Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-19: Theatric Thugs and the Lost Traveler

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(Exploration of S’varga –  Continued directly from prior entry)

The shacks sit so close together, their roofs form a slipshod walkway of their own — albeit one so treacherous-looking, even the rag-veiled men seem to avoid it. Even so, a shadow moves about up there as well… 

Ane takes her chances with the shadow. The streets — if streets they can be called — are definitely full of the gaunt rag-men, and the shacks very well may be as well. Finding a way through them could easily be disorienting, too, even with the cry of the thing she’s following to lead her. 

She digs her fingers into the shattered stone of one of the walls of a building, seeking hand- and toeholds as she begins pulling herself up to their patchy, sinking roofs.

As Ane peers over the top of the roof, she finds herself tucked behind a stack of old, rotten crates. This affords temporary cover, as she catches sight of that shadow that was darting about…

It’s  huikkaran. He’s clinging to one of the walls of the small cavern, positioned up from the roofs slightly as if to gain a vantage point on the rag-men below. His lithe, nimble body is covered in dark-colored leather, knives gleaming at his belt beside a wicked-looking blackjack. A large, slick bronze mask, tapering back like the beak of some wading bird, covers his face. It makes his head look almost comically long and wispy, with an exaggerated expression of glee about the elderly lips of the mask.

He seems to almost twitch a little, as if startling at every sound. Whatever he’s doing here, he seems very jumpy. If he’s seen Ane yet, he hasn’t made any sort of move from his perch, clinging to the wall with two hands and a foot.

An assassin?

Perhaps he’ll leave her be if she’s quiet enough and doesn’t get in his way — he seems to be keeping an eye out for someone, and she highly doubts it’s her. Still, she doesn’t like the look of that blackjack. She keeps him in her sights as she cautiously makes her way toward the howl, careful to avoid the loose nails and soft, sagging, rotten portions of the roofs in her path.

 

As she makes her way, the huikkaran clearly seems to be watching her. The dark eyeholes in his mask track her movement, step by step… She makes steady progress, soon halfway to the end of the cavern. As she passes parallel to the watcher, her foot nearly catches in a shattered bit of scrap lumber. There’s a slight crunch underfoot, and the man grows tense. His hand darts at once to his belt, hovering over a dagger, shaking with tension like a taut bowstring…

With a muffled curse, she holds her hands, empty, out at her sides — partially to maintain her balance, partially to show her lack of visible weaponry. Silently, she rues the fact that she didn’t bring a knife or her gurran jaw with her, not that she’d really be able to use either. This roof isn’t very conducive to winning a fight at close quarters, and she can guarantee he knows the terrain better than she does.

The gaze of the watcher is steady. Fortunately, so too is his hand. After a split second of consideration, he averts his gaze back to the rag-faces below. He seems as if he’s been here for quite some time, and has the patience to show for it. 

Soon, Ane is able to step past this mess. The cavern beyond the alley seems far more secluded, while the shanties give way to a grove of sorts. There’s a pool of water in the floor, shimmering and steaming with geothermic heat, bubbling up from some unseen source below. All sorts of strange fungi and shrub-plants have gathered around it, clustered together like vagrants around a fire. 

This place is a small, sparse refuge, but a refuge nonetheless.

As Ane steps forward, she sees the lost traveller.

 

There’s a dark shape huddled behind one of the shrubs, its body curled into a crescent. The once smooth, shining scales have long turned dull, while the flesh below has given way to the ravages of decay. Its noble, sharp ears are now just flaps of tattered skin, and its rows of eyes are just portals to a vacant darkness. The snout has withered away down to bone. The jaws, though fleshless, are closed in repose.

This is not all there is to the scene, however… 

The loothine hound was digging here. Its claws, ragged and chipped, are half-buried into the flesh of the earth. The act seems deliberate, determined, with no hints of frenzied scrabbling in the dirt. 

No, this was no attempt at escape, or a frantic search for food; it was an excavation. 

Perhaps it was some last act of hope, or a sort of animal piety. Whatever the case, it seems the long-dead creature found what it sought.

There, at the center of the shallow hole, is a figure wrought in crudely-carved emerald. It, too, is a loothine hound, though it still carries the firm shape of life and nobility. The edges are rough and primal, though the shape is clear — right down to its trailing spines and three sets of eyes. The statuette glows dimly in some trick of the light, with its head raised, alert… as if it’s waiting.

Ane has never seen a loothine hound before — not a live one, anyway. Then again, she doesn’t suppose she’s seeing one now. It’s a testament to how far she’s wandered from the rest of S’varga that she’s even stumbled across the carcass of one.

She skirts the steaming pool, kneeling beside the remains of the hound as she reaches to pick up the carved figure. Mud mars some of the rough surface, but it’s easily cleared away with a cautious dip in the pool. Much of the crystalline, hewn-gem quality is lost on her, translucent as it is, but she can feel the call within it pulsing as if it were a live thing.

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-17: The most asinine thing I’ve ever done

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Ane bolts the door securely behind her before setting the heavy lead-lined box on the floor with the creature’s cage atop it. Ane sits cross-legged on the floor in front of it, elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. She makes a point to hum at the creature’s stomach area, if it can even be said to have a proper stomach area — it just seems to be a sort of fluffy, scaly puff of skoosh with a chubby-cheeked, large-eyed bit at one end. 

It shuffles its bottom, lacking feet, and almost tumbles over. The concentration of Ane’s hum seems to tickle the creature, making it twitch and wriggle, though it doesn’t make more noise than usual.

“Alright,” she says sternly, as if a firm tone alone can cut through the creature’s ridiculousness, “I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but I want to know a few things.”

“Fueep fep,” the creature jabbers, tilting forward. It seems to be some kind of gesture, until it topples forward and bumps its little head on the latch of the cage. Oh, that looks quite unpleasant… It must have hurt, given the way it squints its trio of eyes. And that lock really is big and dangerous for such a little thing, isn’t it? 

Ane tucks her hands firmly beneath her. 

“Yes, you’re very cute, and it is very unfortunate that you bumped your tiny…” Head? “Self, but I’m not going to let you out here. Not yet. If you aren’t an animal — can you talk? Do you have a name?”

The creature seems to subtly narrow its eyes. Either that, or a mote of dust just floated into the top one. It’s rather hard to tell.

“Fueep… fep,” it exhales, a tad pitiful. Then, for some inscrutable reason, it extends one of its fluff-tube-arms and makes a squeaking puff out of its end. 

“I… I don’t know what that means. Are you hungry? Do you need food?” Ane mutters to herself, “Void, what would you even eat?”

The creature seems to be profoundly clueless, just soundlessly flapping its little triangle of a mouth. If there were a competition for the most ridiculous creature in S’varga, this one would be a smash hit. That being said, something about it’s mouth movement looks very sassy… It gives the distinct impression that the creature would look both hilarious and oddly fitting in makeup. Perhaps some lipstick, some jewelry… That would look quite silly, wouldn’t it? Though it’s strange one would even think of this. Maybe it’s because there’s jewelry and lipstick so conveniently nearby, with which to dress up the strange little character… 

No,” Ane says firmly. She feels a bit ridiculous talking to the creature this way, but, if nothing else, she’s at least used to trying to commune with things that don’t speak. Even the slipshell statue was more communicative than this, though. “Do you want food? Or water?”

It flicks its ears dumbly, fluffing the tuft of fur in between them. There’s a silly little rise to its upper-head, like the top of an egg. The slipshell would probably fit right on there, like an odd little stone hat. Maybe the creature would hatch? Who knows. It seems like it’d be an amusing sight, though… 

“I’m not putting it on your head,” Ane replies obstinately. “If you don’t want any food, then I won’t give you any yet — I don’t want it to rot while you have ideas about makeup and stone hats.” 

The creature’s ears droop low, and its trio of eyes turn watery. Its entire body seems to droop, as if laden with a sudden sorrow. Its odd little arm-tubes even flump out of its sides, laying limply beside it. The creature utters a soft, “Fuep… Fuep,” seeming disconsolate. Its fur even droops slightly, flattening against its body.

Oh shit. I made it sad.

Maybe it isn’t the only one of its kind. Maybe it has little ones to feed, that it was stealing for — what it would’ve been stealing from a shop of eldritch curiosities, Ane has no idea. Still, maybe there’s a nest of these little things somewhere, cold and hungry…

She sighs softly as she reaches for the lock of the cage.

It seems like such a simple, sensible idea. A creature needs room to thrive. Perhaps this is true here, as well.

But really, what does this creature need to thrive? There’s no telling how long it’s been in that cage, neglected and forlorn. And here it seems so oddly drab, so sad and morose. Maybe what it really needs is a good cheering up. 

It needs a tiny dress-up party.

The fluffy little whimsy-balloon puffs its way out of the cage, and damn, it’s hard not to follow along… 

Soon after, the lipstick comes out, and then it has a little smudge of crimson across its little flap of a mouth. Then, there’s the earrings haphazardly hung over its big, fluffy ears… The necklace follows naturally, crafted by Ane’s own hands, now adorning this adorable little abomination. Its eyes shine with glee as it gets dressed up, a service provided so naturally that it seems to be an afterthought. 

Then, shortly thereafter, the slipshell figure… it looks so relaxed, so calm. It wouldn’t mind, would it?

Onto the head it goes.

The slipshell seems comfortable there, at least, and smiles in its usual placid way. It’s probably seen some weirder shit in all its years. Sitting as a hat for something without limbs doesn’t even rank on the slipshell’s “Strange Weekend” list. It just seems content to ride out the tide, and await more incense to be burned for its favor.

The fluffy creature, however, is elated. It bounces around wildly with its new hat, somehow never upsetting the stone statue. It looks really avante-garde, flapping its tube-arms with stylish flare. Yes. Yes. Yes. It is really working that hat. Slipshell is really in this seaso-

It’s around then that Ane realizes she was complicit in all of this. As soon as she catered to one whim, another followed, then another… For all its worth, the creature seems happy, perhaps even brighter, for all the trouble… Though the process to get there was downright insidious.

“This,” Ane breathlessly concludes as she gently smudges away an errant trace of lip paint from the creature’s cheek, “Is easily the most asinine thing I’ve ever done.”

“Fueeep, fwippa fwip!” The creature agrees, carrying through the rest of its strut. It seems oddly grateful to have its makeup corrected. It soon begins to slow down, settling into a pudgy puddle of sorts in the middle of the vanity. It lets out a puff of air, like a relaxed sigh of sorts. 

Fortunately, the slipshell doesn’t judge. It just seems content to sit upon its temporary perch. Nonetheless, Ane cautiously removes it and replaces it atop the vanity. 

“Be careful, don’t break that. It’s important… I think.” 

She’s content to let the creature do whatever its tiny heart desires for the moment, while she sets about putting away makeup, jewelry — how did her bottle of amber perfume get here? It hadn’t asked for perfume too, had it? — and various other tiny-creature-dress-up accoutrements. As she hums at a brush, bristles shiny with the remains of lip paint, she cynically concludes that she was incorrect about the tiny creature having a nest of little ones to tend to. 

If this thing is a parent, is not a responsible one.

Now that it’s had its fun, the thing toddles around in aimless circles on the vanity. Soon it stops, stares down, and then clambers its way onto half a seashell that was being used to hold jewelry. It settles down again, and just slowly melts into a pile of fluff and flub. Like a sort of pudding, it fits the container it’s in. The creature’s eyes drift slowly closed, and its ears gently lower.

Now there is peace once more.

Also, there are small whistling snores.

Ane gently ruffles the ridiculous fluff atop its head with a fingertip. If it’s going to sleep there, she’s going to have to find better accommodations for it — ones that don’t involve bits of jewelry wire and the edges of gemstones. Maybe something softer, like a folded handkerchief in a box…

 

With the little fweep-fweep creature dozing with its ludicrous outfit and tiny smudge of lip paint, Ane turns her curiosity to the bear. She opens the lead-lined box as if she were pulling the cork from some volatile alchemical reaction. Even though she’d already handled the thing in the shop, that seems worlds away from actually having it in her home.

Cautiously, she turns it over in her hands. It seems in good repair now — the shopkeeper (or was it his hat?) had warned her not to let it become damaged. Though she’ll have to devise a way to see what they meant, for now, her attention is purely wrapped up in it’s pain relieving properties.

Ane is uninjured, so the bear does little. 

She can change that.

Kneeling on the vulre-skin rug, Ane places the bear on her lap. Her little silver penknife is within easy reach, tucked into one of the cupboards beneath her bed. It probably wouldn’t take much to register as an injury to the bear, and she certainly knows her way around her own biology. She’s had to use enough blood to know exactly which cuts to make to elicit pain with little damage, and which yield blood with little pain. Deft hands guide the tip of the knife to its mark. 

And so the slice occurs. Ane sees the cut, the small seam of blood, a single shining drop coursing down across her outer forearm. It was a cut that probably went a fraction deeper than anticipated, though it’s nothing serious regardless. The sensation of the cut, though… It’s most strange. If a description had to be put to it, one might say it feels like being gently ripped, as if the flesh were made of unfeeling fabric. It’s unmistakable. There’s no pain, no recoiling, no seizing up — just the rather abstract sense of damage.

Naturally, this means that without sight, Ane can’t tell how much damage there is, only its location. And, even after the fact, there’s still another vague feeling: almost like being opened up, like a cracked book, or a torn pocket of stuffing. Still, no pain.

The bear, for its part, is completely unremarkable. It’s sitting there with its stitched little triangle smile, its button eyes, its fluffy tentacles and its jaunty hat. That’s all. It doesn’t glow, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t do anything. 

It’s just a stuffed bear. In a way, so is Ane.

She can feel the uncomfortable psychosomatic sensation of cotton wadding in her mouth, squeaking between her teeth and drying her tongue. Void, she can almost feel it filling her stomach, with its insidiously coiling, twisting fibers… 

She sets the knife down and presses her finger to the wound, putting pressure on it to slow the bleeding while she looks for a clean bit of cloth to bandage it with. 

At least the sensation itself seems to stop at the wound, and anything else normally considered “pain.” But the imagination can do some strange things, especially when the body is behaving well outside the bounds of normalcy. That being said, the bear sure doesn’t do anything to stop bleeding… Though even that feels abstract, like a breeze against uncovered fluff.

Either way, it looks like this won’t do exactly what she’d hoped. Even without the warnings from the merchant (or his hat), she’s hesitant to hand over a magical object like this to Thelorn. He’s not likely to trust it, for one, and it feels so deeply wrong and strange. It protects against pain, but not in any way that she could reasonably call “pleasant.” Honestly, it doesn’t even seem to prevent or guard against it as much as just substitute a different kind of discomfort. Would the bear even recognize Thelorn as injured? 

Maybe it’ll do in an emergency, for pain that isn’t long-lasting. For now, she reaches to set it on a shelf in one of the costume cupboards.

As the bear leaves Ane’s grasp, a sort of warm, fuzziness recedes from her person… It’s a subtle feeling, but there was some layer of comfort that it provided that is far more noticeable in its absence. Little pains return from the woodworks, whether its joints, the back, or just aching feet from a long walk. It’s easy to see why someone might be reluctant to give the bear up. It’s enough to make Ane hesitate to put the bear away from her — but, if it’s able to cause that after only a few minutes, she’s even more reluctant to see what it can do if she gives it more time.

With her brief experiment with the bear finished for now, she turns her attention back to the snoozing fweep-fweep creature. She lightly wiggles a fingertip against its oddly soft, oddly scaly belly, lightly tickling it as it dozes amid her jewelry.

“Hey. I’ve no idea what you usually nest in, but you probably don’t want to stay there,” she cautions it.

“Fwepfwepfwep,” the creature half-protests, half-snores, nearly toppled by her wiggling finger. The touch seems to make it puff out inexplicably fragrant air. It’s a rather calming scent, the sort one would use for incense before sleeping. True enough, the creature still seems very asleep, with all three of its eyes closed, fit snugly into the shell

“Come on,” Ane murmurs, in a musical coo. She gently tips the shell, attempting to dislodge the creature onto her palm. It doesn’t seem to have any teeth that she can see — what would it use them for? If it eats like a fuhajen, it wouldn’t use its mouth. If it’s truly some kind of odd, fae thing, it probably doesn’t properly eat at all. The odds of her getting bitten seem, at most, very low. “Wakey wakey.” 

Like a pile of pudding or a heap of putty, the creature half-falls-half-pours out of the shell. When it plops into Ane’s hand, it makes a small, “fwemp,” and otherwise remains unperturbed. It’s not even properly upright or laying, but rather at a diagonal, though it doesn’t seem to mind. 

It actually feels rather light in Ane’s palm, far more so than its size suggests… It’s like holding a waterskin filled with air, albeit one covered in fluff and scales. When she hefts it gently, it even bounces a little. 

Ane sighs. 

“Alright, let’s find you somewhere to sleep that’s less,” she pauses, “ridiculous.” 

She sits at the chair in front of her vanity, the better to rummage through its drawers. There’s an empty bottle of liniment, a bit of ribbon, a few corks with ends stained with use. It takes her some time before she finds a cotton handkerchief, edges adorned with faded embroidery, to fold into a makeshift bed. Ane tucks it into the bottom of the wire cage, and gently rolls the sleeping fweep-fweep inside. This time, she leaves the cage door open. How much damage can it really do without her awake to acquiesce to its tiny, weird demands? 

The answer to this question doesn’t occur immediately…

Instead, Ane finds herself pulled into a strange jaunt of consciousness once again.

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-16: Not absurd, or just not absurd yet.

Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal, at times slice-of-life. No holy men were mind-controlled in the creation of this work.

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Ane has a surprisingly easy time finding her way back from the market, even with the gangs, cutthroats, and masked miscreants lurking around the city. The only difference is that now they look upon Ane’s interesting new containment vessel with a mixture of horror and wonder. A thief of a greater caliber might see fit to try their luck at taking it. The average cutpurse, however, seems to prefer a very sizable distance.

Perhaps something about lead boxes with strange creatures inside inspires caution.

It’s just as well — there might be a few sets of ears (or eyes, though they’re a bit rarer here) that would recognize her from the stunt she and the others pulled the other day. The more distance the general populace keeps, the better for her. Not that she’s really planning on roaming the city with her lead box and her wingless bat-creature in tow.

Instead, she hightails it back to camp, to track down Nelea, the beast tamer.

When Ane arrives, the camp is in one of its many flavors of disarray. This time, most of the caravan is carousing for one reason or another. It’s a gentler sort of carousing this time; people tend to be more adventurous and drunken towards the beginning and end of these city visits, and this is distinctly in the middle. 

Nelea, for her part, isn’t involved in any of that. Though her strong, stocky build looks like it handle more than her fair share of Brair’s concoctions, she rarely drinks anything stronger than spiced tea. Instead, she directs that sturdiness towards tending the animals, as she is now. She walks with a long pole lain across her shoulders, laden with dripping buckets. Despite her considerable burden, she’s lacking in neither strength nor poise — the water doesn’t even begin to slosh. 

The moment her lidless eyes alight on Ane, she pauses with a smile. 

“Hello! Is there anything I can do for you?” She asks, before being asked. Polite and hospitable as ever, she doesn’t seem to notice the Teller of Fortunes’ strange payload.

“Actually… I have a bit of an odd question for you,” Ane says, as she gently lifts the small wire cage hanging from the crook of her finger. “Do you, by any chance, have any idea what this is? Or why it shoplifts?”

Nelea knits her brow. She stoops down for a moment, setting down the buckets to get a closer look at the odd little creature. Her curls tumble down over perplexed eyes, her lips form into a taut line of contemplation.

“Well, it looks slightly like a hive-lop, though it has one too many eyes and doesn’t make a buzzing sound… How strange, no limbs,” she considers, peering closer. Seeing that the creature has no apparent fangs or claws, she ventures a poke at the thing’s fluffy belly. When she presses firmly enough, it lets out a slight, squeaky exhalation — in fact, a few exhalations from multiple places.

“Ah! It moves like a fuhajen,” she declares, seeming delighted. As if in response, the creature ejects a pair of fluffy chutes from its sides, which it uses to puff and nip at Nelea’s hand. 

“I don’t think I know what this is,” she says, worrying her lip. “Or why it would commit theft. Where did you find it?” She asks, looking up at Ane.

“In a shop. Apparently it tried to steal something, and they caught it and put it up for sale to get rid of it. According to them, it’s very persuasive,” Ane replies, with a concerned knit of her own brow. Does the creature not have a mouth? Will she have to figure out what it can eat through its odd, squeaky little giggletubes?

Nelea looks aside uncomfortably, eyes wide, as she folds her hands behind her back. 

“That might be why I want to unlock its cage,” she says ashamedly. “I am an animal tamer, so I understand that some creatures are best confined for their own safety at times…” She digs her heel into the dirt in a meandering way. “Still, when I look at its little eyes, I just feel a strange need to obey its tiny whims.”

Ane goes quiet for a long moment, humming at the tiny creature enough to make the cage sway from the vibrations of her gaze.

“Which is probably why I bought it,” she confesses. 

“I cannot tell if it’s bewitching, or just endearing,” Nelea replies, still averting her gaze. One of her hands displays a slight twitch. 

“Fui, fuip, fueep!” The creature chimes in, bouncing against its cage walls. Each impact makes either a squeak or a small “fuibbt” noise. Fortunately, its fluffy body is too wide to slip through the bars. 

“Well… I’ll take it back home, see if it wants to eat anything,” Ane says, albeit hesitantly. There are a lot of things a small creature could get up to in her wagon, even one without arms, legs, or wings. “Thank you for your help, Nelea. I’ll see what I can do for the little mite.”

The animal trainer nods her head hurriedly. 

“Yes, that seems like a good idea… I’m happy to help, Ane!” She bids Ane, and begins to turn away and pick up her buckets. She seems to be making an effort at diverting her attention away from the creature, as if she doesn’t trust herself in its presence.

Ane feels a small tug of dread at the pit of her stomach on the walk back to her wagon. The creature is small, certainly defenseless-looking, and very cute. Maybe it wasn’t really trying to bewitch Nelea — if anyone is going to be susceptible to the effect of a pair of large, button eyes and chubby cheeks, it’d be her. Ane’s hand hovers over the split door of her wagon for a moment, before an idea strikes her.

 

The creature floats like a fuhajen — maybe it isn’t native to S’varga at all. Could it be some kind of stowaway? She sweeps the camp with her hum, on the chance that her gaze might alight on the monk while he’s doing whatever it is Jarrik has him do around the camp now. Probably more dishes.

Oh, he’s currently a barrel monk. The monk is moving a barrel. Presumably, it is filled with supplies, but it’s hard to tell. Most barrels are pretty generic. Either way, he might not be indisposed to looking at a little puff-creature for a moment or two.

“Hey-” Ane begins to call out as she strides over.

Oh Void, what was his name?

Has she failed to catch it? Had he ever given it in the first place? She silently scolds herself for failing to ask, and again for failing to come up with a sensible way to do it now. 

 “-Guy, I have a bit of a question for you, if you have a moment.”

“Oh, you know my name!” Gai says with some mirth. He hefts the barrel down, setting it to the cavern floor with a ‘thunk.’ “What can I do for you?” Gai asks, adjusting his braid. 

“I was wondering i-” Ane pauses. “I’m sorry, what?”

“My name,” Gai replies warmly.

“Is…” 

Gai looks at Ane, patiently waiting for her to continue. After the considerable, unblinking silence that follows, she gives up and begins again.

“So, guy…”

“Correct,” he nods.

“I’m sorry?” A baffled Ane replies.

“For what?”

“I don’t…” She can feel the conversation slipping away like sand through her fingers. What was it she needed to ask, again? Oh, right. “Have you ever seen one of these before? Don’t,” Ane cautions, “Look it in the eyes. It’ll put notions in your head.” She raises the little wire cage to give him a better look at the tiny three-eyed, puff-bellied thing.

Gai glances down at it briefly, before glancing back. 

“How do I avoid that? Its eyes are huge.”

“Point taken. Just try not to act on anything, then.”

“Very well,” the monk replies, and steels himself with a deep, chest-heaving breath. Once he’s mentally prepared, he leans forward and investigates the creature.

“Fuip, fuip, fuoop!” The creature greets the monk, twitching its tall ears and flapping fuzzy little nubbles in lieu of limbs.

“Hmm… That is, most definitely trying to be tricky,” Gai declares, immediately suspicious. Whether the effects are from cuteness or some strange magic, the monk seems to have resisted. This is, of course, not much of a surprise; he’s a dishwashing monk, after all. The real question is what he thinks beyond that…

“Well, I don’t think it’s an animal,” Gai declares, rubbing his chin with a thick palm. He shakes his head, and continues, “Its overall shape and attitude are… unnatural, to be blunt.” His lips tighten, and even slant a bit, as if he’s really trying to figure how to put this. “It could be a number of things: a familiar, an otherworldly being, or even a Shardtwisted. But it’s definitely not an animal.”

“It’s just too ridiculous,” he concludes.

Ane exhales deeply. 

“So I probably shouldn’t just find somewhere to let it go, then.”

The dish-monk gives her a rather stern look.

“It would probably cause something that is, on the whole, just far too absurd.”

She nods in understanding. 

Whimsy.

“Right. Well, thank you — I’m glad I’m at least a little closer to an answer,” she says, before turning to go back to her wagon. Behind her, Guy the Monk returns to his duties — which  now include balancing on a barrel with one foot, occasionally doing a little hop. It’s hard to tell whether he’s been charmed, or if it’s just monk-training.

Ane is lost in thought. If the creature is Shardtwisted, or a familiar, or something else not-strictly-of-this-plane, maybe she can do a little figuring out of her own. Her rituals usually lack a definite structure or purpose — if anything, she enjoys riding on the currents of magic to see where they take her, but maybe she can see if the creature is willing to offer any answers of its own.

When she returns to her wagon, she takes a long moment to take it in as it is. A little disorganized, maybe, by most peoples’ reckoning, but it’s hers. And it is, for the moment, decidedly not absurd.

Ane has a suspicion that this may be about to change.

 

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-15: It’s worse than dangerous. It’s whimsical.

Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal, at times slice-of-life. No eldritch horrors were unleashed upon the world in the creation of this work.

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During the last few hours of rest, the slipshell somehow migrated his way to the side of her pillow. Perhaps his presence is intended to be calming, and in a sense, it is; he’s a quiet, easygoing little companion. He’s got the sort of face that radiates the idea that, in time, things may yet turn out to be alright.

Whether with the little statue’s help or not, those scant few hours of sleep prove restful.

Fortunately, all things considered, Ane could probably provide card readings in her sleep. Today, no particular oddballs come out of the woodworks to shake up the paradigm. The day goes quickly, sped up by the ease of familiarity even as her mind roves elsewhere. By the end of it, the Teller of Fortunes takes in another seven miters. Not a bad day, but not a great one, either. Still, gold is gold, and it’s more than she started with.

With only another day or so to go before the caravan has to begin pulling up stakes, Ane makes her way to S’varga’s market. Puffroot parlors, rough gemstones, and herbal notions are thinner on the ground here, but there are still some goods available in the tunnel city that can’t easily be found anywhere else.

Without Jiselmo in tow, Ane’s foray into the city is much less straightforward this time. Sure, much of the actor’s directions seemed like a lark, but he really had his own particular way of navigating the S’vargan streets and tunnels. Given the group’s activities in that particular market, following his course that day wouldn’t be the best of ideas anyway… And the city planning is so intricate that past visits are not much of a guide.

In fact, it even seems like the basic grid of the city has changed somehow — but then again, its spiralling map is unusual enough that it defies memory, in its own way.

Fortunately, Ane has been on the receiving end of an abundance of Jiselmo’s unsolicited advice on navigating the city:

“Lesson one, never go down. Some of the city streets look normal enough, until things get taller and you become smaller. Then boom! You’re in one of the under-tunnels, heading off to another gurran stomach… Or worse. Do that too much, and you’ll end up below the stomachs, if you know what I mean. And, above all, stay away from the flowers.”

“Oh yeah, also,” Jiselmo had said, “Watch out for the idiots in masks and the veils with drawings on ‘em. They’re what our city calls ‘gangs,’ but mostly they just growl and show off their blades. The well-dressed ones are fine, unless you look nicer than them; it’s the hungry lookin’ ones that you have to worry about.”

Sure enough, Ane does see some of these people in passing. Some have masks that slope into a lantern chin, with broad noses and scandalous eyebrows. Others have stylized animal motifs, or very feminine half-masks adorned with imported feathers. Then there are some veiled bands, who adorn the fabric with strange symbols like false eyes, crescents, and other such things… They are dressed in rags, and leer brazenly through their veils.

By spending some extra time, Ane is able to avoid the hungry ones, and eventually find her way to a suitably close, yet sufficiently distant, marketplace.

The offerings are indeed a far cry from Paako’s. Metallic goods seem to make up a much greater percentage, wooden items are outlandishly expensive, and imported products are far more commonplace. There are song crystals from Arrchestra, coffee from Rhytalo, books from Valistea, and whale oil from Sevalah. It’s a particular sampling, of course, given S’varga’s secondhand access to many trade routes. Nonetheless, the city seems to value goods from other lands very highly. There’s also a  thriving art industry, mostly in stone carvings and paintings rendered in lushly-textured impasto. 

Herbalist goods are almost exclusively at apothecaries, which are themselves very utilitarian and straightforward in what they offer. For anything more esoteric, there are alchemist’s supply stores, or full-scale emporiums of eldritch trinkets. The running theme seems to be S’varga’s oddly to-the-point approach in most things. If they think it’s useful or exceptional, it has its own shop. If not, then it’s tough going. 

Except taverns, salons and dance halls, of course. There are at least fifty different kinds of those.

As tempted as she is to investigate the apothecaries, they may not have anything that Vaidna, Dynkala, or Ane herself doesn’t. For now, she gives them a pass, wandering farther beyond to the places with more exotic offerings: Big, glassless windows full of baskets of seeds, bands of carved creatures conspiring in shop corners, fantastical-looking things depicted on scrolls with thick encaustic brushstrokes and collaged pieces of richly-woven brocade. As a city by and for shasii, it’s a visual feast for those without eyes. What it may lack in color coordination, it definitely makes up for in warmth and texture. 

Her hand pauses over the door handle of an esoteric peddler of eldritch goods. She can almost feel the costliness of their inventory through the door, and it makes her hesitate. Still, she’s doing alright for funds so far — besides, if she’s going to find something really interesting in this market, it’s probably going to be here.

The sign outside is reassuring enough, with its carving of a crow wearing spectacles and a feathered hat. The script beneath reads, “Ulassa’s Strange and Familiar.” It has an aged, oaken construction, with brass-handled doors and latticed windows. When Ane enters the shop, a soft chime sounds out. There’s no bell above the door, but the sound carries just the same. 

The room is lit almost exclusively by glowstone, warm with orange light. It shines through special, intricately-cut shades, casting alluring shapes and shadows about the shop. The room feels bigger than expected, though that’s easily accounted for, given the way buildings tend to dip further into the earth to grab more real estate. And, despite its size, every surface is covered in a night-inavigable number of shelves, stands, and display cases. The notion of a browsing customer seems rather secondary to the task of presenting as many varied oddities as possible. 

Aside from one small corner of the room filled with pristine cutlery and tools, the rest is a complete hurricane of miscellany and sundry. Though the name implies that these items are somehow supernatural (or at least beyond ordinary), nothing seems to be marked with a function — or a price. 

After a careful sweep of the place, Ane spots a few curious treasures: A petrified mouse in a dancing pose; a golden-wood whistle with a carved “A”; a baku nut with glass flutter-by wings; a paper receipt with uncannily blurred letters; a glass eye with a hole for a pupil; a smeerp’s foot; an ordinary candle marked with an “out of order” sign; a mummified klorrian middle finger (somehow one can tell); a toy soldier holding flowers; a kettle with no spout; two perfect socks; a sketch of a faceless woman; a tiny, three-eyed creature in a cage; a…

Void, let’s take a breath.

Then, finally, there is a shopkeeper of some sort. It’s an old shasii sitting behind one of the cases, kicked back on a chair with his curly-toed boots on the case. He has a rather large hat with two holes cut in the front, spaced evenly about the crown if the hat. Something shines beyond them. His hum is currently still, as if he’s just resting his eyes for a bit. Otherwise, he looks like a typical, local S’vargan, with finely-patterned trousers and a fine vest over his poofy shirt. 

The kettle catches her attention first — she runs her fingertips over the surface, looking for some sort of catch or hidden hole that might give her a hint as to what it’s for. Not tea, obviously, but maybe something useful… But there are no holes in the kettle, save for the one in the top. Peering in, it is currently filled with a semi-clear liquid (presumably tea), as well as a pair of speared leaves floating on the surface. They always seem to float in the same spot, no matter which way the kettle is oriented. At first it seems to always point in a cardinal direction, but then the tea leaves begin to drift and point some other way.

When the kettle is tipped, as if to pour through the nonexistant spout, Ane feels rather warm and satisfied. Her thirst isn’t slaked, but for some reason, that just feels good to do. 

It seems to be a Generally Satisfying Kettle. Interesting.

She’s not particularly in the market for small, comfortable miracles at the moment — as interesting as the kettle is, she sets it down to continue humming over the merchant’s goods. Her gaze alights on the tiny, caged creature next. Her fingers itch to try to let it out, but this strikes her as an idea that would only make her life complicated at the moment.

The creature has a trio of eyes, like a fuhajen, though they swiftly grow large like a smeerp’s. It’s an odd little creature, covered intermittently in both pearly scales and little tufts of down. Its body is squat and fat, and it has tall, tapered ears that twitch against the top of the cage. It’s noticeably wider than the opening of the container. Its mouth is a little cleft divot over a lower lip, topped by a ridiculous little seed of a beak. It has no markings on its cage, other than a small label: 

 

WARNING: PERSUASIVE.

 

Persuasive?

To do what? She hums over the tiny cage quizzically. It’s a cute little thing, with its huge weird eyes and fluffy pinecone body. Will it try to persuade her to let it out so it can go on some sort of rampage? Persuade her to buy it an entire tiny wardrobe? Persuade her to rob a merchant’s guild?

“Sooo,” Ane says hesitantly, drawing out the word, “What will it persuade me to do?”

“Whimsy,” an old voice, presumably the storekeeper’s, calls from the checkout desk. 

Whimsy.

Whimsy?

Ane frowns at the caged creature, puzzled. “Any examples?”

Muffled curse-words.

“There are no examples of whimsy,” the storekeeper replies. “Then that’s just fancy.”

Hmm…

“I am,” Ane continues, “More specifically looking for something that might help with improving physical comfort, or relieving pain. Do you know if you have anything like that?”

“Sure,” they squawk. “Consumable, or repeated use? The latter is more costly.”

“Depends on the price, I suppose, but reusable would be preferable.”

There’s a pensive, muffled muttering.

“Look for the stuffed bear with the jaunty hat; not the fancy hat, the jaunty hat.”

It takes several minutes of searching, but Ane spots a cloth bear with old stitchings, big button eyes, and back-tentacles made from little tubes of stuffed linen. Unlike the bear next to him, which wears a feathered tricorn, this one has a handsome cap that sits slightly askew. It is indeed jaunty. The bear has a rather soft, earnest expression, despite being a depiction of a godless killing machine. 

“It balms pain,” the shopkeeper calls again, “So long as the bear itself is fully repaired; it does not actually heal, causes sadness when torn — disclaimer, that.”

Well, there’s likely no healing Thelorn as it is.

“I see… And how much is it?” She picks the bear up from the shelf, smoothing her fingers over the much-repaired stitching.

The shopkeeper, still slouching, squawks back, “Forty mitres! First purchase comes with a free Ulassian Eldritch Containment Vessel!” Oddly enough, his mouth doesn’t seem to move.

“Hmm,” Ane murmurs. Her hum wanders to the tiny caged creature again. 

Is this part of its persuasiveness?

Yes.

“Do you often get live creatures here, or is that one a special case?”

“Special case! The little thing shoplifted,” the voice replies dryly. 

Her brows knit. Shoplifted? What could it possibly have even tried to steal? One biscuit? A single copper bit? 

“How much to take it off your hands, then?” 

“I’ll p- fifteen miters,” the shopkeeper replies, head bobbing, mouth unmoving. 

Fifteen gold. So, fifty five for both. 

Granted, she shouldn’t be spending fifty five of anything — she’d intended to comb through S’varga’s market, but that was before she wanted to see if she could find something for Thelorn. She certainly didn’t intend to spend almost sixty miters. 

That would leave her with thirty, plus a handful of scutes and a load of bits. If Jarrik isn’t planning a Half Light Show, she’ll have to hustle tomorrow… Especially since there won’t be another large city on the road for awhile.

“I’ll give you forty,” Ane says firmly, as she dips a hand into her pocketbag for the money.

“Fifty!”

“Forty two.”

“Forty seven?”

“Forty five.”

“Wonderful…” The voice drums low, seeming pleased. 

There’s a soft scratching sound, and then a distinctly masculine-sounding, “Ow!” 

The shasii sits bolt upright, scratching at the scruff on his cheeks. 

“Nngh… Yes, thank you for your business,” he says, in an extremely-not-the-same voice. Boredly, he adds, “And here is your one-time, limited-stock Ulassian… El… Witch?”

Scratch.

Ow! Eldritch containment Vessel,” he grumbles, rubbing around his conspicuous hat, and reaches down behind his desk. He then draws out a sizable box, about one square foot and wrought in the shape of a hexagon. It is very obviously made of lead-lined wood, and looks rather heavy. Fortunately, the sides aren’t too thick, otherwise it would be ridiculous to carry. 

It’s still ridiculous to carry, but it could certainly be worse.

“It also has a free tote,” he explains, still boredly, and produces a thick burlap sack with a large, strikethrough “U” on the outside.

“Thank… you?” Ane says, not at all certainly. She cants her head gently to one side. “Are you alright?”

“Elated,” the man replies deadpan, then slumps back in his chair. He looks rather normal, if a bit drowsy and mildly perturbed. 

She’s not sure if he’s being sarcastic. Being around all of these things is likely to affect someone’s affect after awhile. 

It’s probably best for her to collect her things and flee, lest she get talked into buying a set of spoons that makes everything taste like baked cavefish from a hat that only talks on Fiirdei. 

As Ane makes her way out, a strangely feminine (and conspicuously avian) voice calls out. 

“Post-disclaimer, the bear can create dependency with repeated use! Maintain the seams!” After a short pause, it adds, “Thank you for visiting us, come again some-when!”

The creature, marked “Persuasive,” doesn’t ride in the box. It makes a chirping-whooshing sound of glee, a sort of “Fuip, fuip, fueep,”as it hops around in its little cage with no apparent sort of arms, legs, wings, or otherwise sensible locomotion. It’s like a little three-eyed bat, except with scales and a beak and no useful parts that Ane can see — it’ll probably take her several minutes of inspection to make heads or tails of it.

Though the head is, presumably, where the eyes are.

Ane can’t help but wonder how it was even able to have tried to shoplift anything, without hands to shoplift with or pockets to put things in, presumably. At least it seems happy to be out of the store, though it might just be looking forward to all of the things it can try to convince her to do. 

The creature, for its part, makes no effort to educate Ane about its anatomy or intentions. Instead, it seems mildly elated by this new not-shop-place, and is expressing this emotion through various whistling sounds. 

The bear in the lead box also fails to contribute, for the time being.

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-13: Varied Treatment

Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal, at times slice-of-life. No amorous plans were dashed in the creation of this work.

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The next day’s fortune telling goes by in a flash. With the recent influx of cash, there’s no Half-Light Show today. As a result, the patrons are all fairly typical. Since it’s S’varga, another capital city, today’s take is pretty good too. By the time it’s passed, Ane has another ten mitres in her bowl, and a load of the city’s dramatic problems now removed from her tent. They’ll probably get more plentiful and interesting, once word about the caravan gets around.

For now, she has her day’s pay and some more free time. Not that it’s very “free” — part of what helped the day go by so quickly was that she kept her mind occupied. Now that she no longer has to worry about pulling cards, she can try to put some of her plans into action.

First, the monk.

But he isn’t posted by the dishes today.

Instead, he’s helping a very confused S’vargan install Ane’s new doors. It looks rather nice, actually; its scrollwork and such are fancier than before, and the wood is of a much better condition. It doesn’t look the same, of course, but it seems to have been easily fitted to her doorway. Right now, the Eternalist callosian is supervising while the shasii finishes up fastening the hinges.

He looks over his shoulder, lifting his brows. 

“Oh, hello! We’re almost done,” he says, assuringly.

“He-” Oh, right. Ane’d told Jarrik to have her door fixed. She’d been so eager to forget having to talk to him, it had been completely forgotten. “–Hello. I need your help with something, if,” she says, with a gesture toward the door, “You can be spared for a bit.”

“Oh, sure,” he agrees amiably. “He’s just finishing up. So, what was the thing?”

The S’vargan wanders off, having fully affixed Ane’s new door. There are other repairs to make, and he’s hoping to make them while Jarrik’s still close enough for him to demand payment.

“First,” she begins, “How good are you at hair, and how is your reading voice?” While she’s glad to have an actual door again, there are more pressing matters at hand. She clasps her hands tensely behind her, as she eagerly awaits the monk’s reply

He taps his chin, thinking for a moment. 

“Well, I have a pair of scissors I use to cut my own,” he reasons, running a hand through his long, yet neatly trimmed and braided hair. “As for reading, I’m only a passing orator; I didn’t win the prize for it, when last there was a poetry read-off at the Vault of Sojethys,” he reflects, drumming his fingers. 

“Yes, g-” Ane pauses, as a perplexed frown crosses her face. “Do you… Actually work for the caravan?”

“I’m provided passage in exchange for labor,” he answers naively. 

Ane pinches the bridge of her nose. Of course Jarrik isn’t paying him. Why would he, when the earnest young monk is so eager to be helpful anyhow? 

“Alright, look. If you can help the klorrian man out with a haircut, maybe a bath, and maybe read to him a little, I’ll pay you.”

He shrugs his shoulders. 

“Sure, as it pleases you.” The monk seems amenable to this. “Does he desire these services? He was rather… terse, when I tried talking while changing his chamber pot.”

Ane exhales a heavy sigh. 

“I don’t know, but he can’t keep sitting in his own filth in a wagon he never leaves. He could die in there, and I’ve a feeling all Jarrik would care about was the cost of burying him.”

The monk nods in agreement. 

“I probably won’t make much headway in conversing with him, but… I think you are in the right,” he says, with confident resolve. “He’s bound to deteriorate further otherwise. You are doing something good, here,” he says warmly. 

“I hope so,” Ane grumbles, though she doesn’t seem at all confident, “I hate going against his wishes, but something needs to be done. Just find what you need to help him clean up and be more comfortable, I’ve a few other things to arrange.”

“It’s probably the only way his wishes can be understood, for now,” he agrees. “In any case, I am happy to help. I’ll get right on that,” he assures her, and strides off to obtain the requisite supplies. 

One down.

Ane is never quite sure where to find Vasht. He might be in his wagon, he might be with the mercenaries, he might be off somewhere trying to plug yet another gap in the caravan’s operations. As a result, it takes her awhile to finally track him down…

Because he’s trying to do his laundry again.

He’s on the second shirt when Ane arrives. He appears to be wearing the shirt he washed yesterday, with a lace-tied collar left untied and the sleeves rolled up. Vasht notices her presence, and pauses washing to sit upright and give her a curious look.

“Need something, Ane?”

Ane clears her throat softly, adjusting the braid over her shoulder before she strolls into view. 

“Nothing really, I was just wondering,” she lightly trails her fingertips over the fronds of a pale fern near the edge of the stream. In response, the leaves gently turn and curl inward. “How serious you were about your offer yesterday.”

He watches her with a measured interest, first from her body language, then her words. He looks away for a moment, then looks back, his keen eyes firm with resolve. 

“Rather serious; I don’t promise things I won’t provide,” he answers with a casual air. 

“Really? I’ve a…,” Ane momentarily nibbles at her lower lip, with a sidelong, downcast hum, “Pretty serious problem that could use some handling.” She places one slender hand on the curve of her hip, angled backward to lightly press her fingertips to her lower back.

A part of Vasht, when presented the words “serious problem,” is swift to straighten his posture and recall where he most recently laid his knife belt. But Ane’s body language convinces him to do otherwise — he just cautiously regards her while he brushes a hand across the soft cloud of chest hair visible from his collar. 

“Well… I’m sure there’s something I can do for you,” he replies, his voice slipping a note lower than usual. “What is it?”

“I was thinking… Maybe you could meet me on the rimward edge of the camp? By the old alosin wagon,” she says, her voice dipping into the silky purr usually reserved for soothing truculent customers. “There’s not much room in my wagon, and it’s quieter there…”

Vasht now furrows his brow for a second, cocking his head to the side. As alluring as Ane’s routine may be, he knows her well enough to understand one or two of her tricks. Abandoning the basket, he rises to stand, and walks up to her confidently. 

“Oh, I’m sure it is,” he says in his own rough, sultry tone, leaning forward just a tad. It gives a generous view of his strong chest through his collar, and there’s just the slightest catch of the rustic scent of soap and leather. 

“So what is it you really want, then?”

Damn it.

“Weeell,” she replies, drawing out the word in the same honeyed tone, “You offered a massage…”

“Mm-hmm…” He nods slowly, eyebrow raised, bidding her to continue. 

Her plush lips pout softly. It’s almost a hurt gesture, as if she might overcome his suspicions by silently chiding him. 

“… And I came to collect.”

He drops his veneer of playful scrutiny and lets out a warm, amused laugh. 

“Alright… Though I owe you a massage as well, once I get done with whatever you’re having me tend.” He smiles, shaking his head. “Alright. Let’s go. Are the alosins injured in the joints?”

Ane lets go of a relieved sigh. No longer required to keep her back thrust in an exaggerated curve, her back relaxes with a little wriggle of her shoulders and a flip of her braid. 

“It’s not them,” she explains, as her hurried strides devour the ground between the water and the wagon, “It’s the man Jarrik brought to camp the other day… He spends almost all of his time in pain. I tried to help, but I don’t exactly have experience beyond rubbing in a little salve, you know?” 

Hopefully, the young Eternalist has been able to make some headway in providing some hygiene help. Otherwise, she might need Vasht’s aid with that, too.

As they walk, Vasht’s smile blooms somewhat further from the discussion. He apparently seems somewhat heartened that Ane is calling on him to take care of someone. He nods in agreement.

“I could see him needing very varied treatment… I’m sure I can figure something out.”

The occasional glimpse of him smiling earns him a raised eyebrow and a curious, sidelong hum from Ane. She’s much more used to the Vasht who spends his days flinging knives into boards and agonizing over things.

When they arrive at the wagon, the door is still slightly ajar. Inside, the Eternalist has begun to move about his tasks. The room is still unlit, though Ane can of course see that some work has been done in here. The hay bales are pinned down by a few old blankets and tarps, to at least keep the dust down, and the floor is still damp from a thorough scrubbing. Ane hadn’t asked the monk to do these things, and it makes her heart glad to see them.

When she approaches, with Vasht waiting in the door, the monk is sitting on one of the hay bales. The man is in his previous position, still, though now his arms at least have a kind of hay-and-blanket cushion beneath either of them. His hair has also been trimmed neatly; it’s impossible for an eyed barber to get a perfect cut in the near-darkness, but at least all his loose ends and scraggly bits are gone. He still has a thoroughly dejected appearance, but he definitely looks better with his hair cropped closer and given a wash. 

The man looks up when he sees Ane.

“You came back,” he states.

“Told you I would,” she says brightly, as she steps into the dark interior of the wagon. It does look far better than it did before — hopefully it didn’t bother the man too much to have the monk going about his duties. “How are you today?”

“Alright,” he replies, his tone lumbering as he does. “This is strange, for me.”

“I know it might be a lot to get used to, but it might make you feel a bit better,” she explains, “If anything hurts or bothers you, we will stop.” 

He grunts in vague assent. As crestfallen as he often seems, he also comes off as rather compliant. He’s also responding more quickly than before, which Ane takes as a tiny sign of progress.

By the look of things, the monk hasn’t been able to work him up to a bath yet, but that might take some time and convincing on his part. Regardless, the slight change in circumstance makes for a noticeable improvement.

“I brought another friend today… They can help you like I did, yesterday, only they’re better at it,” Ane continues. She glances over her shoulder, waving for Vasht to step inside. 

“To stop the pain?” He asks, his voice sounding hopeful, almost fervent. Before Ane answers, he lowers his head. “Alright…”

Vasht enters behind Ane, taking a moment for his eyes to adjust to the low light. He tucks his wings in close, as he sweeps the wagon with a glance. 

“Hello,” he calls. “I’ll be helping you with that. All you have to do is stay still, alright?”

The man responds with another grunt, as he grimly regards his lower arms. He doesn’t seem intent on moving them if he doesn’t have to, anyway. 

“You can stay for a bit and talk to him, if you like,” Vasht whispers to Ane, “It might make it easier for me to work. And he seems to know you, after all.”

The monk, for his part, scoots out silently — unwilling to crowd the space, especially when there will still be things for him to do later anyway.

Ane nods, sitting herself on one tarp-covered hay bale. The mysterious man has only spoken to her once before, but she’s managed to make at least a little conversational headway. She draws her knees up to her chest, looping her arms around them as she makes herself comfortable.

“I’m sorry, I never asked you your name.”

It’s something she does feel a bit badly about — though, to be honest, not knowing his name didn’t even manage to crack the top five list of things that needed fixing yesterday. 

The man is silent for a few moments, before shaking his head.

“I am called Thelorn.”

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-12: Gettin’ By

Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal, at times slice-of-life. No knife-throwers’ laundry was left unwashed in the creation of this work.

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Much as she noticed during the medicine scheme, there are advantages to living in something that’s essentially a glorified costume closet with a bed in it. Even if the clothes aren’t new, many of them are still serviceable — some of them are even in decent condition, albeit in odd sizes meant for performers who took their leave long ago.

Ane isn’t really sure how the mysterious man might feel about a shift of woven floral fabric, but it’s the only thing she’s found that comes close to his size. That’s why, about a half hour after finding it, opening all of the seams below the shoulders, and sewing in some pieces of satin ribbon, she’s kneeling on the bank of the stream with the shift, a pot of hot water and mordant powder, and the spiralis dye she bought in Paakoponde. She doesn’t know if he’d be bothered by a shirt covered in flowers, but at least she can make some effort to make them less obvious. The woven flowers look the same to her either way, but people with eyes seem to place a lot of stock in the colors of such things.

Now if only she could tell when the fabric’s been dyed. 

“Hey, Nelea!” She calls out, holding the dripping shift up with the end of a stick, “Does this look like a color to you?”

“It does!” She calls back with a smile.

“Good!” Ane transfers it to the drying line. Unlike most shasii, Ane does have an idea of what many colors look like — albeit by borrowing an unwitting pair of eyes now and then. Nonetheless, it would be a complicated affair to ride the mind of another creature just to make sure she’s dyed this soon-to-be shirt properly.

It’s a strange looking garment, with it’s opened seams, ribbon ties, and overdyed flowers, but hopefully it’ll work.

Ane soon finds she has company — a wild Vasht! The feathered knife thrower wanders up to the river side, once again carrying a big basket of laundry. He clasps it tightly between skillful hands, clenched with determination. Recalling last time, he only ever managed to wash about… One shirt. And it has been… One day. Now Vasht is here again, back at square one, kneeling down beside Ane.

“Hello there. Looking into some new fashion?” He asks casually, as he begins to dip a pair of trousers into the water. 

“Funny,” she says flatly, as she arranges the shirt over the line. “Washing the izash pepper stink out of yours?” 

“Oh no, that’d be futile,” he replies, giving her a dry look. “I’m making sure there isn’t any more clown paint on anything, ever.”

Ane scoffs. “Good luck with that, my tablecloth’s stuck proclaiming the virtues of Doctor Lartimus forever.

“As will all the new guards,” he says, practically beaming. “Now that we’ve at least gotten through testin’ half of them.”  He lifts up the trousers, thoroughly soaked, and begins scrubbing them thoroughly with soap. “Did you make that name up, by the way?” He asks.

She picks a stray thread from the edge of the shirt, and shrugs.

“More or less. I just strung together the most pompous sounds I could think of at the time.”

Vasht smirks. 

“I think that’s just the thing for S’varga. Any longer, and we would’ve been run out by someone with a longer name and a hat,” Vasht figures. He’s looking rather well, still; though that might just be the flattering glow of torchlight, or the way his taut forearms look while wringing out a shirt. Nevermind the generous V of that shirt he’s wearing…

All this, because Ane interrupted him last time. Any more of those urgent schemes, and he’d probably run out before long. Fortunately, he wasn’t trying to wash clothes while Ane was by the river earlier.

“Have a foolish problem, I can come up with foolish solutions,” she explains breezily. She dusts her dye-spotted hands together, satisfied with the current state of her handiwork. 

Vasht pauses washing, curious to see said handiwork. He shrugs one shoulder.

“Not foolish if it works. Never did get the chance to thank you for that… It did a lot of good for us.” A corner of his lips tugs back, as he adds, “I might actually get some sleep now, like ya said.”

“Yeah,” Ane sighs. She arches her spine with a faint frown, tenderly kneading the muscles of her lower back with her fingertips. If only she’d saved some of that chest salve for herself. “I saw you enjoy the fruits of our labors while they were getting all sweaty and grappley on each other.”

His look of warmth and gratitude, while a glimpse of shardshine, is now joined by the sardonic cloud of his fluffed eye-wing. 

“Ah, you were spectating? Seems you leaned forward so far that you hurt your back there,” he ripostes. 

Ane purses her lips together, narrowing her swirls at him . 

“Looks like I was mistaken the other day,” she fires an acerbic shot back, “You are still the same vleark you were as a kid. Just taller.”

“And I dance better,” he adds. “And you’re still getting in my hair, when I’m trying to thank you,” he says, lofting his un-winged brow. 

“Well, I’ll be out of your hair in a moment — I was hoping to be able to take a bath,” Ane retorts airily, “But it looks like you’re going to be here for awhile.”

She bends neatly at the waist, reaching down to tilt and pour the bucket of rapidly-cooling spiralis dye onto the springy ground. Once it’s empty, she props it on her hip and turns to saunter away.

He lets out a light sigh, and runs a hand through his hair. 

“I wasn’t trying to get rid of ya. You can go ahead, I’ll handle this later. Void knows I’ve put’cha through enough…” Vasht sits up, moving aside the shirt he was working on. He bites his lip, a subtle, silent self-admonishment. 

“You’re going to smell like peppers and booze still,” Ane chides him over her shoulder, with a playful tilt of her head and point of her chin in the direction of his laundry, “Though I guess that’s better than sweat and blade oil…”

“I didn’t realize you had so many opinions about my fragrances,” he replies, as a tesing warth returns to his expression. “Though I could always visit your wagon, and get that puffroot perfume goin’ again… Not a bad smell, that.”

“I don’t know, puffroot might take the edges off your cranky, haven’t-slept-in-a-week charm. What would the caravan followers think?” Ane turns to face him again, though she keeps the bucket propped on a cocked hip.

He continues to give her that amused, incredulous look, similarly postured with his clothes basket beside him. 

“They might think I’m not a knife-wielding rogue that murders wood for a living. That’d really sour my reputation,” he agrees sardonically. 

Ane opens her mouth to counter, but swiftly closes it.

“Nope. Too easy.”

He tilts his head sideward. 

“Gonna let me wallow in ignorance, unchastened by your powerful quip?” He crosses his tattooed arms, still a bit wet from the halted clothes-washing. After a pause, his eye widens as it dawns on him. He sighs,  “Wow, I’m really hitting the gurr’s-eye today.”

Ane tries to stifle a snicker, with limited success. 

“Glad to see I’m entertaining somebody today,” he says, pillowing his chin on his palm. “And while being not sharp at all. Completely dull. This is a new bit for me,” he appraises, smiling as he endures her stifled laughter. 

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure Jarrik’ll have another Half Light Show for you soon enough.”

“That’s right. And then I’ll be even more muscular, for when you have me parading around S’varga shirtless,” he replies, brushing a hand dry across his chest. 

“Well, don’t hold your breath. I’m not exactly eager to try to wring more bits out of the city’s garrison of tailors, grocers, and scullery staff,” she retorts.

“Probably a good call,” he agrees. Then there’s a slight pause, and he adds, “I’ll have to hope no one recognizes my tattoos at the next half-light…”

“Which is what the grease paint was for,” Ane points out.

“Hmm, good point. I’d forgotten about that part.” He says, glancing towards his clothes. There was certainly enough going on at the time for a little paint to have slipped his mind.

“I know what you mean, though,” he adds in a reflective tone, “I did feel kinda bad, doing a scam and whatnot. Usually that’s someone else’s thing.” He rubs at one bicep, looking back to Ane. There’s a certain hardness to his expression. Perhaps it’s determination, perhaps a dogged sense of protectiveness. “It was for caravan, though, so… I’m glad we did it.” 

“Jarrik’s thing,” she corrects him, “And yeah… It’s a Void-damned sight better than having half our throats slit and the other half of us sold to Skraj by the next bunch of bandits.”

He nods, casting his gaze downward for a second. “Yeah… I don’t know what I would’ve done if one of us was hurt or taken in all of that,” he reflects, as his voice grows husky. “It kinda hit me, when I saw that door of yours. Kept thinking all ‘what if,’ you know?” He shakes his head.

“That’s why I was smiling so much, earlier. It was great to see everyone laughin’, not worrying about who’d get stabbed, or flattened by some Rhytalo build-a-bastard bullshit.” His lips curve back into a smile. “Plus it was funny.”

“If it came to ‘if,’ at least one bandit would’ve gotten his face caved in — part golem or no. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Aedas and that other guy — Bugbeard? — were still at it.”

“Glad to hear you still have that old jawbone handy… Makes me wish I wasn’t further down the train when you used it,” Vasht comments, a note of warm respect in his tone. “Would’ve been nice to see that, after the retelling Narue gave everybody,” he says with a smirk. 

“Narue,” Ane gives a little shake of her head as she shifts her hold on the bucket. “The shadowlands’re enough to twist anyone’s head around, and she had to watch another mercenary eat the dirt maybe a minute before that fight happened. I wouldn’t call her narration reliable.”

Vasht chuckles. “Well… When you gotta look at things like that… you focus on what you need to, to get by.” He says, hauling his basket up in his arms, rising to stand. 

“I guess so.”

When he stands with his basket, Ane bends to deposit the bucket on the ground. Without anyone doing laundry here, this part of the stream is relatively empty and peaceful even with the wagons backed up to it. It’s also pleasantly warm, courtesy of the geyser at its distant source.

“Speakin’ of getting by… If you have more of that back trouble, maybe I can help out sometime. Remember that time we got stuck in the mountains outside Valistea, and I had to find work in a massage house?” Vasht recalls. “Besides, I probably owe you for all the sleep I’ll be gettin’.” He smiles broadly, hefts up his basket of clothes, and begins to wander off with a spring in his step. It’s almost odd to see Vasht happy like this… His sharp features, the broody swoop of his wing, and his general gruffness all go against it. It almost balances him out. Almost.

Ane arches her brow at him as he walks away. Did he really just-

He did.

If he worked in a massage house, maybe he can help.

The wheels of her mind tick along as she strips off of her clothes and wades into the warm, slightly brackish water. She dips her head under the surface, before whipping her hair back in a cascade of glittering drops.

Ane had been able to offer the mysterious man a little relief, but not as much as he could get from someone with more experience. She isn’t sure how much of the man’s circumstances are wrought from despair rather than disability, but it’s obvious something more needs to be done. He’s probably bored, brooding with nothing to do but stare at the walls of his wagon all day. Nelea goes to see him, along with whoever isn’t busy at the moment, but it’s hardly regular. He needs a haircut, probably needs his claws trimmed, he definitely needs a bath…

She rubs the soap over her arms and shoulders, working it into a lather over her skin.

The light seems to bother him, so some simple bits of fabric over the windows might be a mercy. He’d turned down much of what she offered, but providing some things as a “just-in-case” might be welcome. He doesn’t seem to like noise, either, but maybe something could be done about that? Some kind of hat, maybe, or a way for him to cover his ears and shut out the sometimes-raucous sounds of the caravan. 

She trails the bar of soap down her stomach, gently washing the tattoo inside of her hip.

Ane has more books than she can read. Some of them, in fact, are printed in flat inks that she couldn’t read if she wanted to. Though she’d hate to part with even one book from Cerine’s collection, he might need them more than she does… If he can’t read, maybe she could find a caravan follower who’s passably literate.

Maybe the monk? If he can do calligraphy, he can read. Of course, she’s already relied on him to perform one of the most unsavory tasks of caring for the man…

Ane finishes scrubbing up before retiring to her wagon to plan.

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-11: Twisted Arms

Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal. No fae-twisted farmers were harmed in the creation of this work.

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After all the nonsense that comes with another day in the grand caravan, Ane has a couple of hours to herself. Inevitably, however, a knock sounds against her (still broken) door. This time it’s three soft raps — polite, but without Jarrik’s overbearing air. An even, gentle voice follows, “Hello, it’s Nelea.”

Nelea?

Strange, the animal trainer doesn’t often visit her wagon. Well, once, when one of her gelthounds came down with worms as a puppy, but Ane has the distinct impression that this is not about that.

“Coming,” she calls out, “Gimme a minute.”

Really, it takes closer to three minutes for her to shift her door. She does manage to succeed eventually, leaving a triangular space beside the half-hanging upper door for her to talk through.

Sure enough, there’s the callosian. She’s of a rather stout build, and has tumbles of extremely light hair that spills in tight curls down from under a straw hat, contrasting with her deeply tanned skin. She smiles politely, and stands with her hands in front of her clasping the handle of a basket — an almost comically girlish pose contrasted with her imposing musculature. She’s no Aedas (or Bugbeard), but it’s enough to throw off the image for certain. That, and the rather stern, architecturally beautiful angles of her face. 

“Hello,” she says. “Sorry to bother you, Miss Ane. I’m not here for myself,” she explains. 

Ane nods, leaning forward slightly to peer through the door-gap at the trainer’s basket. Her curiosity was already piqued; the basket makes it doubly so. 

“Everything alright?”

“Well, yes,” she says, hesitating. “In a sense. First, do you remember the klorr who joined us in the last city? Tall, mysterious, a condition about his arms,” she explains tactfully. “Well, he hasn’t come out of that wagon since then, and it’s…” Nelea pauses and sighs, her stoic posture somewhat wilting.

“It’s just not healthy. He needs light, air, and water,” she says, voice heavy with concern. “We’ve been taking turns bringing him food and drink, but it’s not safe to go on like that. It’d be great if you could take a turn, and maybe you can talk to him?” She lifts the basket, indicating its contents. It has some of the day’s dinner, rendered in a less messy form; chopon cutlets, some biscuits, vegetables strained out of the gravy, and a lidded cup of water. 

Nelea continues, “We’ve each tried, to no avail yet. Even if you can’t make him feel that comfortable, well… Every bit counts, you know?”

The man with the twisted arms!

Ane had forgotten about him in the midst of everything else. Which, really, probably just serves to emphasize Nelea’s point — she certainly would’ve noticed if he’d been out and about. By the time the callosian is done asking, Ane is already clambering through her broken door. 

“I’ll take it to him. Which wagon is he in?”

Nelea nods, holding out the basket with one hand and motioning off to her side with the other.

The wagon she indicates is an old, unadorned thing, with large double doors on one end. By the look of the rustic vehicle, it was once likely used as a place to hold the alosins when they needed to be indoors. By Ane’s memory, though, it fell out of that use and ended up being converted to storage. It’s often opened when people need to draw out sacks of grain or hay for the animals. This means it likely has plenty of open space, though with lots of dusty feed bunched all around.

“It is said that he chose it himself, shortly after arriving. None of us had the chance to talk to him beforehand, and he hasn’t spoken much since,” Nelea explains, her worry clearly evident in her tone.

“I don’t blame him, really. Have you seen what Brair and them are getting up to?” Ane holds the basket from the bottom, careful not to jostle the contents as she strikes out for the old wagon. 

“I can’t say I have,” Nelea fibs, with a hint of mirth. “In any case, good luck.”

Hopefully he’s feeling sociable, Ane thinks to herself. Nelea would probably have warned her if she thought he wasn’t, but Ane knows nothing about the man outside of his twisted arms. 

Even with the door closed, the scent of dry, dusty hay makes her nose itch as she approaches. She pauses for a long moment, keen ears perked to listen for any sounds coming from the wagon — not that she’s likely to hear anything more than muffled noises through the thick wood. Even so, there are sounds of breathing, likely from someone rather large, and a thick silence between each breath. There is no movement, no voice, nothing.

Cautiously, she raises a hand to knock sharply on the broad double doors.

A deep susurration follows, short and simple. It’s not a growl, nor a noise of displeasure. It sounds most like a mumble of assent. As for the wagon itself, the door doesn’t even seem to be bolted. She waits for the door to open, then silently curses herself for it. He probably couldn’t open the door even if he wanted to…

“I’m coming in,” she says, pressing her lips to the narrow gap between the doors. She gives one a tug, mentally bracing herself for whatever it is she’s about to see.

Were she not a shasii, Ane would mostly see a tall, dark shape hunched against the far wall, sitting with legs splayed across the floor. Since Ane can see perfectly, however, the man isn’t afforded any discretion by the darkness. He’s tall, perhaps muscular, albeit in a limited fashion about the shoulders and back. Otherwise he’s rather gaunt, with scraggly hair and wide, sharp klorrian eyes. They open slightly when Ane peers, in, though they remain downcast. Of course, most importantly, his arms lay heavily beside him on two hay bales  — heavy enough to make the tops sag and the sides crumble.

He doesn’t speak. His facial features are a tad strange, perhaps duller than most. He doesn’t seem afflicted by anything beyond his arms, but it’s still a disturbing sight — he looks like he’s badly in need of some fresh air, let alone a haircut and clean clothing. Ane’s brow furrows in concern as she takes a tentative step into the wagon’s dark interior.

“I brought you some food,” she says, giving the basket a little heft, “Chopon and gravy, with biscuits. Are you… Do you need anything else?”

There’s a slight pause. 

“Naw.” 

As blunt a refusal as it is, the tone of his voice doesn’t sound intentionally brusque. The accent even seems a bit thickened, as if in an attempt to mollify the intruder.

Ane moves to set the basket down, but stops midway through. Instead, she takes a step back, closer to the door.

“Why don’t you come outside and eat? The air’s fresher, and it’s brighter and less dusty…”

“… Quieter,” he says thickly. It seems to take him some time, before he adds, “This is for me.” There’s no comfort in his tone; instead, he sounds deeply resigned.

“Do you need it quiet? We can find curtains for the windows, or something to dull the noise,” she offers.

He hesitates, as if hitting a kink in his thoughts. Then he just shakes his head. 

“I can… have this. Maybe,” he replies.

His response, however short it is, urges her to keep going, to try to keep the mysterious man talking. 

“I can see what I can do to make it more comfortable. Pillows, maybe? Or a wash basin? Maybe a blanket? It’s warm now, but it gets cold on the trip sometimes…”

The klorr starts to open his mouth, as if to object. Ultimately, he just remains silent.

Well, that didn’t work.

She moves forward, slowly, as if she’s afraid of spooking him. Once she’s set the basket down within his reach, she steps back a pace.

“Do you want me to go?”

He begins to shake his head side-to-side, but stops himself again. One shoulder shrugs instead. His eyes shift briefly to regard the basket of food, then back to the same spot on the floor. 

Ane watches his flat affect and apathetic demeanor. Puzzled, she edges a little closer.

“Do you need help to eat?”

The klorr regards the food again, hesitantly. There are some stains on the floor nearby, likely from previous meals. At this point, it becomes apparent that there’s also a foul smell in one corner of the room; it seems he pressed a chamber-pot into service, and somehow covers it with hay afterwards. Truly, he has not left this wagon.

“I shouldn’t need,” he replies simply. 

“Do you,” She’s loathe to ask, but Void, someone has to — it’s painfully obvious the man’s being neglected. If he won’t, or can’t, do for himself, there has to be someone who does. Why bring him into the caravan just to let him languish here like this? “Do you need some help cleaning up?”

Nelea and whoever else is helping him have flailed against this bare minimum. By now, that chamber pot would’ve needed dumping several times over. Fortunately, as bad as it smells, it doesn’t seem he’s been using anything else. Though, if the man doesn’t leave… Then there are few other options but to await someone changing it.

“I shouldn’t need,” the man repeats somberly. “Bad things.”

Shouldn’t, fine. But you do.

“What kind of bad things?”

Her nose wrinkles at the smell. The longer she stands there, the stronger it seems to get — she’ll be splashing around in the stream with five pounds of soap just to get rid of the odor on herself. 

The klorr answers, his voice husky. 

“The light… that pain… these arms.” He lifts each of them, twisted as they are, then lets them fall back on the hay bales with a thump. 

“Pain? What kind of pain?”

“When I changed.”

So he wasn’t always like this…

It seems obvious, in retrospect. If he’d been born this way, she doubts he could’ve survived until adulthood. With his stilted speech, he may not be fluent in Skilhouran common. If he’s from one of the klorr tribes, his twisted arms would’ve been an even bigger challenge to growing up in a hunting society that relies on living closely with dangerous gurran behemoths.

“I’ll tell you what,” she says firmly. Though she doesn’t know him at all, she’s at least mostly convinced that his arms are too cumbersome to try to harm her — if he did, she could probably get away quickly, or at least yell for help in time. Even if he tells her he doesn’t want help cleaning up, that chamberpot needs to go. “I won’t leave — I’ll come back. If you let me take that,” she points to the pile of soiled hay, “I will bring you something that might help with the pain.”

For the first time since Ane entered, he looks up. His eyes subtly widen, and he looks more present than moments ago. There is certainly a glimmer of intelligence in there, and a very deliberate sense about him. If there’s any emotion visible behind his eyes, it’s a long sorrow.

“Yes,” he answers. “Please.” His tone wavers.

Finally, she’s getting somewhere. She’s not sure where, but somewhere.

“I will come back. For now, eat.”

… Now she just has to figure out how to handle the chamberpot. 

The hay is already making her nose itch, and she can feel bumps raising on her bare skin where the dust touches. Above all that, the sharp ammonia burn of an overfilled chamberpot sears her nose — had she eyes, they’d be watering. Ane turns toward the door, inhales a lungful of fresh air, and steels herself.

Somehow, she manages to maneuver around the man, and make it back outside with the chamberpot in her arms. She doesn’t want to think about what’s running over her arms and staining her sleeves, or the constant tiny thwats of flying insects ricocheting off of her face. She definitely doesn’t want to look down to see the mass of hay and waste crawling with maggots.

Ane upends the chamberpot several yards from the wagon. She must be a repulsive sight, holding a recently-dumped chamberpot and reeking like a barnyard, but she tries to flag down the first moving shape she sees anyway.

Fortunately, luck is with her as Wila, Vila and Zila float by. They don’t appear to be particularly preoccupied, outside of a leisurely walk and some light chatter.

“Dishes though? Really?”

“Well, he probably had to keep his, his monk-skills far from the fight!”

“Uh-huh…”

“You know, so nobody gets hurt. Have you heard what Eternalists can do?”

Hopefully they’re good at scrubbing.

“Wila, Vila, Zila! Speaking of dishes…”

The three of them rotate together, looking towards Ane. Generally, they’d often look like they’re just walking with linked arms, if it weren’t for the way they all turn as a unit.

“Oh, hello!” Zila chirps.

“What is it, Ane?” Wila asks, and holds her nose on reflex.

“I need the monk, a tin of Dynkala’s chest rub, a bucket, a scrub brush, some lye soap, a very long ribbon, and a piece of chalk,” Ane says, between gasps of fresh(ish) air.

Vila gives her a dry look. 

“I hope you don’t think we can scatter to fetch these for you.”

Zila gives her a small swat on the shoulder. 

“What Vila means, is, we’ll be right back.”

“It just might take a little while,” Wila adds. “We aren’t exactly swift, though Dynkala should have all of that.”

Ane breathes a sigh of relief.

“Alright, great. Yes. Thank you. I’ve got… Very urgent business to do,” she explains without explaining.

“Very well,” Wila says with a sigh. “We will return here.”

“Well, things turned out great last time she doled out errands,” Vila mutters as they begin to float away. This earns a murmur of agreement from one of the others.

“Don’t forget the monk!” Ane calls out after them.

 

About ten minutes later, the aforementioned monk arrives, sans the triplets. He does have all of the requested items under his arms, however. Such is the way, when dealing with the triplets; at least one is liable to get impatient, no matter what the task.

He stands there dutifully. “What is needed?” He asks, tilting his head sideward. 

“Hope you’ve got a strong stomach,” Ane says grimly, “I’ve dumped that pot and buried the waste, but it still needs to be cleaned. Then I might need your help there.” She cants her head first toward the chamberpot, then toward the dusty wagon. “I’ll take the ribbon, chalk — they didn’t forget the chalk, did they? Good — and the chest rub, for now. Just try to get that as clean as you can.”

The monk nods dutifully, and fixes the chamberpot with grim regard. That will be his next challenge. 

With the requisite items in hand, Ane ducks back inside the mysterious man’s wagon.

Inside the wagon, the man remains silent. He does look up when Ane enters, however. There’s still that sad look in his eyes. 

 She sets the chalk and ribbon on the floor, as she kneels down within reach of him. She can still smell wafts of the chamberpot-reek, but at least the chest rub might help cover some of it…

“Where does it hurt?” She asks him, as she pulls the wide cork from the little earthenware pot.

The klorr lifts his elbows, which are the last bastion of normalcy prior to the twisted mess below. 

“There,” he indicates, almost biting his lip. It seems he has trouble even just acknowledging it. 

And given any understanding of anatomy, well… It’s unthinkable that his lower arms could function, circulate blood, or feel pain, yet they do seem alive, despite the constricting bones and contorted flesh. It defies sense. If his elbows are the last place following the rules of biology, then they must be suffering a pain most bizarre and cruel.

She nods, though she’s unsure how to tackle this. Though the chest rub is made to ease coughing and congestion, the sharp, camphoraceous coldness is helpful for soothing pained muscles. Is this even muscle pain? She doesn’t know — she’s not sure he does, either. Muscle, bone, ruptured tendons, it could be anything.

Ane scoops a generous dollop of the salve onto her fingertips, brow furrowed with concern as she hums over his elbow. If only she knew where to begin…

“I’m going to use this,” she says, holding up the glob of oily salve, “If it hurts you too much, tell me and I’ll stop. Someone is helping me, he can come to clean up a little if you’d like. He’ll be quiet.”

The klorr nods, though he’s not entirely sure to what he’s agreeing.

And, with that, she gently daubs one of the man’s elbows in the pungently minty rub. He winces with pain at the first contact, but calms as the soothing chill of the rub sets in. His teeth grit in his closed mouth, remaining otherwise still. 

“… Helps,” he mumbles. Naturally, it’s only a muscle rub, but it’s more of a reprieve than he’s likely experienced in a long time. He doesn’t exactly look like he’s visited a real physician, after all. A doctor would probably just amputate both limbs from the elbows down… But the condition is so bizarre, would it even follow that logic? The twisted structures almost look botanical in nature. Would they just regrow? It’s impossible to tell by looking at them. 

Ane nods, relieved to hear it’s helping a little. She takes his elbow in both of her hands, gently probing and kneading the joint with the tips of her fingers. The hot, thickened areas of swollen muscle and congested blood get a little more attention, as she attempts to ease the blood flow back toward his heart. She can feel the scarred, adhering fascia beneath his skin, but it would take more expert hands than hers to try to release it.

The treatment also gives a deeper sense of his condition. Whatever did this, there’s a sense of real malice in the result. The way the bone splits so wickedly, then spins around itself… It’s like what a child might do to two blades of grass, bored in a field, wrapping the two together then pulling them taut… But never hard enough to break. 

It’s deliberate. Something with a mind did this.

“Thank you,” the klorr murmurs in his raspy voice. 

“You’re welcome,” she replies, distracted by the motions of her hands. She moves from one elbow to the other, repeating the same process — apply the salve, feel for what’s hurting, and try to ease pains she can barely even guess at. 

Was he punished? Or just cruelly used for something’s sport? She can’t tell, and doesn’t think he’d tell her if she asked. He might not even have the words for it. 

Once she has rubbed as much of the salve in as she can, she picks up the ribbon. If nobody had been by to try to help his pain or even regularly empty his chamberpot, there are probably plenty of other things that have been neglected, too.

“I need to use this — it’ll only take a minute, and, if it hurts you, I will stop,” she assures him.

He just stares at the ribbon, knitting his brow. He nods in assent, however.

Ane stands, maneuvering cautiously around the man to avoid bumping his arm with her knee. She stretches the ribbon across the breadth of his shoulders, before making a marking with the chalk. His upper arms are next, then the length of his spine. It’s a crude system, but it leaves her with a length of ribbon suitable for making approximations, at least. 

“I have to go soon,” she tells him, as she brushes a few clinging wisps of hay from her knees, “But I’ll come back tomorrow. I might not be the one who brings you your food, but I’ll come back.”

“Alright,” the klorr replies. His almost-perpetual frown is a bit less pronounced, forming closer to a flat line. It seems like a vast improvement, given his overall mood. Once again, he adds, “Thank you.”

Ane nods, stashing the rest of the pot of chest rub beside a hay bale. Hopefully it won’t be too hard to find next time.

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow.”