Cult Secret

1627, Sea Season


Late Sea Season. Kin-Making

Varanis’ sister Mirava has married General Fazzur. Varanis and the others arrived too late and are now en route to Nochet. Takes place after Can’t Win.


A day or so later, after setting up camp for the night, Varanis and Berra are sitting together with what passes for dinner.

Berra has cheered up, although she has not been massively chatty.

“What can you tell me about Sarostip?” Varanis asks. “The one they call Prince-killer, or something like that.”

“Uhh…” Berra stares at Varanis for a moment. “Cold-Eye.”

“He’s the one who killed Temertain, isn’t he? Hence, prince-killer.” She looks thoughtful for a moment. “Fuck. I suppose Temertain was related to me. I mean, he has to have been.”

“Yeah.” Berra nods. “He was called Sarostip Cold-Eye then. One of his eyes belongs to Humakt.”

“So, what can you tell me about him?” Varanis prompts. “How did he do it?” She stirs the food around in her bowl absently as she waits for the Humakti’s reply.

Berra holds her hand up for time. “I’m putting bits together in my head. It’s to do with my Temple, but not. He got the sword from there.” Her food forgotten, Berra takes a few moments to sort things out in her head. “He was a Malani. Maybe even a chief? I think he’s the one that either didn’t pay… no, either Kallyr didn’t meet his price, or he returned it, refusing her over an insult. I think. Or maybe she didn’t ask him, because I reckon he was a clan chief. I was about seven or eight, I think? But then afterwards he wasn’t chief for a while? But he cut himself off. I’m sure about that bit.” She goes from guesswork to something she knows better.

“Cut himself off.” Varanis latches onto that bit immediately. “From his clan? To protect them?”

“Yeah. Clan, family, everything. With a group of Humakti who were already severed from all, he went into the Temple in Boldhome, when it was a ruin. Just before Dragonrise. They came out with a sword, from the Hero Plane. Sarostip walked there a lot, and this time, he brought back the bit of Death that was Temertain’s and nobody else’s.” That is the part that interests Berra.

“So they used the Hero Plane to breach the palace? That’s powerful magic…”

“Yeah, they did that afterwards. I think it was two trips, with one starting somewhere else, but I don’t know where. Sarostip’s a name. You hear about him doing things and just go ‘oh, yeah, because it’s him.’ But he’s not a Temple sort. Anyhow, they killed Temertain first, and fought their way out, so they were right up by all his advisors and everyone else who usually gets the front line of guards in front of them.”

Varanis looks disappointed. “How many warriors did he have with him? Were they all Swords?”

“His band was under a dozen, and I think they were all Swords, but I don’t know. You hear different things. Like, they say he took everyone from Jonstown as well, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. A lot of them would have held him back on the Hero Plane. But that’s just me guessing. He’s so not-Temple that he’s… well, he’s a Sword but not a High Sword. Priest-Sword.”

“How did he cut himself off? Or is that a cult secret?”

“Severing – it’s THE Cult Secret. Like how do you call the wind? But the usual way for Humakti. Um, I can’t explain it more, but he’d have called on Humakt directly, in Temple. Swords are close to the God, so usually that works for them anyhow. Rituals help. A bit.” Berra shrugs. “I mean, basically the way that you got sent to Hell, but cutting away bonds instead of cutting away a spirit.”

“Can it be done to someone who isn’t Humakti?” Varanis stares at her bowl, avoiding looking at Berra or just wondering what in Mahome’s name is in it.

“Yes, but it would change you. A lot. I wouldn’t want to risk it, either. And you have to… you have to understand what you’re getting into. It should be someone like Lord Eril, or a Great Sword, of the Battalion.” Berra looks very serious.

“I will keep it in mind. There are a lot of pieces on the table right now anyway. And… well, it’s not like I can beat Fazzur yet. I can’t even take my sister on, it seems.”

“I was thinking of doing it to her. With Lord Eril’s help – if I’d been able to hold together for long enough – that might have happened. But we don’t have to, so I think you should also not do it. From your House, you mean?”

Varanis shrugs, not answering the question.

Berra goes on, like there was an answer. “Because your house, like them or loathe them, is an asset to Sartar and to you.”

With a sigh, Varanis admits, “I was thinking of everyone. So that no one would face reprisals but me.”

“Mhm. About this? It looks shit, but if your sister – may she live long, never lie, and never fucking come to Sartar – can keep it together, it’s the best result we’re getting.”

The look on Varanis’ face suggests that wasn’t what she meant, but she offers nothing further. She stabs at her bowl with spoon, sighs again, then asks, “Did Xenofos talk to you?”

“And if you cut yourself off from your band, that’s bad. And you’re not to imagine doing stupid hero stuff without us.” Berra notices that her spoon has fallen out of her bowl, and indeed off her lap, and scowls a bit at it. “Yeah, we talked.”

The Vingan flushes guiltily at Berra’s admonishments, but only says, “He seems ok, but I’m worried about him. I think he’ll need watching until we resolve whatever this is.”

Berra nods, rescues her spoon, and examines it for dirt and bugs. “He’s… I think he cheered up a bit. I walked with him a while. Talked about choices. But he’s probably got to chew things over in his head like he does.”

“Talked about choices?”

“Yeah.” Berra wipes her spoon on her thumb, wipes her thumb on the grass. “About how he followed you. If you cut yourself away from him now, because you’re trying to protect him, I might break the back of your skull with my fist, through the front.”

Varanis laughs despite herself. There’s the barest hint of desperation in her laughter, tears in her eyes. When she catches her breath, she says, “I’d deserve it too. This is a stinking pile of horse shit and I don’t know what to do.”

Berra swallows. She has taken the chance to eat. “First, get food inside you. Then the rest of the world’s a bit better.” Infantry. Peasant.

Varanis stares at her bowl like it is the source of her frustration. She stabs at it with her spoon in a move that looks more like something the Humakti beside her would do, but takes a bite at last. She wrinkles her nose at the taste.

“Or it’ll be better when you’ve finished eating and don’t have to again,” Berra suggests.

“I should really not be allowed to do the cooking. I miss Nala. She drove me mad, but she was better at it than most of the rest of us.”

Berra is managing to empty her bowl anyhow. “Valseena. We should get Valseena to do it more. But it’s good to have her be happy with Suuraki, and Waha doesn’t cook.”

“Those two are good together. I wonder if they are waiting to return to Prax to marry… I suppose their clans will want to have a say in it.” Varanis manages a second bite of the scorched mess.

Berra flips over her bag to grab a spice pouch, and hand it over.