As long as you didn’t actually pay him.”
There is a snort of laughter from the figure leaning against the wall at that.
Finarvi mutters, “Varanis paid him ten lunars and thought she had made a good trade.”
“So, you paid a spy for planting some information on you. I have to award him points for style. And for getting paid twice. What next?”
The normally serious Serala is often more at ease around her cousin… and something in this inquisition seems to strike her as exceedingly entertaining. The more hangdog Finarvi gets, the funnier Serala appears to find it all. She settles down onto the floor, stretching her legs out and leaning back against the wall. If only she had some peanuts.
Finarvi glances at Serala, sighs and continues. “We went to the temple at the time he said. I asked Varanis what the plan was, as I didn’t want us blundering into whatever you were doing. She said we were just there to observe and assist if needed. We hid behind a wall some distance away, too far away to cause you any trouble, we thought. But it turned out distance didn’t matter, because all of a sudden we were a patrol of Lunar foot soldiers and Boldhome was on fire.” He looks up at Dormal, hoping for some answers.
“You were… not stealthy. Your presence was obvious. And you should not have been there. I took pains to exclude you all for a reason. Many reasons,” comes Dormal’s response. “But what I don’t understand, at all, is why you all chose to tip the quest the Lunar way.”
“And that’s where I would like to interject,” Serala notes, sobering up. “Just how far away did you think we all needed to be? And what were you trying to achieve? And… would it not have been easier to simply inform people of your plans so that everyone understood? Have we not discussed communications between ourselves, repeatedly? And at tedious length?”
Dormal raises an eyebrow.
Finarvi makes a small choking noise.
“Do you really think Varanis, in her infinite wisdom, would have allowed me to work uninterfered with?” Dormal queries. “In my experience people who aren’t with you don’t get drawn into a heroquest with you. I don’t even know how that’s possible, without you trying to get into the heroquest yourselves.”
“Do you really think that I wouldn’t have preferred to have sat on her, or locked her in her room, than finding myself unexpectedly possessing Sanra-Eel?” Serala counters. “I accept, you may have little reason to trust me as a person; but I thought you understood that my actions tend to be, as far as possible, for the best outcome for all. Oh.. if you didn’t know.. I was at my temple. Rajar at his. And we were still drawn in. For clarity.”
“You? You weren’t even there. How did you end up in the quest?”
“We’re all one unit now, as far as the Gods are concerned,” Finarvi says glumly.
“That would be the burning question that I was hoping to answer by speaking to you about the intended outcomes and triggers.”
“In any case. I was seeking information. And to not tip the quest to the Lunars. Sadly my plans went out of the window when a bunch of intruders trampled all over the quest and took my place, forcing me into a Lunar role. And then trampled further by fighting with every fibre of their being for the glory of the Red Emperor,” Dormal says dourly. “As to why they did that, you would have to ask them. Their actions are a mystery to me.”
Finarvi clears his throat. “According to Nala’s dead mother, we are all one in the God-Time. I don’t think we had any say in that Quest.”
“You had enough say not to stop the target. That’s how quests work.” Dormal scowls. “You put your finger on the scale. You still have to play your role, but you can tip the balance which way you choose.”
Serala clears her throat. “Not everyone did that, just for the record. Although I accept that, being on my own, no-one can back me up on that point.” She nods to Finarvi, “That take makes sense. Whether we wish it or no, we are herded together in some things. But Dormal, I still do not understand how the quest was intended to play out? Do you know what Eril’s path was supposed to be?”
“I need an oath of secrecy before I tell you more. I don’t trust the judgement of the rest of the group,” Dormal states.
“You have it,” Finarvi says without pausing to think.
Unlike her cousin, Serala does pause to think, her blue eyes resting on Dormal’s face for long minutes. “I..” She starts to speak, stops, starts again. “I will make your oath, Dormal. Because I think we need more than one viewpoint, more than one understanding, to unravel this mess. But…” Another stop, a deep breath, “I ask that you do not give me cause to regret it. I am more straightforward than you. But I can keep your words between us. Yes.”
“First the reason,” offers Dormal. “You know what Varanis has sworn to do, yes?”
Serala shakes her head, “I do not.”
“She has sworn to fetch the Flame of Sartar, the sign of absolute kingship in Sartar, from the Underworld,” Dormal explains. “And she has told Kallyr that she will do this thing.”
“Am I allowed to roll my eyes here?” Serala mutters. “She needs to learn more of herself before she…” She shuts up, flipping her fingers in dismissal. “She has made an oath, done is done.”
“And we’ve sworn to help her,” Finarvi reminds her quietly.
Serala looks very unconvinced on this point, but keeps her opinions to herself for now.
“Now this is a conundrum for Kallyr,” Dormal continues. “Her claim to the throne is not secure. I very much suspect that the Flame is what she was seeking when she attempted the Lightbringers’ quest. Varanis has two claims to the throne. Fetching the Flame would, on its own, be the surest sign of Kingship here. She thinks she can give the Flame away to Kallyr, as if Kingship were an old cloak, to be discarded lightly when the rains pass.”
“Surely unseating Kallyr will simply create more unrest and give the Lunars space to invade. Again?” Serala asks quietly. “Ah.. she doesn’t see it as unseating Kallyr…?”
“She thinks she can walk in with the Flame, give a speech about how she comes not to bury Kallyr, but to praise her, and all will be well,” clarifies Dormal.
Serala lifts her eyebrows to Dormal, “I would hope that you have disabused her of this notion?” She glances to Finarvi, mutely checking her understanding. “This is.. complicated enough.. already.”
“So: Either she fails (no problem for Kallyr); She succeeds, but dies nobly in the attempt, and Kallyr accepts her sacrifice, and accepts the Flame and kingship in her honour; Or Colymar finds out, and moves first to accept the gift of their tragically fallen kin; Or Varanis claims the Kingship for herself, or an anti-Kallyr faction does the same in her name, destabilising Sartar,” the Esrolian summarises neatly. “She refuses to listen to me. She hears only Berra and Xenofos, neither of whom… share my assessment. Of course, in order for Kallyr or Colymar to benefit from her sacrifice, any untidy witnesses must be… tidied away. So I was seeking information. Leverage. Some advantage – any advantage – to keep us alive in the unlikely event that we return successfully from the Underworld. And I had learned that there was a quest which showed a certain priest’s actions during the invasion in a… less than glorious light.”
The Grazelander warrior closes her eyes, letting her head THUNK back against the wall. “Wonderful. This explains, perhaps, why you and she have been… I had thought – you are family. Family listens to family, does it not?” Says she who is working very hard on ignoring her grandfather on a regular basis. “My vision twisted. To Eril. To an old memory. Which is why I was asking if you know of the path he should walk in that heroquest.”
“He… survived the invasion. We know that. But the rumour was that he was there, and the Lunars did not find something they sought, and afterwards, although that thing was never found – the Sartarites act as if the Lunars have it, and the Lunars, out of pride, play along…” Dormal says. “…afterwards, he was much richer than he should have been.”
Finarvi, who has been holding his tongue and listening closely, cannot repress a gleeful little smile at this news.
“As for family – mine spit on me, and look down on me, and insult me when they think I cannot hear. They demand my skills when they need them, to keep their precious hands clean. But they do not listen,” comes Dormal’s summary. “As for the path he walked – that was what I wanted to find out. He’s hiding something and that something could be the key to our survival.”
“Or even-swifter deaths,” Finarvi interjects helpfully.
Serala looks to Finarvi once more. “We were.. speculating. Irillo shot our suggestions down in flames, which may be correct. However, there is some sort of history.” She falls silent once more, thinking, trying to arrange everything in order. “Remember when I went to battle with Eril? And a Lunar took me off the battlefield, and my memory with it? I relived that, after the first vision faded. Riding at Eril’s side. He was… so very intent.. on reaching Jar-Eel. He.. there was unfinished business. Something.” The frown that crosses her face is deep, “Finarvi and I thought, perhaps, he was not killed, and he did not escape, but was instead captured. And turned, in some way, to the Lunars.” She gestures to Finarvi, “After Irillo proclaimed that impossible, Fin suggested the Lunars may have thought he turned to them. I am not good at this, Dormal. If I know an enemy, I will do my utmost to destroy it. But this feels like chasing the wind.”
Dormal grins. “The wind is so much easier to catch. But no, he wasn’t captured. He… used someone to escape. And did not treat them well. If we bring back that Flame, we’re very unlikely to live for long anyway. But the information can be placed, ready for release should he fail to shield us from harm. … Or at least it could before a herd of bison trampled all over my nice field.”
Serala nods to that, “I never had a personal issue with Eril, before. But it sounds like I may have over-estimated his honour.” She changes the subject for a moment, “If I am going to insult someone, I do it to their face. And I will gladly state that I have not ever trusted you. Trust may be too far. But listening to your words, that is something that may well be wise.” She nods to Dormal, “I think you may find if you seek that information, you are not able to heroquest alone. I would rather fall on my own sword that feel the touch of the Lunars again; but it may well we do not have the luxury of inaction, from what you say.”
Dormal shrugs. “I do not think the quest can be repeated. It took a lot of effort and special favours to organise.”
Finarvi shifts uncomfortably. “So how do we mend this?”
“You didn’t think it could bring in others from the other side of town either. And yet…” comes the counter from Serala to Dormal’s statement.
“That just makes the quest even less reliable. There is a chance the person initiating the quest dies anyway. I wouldn’t want to try repeating it, especially as now I know I can’t trust most of the group to keep their bowstrings dry.” Dormal does note, though, “But we have learned on useful thing from this debacle. He wasn’t coming out of the Humakti temple. Which explains how he survived its fall. But he was coming out of the Lhankor Mhy one. And he wasn’t carrying anything but a scroll. So whatever he did, he did in there.”
“We’d have done better forewarned,” Finarvi opines quietly. “But I can see why you wouldn’t trust us.”
“We also know that someone is playing games with you. Someone who knew you’d be drawn into the quest, and made sure as many of you were on the scene to ruin the plan as possible,” Dormal points out. To Finarvi, he adds, “Oh please. Varanis would have run straight to Berra. I’m only surprised there’s not someone blabbing the whole thing to her right now. Anyway. Now you know what I know. Minus the things that are not my secrets to tell, so don’t ask me about them.”
Serala nods to that, “We could just ask.” She is aware of how stupid a suggestion that is, but it doesn’t stop her making it. “I think, from what I understand, that the unprepared were not able to put the brakes on their .. hosts.” She can’t help the defence of Finarvi, even gently, before she shakes her head, “I have not seen Berra.” she admits. “And Varanis and Irillo and Xenofos have all been here. We should find out if Berra saw anything though.” One more thing crosses her mind, “Oh. Everyone will expect me to have shouted at you Dormal. So, and excuse me..” She raises her voice, “What the blazes were you thinking, running off alone and dragging me into the skin of a filthy Lunar, you fool!” A wry smile, and a shrug. “I will not lie. But I can ensure there is a truth to be told.”
Dormal nods. “Just remember, Xenofos and Berra think she is doing a Great and Noble thing, not finding the most complicated and difficult way of committing suicide ever. I don’t trust most of them to understand, or do the sensible thing, but those two? Not a chance.”
“Finarvi has the twistier mind than me; he is better placed to help you find an answer,” Serala notes easily. “But if you need a sounding board; or, indeed someone to sit on Varanis and keep her in place… give me enough of a reason that I can be sure I am not betraying my friends, and I will do all I am able. I do not wish our travels to end in the deaths of any, or indeed all, of us.”
“Varanis has already marked that course. I’m just trying to keep everyone alive, despite their best efforts,” Dormal comments.
Finarvi grins. “We’d love to help you with that.”
“One last thing..” Serala comes to her feet and moves to stand behind Finarvi, dropping a hand to rest on his should for moral support. “How sure are you that we will not go back to that place? I find I have no wish to meditate.. or sleep.. in case I find myself riding her again.”
“I’m not going to trigger the quest, one other person knows how and was unwilling to take the risk. So unless Mr Rat does it, you should be fine,” Dormal reassures.
Serala nods, “Finarvi.. we should get Nala to bring Zinat and see if she can track where Ratface was. Let’s find him. And kill… err.. question him.”
Finarvi nods and stands.
“Question,” Dormal clarifies. “Best if he stays alive, that way he can’t give up his information for someone else to get through Divination.”
“How alive does he need to be?” Finarvi asks innocently. “And do you know his identity? A yes or no will do.”
“I’ve never met the man,” states Dormal. “Didn’t know he existed til just now.”
“Understood,” Serala accepts, only a little ruefully. “Dormal, I thank you for the informative exchange. If Fin and I stumble on anything useful, we will find somewhere private to talk.” She glances to Finarvi, checking his agreement on this. “And now I must see how Varanis is, after her unfortunate encounter with Rajar’s fist..”
Dormal quirks an eyebrow.
“He and I had similar levels of ire, and she decided to try and trip him as he pushed past her. It ended as one might expect.” Serala responds to the eyebrow-quirk.
“Such great judgement.”
“Our fearless leader,” Finarvi agrees, with mingled resignation and admiration.
Serala doesn’t giggle. Really doesn’t. It’s just a.. frog in her throat. “Who made her leader anyhow? Her bloodline? Damned overrated. Lead when you prove yourself capable, and not before.” Her muttering can be heard before she lapses into her native tongue, grumbling to herself as she heads to the door to give Dormal some peace.