VS 042 Visions of Fire and Darkness

Varanis — 1626 0665 Visions

????, Fire Season, Disorder Week


Context
Fire Season, Disorder Week [[[s01:session-33|After Session 33]]]

Varanis is worried about the orders given by Kallyr and her advisors. She’s especially worried about making the wrong decision and leading people she cares about into danger. After a sleepless night, she decides to meditate on it. Her decision has consequences.

Events

This is Varanis’ version of events, including her vision. Spoilers, of course.

Tossing and turning.

I’m going to get them killed. What have I done? Why didn’t I realize that they’d be caught up in it too? Enough. Go to sleep woman. Deal with this tomorrow.

But Xenofos said to go back to where I started this and meditate. I can’t get back to sleep. If I go now, I can be there when Yelm takes the sky. And if Vinga favours me, I’ll be back before he hits his zenith with answers.

Quietly then. Don’t wake anyone. What do I need? Clothes, armour, my water flask. I’ll take the sword and dagger too. I promised Xenofos and Mellia that I’d be careful. Tennebris says I’ve made myself more of a target. We haven’t told anyone, so surely the risk hasn’t changed. But, I’ll wear the armour anyway.

It’s hard to move quietly down wooden stairs in armour. Come on Varanis. Move. The snores are unbroken, so I think I’m clear. Wait – don’t open the door yet. Concentrate. Breathe. Reach out. Nothing – it’s safe, so let’s go.1Successful Detect Enemies. Rondrik keeps the door well oiled; it opens silently.

The streets seem quiet, at least for a city the size of Boldhome. It’s still dark, but there’s a bluish tinge to the sky that suggests the Elmal is awake and Yelm is preparing for his journey. Go then.

Follow the road, heading south. The rock face looms behind the buildings, ominous in the darkness. Right, then left. Keep the wall on my right. Stop and listen… it’s nothing. The stairs should be just ahead, behind that building. Yes.

It’s a long way up, but if I move fast, I should be there before dawn. Quickly, but carefully. It’s hard to see each step. This was more enjoyable with Berra. I wonder if she slept at her temple last night. I wonder if she slept. She did seem a bit worried about Eril.

Keep moving. Come on. I don’t know what to think about Eril… he certainly seems to be willing to sacrifice his initiates, and D’Val, for that matter. He can’t have Berra though, she’s mi… Stop thinking so much. Climb faster, dawn is coming.

I don’t remember it being this far. If I’m going to get there on time, I should run. Run then. Faster even – take them two at a time. I can’t think when I’m flying like this.

Shi… t! Ouch. Well, I misjudged that step. Breathe and assess. The greaves protected my shins. I hope I didn’t scratch them up! My hands though… ow. Jareen would laugh at me or chastise me, or both. Breaking my fall with outstretched arms. I’m lucky I didn’t break my wrists. It feels like scrapes though. I’ll deal with it at the top and for now, that’s what tunic hems are for, right?. It can’t be much further.2((Rolls on Dexterity for climbing the stairs – s, s, s, cr, f, sp – con is a pass))

There! I can see it now. Shit, I can see it. Yelm is rising. A little further, just get there.

Last step. It looks like I’m alone… I wonder if people come up here much. It doesn’t matter, I’m alone now and that’s what I need.

My hands are bleeding. Some water from my flask to rinse them, a swig for me, and then let’s heal them. Breathe in, breathe out. Concentrate. Again. Yes…. there it is. Much better, and now I won’t bleed on anything. Well, on anything else.

Where do I start? The brazier, I guess. It was almost like he was there before, so maybe I should try calling him again. The bronze feels so cold… where are the runes? Here… fire, water, earth, air… and here is movement. There was an image of Vinga next to Orlanth below this one. Here. Trace the shapes carefully and watch. “Grandfather?” My voice sounds loud suddenly. Quieter – call out to him, but not to the rest of Boldhome. “How can I help you? Is the Lightbringers’ Quest the only way? Can you give me a sign?”

The blue glow plays over the surface of the bowl once more. But there is no other sign.

Well that was stupid. What was I expecting? There has to be another way to get an answer though. There is always another way.

Xenofos told me to meditate. Does he know how bad I am at meditating? I can’t sit still. Berra talks about how much she struggles with meditating, but she’s never seen me try. Fine. Let’s do this.

I need a flat place to kneel. Hmmm… here, where I can watch Yelm rise fully and see Boldhome below. Plus, it’s flat and will be easier on my knees. I’m not going to wear my helmet for this. It’s too distracting. There’s a good place to rest it here, just so. Varanis, you’re stalling.

Deep breath in. Let it out. Again, and this time take a knee, just so. The other. Lay the rapier in front of me, just so. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. My knees hurt. Maybe I bruised them when I fell. Breathe in. Breathe out. What was that noise? Focus. Breathe in. Breathe out. I hate meditating. There’s a rock under my knee.3Meditation roll: Fail

Fine. I’ll fish the rock out, but then, I need to do this right. These people… they matter to me. I don’t want to get them killed. Damn, that is a big rock. Ok, again. Remember Jareen’s voice as she counted you through the breaths. Wait.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Spine straight. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax your shoulders. Breathe in. Breathe out. Yes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus on the question. “Vinga guide me – is the Lightbringers’ Quest the best option to relight Sartar’s Flame?” Stupid question. I should have phrased it better. It doesn’t matter. Breathe in. Breathe out. Vinga will understand. Breathe in. Breathe out. Why me? I’m no hero. Focus woman. Breathe in. Breathe out. Vinga…

So close. Trace the runes again. Have a sip of water. Do it again. Breathe in. Breathe out.

My armour is uncomfortable. The sun is high overhead now. I’m failing. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Too hot. No more armour. Breathe in. Breathe out. I feel the runes beneath my fingers. Breathe in. Breathe out.4Meditate: critical success

It’s so dark. When did it become dark? Breathe in. Breathe out. Vinga? Sartar? Breathe in. Breathe out. I’m cold. Breathe in… there’s a fire. Breathe out… there’s a God. The fire is the God, or the God is the fire. Who? Breathe in. I’m cold. Step closer. He invites me to warm myself. Breathe out.

No! Don’t leave me. It’s so dark. What does he want? My hands? Hold them out then, like a cup. Breathe in. A spark! But wait! Where are You going? What do I do? Wait…

The spark is warm in my hands, but it looks so fragile. I need to keep it safe. It flickers in the darkness and we are alone. No! It’s fading. Breathe out. The light strengthens as it draws on my Air. Time passes. More time passes. It is so cold, but I need to protect the spark.

He returns and burns so brightly. The spark flows back into Him and we are both warm again. I try talking to Him but He just crackles and flickers and roars through the night. He rises to leave and once again reaches for my hands. I cradle the spark, knowing what is expected now. I lose count of the times we repeat this dance of light and dark, of cold and heat. Breathe in.

It is lonely. I am lonely.

At times, I think I hear someone calling to me, as blood calls to blood. But it is distant and I must protect the spark. Breathe out. The spark draws on my breath and my life. It survives against the darkness.

Once my God and Goddess join me here, but they leave in triumph, and I am trapped. Instead I must protect the sacred spark against the time that is to come, secure now in the knowledge that it will. Breathe in.

I’m so tired, but the darkness is fading. There is light on my face. Light on my eyelids. I’m on fire, and I’m as dry as tinder. My knees and back ache. I try to call out. The words feel garbled in my parched mouth. And then I feel myself crumple and all is dark again. Breathe out.


————
Berra and Xenofos notice her absence on the second day and grow concerned. Spoilers, of course.

[[[berra:flame-of-sartar-02|Link to One of our Vingans is missing (Berra and Xenofos)]]]

————
What was lost has been found. Xenofos finds her first, at the site of the extinguished Flame of Sartar. Berra arrives sometime later. Neither is very happy, but Varanis fails to notice.

Varanis has been at the site of the Flame of Sartar for two days in meditation when Xenofos shows up.

She’s kneeling by the edge of the rock face, facing the valley below. She doesn’t register his presence. Her armour has been stripped off and is stacked in a pile to one side of her.

Eventually she rises, walks to the brazier in a sort of dreamlike state, muttering very quietly whilst tracing the runes. There is a low blue glow in the brazier when she does.

After a time, she returns to her kneeling position. She does not seem to be aware of Xenofos at all.

Xenofos sets up a small camp nearby, but makes no move to disturb the Vingan.

When Berra arrives he will quietly intercept her from trying to awaken the seeker. They argue briefly, before both settling in to maintain vigil.

There is no acknowledgement of the two from Varanis. She mostly just stays kneeling, though she does return to the brazier periodically, talking quietly as she does. Always, she ends up back by the edge of the rock face. She neither eats, nor drinks. She might dose from time to time, but if so, it’s as she kneels.

The sun begins to set on the third day and nothing has changed.

During this time, Berra has left once for biological necessities – this would not be the place. Other than that she has stuck the course.

On one of Varanis’ trips to the brazier, Berra points out, “She’s mumbling. She’s not well.” The only move she makes is to be certain she can stand quickly, but she does look worried.5Berra makes a successful listen roll.

“We must not disturb her. It might bring all she has endured so far to naught.” Xenofos does not stir and his voice is low and commanding, but on his face flicker determination, worry, and hope.

“I don’t know the language,” Berra says uncertainly. “It’s not Esrolian.” And no, she does not get closer.

As Yelm begins his descent, Varanis is once again kneeling at the edge of the rock face. Boldhome is laid out before her,in the soft blue of Elmal’s light. She has fallen completely silent. In spite of everything, her spine is straight. She seems to be waiting.

“I think it was Stormspeech,” Berra says quietly, as the day begins to die. “But I didn’t understand it.” She has not spoken in some time, although she moves occasionally to ease the cramps of waiting.

“May it be so. It might indicate this has not been in vain, praise Ernalda.” The answer comes quietly in a tired voice.

“Take some time asleep. You need to be fresh when she wakes.” Berra’s reply comes a few minutes later, like she has thought about it.

“That makes sense – also for you. I’ll sleep for a watch if you promise to wake me up later and take a nap for a watch then.”

“I’ll wake you when I think Yelm is within the Court of Silence.” About four hours from now, if the myths are the same in Sartar as in Esrolia. At around midnight, Berra pokes Xenofos with her sandalled foot until he wakes up. Nothing has changed.

Yelm begins his ascent and the sky lightens to blue. Varanis does not appear to have moved at all during the night. Berra and Xenofos maintain their vigil.


————
The sun continues to climb until the fullness of Yelm’s light reaches the Vingan’s face. She makes some kind of sound, like she’s trying to call out, but the words are garbled. And then she crumples in place.

It turns out that the infantry squat Berra is in – one leg under her and one outstretched – is good for getting up quickly. She takes a moment to look at the situation all around before she dashes to Varanis, however, which would let Xenofos arrive first if he wanted to.

Despite rising stiffly Xenofos hobbles surprisingly quickly to check on Varanis. Arriving at same time as Berra.

Varanis is unconscious and clearly no longer in a trance. Her skin is dry, her eyes look sunken in her face. Xenofos checks to see that she breathes still. A hand checks to see if her temples feel cold or feverish.

Varanis’ skin is hot and dry. Her eyes open in response to the touch. She looks without recognition at Xenofos and tries to say something, but it comes out in garbled Stormspeech.

“She seems to be totally exhausted. Let’s try to get her drink a few drops of water. Maybe wrap her in a blanket though she is hot to touch.”

The sound of her cousin’s voice seems to clear the fog a little. “Xeno?” she manages very quietly.

Berra is already pulling out her water bottle, but says nothing, handing it over. “Pour some on her too,” she says, “We have enough for that.”

“Hush Varanis. Try to drink a bit but don’t try anything else just yet.” Xenofos lifts her head just enough for Berra to let her drink without drowning.

Berra pours a bit of water out into her hand first, and drinks that herself, quickly. That seems to make sense to her. “Try healing magic?” she suggests, as she very gently tries to get Varanis to drink. “We can use a wet rag too, or feed it to her from our mouths. I’ve seen this in Prax.”6Successful first aid roll

Varanis accepts the water gratefully, though she doesn’t manage to get more than a sip or two. She’s clearly exhausted.

“It seems you have been far. It may take time to return.” Xenofos speaks soothingly to her.

Berra pours out a little more into the well of her hand, and this time wets her finger to dab Varanis on the lips. She is, to Xenofos at least, obviously biting her lip and not talking.

Varanis almost immediately licks her lips when Berra’s hand moves away. “Thirsty.” The word is clear enough to be understandable, despite how quietly it is uttered.

“I know.” Berra holds the water bottle where it can tip a slow stream of liquid for Varanis, and takes up the Vingan’s hand.

“A bit at the time. Not too fast so you don’t get nauseous.” Xenofos wets a piece of cloth and gently sets it on Varanis’ head.

Varanis swallows the water gratefully.

The hand that Berra just took up? She licks the back of it, tasting and then smacking her lips. “She’ll need salt too. But water first. She’s stopped sweating.” After that, Berra drops the hand and just keeps providing water, slowly.

“There is some jerky in foodstuffs, I’ll get that.” Xenofos speaks but is not quite ready to set Varanis’ head back on the ground.

“Not yet. Not unless you want to chew it for her. Not until she’s had this water.” Berra seems calm, or maybe overly interested in what she is concentrating on.

Varanis tries to shake her head frantically at the mention of the jerky, resulting in spilling some of the water on herself and making herself wince at the pain in her skull.

Then Berra adds, “Soak it for the salt. It’s a good idea. She just shouldn’t eat yet.” She gives Varanis a moment to stop shaking her head, and to breathe.

“Wait.” The Vingan sounds a bit more like herself, though clearly weak. “I… it worked.” The words take effort. “How long?”

“Enough time we came to find you,” says Berra calmly. Astoundingly calmly, in fact.

“Three days and nights?” His voice remains soothing, but some of the bottled up concern spills out, as Xenofos adds: “You did not consider the option of telling us instead of just vanishing alone?”

“Later, Xenofos,” says Berra. “She should drink, not talk. Really, impressively calm.

Varanis blinks at him in confusion, then shakes her head more slowly this time. “Was s’posed to be back in time for temple.”

Varanis reaches for the water flask with a shaking hand.

While Varanis concentrates on the bottle Xenofos looks carefully at Berra. He is a bit surprised by her calmness, looking for a hidden edge in it.7Xenofos rolls on insight human w/ crit success: Insight: Berra genuinely is calm. Any anger has been put away, like she simply changed her mind about being angry – and that was that. The calmness is her, now, with no hidden depths.

Xenofos lifts an eyebrow and nods slowly to Berra.

Berra does not let Varanis have the bottle yet. “You can drink for yourself once you can sit up for yourself,” she says. “We have more water, but some has apple juice in. I was planning on visiting the Ramp if I had time. And marching food. Saddlebag stuff.”

Varanis struggles to reach a sitting position almost immediately. She’s weak, but determined. Xenofos does not hinder or aid getting up. But he is prepared to catch her if she fails.

“Cross legs. Stay stable.” Berra says, taking a sip of water herself. “Xenofos, do you have healing magic that is not going to wear you out? It helps against the damage that dryness does, although it doesn’t stop it.” Berra peers into the Vingan’s eyes.

“A score of years… maybe more…” Varanis murmurs. She seems to be staying upright.

“Xenofos…. Maybe you need to write this down? Everything she says, in case it vanishes?” Berra keeps one hand on the water bottle and reaches for Varanis’ shoulder. “I’ll steady her. Varanis, you take this and drink.”

Xenofos hesitates for a moment, nods and gets his writing kit, ready to take dictation.

Berra sits where she can support Varanis if needed, but also catch the water bottle if it falls. Every motion is careful, every movement seems planned.

Slowly, painfully, and between sips of water, Varanis describes her vision. When she talks about the darkness, she shudders. When she talks about the Gods, her eyes seem to light from within, though she is a shell of herself. There is so much loneliness in the story, but through it, a thread of hope.

By the time Varanis finishes describing her vision and the events leading up to it, Berra’s flask is empty. The Vingan looks drained of energy, but stable.

Berra has another flask, this one slightly sweeter, and a couple of bits of dried fruit. She rinses off jerky to get salty water, and starts pounding up the meat on the rocky surface by the top step, to get tiny fragments. Everything is done with the energy of someone who knows what to do and is doing nothing else. Only the occasional glance around or look at the sun or the palace indicates her mind is on anything but the immediate task.

Varanis sips at the sweeter water dutifully, but without much enthusiasm. “Sleep,” she murmurs. “I want to sleep.”

“Of course you do. You can do that when you can stand up and walk away, or decide which of us is carrying you. We’re going up the steps, not down.” Berra grins. “That staircase was not designed for humans with normal sized feet.”

Varanis gives the Humakti an indignant glare. “No one is carrying me.” The look would mean more if she had anything to back it up, but she’s drained.

“Then you can stay here until you start needing to piss. That’s a good sign too.” The Humakti does not argue – her tone of voice is agreement.

The Vingan shoots a look at her cousin to see if he’s going to back her up, though what she wants back up for is hard to say. She sighs and takes another sip from the flask. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she says after a moment.

Xenofos looks at his cousin pretty sternly. Although that can be worry and relief hidden under serious look.

Berra is calm, collected, maybe a little tired. She provides nothing to argue against.

“Well I suppose the route we came is not really practical – and we should get you somewhere a bit more comfortable to recover,” Xenofos coaxes.

Varanis looks mulish. “Tennebris is up there. Down will be easier.” She tries to stand, wobbles, and sits down hard.

“It might also be fatal.” Berra gathers some of the pulped meat and dried apple she has been grinding up. “Time to think about getting enough food that you can walk. Then more water.” The easy to eat mush gets put into a small pile on the bag the jerky was in, in lieu of a plate. “A pinch at a time.”

“Listen to Berra on this. Even upwards maybe a tad challenging before you have eaten and drunk some more.”

Varanis wrinkles her nose in reply, but dutifully takes a pinch of food.

It’s sweet and salty, and Berra offers the second of the water-bottles with it. “It might be hard to swallow,” she advises. Varanis accepts the water and painstakingly works her way through both water and food.

Xenofos is looking at the road up and estimating the climb. The road upwards is a stair no steeper than that which leads up to the palace from the ground, but shorter. Varanis may well need to stop and rest on the way, but at least she will be able to do so.

Xenofos picks up a strip of jerky and works through that while Varanis is working on her portion.

Berra keeps that patience she has, until the first pile of mush is gone, and she can hand over the water bottle. Then she stands and looks up at the path to the palace. “It’s steep, but the other option is taking her down with a rope,” she says. It seems almost like she is talking out loud. “And people might notice that anyhow.”

“If she does not mind the indignity rope is an option. Not easy, and pretty hilarious to possible onlookers. ” Xenofos ponders this apparently very seriously.

“She gets to climb. She just has something to fall onto.” Berra points up towards the palace and gives Xenofos a look that says, ‘that way’ pretty clearly.

Xenofos makes almost invisible nod and follows the gaze.

Varanis glares at them both, then struggles to her feet. This time she remains upright. She looks in the direction of the stairs down and then, with as much dignity as she can muster, she resolutely turns towards the stairs up.8Varanis rolls on Air for pride – success.

Berra goes to pick up her kit – a backpack that has a couple of saddlebags stuffed into it, and the empty and half-full water bottles. Varanis has a moment to get ahead.

Xenofos gathers remains of the meal and his kit quickly and efficiently and follows Varanis.

The Vingan stops in her tracks. “My armour…” Her shoulders slump.

“That’s fine. It’s what we’re here for. One of us for you, one of us for the kit. That’s how you get wounded comrades out. Which do you want, Xenofos? I’d prefer the thing I can drop without warning.”

“Suits me, little cousin” He gets close to Varanis and arranges his stuff so that his right arm is free.

Deciding to trust in her comrades, the Vingan makes her unsteady way to the bottom of the stairs. She glances at Xenofos, but makes no argument.

“Just because someone stretched you,” mutters Berra to the armour. It does not take Berra long to get most of the armour into the saddlebags, and buckle the sword on her hip. She has the knack of packing quickly. There is still a bronze chestpiece over her shoulder, and the general effect is to make her clang as she moves, but she can just about carry it. She is strong, even if she is short.

One step at a time, Varanis tackles the stairs. She stops to rest frequently , preferring to take her time over needing support. By the time they reach the top, she is completely exhausted and most of the morning is gone. At times, it seems like pride is the only thing keeping her upright.

No support is forced unless she starts to fall. No comments on time it takes.

Berra is not looking too happy by the time Yelm is almost directly above, but she does not complain. She does put the bag or the armour down, from time to time, and even sit down, but always behind Varanis, where she cannot be seen.

Xenofos questions Berra with his eyes, but does not say anything.

“Now what?” Varanis asks, teetering on her feet.

Berra gives Xenofos a little shrug. She looks like she could do with not being in the sun, but at least she hasn’t been out there for days. “Now, we find you a room here, or a seat, or somewhere in the shade. Rest, then go down. One of us goes back to tell people where you are now, so they don’t look in the wrong place.”

“Well since this is the palace I suppose there are guards who should ask what we are doing – though this is kind of weird direction to come from. Especially armed and unexpected…” Xenofos says. Any servant or guard passing by gets waved down without asking the ladies.

There are indeed people guarding this particular doorway, although they look a little bored, and as if this strange happening is going to make them learn to write just to cope with the paperwork. And there are servants, and assistant priests, and a bustling palace full of functionaries.

“Hello good man. Thane Varanis needs a place to rest for a while until we return to downtown.” Xenofos acts like noble who has no idea that servant could have any choice in the matter.

“I would like to sleep.” The redhead says very quietly.

The good man looks faintly confused, and says, “I’ll fetch someone who lives here,” and goes off at the same high speed. A minute or so later, a woman hoves into view to offer a bed, and a healer, and a meal, and all the things a guest might like.

Berra stays quiet, just holding things.

“Thank you good man, thank you mistress,” the Esrolian nobleman exudes courtesy and confidence in this situation.

The good man, a rather snappy looking functionary, gives Xenofos a glare, and walks away.

Once the guards work out who Varanis is, they are happy to have her and her companions within the palace, although it does take a moment to find someone to identify her. That makes Berra bristle, but not shout or threaten, as she holds onto that miraculously good temper.

Quietly to Berra, “Sleeping here may mean talking with Tennebris later, but she seems quite done.”

Berra replies, “She probably should, but she should probably talk with us first. Didn’t you have a room here before?” The implication, of course, is that the Humakti didn’t.

“As a matter of fact I did. But I think we should not leave her alone,” Xenofos says seriously.

The room supplied to Varanis is not the one she had before, and it is in a simpler style – there are few riches here, but there is comfort at least, and shade. Yelm is definitely outside.

“I… well, I won’t be wanted or missed at the Temple … that is, I have no Temple Services before dusk. I might be missed, but that’s not a problem. I can stay, if you come back?” Berra offers.9Xenofos gains more insight: When Berra said ‘wanted or missed’ she realised something, and that is what changed her mind about what she was saying.

“Did you sleep at all? I forgot to make sure you would take your nap.”

“I’m infantry. I can sleep standing up.” Berra smiles for the first time in a while. “And without snoring.”

“I would rather just send a message that we are here, but that might be impractical,” Xenofos admits.

Berra suggests, “You could go down and read it for them, too. D’Val can read, if he’s there. Or I could run down. I’ve been meaning to try those steps for a while, in armour. And Varanis can sleep.”

“Well if you have the vigor in your legs to take the message – but you would need rest too. I really don’t want to leave her here, not even with you.”

Berra sighs. “I’ll go out the front way.” She gives the exhausted Varanis a look. “Sleep is a good reason not to talk.” Most of the kit gets piled up in the corner, at about the point that the bustling woman claps at the door and peers around it, in company of a younger woman in white robes. “If I don’t come back up, it’s because I got too comfortable down there,” Berra says, “Or someone who outranks me called for me. Or I decided not to come.” She rolls out her shoulders and arcs her back to stretch it.

“Thank you.”

Berra shrugs, and slips out past the women in the doorway.

Varanis has fallen asleep on her feet,


————
Sometime later, Varanis wakes up in a room in the Palace. Xenofos has been sitting watch by her bedside.

Varanis opens her eyes wearily. “Xenofos?”

“Cousin. You are in the palace.”

“I know. Are they gone yet?” While she’s clearly exhausted, she also sounds disgruntled.

“Gone who?”

“Everyone. The healer, the guards, the housekeeper…” Confusion fills her eyes. “They were here, right?”

“Yes they were here and have left. Healer told you need to get more water and light foods into you and did something for your sunburns.”

“We are alone?”

“As alone as anyone is in a palace…”

“I…” she stops and restarts. “Can I have water, please?”

“Here.” Xenofos fills a goblet left on side table.

Varanis shuffles into a sitting position and accepts the goblet. She takes a sip and then a few more. Quietly, she says, “I’m sorry. I thought it would be a few hours at most.”

“Well, you did not know that ahead of time. So I understand you did not set out to scare us the way you did.”

Varanis looks at him wide-eyed. “I didn’t think…” she takes a sip of water and gives a little shrug. “Your lives would be easier without me anyway. I have to die for this quest. Why should you have to die with me?”

“It is not said you die on this mission… And in the end – we all die anyway…” words of Xenofos come slowly and fade away with his gaze turning inwards.

“I have to seek Sartar in the underworld. That’s what the vision was. He’s alone in the darkness with the spark and I have to go to him.

“Well, you are not going alone.” Xenofos is back from wherever his mind wandered.

Varanis looks haunted. “It was so dark. But, it’s my quest and my responsibility.” She doesn’t seem to notice how arrogant that sounds.

“Orlanth did not descend alone.” Xenofos’ voice is unusually quiet.

Varanis takes a deep breath. “You are right. I just spent over a score of years alone, but even then, I was only alone for half the time… It felt like forever. Who was the God in the fire?” She closes her eyes, trying to remember and falls quiet for a long time.

Finally, she opens her eyes again. They are shadowed with pain and fever bright. “Yelm. Yelm was there each night. Xenofos, where is Serala? I need to talk to her.” Her question is full of desperation and misery. “My head hurts so much.”

“Yelm, not Sartar?” Xenofos asks softly as if afraid of adding to the headache, pondering the implications of this piece of vision.

“I was Sartar, I think,” Varanis says uncertainly.

“Sartar – keeping the spark during the day, and giving it to Yelm every night? ” Xenofos is trying to make sense of something that seems to defy logic.

“Protecting the spark alone – except when his God and Goddes come? But they leave him alone to continue guarding? I suppose that would be Orlanth and the Great mother Ernalda, but I can’t connect that to stories I know.”

“I don’t know. I can’t think right now…” She tries to think anyway. “It was Orlanth and Ernalda. I know it was. And the fire was Yelm. I spent every night of a score of years with him. The fire was Yelm.” She is insistent.

“Score and four years, the time fire has been extinguished, after burning less than five score years…” The scholar appears lost in thought.


————
Varanis develops a fever and comes in and out of wakefulness. Her dreams are confusing.

Varanis blinks groggily.

“Water?”

It’s inside. There is a building. A bed. The sound of someone snoring not far away. The smell of sweat, fever-hot skin, and damp hair.

“Water,” says a voice that is made of cold judgement, and some is held forth. A leather bottle with a stopper of bone, and the bone is a wolf’s tooth. The hand that holds it is steady, capable, scarred.

Varanis struggles to sit up enough to take the bottle, closing her eyes against the pain.

“Water,” says a familiar voice. Jenath Minar, the river of her new clan, jumps and bites. His movement must be why the room is rocking. The bottle weighs as much as the Tula.

“Water,” says Magasta. “All water come to me. We must heal this.” And the rivers obey, and water splutters out onto Varanis.

“Not so fast,” says Berra, tilting the bottle back. “You want that inside you.”

“Not so fast,” says Lhankor Mhy. “This path is narrow and the light is poor.”

The Vingan gasps as the water hits her skin. “Berra?” She blinks in confusion.

“Not so fast… not so fast….” Was that a dead voice?

“Wait…. who? I’m so confused. Please.”

“I’m here,” Berra says, to the echoes. “I’m here,” says Orlanth to Ernalda, in the weaving room in Yelm’s palace. “I’m here,” says a whispering, cold, quiet, patient hiss.

“It’s me. Berra. You’re in the Palace. You collapsed for a while after your trance.” But there are other voices too, speaking in echoes of hers. None name themselves, but some are familiar. Snatches of HeroQuests in which people name themselves, for good or for ill, are following what Berra says.

“I’m in the Palace. The weaving room. The dark. It was so dark for so long.” Varanis’ confusion gives way to aching loneliness.

“She’s woken too soon,” says a voice that is not Berra’s, from the other side of the bed. “We need to make her sleep.”
“She’s decided too soon,” says grandmother. “She is flighty, and must be coaxed back.”
“She’s risen too soon,” says a man’s voice, in despair. “Sartar’s not ready. Yet we must rebel.”
“She’s too early,” complains a petulant Eurmal. “My head hurts.”
“Came too soon? Not at all. That is love too.” Uleria’s voice is pure companionship.

“It’s not too soon. It’s late. The Lunars are coming. We need to stop them. We need Sartar to come home.” The Vingan’s words are full of urgency. Then, plaintively, “My head hurts too…”

“Too fast. Try again,” says Kargan Tor, and Humakt mutters about speed and tricks. Then a sound of peacefulness begins, and a cool hand is on her brow, and a sleep spell is sending her back down.

She tries to fight it, resisting, but her will has been worn down and before long, she surrenders.

————
The Vingan wakes again and this time appears more alert. There are too many people in her room.

The shadows have moved. Waking is clearer. Thirst is a torment sent by Ikadz, a knife inside the throat.

“Water? Please?” she begs.

This time, the water comes on a wet rag, squeezed so that Varanis need not sit. “Hush, girl,” says a voice just like Jareen’s, and then with a ripping of memory, Varanis is not there, but here, in the Palace, with assassins and dragons and demons a memory behind, and a healer sitting by her. “Rest yourself.”

“She wants to get up,” says Berra, from the left.

“She’s not to get up yet,” says the healer, a woman no older than they are. “It’s alright, girl. You’re safe. You’re in the palace of Kallyr.” More water, careful and slow. Berra makes a sound of impatience, and then a sigh of calming, and she is quiet.

Varanis hauls in a deep breath, as though seeking her centre. “Not a child,” she argues, shaking her head and then clenching her eyes shut in reaction to the pain. She accepts the water from the rag unhappily. The immediate need sated, she struggles to rise. “Berra?”

“No, of course not,” says the healer soothingly, and lets Varanis rise. Berra leans forward. “Here. But quietly. Some people are sleeping.” There is a pile of blankets, maybe a cot bed, that would be a lot more visible if Varanis could stand up and look properly.

Berra looks mostly awake, with a touch of the hooded murder glare that sometimes hangs around her, and a bit of what might be compassion.

Varanis glowers at the healer’s tone. “I’m fine,” she murmurs. “I’ll be quiet. I just need to speak to…” A pause. Varanis looks embarrassed. “I need to pee,” she says very quietly.

Berra gives the healer a grin. The woman in white says, “I’ll help you onto the pot,” and Berra hides her face in her hands, as if not wanting her expression seen.

Varanis, for once not arguing, cooperates and before long is back in bed looking worn out and awkward. “Why am I still so weak?” she asks no one in particular, her tone laden with frustration.

“Because you spent three days in the sun,” says Berra. The healer says, “Enough out of you, young lady. Your mistr– she needs rest.”

“White Lady,” Varanis says, mustering her most polite tones as best she can. “If I agree to rest, will you leave us a while? I need to talk to my kinswoman.” There’s a subtle emphasis on the final word.

“You can ask me at any time to leave,” says the healer, with a touch of disapproval, but she does get up, and she does give Berra a hard look. “No letting her get up.”

Almost as soon as the woman leaves, Varanis pushes herself back into a seated position and swings her bare legs over the end of the bed. “There’s no time. We have to get the spark.”

“No,” says Berra. “Stay. You’re in no fit state to move, just to drink and rest. You spent three days in the sun, as far as we know.”

Varanis surrenders easily, which is probably evidence of her ongoing exhaustion. Probably. “I’m sorry,” she whispers.

“Well, good. You scared us. But you got a vision out of it. Xenofos wrote it all down, when you were still at the Flame.” Berra pulls her own water bottle out. “This is my special hair water, with apple juice in. It tastes better than ordinary water.” She pulls out the wooden stopper, and it is not a wolf’s tooth.

Varanis stares at the water bottle. “There was a man. Or a god. He had a water bottle like yours, but with a tooth. He seemed… angry.”

“I don’t know of any myths like that. Did the tooth try to bite you?” Berra is curious, her hand around the bottle pausing just as the god’s did.

“No. But he reminded me of you.”

“Well, I’m often angry,” agrees Berra.

The Vingan puts her hands to her head while she tries to think. “The river – Jenath Minar, Lhankor Mhy, Magasta, you…. so much water, but not enough.” She’s confused and when she drops her hands it’s clear that she’s also in pain.

“The Gods, Grandmother…. they are all trying to slow me down. But, Berra… there’s no time.” A pause, then, “Why would I dream of Kargan Tor?”

“Because he taught…. well, Humakt. So Orlanth might have heard him. You are still in a state where your spirit can feel the other realm. I think. Or it’s an omen for war, or abandonment.” Berra shrugs, all energy for a moment, as she fails to keep a knot on her emotions.

Varanis sits up in alarm and then grabs at her head again. “I was supposed to go back to the Temple. I have duties. War is coming. The Tula… we have to prepare the Tula too. Berra, I can’t lie here. I have to do something.” There’s an edge of panic to her words.

“Which of the many wrong things do you want to do?” Berra asks, and for the first time there is an edge in her voice.

Varanis doesn’t answer, but buries her head deeper into her hands. Her shoulders begin to shake, but she stays silent.[[Footnote]]Failed roll on Movement, near fumble on Air that was initially interpreted as a fumble.[[/footnote]]

“You don’t have to solve everything. The Tula’s as far out of the way as it’s possible to be, if you’re North of here. There won’t be battles there, and they’ll be able to send people to the Green Fish anyhow. And we did that. But we… we have to go as fast as we can while surviving.” Berra sounds tense, but not really worried.

Varanis still doesn’t answer.

Berra uncorks her own water bottle. There are drinking sounds.

It takes a while, but finally the Vingan’s silence is traded for shakily drawn deep breaths. Eventually, she unfolds herself from the ball she curled into to lie back in the bed. Her face is tear-streaked. No words are said.

“You can’t save them all,” Berra says quietly. “I love my clan. I love you – you’re my clan. But there’s Sartar too, and if you aim at two targets, you’ll miss one – twice.”

After a very long silence, Varanis says despairingly, “I’m not worthy of love. I’m not worthy anything. Too flighty. Too selfish. Too weak.” She turns her face to the wall. “I should sleep.”

“That’s not how it works. You get to be young, and you get to grow up. But now, you do get to sleep. And drink more, I’m afraid, before you do.” Berra gets up. “It’s by your bed. I’m going to call the White Lady back in, and then sleep too.” There are still the sounds of someone – probably Xenofos – in the cot at the far side of the room.

Varanis mumbles something that might be agreement.