Varanis — 1626 0663 Apple Shampoo
????, Fire Season
At the very start of Fire Season. [[[s01:session-33|Session 33]]]
It’s early morning, with Yelm strengthening but not yet ferocious, and Berra’s kit is gone from the inn. There is a little blank spot under the charcoal cross where she was keeping her backpack.
Varanis sleepily wanders down for breakfast, but come alert quickly as she notices Berra’s absence. She double checks the common room, then approaches Rondrik. “Berra, the Humakti… did she say anything about where she was going?”
Rondrik pauses in the continual act of examining his cups for cracks in the glaze, and says, “Her? Said she would be back around the time you woke up. Looked a bit off, if you ask me.”
Varanis looks concerned. “I suppose I should wait here then. Can I have something light to eat? Perhaps easily carried with me, just in case?” At his nod, she perches herself at the table she and the others have unofficially claimed, sitting so she can watch the door.
The door opens to admit the Humakti about the time that food arrives – it’s a little early in the morning for Rondrik to be able to manage meat, but there are breads with honeyed nuts embedded through the dough, and boiled eggs of one of the cliff-dwelling birds, and beer, and a few dried berries that have been reconstituted with a charm to bring them back to Spring and softness.
Varanis thanks him gratefully and turns to Berra, concern in her eyes.
Berra is dressed in light gear – her armour over a training tunic, and a headscarf instead of her helmet. She does look a little pale, although it is hard to tell if she has just been up all night, or if something is worrying her. She gives Varanis a raised hand in greeting and comes in towards the table. “Good morning. How are you?”
Varanis waves her into a seat. “I’m fine. But you don’t look it. What’s wrong?” The Vingan is definitely worried.
Berra flops into a chair. “Is it that obvious?” Her hand snakes out for some bread and she asks, “Any fruit butter? No? Never mind.” The bread gets stared at, thunderously.
Varanis pushes the berries over to entice her companion. “We’ve been spending a lot of time together for a while now. I think it would be hard to hide things from each other. But yes, it’s obvious enough that Rondrik mentioned it too.”
“Whoops. Yes. Well, it’s not a big problem. It’s my problem. I’m moving back into the Temple so I can learn more, which is what I had planned to do anyhow. The moving, not the learning. Only most of the preparation seems to have been done now, and that means time spent hanging around. And you might have noticed this, but sometimes I can’t keep my mouth shut even when I really should.” Berra spots a dish of some sort of sauce on the table, and dips a chunk of bread to try it. She adds a squashy red berry and flattens it with her thumb before eating it all in one gulp.
Varanis looks disappointed when Berra says she’s moving to the Temple, but unsurprised. “Dare I ask what you said?”
Berra winces. “I already hate meditation anyhow. Can we try to make it useful?” She pours herself beer. “To D’Val. Who will be teaching me again. I really don’t like … well, I more than don’t like being that still for that long.” A shudder passes through her, a whole-body thing that tenses her muscles in turn.
“Did you tell him that?” Varanis asks in disbelief. “That’s really just asking to be made to meditate more.”
“Yes. I mean, he had just told me to meditate more, but I did ask to be taught a spell. I… I keep doing that. I should probably have had him teach me this one last time, but… well, decisions get more threadbare the older they are.” Berra has pulled apart the bread and arranged the pieces onto a plate, and poured half of the dipping sauce straight over them.
Varanis watches her companion’s actions curiously as she absently peels an egg. The shell comes off very easily, clearly Rondrik’s people have some kind of excellent trick up their sleeves. Finally, she asks “what spell? Are you allowed to say?”
“Fireblade, in this case.” Berra takes half of the berries and tears them up to make extra toppings for the bread. “I’m not big enough to swing really hard, and… well, it’s almost embarrassing really. I hadn’t realised just how useful the spell would be.” With beer and talk, she is cheering up rapidly.
“That has always looked particularly useful,” Varanis says. “I know I don’t need to tell you this, but I will anyway. Skill is more important than size in blade work, and you have a lot of skill.”
“Yeaaaah.” Berra looks wry. “The first time I fought alongside D’Val, he used it, and I thought we were going to be fighting, so I put all of my magic into mine… And then he used it to set fire to the thatch of the desecrated Temple of Humakt in Whitewall. I was … well, you can imagine my feelings, because I don’t really want to say. And then a Dancer in Darkness – the vampire women – drained me of all I had left. It was not a good few minutes.” Amusement has crept into her expression, along with some colour.
“That sounds memorable.” After a moment, she adds, “It will be strange not having you here.”
“I’ll be about a week. We might move out in that time anyhow. Depending on how far we get each day, I might be free in the mornings. Now, for example. And I’m going to go for a run, because I need to leave a few things behind. I was thinking of going up the West Arm. I don’t go there enough.” Berra pauses in talking to finish eating.
Varanis looks eager at the mention of a run. “I’ll join you, if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes. I’ll just get my armour on.”
“I should have a bit more to drink anyhow. This sauce is really salty – I think they must make it with fish. Good for running, but bad for thirst.” Berra has pushed half of her food into her cheeks, to store for later, and looks like one of the small Esrolian rodents. A hirrsta? One of those, perhaps.
Varanis laughs. Then she dashes upstairs returning a short time later in armour. Her hair is in a single plait down her back. Her water bottle is on one hip, and a long dagger on the other.
By this point, Berra has returned to looking like Berra, and the remains of the food has been cleared away. She has Wind Tooth on her back and the water bottle – bung replaced and cord repaired – just where Varanis now keeps hers. “I’m thinking maybe I should put salt honey into my water, for running,” she says, “But I’ve become so used to water it’s just easiest to drink.” As she stands, she rolls her shoulders in that familiar way. “How far do you want to go?”
Varanis shrugs. “I need to be at the temple and presentable by late morning,” she says. “Let’s go somewhere new. You mentioned something about trolls before?”
“Oh, the Troll Caverns? Those are a bit far to get to, but we’ll have to come back here anyhow, so at least you can order a bath.” She opens the door for Varanis, muttering the usual spell. “We can see how far we get, and the rest of it is downhill anyhow.”
“I mean, on the way back, it is.”
Varanis steps out, looks around, then says, “which direction?” She’s shifting about, getting the blood flowing and looking anticipatory.
“If we take it as a cross-country battle advance, and try to make it to the tent up there, we could find out what the big tent is. Or we could go down the road and try to make it all the way to the Caves. But either way, down here first. It’s just about the pace – longer or shorter but harder?”
“Short and hard sounds about right for today,” Varanis says. “Let’s go that way then.”
Berra leads the way down from the White Grape and along the short, crowded walk in front of the Palace. She glances up at the steps with a longing look, like the challenge of that run is promised to her, and as the crowd thins she goes from her quick walk into a fast-paced jog. It is not a hard run, and on the road it is easy to keep the pace, but as the road swings right she goes straight on, leaving behind the civilised surface. Underfoot the ground has gentle rolls and sudden, dangerous animal holes. Here the grass is mostly cut short by grazing, and it is easy enough to see them, but later it might get awkward.
Varanis keeps pace with Berra, breathing easily as they run. The sun is to their backs, the river drawing closer on their left as they progress over the terrain. The two women run as though they’ve been running together for years, instead of weeks. Relaxed, aware of their terrain, and confident in their abilities.
Berra is the first to break the silence, asking, “How are you keeping?” She is alert, now, and the signs of tiredness have all but vanished.
Varanis casts a quick look at her companion, but keeps her focus primarily on the landscape. “I don’t know,” she answers after a moment. “I need to see the Prince, but I’ve been putting it off a bit. I’m not sure what to tell her, other than the truth, but Xenofos is concerned that she will be unhappy to hear about my oath.”
“Well, I think you know my answer by now.” Berra skitters around a set of animal holes in the ground and picks up her pace to catch up, settling beside Varanis once more. “But it’s advice, that’s all.”
Varanis leaps lightly over a large rabbit hole, before continuing her line of thought. “Xenofos believes that trying to relight the Flame will be seen as trying to claim the throne for myself, no matter what I mean by it.” There’s a note of concern in her voice.
“Well, like Kallyr said – you couldn’t. But there’s a way to approach it that’s more subtle.” Berra runs straight through a puddle of standing water, landing her foot in it hard enough to splash out to either side and keep her toes dry. “Ask Tennebris for advice.”
Varanis neatly side steps the water and keeps going. “I was worried about appearing to go around the Prince, but you are likely right. He seems to be her chief advisor and could be interpreted as my commander, given that he’s the Chief Priest. But, she’s Vingan.” She runs a few more paces silently before adding, “And she’s the ruler here and surely has more important issues to deal with than me. You are right. Tennebris first.”
“I think so. For all those reasons. He’s busy too, but probably not like she is. He has had time for us before.” Berra bounces her way over a couple of rocks shaped like stepping stones. “And then she doesn’t have to hear until she wants to, whether she knows or not.” Then, being Berra and there being a possible inaccuracy around, she adds, “She is High Priest, though.”
The two women are now running parallel to the river, drawing close a the point where the path intersects with the water by way of a stone bridge. “She’s High Priest, but he’s the Chief Priest, so he’s second to here there too.” Varanis has been paying attention to the political details more closely since their return to Boldhome.
“Is that the way to the Storm Bull Temple,” she asks as they draw closer to the bridge. Her understanding of Boldhome’s geography is still a work in progress.
“Up that way,” says Berra, pointing in that approximate direction. “Harmast likes Beer with Teeth. I gave him some. Asked about Chaos creatures. And yes. You don’t go straight to your High Sword. Priest. Whatever you have. But in this case you don’t want to tell anyone between you and Tennebris either.”
Varanis looks flushed. It could be the running, but she’s not breathing hard yet. “I did tell Xenofos,” she observes. “I needed his advice.” Again, she leaps over some animal holes, not breaking her stride to do so.
“Yes. But not someone who would gossip. Not someone you don’t know.” Berra is breathing loudly, but keeping up with Varanis despite a significant disadvantage in height. “I’d go to D’Val with something like this first, but that’s not an option for you.”
Varanis falls into silence, seemingly focussed on the run and the ground beneath her feet. The water flows past them, sure and steady in its own way. Finally, she admits, “I promised to do this thing, but I don’t even know where to start. But…” Her voice grows stronger suddenly. “It doesn’t matter. Even knowing how complicated it is and knowing that it may not have been politically wise, wouldn’t change anything. It’s the right thing to do.” The leap she makes over a patch of rough terrain is larger than it needs to be, but her foot touches down into the next step easily and she just keeps running. There’s a fine sheen of sweat on her face now.
“It is. And you might manage to do it by making sure Kallyr does. If you help her, that counts.” Berra’s colour is up, the earlier pallor gone entirely. “But as you say, it won’t be easy. We might need to quest just to find out how. Find Hero Quests about him – try to be him, think like him. Be worthy as well as knowledgeable.” She gets an easy flat stretch of ground to run across and takes advantage of that to dip slightly and surge ahead, slowing once she has let out the energy, to let Varanis catch up without stretching.
As they approach the bridge, Varanis eyeballs the bridge consideringly, then continues past it, clearing the road in a couple of long strides. “Is that it, in the distance?” She points at a large, beehive like structure just visible further down the path.
“Yehuuuuh….” Berra bounces over the road, jumping the drainage ditch to land easily on the other side, and continues. “Big, isn’t it? I’ve ordered another sword. I haven’t paid for it yet, but I’d like a thing that can’t be taken away.”
“Another sword?” Varanis sounds very surprised.
“Not a replacement. Really not. Don’t worry. But for times when carrying my shield is not allowed.” Berra unhooks her water bottle, with some fiddling, and rather than drinking pours water over her head.
“You should drink some of that too,” Varanis observes, even as she grabs her own water bottle for a small swig. She is breathing a little more heavily now, but her feet are still confidently flying over the ground.
“Should,” says Berra. “But I just remembered I put apple juice in my water and I’m too busy trying not to laugh.” On she goes, almost but not quite straight faced.
Varanis doesn’t even try not to laugh. Between gasps, she manages to ask, “Do you want to dunk your head in the river? Oh… your armour! That’s going to become uncomfortable!” She laughs even harder, not quite stumbling in the process.
“I’ll deal with it at the tent,” says Berra with a laugh. “Nearly there. And then I’ll drink.” She holds out her hand for the bottle Varanis is carrying.
Varanis passes it over whilst working to calm her laughter and regain her stride. “It’s not that funny, I know,” she says between fits of laughing. “But I can’t seem to stop.” The hilarity has left her fighting for air too.
That bottle, Berra drinks from. It’s just a sip, but at least she can do it without laughing. She hands it back and manages to get hers buckled on again. “So anyway, I’m really good at this,” she chuckles. Her breathing is coming hard as the laughter interferes with it.
The way is clear from there, although it is still some minutes of running. There are few trees, and not many people this way. Off on the other side of the road, a lone rider exercises a string of horses. Up ahead the beehive does not seem to grow bigger for a very long time. Finally scale reasserts itself as they get closer and the beehive turns out to be a massive tent, of some stiff felted material with a shimmer to it that is made from the wings of beetles, sewn on in stylised runes. Harmony and Darkness are on either side of the slim opening. There are no obvious guards.
Varanis slows as they draw close to the structure, looking at it curiously, but cautiously. “What do you think?” she asks Berra.
“Trolls?” suggests Berra. “Darkness is unusual.”
Varanis almost stumbles as the realization hits. “Could that be associated with Argan Argar? The two runes, picked out in what looks like beetle wings…” Her hand drops to the hilt of her dagger and she looks around carefully as her pace slows even more.
“Oh, right, yes.” Berra nods. “That would explain it.” She seems unworried, and starts picking her way over towards the river. “Let me get this apple juice out of my hair. Thanks be, I didn’t wear the padding today.”
The darkness within the tent is very VERY black. The thick material admits no light, and there are no torches within.
Varanis follows the Humakti to the river. She warily keeps her attention on the landscape around them, alert to any movement she sees. She doesn’t seem afraid, but she is being cautious.
Berra gets into the water after muttering the Rivereyes spell and checking the bottom. She takes off her greaves and uses one to try to funnel water over her head, then swears, and just falls forward into the river. It’s clean enough up here that this is a suitable method of washing, although she replaces diluted apple juice with bits of floating grass.
“Argan Argar is widely worshipped at home,” she comments to Berra when her head isn’t in the water. “But the relationship between his followers and Vinga’s isn’t always peaceful.” It’s clear that she isn’t even contemplating entering the water.
The tent does not move. A few people out tending gardens or travelling down to the city are the only things that do. “Right,” says Berra, and instantly becomes more alert. Still wet, though. Even Wind Tooth got wet, on her back. She gets out of the water, squelching. “Now, we should probably walk until I’m dry.” Only now does she pull off her sandals, unwinding the thin wraps around her feet and going barefoot. “Or at least, make sure I won’t slip.”
Squinting in the direction of the sun, Varanis nods. “We’ve been out longer than I thought. I definitely need to turn back to get ready for Temple. Shall we walk that direction until you are ready to run again?”
“Yes, that’s a good idea.” Berra says. “I had a thought. About Sartar. You could enact his deeds. It would be the longest Hero Quest ever, but mostly in this world, and you’d be learning about him all the time.”
“That might work,” Varanis admits after a mouthful of water. “I’ll see what Tennebris says.”
A week later…
After seeing Tennebris:
Insight: When Berra’s talking about having thought of the quest, she’s a little bit nervous, like she was speaking out of turn. Maybe not even now, although it’s a bit like how she was checking with D’Val to see if she could speak. There’s a way she ducks her shoulders a little bit, almost deferential to him, or to someone not present.
“Berra, are you ok? You were acting a little oddly back there.”
“Where? What?” Berra is just heading out of the door, looking almost asleep.
“You were … well, you looked nervous.” Varanis is uncertain how this will be received.
“Uh?” Berra captures a yawn. “Walk back with me?” She looks around. “I think D’Val left already. I mean, the Sword of Humakt.” She is in a relaxed mood now, if underslept.
Varanis nods and rises from the table to walk with Berra.
Berra fails to manage a Detect Enemies spell, and shakes her head. “I’m tired,” she says, and should probably win an award for stating the obvious. She gets it right the second time. “Let’s go. Remind me – when did I look nervous?”
“When you brought up the quest. It was like you weren’t certain of your place.” Varanis is framing her words carefully. “You are always certain of your place, or at least, it seems that way.”
“Oh, right. Yes. I was at risk of … well, the High Sword was keeping Humakti secrets, which is right and proper,” says Berra, a bit too carefully. “But he might also have been trying to present options that were … well, he… I am tired, and I am not thinking clearly, but I did point one of them out in the middle of what was effectively a war council. He had to acknowledge it, which is why I did it there, not later – so it could be said. And he’ll probably … well, he will know that. He’ll also know that I didn’t think through my other options. To him, that meeting would have been far easier. He’d have been able to understand all of the people in it, if he had been standing where I was.”
“I feel like the options we were being offered all bordered on disposing of an inconvenient problem,” Varanis says quietly after a moment. “And I’m sorry that the rest of you are caught up in it. You offered an option that has a hope of success.”
Berra sighs, only slightly. “He truly is a great man. He’s a powerful Hero, and I admire him. He pushes the Regiment hard – he wants to make it all work well. I don’t like him, but that’s separate. I…. Damnit.” She takes a deep breath. “He really does not like D’Val. That was the inconvenient problem. The High Sword has a problem with Ducks, and I don’t know why. All of the options were ones where D’Val would have been in most danger – would probably have looked after us sufficiently, but he was being set up as a shield. And the bit I really hate is that his Excellency wouldn’t send D’Val to do something he would not do himself, if he felt it necessary. He’d put himself into danger if there was call. He’s… like that.”
Berra looks like she has a lot more to say.
Varanis nods. “Regardless of what Eril is like as a leader, do you think that any of them believe we have a chance of success?”
Berra might not have heard, for she goes on, “The reason he was in that room was he … well, did you see he was leaning on the door? He never does that! He’s an aristocrat who knows exactly how he looks and how it comer over. He didn’t want to be there, and he was acting not wanting to be there. He thought it was a waste of time or resources, so he could attach D’Val to it. And then I pointed out in front of Kallyr that he hadn’t given us an option, and now I’m going back to the Temple so he can find me easily if he wants to ask me what in hell I was thinking, and I mean ‘in hell’ without any particular joke there.”
“I did notice a certain amount of coolness in his behaviour,” the Vingan admits. “I wasn’t sure if that was for our benefit or not.”
“Try not to aggravate him…”
“He’s… that was more animated as I’ve ever seen him, save once. He… I’ve rarely seen him show emotion. Anger at the Lunars and Jar-Eel is the only one I’ve ever seen on him strongly. I think that’s personal somehow. It really gets to him. Beyond that, he’s always in control of what he thinks and what he says. I mean, I crossed him and gave him the cover and he took the cover and pointed out I was right about being wrong. He’d prefer to be spending the resources elsewhere. But… the wagon has definitely left on aggravating him. Although oddly, nothing I would do could make it worse. He’s strictly honourable. He won’t send me to die. He’ll just send me into danger, and I knew that already.” Berra slows down, takes a few deeps breaths, and catches herself in another yawn.
“So, he won’t send you into certain death, but he’s happy to risk you.” Varanis sounds dismayed. “And do you think we are being disposed of? Or do they believe we have a chance at this?”
Varanis matches the shorter woman’s pace. “This is a conversation for later, perhaps. You need sleep and we are almost at your Temple.”
“Well, that’s his right – he’s the High Sword. I risk my arm every time I swing a sword, and my arm doesn’t complain, nor should it. He’s entirely correct to risk me.” Berra looks up at the looming bulk of the Temple, and the street that leads along to it. “We are not being disposed of. They believe there is a small chance. Or rather, the Orlanthi do. I don’t know what the High Sword believes now.” Her face is calm again, emotions far under the surface.
“I know this myth. Every Orlanthi knows it. I… Berra, I don’t know if I am strong enough to do this. I don’t mind dying, if that’s what it takes, but I am worried at what it will cost the rest of you if I fail.” She sighs. “I need to pray and I need to prepare myself.”
“Well, I worry about that a lot when I’m in command. It doesn’t help, but it keeps me busy. Still, once you get going, you’ll forget that part in the swing and the press of it. I know the parts that are not secret, obviously, but we’ll need someone for everyone. If D’Val can be Humakt, then I can be Flesh Man or Ginna Jar – those are things where the secrets are not damn. Words. But yes, worry if it makes you think better – but we made our choices so don’t be sorry about it.”
“Ginna Jar, maybe. We need someone else to be Flesh Man. And I need to make sure that Xenofos is ok.” Varanis looks around. “I’m going to go to the Temple of Vinga. I want to pray before I sleep.”
Berra turns to Varanis to bow her head in farewell. “Take care of yourself, Clan-cousin,” she says, a genuine smile flitting over her face for a brief moment. “And I’ll take care of me.” She looks back to the Temple, rolls her shoulders like she is facing a climb or a run, and walks forwards towards her challenge, at her naturally fast pace.