Red Sky at Night

S01 — Session 37

1626, Fire Season, Stasis Week


Fire Season, Stasis Week, Godday to Movement Week, Freezeday


Dramatis Personae

PCs

Dormal
Finarvi
Irillo
Mellia
Nala
Rajar
Serala
Varanis

NPC

Zinat the Wolf
Tiwr the Magnificent
Salid the Sniveller, guardstroll
Possibly Eril
Berra Jarang’s Daughter (not Jarangsdottir)
Rondrik, innkeeper at the White Grape
Rondrik’s children
Some unnamed Lay Members of the Cult of Humakt
The Iron Lord, Black Sword of Humakt
Some Duck Footprints but no more

Pre-event scenes

In the usual sort of inn, with the usual sort of customers, there’s a strange one. He sat down not far from you, and ordered a drink and paid the barman. Not a local. And he’s got a thief mark on his hand. It’s one of those things that you can only see if you’re Eurmali. There’s a brief moment of eye contact, and then he ignores you.

At some point I will be out back in an alley, alone, as if I’d wandered out there drunk.

And there he is, apparently back after having left some drinks ago with another tiny moment of eye contact. He checks the surrounding area, in your opinion badly, and then jerks his head away, and walks off at a pace a drunk man could track.

Check the area myself. If I don’t think he’s headed directly to trapsville, stagger on after.

You don’t think you’re being watched, but you’re close to the inn. And a few alleys later he stops for the apparent leak, although it smells of beer when you get closer.

“You’re with that lot there. The short one with the yap, and the big fat one.”

“Yeah, those. What about them?”

“The little short yappy one has a really annoying Lord.” The man’s accent could be from just about anywhere, as long as it’s lower class.

“You’re not wrong. And she’s pretty annoying herself.”

“Yeah, well. She’s not the filthy rich one. If I knew someone with the best sting against a guy so up himself he loses a hand every time he… well, you’re too young to know that one. But if I knew a thing and you could help, would you want to?”

“Hmm. What’s the risk and what’s the payoff? I’m interested but those guys do not have a sense of humour.”

“Risk? Pretty low. You get caught up in what you’re doing anyhow, and sorry, your honour, how was I to know it was something that dangerous lunatic was going to start? And the payoff… If he won’t pay cash to keep his history quiet, we get his history. And back when you were a gleam in your dad’s eye, he paid a lot to keep his history quiet. I mean, enough wheels that you could build a lot of really tiny gold wagons if you wanted. And all you need to do is guide it so it gets started. Then make sure nothing gets into the wrong hands when you could look after it.” Mr Honest gives a grin. “I’d do it, but Roka won’t use me.”

“I’m interested. What’s the timeline like? I’ve got till this lot finish preparing for their suicide run and I have to check out when they do.”

“It’ll wait if they go try to kill themselves. But I… I don’t know. But it’s not urgent. If I couldn’t find you, that wasn’t a problem, yeah? Just we heard you was passing through. If you’re in, that’s good. Probably you just need to do a thing but you should speak to a real lady about it when you get to Boldhome next. Look for Roka. Society of Charitable Orphans.”

Dormal nods. “Anything I should know not to say to Roka?”

“She’s a very forgiving lady when she’s talking about most things, but Hail Humakt is probably bad, huh? It’s business. She don’t expect you to come in knowing the deets.”

“Good to know.”

“Maybe a small donation for the orphans, but you know how it goes. Who knows but they might be generous too.”

Dormal nods, and lets the stranger decide if he wants to leave first, then heads back to the inn

The stranger does not move until Dormal has gone, and then he doesn’t seem to follow.

The Society of Charitable Orphans. How are you finding it?

Probably find some moderately upscale inn, spend the evening socialising, get the topic round to growing up, whats it like here in Sartar, at some point mention that I was very nearly orphaned, steer the conversation in that direction.

There doesn’t seem to be a Society for such. Who would need it, when there are temples, and your parents were Initiates?

Eurmali Lore: Nobody who wants to start a gang is going to call it ‘my gang of bruisers’ but there are definitely different ways of approaching it. It’s hard to say that there is a hard and fast rule, but calling something a society for doing good probably means that there is a base, and some amusing begging for change, probably to help the orphans, and it’s a handy excuse for when you shake down the locals. It’s going to be a protection racket, or else it wouldn’t have a name. That’s pretty organised for a Eurmalite. Eurmal the Protector isn’t one you’ve come across personally, but he exists, and when he does, he’s probably scary. But you have a name, Roka, if that’s a real name, and you can look for streets that have a mark that say ‘under protection’. And by casually asking around once you’re in those places, you can probably find it and keep your kidneys. Especially if you ask the right sort of people with the right sort of marks and the right sort of lounging about obviously so they are not keeping the building but the street under eyeballs. That last bit is important.

It takes a morning to find the place – a mark, a big guy sitting lazily in the shade, the fresh mud rendering on the surfaces where everything else is a little tattered, and the casual way that Dormal is looked up and down and discarded – except that he’s now definitely being watched as well. This is the only place in town that he’s found with the combination of those things, let alone the organisation to have a thug sitting there on guard, obviously.

Now and again, people come over, talk to Carl Thug, and usually go inside. Sometimes they go on. (( Scan roll please? ))

screw it, not getting anywhere like this, attempt to fire up ye olde glamour and walk over

“My, what’s a nice thing like you doing in a place like this?” asks a voice with not enough purr and too much whine in it. “Hoping to be charitable to a girl down on her luck?” It’s… not an impolite voice, in that it’s not directly behind you and doesn’t have a knife. That you can feel. Just as the spell went off, too.

“Got word for roka from wilmskirk.”

“Course you do. We can go there arm in arm if you like. Turn round so I can see your pretty face?”

She gives a big motherly smile. She’s a short, weedy looking woman, and the smile does not suit her at all. “A young man like you, he doesn’t want to be working out his life with that sort. Let’s take you somewhere sensible before you do anything silly?” She… has a certain lack of charm about her.

Carl Thug doesn’t seem to have noticed the interplay. He’s in conversation with someone who is apparently really annoying him.

The woman makes a coy, faked gesture like a bad Ulerian, and there’s the mark on the base of her hand, just inside the protection of her wrist.

Dormal makes a lead-the-way gesture and follows, scanning for an ambush just in case.

She gives Dormal a smirk. “We were going to go arm in arm,” she says in disappointment that happens after the smirk but seems genuine, but she does walk away from him. “Dear, what are the youth of today coming to? Such suspicion. It’s a sad life I tell you.”

“Tragic, really.”

“I blame the parents, myself. Or lack of them.” There’s a sharp glance from her.

“They will go off and die at inopportune moments. So inconsiderate.”

“Leaving behind people who don’t know how to grow up. Take a sharp right here, young man, and then up to the roof. It’s a steep one so you might want to pause when you get up there and make sure that nobody looks up my skirts as I come up but at least you can be sure there’s nobody above you huh?”

She seems to be walking Dormal on no particular path, although ‘up’ would indicate something odd.

There is a casual ladder, casually leaning against a casual wall, as if someone casually left it there. But the roof itself is a solid adobe slab, unusual here. It has a little ridge on it, and it affords a surprisingly good view of the area, and of the not-Ulerian struggling up the ladder.

Dormal offer a hand if she needs one.

She takes it gratefully, after a moment’s suspicion that seems ingrained, and then she settles down, leaning against the roof. “Just pull the ladder up, dearie?” she suggests. “In case of accident, you understand. Then we can talk about the sting.”

“Well. Names, then? You first. You’re the young one.” This time she offers a hand in greeting, and the traditional attempt to pick your pouch of valuables.

“Dormal.”

“And I would be?” She smiles as she utterly fails to get her friendly left hand around Dormal’s arm at all.

“Roka, assuming there is a Roka.”

“Oh, there might as well be a Roka. If you want there to be. It’s good enough for charity work. Who says there’s nothing to learn from the Lunars, ey?”

“Not me. Always happy to learn.”

“Good. Then relax and mother Roka will tell you about a foolish young lady who was led astray by a pretty face, and a lot of money. You’ll know the pretty face, even.” Roka keeps her eyes mostly on the alley below and occasionally glances over her right shoulder, away from Dormal.

“The fall of a city’s terrible bad, it is, and you must know this young lady had nobody to fall back on, so she stayed in Boldhome, and do you know what, she met someone who was trying to get out, with some rather expensive stolen gear? And him nobility too. Damned looters, eh?”

“Terrible. What’s the world coming to.”

“Well, the Hero Wars they say. But we must do our best. She helped him to leave the city, and him with his bad conscience paid her but I think the pretty boy fell for her too, if you get me, because a while later he was back for more help – only he’d stashed all of those things that he stole. And although he stayed in her bed for a while, he didn’t tell her where, or anyone. But she was smart. Mouthy I grant you, but smart, and she came to me, and I saw her right. Or maybe I was the attractive nurse. Hard to recall, really.”

“What is the truth anyway? A point of view. Or a memory. slipping through your fingers.”

“Nothing more, lad. Nothing more. Except it had bloody better be, because I know how it can be remembered. Not by him. I know how to steal his memories.” She smiles, vulpine stretching to lupine, all sharp.

“Now that would be a trick worth learning.”

“It’s… a lot of work but low risk, and no heavy lifting. Empty city like this, army away, Prince away – something’s waiting to happen. It just needs a little push and the paper walls fall and we find out who’s really giving Ernalda a good time when her husband’s away excuse my colourful language. With a little bit of help I can give you, you can trap someone into a Hero Quest. Did you know that?”

“I knew it could be done, but not how.”

“I don’t have to explain how. There are… allies. Expensive ones, but I can pay, because I know what he had, and I know what he hid. I’ll have his sword in a vise before he knows it, and he’s got a reputation to protect now. He’ll want this to go away. We really will be doing him a favour. But I do the approach. You just do the part where we find the information. Then you’re visiting your sick aunt in… where does she live? Somewhere far away I guess.”

“Rhigos.”

“Oh, the poor dear. She must be exhausted!” Roka fans herself with her hand.

“Certainly a tricky city to look for people in.”

Roka nods appreciatively. “Now you’ve been good so far, but it’s right you know what’s at stake for the High Sword. Did you know, when they came into the city, and left with the contents of the temples and the palaces, them damned Lunars never took anything but corpses from the Household of Death? Not anything in that parade that wasn’t faked . Not a single thing but the swords and armour the dead had on them. Not the treasury.”

“Faked? They pretended to loot it? Sorry, my trade talk isn’t so good.”

“Well, they couldn’t exactly say they’d had it pinched from under them, could they? Wouldn’t look good when one of them had bloodied their Emperor a bit and then they’d all gone and died. Frankly it looks incompetent. But some pretty boy had danced off with it and then, like a young housebreaker, panicked when he got the goods, and needed help getting out of the city, and didn’t dare sit tight, on account of being young and inexperienced. Which was a thing our young lady tried her very best to help him with of course. But that man, I tell you, had a Temple’s ransom on him. Mostly gems.”

“Ah.”

“Yes.”

“I take it the none of the treasure ever made its way back to the coffers it came from.”

“I suppose he thought it was a shame to waste it on the dead. Who would know, with the blood running like that? But no, not it didn’t. Only… it would be bad enough if someone picked it up. Worse for him if they picked up some and then let him know, perhaps. Again, not for you. Too much danger, and you were promised an easy ride, and anyway, this is between me and him, really.”

Roka, rambling slightly, comes back to the subject of him with surprisingly fierceness.

Dormal headtilts and looks at Roka.

“If you wouldn’t be insulted… a word of advice?”

Her eyes are narrowed, her mouth pursed. This seems oddly personal. It also seems, perhaps, faked. “Oh, do go ahead,” she says lightly.

“If it’s getting personal… well, that sort of thing can cloud your judgement. Be careful.”

Roka tilts her head, considering, and then shrugs. “To be honest, the amount of money I am thinking about will buy off a lot of personal insults to a young lady,” she says, in a tone of agreement. “But how does that sound to you? Percentage, with risk, or solid payment, half down, half on delivery?”

“Percentage.”

Roka nods approvingly. “Two. I have expenses, and you have little risk involved.”

“I’ll do it for one if I get equal access to any information uncovered.”

“That… yes. Except for anything I dig out of the old man after the event is over and you’re paid. I don’t want anyone young spoiling my thinking. He’s a canny one, and hard to play. Unblinking.”

“Fair enough.”

“Mind if I ask a couple of questions? You don’t have to answer.”

Roka considers. “Ask, young man, and it shall be given unto you.”

“Why me and not your scout in Wilmskirk?”

“Because the High Sword knows him, and if they meet in a Hero Quest, might recognise him.”

“Ah, fair enough.”

“If this pans out, or even if it doesn’t and you need a place to go… would you be interested in some work down in Nochet?”

Roka thinks only briefly. “I could travel, but it would have to be worthwhile. Let’s not pull that curtain closed.”

“We’ll talk later then. I have to survive this other nonsense my cousin has set in motion too, anyway.”

“Word is, your little Humakti friend was last seen crippled. If you want an easy time of it, get her in – but crippled. No right hand, see?” Roka’s look is innocent, that of an ingenue or new woman to the world.

“Would have loved to, but my cousin’s pet White Lady turned up.”

“But she’s still crippled. These things take time.”

“Hmm. I’ll see what i can do.”

“So. The parts of this plan that I need to know.”1At this point the GM swears. Having copied and pasted the details of the plan because Dormal had a good question above, GM forgot to actually send them… Dormal: Unreliable Internal Narrator Error.

“Good. Now, the Lhankor Mhy temple. There’s a red stone outside the top end with a cleft-fork on it.” The Truth Rune. “As many people as you can get, that you want to pull into this – the more, the better, because it’ll help me. And then the stone needs to get blood on it. Anyone’s, but it should be a thinking person, not an animal. If they die on it, all the better, but it could be you cut your thumb and sit down to bandage it. After that, any information you come by, or I come by, we share. Clear?”

“Do they have to be human? The trollkin is surprisingly useful.”

“There’s probably only one other in the group I can trust not to blab.”

“Trollkin. Duck. As long as they can understand what Death is. I can send someone along if you like but then, well, you’re getting someone you don’t know for someone you do.”

“How much do they need to know? Anything they shouldn’t do while they’re in there?”

“The usual Heroquest things. Don’t die. Don’t kill Eril. I never was privy to all his plans.”

“And does everyone need to bleed on it or just one?”

“Just one. It just needs blood, and if it’s from you then you should be the beginner, so you don’t get sucked in, but if you want to play along then have it be someone else.”

“The beginner? I thought we were all meant to get sucked in. I need to practice my trade talk.”

“Oh, in that case, hmm. ” Roka signals for quiet for a moment, and thinks. “Right. I can arrange that. If I can’t then you’ll have to bring fresh blood, but I should be able to make it happen for you. Allies, like I said. The most of my expense.”

“Oh, I think I see. if it’s my blood I need to be first in, yes?”

“Trade talk isn’t arranged like Esrolian. Confusing.”

“If it’s your blood, that was going to keep you outside, which was how you were going to get to see your sick aunt, but Rhigos is a terrible long way away. Trade Talk’s hard, dear. Meant for honest labour. But I’ll tell my alli…es, and they’ll see you right in there. Makes it easier, really, in some ways, I suppose.”

“I can get fresh blood. when do we need to go, and how do we meet up afterwards?”

“Best time of day is dusk or dawn, but any will do. You know where I work now. Come along with a donation when it’s done.”

Insight: Roka probably twigs that Dormal has caught an inconsistency in the plan/story.

Events

As before, the log will be recounted with extracts from Berra JarangsdottiHumaktisaga and NalaTiwrSaga, from The Lay of Serala, Lance of the Cold Sun, the Lays of Finarvi, and The Death of Rajar. As with last time there will be extracts from the Sonnets to Varanis, and also Sonnets in Praise of Xenofos and The Sonnets to Mellia, Sweetest of Healers, White Lady of Esrolia. There will be reference to the Accounts of the Travels of Irillo Goldentongue . Editorial commentary will be recorded [thus]. The {“D”} voice appears.

[A rather smaller class than usual, which, in itself, is not unusual at this time of year. Dr Tomm does keep year on year records, and so I can tell you that your hung-over classmates are a larger section of the year group than they were last year. Knowing the habits of students we may safely infer both that exam results have arrived, and that many of you had something to celebrate. If you intend to fall asleep in this lesson, please leave now. If you don’t intend to, just make sure you’re quiet if you’re wrong.]

[This is a … complicated moment, in the lives of our various heroes. Looking back on this matter we might think of the old medical concept of hysteria, or of group hallucination. We will touch briefly on Rajar.]

Water, a life gift
From the hand of a Vingan
To the heart2‘Guts’ or ‘centre’ would also be appropriate. of me
3Spurious Rajar:

Prax is very dry
No spare water means that my
Jokes are quite filthy

[Touching, but tangential. Now, the reason for all of this. Berra JarangsdottiHumaktisaga who has failed as Humakt, affecting others.]

Fireward feather4Generally, taken to mean arrow-swift, this phrase must of course be compared with such epithets as D’Val-Dagger and Small Sword. The relationship with the hero Deveval is hinted at, if not more. flew
Figure-fit reforming
Simple salve sought
Stern sword-sower
Time telling Truth
Tireless stop take

[Approximately that time would cleanse any problems with the Quest, and therefore nothing interesting was likely to happen for some time. Which brings us neatly to the Accounts of the Travels of Irillo Goldentongue ]

(( Tommy, you said you had that write-up from the 3rd chapter of the 1983 book? That’s going here as the spine of the lesson. I hope the snakes that replaced the giant bees haven’t been too troublesome. G. ))

The nature of finance is transitory.
It is a tool to bring harmony5 Some translators (von Sturm) give this as 'Understanding' .
Harmony brings peace6 von Sturm gives this as 'Understanding brings Nirvana'.
To concentrate on the tool is to overlook the task.

To enter the dream of one who cares nothing for the material
Teaches me that money is a dream unless it is used.
This could have happened to any of us.
We are a group.

But it was me.
The gods show a path.
To make me a better tool to the Goldentongue
A better person to my friends and lover.

[“This is by far the longest prose entry in ‘The Accounts’ so far, and it finds our author in very meditative state of mind. But what does it mean? A discussion on this next week.”]

(( Thanks, Tommy. ))

[So, this strange quest has taken perhaps the least likely candidate.]

{“Perhaps, yes.”}

[Let us look at someone we might have expected to be in a position of command. Sonnets to Varanis]

Her purity of spirit held her back from high command,
For even then she knew the price a Lunar would demand,
But guarded she her allies with her strength of will alone,
And set herself to guard them and her rapier’s blade to hone.

[An explanation of her inner thoughts? Was Varanis truly present? We often find her in competition with Serala, but this is entirely different. Does anyone here know this section of The Lay of Serala, Lance of the Cold Sun well enough to give us a — Oh, splendid. Do go on.]

No doubt within her mind, she rose from meditation
The burning of the sun within her searing such ination
As takes the merest hawk in sleep or horse at stable,
But Pure High Bright Serala was as ever more than able.
She slew within her trance all trace of Lunar that she saw
Save that inside her Sanra-Eel she made a prisoner of war.
Then by Yelmalio’s Temple stood a while in trance of thought
Until a memory the Lunars stole, by Lunar pain and blood was bought,
And from the Lune she snatched again her friendship with cold Eril
The bond of sword-kin offered her when she saved him from peril.

[Thank you. A perfect selection. And very very different from the Varanis. Also different from our understanding of Eril, but perhaps – just perhaps – that will develop as we go along. But perhaps the difference in Varanis and Serala can be explained within the Sonnets in Praise of Xenofos.]

The Sartarites have pride within their hearts to match their God
So said the man of wisdom with his grey beard and his walking-rod
Then begging proud Varanis to let Sartar7Seemingly, only Berra. Conceptually, those not of Esrolia. have its turn
That he might watch in peace their actions and from those actions learn.

[You will all be writing me five hundred words on the apologetics of Xenofos. Mostly, because if I start talking about them, we may be here for rather too long. So let us move on to The Sonnets to Mellia, Sweetest of Healers, White Lady of Esrolia]

She lay outside her Temple as exhaustion touched her brow
But e’en in sleep she dreams of healing, then as ever-now.8Did Mellia apotheosise? Is this the famous White Lady Mellia? Here is our first hint.
So deep within the vision even she received a call
To help and aid, and so she did; White Ladies stop for all.

[And, then. The Lays of Finarvi.]

He found himself commanding as the city burned around
Outside the Temple to the Truth where Eril went to ground
As in his ears there came the sound of cheering from afar
The Death-Song of the Temple Of the Lord of Death and War.

[And we all know the result of that. Finally, NalaTiwrSaga]

Crawling horror
Impurity of being
Dragged into this mire

Repentance of deed
A whirling that is no dance
Head splits, feet bleed. Grief.


Rajar is meditating. which is to say he has taken watch from his only remaining Axe Brother is sitting watching the fire, axe at hand ready to defend the sacred halls of bull. (wait what?)

The axe brother is snoring. The fire is burning. The city is burning. That’s good, right? Good. Because they shouldn’t have resisted. They should not have resisted the LOVE OF THE GODDESS….

Rajar thinks about himself… Centurian Rasshar, maybe? But names are not important. What’s important is looking over the city, and to that end, he’s up at this accursed height, where the insane followers of the Sky Bull lived before they rightfully died on the walls. Right? That’s a good thing, right?

This armour doesn’t fit properly. It was made for a smaller man. Shouldn’t have inhaled quite so much when getting it fitted.

Hmmmm. Any sign of the foe?

Oh, most of them are dead. You can see from here that the palace is now entirely under the control of your forces. With the logic of not having to walk anywhere, you can see other places, too.

There were several strong points, and the Lunars hold all of them. Over the walls, down from that three-peaked mountain, and a lot of magic, it took. And now, finally, the last place has fallen. As Rasshar watcesh the cross-shaped roof of the Humakti Temple falls in over the end that houses their altar. The poor bastards that had to take that one. Three days, the poor savages held out. But now look – Sartar can know love. And he can see where he led his Century in, where a dozen of his officers fell, where the spears ambushed him in an alley. It’s been hard.

The light of burning thatch and the cheers for the last temple taken are clear even from here. For a moment Rasshar could imagine you were flying across the city.

He cheers for the mother goddess and keeps an eye on his men. Can’t let order fail now.

They are cheering too, delighted, happy. They are all in good order, all fine troops. Fewer than they were – a sad thing, but necessary when one brings the light of love to the savage. From the corner of Rasshar’s eye, something flashes red, like blood or the moon.

He spins and watch, weapon drawn and ready and a order on his lips

It’s… difficult to pin down, but his eye is drawn back to the Temple down there. There was red from there. They say that Jar-Eel was going to go in, although almost certainly enough Rune Masters would suffice. Yarnafil Tarnils defeated his master. That’s the way it goes.

And there is is. That funny squiggle that they draw as the Rune for Sartar. In red, like blood flowing, between the Temples of Death and Truth.

That is when Rajar realises that he is not a Lunar Centurion. He’s just playing one on a Heroquest.

……… and this is not right

He is also leaning out dangerously over a rock he does not recognise, and the ‘men’ who were with him are roosting cliff bird. Those two things at least are par for the course for when a Storm Bull wakes.

Then he’s suddenly, completely Rajar.

Well. I’ve woken up in worse places….but hmmmmmmmm this is not correct. Ug

It’s almost dawn. He can see the faint glow of Yelm starting to suffuse the sky to the East.

Hw wraps his robe around himself, shoulders his axe and marches down.

Somebody better talk quick or there will a blood debt to pay

At least the armour fits now. That was a BIG guy.



On your way down from the Temple – which takes a while because first you have to get TO the Temple, you’ll end up meeting a young boy, exhausted from step-climbing, who whimpers that you’re wanted at the White Grape, and then theatrically asks for a tip.

Rajar tips him generously!

He perks up, and says that there was a lot of getting up and he didn’t know he had to get everyone up but he did, so apparently he’s here to get you up.

“So what has happened boy?” “Uh… Um. I came up here? Oh, right. I woke Master Dormal, and then Thane Varanis and the horseman Finarvi woke up and I woke everyone else up because they were all sleeping through, and then they went out. And did I have any thanks for my work in waking Lord Irillo? Did I hell! But then the Thane and the horseman came back and then Lord Irillo sent me in about three directions, so I sent my sister to the temple of Yelmalio and I came here. And very happy I am that I did so Lord.”

“Hmmmmmmmm go home to your mother and avoid the inn today. There will be blood.”

“Um, my mother lives at the inn Lord…” He calculates briefly, and then without further word sets off at a run.


[[include serala:memories-and-mysteries]]


It is a little after the stroke of noon when Berra comes out of the main temple, to come over towards Nala. She falls into a bow on her knees that, while in Nala’s direction, is far too low for her, and far too respectful.

Tiwr makes a satisfied noise.

Behind Berra, a man old enough that years have lost meaning walks. He is dressed in a loincloth and a strange pattern of black dust that makes Zinat nose-wrinkle and look curious. Even Nala can smell it – oil and something sharp and ashes, a touch of charcoal. It looks like it has settled on him and run in slow patterns of sweat. It is not unpleasant, but it is not something that Nala has seen up close before. Even the last time they saw him, he was without it.

Berra’s position on the ground is impressively boneless.

Nala flows up from the hunker and down again into a bow, roughly appropriate for what one should give the senior of another cult

The Blacksmith, eyes shut behind Truth and Death, sits. He does not invite Nala to, but his lack of stare is straight ahead, a little above the bow. Tiwr does something with his hooves that might indicate respect or indigestion.

Nala will, as default, hunker down so out of respect her head is lower than his.

This may or may not be a Praxian thing.

He says nothing, but reaches out his hand to hover it over her head for a moment, and withdraw it to his knee. He is in something like the lotus position, perfectly still there.

Nala is good at waiting, and being still. She waits for a cue.

Tiwr’s head may begin to lower a bit. Animals sleep when they can, not knowing when the opportunity will come again. Zinat, however, is sniffing and sniffing the air, and probably wondering where that other wolf went.

Either the dust-clad man is also waiting, or he has fallen into a meditational trance. Berra lifts up her head to look, and nods to Nala. It’s a ‘yes’ rather than a greeting.

“Elder, May I speak? I am unsure of protocol within this cult.”

“That is as it should be, child of Earth,” he says in a voice with a deep sound somewhere within it. “Say what is in you.”

Nala draws a few deep breaths, then starts with a sort of apology. “I am bad at words, and most of my good words were used to honour and assist an elder a few days ago. I apologise for this, and that my tradetalk I learned in Argrath’s army may seem inaccurate or, um, seemingly inappropriate in Sartar for a maiden.”

She gathers herself in stillness for a moment, and then launches swiftly into a torrent of words, so full of movement they jostle each other form unexpected eddies. Plus, there is currently the smell of salt. She has learned the art of the blurt from Berra. If she didn’t know it already.

“I was invited to a heroquest, by someone who knows what I am sworn to do. I was given no details, which caused me to misgive, but the person has been kind to me and I had no reason to suppose they meant me harm. Before this, I had only ever been on one heroquest, which was intensely personal and only involved my risking myself, so I thought perhaps this would be asked again and that is an acceptable risk. My life partner Tiwr has as far as I am aware never been on a heroquest for the godtime has heretofore ignored him. And nor has Zinat, my other companion. They had no basis of what to expect, only their trust and love of me.

“We entered the heroquest and we were all wrongly cast, as lunars, and my partner as polluted filth, which started anger in me, for he is purity. And there were far more of us than there should have been. And here is a thing. The godtime seems to look on us as one unit, which is both untrue and injurious to us, but when in a situation such as the heroquest means in some ways we are all constrained to act in some kind of concert.

“There was a person coming out of the Lhankor May Temple. And here is where the first wrong thing happened. This person had a face that should t have been there. This person was a person Tiwr and I and many of the involved group hold in deep hatred and disgust. So somehow we were put at a disadvantage by this face being used.

He was trying to escape and he didn’t. That’s the skinny, really. Someone shot his arm off, and there were some other missile weapons, and he was charged and my partner—I am guessing you have something like marriage in Sartar, and we are something like married— with his own hatred, and having no experience of what was happening, relied on me and knowing our usual hunting tactics, set him on fire. I knew something was wrong so we hung back, and I managed not to shoot nor he to charge, but watched.

“That is when we fell out of the vision.

“It is important not to forget that at the end he wore a different face that might in fact have been the true face of the person we were supposed to save. This must be remembered.

“So we failed. I have been doing nothing but thinking since.

“Clearly we need to re-enter the world and save him. And we did not see him actually, die. He fell out. So it is possible that Tiwr, being very fast, on re-entry could charge to heal him, and preserve his life, and then we could pick him up and ride off with him. I assure you that should that face we hate be the true face, having him touch either of us and ride Tiwr will be…will be…”

And Nala suddenly vomits, managing not to hit the iron lord, and vomits violently, full body.She pauses and wipes her mouth, still shuddering, “adequate punishment for both of us.” She finishes.

That is what I think we must do. I cannot speak for the others. I am not knowledgeable of what the others experienced. I may be wrong about being constrained to act in concert, or it may be that if Tiwr and I start to act as I have described the others will follow, and it may be that they attack us and we will be grievously injured or die, we know this. But it must be done.”

“Truth is not to be decided by those who walk within it,” he says gravely. “But by itself. The Middle World is more in error than the god time. If you cut the threads of lies about you, what is broken?”

He seems amazingly unworried about having been narrowly missed by Nala’s vomit. Berra cringed away from it and he seems not to have cared at all.

Nala has forgotten the fact of the vomit. It was necessary; it happened.

“Elder, I am blessed neither by truth nor lies, nor by life or death. I cannot see any of them clearly.” A smiles tugs at one corner of her mouth despite herself. “ I’m a bit of an odd fish as earth people go.”

“There is no time, for gods,” says the Iron Lord, “But what you bring with you. Take the correct step, not the broken one.”

Nala hangs her head. “Elder, I am grateful for your words, but I haven’t got a bloody clue what you are suggesting. I am no good at oblique. I am a child of the desert.”

He pauses before continuing, to think this through, and the answer takes several moments. He seems to have tested it repeatedly before he speaks. “Do not go to where he is wounded. Go to where he is whole.”

Nala’s eyes widen. “I think I begin to see. I am not sure when—where, (she corrects herself) that would be. Or which face, the one we saw or the one I glimpsed at the end, I should be traveling to. The hated one struck me as wrong, for many reasons. But hate occluded well. I hope you can see more clearly from my description, whether the hated one was a misdirection, as I hope. And is it possible to enter a hero quest by specifying simply “ the one we saved during the attack” and believing it hard enough that regardless of which face it was we get there?”

Ah. Too many questions at once. I am sorry. Once I start to talk, I can’t stop. It is why, I think, I was paired with Tiwr. So I have to shut up.”

The unicorn is jolted out of sleep and says, elegantly, “snzwhanow?” Nala creeps over and furtively kisses him on the bridge of his nose.

“Do not start a fire with extinguished ashes. Beginnings are the best places to start. Then travel.” With his eyes closed, perhaps he cannot imagine occlusion by anything he sees.

Nala shoots a look at Berra, as much to say “are you getting any of this?” As anything else

The Iron Lord, too, looks at Berra. He reaches out to put his big gnarled hand on her head, either getting her attention or giving her permission to speak. When he returns to his meditational position Berra sits back on her knees, and says, “With the Iron Lord’s permission, I think in the Middle World things happened to begin the Quest, and they could be done again, or something like them found out. That would allow the beginning to go right, instead of wrong. Maybe the enemy doesn’t need… uh, sorry. Maybe the person with the face of the enemy doesn’t need to be shot already, for you to get in.”

Nala nods. “I do not want to overestimate my importance. Berra, could you, do you think, talk to the others?” Berra does not need insight to realise suddenly that Nala is, essentially, extinguished ashes, going on metaphorical empty since Greyrock Fall. Simultaneously, Nala says, “I like the bit about only the middle world being subject to time. Elder, correct if if I’m wrong, but I think I need to think and dance for a long while before I do anything at all.”“

The Elder does not correct her, just faces straight ahead, eyes closed, breathing low and slow. Berra looks at him for permission, and her face shows a trace of awe, a subtle mix of fear and adoration that is hard to mistake. He looks at Berra, and gives a nod, and goes back to looking at nothing Nala can see, and all the time his eyelids have not opened.

“Yes, I can do that,” Berra tells Nala, once she is clearly not going to be addressed by her superior.

“Thank you” says Nala. She waits for a bit to see if there are any other pronouncements she can imperfectly understand.

After a moment Berra looks to Nala, and makes an ‘over there’ gesture. The Iron Lord stays where he is, the pulse in the back of his hands the only indication he is not a statue. Berra bows to him and backs off.

Nala goes to where Berra gestured. Zinat sniffs Berra to make sure she hasn’t become someone else in the last few minutes.

Berra, who is not a wolf, holds her hand for Zinat to sniff as she walks over to Nala. “One of the things that he said that you might not have caught was it wasn’t your fault and you should not punish yourself. But… what happened?”

“No, I didn’t catch that. What happened was exactly what I said. I was a lunar and that confused the fuck out of me. Eril legged it out of the Lhankhor May Temple. Made no sense. Somebody cried out “ gettim ,he’s got something!” And then the entire pack went for him. Only it was Irillo. Who wasn’t supposed to even be there.”

Berra blinks a few times, and says finally, “The High Sword?” She does not sound disbelieving so much as incredulous.

Nala says dismissively, “is that what you call him? Eril.”

“Yes, because he’s my High Sword.” Berra smiles politely, and then changes the subject. “Yes. About the truth. You said a thing had to be done, and you didn’t like it. Otherwise the Iron Lord wouldn’t have said that. He doesn’t speak often. Or move, really.”

Nala shakes her head to clear it, and stumbles a bit. “I don’t understand.” She’s very pale under the desert tan.

“I said it was wrong. None of it made sense. He wouldn’t be hiding, he wouldn’t leg it, he wouldn’t be there in the first place, he’d be with the fyrd, or Kallyr. It was all wrong, which is why I didn’t shoot. That’s why I thought it had to the the young kid, the second face, with the Eril mask removed. But I’ve shot my wad. I’m done. I really need to go curl up. Huljeem—words are hard.” Zinat presses against one side and Tiwr moves onto the other to support her

Berra bows, and says nothing more. She just goes to let the guard on gate know Nala can leave now.

On thinking back, things begin to settle. It was definitely all wrong, but it is possible to set aside parts of it, and examine them.9Special on Moon

Thinking on secrets of balance and time, it seems eventually to Nala that on seeing Eril, she understood Eril as he is now, the object of hatred, a crowd-pleaser who would let the mob judge his enemies. On seeing him, how could she do anything but know all he was? But there has to be balance, and so later, all of that worthiness of hatred was stripped away. The young, armoured noble and the cruel Priest are the same man, one held in bondage by the Lunar arrest, one by his own refusal to face up to himself. Take away the subtle workings of ink on his cheeks, add twenty or thirty years and that would be him. It could physically be a son or a brother, but conceptually, they are divided and united.

If Nala had seen the young man clearly at first, no doubt she would have seen the older Eril later, for they cannot be divided, only … something. It is not entirely clear, and there is some occlusion, but she saw both because she saw one.

As she rides out the door because walking has ceased to be an option: “Oh fuck.”

Berra is just taking up her position as guard again, and signals to the man with her to take a quick run to the other end of the courtyard. She gives Nala a questioning look, but does not ask directly.

“I really, really need to talk to Kalis and Ma…. Berra, I think I just saw, but, words. Unclear. Might be hallucination. But my feet hurt.” She says this not as a complaint, but as an explanation, as if Berra should know what that means.

“I can’t. Be. Kind. To. Demons.” Nala looks ready to vomit again. “Ask, please, your order what Eril knows of….Lhankor Mhy. Ask Xenofos….Eril.”

“My feet hurt. Temple.”

Nala slumps and Tiwr runs off into the middle distance, promptly outpaced by Zinat, promptly caught up with by a mobilised unicorn.


_


After a celebratory send off from Greyrock Falls, the party travelled to Wilmskirk, seeking information about how to fix the broken Heroquest. In Wilmskirk, Irillo sold some salt, lots of salt, an awful lot of salt, and made money for those who had given him salt to share.

The folks who like inns stayed at the inn. Those who prefer the great outdoors camped out. Overall, the visit was short, because the Humakti in town told Berra that she needed to get her answers in Boldhome.

There was an uneventful trip to Boldhome, but on arrival in the city, the party discovered it to be mostly empty, at least of anyone of fighting age and ability. Many Temples had only one or two initiates in attendance. The palace had a token guard watch, and the walls only a little more than a token guard. The party members sought out their local temples for information and some gathered back at the White Grape to share what they learned. Some chose to stay there, as they had before, while others found other sleeping places (Rajar at the Storm Bull Temple, Serala at the Yelmalio Temple, and Nala at the Earth Temple, for example).

At the Storm Bull Temple, Rajar found an unhappy initiate on duty all by himself. He challenged Rajar in hopes of trading places and Rajar used his fists to show the other guy why he wasn’t ready for the front lines yet, and then the boot for some gentle constructive criticism. Varanis’ visit to the Vingan Temple was more peaceful and resulted in some intel – mainly that Kallyr and her forces left a few weeks prior and were traveling north, either to Tarsh or Dangerford. They were bringing the fight to the Lunars. Xenofos did some futile research in the shamble Sartarites call a library “aided” by a local bumpkin who was unfailingly polite and condescending which Xenofos may or may not have noticed.

Dormal disappeared on some shady business for a day and then talked Sid and Nala into being a part of it: Nala by appealing to her thirst for secrets, Salid bargained for 12 enlo to be freed. He made some assignations with them for later and then slept at the inn. He tried to sneak out, but Varanis overheard him and stealthily followed. Somehow, Finarvi heard and followed too. It must have been all the noise Dormal made. Sid met Dormal outside the door of the inn and thus began a comedy of unmentionable proportions as Varanis attempted to follow Dormal and Sid, and Finarvi followed Varanis. Dormal and Sid vanished mysteriously, leaving Varanis to accidentally find Finarvi instead. Luckily, there was a guy willing to sell them some information for the cheap, cheap price of 10 Lunars.

Varanis and Finarvi returned to the inn to round everyone up. Irillo sent runners to find Serala, Rajar, and Nala. The rest rushed out headlong and carelessly (or from their perspective, well-armed and very discreetly) to find Dormal and see what trouble he was causing.

They ended up outside the Library/Lhankor Mhy temple. Dormal led his group round the side wall of the temple so as not to be seen too soon, walked up to a rock just outside it, and appears to touch it: Suddenly the sky was red with the light of the Moon and the town was on fire. Dormal’s group knew this is a heroquest: The others did not. The Heroquest was a hot mess. Literally, because Boldhome was burning. The PCs found themselves in the roles of Lunar soldiers patrolling the freshly sacked town of Boldhome. As they debated what to do about an armed Humakti leaving the Lhankor Mhy temple one of the patrol shouted that a non-Lunar citizen was going armed in the freshly conquered town. This prompted the armed Humakti, recogniseable to some as Eril, (later discovered to be Irillo) to turn and run, casting Mobility on himself as he goes.

Archers in the patrol opened fire, one of them striking true and skewering Erillo’s arm, while at least one patrol member with Mobility caught up to him. A fight ensued, with Erillo fighting off-handed. The patrol member (Varanis) and Erillo traded blows, with Erillo getting the worst of it, and then another patrol member, rather horse-shaped, cast Ignite on him. Wilting under the onslaught, Erillo faded from the Hero Quest, followed shortly afterwards by the rest of the group.

They all came out of it, with Irillo injured and rather cross. Mellia healed him and everyone else appeared to be completely confused, except the definitively vanished Dormal, and the temporarily vanished Nala. She and Tiwr came back at high speed, as if they had only just arrived. Tiwr helped with healing Varanis. Once he was healed, Irillo looked around for the guilty archer, saw Finarvi holding a bow and looking shamefaced, and expressed his displeasure by throwing an axe at him. It bounced off his armour.

The party dispersed with most people opting to go back to bed. Irillo sent Xenofos back to the library to find out what happened during the sacking of Boldhome, so the group could a way to unfork this quest. Then he went back to the inn to get drunk. Finarvi went with him to hold his hand and then his hair.

Nala went to the Humakti temple to speak to the blacksmith, and found Berra on guard. Berra did not seem to have been affected. Maybe she just didn’t notice.

++++ Notable Moments and Quotes


“Okay, I’ll go get more pillows. I’m apparently a lot heavier than I was this morning.” – Nala

“We are Yin and Yang. And sometimes the shades of grey win….” – Serala

“A library with good reputation, by Sartarite standards if I remember correctly” – Xenofos

“Berra doesn’t get given any salt.” – GM
“Why not? If it wasn’t for Berra, there would’ve been no expedition.” – Serala
“Because she got rescued instead.” – GM

“I thought she purposefully set up the troll dude in an ambush.” – Serala

“Finarvi plans to tithe while here. Preferably with salt.” – Finarvi

“Sorry, Jesus is in the way of my dice.” – Nala
“That’s what I thought you said….” – Serala

“They are making it REALLY HARD not to be an insurgent.” – Nala after finding Boldhome empty.

“I knew the bronze crotch piece was a good idea!” – Rajar

“We drew straws, and then I was unconscious for a while.” – storm bull initiate

“Want me to hit her with an axe?” – Rajar
“White Lady, Rajar…” – Irillo
“It could be a small ish axe” – Rajar

“Rajar isn’t Fat. He’s just……okay fat.” – Rajar

“You seem to have been involved in a failed Heroquest.” – Jaldis
“How did she know that?” – Varanis
“What a WONDERFUL question, Varanis.” – GM

“Like I said AXE” – Rajar
“I could shake her some.” – Rajar

“What are you doing at the LM Temple? What are you trying to look up?” – GM
“More worship.” – Xenofos
“(They would not have proper esrolian books anyway…)” – Xenofos

“Library Use, or Massive Bribery of Librarians Roll, I think.” – GM

“He’s been perfectly polite and massively condescending.” – GM
“THAT IS THE WORST KIND OF RUDE!” -Dormal

“SENSE CHAOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – Rajar

“Oooh. Yeah, you don’t think there is Chaos here.” – GM
“The beer is safe.” – GM
“But you should test it personally too.” – GM

“Rule 1: Fight a war on someone ELSE’S farmlands” – Irillo
“Doesn’t work so well when invading Russia.” – Dormal

( Did the plan involve beating the impurities out of us with a large hammer? ) O o . – Irillo
( Yes. ) O o . – GM

“Someone is doing a divination to see how I can clean my aura, but the bad news is that it’s Jaldis.” – Mellia
“Well, she’s unlikely to lie, right?” – Berra

“SENSE CHAOS” – Rajar
“Beer is still not Chaotic.” – GM

“Who has the Tame Bull spell?” – Varanis
“I want to go on Rajar rides!” – Varanis
“Wait. Not like that! Stop!” – Varanis
“Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot.” – Rajar

“I’m looking for Nala of Prax.” – Dormal
“What gives you the impression she might be here?” – Tiwr

“ENLO LIBERATION FRONT” – Rajar
“Liberation through saving up for people.” – GM

“Dozen enlo.” – Salid

“Our little secret.” – Dormal

“I will have grabbed my sword at least.” – Varanis
“Well, yes.” – GM
“I’ll have grabbed a weapon too.” – Finarvi
“PLEASE tell me it is made of wood or bronze.” – GM

“Sense Chaos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – Rajar
“NO CHAOS IN THE BAR!” – GM
“Easily fixed.” – Dormal

“Mellia really isn’t trying to hide. Hiding in white robes is difficult.” – Mellia

“Wait… we are Lunars?!” – Varanis
“Oh yes.” – Finarvi

“I will shoot, and Tiwr will IGNITE Eril” – Nala

“Whose brilliant idea was this?” – Xenofos

“I made a scan roll. Do I see Dormal?” – Varanis
“Yeah, you’re all visible in a.. was that a weasel?” – GM


“The proposition we’ll be testing is ARE THE BAD GUYS SUPPOSED TO WIN?” – Irillo
“Second proposition: ARE PEOPLE WAVING SCIMATARS THE GOOD GUYS?” – Irillo

“We’re getting a lot of practice failing at heroquesting.” – Finarvi
“Hey you guys failed. Some of us succeeded.” – Dormal

“Now. Shall we work out how to UNFUCK this up?” – Irillo

“You’re going to have to talk to the really condescending initiate again.” – GM
“Charm did not work , intimidate, through extra polite snobbish veiled threats of hindering research at time of imminent war… 80/20 nope” – Xenofos

“To be fair, on past history ignite has never killed anybody.” – Nala