Teller of Fortunes 19: The Slipshell

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Maybe a cold drink and a bit of puffroot might help dispel the nagging tug of the temple…

Fortunately, the feeling is less a compulsion and more like a suggestion from something far away. When fought, it is easily overcome; almost as if it’s resigned to it.

As Ane scans around for some refreshment, there are a couple of options. One location, tucked cozily underneath one of the root-sprawls, emits the earthy scent of the puffroot. It has a softly-carpeted entrance and a welcoming glow of light coming from around the curtains. A painted dye-and-sap sign depicts a small fire with a puffy cloud of smoke over-top.

Higher-up on another tree, positioned slightly above ground-level, is a tavern with open seating upon the raised roots. There are cloth banners and overhangs on the outside, tied up on cattail-fibre cords. The place has an open, sociable vibe about it, presumably with a bar situated inside the tree itself. People come and go from the place freely, often sitting on the outside to enjoy their drinks in earthenware cups. 

The need to decide which desire to satisfy first — the puffroot or the drink — lets the gentle tug awaken again. Maybe there are more options closer to the temple. It certainly won’t hurt to walk a little farther, it’ll be so long before the caravan returns to Paakoponde…

Allowing her whims to take her along the path of the pull, Ane makes her way nearer. The large step-temple looms even greater, seeming to creep from the horizon to the foreground like a massive stone tortoise. Now, a number of people are visible near its entrance; some have the garb and gait of cityfolk, towing children or carrying baskets of offerings. Others show the uniform shades of Eternalist robes, some training and exercising along the steps and rails, while others simply ascend or descend the stair.

The pull, growing more insistent, draws Ane in. It seems to lead to a point behind the temple, rather than within the temple itself. It makes little sense, as the temple is backed by the great Jian River. However, there may be a thin stretch of earth behind the mighty stonework… It’s hard to say from this point. 

The taverns and puffroot dens are quite nice along the river as well, though with a notably more spiritual vibe. They have a bit less of that rustic charm, but trade it out for a more esoteric one. There’s wispy trails of incense smoke, some iconography on the outer roots, and perhaps a more respectable sort of clientele. There are still travelers aplenty, though they’re most likely here to see the temple and the archives of the Eternalists. 

Ane makes a mental note of the taverns and puffroot dens, though she ignores them for now. The river isn’t far, and a walk around the swamps might be nice, right? At the very least, it won’t take long for her to satisfy her curiosity and grab a pipe of puffroot and a pint of something refreshing on the way back to her wagon.

As Ane continues her walk, the feeling grows slightly stronger. It’s not as if the gentle tug is swelling in strength; it’s more like a cry, increasing in clarity. Now it begins to have a melancholy tone to it — lost, secluded, forgotten. The regrets of a life unlived. The sorrow of a sight unseen. The shadows of a place where people do not see fit to tread.

Ane’s walk first takes her through a number of curated gardens, which trail along the sides of the Eternalist temple — which a passerby calls the “Vault of Sojethys.” Its gardens are numerous and broad, providing a number of different vistas and habitats. Some are similar to the surrounding lands, with bogs that host the floating zool and lurking snakes, and swamps that boast the occasional zwarf, all with guided-root walkways to allow for easy passage. Other gardens boast different climes, somehow simulated by a higher or lower density of shardflies in the area. There are chilly highlands with gurrans and a couple of trumba, all herded between stone railings and stepped paths. There are also dry savannahs, with a few curltongued, bundle-backed bunduks, as well as a few of the sightless, carnivorous camels that are seen in sinward lands. The sands are raked and dotted with meaningfully-placed rocks, following some unknown, improvisational aesthetic sense. 

It’s a natural temptation to linger in these areas, though the violet cry comes from beyond them. It’s along the riverbed somewhere further, where the walkways cease and give way to cattails, mud, and rocky shores. Given its position behind the Vault, it’s unlikely that most anyone would travel back there. Even the monks likely wouldn’t find it suitable for their training and meditation.

The only thing Ane lingers for is to pick a few of the mushrooms that rise from the occasional fallen, mossy log, grown soft and spongy with water. Judging by the velvety spots across their caps and the fine pores on their undersides, they’re more blue boletes — the freshest she’s come across. She tucks them into her basket with a smile before she continues along the river.

Despite the many sights, the Teller of Fortunes moves onward. Picking the mushrooms takes barely a minute, leaving plenty of time to continue. The walk through the gardens is bewildering, like travelling around the world over the course of a mere hour or two. Each is like a window to a foreign land, albeit with the strange walkways and aesthetic trappings of the Eternalist tenders. By the time she reaches the opposite edge, it all seems to have passed surprisingly quickly. 

Now Ane is faced by the Great Jian River, stretching all the way to a thick green line on the horizon. Its surface ripples and wavers, constantly in motion, with all manner of creature underneath. It’s said that man people draw their lives from this river, gathering at a great embankment in the dexward direction. There they supposedly drink, bathe, and even wash their clothes, whenever the space isn’t taken up by one mass ritual or another. However, this place is downstream from there. And as Ane looks down the span trailing behind the temple, its size is far too great and forbidding to allow for such activity. In fact, the back of the Vault is tall and steep with no apparent steps downward. Even the monks would have a tricky time coming back here, if they so wished.

Up ahead, the land grows thin and muddy, thick with vegetation. Luckily, the zools drifting purposelessly over the ground don’t frighten her and she isn’t in her work clothing — it’s no great matter to continue on at a decent pace. She picks her way along the marshy ground, carefully seeking out flat stones, stumps, and firm-looking patches to keep from sinking up to her knees in mud.

The trip is long and across wild terrain, calling Ane’s nimble steps into service. As she makes decent haste, some mud splashes about her sandals and trousers. It’s considerable, and will likely call for a decent washing, though it’s nothing that’ll see her excused from a tavern. At one point a zool floats by, not minding her as it skirts the water’s edge for food. Its bulbous body thumps gently against Ane’s side, but it continues on anyway, hardly disturbing her course.

Now the violet cries are at their most clear, and they sound like something small. It’s not an infant, but something somehow without a voice. Its creaking is from deeper inside, overcoming the limits of its form with the depth of its emotion. And as it becomes more distinct, Ane’s easily able to pick out its source, even though she doesn’t hear it with her ears. Then again, she can just barely imagine it, right there on the edge of her perception…

Looking down into the mud, Ane comes face to face with what appears to be a small, stone fetish of some kind. Its edges are smoothed, carved from a dun marbled rock, perhaps soapstone or something similar. The details are obscured, but the form is clear: a vaguely pyramidal shell over stout, rounded legs, with a wide club-tail trailing off behind. The head is covered in small, irregular nubs, and the eyes are sad little divots upon the rounded top of its head. The whole thing is caked with mud, with a bug and part of a cattail stuck to the back. 

It rests down there in the ground, overturned on its back. 

For as much as she enjoys her visions, she hates it when her dreams are right. It’s one thing to go seeking knowledge, or even just ride along in another creature for awhile, but reality intruding on her sleep just strikes her as rude.

She bends down over the stone creature. With one corner of her shirt, she wipes the mud from its belly as best as she can. When that doesn’t prove to be enough, she attempts to dislodge it from the surrounding mud and give it a few splashes of river water to get a better look at it. 

As the mud is washed away and the carving is hefted, the pang in Ane’s chest begins to ease. It changes from a forlorn call to a slow, gentle warmth settled in the center. Strangely, even the fetish begins to look slightly different; the divot-eyes no longer look quite so downturned, and the vaguely-pyramidal shell now has a little shine to it. All of its edges are stylized, like what one may see on a ceremonial totem. It’s not a bad trinket, all told; it wouldn’t “wow” a guest, but it’d fetch a decent price at a shop. But there’s something… More, perhaps nested within it.

Might it be violet..?

The slipshell totem might be smiling, faintly, with that silly little line of a mouth. 

She doesn’t quite realize what she’s doing when she gives the stone totem a little rub across the top of its flat, nubble-horned head. Part of her wonders if she should take it to the temple, in case it’s a cultural object of value… But, if that was the case, would it not have been discovered by now?

Ane has spent enough time mucking around back here, anyway, and she’s starting to get hungry. She slips the totem into her basket and begins the trek back the way she came. If she passes a monk she can ask about it, she will, she decides. If not, it’ll have to wait — she’s got a meal to eat and caravan business to attend to before they pull up stakes and roll on to a different part of the city.

The slipshell totem sits comfortably in her hand. It’s as if its taking a ride, or perhaps settling in. A little bit of moss clings to the back even after cleaning, but really that just adds to the aesthetic.

As Ane makes her way back to the gardens, it becomes apparent that she has an audience. A number of the rocks have lifted up slightly, revealing that many of them were actually slipshells — the sort of mossy, shell-backed creature that often causes river-goers to, well, slip. 

They raise their heads, looking up with wizened expressions, seemingly… Approving? It’s almost as if she’d passed some sort of silly trial, or done them some small service. They blink, craning their nubble-lined heads slowly. They don’t particularly move, just sort of hang out, as slipshells do. When Ane passes by, they eventually sink back down, settling into the riverbed. They all seem rather content to sit, munch on reeds and clumps of algae, and wait for someone to mistake them for stepping stones. 

Not long after nearing the gardens, Ane manages to spot one of the Eternalist monks. She’s wearing their traditional robes, the bottom billowing as she floats over the top of a grassy span, which is likely meant to imitate the Gurran Plains. She seems to be combing over the field with a short metal rake, ensuring that the grass follows the direction of some unfelt wind. 

Ane, not really wishing to disturb the woman’s gardening, clears her throat softly before calling out.

“Pardon me. I had a question, if you don’t mind!”

The woman pauses her gardening, and holds the rake at her side as she straightens her back. Her short crop of braids clips against her shoulder as she turns, smiling in a welcoming fashion. 

“Of course; it’s my pleasure to answer, as it would be for any of us,” she says warmly. “What is your question?”

Ane gingerly withdraws the stone slipshell from her basket. She holds it out for inspection, cupped carefully in the palm of her hand as though it were a rare jewel or a baby bird.

“I found this in the mud… I don’t know if one of your order misplaced it, or if it was something that needed returning…” 

Curious, the monk takes a moment to examine the slipshell totem. She doesn’t take it from Ane’s hand, but instead leans close and peers around it with her trio of eyes. She murmurs in thought, then leans back, pursing her lips pensively.

“Well, it doesn’t appear to be something from our archives… I can’t place its origin, or culture. It looks old, maybe something from a foreign land?” She shrugs. “Whatever the case, it doesn’t strike me as a stray artifact or anything. It’s yours to keep. Some of the world’s treasures and secrets are for their beholder,” she appraises cheerily. 

The monk gives no hint of awareness to the item’s properties. Perhaps it’s an off day for her? Either that, or it’s just not an item familiar to their order. It’s hard to tell. Still, the warmth it instills is unmistakable — as if this item somehow experiences emotion. 

“Huh. Well, thank you,” Ane says, with appreciation tinged with bewilderment. It doesn’t seem foreign — how could it be, surrounded by live slipshells? That strikes her as pretty sincerely local. Nonetheless, she slips the totem into her basket again, and offers the monk a smile as she turns to depart.

Now, maybe she can find a place to sit and relax for a little while.

Teller of Fortunes 18: Drunk on Gold

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A long day of telling fortunes is finally complete.

Once the line of customers has dwindled to nothing, the Ane packs away her cushions, table, tent, and other tools of her trade, stashing them under the racks of costumes at the rear of her wagon. She changes from her voluminous skirt and veil to a pair of comfortable trousers and a loose braid hanging over her pointed shoulder. It’s not quite as theatrical as her working attire, but it’s comfortable enough to live in before she’s expected to play the part of the exotic, mysterious, liminal character that earns her coin.

The day’s take was quite large for a single stretch of work, earning Ane enough gold and silver to make the average person salivate: over a month’s pay for a laborer, and half that of a soldier. Of course this is after nearly a month of no pay for Ane in transit, with great peril along the way. The daily take is likely to decrease the longer the caravan stays, but there’s definitely something to say for that “splash” the troupe makes when it first hits a settlement.

As she steps back out to the light of the shardflies, Ane feels a faint tugging in her chest… It’s strange, warm, and feels like a “call” coming from afar underneath the vine-shaded groves of Paakoponde. It has a distinctly “violet” feel to it, and points in some vague (yet consistent) direction through the rest of the city. 

Purple.

Ane considers her options. She’s tempted to hang around and see how Korin’s doing — maybe Jiselmo’s decided to give him a break for once, though she doubts it — but they aren’t going to be in Paakoponde for much longer. It might be better to take some time to walk around, plus she’s got the day’s generous earnings at her disposal…

Ane decides to have a wander around the city. Not too far, just enough to peruse the wares of the merchants she missed on her first run through the marketplace, and maybe to find something to eat that isn’t chopon stew for dinner. So, with gold in her pocketbag and that strange, wordless melody humming on her lips, she sets off to see what the swampy city has in store.

As Ane begins to take her stroll through the city, she begins to get a better sense of the place. There are practically no “streets,” with onlylarge pathways between colossal, bulging tree-trunks. Even the bridges over the marshes are just massive roots. Some of the larger areas like the market are half-mindedly paved; however, it’s a clear imposition from a foreign power. The occupying force of Skilhouran soldiers must have demanded that the ground be clothed in stone, lest they track mud with their gleaming sabatons. Now that the soldiers have been driven to a scant outpost on the city’s outskirts, the cobbled stones seem like a mere memory.

The local establishments seem to defy this sort of organization anyway.  A business’ level of wealth tracks directly to how high it’s situated on or within one of the towering trees, the poor tucked under roots with mud-brick walls, the wealthy tacked onto high-branches with rope, thatch, and salvaged wood. 

The wealthiest establishments defy sense and reside within the actual body of trees without cleaving the wood. They rest within strange hollows, where trees seem to part themselves to allow for it. It  doesn’t seem to be the work of laborers, but more seems like the tree itself opened up for them These higher-income locales aren’t separated into blocks, and sometimes a bawdy tavern and a jewelry store might even be in the same tree.   

Along the main thoroughfare, the marketplace has an interesting array of curiosities to peruse. While there are no wooden goods to be found, the Paakoese are no strangers to animal products and metallurgy. A hunter’s tent may display all manner of trinkets, from ivory horns to fur cloaks. Many are fond of the more esoteric approach, presenting preserved bones from skull-to-spine-to-femur-to-toe for many implied purposes.

The jewelry stalls tend to favor stones and uncut gems, oft setting them within metals typical to the earth nearby. They adhere to a belief that this makes the trinket more “whole,” leading to particular combinations, like shining copper and striped malachite, or tarnished tin and amber-like cassiterite. 

Finally, there are a few shadowy, bead-curtained tents that boast even more exotic trinkets…  Just days ago, Korin the actor was cursed by the proprietor of one of these shops.

The faint tug in Ane’s chest continues to “track” — pointing beyond the grand temple on the horizon, a stepped pyramid shadowing the main thoroughfare. Despite the imposing structure, Ane feels the call from her dreams like a small, pathetic thread of memory. 

Ane is almost drunk on the gold in her pocketbag — she spends some of it artlessly, on objects of seemingly little practical use. It’s a pattern she’s developed over years of feast-or-famine earnings, and it helps her stretch her coins when times are lean: Allow herself a few miters to spend on silly luxuries, to ease the bite of poverty and make it that much easier to hold onto the rest. 

She purchases a unique specimen from a seller of curiosities first; a raven’s skull, cleaned by nature, devoid of animal flesh but stained by moss and pigment-rich mud all around its many, many eye holes. Then a bit of rough lodolite, wound around with aged copper as fine as a thread. Flecks of green, like bits of lichen or the tops of miniscule trees, adorn the heart of the stone in ways invisible to her (at least, as long as she lacks the eyes to see past the stone’s surface). Still, something about it gives her a pleasant tingle when she holds it, so she slips the stone into her basket and happily hands over the gold… After, of course, a bit of haggling.

Though the pit of her stomach inexorably pulls her toward the temple, she tries to fight the feeling. This is not her city, and, whatever strange things it may place in her dreams, she does not have the luxury of time. 

Maybe a cold drink and a bit of puffroot might help dispel the nagging tug of the temple…

Teller of Fortunes 17: The Right Questions

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It doesn’t take long for awestruck locals to creep into the carvan’s campgrounds.

The calls of the barkers and entertainers comes through the tent walls, tales of the bizarre and the awesome muffled by the thick canvas. Sometimes the noise is enough to remind one of the surroundings, but generally, it’s just muted enough to give a very separate sense of place for the Teller of Fortunes. Though of course, the sights and smells do much more to create that illusion of travelling elsewhere…

Soon, someone decides to make that journey. 

A thick-skinned, curl-horned callosian steps through the tent’s opening, sweeping the flap back with a wide forearm. His skin is tinted differently than most of his kind, probably a deep sort of blue, while his hair hangs long and dark, partly bound into a braid beside his temple. Otherwise, he looks like many men of his kind: wide of jaw, broad of build, and bearing almost shield-like forearms. The only other departure are the half-robes he wears, covering all of his body save for the deep-diving “V” collar typical of fuhajen Eternalist monks. Apparently not all of them are fuhajen, though this one has the look of a man of mixed ancestry.

“Hello,” he says kindly, looking about as he enters. He holds his arms close to his sides at first, wary of accidentally knocking anything over. 

The Teller of Fortunes offers the man a smile, humming over the idle shuffling of her cards.

“Greetings! It’s five silver for three cards, and five more for every three thereafter,” she says, her voice pitched in an almost musical purr. She gestures to the cushions in front of her table with a gentle bow of her head. “Please, sit, and let us find the answers you seek.”

The man beams at her hospitality, his thick jaw making his smile look all the wider.

 “Very well. Let’s see what the Shards have in store,” he agrees, and strides over to the cushions. Where most callosians might ‘lumber’ in such a cramped environment, he moves with a careful, trained sort of grace. Once there, he descends into a cross-legged position and draws five silver from his belt pouch. 

She keeps a practiced hum on her cards, as she quietly surveys the man’s face from the edge of her perception. He doesn’t seem old, but clean-living monks can be deceiving. Still, if he had other options, he would likely not have joined a religious order. He seems to be a half-breed, so at least one parent may not be in the picture, if he chose to leave home and join a religious order… Fortunately, he also seems relaxed and jovial, so there’s less pressure on her to perform.

“Do you have any specific questions you wish to have answered?” She asks, as the cards dive and flip between her fingers.

The man seems pensive, pillowing his chin upon the back of his hand. 

“Hmm… Does it matter if I ask a big question, or does it need to be personal?” He asks, then adds with a chuckle, “Also, that’s not the question; I don’t think djinn-logic applies here…” 

A vague smile curves her lips. 

“No, it doesn’t matter — the cards can answer either.”

“Alright then,” he nods, then asks, “What shall be the fate of the fallen sun?” He asks casually, as if asking about the weather next week — though the notion is something most Kindlers (or even Void-fans) would balk at as blasphemous. The Sun shattered more than eight-hundred years ago, after all, and only the most audacious religious orders pronoucne things about it — certainly not the Eternalist monks.

The fate of the who in the what now?

Beneath her veil, the Teller of Fortunes’s brows knit slightly. Fucking Eternalists.

She shuffles her cards a bit more quickly, and divides them into three piles. Her hand hovers briefly over each, feeling for the faint call — a tingle in her fingers, a subtle raising of the tiny hairs on her arm, a little jolt that says here, this — to tell her which to pick. 

She turns a card over.

“The Rogue upright. Usually, it represents cleverness and cunning. Here, it may indicate that the fate of the fallen sun is not ours to worry about — creation has its own rhythms, its own plans, its own conception of intelligence and the way things ought to be.”

She hopes the trail of smoke from the katagon bowl is enough to hide the relief in her smile. So far, so good.

The man lofts his brows, his expression light — somewhere between pensive and amused, though not in any sort of theatric or mocking way. Perhaps it’s the sort of amusement that comes from a curious surprise. “Interesting answer. A few religions disagree, but I’d say it’s at least above myself,” he figures. “I have no plans to go hauling shard-hunks antyime soon… So then, whose concern is it?”

Whose concern? If only her deck could be so specific… Still, she turns over the next card.

“The Oyster upright. It will be the concern of those who are self-sufficient, who have created boundaries for themselves. Oysters are also lowly animals, still and quiet enough to be mistaken for rocks. So, it is those who don’t seek glory — who are mild, self-supporting, and unconcerned with the troubles of the world. In short — it is whoever seems least likely.”

Oysters also only qualify as “sentient” through what is, at best, a technicality, but she tactfully leaves that part out.

The man nods again, taking a moment to wrap his head around this one. 

“It certainly seems an odd answer, though it has some truth… Creatures died in the shattering, unable to adapt; whereas people survive by building walls, or cultivating bright little bugs…” As he says this, he casts a glance at the tent wall. There, a collection of shardflies are gently bap-bap-bapping against the canvas. They seem to have a fondness for something in the tent, whether it be the people or some of the incense that’s burning. 

“Alright then,” he smiles playfully, and asks, “What will happen to the oysters next?”

“The oyst-” 

She clears her throat softly and turns over another card, before continuing in the same smooth, lullaby-like tones.

“Ah, The Fang upright. This indicates a preparation for battle — what was once meek, self-sufficient, and unconcerned will find themselves needing to become concerned if they are to prepare for the events ahead.”

She’s not quite sure how oysters would even go about doing this, but that metaphor may have begun to slip away from her.

“Hmm. Well, they should probably think about growing some arms then,” he figures, his tone somewhere between joking and firmly serious. Ultimately, he shrugs his shoulders and adds, “Alright, that’ll do. In any case, I’m open to another reading if you’re not keen to kick me out of your tent… yet.”

“Very well, that will be five silver. More oysters, or…?”

The Teller of Fortunes picks up her three piles of cards, preparing to shuffle them should the situation require it.

He laughs mirthfully, and shakes his head, disturbing the dark braid beside his chin. 

“No, no, I think the oysters have it handled… I have a more personal question this time.” He settles in, resting his large hands upon his lap. “After every four years of training, the people of our Order set out on a journey to gather more knowledge. Mine is coming up. I could ask what I would find, but that’s probably getting ahead of myself. So, what should I look for?” He asks, canting his head slightly to the side. 

Easy-peasy.

The Teller of Fortunes gently shuffles her deck before she turns over a card, setting it on the table between her and the monk.

“Ah, The Maranj reversed… .“ She leans forward, with a sly cant of her head and a playful lilt to her voice. “You should avoid overindulgence. If you might be tempted to seek out any temporal delights denied to you by your Order, now is not the time to do it.”

She turns over another card, placing it just below and to the left of the first.

“And The Huntress upright. Seek that which will demand courage from you. So, look for opportunities that will help you maintain your austerity, but challenge your spirit.” 

He rubs his palm across his firm cheek, considering what has been presented to him. 

“Well… No alcohol or carpentry for me, it seems,” he says jovially. “Something to challenge my spirit, though… Hm. That is a tricky one,” he figures, squinting in thought. “Very well. What sort of challenge would lend best to this?” He asks.

She gives an understanding nod as she turns over the third card.

“The Gurran reversed. The Gurran indicates a stoic nature, but, in its negative aspect, shows stubbornness. There is an aspect of your life that requires much tenacity from you, and that is where you should begin.”

At this, he purses his lips and sets his jaw. It’s not like he’s displeased, but more like this is exactly the sort of thing he’d expected. The man nods dutifully. 

“Well… In that case, it’d have to be either board games, love, or mathematics, and I don’t plan on buying an abacus anytime soon…” He sighs, then immediately lifts his spirits and straightens his posture.  “Alright! I think that’s perfect. Best get going before I complicate my worldview about clams any further. Do you take tips?” The callosian asks, rising from his seat. 

“Oysters,” she gently corrects him, amid a playful smile, “They’re also an aphrodisiac, if that helps. And yes, gladly.”

“Well then, maybe it’ll all work out!” The colorful callosian agrees, and lays out a handful of another five silver.  “Thank you for your insights, and may the stream ever flow,” he bids her, dispensing what seems to be some sort of local parting-idiom. Hastened by his thoughts, he’s soon slipping out the door.

The Teller of Fortunes reclines on her cushions, fanning herself gently with her hand. As breezy and cool as it is, there’s not much airflow through the tent, and it can be uncomfortably humid and stuffy sometimes. 

She keeps her ears pricked for the sounds of another customer, just in case, as she lounges. 

It seems that Eternalist really got in on the ground-floor of a busy day. While this clearing may not look like a typical location in a bustling city, it certainly is one. Before long, people are lining up outside of the tent. Given how the caravan tends to avoid city squares, this is a pretty unusual level of traffic. Today,  the caravan is positively swamped (pun intended). 

Many of the readings are made back-to-back-to-back, all with their own thoughts and concerns, and Ane is left sweating to keep up. Many  seek “knowledge” or “enlightenment” in lieu of wealth/love, asking towards some sort of deep, metaphysical understanding of the world. It’s surprising how many are willing to ask this of a fortune teller, but the locals seem prone to superstition and open to a broad definition of “divinity.”

Of course, if one is feeling cynical enough, these desires can easily be interpreted as yet another way to say gold and lovin’.

Ane is certainly cynical enough, though with a bit of a twist.

All any of her patrons ever really want is love in some form, when you peel away the disguises their questions wear — the ones who want gold want it because they think it will make them more attractive, and the ones seeking enlightenment want to know if the world is truly the understandable, loving place they hope it is.

The Teller of Fortunes shuffles and flips her cards, lending the appropriate flavor to their meanings depending on who’s doing the asking. Candlelight blooms across the shining reedpaper cardstock. One more card — the Shard upright. It can be any number of answers, as long as the questions are right.

Teller of Fortunes 16: Strange New Friends

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The dinner group of caravanners stares at the strange woman bundled into a ball of scarfs. She’s unperturbed by their stares, and speaks in a monotone:

“Greetings,” the scarf-woman nods politely, “I am Vaidna, your new friend. And good day.” With that, she promptly recedes back into the motionless scarf-ball. There’s an empty plate sitting beside her, as if she had just recently eaten while no one was looking. 

The three of them all exchange glances, shrugging, ultimately giving Ane the same glance of bewilderment. 

She is momentarily perplexed, until-

Oh!

“She’s a medicine seller,” she stage-whispers to the triplets, “I told her to talk to Jarrik about tagging along.” She fails to mention that the two of them prattled on about hallucinogenic herbs for twenty minutes when they met.

The triplets glance down at the pile each in turn, coordinated in the same way that they’re conjoined. Wila shrugs, Vila smirks, and Zila whispers:

“Well, I hope she’s being paid in pancakes!”

The head pops back out. As ever, Vaidna’s face is expressionless.

“Yes. Negotiations were successful. As a result, I am the new friend. The pancakes were delicious.” She pauses. “You may tell me your names, I will memorize. Except Ane and the blabrel, I already heard those.”

Once again, glances are exchanged, followed by short introductions. As soon as this is finished, Vaidna unceremoniously returns to her blanket pile.

“Well. Seems you found someone of our calibre, Ane,” Vasht the knife-thrower remarks.

“Yeah, our level of weird,” Brair the fire-breather elaborates. 

Ane shrugs a shoulder, cheeks stuffed full with pancake. 

The others nod amiably. Moments later, Vasht suddenly stops eating and looks up over the shoulders of the others. He has to tuck the small, vestigial wing covering his left eye aside to get a better look.

“What level of weird is that?” He asks, pointing with his fork.

A group of people arrive at the other edge of the camp. At their center is the caravan master Jarrik, who strolls along with his tall hat, bejeweled cane and his high white breeches. He walks with his head held high and shoulders drawn wide (and his belly pooched out under his coat). He’s travelling with an entourage of sorts, likely just a group of copper-bit hirelings; they’ve a very temporary look about them, in a number of senses.

That’s all normal, of course. The real spectacle trails on behind them, hemmed in between a few nervous men with spears.

There stands a tall figure, looming almost seven or eight feet — tall for a klorr, though not improbably so. This is made more ominous, however, by the tattered burlap tarp thrown over his head, shoulders, and arms as if to cover the scene of a grisly murder… Below, his arms hang down in massive, strange lumps of burlap long enough to touch all the way down to his shins. By their silhouettes in the sacks, they hardly seem like arms at all and more like gnarled, misshapen clubs. His slitted eyes practically glow from the holes in the threadbare tarp, catching some odd trick of the shardfly-light. He looks like some strange, lost titan, or an experiment gone horribly wrong and now on a mission to wreak havoc, befriend blind people, and tragically kill his father in a frozen wasteland. 

The bend of his back is strained and wretched, as if he struggles to lift his own arms.

Ane watches the caravan master and his entourage approach with mild curiosity.

Abruptly, the Caravan Master turns on his heels and shouts some kind of curse. He wags his cane at the hirelings, motioning towards the klorr. They soon bow their heads, and quickly rush up to the figure. It seems Jarrik has instructed them to remove the tarp, and perhaps for good reason. A complete aberration might be accepted by the caravan, but someone in an ominous hood? No chance in the Void for that. Jarrik has to unveil the lout before people flee in terror.

The face, of course, turns out to not have glowing eyes at all. He’s just a tow-headed klorr, albeit with his nose slightly askew, a dull look in his eyes, an an odd cant to his head. Then the shoulders, they’re fine… But those arms. Even before the tarp-wrap is removed, they look profoundly wrong. The silhouette defies definition. It leads one to think that the burlap wrappings themselves must just be very, very thick. 

When they’re removed, this is proved to be false.

The man’s arms are thick, and absolutely twisted. They proceed as normal from the shoulders, then bulge out irregularly at the upper arm, and at the elbow… They split. Each arm divides into two halves, like branches of the same bone, which proceed to twist around one another. They spiral all the way down to the hands, which are knobby, blunted versions of the usual klorrian claws. They face off in odd, impractical angles, with the claws still of course being on the misshapen fingertips. 

The klorr, for his own part, squinches his eyes shut — either to block out the light, or to hold back the tears that ripple at the edges of his eyes.

Somewhere in Ane’s company, a fork drops, and she catches herself open-mouthed with shock. 

“Well. That hits minimum,” Jiselmo concludes.

In all of her time getting acquainted with blue bolete, sightwort, and snakeleaf root, she has never seen anything like this. Even in her wildest, post-vision nightmares, she has never seen anything like this. The sight of him makes her own arms ache — even though she doesn’t know what it’s like to have a set of long, klorrian claws, his blunted hands seem agonizingly wrong.

She diverts her hum to her plate. It’s bad enough Jarrik is practically encouraging everyone to stare at him — she won’t be complicit in stroking his ego at the unfortunate man’s expense. Just because he’s enlisted to be gawked at for coins doesn’t mean he should have to bear the weight of stares from the rest of them. 

While Ane’ss looking away, the hirelings escort the klorr off to a wagon on the far side of camp. To all onlookers, he seems surprisingly unmoved by this whole proceeding, numb to it by the time his eyes are closed. 

In time, the group lets out a collective sigh of tension and begins finishing their plates. 

“I hope he is given good quarters… he might need help with those arms,” Nelea muses.

Brair shrugs his shoulders. “I’m just glad Jarrik got rid of the getup. I’ll take an odd sight any day, but covering him like that was terrible. I hope he just came like that, and it wasn’t a…”

A spectacle.

The rest goes unspoken. People may think of Jarrik as not a good man, maybe even a bad man… But they don’t like to think of him as a cruel man. It seems to help morale somewhat that he personally walked with the new arrival on the way to the wagons. Still, the group is a tad shaken, and many are beginning to get up and stow their plates. 

Ane hasn’t touched the plump links of sausage at the edge of hers, but she no longer wants to. Something about the display puts her off the rest of her food and, like everyone else, she goes to scrape her plate and set it in the wash basin to be scrubbed.

Before she does, though, she tosses the sausage to a skinny stray gelt sniffing around the perimeter of the camp. The creature looks older than its years, with a hide patchier a teenager’s beard and strange, sunken hollows beneath its dark eyes, but she imagines it’s grateful for a meal.

With her belly full and her plate handled, she returns to her wagon to ready herself to work.

Behind her, in the silence of the campground, a bundle of blankets marks the first of the tragedies to come into their midst.

Teller of Fortunes 15: Dreams and Pancakes

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When Ane awakens, she’s blinded by the faint glimmer of a memory.

A vast forest looms, fraught with buzzing lights and drooping shadows. Strange figures move about, all hiding their faces beneath wicker and burlap. Unlike the happy, aimless meandering of Paako’s citizens, they all move with purpose, surging towards a shape on the horizon… 

Her vision swoops down from the canopy, like that of a bird, diving between the mud-root huts and the sleepy town squares. Like phantoms, the strange figures are gone. Finding no evidence of their passing, she glides upwards once more, soaring high, cresting over top of the squalls that pass along temple walls. Beneath her, the massive step-pyramid of the Eternalists lingers in shadow, looming like a colossal sailwhale beneath an ocean surf, or a turtle hiding within its shell. 

In that moment, Ane’s “eyes” flare to life, and she sees color — or at least, a memory of color. It’s a deep, glowing violet, ensorcelled somewhere beyond the body of the temple. It calls out, not with a voice or a language, but with a feeling — a sense that it wishes to fly from here, as she soon will. And like a prisoner that watches the jail door swing closed, it knows its time is quickly slipping away. 

All this comes minutes after waking, once the mind has had time to adjust. 

Meanwhile, a familiar smell wafts in through Ane’s window — thick, creamy, buttery, cooking over an open bonfire. It can only be one thing: the dancer triplets’ patented sweetroot pancakes. They only make them when they’re in a particularly good mood. Sausages and other fixings are likely to follow as part of this rare, somewhat special occasion. Perhaps they’re pleased to be back in Paakoponde? Whatever the case, everyone’s likely to be in the camp for breakfast this morning. 

Purple.

Ane finds herself fixated on her dream. It’s strange — she’d never had, nor wanted, much truck with the Eternalists. Odd that their temple would appear to her now, though maybe not so very odd considering she’d seen it yesterday. Still, she knows better than to think this is a coincidence.

Nothing is ever a coincidence.

Ane avoids letting the memory get to her as she gets ready for the day, brushing her hair, washing up, and dressing for breakfast. When she emerges from her wagon and saunters over for some pancakes, she’s the picture of well-rested, unruffled calm.

This portrait of insouciance is met with a familiar sight — the food line. It’s rather long today, though it seems to be moving quickly,  perhaps almost three times faster. This is fortunate, because people seem rather eager this morning. They shuffle as they stand, watching the backs of those in front of them with a deep, hungry impatience. 

Soon, Ane arrives at the front of the line, where she’s greeted by the conjoined fuhajen triplets. Rather than dancing, this time they’re serving out food in a rather coordinated manner. Wila is to one side, flipping flapjacks on a set of iron pans, pausing to let each new serving sizzle over the fire. Beside her is Vila, in the middle, who smiles and hands out plates full of the morsels.

“Enjoy breakfast, it’s our specialty,” says the usually-sardonic middle sister, today with warmth.

A couple of seconds later, Zila, the “youngest” of the three, offers up the sausages and dollops of either jam or butter. 

“I love it when she’s like this, so much easier,” she confides, pretending Vila can’t hear. 

Of course, all three of them are joined at the hip this entire time. It’s really remarkable what six arms can do in such a confined space. 

“Thanks,” Ane says brightly, as she accepts a plate piled high with cakes, flanked by sausage, and drizzled with butter and jam. She moves swiftly out of the way, to let the rest of the line progress, as she hums over the assembled caravanners to find a place to sit.

After a few moments of wandering, Ane finds a place at one of the larger circles. There are still no tables — lest the caravan more deeply flout the local customs — but the troupe seems used to eating with plates on their laps regardless. Ane’s spot is right between Nelea and Jiselmo (sans Korin), seated neatly on a log. A few others are nearby, including Vasht and Brair. 

As Jiselmo notices her presence, he pauses eating and begins to beam excitedly.

 “Ah! The one responsible for that glorious spectacle last night,” the shasii comedian says, glowing with mirth.

“And the one who cured Korin,” Nelea the animal tamer adds dutifully, chastising Jiselmo with a pointed look.

“Fpecacle?” Ane says, around a mouthful of pancakes. She swallows, gently licks a stray trace of jam from the edge of her lower lip, and says again, more clearly, “Spectacle?”

“Why yes,” Jiselmo replies, leaning back. “A wondrous sight happened upon me as I returned from my grocery run… why, it was truly radiant!”

“Oh, I know where this is going,” Vasht the knife-thrower grumbles, rolling his eyes.

“Purest ivory! Right there, bright and shimmering in the shardlight! It was the pale, contorted belly of my friend and compatriot Korin. Like a loaf of twist-bread or a young girl’s braid, he twisted ‘round towards the sun, splashing himself so copiously with old bathwater! All to apply the curse-cure you gave him.”

Ane purses her lips and furrows her brow incredulously at the actor.

“Aw, leave Korin alone… He’s gotten enough grief from you and your trinket-lady already. Besides, it fixed him, didn’t it? And,” she concludes, spearing another bite of pancake, “How’d you know what the Void ‘ivory’ looks like in the first place? You’re a shasii like me, you don’t even have eyes.”

“Why, dear Ane, we are masters of the dramatic,” Jiselmo waxes on, gesturing with a skewered pancake. “I may not see ivory, but I know it by its passing!”

“I think that meams,” Brair the firebreather mumbles through a mouthful, “That he made it up.”

“Oh, the color may be in my mind, but the spectacle was not! And he was so dedicated in his craft. When I approached, he looked on towards the sun in rapt determination… A true tragic hero,” the shasii continues, gesturing dramatically. 

“I assume you were the cause of his misfortune, Jiselmo?” Nelea supposes.

“I cannot cause such bravery! The way he leapt in front of that crone’s eldritch claw was truly the stuff of song,” Jiselmo declares wistfully. “A true epic, featuring the wise Ane and her remedy, as well as my twitching compatriot with his visceral fondness for puns.”

“… It was Jiselmo’s fault,” Ane explains, “Or, as the trinket-seller apparently put it, Korin’s ‘pet blabrel.’”

This wins a sudden bout of giggles from the animal tamer, who has to stifle herself, lest she lose some of her breakfast along with her high-pitched giggles. Once the callosian has herself under control, Nelea mutters through teary eyes, “It’s true! He is so like a blabrel…”

“Such japery,” Jiselmo faux-chides. It’s not very convincing — he’s often lobbed worse at longtime friends in jest. “I am so much more majestic! Like a soaring silver skarrow, or a sociable clap-vole…”

“If by that, you mean you bring about buzzing horrors by smashing their eggs,” Vasht contributes, “Then yeah, sure, maybe a clap-vole,” he concludes with a wan smile. 

“Still,” Ane continues, “You can’t mock him for doing what he needed to do to get your curse off of him — just be happy I didn’t have him dump the water on your side of the wagon.” She points her fork at Jiselmo, as if it were a wizard’s wand from a fae tale — as if she could strike him with some kind of buttery, jammy bewitchment from where she sits.

“Bwah!” Jiselmo recoils, just barely ducking an imaginary ray of jam. He stumbles back, and nearly knocks over a pile of clothes that’s heaped up between him and the cook-fire.

A head pops out of the pile. It is a shasii woman wearing a dark bandanna over a mop of curls. 

“Be careful. I am toasting,” the scarf-pile chastises him. Vaidna the medicine peddler, apparently.

Jiselmo stops in place, frozen, furrowing his brow. He turns to the pile, then to Ane. 

“I’m… sorry?”

It’s another strange day in the caravan.