Demons and Shamans

1627, Sea Season, Harmony Week


Swim Roles


It’s early morning on the way to Alda Chur. Having spent yet another night camping out, the party has packed up and is back on the road. Varanis and Fish catch up to Berra, who is riding point. “Nothing exciting on the road?” Varanis asks by way of greeting.

Berra, who to give her credit did probably consider not saying it, says, “Well, us?” The last stretch of the first part of the journey is before them and she has relaxed a little.

Varanis rides in silence for a time, looking about the landscape and not getting to the point. Because she obviously rode forward to say something….

Berra, for her part, might not even have noticed. For all the apparent relaxation, as soon as there is no conversation her attention goes back to the road.

After a time, Varanis says, “Um…. did I see you talking to Nala yesterday?”

“Yeah. I’m trying to like her, so I sort of have to today as well.” Berra scowls ahead. “She called my High Sword fucking evil. So… I am not in the best mood with her. And…. some other stuff.”

“Yeah… that was what I wanted to talk to you about.” Varanis frowns at the space between Fish’s ears. He doesn’t notice.

“She said I was being like Eril, and she wanted to punch me. Or at least, was thinking she wanted to. That she had to resist. I think she’s… yeah, well. I have no idea what she actually meant by that and I’ve tried not to ask.”

“She said as much to me… I didn’t think she’d actually hit you, or I would have warned you. But, I… I wanted you to have the chance to speak to her without being influenced by my perspective.” The Vingan glances at Berra.1And passes an insight human roll.

Berra looks like if she let her expression go she would be catching her eyeballs, she would roll them so hard. “Yeah, it didn’t go well but that’s mostly because she doesn’t like my Lord. So… I have no idea what in my behaviour is worrying her, and I don’t know how to find out because she… doesn’t answer the same question you think you’re asking.”

“Did she agree to help with your HeroQuest?”

“No. She can’t say she won’t try to act against it if she gets caught up in it, either. We didn’t even get to the part where I told her what it was because she kept saying he wasn’t a Hero.” Berra shakes her head in lieu of eye-roll.

“She has very strong feelings about him. I was trying to ask her about something else, but then she focused on Eril suddenly and I never did get the answers I was seeking. It’s really hard to see her as a spiritual guide when she slips so easily into hating one of our own.” Varanis frowns again. “I talked to Rajar a bit. He seems willing to see Eril as a hero. And he told me to listen to everything Nala tells me, but that while she might be the only one to tell me the truth, she might also just make shit up for her own amusement.” A pause, then, “I might be summarising somewhat,” she admits.

“Yeah. She can see things, but… not tell them clearly, maybe. Or maybe she has weird spirits? I don’t know. But you should listen. You just then have to be the one to judge. Not any of us, no matter who you listen to first.” Berra scratches at her neck. “I can smell skullbush oil and it’s the first time my helmet has been on. But yeah. Me being stressed and in a bad temper happens sometimes and I guess that’s it? She’s not seeing the bit of me she sees when we’re not in an area at war?”

“Maybe,” Varanis muses. Then she glances at Berra again. “Rajar won’t talk to me about your Eril Quest. He says he is sworn not to discuss it with anyone. Pointing out that I agreed to be part of it too did not change his mind.”

“Oh, well. Good on him. If you want to grab him and bring him over, or if I spot you together at any time, then feel free to do that, or I’ll come over.” Long, run-on sentence. Berra forgot how to stop speaking. “He might well be wanting people to make sure they know they can trust him, but still.” Shrug.

Varanis nods. “Ummm… back to Nala. She says she’s the mother of Teeth and Salt. And the crocodile babies that Suuraki saw… they are her grandchildren.” She sounds uncertain as she lays this out in front of Berra. “And somehow, I am their father, as Orlanth. But that this isn’t what I need to do. She wants me to somehow father human children. And she seems to think I’m capable of destroying the world.” The words rush out of her, as though having started, she can’t find the right place to stop. “She wants me to do a Divination, though I still can’t work out what she wants me to ask. And she wants Suuraki to do one too.”

“Yeah, that’s bollocks and you need to tell her no. And she’s not a mother of anything. She’s a unicorn rider who has visions.” Berra’s lip curls and this time there is a touch of eye roll in the head shake.

“Well… how did she get to be an Ernaldan God Talker if she isn’t a mother? My sister couldn’t bec…” Varanis trails off, looking suddenly distressed. She takes a deep breath, then continues, “Mirava had to have her first child before she could become a priestess.”

“You don’t have to be a mother to be a God Talker. Only to be a Priestess,” Berra replies. “So that’s how.” And then, maybe because it would not be Berra speaking unless she stopped and started, she adds, “Although actually you need to have given birth to a healthy child, I think. At least, in Sartar.”

“She thinks…” Varanis frowns again as she considers. “She thinks that somehow the gods understand her to have given birth to Salt and Teeth. Though, she also said something about Huljeem. And then I was… confused, which seems to happen a lot when I talk to her. I’m not dim, Berra. But, when she gets going… I just can’t follow. Rajar seemed to take this as to be expected when dealing with a shaman.”

“That’s slightly different, yeah. But what the gods understand is not always what we should do. I mean, which gods? I couldn’t follow either, because she doesn’t use words like we do, but she thinks they’re the same. Basically, she’s just not good at talking. But I’m going to try to spend some time with her so she gets to see that I’m me, at least. But yeah, I’m not Eril, and he’s not in my head talking, or anything like that. I do get a bit like people I respect, but that’s why I hang around Lord D’Val, not around him.”

Varanis shakes her head. “I don’t understand why everyone dislikes him. He really doesn’t seem that bad. But… Nala pointed out the demon problem and well… that is a bit concerning. And Xenofos thinks he’s a murderer… Orlanth’s balls, I don’t know what to think.”

“He killed two people that he had the right to kill,” Berra says, suddenly pale. “And it was the wrong thing to do, and I need to do something about that. But I don’t even know what she means by a demon.”2Go on, roll Insight. Oh! I passed again! Insight: Berra is cut up, torn by loyalty and honour and other things beside. It is something even she cannot hide, no matter how she tries to push it down.

“I’m sorry. He did what he felt was needed at the time. He was maybe wrong about that. And if his memories are restored, he should know about it and make recompense…. are his memories restored?”

“He remembers,” Berra says, voice thick. “And he… he had me persuaded that it needed to happen. But I need to find another way. I have to.”

Varanis nods. “If I can help, tell me?”

Berra nods. “I gotta work it through.” When miserable, her peasant accent deepens, and right now she sounds like she has never left her farm. She looks off into the distance, and remembers to search the road and the horizon for problems.

“The demon… she says there was a demon under Boldhome that he put there. And she blames the current problems on him.”

“I… really have…. oh for fuck’s sake. Yes, I know what she’s thinking. The Darkness thing – the black version of him, that I killed? I think she thinks that was him and that it was under the city. Because apparently ‘we are in a Heroquest’ is not enough for her to work out where a thing comes from.” Berra’s misery has gone, but now there is irritation in its place, not necessarily an improvement.

“Hmm… I’d have expected a shaman to understand HeroQuesting… maybe it’s different in Prax?”

“I think she… oh, shamans probably don’t HeroQuest so much. Also, I doubt she even knows what ‘demon’ means in Heortling. It’s just a spirit that makes its home in hell, although it gets used for a bad spirit, too. But a demon isn’t bad – just… Hellish. I mean, not always bad.”

“Fair enough, I guess.” Varanis risks a thoughtful look at Twir and his rider, some distance behind them, then returns her gaze to the road ahead, so as not to confuse Fish. “What do we do if she won’t help? Or worse, if she tries to prevent it?”

“She won’t try to prevent it on purpose, but she actually did say a thing I was going to say but she got in there and said it would happen. She’ll probably be involved anyhow. If she is, she can’t promise not to try to stop us. And I know that we don’t… well, I don’t want to hurt her, she doesn’t want to hurt me – and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want it to be a situation where it can happen. So I really want her to start it, so she’s got a position there. I don’t think she’ll stop it from the outside but she might get summoned.” Words tumble out now.

Varanis tries to follow, but looks confused as Berra runs out of words. “So, you think that if she didn’t have a set role from the beginning, she could be pulled in anyway? And whatever role she gets might put her in opposition to you as Eril?”

“Yeah. And she’d really mean it. It would make it more real, but that would mean I had to stop her properly, and then I can’t say she wouldn’t get hurt.” Berra may or may not have taken into account she might as well.

“She might end up on the Lunar side of things then… that is who the opposition was, right? Surely, she’d understand that it would be in her best interest to have a say in what role she gets, so she doesn’t end up as Jar-Eel or Sanra-Eel. Serala was in a rage for some time over her experience that way….”

Berra flicks at a fly on Followed’s hump. “She’s still at the point where she seems to think Lord Eril summoned a Demon and left it under Boldhome. So I’m going to say no, she doesn’t understand that.”

There’s a hesitation, before Varanis offers, “Do you want me to speak to her? I could try.”

“It might be best. I’m going to try to stay off the subject completely, to be honest. I’ve sort of got to because… well. Because. But I don’t understand how you go from cutting the best bits out of someone, to assuming that the process made a demon, and you did it on purpose or because you just didn’t care.”

“I’ll try. I make no promises that she’ll listen, but I will try.”

“Yeah. I know. And thank you. But she doesn’t know that’s the wyter I’m going to try to find. So maybe leave that until she at least…” Berra bites back on what she might have said. “Maybe leave that out for a bit.”

Varanis nods. “As you wish.”

Berra shakes her head. “I’m gonna try to make her … show her more about being Sartarite. So she knows.”

“I’m not always sure I understand what it means to be Sartarite,” Varanis admits. “But, if I can help, I will. It’s crucial to me that we work together to fight against the Lunars and I know that Sartar has to lead the way, through Kallyr. So, anything I can do to help that happen, I will.”3For the record, Varanis rolled Loyalty Kallyr and specialed on it.

“You’re doing pretty good,” Berra says absently. “Right. So. Anything else?”

Varanis shakes her head. “Not really. I’m frustrated, because we keep riding and it feels like we are getting nowhere. I don’t know how I can be on the move and still feel like I need to move. But, that’s a me problem. I will figure it out or we will catch up to the queen and I’ll have other things to worry about instead.”

Berra nods. “Yeah, sounds Sartarite to me. Doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

“Any idea how far we have until we get to Alda Chur?” Varanis glances down at herself. “I’d prefer to clean up a bit before presenting myself to the Queen.”

“About a day and a half,” Berra replies. “And we’ll probably get in a bit after midday. But I dunno. I’m … sort of guessing based on where the skull was. If she’s not there, we get plenty of time. If she is, you scrub someone up and send a herald. Everyone knows that when you’ve been travelling you need time.”

“As you say.” Varanis sighs. “I just want to get on with it. Right. I’ll leave you to keep point. Tell me if you need me to spell you on point.”

“Nah, I’ll use Suuraki for a bit, prob’ly,” Berra says. “But I’ll let you know if you’re needed. Thanks.” The last word might be for a few things.