Lost in the caves

1628, Fire Season, Stasis Week


Context

Varanis and Xenofos have been reunited with Berra, Irillo, and Maalira. They have learned that Jar-eel is present and Varanis is now determined to try to escape.

This was a multi-player text-based role-play session that occurred between session 15: Welcome to the Village Number 6 and session 16: HeroQuest 1.

Events

Berra seems glad to be in action, and now oddly calm.  Resigned, maybe.

Xenofos seems to be in some kind of daze. He picked his pack and weapons but then took the kithara he was supposed to be leaving behind and is now carrying that in his hands.

Berra makes a spirited attempt to be at the back of the group, as a rear-guard against Jar-eel.  She’s whistling a tune that isn’t the one Jar-eel was playing, at least for a few turns and twists. After a few twists and turns of the melody, it becomes the one Jar-Eel was playing. Berra sighs, and stops whistling.

For the moment, Varanis leads the way. A storm cloud on the wind.

Maalira is glancing rapidly between each of the others, trying to judge where interventions might be needed. She trips over her own feet several times as a result.

Irillo follows quietly, clearly lost in his own thoughts

Berra does not seem too strained, although occasionally she looks at Irillo and without quite grinning quirks a not-smile.  She may not have earned iron, but she seems to enjoy irony.

The Vingan is muttering under her breath and glaring her way through the twisting corridors of the temple. She doesn’t glance back to see if the others are following, but appears to assume they are.

Berra, entirely unlike a duckling, follows behind.  She is relaxed, guarded, calm.  Perhaps they are in trouble?

Occasionally Xenofos looks back. Maybe he is just diligent.

Maalira is privately thinking the word “duckling”.

No duckling is this deadly.  And no duckling looks after the flock in front of them.  Except of course Durulz ducklings, who are about to scale with Berra, if Varanis is the hen.

At one opportunity, as the twists of the passages lead them so, Berra puts a hand to Irillo’s shoulder and squeezes.  He gets a sympathetic look from her. He shrugs. It would appear this is playing out, broadly speaking, to his expectations. Berra nods, an expression much like his on her face now, but with a little more of a twisted smile.

After a time of not managing to extract them from the temple, Varanis slows down and gestures to Irillo. “Are you able to guide us out?”

“No, I can tell you if it’s safe though.”

“It’s not that likely we’ll be able to leave,” Berra says.  “But we should try anyhow.  Try to find the Air first.  What’s on your face?  Is the wind blowing at all?”

Varanis sniffs at the air, trying to get a sense for it. “Try that way,” she says, pointing Irillo down a hall and dropping into step beside Berra, to take up the rear of the group.

Berra falls half a step behind.  “I should be guarding you now, I think.  Don’t try to be right at the back.”  She has the same calculating expression that she has when trying to work out simple subtraction.

“You called me a coward,” Varanis growls.

“Yeah.  I’m sorry.  It slipped out and I’d meant to say some other things.”  Berra pauses very briefly to give the shallowest, fastest formal bow she can.  “I apologise.  Please forgive a thing I did not mean to say, and did not mean.”

“Fine. I accept your apology.” The nods she gives to Berra is a polite response to the formality.

“It was wrong of me,” Berra says, but then she takes a deep breath and keeps on walking, looking ahead most of the time, backwards enough that she is still acting as the rearguard.

“I’m sorry you’ve been pulled into this. I thought you’d be far enough away to be safe.”

Berra shrugs.  “I wasn’t going to leave you behind.  I mean, I couldn’t.”

“You were meant to,” Varanis says. She runs a hand through her hair. “I meant to do this alone.”

Berra shrugs.  “Yeah, but like I said, we’re going to get pulled in.  You didn’t really… well, I guess you did have a chance to say no.  And I’m still very angry about that, but right now we have bigger problems.”

Varanis finally takes the hint and falls silent.

“Just… when it happens, remember there are options, and take advice.  And we’ll probably be being followed by enemies, so we’ll have to take that into account.”

After a quick glance, Varanis nods. “I know where to find the dead emperor,” she murmurs. “Maran Gor told me.”

“You said that,” Berra tells her after a moment.  “It’s good to know.”

“You’re not going to make this easy, are you?”

Berra looks up at Varanis, sad, but maybe forgiving.  “You shouldn’t have agreed.  But you probably… I don’t know what happened.  I knew when we came here there was a chance we’d be used against you.  I didn’t think you’d have said yes.  But… well, I’m not going away.  And we’re where we are, not where we want to be.”

For a long time, all they can hear is the sound of their feet on the cave’s floors. Finally Varanis says very softly, “I’m sorry. I only meant to protect people.”

“You didn’t have to … we could…”  Berra shrugs.  “You’ve done it.  But why?  I mean, what was it that we didn’t say?  We were leaving.”  Frustration bubbles up, and she fights it down to say, “I… think I need to work out what you did, because this is one of those big things between us.  I said I’d listen to you, no matter what.”

“The best way I can help Sartar and the king is to be Orlanth,” Varanis says, her voice taut with emotion. “To be brave and decisive and… well, to just be me. All my life I’ve been trying to rein that in to be what others want me to be. But when I talked to Venlar, he said that the best thing I could do was be me. Koraki echoed that sentiment when we talked about… well, it doesn’t matter. The point is, I was trying to be true to who I am and what I believe. And I believed that we needed to go forward, not flee.”

“Yeah, but… it’s a dumb idea, and you shouldn’t have, and I’m going to take a long time about getting over this.  Right from the beginning, though?”  She looks around.  “As we’re here.” ‘Here’ seems to be a passageway that has at least some air flow.

“You all decided to let someone else, someone like Fazzur,” Varanis looks about to spit, but stops. It’s a temple after all. “Someone like Fazzur tackle the Bat. As if he could be trusted not to send it into Sartar. And then you decided I needed protecting and wanted me to go. I didn’t want to, but Valseena…” There’s a little hitch as the emotions begin to pile up on each other. “Valseena said I put people’s lives at risk and… did you know Mirava told me that I should never have been given command and that it was my fault my Vingans died? Her and her holy ‘There’s always another way, Ranie dear.’ And I was certain that I had a way to save people and you were all telling me I was wrong but I know I need to be Orlanth.” Words pile up on each other, spilling over in the rush to get out.

Berra stares.  “You came here on your own?”  She did not seem to catch that part.

“Xenofos was with me, even though I tried to send him back.”

“No, no.  I mean, you decided.”  Berra stops walking to take this in.

Varanis nods. “That’s what I was trying to say.”

There is a little more staring, but no apparent violence.  Tears trickle down Berra’s cheeks, and then she turns to walk on.  At least for the moment she says nothing more.

Varanis stares in shock.1At this point we have agreed other people should also talk, and possibly comfort the real victim here.  Irillo.

Maalira is somewhere ahead of Varanis and Berra, and has scraped her toes several times trying to keep an eye on them whilst walking forwards. She is now limping slightly.

Xenofos checks his rapier with his left hand and then puts his kithara on his left arm.

Berra does not react to that, although of course she is always ready for battle.

Irillo is merely striding along with the legs of a man used to travelling and a general air of “told you so”

Berra was working to be the last in the group, and that has not changed, but she is also keeping away from Varanis as much as she can, which means hugging the jagged walls.  She bounces into a couple, her usual grace lost, but her armour scrapes and her skin does not.

“When I looked for the mules earlier, I was made to understand we would not be going out. I would suggest preparing for eventuality of someone trying to stop us now,” the scribe says quietly.

That does not seem to get Berra’s attention.  Maybe she is too far away to hear.

Maalira glances at Xenofos. “How many do you think there will be guarding the exits?”

“Berra, I had to,” Varanis tries to explain after a long silence. That is another thing Berra does not answer.  She just glances behind, blinks to clear her eyes, keeps on going. Varanis sighs in frustration. “You want me to leave you be, don’t you?”

“I want to do the duty you made it impossible for me to do,” Berra says, scanning ahead.

Irillo pipes up thoughtfully, “Orlanth provides policy, Humakt provides strategy to suit that policy.” A beat, and he adds, “And I sell arms to equip that strategy. We all win.”

“Which is?” the Vingan prods. The look she gives Berra is conflicted. (Insight: She’s frustrated, angry, concerned, guilty, and determined and it’s anyone’s guess as to which emotion will come out on top.)

“I already told you,” Berra replies.  “More than once now you haven’t known how to listen.  I want you to have listened already, is what I want.”

Varanis makes an inarticulate sound of frustration and then pushes her way to the front of the group to take point again.

Maalira gives Varanis a glance that might be read as ‘uneasy’, then tilts her head back towards Berra. “Should I go back and try to talk to her?”

“You can try,” the Vingan grumbles. “She’s is one of her moods though.” As if Varanis isn’t in one of her own turbulent tempers. As if the reason they are all stuck in the twisting halls of Maran Gor’s temple isn’t because of that temper.

Irillo potters along, “Of course, nobody listens to me.”

Maybe Berra went deaf again.  Once more she has nothing to say.

“Sorry, Maalira. I was distracted. I don’t know, to be honest. When we came in we were kind of escorted and guards were not visible.” Xenofos looks at the healer “But you are hurt?”

Maalira shrugs. “Just a scrape. I’ll sort it out when we’re safe.” She drops back to near Berra, but does not look at the Humakti.

“You should look after yourself,” Berra says quietly, as Maalira comes into earshot.  “We’ll not be safe for a while.” Of course, there is little to absorb sound here.  Anyone not making a lot of noise will be able to hear her.

Maalira shrugs again. “It’s nothing worth stopping for,” she says dismissively. “I’ll be fine.”

“Fair enough.”  Up close Berra looks pale.  Her voice is quiet.  Agreeing with Maalira seems to cheer her up a little.

Maalira looks at around the passage. “How far under do you think we are?” She is perhaps calmer than she should be given how much she does not like caves.

“We should be out into air by now,” Berra says, “So we could by anywhere.  We’re… on the edges.  Of being pulled in.  But when it happens, be yourself.  Like we talked about sitting on the roofs.”  The words are getting pulled from her slowly, and she seems to be having to concentrate to talk in a level voice.

Maalira quirks her eyebrows downwards. “Remind me, about the roofs?”

“Alright, but remember we’re in a Temple.  The Wyter here can probably hear us.  We talked about robes – wearing white and wearing armour.  Representing the person we are and the god and goddess we serve.”  Berra is still checking behind as they go, still keeping most attention in front of her.

“Oh yes, of course.” Maalira gives Berra a quick, tight smile, and adjusts her white rope belt a little. “Thank you.”

Berra does not see the smile.  She is not really looking at Maalira, but ahead into the tunnel.  There are hardly any tears any more.

At one point, Varanis stops at an intersection of halls. She glares in all directions, sniffs at the air, then chooses. Before she carries forward though, she glances back at Maalira.2Maalira – maybe an insight roll? Maalira fails. Anyone else who might spot that could also do insight if you want to. On the off chance any one succeeds, the look seems to say “fix her!

Berra looks away from even the possibility of eye contact with Varanis.

Irillo prods the White Lady gently, “Go help Berra. She’s sometimes like obsidian. Hard but brittle.”

Maalira drops back a half step further, to be level with Berra.

“Nah.  You step in front of me.  You need a warrior at the back.”  Berra’s voice is almost absent-minded, like her attention is elsewhere.

“Irillo, I had to,” Varanis tells her cousin. “I just… it was the right thing for me to do,” she adds insistently. She needs someone to understand.

Berra flinches a tiny bit.

“I’ll step in front if there’s any sign of trouble. Right now, I would rather be here.” Maalira’s usually mild voice is perhaps not quite so mild as usual.

“Yeah, but I’m telling you, I need to be a warrior now,” Berra says, and gives Maalira a look full of sadness, wishes, and pleading.  “Just make it easier for me to do that?”

He shrugs, “The call can be strong.” He gives a faint smile, “Rex leads. Adventurous rushes in. I think you need to decide which you are.”

“Why can’t I be both?” Varanis demands, flashing eyes and cheeks flushed. The Rebellious Daughter.

Maalira gives Berra a long look, then nods. “Alright, as it’s you.” A tiny flash of grin, and then she takes two big paces to put her ahead of Berra.

Irillo ponders this for a while. “Well, was Orlanth both at the same time?”

“God Time,” she replies. “All things all at once.”

Berra smiles slightly to Maalira too, and goes back to being her.  Or, at least, to being a well-armed, bronze-clad warrior in a rearguard position.

“Sure. But he had a path, didn’t he?”

“There has to be a way out!” Varanis glowers at the passage. “Have we been by this one before? Xenofos… can you mark the walls or something?” To Irillo she says, “I had a path. At least, I thought I did.”

“They all look the same, Varanis.” The scribe does take a piece of charcoal though and draws the infinity rune on the wall. He looks around, at everyone in the group or maybe past everyone, as if listening to distant sounds.

“Irillo?” she asks.

“Some of them are lighter, when we’re deeper down, I think,” Berra says in a small voice.

At last, Irillo responds, “Well, it’s a path….. or did you mean spiritually?”

“Both, but for the moment what I need to know is if you can find a way out. Your god is a way-finder.”

Berra sighs.  “We might as well wait until the ritual starts to…”  Then she shrugs.  “Whatever.  We should keep trying.  But I don’t know that it’s magic time yet.”  She is dry-eyed now, although the evidence of tears remains.Insight: Berra is only even approaching OK on the top layer, by a lot of effort.  She looks like she could fall apart at any time.

“What happened to nobody can make you do anything, Little Cousin.” Xenofos seems to be listening to corridor ahead. “And the other way, Vinga.”

Berra looks at Xenofos after a moment.  “Me?”  Not completely with it.

“You sound resigned, Berra. Courage.” He smiles at her briefly and marks the corridor on the left with fertility rune.

“I’ll be brave enough.  I’m not stopping just because we’re caught.  You ever been in a brawl and someone had hold of you and you headbutted them anyhow?  Like that.  Of course we go.”  She has no apparent comment on marking that Rune in this Temple, but perhaps that is because, once more, she is looking around, keeping an eye on things.  Talking to Xenofos gets some of her attention, not all of it.

“That’s the spirit” Scribe nods looking at the possible paths ahead.

Berra smiles slightly, but not at Xenofos.  Some idea seems to have caught her attention.

Maalira catches the expression. “Mmm?” she enquires.

Berra turns off the smile on seeing the White Lady.  “Keep going.  Punch anything you have to unless you’re Maalira.”

Maalira mutters something which might have been “Lady, who could have let us hit enemies a LITTLE bit, protect us.” There is an undignified snort from the trader. The sound from Berra might be a laugh, although there is an element of sob in it.

Xenofos casts a glance towards Berra. She is looking washed-out in the light there is.  Insight: Not just washed out; the dark circles around her eyes make her look exhausted, yet she is moving like she is alert and ready for battle.  Over-ready, even.

Maalira turns around briefly and takes in Berra’s pallor and the dark circles. She slows her pace a little, and when level with Berra, reaches out and just squeezes her on the shoulder. Without waiting for a response she speeds up into the middle of the group again.

Berra’s hand comes up to block the squeeze, although it is not a serious attempt.  However, it does let her tilt and twist a bit, which puts the shoulder out of squeezing range.  It looks a bit like two different actions, like she started one and then started the other as well, and only once they combine does she manage to avoid the friendly touch.

Maalira, having lightly squeezed air instead of shoulder, turns the gesture into a sort of wave as she is moving back to the middle of the group. She clasps her hands serenely in front of her, but she has gone red.

Up ahead, the texture of the light changes.  It seems less based on the occasional oil lamp or sputtering wick, and more generalised, brighter.  Less orange, more blue-white.  More like… the sky?

Maalira heaves an audible breath, and her hands unclasp, shoulders relaxing.

Berra’s body language changes little.

Varanis stops to peer towards the light. “This seems promising,” she mutters. When she starts moving again, it’s faster. Her hand is on her hilt, just in case.

The light is a promise, and the promise delivers, but of course, it delivers in its own way.  A half-wild garden, designed so rather than overgrown, nestles in a bowl-shaped depression that could in itself be in any part of the cliff.  The rock above is painted white, to maximise Yelm’s glory below.  The lowest wall, to the right as they come in, is unpainted, and looks like it might be climbable, if the climber were confident and strong. There are benches of mossy rock, twisted, witchy trees with glossy leaves, and paths made half of gravel and half by the trampling of feet.  It’s a place of sanctuary, to some degree.

Maalira turns her face to the sky, breathing deeply.

Varanis rushes to the wall and stares up at it, eyes calculating. She checks the possible hand and foot holds.

Berra looks around, taking in the sights, and then looks to Varanis, then to Irillo, thoughtfully.

The Vingan turns to look back at the others and swears softly. “Irillo… Xenofos… how good are you at climbing if there’s a rope to help you? I think I packed rope…”3People who know rope lengths that fit into/onto saddlebags, and can do maths, feel free to make an INT roll. Varanis passed. But also excited.

Berra looks at the cliff, and the white-painted rocks, and back to Irillo.

The trader replies, “Bad. Part of being a good merchant is keeping your feet on the ground.”

“We are really vulnerable without mounts, if there is any pursuit. But that might be a way out,” Xenofos says.

Berra lets her eyes drop, thoughtfully.

“Let me just test it, to see what it’s like. Maybe I can haul you up if there’s somewhere to secure the rope,” Varanis says, excitement and hope lighting her expression. She drops her pack and roots through for the rope. When she pulls it out, her smile wavers. She looks back up the rock face, perhaps assessing the distance. “Maybe…”

There is a protrusion halfway up that just might hold a rope, but no ledge nearby for resting while it is sent further. Varanis swears a little. “I’m just going to check something,” she tells the others. “I’ll stay in line of sight, I promise.” She begins to ready herself to climb.

Maalira surreptitiously checks in the bag where she keeps the bandages.4Hey now! Varanis is an excellent climber! Shame about the rest of you or we’d have a way out.

Berra goes back to the tunnel to wait.

Varanis makes the climb easily enough, but when she reaches the protrusion, it’s rapidly clear that there really is no where for anyone to transition easily. She peers up to see if maybe there’s something just a little higher.540/a whole lot more on the climb roll Yelm, distant, might just be starting to slip away. Varanis swears at him. She stares longingly upwards for a long moment before beginning her descent.

The Humakti stays where she is, lurking in the darkness.

When the Vingan gets to the ground, she sighs. “I don’t think I can get you out that way. Not unless someone has a lot more rope secreted away?” She glances about for Berra, who is usually a reliable climbing partner.

The Humakti is in the tunnel, in her infantry waiting posture, weight on one ankle.  The other foot is out in front of her.  It’s a waiting-for-things look, not a ready to go look.

 “Berra,” Varanis calls. “Got any longer coils of rope?”

Berra looks at Varanis, and then down at herself.  “We could put something together from harness,” she says, “But nothing worth the name.  I’m as I am.”  Just her and her swords, and for a brief moment her full attention on Varanis.

Xenofos taps the strings of his kithara.  Not playing, just drumming. “Is the aim now to stop the ritual taking place? If so, I doubt they can begin without Orlanth…” He looks up at Varanis and then at the sky turning red.

Varanis winces, but whether it’s from Berra’s reply or something she hears in the other woman’s voice is impossible to say. To Xenofos she replies, “Not an option. I’ve told you that before. I won’t leave you or the others.”

“You just fu… you already… you did.”  Berra says it.

“That was different,” Varanis snarls, her temper set loose as though the ropes binding it just snapped. “You all sent me away. You shut me out and wouldn’t listen and then you sent me away for my own protection like some fucking child!” Her breath hitches, but whether she’s choking on rage or a sob is anyone’s guess. “Do you have any idea what that was like? To be dismissed and told I was being stupid or selfish or both? To be treated as though I am still waiting for initiation, rather than having faced my gods a decade ago?! You were all treating me like Grandmother Saiciae does!”

“Yes,” says Berra.  “And that’s because you’re a selfish, wayward, unthinking person.”  She says it quietly, with only the force of her sadness.  “And you did what you wanted, and now you’re sulking more.”

Varanis flinches with each sentence.6Insight for those who pass: Everything about that cut deeply. Possibly because it was true.

Worse, Berra has more.  “I thought you cared enough about the people around you to take their advice, but you sulked, and deceived us.  Me.  You knew how important you were to me, and how important Sartar is, and you just rode away and did what we weren’t going to.  What we’d planned on avoiding.  You fled responsibility, and you fled your friends, because Onjur managed to create fear in you with mere words.  I’m sorry I guessed wrong.  Not about Onjur, but about you.  I was going to die with you.  And you left.”  Maybe her eyes glimmer too much, but they stay steady, and her voice stays quiet, and calm, and sad, and tired.

Now Varanis does choke on a sob. She searches the faces of the others, desperately seeking support.

Maalira has found something intensely interesting on her knuckle and is examining it minutely.

Irillo says softly, “Enough, Humakt. Orlanth has acted impulsively and selfishly. And now he will put it right.” A beat. “Varanis. Varanis will put it right.”

Maalira quietly puts a hand over her eyes.

Xenofos looks at Berra and Irillo as they speak and Varanis in between. “Varanis was rash, yes. Rebellious and unyielding to council.  But she also did what she did to shoulder her responsibility to Sartar, because to her that is more important than anything else.”

Berra looks at Xenofos, and for someone so short it’s impressive she can seem to be looking down on him.  “She’s changed her mind now she found out what it means,” the Humakti says.  “Days after she was told what was right to do, and did the wrong thing dishonourably.”  Then she stands square to Varanis.  “I will not be connected with that.”

Xenofos does not flinch under Berra’s look.

The Vingan takes several shaky breaths and swipes at her tears. “Can we afford to stop here for a few minutes? I suspect that we are well and truly trapped now and if that’s the case,” she shudders, then forces herself to continue, “it’s best that I centre myself. Somehow I doubt Orlanth wept over his own stupidity or loss.”

“I would appreciate a few minutes to sort out my leg,” Maalira says.

“Air is emotional,” Berra says in counter, and then pauses for a beat.  “I must be calm now.”  She is still in the tunnel, a little too far from others to be stopped; all she does is draw her sword and pass it through the air in front of her, but as she sheathes it, she looks peaceful again.  That is the distance she sometimes has, which she has finally reached.  She looks down the tunnel.  “So far, we are not followed, and we are unlikely to be, in any way that matters.”

Maalira finds a vaguely flat surface to sit on and tends to a long but not very deep scratch on her ankle.

Varanis immediately looks at Maalira with concern. “White Lady! Caring for your own injuries allows you to better care for others. Do you need anything? I have some clean water, if it would help.”

Maalira smiles a half-smile and shakes her head. “Thank you but I have what I need – it is clean enough with salve and a cloth, I just needed a moment to sort it out.”

Varanis nods. To Berra she says, “I have emotion enough, but there can be no room for self-pity. That is what I need to purge and then I can move on. It’s a shame you can’t cut it from me as cleanly as you have cut yourself away.” As she says, there’s plenty of emotion underlying her words. She laughs bitterly at herself. “See? Even there, self-pity.”

“Separation only hurts when it is incomplete,” Berra tells her.

“That’s not really so,” Maalira murmurs.

Varanis digs through her bag and comes up with a pot of blue woad from Blue Tree. She unwraps the woven bands that hold the waxed cloth in place, praying to Orlanth and Vinga. Eventually, she dips her fingers into the paste and begins to paint her runes. This is the kind of Orlanthi meditation not often seen outside the temples. Rather than stillness and slow breathing, it is movement, colour, and song. Her breaths are a sharp intake of air, a pause, and a harsh exhalation. She doesn’t seem to care that she is not alone or that they might be observed.

Berra, by contrast, becomes a study in stillness, alert in her relaxed way, with her attention to watching the walls, and the few tunnels out of here.

When her face and most of her exposed skin, barring the right arm, has runes painted on, she presents the pot to each of her companions, except Berra. “I was wrong to try this alone. Orlanth is never alone. Will you aid me?” She invites them to add a rune or their mark to her sword arm.

Maalira accepts the pot and paints a rune, but the whole time she is glancing between Varanis and Berra, and chewing her lip.7Insight: Maalira is nearly falling apart internally over the rift in the group and it’s only her White Lady training keeping her from melting down.

Irillo dips a finger in the woad and draws movement onto Varanis. “The road is long, Storm. I shall try to keep you from unexpected problems on it.”

Berra is looking a lot like when she is on guard – professional, closed off, calm.

Irillo sighs, and tried again, “Hu…. BERRA. Orlanth… VARANIS has betrayed your trust. But it is part of growth, she tried to do the right thing. Varanis, Berra’s honour is hard and unyielding and it takes a price. Look after your champion. And please, can we leave the family drama until you’re not recreating the Rift in the Storm Tribe?”8Note please, it will get increasingly hard not to refer to people by Cult names.

Berra looks at Irillo.  “Three years ago, you answered a call you could not deny.  You have reminded me I have responsibilities.  Now, I answer.”

Maalira looks at Berra. “She named her daughter after you!” she blurts out in a half-whisper. “You know she did not do this to hurt you!”

Berra gives Maalira a calm look.  “But she did it.  I never could have.  Do not make it harder on her now, with hope, or words.”

Maalira twists her lip and looks at the ground. “Should paint a harmony rune on you too,” she mutters.

Xenofos squeezes Maalira’s shoulder lightly and reaches for the pot of woad.

Maalira gives Xenofos a grateful look.

He paints a rune into Varanis inner arm, looks a bit confused and continues by painting a different one. He looks thoughtful and finishes with a third. “May the Veiled One keep and protect you, Berra, and may you never be trapped.”9Scan will tell:  fertility, truth, infinity 

“I go from here, to do what must be done,” says the Humakti.  The way she is standing she looks taller, stronger, like a proud warrior.

“The Lady protect you, Humerra… Berakt…” Maalira goes cross-eyed trying to look at her own mouth.

“There is more strength in you than you know, Wing of Mercy,” replies the little warrior, still standing in the shadow of the tunnel.

“I certainly hope so,” mutters Maalira, looking lost.

“It is alright, White Lady,” the Vingan says. “We will not kill each other despite our tempers. Even when Death is new, kin-slaying is forbidden. This doesn’t mean that we won’t beat each other senseless from time to time though. We are the Storm.” A pause, the “Storm Tribe,” she corrects. She stalks over towards the Humakti stopping before she gets too close. Out of sword range. Out of hugging range. No reason to fear either threat.

Berra is in the shadow still, standing as tall as she can.  The height, for once, seems effortless.  Still, she has to look up at the approach.

“I will find a way to make things right,” Varanis promises fiercely. She offers the pot of woad. “For yourself, if not for me. It is from the place of your birth and perhaps you will draw extra strength from it.”

The short, burly little warrior bows over the gift, and it disappears into her pouch for the moment. “Then a gift for a gift, Stranger on the Road.”  It takes her a moment to get one of her belts off, for she wears a lot just to keep her swords in place.  What she hands over is not a sword, but a knife.  “This will break if used wrong.  It is a weight, not a weapon.”  It is her ritual knife, the flint blade formed by her alone.

Varanis’ eyes widen. “It is a hard thing you give me, Humakt. I shall strive to be worthy of it.” Solemnly, she buckles the belt into place, so that the hilt sits behind her rapier.

Berra steps back slightly, further than she needs to go to be away from someone talking to her.  Her body language says she is ready to go now.

Varanis looks about to say something then simply straightens her spine and turns to the others. “Are you ready?” she asks them.

“Are we in a hurry or past that?” Scribe asks.

“What matters now is that we are as prepared as we can be. If you need to do anything to prepare yourself, History Singer, then do it” she commands.

Xenofos nods and puts down his kithara. From his pouch he takes some ochre  and mixes it with a drop of water before rubbing it on his cheeks, nose and brow. Looking at his reflection on his helmet he outlines his eyes with kohl and green.10homeland lore Esrolia: parade makeup. Except ochre. That is for initiation or funeral. He is smiling and humming a tune quietly as he prepares. As he feels his beard he asks Maalira “White Lady…cousin, do you have any bison fat by any chance?” He looks at mirror again and draws a Truth rune on his right cheek. That is followed by a Fertility rune on his left cheek.

“Alas, no, sorry cousin – animal fat, you see, so I do not use it.”

He bows. “Please tell the family if you make it and I don’t.” Beard gets some oil with a hint of rose scent.

Berra is finished with talking; she turns to go back into her tunnel. Varanis turns back to her. “Humakt. Brother.” She seems to be wrestling with what she needs to say. “I will repair the damage I have done and learn to listen,” she says at last.

“Berakt…” Maalira sighs and gives up. “Humakt, will you wait for us?”

Berra looks at Maalira.  “Fever-bane, I go to what I need do.  If we triumph, we will meet once more.  My hall is called Lies-Empty now, and there are many that must be protected.”

Maalira’s eyes sparkle – perhaps there are tears – but she bows deeply to Berra. “Strength and safety to you. I look for our meeting again.” She turns back to Xenofos. “Likewise, cousin, should I never walk the plains of Prax again, and yet you do, please carry word to our kinfolk of my passing.”

“I will, cousin.” Xenos says and gives Maalira a hug. She hugs him back and tries to conceal a tiny sniff.

Varanis makes a sound of anguish and rage. “You,” she says jabbing a finger in Maalira’s direction, “will not die. Humakt cannot be resurrected and Lhankor Mhy has bade me leave him in hell if he dies, but not you! I will carry you out myself and deliver you to a temple if I need to. You. Will. Not. Die!”

Maalira makes a sound that is somewhere at the intersection between hiccup, sniff and sob, and opens her arms to offer Varanis a hug. The hug she receives verges on bone-cracking.

Irillo rubs his beard thoughtfully, and says, “So Humakt is not usually listed amongst the Lightbringers, so Him leaving moves us from the Lunar version to ours.” A beat. “But Yanafil Tarnils abandoning his Lord and stomping off to search for a new way…. oh, Hells.”

Berra gives Irillo a tiny smile, after taking a moment to recover.  “When the Lord also tries to find a new way, that’s us, not them.  I’m going to do my duty – there are monsters to be slain in the dark and people to save.” She walks into the tunnel.

When Xenofos realises that the little warrior has vanished, he slumps a bit and looks at the floor. He recites something quietly in Esrolian. “O winged one look over her. Let her Fly free, fly high, let no-one catch her in their snares. O Winged one look over her. Grim one if you take her, let her follow your straight path to the end, untarnished and in honour.” When he lifts his head the kohl lining his eyes is a mess. “It is a glorious sight when a warrior strides to battle, beautiful is she among women, with a garland of honour….” His voice breaks and he turns away.

Maalira swipes at her own eyes, not bothering to conceal the tears now that Berra is out of sight.

Varanis stares in the direction Berra went. Emotions play across her face until she squares her shoulders. She turns to Irillo, “You don’t have any stupid prohibition against resurrection if terrible things happen, do you?”

“I do. I absolutely prohibit people NOT trying to get me back. Serzeen would kill me if I died.”

“Good,” Varanis glares at Xenofos meaningfully, then turns back to Irillo. “Same for me. I don’t intend to rest until Sartar is safe from the cursed Lunars.” Her gaze sweeps the cave. “Do you hear that, you damned Eels? I don’t serve you. I answer to Vinga and to Sartar and I will fight you to my last breath and then do it again.” The answer is a soft chord of music. “You can shove that lyre up your ass!” Varanis snarls at the sound. She turns to her companions. “Maalira, how’s your leg?”

“It’s fine.” Maalira shakes her legs as if to prove it. “I’ll tell you if it starts complaining again.”

“Then it’s probably time to pray if you need to.”

Maalira nods and settles herself into a cross-legged position, closing her eyes. The melody subtly shifts as Jar-eel directs her attention to the healer.

“Don’t let rebellion be only thing guiding you, Orlanth. That way leads to Darkness and the reign of Chaos,” the scholar declares.

She nods. “I’ll not surrender to the Red Goddess, Truth-Singer. But I will make things right and protect my people.”