Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-21: Join the Mad King’s Joust

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When Ane returns to the camp, there’s quite a commotion around one end. People have gathered in a large, oblong circle, faces turned expectantly toward the center. The din of chatter raises high on the air, and alosins chuff loudly.

There also appear to be… banners? At least, Ane’s reasonably certain that the hanging clothes were intended to look like banners.  An even more motley collection has been draped all over what was probably Vasht the knife thrower’s wagon. Then, up top, a seat of some sort has been placed there.

Vasht’s wagon looks like a very odd nucleus for the whole thing, really.
And it all has a certain air about it.
You might call it “whimsy.” 

Oh.

Oh no.

What did the fweep-fweep do now? She’d thought Vasht was safe — if there’s one word she’d never use to describe him, it’s “whimsical.” But now there’re banners? And a group? With tables? She drops the things she’d collected from the undercity, a chair leg and hound’s skull, in her haste to go see what level of fuckery the caravan and her mind-controlling pet abomination have gotten up to in her absence.

As it turns out, they got up to quite a lot.

Ane has to push past the throng of observers, which is growing thicker by the minute. As soon as she finds a spot with a low shoulder, she darts her gaze around…

The first thing she spies is a scraped-bare strip of land, save for a rope fence running down the middle. When her gaze pans left, she sees… an alosin. Though that’s hardly the strange part. On the alosin is Brair, wearing a sheet as a sash and a large, ashen pot upon the top of his head. It sits jauntily on his brow, oddly complimenting the stark, firm expression on his bronzed face. The fire-slinging callosian today wields something else instead: a tall, wooden pole with a pillow tied around one end. 

Then, Ane pans her gaze to the right…

There’s another alosin, and this one is carrying Vasht. He has a curtain slung about his chest, in a most barbaric fashion (if barbarians had a thing for Valistean lace). His many sharp, sweeping tattoos paint a rather ominous picture; this, complete with the kettle perched upon his head, make him the perfect “dark knight.” He’s wielding a pillow-spear, similar to Brair’s. He also wears an expression of grim determination, though there’s a glimmer of chagrin in his eyes. It’s the look of a man that’s gotten himself into something, knows he looks ridiculous, and just has to commit to the bit.

And lording over the center, in the midst of the “banners” lining Vasht’s roof is an old oaken chair, perched imperiously right in the middle. Upon it sits a certain round, fuzzy creature, with an air of comical gravitas. Its little beak-mouth is set firmly, as if it too is pretending to take this all very seriously. It’s not bouncing or fweep’ing at the moment, but it nearly vibrates with an excited sort of energy. Its barely contained glee is almost childlike, under its  veneer of pretend-play. 

It has a small, yellow prop-crown on top of its head.

It is King Fweep-Fweep the Whimsical. This is his joust.

Ane groans to herself immediately before she begins to try to shoulder her way through the crowd. Brair and Vasht can have their pillow-fight for the moment — she is going to retrieve that fweep-fweep before someone loses an eye (or an ear, a wing…).

As Ane makes her way towards the wagon, the festivities begin to unfurl in earnest.

Jiselmo, standing in the center of the lanes, steps out wearing the full costume of a royal herald. He even has a long, brass horn with a flag on the end to match. 

“Hear ye, hear ye,” he calls out, “We gather today for the match of a lifetime! Today, two knights shall do battle for their honor. In the blue corner…”

He flings an arm out in the direction of Brair.

“SER BRAIR! Honorable knight of flame, lord of the pints, baron of the exploding wagon!”

Cheers erupt while Brair trots his alosin in a small circle, pounding his chest and waving his spear.

“And in the red corner… SER VASHT! The wicked dark knight, lord of edges, slayer of boards and fruits alike!”

Vasht receives a mixture of cheers and boos, as villains are wont to, though they’re all mixed in with laughter. Vasht, for his part, foregoes the grandstanding and instead raises his spear and points it towards Brair — a challenge!

Jiselmo cuts in, “Once more, simple rules! A knight who is lanced must remove their sash. A sashless-knight who is struck is DEFEATED! And if a knight falls off his alosin, he is both DEFEATED and VERY SILLY…”

Ane gently pinches the bridge of her nose. She knew the little thing was persuasive, but this. Half of the participants here have to be indulging it for fun. There’s no way something the size of an appo and a half could turn the caravan into this.

“Hey!” She calls sternly up to the fweep-fweep, “Either you come down, or I’m coming up.” 

Somehow.

“Fwip fwip fwip fwiiip fwip… fwep fwep…” The thing squeaks and whistles, babbling on, as if imitating a person’s speech. It doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to Ane. In fact… is it acting like a king? The crowd is silent, as if it’s officiating the start of the battle.

“Fuip… fwep… FWEEP!”

Cheers erupt as the alosins huff, scuffing their feet on the dirt. Then in a burst of activity, they LEAP! Both knights charge at each other valiantly, Brair in his ash-pot helm, Vasht wearing his kettle. The thunderous sound of galloping alosins fills the air, as a large dust cloud kicks up behind their springing legs.

The fighters lean low, gaining swiftness, ersatz pillow-spears held tightly to their sides and braced in brawny arms. The alosins leap with their heads low, charging for speed. 

There’s a moment of silent suspense.

Then, in a flurry of motion, the men pass and the spears flash into action! Brair goes for a very straightforward charge, but Vasht… oh, he’s a dark knight. And being the deft fighter he is, he ducks aside at the last second and thrusts his spear! His muscled arms tighten with tension as he swings his ‘weapon,’ striking Brair straight in the stomach. He takes the full weight of the alosin’s charge, coupled with the deftness of Vasht’s strike.

“Bwaaaahfuck!” Brair cries out, sent sailing off the (in hindsight, not-all-that-fast) alosin. He falls back while it charges onward, and he collides into the spongy tunnel ground with a thump.

At the other end of the lanes, Vasht brings his alosin to a stop. He then plants the haft-end of his spear in the ground, stands tall, and puffs out his mighty tattooed chest. 

“SER VASHT IS VICTORIOUS! A DECISIVE BLOW,” Jiselmo calls out, frantic with excitement.

He then toots his brass horn to make it official, while Brair sneakily wanders off to find a pint for his bruised pride and his jostled rear. 

“Right. I’m coming up,” Ane says, as she begins attempting to find hand- and footholds among all of the clothing hanging from Vasht’s wagon. If he ever did manage to find the time to do his shirt laundry, he’s going to have to do it again — the kicked-up dust from the alosins has not done them any favors. 

When she arrives at the top, the little fweep-fweep is looking quite fat and sassy in his “throne.” It’s currently rocking back and forth, cheeks pooched, looking very satisfied with itself. It’s still wearing the little fake crown, though it’s slid over its little tufted head at an angle.

Down below, the aforementioned actor is now busking the camp followers, guards and passers-by that clumped around this event. He moves amongst the thunderous cheer and applause, shouting. 

“Thank you, thank you! We accept appreciation in the form of CURRENCY and LOTS OF BOOZE. Brair seems a bit sore, so we won’t be getting more any time soon!”

Jiselmo!” Ane shouts down to him in horror. It’s bad enough the fweep-fweep is responsible for this without him capitalizing on it for liquor and coin. “What the Voi– Alright, you know what?” Perched atop Vasht’s wagon beside the makeshift throne, she reaches out to pluck the crown from the tiny creature’s head. 

“Fwep fuip fep… Fip f– FEEP!” It cheeps, eyes wide with alarm as its divested of its authority. Almost immediately, the fweep-fweep seems aware that the jig is up. Rather than attempt to reason with Ane or feign sleep, it instead lets out a big, gaseous “FWIPPPT!” and jets off into the nearest piece of laundry — a pair of Vasht’s britches — to hide.

Ane holds the tiny crown, pinched between thumb and forefinger.

“No crown, no kingdom. Those’re the rules,” she admonishes the fweep-fweep. For now, she allows it to hide — from the sound of things, whatever ensorcelment it worked seems to be breaking, giving her an opportunity to survey the damages from up on high.

Jiselmo rides out of this place on a tide of money and beer, taking the crowd with him to boisterously retell this event around a fire and a barrel of something brown and potent. 

This leaves Vasht standing in the middle of the field, contemplating his life choices. Furrowing his brow, he plucks the kettle off of his head and throws it to the soil with a clatter. He turns to the alosin, giving him a one-eyed look of sympathy. Then he looks up towards the fweep-fweep. 

Vasht rubs the side of his head, thoughts clearing, and then he sees Ane. His face goes slightly pale. 

Ah, yes. This is what social mortality feels like. 

What,” Ane says, arms held wide in bewilderment, “Happened?” 

She knows what happened. The same thing that got her to dress the fweep-fweep in makeup and jewelry and a tiny stone slipshell hat happened. What she does not know is how the creature escaped its cage and managed to affect the entire caravan.

The dark knight, Ser Vasht, stands dumbfounded. He doesn’t respond immediately, instead tossing his pillow-spear aside and crossing his arms behind his back. It’s like some last-ditch attempt to retain the scraps of his dignity. 

He calls back up to Ane, “Your ‘king’… and also, Jiselmo!” His expression firms. “Yeah, Jiselmo’s definitely to blame for at least part of this…”

“Yes,” Ane says with a slow nod and the tone of voice one might use to ask a small child why their mittens are currently floating in the privy, “But how did the ‘king’ get from safely inside a cage to… to…” She makes a flailing gesture toward Vasht’s britches, which are currently trembling in a perplexing fashion.

Rather than answer immediately, Vasht wanders aside and gathers up the thing’s cage. Its door swings open tellingly. With it in hand, Vasht spreads his rows of wings, catches the air, and flaps his way up to meet Ane on the roof of his wagon.

Once he’s safely landed, he dusts off his shoulder.

“Well, I first meant to keep it in my wagon… but when I saw it, it did something.” He sighs, staring at the wriggling pair of pants. “It kept giving strange ideas, and some would’ve wrecked my things.” He coughs. “Important things. Keepsakes. So…”

He makes a vague, spinning gesture with his fingertip.

“I took it outside, it got ahold of Brair and convinced him to open the cage.” He explains all this in a rather careful, measured fashion, as if that can make the result a bit less silly.

Ane rubs a spot in the center of her forehead. With her free hand, she waves at the tiny, quivering pile of underpants and fweep.

“So it’s Brair’s fault, you’re saying,” she concludes. “At any rate, it doesn’t matter. Just… Put it back in the cage so I can get it somewhere where it can do less damage, I’m not going to go rooting through your underthings.” 

“Well, not his entirely. I should’ve kept him from opening it, though my back was turned. After that, he said he ought to take care of it, feed it some of his booze…” Vasht goes on, walking towards the pair of waggling trousers. He takes it by the legs, positions the waist at the mouth of the box, and begins to gently shake the garment. Soon the fweep-fweep pops out, tumbling into the cage, whereupon Vasht shuts the small door.

He takes in a breath, and continues, “So, we got into an argument… Jiselmo strolled by, and suggested we decide it with a contest. Then, a while later, I look up and this is happening,” he says, gesturing towards the scene laid out beneath the two of you. 

Ane shakes her head as she takes the cage, muttering to herself.

“Can’t go anywhere, Animus alive… At any rate, thanks for keeping an eye on it. Sorry about your laundry. And,” she nods toward his ‘knightly’ getup, “All that.”

“Mm, might want to keep it hidden when you’re away,” he agrees, gruffly running a hand across his cheek. “Seems only to do that when people see it.”

Vasht then shrugs a shoulder, and smirks with chagrin. “Well, I’d say you’re welcome, but I’m more sorry that I let it start a monarchy. And knight me, I guess.”

A faint grin tugs at the edge of her lips, in turn. “A tiny tyranny, complete with bloodsports. Out of curiosity, though — why did your laundry end up all over the outside of your wagon?”

Seeing Ane’s smile seems to lessen his embarrassment, somewhat, and he finds himself doing the same. He lets out a theatrical sigh, and plucks one of his scarves off of his wagon’s roof. “If I had to guess? The critter needed heraldry, and somehow Jiselmo knew that. So while we got ready, he went around throwing my clothes everywhere.” He furrows his brow at the scarf, and adds, “Also, they were nearby… I’d just finished washing them.”

She pulls her lips inward, pressing them tightly together in her teeth to keep from laughing outright. Instead, she manages a stiff nod and a subtle quiver of her shoulders before she turns away from Vasht (and his “heraldry”) and begins the process of climbing down the dangling shirts, belts, and trousers.

As she does so, he leans forward and aims a few pokes at her side. “I see your giggle fit,” he saccuses. “Making a getaway with your tiny trouser bandit,” he adds, watching Ane flinch to avoid being poked as she clambers down his wagon. He hops down himself shortly after.

“Hey! Careful — some of us don’t have wings. Or a head harder than that kettle to break a fall with,” she chastises him as she disembarks from a muslin shirt. 

He crosses his bare arms, regarding her dryly from the bottom. “Well, I can help with that. There’s a spare kettle over there, for your safety.”

“Wouldn’t fit without crumpling my ears. Anyway, thanks again, Ser Knight.” 

“At your service. Or something,” he agrees, offering a sardonic half-bow.

With the fweep-fweep safely in its cage, she makes her way back to where she deposited the hound’s skull and chair leg she found earlier. The chair leg is useless to her now — let it sit here and raise questions in whatever hapless wanderer finds it next — but she has a lot of soaking and cleaning to do before the skull is in a keepable condition.

Which means, unfortunately for him, she needs to bother Brair (and his wounded pride).

 

Teller of Fortunes

Teller of Fortunes 2-20: Escape the Tatter-Men

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(Continued directly from prior entry)

There’s that vague sense of warmth resting in her palm, much as it was with the slipshell. The face of the loothine, once solemn, now seems… steady? Determined? Perhaps it even shows a sort of welcome, a silent acceptance. Gone is that sense of frenzied despair, of feeling lost and out of place in the world of men. Its eyes show not peace, but resolve.

A howl rings out, bouncing off the cave walls. The voice is thick, proud, and haunting as it echoes from places unseen. All at once, the leaves of the underworld seem to unfurl. The spring bubbles with life, and a steady mist recedes from its shores.

The corpse of the loothine also seems to change, though only subtly… Whereas before its paws were in the midst of hurried digging, now they are at rest. Even more strangely, the claw-bones are now folded over-top of one another. The vacant skull rests upon them, as if pillowing its head beside the warmth of the spring. 

The change has a dizzying, dreamlike quality, enhanced by the steam of the spring. Ane is tempted to remain there, to soak in more of the sense of calm and resolve permeating the very air of the place, but now is not the time. The assassin and the rag-men are still making their perambulations on the roof and in the streets beyond, and, however serene this place may seem right now, it isn’t safe

She casts a hum over the resting loothine. The carcass seems relaxed now, but something seems wrong about separating it from the carving. Ane can’t take an entire hound corpse with her, though…

Moments later, she begins navigating her way back through the ragged streets, this time kept company by an emerald carving and a loothine skull on the end of a stick. The shrub-stem she pressed into service is a bit wobbly, but it works well enough. With luck, it also makes her look deranged enough to be left alone — there’s definitely no way she can go scaling any walls with a stick in her hand. 

However mad she may seem, the path still leads straight through half a dozen rag-men. As she approaches the mouth of the alley, walking in the open, the ones with the abstract masks press back behind the others. The jagged-marked ones step forward, their shasii bodies almost unrecognizable by emaciation. They bar the path, and one or two even crouch low, placing their hands to the dirt… as if they’re readying to pounce.

They shout and growl in voices as ragged as their masks. It’s in some foreign language — guttural, profane, thick with malice.

 

Ane inhales a deep, tense, hissing breath.

Looks like it didn’t work.

She can’t make out what they say, but their postures are unmistakable. She stands there, with her skull on a stick, humming over the seething group barring her path. Now what? She has no weapons, unless she plans on hitting someone with a loothine head. She has no magic. She doesn’t even speak their language.

Ane squares her shoulders and marshals her nerve… and flees into one of the shacks. 

Outside is the sound of scuffling feet, shouts, and frenzied puffing breaths. The rag-faces dash after her, coming to a skidding stop outside the broken shack.

The room is dark, but Ane can see easily… though it’s a lot to take in on short notice. There’s a broken-down wooden chair, a tattered cot with moldy down, a few earthenware pots, and a gaping hole in the wall on the other side of the room. There’s a door into this place, too, but it seems broken beyond use, jammed into its frame with rust and grime. There’s also a book, some copper silverware, and a rotten hunk of meat covered in both flies and walks.

Ane takes as little time to scout her surroundings as she can get away with before she lunges for the first available opening — she can worry about navigating her way back up afterward, if she manages to lose the group. As she rushes past the mildewed, decaying contents of the shack, she throws whatever she passes behind her to slow them up. Pots, the chair, anything her hands pass near enough to grab flies behind her into a shattered heap. The chair seems to fall apart as soon as she touches it, and her hand comes away still holding a single splintered chair leg with a crude, rusty nail hooking out from one end.

She has a sneaking suspicion she should keep it.

There are curses and crashes behind her, as the first rag-man dashes in and topples over the chair. His emaciated body is sent crashing into the wall, while two others push in past him, still in pursuit.

The next room is equally bare, though it features an old larder filled with garbage and an earthenware pitcher of sour wine. There isn’t even a hole this time.

“Voirrh- damin!” The man behind her snarls, dashing into the room, cursing in some bastard cant of a language. His bony hands are raised, groping like claws, giving only a second to react.

And the pitcher of sour wine flies behind her, accompanied by a soft whistle of air over its mouth. He takes it on the jaw, shattering the poor pottery as he goes crashing backwards. In the moment it buys her, Ane charges at the far wall — she doesn’t think she’ll be able to crash through it, but it’ll be something to get her back up against when more of them pour through the doorway.

Oh, nope, nevermind. She does crash through it, intending to or otherwise. 

Construction is pretty shoddy down here. 

 She finds herself stumbling into the next shanty, now a fair ways past where the chase began. More shouting comes from behind, where the remaining rag-men are forced to clamber past the first two. 

At least, all that did chase her…

 

The loothine figure pulses in Ane’s hand, and she feels a moment of clarity:  olfactory clarity. She can track the trails of the unwashed, downtrodden assailants as if their scent were wisps of smoke upon clean air. One of those wisps leads straight ahead, through the gap into the next shack… There a mass of it is huddled down, hiding behind the wall, lying in wait.

To Ane’s left is the door back out into the alley, merely a square of boards resting on one hinge. She doesn’t smell anyone out there, for the moment. This is fortunate in many ways, as having an enhanced sense of smell down here is, at best, a mixed blessing.

She trusts in the little emerald carving and whatever strangeness it seems to have wrought in her. There will be time to investigate it further later. 

Maybe with the slipshell and some puffroot, she thinks to herself in a moment of grim humor.

For now, Ane rushes at the door. She’ll be able to move more quickly out there, if nothing else.

When Ane dashes out, she has at least ten feet in both directions of clear alleyway. Behind her, towards the grove, there are two more of the assailants. They’re the ones with the crescents and helices about their masks, esoteric and brutal markings. Instead of giving chase, they’ve instead crouched down and begun to chant. If it’s a language, it’s not something Ane recognizes.

Ane has a clear line towards somewhere that isn’t this smear of a street, and she goes for it.

Her pursuers are no match for her relative health and fitness, and even as they scrabble after her, they quickly fall behind. As Ane rounds the corner, she can hear a sharp, blunt crack. As soon as the echo fades, there’s another sharp strike. First one, then another, and another… Five in total.

It seems they, too, have trouble surviving on these streets. And their friend up on the rooftops just received the perfect distraction to pick them all off, one by one by one…

Soon after, Ane is left with a moment to breathe. She stands safe in some alleyway, carrying the skull, the loothine figure, and a broken chair leg. The rest of the city is now open to her, and as sure as she saw the scents of the rag-faces, she can see her own as well. For now, though, she doubles over to catch her breath. While the rag-faced men hadn’t caught up with her, a couple of days of puffroot smoking certainly has. It’s telling that they weren’t able to outrun her — they must be even worse off than they look.

Once she’s pulled herself together, eased her burning lungs, and slowed her hammering heart, Ane begins to make her way ever upward, toward the brighter (and less fragrant) parts of the city. 

 

After some long walking and some deep sniffing, Ane soon finds her way back up to the first atrium of S’varga. It feels like a wholly different city, with all the towering edifices, stunning vistas, and artistic reliefs that were once expected. Unlike the third or fourth atrium far below, this one seems far more interested in catering to a wanderer’s whims. There’s another market just down the road, with many stalls carrying food and produce… Then there’s a plaza off to the left, with a number of tunnel-stone storefronts all carved side-by-side. There’s also the occasional public house, fine dining, and the rare puffroot-ery.

Unlike the deprived lands below, “this” S’varga is fully willing to cater to a paying customer’s needs. Unfortunately, Ane has no coin, and only a carved loothine hound and a dirty skull to show for her trouble. She gives the plaza a look of scorn mixed with longing, as she turns to head out of the city and back to the caravan.

It’s probably for the best. Ane might look a tad out of place with her skull-on-a-stick anyway.

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 2-14: That Cruel Light

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 realm in the creation of this work.

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“I am called Thelorn.”

Thelorn, the lorn, Ane thinks to herself grimly, Well, that’ll make it easy to remember, at least.

As Ane talks to him, Vasht walks up beside the man and kneels down beside one of his arms. At first sight of the joint, his eye widens and he nearly tips back with surprise. It’s not a look of disgust, nor horror, just sheer disbelief — and this is from a man who’s lived with the rest of the troupe for so long. 

The man’s condition is simply impossible. Arms, flesh, bones aren’t supposed to be have this way. Perhaps it’d be normal for two tree-trunks to twist into a helix, wrapping over-under until they merge at the end into a misshapen club. Even small, gnarled out-branches wouldn’t be out of place… but on a person? Thelorn has clearly been suffering for quite some time.

Still, as stoic as Vasht often is, he manages to contain most of the reaction. 

“This may hurt a bit at first, but I’ll be careful. Just remain still until that passes,” he says in a calm, easing tone.

Thelorn offers his silence as agreement. Without raising his gaze, he speaks to Ane. 

“Yours?”

“I am Ane. This is Vasht. The one who just left is… A monk. Where did you come from, Thelorn?”

The klorr nods, though occasionally winces as Vasht makes first contact. Working with his joints requires working past that initial pain, as well as the discomfort that comes with loosening the scar tissue binding his muscles into knots. 

“Came from Seilina. Small place… Town.” Thelorn grunts, shifting his shoulders, then adds, “Field farmer… Slave.”

Slave. So Jarrik probably did buy him.

“A field farmer? That must have been very painful for you.”

“Not before…” He answers, his voice rasping. “Before this.”

He doesn’t indicate his arms directly, but he doesn’t have to. The implication weighs in his tone like lead.

As cooperative as he’s being, especially considering the fact that Vasht is manipulating his aching joints, Ane decides not to press her luck.

“Do you ever get bored here alone, Thelorn?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he rumbles, wincing again. While Vasht is making some headway, it’s against a rather absurd knot of flesh and bone. It’s like a combination of a Paakopondese cube puzzle and a grievous injury. Nonetheless, there’s plenty to be done.

“Not my place,” Thelorn adds, in a beaten-down tone.

“Sure it matters,” Ane urges him gently, “You don’t have to sit here alone all day if you don’t want to.”

“I should not want,” he states once more. “It is only pain.”

It’s a confusing statement, as bluntly worded as it is. 

“Well,” Ane says, as she tries to sort through the tangle of Thelorn’s words, “You are allowed to not-want.”

Silence. 

Vasht looks up from his task, a look of concern on his brow. He speaks up in a soft, mollifying tone, 

“If you don’t mind me asking… why is it bad to want?”

The klorr makes a slight murmur in his mouth, as if mulling around some words.

“Want gave me these arms.”

Ane frowns, though she tries to hide the expression behind her knees. So, in addition to not being very communicative about his needs, he’s genuinely afraid. Was he punished for taking something he wanted? Cursed to feel pain every time he desired something? She doesn’t know. She isn’t sure she wants to know.

“Well… Someone will come tomorrow, with a book. If you can read, it is yours to read. If you can’t, they’ll read it to you. You don’t have to want it — but, if you think they should go away, just say so and they will. Is this alright?”

“Cannot read,” he answers. 

By now, Vasht has moved to the other arm. As slow as the klorr may be to respond, talking with him tends to take longer than it feels. At least one arm seems to move a little more easily; it doesn’t change the fact of his condition, but the knot of bone and flesh looks a little less painful. 

Then a few moments later, Thelorn continues. 

“… Can listen.”

Well that’s something, at least…

“Then you can listen. If it bothers you, they will leave.”

“No light, not bothered,” Thelorn replies, his voice thick and ungainly.

Light, again. Ane chooses her words carefully, lest she hit a stone wall of woeful silence for her trouble.

“Did… light always bother you?”

At first, it seems he might be going quiet again. But then his voice starts up, creaking underneath the weight of emotion. He stammers a couple of times, choking on his words.

“Not… Not until I tried… Tried to touch it.”

He flexes what must have once been his hands, and his face becomes a rocky crag of pain, his mouth and eyes bunching up while tears gleam at the edges. Vasht has to step back a moment to let this pass, lest the mess of tendons cause him to misstep in his work.

“I saw it, was… like nothing else,” Thelorn continues, chest heaving. “Flying over, while heat burnt my back, my hands full of dirt.” He shakes his head. “A light… Magic,” he sobs, voice tinged with horror and wonder. “I cried, change me! Free me! And grasped for it…”

He heaves a deep breath.

“Then… pain.”

A soft whistle passes Ane’s lips. Her swirls are wide with horror and surprise as she listens, and, when he finishes his tale, she doesn’t know how to respond. What could be said in the face of such desperate longing? What could comfort someone so punished?

“That sounds awful,” she says eventually, her voice small and aching with the inadequacy of the words, “I’m sorry.”

Thelorn slowly regains his composure, until only tear-streaked cheeks remain. He rubs them dry against his thin shoulder.

Even Vasht  is left dabbing his eye and under his face-wing with a sleeve. He draws in a breath, then kneels back down and continues his work. He’s almost finished for now, and intends to soldier on with it until he’s done. Had Ane the tears to cry with, she’d probably be wiping them away, too. 

“Yes,” he replies. “In light, there is… cruelty.”

She’s tempted to argue with him, however gently. Not all light is cruel, and lessening his fear of it would make it easier to make him more comfortable… But not like this. Not after that. Helping Thelorn to leave his wagon is a battle that won’t be won in a day. Maybe not ever.

“Sometimes,” she agrees, tentatively, “But only sometimes.”

The klorr draws in his lips, unable to answer. This might be the closest one can come to his acceptance in this matter. Progress with this is gradual. If he does emerge again, it will likely be due in part to the darkness of the tunnels. Still, this silence itself may be progress.

A few moments later, Vasht leans back from the klorr’s arm, taking a last moment to look it over. He takes in a breath, lets it out, then nods. He looks over towards Ane, indicating that he’s done all that can be done for today. 

Ane nods to Vasht in return.

“I may not be able to come tomorrow,” she explains to Thelorn, “But someone will. You won’t be alone all day.”

Granted, “alone” is a very particular thing here. While he may not be willing — or even able — to leave his wagon, Jarrik has still probably been raking in the bits by charging visitors to peer through Thelorn’s windows. It gives Ane a feeling of very complicated rage.

Performers like Vila, Wila, and Zila are just that: Performers. Nobody, them included, has ever made any bones about the fact that visitors come to watch the spectacle of a singing, dancing trio of fraternal conjoined triplets, with their six carefully-arranged arms and ombre skin shifting subtly in color from one woman to the next. There’s still an enormous difference between watching an unusual person who is trying to entertain you, and gawking at someone else’s suffering. 

The triplets may be exotic, even bizarre or horrifying by some people’s reckoning, but they still earn their money performing in a way they choose. This, though… Ane doesn’t have words for it.

Thelorn, oblivious to this rage, nods.

“Alright. That is… good, that someone will,” he says, as the tightness in his voice eases. 

“I’ll make sure someone does,” she assures him, as she rises from the hay bale. Even covered, she can feel it itching her skin. Still, if there’s going to be hay here, she’s just going to have to endure it. “I’ll see if there are other things that can be done. You don’t have to want it or ask for it,” she hastens to add, “And if you are hurt or bothered by any of them, they will stop.” 

It feels like she’s repeating herself a lot. Unfortunately, with Thelorn afraid to voice any requests for what he needs, her only recourse is to try. There have not been many times in her life when it was better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, but this, unfortunately, might be one of them.

There’s a grateful air about the klorr, though he doesn’t say it outright. It seems his mindset is set deeply enough that he doesn’t want to acknowledge relief openly. In any case, this is probably all the progress that can be made in one day. He nods again, in his gloomy, silent way of bidding her farewell.

Vasht rises to his feet and dusts the hay off of his knees. He stands prepared to accompany Ane out the door, with a parting nod to Thelorn.

Ane gives the klorr a wave as she steps out into the fresher air of the camp. 

“See?” She mutters to Vasht, hopefully low enough that Thelorn can’t overhear the way the rage rattles her voice, “It’s like Jarrik brought him in and just left him here… And this is after his hair’s been cut and his wagon’s been cleaned a little. He needs help, and he seems to know that, but he’s terrified to ask.”

 

The knife thrower takes a few more steps with her away from the wagon, just to be safe. He nods in agreement, his lips forming a grim line. 

“Yeah… I’ll have to teach one of the camp followers to treat his arms,” Vasht figures. “But you’re right. That’s a bit much, even for Jarrik,” he continues, running a hand along his cropped hair. “What’s even stranger, is that Jarrik hasn’t tried to get any coin off of himLike put him out for show, like his pet Faceless. During the shows, no one’s been shown to his wagon. Right now, he’s riding free.”

Ane’s brow furrows in perplexity. 

He hasn’t?

“Really? That doesn’t make any sense… Why would he do that? Did he just kind of hope someone else would decide to take care of him, and then parade him out afterward? Void,” she shakes her head in disbelief, “Even when I was tiny, it was just assumed that Dynkala would teach me her craft, and I was at least able to help wash and brush the trumbas.” 

Vasht shrugs one shoulder, looking back towards the old wagon. 

“You’re right, it doesn’t make sense… Even under his father, I was set to juggling before I’d even gotten a meal.” He squints his eye for a moment. “I have two guesses… One, he might be scared of the klorr, and waiting until he comes out on his own. Two, he might be up to something else. Though I can’t imagine what.”

“Me neither. It’s not like Jarrik’s ever really been one for a long con.” Fantasizing about them, maybe. Planning and executing them? Not so much. “Maybe he’s scared of him, though Thelorn doesn’t even seem like he’d swat a fly if one landed on him.” Granted, he could probably splinter a stout beam if he really wanted to, but…

“We’ll just have to keep an eye on it, as usual. Maybe it will become more clear with time.” He lets out a labored sigh. “I bet if we asked, he’d give us some rehearsed spiel about helping the less fortunate, or whatever. It’d be about as believable as a flying sailwhale, but not something you could easily argue against.”

“Of course,” Ane sighs, “ At any rate, I’ve got to go through some of Cerine’s books, maybe see if there’s anything else that might make him more comfortable. He doesn’t like light, but I have no idea what to do about that.” She waves a hand in front of her swirls for emphasis. Shasii can perceive light, albeit not the way eyed races do. Ane has even seen light, just generally only through animal eyes. Neither are conducive to figuring out how to help him function without ever having to come in contact with light.

“Sure, sounds like a good idea,” he agrees, his expression lightening. “Anyway, you’ve done a good thing by bringing this to everyone’s attention… Regardless of why he’s here, it’s good that something is being done for him.” His single, sharp eye regards her warmly for a moment, his gaze cast in a rare, sincere light. “So, yeah. Books. I’ll go teach someone about messy elbows,” he says with a slight smile.

Ane shakes her head firmly.

“No, it’s all Nelea. She’s been bringing him food since he got here. I only went to see him after she came to my wagon to see if I could get him to open up a little bit and figure out why he’s holed up in there. But, anyway… if you see that monk around, ask him to stop by. He can read and he seems to have the time, so he might be able to spare part of the day to read to Thelorn a bit. Maybe even teach him a little.”

“Nelea, and you. First steps, next steps,” he agrees. “But yeah, sure. I think that monk will be floating by soon enough anyway…” He scratches the back of his head, and smirks. “Pft, ‘that monk.’ We don’t know his name, and he’s already doing half the odd jobs around camp.”

“I don’t think he’s being paid, either. He asked for a reading, I told him his next step in life should be to do something ‘that challenges his spirit’,” Ane explains, with requisite wiggly fingers, “And, next thing I knew, he was doing dishes here. He washed a chamberpot yesterday. He,” she concludes, “Has strange ideas about challenges. So long as he’s willing to help with Thelorn, though, I’m not gonna complain.”

Vasht grins knowingly. 

“So you’re why we have a monk!” He declares, immediately amused. 

She stills her hum, sighing.

“And a hundred pounds of appohs and puffroot. I know. I know.”

“You’ve been very industrious lately,” he appraises, placing his hands on his hips. “The Shards must be aligned towards you or something.” The knife-thrower, of course, is oblivious to most principles of geonomy and fortunes, though he still makes his own pass at being superstitious, as many travellers do. 

“What can I say,” Ane retorts flatly, “Paakoponde was just a big old event for me.”

“And S’varga. Hot sauce and body paint,” he reminds, pointedly raising one brow. “And we’ve only just begun in this city.”

“Yeah… Reminds me, I still need to check their market,” Ane murmurs thoughtfully, “At any rate, I’m going to go see what books I can find for him. See if you can find a caravan follower who can work on his arms more, and don’t forget to sent that monk my way if you spot him. And… Thank you for coming to help.”

Vasht smiles modestly for a moment, scratching the back of his head and averting his gaze. He seems more abashed about being thanked by Ane than by being falsely led to the wagon. 

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” he replies in an airy tone, rough with his usual edge of gruffness. “I’ll go do that. If you run into anything else, I’m around.” He then gives her a nod, and starts to head off on his way. Given his mood, it’s almost a surprise to see he’s still wearing his usual leathers and belt of knives; though it doesn’t seem to crimp the lightness in his step at all. 

“Sure,” she agrees, nodding to him before she turns to head back to her wagon.

 

Once she’s there, she becomes a flurry of activity. Here are Cerine’s old books, there are a few she can spare for a time. They’ll fit nicely in a basket with the green dress-turned-shirt, too. Oh, and sightwort can relieve pain, at least a little, but would it be too much? Would he end up with visions, and hallucinate seeing the wicked light again? Better leave that out — she can ask Vaidna for help, or see what the S’vargan market can provide…

By the time she’s through, she has a small care package assembled. Three books of varying length, the ribbon-tied shirt that she’d dyed, and an extra pillow. Hopefully he doesn’t object, though she doesn’t think he will. 

A short time later, the monk appears at her wagon once more with a knock on the door. Since he’s already agreed to help, it’s a trivial matter to have him deliver the items.

Ane lets the basket go with a pang of anxiety. She won’t be there to see how it’s received, but hopefully the monk won’t forget to let her know. It’s distracting enough, even, to keep her awake long after she should’ve been sleeping, even after a cup of geltsear leaf tea and a pinch of dried sightwort root under her tongue. When she does eventually nod off, it’s only a few hours before she’s expected to be back in her tent.

Jarrik is going to have a lot to answer for.

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.”