VS 024 Pit Of Despair

Varanis — 1626 0581 Pit Of Despair

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Context

Sometime before Boldhome, our heroes travel back to the Tula and end up facing Chaos at Rabbit Hat Farm, on the Green Fish Tula. This is a selection of events and conversations occurring during that time. [[[s01:session-31|Session 31]]]

Events

In a moment of impatience, as everyone is trying to decide how to approach the gaping pit below the farmstead’s wall, Varanis climbs the walls and throws a torch in. That act seems to put an end to the key discussions, as the decision is taken that some of the group will descend.

The way is sheer and dangerous, so the Vingan offers to mount ropes around the pit, allowing multiple climbers to descend at once. This is something she knows how to do, and so she sets about it with her customary confidence. As she works though, Serala approaches on Pag. The Grazelander is wearing a look of barely contained anger and clear disappointment. Words are exchanged and as she rides away, Varanis stares after her dismayed.

Once Varanis has finished with the ropes, she goes looking for Finarvi. Finarvi is a short distance away from the farmhouse, calming his horse and looking worriedly over the fields. Varanis approaches calling out, but not loudly, “Finarvi, do you have a minute?” She too looks worried.

Finarvi turns quickly, looking relieved to have a distraction from his thoughts. “Yes?”

Varanis closes the distance, so she can talk quietly with the Grazelander. She hesitates, like she’s searching for the right words, then just blurts out, “I screwed things up, and she’s angry with me again.” Her expression is one of dismay.

Finarvi raises his eyebrows. He thinks about asking who, then decides it’s obvious. He makes a n encouraging ‘go on’ gesture.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we go down there,” Varanis says, glancing nervously in the direction of the gaping pit. “I…” The Vingan looks almost afraid, but she inhales deeply, controls her expression and continues. “I may not get a chance to apologize to her. If I don’t come back, can you just tell her I’m sorry? I didn’t mean to do it.”

Finarvi nods in understanding. “I will.” He gazes towards the pit. “I have been trying to think of a way to kill whatever is down there without sending warriors down. To suffocate the tunnels with smoke, or divert the stream to flood it perhaps. Maybe we could drive them out and fight them in the clean air. I do not like the idea of those tunnels.”

“We don’t know how extensive the tunnel system is, or how many vents or exits it has.” Varanis looks at Finarvi and his nervous horse for a long moment. “I was thinking… the horses and Billy… I don’t fancy any of them being turned into broo breeders. They need looking after while we are down there, and someone to get them out of here if we don’t…” She trails off. “Billy might not leave without Rajar and would probably be dangerous to get near him if the Praxian dies. But, would you be upset if I asked you to stay with the horses and carry word back if we don’t come out of there?”

Finarvi gives a queasy grimace. His thoughts have already run down the same fruitless trails. His eyes go to the mustered Fyrdsmen awaiting their orders. He pats Madryn’s sweating neck. “It would take more than that to upset me.” He shakes his head. “I am expecting enemies to break from the earth when they discover what we are doing. But if all seems lost, I will do my best to get the horses away, and pray Billy will follow.”

Varanis nods in thanks. “I suspect that Billy won’t follow, but will fight. If nothing else, he will buy you time to escape.” Just then, Varanis catches a glimpse of Serala stalking past one of the farm buildings, lithe, cat-like, and agitated. The Vingan’s eyes look almost despairing as she follows the other woman’s movements, and for a moment she seems to have forgotten Finarvi. She gives a little shake of her head and refocuses her gaze on the man before her. “This may sound strange, but can you tell me something funny? Anything? Before I return to the Fyrd, I need to not be thinking about dying. They need reassurance and encouragement and to give them that, I cannot look afraid.” This is possibly the closest Varanis will come to admitting to fear.

Finarvi looks at the sky. “Did you know that once, when Serala was thirteen years old she made me swap clothes with her at a very important festival? Luckily her costume was very flamboyant, or I think her Grandfather would have noticed. She spent the day catching frogs or whatever while I was having flowers piled at my feet. Grazelander women’s robes are very itchy, by the way. Anyway, it might amuse you to know that in the eyes of the gods, I’m more a woman than Serala is.” He gives Varanis a mischievous smile.

Varanis grins in reply. “Thank you,” she says, smiling at the handsome young man. She turns serious for a moment. “I should go. But remember, tell her I’m sorry.” She takes a deep breath and puts a smile on her face. All visible traces of the Vingan’s worries are erased. She turns and strides to where the Fyrd are gathered. She now exudes confidence, greeting the men by name as she approaches. She pats one on the shoulder and says something leading to smiles and nervous laughter.


Down in the hole while guarding Irillo as he puts up his warding, and preparing for the morale ritual, Berra is obviously thinking through different parts of the problem of fighting underground, and finally blurts out, “Assuming the enemy has earth magic, how do we stay alive in there?”

Varanis, who has been standing at the mouth of the tunnel, staring into the darkness, turns to look at the Humakti. “Good question. I wish I had an answer. Kill them first?”

Berra asks, “What if they make tunnels behind us? What if the way they came down here works on their command? I’ll volunteer as a scout. Mind you, if there are more Jackobears, fast may not be fast enough.”

The Vingan’s sword is in her hand and she’s shifting from foot to foot. “What if? There are a lot of what ifs. Dormal could make it down these passages without being seen….” Her eyes flick back down the tunnel, searching the darkness.

“Don’t bet on it. Think of the things you’d do if you were down there, and had people working for you. Trip-strings to set off traps. If he goes in the dark, he doesn’t see them. If he takes a torch, he provides a target. Dug out areas of earth and you can’t tell if anything’s in them, so you have to test them all. Deadfalls. Burned hazia. Illusionary walls, like Devolin does but a lot less fun. The ability to listen through walls – that would be good, but we can’t do anything about that. And a knowledge of what this looks like down here. Probably made by something more than just Broo – so a Mallian Priestess, or…. well. If we send people alone we need to think that’s better than going together.”

“Dormal and Sid together?” Varanis asks thoughtfully. “I feel like Dormal has hidden depths and could probably be very effective in an environment like this one. But…” She shrugs.

Mellia approaches the two women as they talk. “We need to find a way to mark the walls,, so we do not get lost. Also, I’d like at least one light source other than a torch down here.”

“If I had my choice of team, Salid would be right up there. And yes, lights. Torches or Lanterns or Catseye or Serala or….” Berra trails off, considering. “They can push spells at us, catch us as we go forwards, put pits behind darkness. Salid is looking like a very good call, and if we can search the farmhouse for lanterns that are not covered in blood, that’s good too.”

Mellia adds, “With broo, you will want a ready source of fire as well. Broo have been known to explode on death, but there probably won’t be room for archery.”

“Things to put over our faces, then. Masks so we don’t … yuk. That’s disgusting.” Berra looks disturbed. “But we’ll have a lot of people. So another question – do we make the front row really efficient, or do we protect certain people, or does everyone protect themselves with their magic? The Ritual of Morale will hang on a person who leads – me or Varanis or Serala, probably. Maybe Rajar. How do we protect that?”

Mellia pauses for thought. “That’s a tough one, because it sounds as if the bearer of the Ritual of Morale will have to be a target. Broo fight dirty.”

“Only if they see that someone is, but yes. They may well be after obvious leaders.” Berra seems untroubled by that.

Varanis turns to face Mellia, surprise written on her face. “You know more about broo than I expected, cousin.”

“Broo and their works keep us busier than we like, cousin,” Mellia says to Varanis.

“Varanis is pretty well armoured and in lead of that fyrd. It would not be a bad idea for her to lead from central position. Same would go for Berra too but her sword might be too thirsty. Rajar will probably charge right in.” Xenofos joins the conversation, having been listening nearby.

“I’m going to be more fragile than normal. I won’t have a full Shield spell on me – just protection. So Varanis and her armour and the Fyrd might be best. There are large numbers of foes, so command will…” Berra trails off and starts again. “Command will have to be careful. Branched corridors will need watching or clearing. Someone will have to track the enemy.”

“The Gaze of Lhankor Mhy will not penetrate such amounts of rock but it will help,” Xenofos observes.

“Then, they will have wardings too,” Berra adds. “So someone who is well shielded and strong should try to deal with those. Or someone who can ignite the staves they use, if we have time. Whatever foul thing they do should be cleansed that way.”

Varanis grins fiercely at the thought of being part of the front line. “I can keep the Fyrd moving forward, knowing I have you at my back.”

Berra looks confused. “Do you not want me alongside? Or do you want to have a left and right flank protection, and tunnel checkers?” That seems to appeal to her.

“I want you coordinating our movement and ready to patch any hole that appears. You think fast and move quickly too.” The Vingan seems to be about to say something more, but doesn’t.

“Serala too. And anyone from the Fyrd who’s good.” Berra looks disappointed. “I’m a front line fighter,” she says quietly, but she does not directly argue.

Varanis looks thoughtfully at the Humakti, then sighs. “You are. And weakened or not, you are still among the best we have. Where is the right place for you in this fight?”

Xenofos interjects, “Milady leader should be where she can do most good. In tunnels it might not be the front line stumbling into every trap and target of every missile.”

Berra thinks. “I’m not weakene… alright, I am. But it depends on who else you have for command. If Serala is down here, I should probably be a flanker and tunnel checker – a squad under me. If there are others of the Fyrd coming, or the Chief, then he should probably be in overall command, so again, the flank. I’m third or fourth in line for standing at the middle and shouting, I think.”

Varanis nods sharply. “Let’s see who we have then.” She then turns to Xenofos, acknowledging his comment at last. “You are right, cousin. I need to be in the place where I can be most useful. What if that is the front line, armoured and shielded as I am?”

Berra is definitely trying not to grin.

The earnest scholar argues, “That is where you want to be being fleet-footed, of quick mind and brave. And it might be so in the open field. But even there scouts and skirmishers would precede the phalanx.”

“Xenofos. She’s a Vingan, not a … whatever it is that hangs back in phalanxes. But we should talk about rotating in and out, and drills for the wounded. Those who know how to heal from among the fyrd should be behind the front line.” Berra seems to be thinking carefully now.

Varanis smiles at Berra. “I am. And yes, we should see what strengths Farist and his man have.”

Mellia adds, “I don’t know whether I should come with you in the center of the formation or not. You will need me, but I will be a target.”

“We can have someone put a shield on you. The biggest we can. If a Fyrd member can do that, they could stay back with Irillo at the fallback point.” Berra might have thought about that already.

“This place reeks of nameless horrors that burrow and crawl in the bowels of Ernalda. Some broo may lurk in here sure but we should be prepared for more. It reminds me of horror stories I as young initiate heard of despicable, headhunting Thanatari and their secret temples. Full of foul traps, evil spirits, mad headghosts and fanatical cultists with garrotes of tarnished silver.” Xenofos may get a tad too poetic when trying to remember details of those stories and in any case he forgets the fyrdsmen. Maybe its good thing he is prattling in Esrolian.

Berra stares at him, apparently unable to keep up with his poetic Esrolian. That, or she’s checking if he is running mad.

Irillo chimes in, “It is probably not a standard part of rituals to have a chant in Tradetalk of ‘And may you be fair in giving those who do not respect Your place what is coming to them, aye, to the very Bolg.’”

Xenofos continues, “Well it does seem unlikely that herd of broos would have organized such ‘operation’ like you like to call it, Irillo. So something else would probably lurk in here. Something able to do civilized business and burrow. Followers of decapitated god, old enemies of Lhankor Mhy, would reputedly fit the bill. If half of those stories are true. Some Lhankor Mhy initiates have occasionally been known to embellish their stories just a tiny bit for artistic effect.”

Varanis raises an eyebrow at the last statement.

Xenofos nods sagely. “I know. It is lamentable.”

“Uh, Xenofos? You’re babbling.” Berra is speaking in Heortling.

“Trying to figure this thing out. It may be broo – we have seen stuff that resembles their pillaging- but…” Xenofos continues, “It would be astonishing if they are behind all this.” Still in speaking in Esrolian, he is looking into the wall like trying to penetrate it with his gaze.

Berra sighs, and says, “If we assume this place was here already, does that make a difference? It makes it much easier… What eats rock?”

“Rajar talked of insect like monsters that reputedly can do just that, but those horrors have no real names,” Xenofos replies, finally looking at her.

“Eh? Oh, Heortling, good. Do you know you were speaking in Esrolian? So… insect monsters? This smoothly?” Berra peers closely at the wall, and pokes at it with a finger.

Varanis keeps looking into the darkness. For a moment, she seems poised to step forward into it. She stops, looks at Xenofos and Berra, and then says “I’m just going to check in with Farist.” She turns back into the small circle of light and quietly speaks with the two Fyrdsmen who followed them into the pit.

Berra casually puts herself by the tunnel entrance, where she would be able to listen. She leans back casually against the wall, and her expression is one of calm. The only break in that is that later, Varanis gets a big wink, and a smile. Here’s looking at you, Lamb1A Kid would be of the goat species, and taboo in Sartar..

In response to a quiet question from the Vingan, Farist, the Green Tree warleader responds, “This is work for champions and warriors and heroes, not the fyrd.” There is a band of Broo to hunt. They might be down here. Or they might be out ravaging the surrounding lands. He has brought one of his best warriors. Some of the Fyrd will guard the shaft so those below are not trapped. His other best warrior, his son Gambril, he wants to stay with the horsemen in case the broo are needed or the Tribe mustered. Varanis listens to his explanation, nodding her understanding.


Quietly, when Mellia is busy elsewhere, Varanis approaches the Humakti. “Berra…”

“Mm?” Berra knows enough to keep quiet if other people are.

“If you have to choose… choose her.” A discreet nod of the chin in the direction of the healer. “Get her out of here alive.”

Berra scratches her chin, giving her the chance to glance over. “Understood. And remember I’m a warrior – I chose to be here.” There’s a faint lisp on the S sounds, again.

“I know. But… I think the White Lady is needed more than any of the rest of us.”

“Yes. That’s what I’m saying. Don’t wait for me either. Rajar and I will likely be covering retreats.”

(( Insight, Human? Success. ))

Insight: Berra is trying to act unworried, and failing. Underneath, she is balanced between nerves and a touch of fear.

“Unless we are retreating from Rajar,” Varanis says with a poor attempt at a smile.

“Well, that’s when we need the White Lady most.” Berra manages a tiny smile, although it seems to be small because she’s talking quietly, rather than out of worry.