VS 136 Burning the Candle: It’s a Trap!

Varanis — 1626 0805 Candle13

????, Earth Season, Season/Fertility Week


Context

Earth Season/Fertility Week/Windsday Eve [[[s02:session-7|Session 7]]]
House Hulta

Events

The yellow and black songbird does not sing at all on Windsday eve. The other, blue with a red cap, is restless and makes noises but does not sing fully.

Marta looks serious when preparing Varanis’ outlook. But she always does. Marta rarely smiles. On Clayday she might have smiled a little when Varanis gave her a little bronze bracelet with her runes worked into it. Maybe a little. She is wearing it as she working on Varanis.

Xenofos is present. The evening at House Hulta requires all out dressing up. So there are ribbons in his curled beard and his eyes are lined with kohl.

Varanis is in gold silk tonight. Gold chains are woven through her hair. The golden fan necklaces, etc. Marta works miracles when the Vingan sits still long enough and today she is unusually still. This time she asks for three cups of the tea.

“Those birds are ominously quiet.” Xenofos ponders. “Any more poems?”

“Nothing. It all seems to have ended as suddenly as it started,” says Varanis.

“Do you think I should send a friend to call Garin out?”

“No. Why?”1Varanis fails insight human

“Like I said those poems make me feel concerned,” the Scholar is serious but calm.

“They are just words. He’s been nothing but polite when I’ve seen him. And he’s avoided me recently too. There’s nothing to worry about.” She sips the strange tea and sighs.

“I hope you are right. He may be just a pretentious Orlanthi windbag. His reputation is pretty bad though. Seems to have gathered huge debts and scores of mistresses. Both married and unmarried.”

“Well, I have no intentions of becoming one of them. He doesn’t worry me.” She shrugs. “I’ve been polite and that’s enough, I think. Besides, he’s given up.”

A nod. “Would it be so. He has reputation of not accepting a denial. But his last poem would look like he has this time done it.” He rises. “Well, time to don that stupid mask. Absurd to put on makeup and then don a mask.”

“Will you tell me what your mask is tonight? Or do I have to try to find you in the crowd?”

Xenofos has a half mask of silvered leather with an owl’s face. He raises it up. “Does not cover my beard or tunic so I don’t think it will fool anyone.”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Varanis has gone with an alynx mask. It’s a beautiful piece, gilded and covered in swirling runes.

“I got a note telling we need to be on our best behaviour, can’t really say why.”

“From whom?” Varanis asks, though the question is more reflex than anything else.

“Grandmother, I think.” The scholar looks a bit tired. “Maybe there is some tension between the House and our hosts tonight I don’t know of.”

“Well, I’ve been on my best behaviour at all of these events. It’s not like I’m going to change anything suddenly and start dancing on the tables.” She sounds vaguely irritated. As she finishes the tea, she sets the cup down beside the pot.

“Ready to meet the Hulta and their mysterious guests?” Xenofos rolls his shoulders.

“As ready as I can be.” Marta ties her mask into place and Varanis glances into her mirror. It’s like she steps into a role. All traces of tiredness vanish as she once again becomes the scintillating daughter of House Saiciae.

Xenofos does not look quite a dashing. He is clearly thinking of something and the owl mask does nothing to hide the expression.

The palanquins come to yet another torchlit courtyard of another noble palazzo.

Varanis waits for Xenofos, so that they can enter together. When they make their entrance, her head is held high and she exudes confidence.2Special on Air.


The music is good. The food and wine are best since the first party. The atmosphere is jovial.

As always, Varanis makes her now familiar rounds. She speaks of the weather, the food, the beautiful masks, and other inconsequential things. But as and when she can, she speaks of Sartar, Kallyr, and the fight against the Lunars. People seem to listen to and pay attention to what she is saying.3Pass Intrigue, Fail Scan.

Garin and Vahnfar might be present, but it’s a masked ball and if they are, they are well disguised. Lenta is conspicuously absent, especially given her family is hosting. Maybe she’s not present, or maybe she’s avoiding Varanis.

Varanis continues to move through the crowds, always keeping and eye out for Lenta. Finally, she gives up and just asks one of the servants. “Could you please let Lady Lenta know that Varanis is hoping to speak with her?”

He nods and disappears somewhere. Varanis feels watched and fragrance of violets that has been vaguely around intensifies. She glances around. “Lenta?” she calls softly.

A small alynx bristling with anger stares at her from side of one of the pillars. The green eyes behind the mask are sending bolts of ice towards the bigger alynx. Judging from what is visible outside of mask Varanis is pretty sure it is Lenta.

“I’m sorry. About the other night. It’s been difficult to be back in Nochet with so many people. Especially with so many people who seem to be watching me all the time. I was overwhelmed.” There is genuine contrition in her voice.

“You were rude!” Lenta accuses. “And you come in and I think you want to say you are sorry and you just went around talking of politics!”

“I couldn’t find you. You don’t think I searched every one of those crowds for your green eyes?”

Her jaw is a bit less stern.

Varanis adds, “And you’re right, I was rude. It was uncalled for.”

Her whole being seems to get softer. She might be blinking behind her mask.

“I am under a set of geasa right now, from the Humakti Temple,” Varanis explains. “And my day are theirs while my nights are my Grandmother’s. And the night before, what little sleep I could have was interrupted by serenading outside my balcony. I was tired.” The Vingan shrugs. “I just wanted a chance to tell you that I was sorry for treating you callously.”

She glides into Varanis and hugs her tightly.

Varanis looks startled. She returns the hug gingerly, then tries to disengage from Lenta to put space between them.

She is holding tight and sobbing quietly. “Here now, enough of that. Breathe slowly. Step back so I can see you?”

“Pro- snif- mise snif you will not do that again” tears drop to your chest.

“I can’t make promises I might not be able to keep,” Varanis says softly. “It’s not right.”

She obeys though. Kohl is running on her cheeks. “You would not be so callous if you cared of me at all? Do you? At all? ” She is a mess. But a very pretty mess.

“Come now, dry your tears before you ruin your mask. We need to clean you up and fix your kohl. Never let them see you cry, Lenta.” Varanis nods in the direction of the dancing and talking nobles of Nochet. “They will consume you if they think you are weak.”

“I can’t help it. When I see you I feel like my knees buckle.” She is trying to dry her tears though and is spreading the black mess around.

Varanis inhales swiftly. “You are lovely, intelligent, and so very adorable. I could gobble you up like a treat and probably want more. But you are not for me, sweetness. It wouldn’t be right. Now come on, let’s go find your servant so we can get you cleaned up for the party again.”

That smell of violets is intoxicating. It is wrong to push her out. But she obeys and leads Varanis towards the back of the house.

Varanis could get Xenofos to help but her rounds left him exposed to advances of a blonde beauty with silver horns. And he’s not bound by any geasa. Not one ordered by any temple, at least.

Varanis follows warily. She makes careful note of the route they are taking.

The lass is cunning and used to moving unseen. They don’t see any servants on the way.

“Your servant will be able to clean you up and we can return to the party in no time.”

They go up one set of steps to a quiet corridor and Lenta opens a door carefully.

“Lenta?” Varanis does not enter the room. “Your servant is there, isn’t she?”

She peeks in. “No, she is probably helping with serving the feast.”

Varanis steps back from the door.

“She is not here!” there is panic sneeking into her voice. “And no way I can put the kohl back myself.”

“Alright. I will help you with that, but just that. Lenta, I’m under a geas right now. No matter how delicious you look, I can’t have you. Please understand.” The words are soft, apologetic.

She nods, looking so very scared.

Varanis capitulates and steps through the door.

She takes the mask away and you see those green eyes unimpeded. Running kohl has not quite diminished their magic. “I am a mess.” she smiles as she says that.

Varanis doesn’t answer that. Instead, she looks about for a wash basin and cloth. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she says when she locates them. In passing the mirror, Varanis notes that she has gotten her share of kohl.

Varanis nudges Lenta in the direction of the washbasin and looks about for a second cloth. While Lenta washes her face, Varanis wets another cloth and wrings it out so that no water is dripping. Carefully, she washes away the kohl that has found its way onto her chest. “Let me look at you now,” she says when she’s done.

She smiles at the sight through mirror and turns obediently.

Varanis carefully applies the kohl. It’s passable, though not quite symmetrical. “There,” she says, stepping back to look at the whole of Lenta’s face. “That will do. Now, back to the party before we are missed.”

“Do we have to go?”4She passes her charm. Those eyes look at Varanis pleadingly.

Varanis groans softly. “Yes. I have familial obligations, Lenta. And I’m under a geas. I can’t stay here with you, no matter how much you might make me wish otherwise.”

“Please?”

Trying not to look panicked, Varanis backs towards the door. “I’m under a geas,” she repeats.

She rises, looking really sad. “I guess you must leave than. Would you stay if…? “

Varanis bites her lip. She closes her eyes and calls up the image of Serala, golden skinned and raven haired. She flees without word to Lenta.5Lenta fails both scan and insight, meaning she’s failed to notice just how upset Varanis is.

The Vingan finds her way back to the party. By the time she has returned, she has the outward appearance of being under control. She seeks out Xenofos.

Xenofos has gotten free of the silver sable and has been looking for the golden alynx.

“I need to leave. Now.” Varanis looks oddly inscrutable.6Xenofos fails insight roll.

“Sure if you say so. Say, where did you disappear to?”

“I helped Lenta fix her kohl. You don’t have to leave. In fact, maybe you shouldn’t – keep representing the family. I’m leaving. Make my excuses for me, please.” With that, she’s gone.

Xenofos is leaving at same time. Makes security that much easier.

Varanis is silent the entire way home and heads directly to her room. She realises later that she failed to speak to Garin. In fact, she’s not certain he was even there.7Failed scan.


Windsday Night, after Varanis has returned from the Masked party at House Hulta. She flings herself into her room and immediately starts to yank off jewellery and drop the pieces onto her table.

Berra rolls over onto her back, to look up at Varanis, confused enough to rub her eyes. She is just on the cusp of sleep herself, and maybe had eased beyond it.

Although the yellow songbird remains silent, the blue and red one makes a querying chirp, having been startled awake. Varanis ignores everyone as she continues stripping away the evening’s wear. Her movements are jerky, agitated. She seems to be oblivious to the disturbance she is causing.

Berra rolls to her feet, steadies herself by falling on the bed and springing to her feet on the other side, in a sort of anti-Venlar move, and goes to make sure the door is closed. Then she pours water for Varanis.

“She tempts me on purpose,” Varanis hisses. “That little green-eyed… temptress.” In her frustration, the Vingan seems to have lost her usual eloquence. “I told her I was under geas and she still tried to keep me there. She asks for too much…”

Berra thinks a moment, and then says, “Sometimes things we want are bad for us. Doesn’t stop us wanting them.”

Varanis slumps into a chair. “She looks at me with so much worship. I think she would do anything for me. I don’t want that! It’s too much. But my bed is very empty these days. And even if I weren’t under geas right now, I can’t give Lenta what she wants. For me, it would just be sex. Serala took my heart with her when she left – Lenta can’t have that of me, no matter much she seems to wish it.” Varanis begins to remove the various pins and things from her hair, letting the red mass tumble around her shoulders as she does so.

“I didn’t know about Serala,” Berra says quietly. “But you’re not responsible for people’s feelings. Not for…” She reaches for Varanis’ hair, and in her eyes, just for a moment, there’s a terrible understanding.8Varanis passes insight. What Varanis said came in under her guard, and Berra got reminded, and it hurts, and she’s pretending nothing happened, in the hope that it will all go away. “Not for anyone else’s love. Or them thinking they are in love.” She is thinking of someone far away, and wrests her attention back to the moment. “Do you want help with that?”

“Please.”

Berra’s attention is all on her task, and she should not have to be concentrating so hard.

“I’m sorry, Berra. I shouldn’t have woken you. You have your own troubles with Lanasha. You don’t need mine too.”

Berra takes a deep breath, and closes her eyes for a moment. “It’s different situations,” she says. “You… you’re of Air, in a place of Earth. I need to learn to be harder, that’s all. I can’t favour people. You can. Should, even.”9B: Mmmm, yeah. And another Insight Human, at 10. V passes Insight: Lanasha did not seem to be the name. Berra, unusually, did not correct Varanis – but then again, she is concentrating on the hair.

“She turns those pools of green on me and she looks so open and vulnerable…” Varanis shudders. “When this week is over, I might just find someone willing and unattached to drown myself in. Maybe I’ll go to the Temple of Uleria.”

“Good idea.” Berra seems genuine. “Not just for sex. I had an Ulerian friend for a while. She taught me an amazing way to get out of armour…” Her voice is too controlled for the chatty voice she is attempting. “But we were never in bed together. I just liked her company. I lost contact with her, though.” She has managed most of the pins, and reaches for a brush. “You have a lot of hair.”

“I sometimes think about cutting it, but… it ties to me Vinga, I suppose.” She pulls a lock forward to study it. “I don’t need to colour it. It’s been this bright since I was born, I’m told.” Her laugh is bittersweet. “I’m told it’s like my grandmother’s and that my mother cursed when she first saw it.”

Berra snorts, like she knows of that sort of love. “You could shave the back, but really, it is Vinga’s hair, and it’s nice. Good for that.” She is not brushing it out completely yet, just dividing it and making sure there are no more pins.

“I feel like I’m never going to learn this spell,” Varanis says with another her usual lightning quick subject changes. “Separation eludes me. Why do I need to learn separation to understand fire?”

“Because that is how we teach it.” Berra holds out her hand, expression clearing suddenly. “We seek to change the Sword.” Her hand closes on an invisible hilt. “Here is a thing that I am permitted to tell you – every Sword is touched by the blood of Yelm.” To that, she salutes with a blade that seems real to her at least. “You cannot have a Humakti sword without that knowledge. If Yelm taught you, it would be different. But you are learning of Death, and the use of a sword IS death.”

Varanis frowns thoughtfully. “I think I under…” She yawns. “I should go to bed. I’m too tired to think about anything clearly. And why is that songbird so quiet?” She glares in the direction of the cages like one of the birds should be able to provide her with answers.

“Because it’s night?” Berra suggests. “It’s not really brushed, but most of the tangles and I think all of the pins are out. It won’t matter in the morning, and in the evening, you’ll have time to deal with it.” She puts down the brush, which was very briefly a shield in her left hand, and half crawls over to her bedroll, a single blanket set on a mattress that has been put there since she last slept.

Varanis deftly plaits her hair into a loose plait, scrubs her face quickly, snuffs the lamp, and falls into bed. She is asleep almost immediately.