VS 079 Berra at the Bothy

Varanis — 1626 0732 Bothy 01

????, Fire Season, Season/Illusion Week


Context

Fire Season/Illusion Week/Waterday/Evening. [[[s01:session-42|Session 42]]]

The rest of the party has returned from the Marsh, bearing a terrible relic. The relic has been shut away in a bothy within the walls of Cinder Fox Tula’s steading. Berra is guarding in when her Death rune burns her suddenly and she lets out a yelp.

Continues in [http:journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/varanis:1626-0733-bothy-02 Dormal at the Bothy]

Events

Varanis goes to Berra upon hearing the disturbance. It’s the first time she’s come close to the bothy. “Are you alright?”

Berra rolls out her shoulders, and looks up at Varanis. She is standing, but was obviously dozing a few minutes before, as her bedroll is still in front of the turf structure. The few other guards in the area, all professional-looking, step away at her gesture. “I am now,” she says, “But I don’t know what it means. My Rune hurt again. Not so badly this time, but it was still cold enough it burned.” She looks tired, like sleep has been in short supply.

“Can I look at it? The rune, that is.” Varanis looks concerned.

Berra nods, and checks around before unbuckling her armour so Varanis can see properly. The Darkness Rune is pink around the edges, like it briefly warred with the skin. The Vingan inhales sharply looking at it. “Does it hurt still?”

“Not like it did. It’s a bit tender, but I could heal that. I’m just waiting until I can be sure of the magic I’m going to be needing in the near future. Or I could do it now, if you want? If you’re worried?” Berra flexes her shoulders again, making a neat little Death Rune of the folds of skin and muscle on her back.

“May I?” Berra can feel the heat of Varanis’ hand hovering over, but not yet touching, the rune.

“Please do… wait, did you do it before? Maybe this time you should just watch.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s related to Irillo, and the Heroquest. And I can’t see the back of my neck.” Berra is probably about to start talking about mirrors or being a Duck or some other such thing. She’s taking a breath to babble something.

“But why watch it instead of heal? I can do both.” Because Varanis is behind the Humakti, her breath plays over the rune.

“I had thought you were going to touch it. But if you’re not, then go ahead.” Berra does not wince at the closeness behind her, or the play of air on blue-tattooed skin.

“I have to touch your skin, but I can stick to the edge.” She gently places a fingertip on the very edge of the rune, where the skin is pink. She inhales deeply and as she releases that breath, the wound begins to heal.

It heals nicely, easily, with no after effects. Cool goes to warm under her finger. Berra asks, “Anything?”

Varanis peers closely, but then steps back in front of Berra, creating more space between them. “No. It healed normally.”

“Mm. Well, that’s something at least. How are you?” The Humakti looks around and asks, “Do you want a seat brought?”

The other woman shakes her head. “I don’t need to sit. I’m fine. I had a good conversation with Mellia. It was good for me.” She looks closely at Berra. “How about you? How do you feel?”

There is a big, slow sigh. “It’s going to be tough getting this back. It’s… it’s calling somehow, I think. It shouldn’t be, but there’s something about it that’s really strange. I wouldn’t have thought it would do that. And the banner, too, but not as much. This is…” Berra looks over her shoulder. “It tested me. I was nearly not strong enough. It was looking for Death, and that’s unusual in anything. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Death: As Berra speaks, the feeling comes over Varanis of separation from the world, of sharp edges and cuts and endings, of clean finishes and a lack of suffering, and an austere, perfect sword within the darkness. It is not a vision, as such – she knows all the stories. But the feeling of suddenly being reminded of them is there. And then it is gone, and a memory only. There, then not. Never a between state.1This is the result of a successful roll on death.

Varanis looks sharply at the bothy and shudders. “I don’t understand what it is,” she admits. “It’s uncomfortable. I thought I wanted to look at it, but… I don’t know that I do.”

“It’s the feeling of Death, and it’s not for the uninitiated. That’s almost the embodiment of a secret. I just… don’t know how it’s doing it. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s… it feels wrong. I mean, it’s got the Death feeling right but it shouldn’t be making it happen. I don’t understand. That’s making me miserable and jumpy, and the other Humakti here keeps on pushing me because she doesn’t realise how it shouldn’t be.” Berra pauses partway through what could have been a good blurt, to take a calming breath. It does not seem to calm her much, but at least she does not continue.

“I could feel it, like it was cutting me away from everything. But the feeling is gone now.” Varanis looks uncomfortable anyway.

“Yes. It’s strange to be reminded of that, because I live with it – I’d forgotten that it could be uncomfortable, until we found the barn. The High Sword – that is, the Initiate Eril had made it part of the structure.” Berra’s voice goes a little quiet, and she reaches for her water.

The Vingan’s eyes are repeatedly drawn to the bothy’s entrance, even as she denies any desire to look more closely. It’s that wary sort of look that is given to something dangerous, where you aren’t sure you can risk looking away.

“I heard that Dormal was injured? I haven’t seen him yet.”

“He was. And Nala. Four of the trollkin ran away beforehand. Four were killed – all of the rest and Salid were injured. Irillo was hurt. Mellia, too. She dropped a rock on her foot, among other things. But it all got healed. Nothing lasted, except the dead Enlo. Have you had a report on it yet?”

The bothy’s entrance is a door, a stout wooden thing that pigs cannot eat their way through.

“No.” Varanis frowns. “Just bits and pieces.”

“Right. Go get seats, and we’ll sit further away. Get lights, too. It’s pretty late. And if you don’t mind, I could do with some sleep after that and a pair of eyes would be good.” Berra goes to roll up her mat and belt it together, using her one workable hand well.

It doesn’t take long for Varanis to fetch what is needed. When she returns, she is accompanied by a small procession of thralls. One carries the seats, another has a platter of food and a jug of water, and a third has the Vingan’s armour. Varanis is carrying a small lamp. The thralls lay things out and are waved away with thanks.

Berra laughs. “Not bad,” she says. “I was wondering how you’d carry it all in two hands.” She points to where the seats are to go, so she can watch the door and one arc of approach, and have Varanis watch another. “So. Do you know the situation we were going into?”

“Only that you were heading to the Marsh and that there was the potential of overlapping quests,” comes the reply and Varanis pulls her cuirass over her head, straining to reach some of the buckles. She growls. “Do you think Grandmother had this designed so that I would always need to rely on assistance to put it on? I can manage, but it’s almost painful to do so.” She wrestles with the strap further, before saying, “I’m sorry. I interrupted you.”

“Riiiiight…” Berra falls silent while Varanis dresses. “Have you tried putting loops on the end of the straps? You can use ones you can take off easily.” She has finished about half of the food in about three minutes, and sounds slightly pained.

Her suggestion is met with a grunt, as the Vingan finally gets the buckle she’s been struggling with. She sits on the stool and moves onto the greaves and vambraces. “Eat more, if you want. I’m almost dressed.”

“I need to make sure I’ve eaten this, first,” replies the infanteer, as she scoops up another flatbread just in case it’s taken by the time she manages more food. “So, I can’t really give this as a battle report, because you’re not exactly my superior, but I’ll tell it as a story. Irillo has been guiding us with his visions. Lord Eril was not generous with thinking about the future. But do you remember Indrodar’s Quest?”

The Vingan nods as she pulls the last strap tight. “Go ahead, and yes, I do.”

“It’s mostly a cycle of seven, but it’s got a story that goes before them – Indrodar’s Mistake. People don’t usually act that. But the Firebulls did. And they pulled Lord Eril’s raid into it, and it went so well for them that they ended up with a bit of the Upland Marsh in their lands. Good reason never, ever to use that Quest, really.” Berra rubs at her chest, where the Movement Rune is, and then looks back to her own armour, chestpiece and backpiece still off. “I think grandmother or her armoursmith probably designed it with the assumption you always WOULD have someone to dress you,” she replies, absently. “And anyhow, to follow Lord Eril through his life meant going back there.”

There’s a nod, but no interruption.

“He’d used it, to hide the relics. But he’d bought a lot of people – thralls, and some hired mercenaries, I think. Maybe just the thralls. And a lot of them died. But we got through. There were ghouls. Those are spirits that inhabit the dead, so a single one can be really dangerous if there are a lot of dead bodies around – like in the Upland Marsh. And they scream and howl, but that didn’t hurt us. It made… well, it would have made us afraid but we’d partaken of the Ritual of Morale together, with Irillo at the center. Nala danced belonging for us too, and made a square of new grass and drier land where the land started to be soggy.”

There’s an intake of breath at the mention of the ghouls, but the Vingan keeps listening.

“Some of Lord Silor’s men delivered Mellia, the evening before. We’d spotted what might have been a raiding party on the hill, and he came out in what seemed at the time to be really massive force. But he knew already, at that point. He brought a letter with him that he said was from the High Sword, although I couldn’t read it. I said I’d talk to him about it later, because I had the Death Cross to deal with. But finding that out came a bit later. Irillo managed to use Lord Eril’s magic, I think. It sounded like commands to the Dead, anyhow. To flee him, or to die. And it was his voice. We were all in the Quest. I was a warrior, freed on the promise to fight hard. Although I was pretty solidly me, to be honest. I kept a lot of myself. And we had to flee them, in the end. He sent one away, but the other one wouldn’t leave and just kept attacking underwater, and as we ran there were more. Zombies and skeletons. They tipped a boat that the trollkin were in, or the trollkin jumped in to fight. I’m not clear on that part. Tiwr was a goat. I got into the boat that wasn’t the one he was in. Nala made them. And we kept running and fighting. We were effectively down half our number, when we found the land going up. Dormal was walking wounded, Irillo had been healed by Mellia but there was still a scratch on his face, which I suppose was Indrodar’s, but I don’t know which wounds he took. And then there was a barn. And it was there. We could all feel it.”

“Is Dormal alright now?” Varanis asks. “Sorry, I’ve interrupted. I haven’t seen much of him since you returned. But, I’ll exercise patience.”

Berra pauses to inhale the flatbread, hardly chewing. “This is good. And yes, everyone was healed. But we did arrive wounded. At least, some of us. Rajar and I were fine. We… well, we know how to pace ourselves. It was probably under an hour of fighting and moving. And then we got to the barn. The cross was part of the woodwork. The Lord had split beams and hollowed some out, to put the banner and the iron into them. The cross had been pinned into place, and even the… I wonder if that’s the problem. There are some tiny bits that were carved out so that it could be pinned into place. They are with the cross now but maybe it should be repaired. Or maybe it really, really shouldn’t.”

“It’s made of wood?” Varanis asks. She apparently has a hard time with patience, even as she tries.

“It is. It’s probably made for the banner. I’ve looked at that a bit, but I haven’t unfurled it. Irillo was very keen I didn’t do anything like raise it. Anything at all like that. The cross is an odd, greyish wood. It’s not one I know, but the grey seems to go deeper than you’d expect, like it’s the real colour, not age. And the grain… sort of feels wrong. Anyhow, I have the iron and the banner in my backpack, which is in there, and so is the cross, on supports so it doesn’t touch the floor. We’ll get a wagonner to help take it back, I hope. But to go on, after we came out of the barn, there were warriors all around. Nala noticed them when were were in there. That was Silor’s people. He’d come calling.”

“I thought he would, after he showed me Eril’s letter,” Varanis comments.

“Oh, right. Good. So he did. He was really angry – REALLY angry with some of the Firebulls. Not all of them, I think. Just the ones who had tricked his brother. I think he thought he had a chance to deal with them. And he said he was just out for a ride with some friends. But he had forty armed men on horseback with him. And the Marsh had gone, so he could come close. There was just a pond there, and the hill, and the barn.”

The Vingan looks confused, looks as though she’s about to ask something, but doesn’t.

“That’s the battle report. He sent back for a chariot, because a wagon would never make the journey. Half of the woodland that had been there had come back, and there were a lot of reeds standing in firm ground. And then Yamia drove the chariot and I made sure the cross was well, the next day. And we got back here.” She has more water. “I think that’s everything. It’s not how I’d tell it to D’Val, but it’s all the things I can think of.”

Varanis nods. “While you were gone, I tried to learn what I could about our reception here. Did you learn what Eril’s letter contained?”

Berra shakes her head. “Silor said it was an instruction to me, and an explanation of what was happening, but he’d wait until there was someone I trusted to read it to him. That the High Sword had said that. So I don’t know everything, just that.” Water, food. She is packing it all away.

With a nod, the Vingan says, “It’s worth getting Xenofos to read it to you, but I did read it myself. Some of the words were hard,” she admits. She summarizes the letter for Berra, then adds, “Silor tried to lead me to telling him everything without admitting he had the letter. And then he chastised me for not telling him the whole truth from the beginning.” There’s a note of irritation in her voice. “He was patronizing.”

Berra laughs. “Well, yes. He tried that on me as well. So I asked him if he already knew. I mean, I knew he knew, but I also told him who had told him, before he told me. That was good. But we were on his land, doing something strange. And we couldn’t tell him. It was awkward. But he was still amused even after I put his crest down.” Perfect Berra; sentences that stop and then start, and she has food to hand.

Varanis surreptitiously checks the plate to see if anything is left. “I knew he knew something, but I couldn’t tell how much he was fishing. And I didn’t want to expose Irillo to greater risk. After I read Eril’s letter, I told him more.”

Berra nods. “Was he trying to provoke you? That seems most likely.”

There are a couple of bits of bread left, and some sliced fruits and a bit of fish-tail sauce for the salt, and some sprinkling herbs.

“I think so. It felt like it. And maybe trying to make me feel like a child.” The Vingan snags a few pieces of fruit and nibbles on them thoughtfully. “It feels like he’s been making sure I know he isn’t challenged by me in any way. I don’t think he has heard anything about me, which is probably good.”

“He’d heard about me. But he was treating me like I was young, too.” Berra shrugs. “I am. But the first person that did that to me in Sartar was Tennebris, and he was right. Really, REALLY right. Lots right.” She seems to be holding back from the bread now. “I was thinking like an initiate, and he was thinking like a Chief Priest. He was wrong about the rest of the situation, though.” She shrugs. “Anyhow. Not a big matter. Lord Silor is probably an ally, likely a good one, if the High Sword is backing him and he’s agreed to help. If he HAS agreed to help. Which I think he has. I can put up with him being thirty years older than I am, for thirty years of experience.”

“I think I trust him. Mostly anyway. I suppose if I really trusted him I wouldn’t have avoided telling him some of the things he was trying to learn.” The Vingan shrugs. “It’s not like I trust many people anyway.”

Berra sneaks the penultimate bit of bread by covering it with fishtail sauce and then being willing to eat it. “He’s not of your Clan, or your Tribe. But I think he’s generally trustworthy. Just clever like a fox. He reminds me of someone who has seen a lot and so he’s already thought it through. I’ve seen it in commanders, but I haven’t talked to many chiefs.”

The Vingan takes the last of the bread. “I haven’t spoken to many Sartarite chiefs. He reminds me of a Wind Lord I knew during the Siege.” She nibbles delicately on the bread, then adds, “I met with Thenaya and I’ve gotten to know a few others around the steading. I feel like we do have allies here, as long as Silor continues to support us.” Varanis reports on the various conversations and interactions she’s had in the last couple of days. When she finishes, she looks at Berra more closely. “You look tired. You should rest. I’ll guard the relic. Is there anything I should know to guard it appropriately?”

“I’ll be sleeping outside it,” says Berra. “Across the door. I mostly need you to be awake so that Yamia does not try to get in, to be honest. Or people who want to look but don’t realise this is for Initiates of Humakt. The door opens outwards. Unless someone digs through, it’s safe. Walk around from time to time, talk to the guards. Try to keep your mind busy but don’t worry if you think about Death. It’ll probably happen.” The Humakti thinks things through, or tries to. She is obviously too tired to be putting in deep thought right now. “I need at least until Yelm would be halfway to the hall of judgement. Preferably more. I didn’t sleep much last night and not the night… I’m not sure which nights I slept properly lately.”

Varanis nods. “Go sleep. I will give you as long as I can.” Varanis has no intention of waking Berra. She begins her watch, pacing as quietly as a fully-armoured Vingan can, talking with the guards from time to time, and staring at the bothy when her attention wanders.

Berra nods, and something inside her folds down and the inner peace that comes on her when she thinks of the example of her Sword is there, summoned up by practice. Her eyes are almost closed but her face shows deep contentment. She goes to sleep with that smile on her face, hugging Wind Tooth.

Continues in [http:journeyoftheheroes.wikidot.com/varanis:1626-0733-bothy-02 Dormal at the Bothy]