Soothsayer pt.2

Just before Horo could reach out to pull the cloth entrance of the tent aside, a man suddenly stumbled out, almost knocking into them. And he looked baffled. But neither Severos or Horo could be sure why. Maybe this soothsayer had told him something so out of the realm of possibility he was stumped as to the leap in logic, or maybe he was told a truth or secret only he could have ever known.

“Curious.” Horo said after the man had departed.
Severos frowned. “Maybe this isn't such a good idea, Horo…”
Before the young mage could articulate his doubts any further, a beckoning voice came from within the tent: smooth, mysterious, with an air of sultriness. “Do not be shy, gentlemen. Come. Enter the chambers of Madam Esmerelda. Enter and all that is unknown will become known.”

“That is quite the promise.” Horo glanced at an unimpressed Severos from the corner of his eye, before stepping inside.

“Come, come, sit. You are here for a fortune, correct?” Esmerelda asked, looking up at the two men, the bang of her red hair covering one eye.

“Here for a fortune! How could she possibly know that?” Horo said, turning to Severos, who groaned before entering the woman's tent.

Esmerelda smiled. “Ah, I see you are a pair of sceptics. But you truly want to believe, and even more want to believe I might be of some help with something very important.”

“You are on a roll, Madam. Please continue. We're all ears.”
“Then sit. Sit, and we can begin.” Esmeralda gestured to the vacant place in front of her. “Oh and do close the door. The spirits like their privacy and there is a terrible draft.”

Severos stepped fully in and sat down, legs crossed on the floor that was covered in multiple mismatched rugs; Horo let the flap of the tent shut behind him as he sat down next to Severos. Esmerelda sat in a much more relaxed pose, shifting a bit and the golden bangles on her wrists jangled.

“So my dear, weary travellers. You seek the wisdom of Madam Esmerelda. What do you wish me to foretell?”

“Well.” Horo started, “Shouldn’t you know the answers that we seek already, if you are so good at foretelling the future?”

“You, Horo Inu, you are not the first to say that.” Esmerelda said, motioning for the man in the hat to lean in closer to her. “Or should I call you...” She put her lips to his ear and whispered something only Horo could hear. Horo’s eyes shot open wide in surprise.

“Okay, you had my curiosity… but now you have my attention.”
She looked between the two of them. “I know you both seek to know the outcome of this personal mission you have dived headlong into. I can tell you I see many, many different outcomes. Most of them are not so good...”
Severos glanced at Horo with an I-told-you-so look.

Esmerelda held a crystal ball of white glass in her hand, waving the other hand over it in swooping and arching patterns as fog and lightning visibly danced inside the orb. “I am getting dark emanations from my ball. Powerful forces seek to thwart you. To crush you in body and soul. I foresee blood, pain, regret, and fear. The gods above obfuscate my seeing from whom exactly. But I feel the success of your venture will all depend on what part of yourself you are willing to give to this quest, and what morals you will concede to get back Orla Carling.”
Horo closed his eyes for a moment. “As much as I hate to say it, I think that does

“I don't see how,” Severos said. “But I'm impressed she knew Orla's name.”

“Names are easy for one such as I. But as powerful as the Fates sometimes allow, they cloud my vision when certain outcomes could affect the future too greatly. But you Severos Aven…” Esmeralda suddenly stopped, recoiling a bit as the fog in the orb visibly darkened to a black shadow. “You carry an item of enormous evil. It angers the fates, clouds the future, and disturbs the spirits that aid in my soothsaying. It also twists your own soul almost to the point of destruction.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why would you willingly keep in close contact with something so vile?”

“The obligations I have undertaken are no concern of yours, Madam,” Severos responded in a clipped tone. “I will not discuss them with a stranger. You're the one we've come to seeking answers. If you really have any to give us...”

Esmeralda shot him a look of distaste. “If you wish to know your fate beyond this moment in time, you must place that heinous book of yours away from me.”

“What do you know of this book?” Severos asked, demanded.

“The Mortith, you call it? Only that it’s evil and that it, itself, is... alive. I sense a being of incredible power... a great destiny that was squandered, and an unstable individual who now is only the cause of pain and tragedy. Please, just set that terrible book outside the tent away from me. Do it now. Please. It’ll be safe. You can trust me.”
Severos looked troubled by the request, and didn't trust the woman one bit, but Horo grabbed the pack containing the Mortith and reaching through the flap of the tent, placed it just outside. “There, better?”

“No, what are you doing?” Severos shouted.

“Relax. Esmeralda would tell us if anything bad was going to happen to it.” Horo said to calm Severos’ protests. “And maybe without it's bad vibes interfering she can tell us a little more of what we need to know to find Orla...”

The young mage nodded at this, then turned to see Esmeralda looking at him. “So what can you tell us?”

“I can tell that you are a deeply troubled young man.”

“He knows that,” Horo said. “But what we want to know is about our mission to save our lost friend.”

Esmeralda nodded. “I probably have told you all that I am able... but I can try doing a tarot reading...”

Horo smiled. “Yeah, do that. Pull out all the stops, please. This is very important to us.”

“I am sure it is,” Esmeralda said in her sultry stage voice as she reached for a bag next to her.

The way the woman didn't seem to appreciate the gravity of their situation annoyed Severos. “It would help if you told us something specific,” he said. “Our lives might depend on the information you can provide.”

“I will attempt to be more specific, as the Great Madam Esmeralda always aims to please her paying customers.”

Horo flashed Severos a smile and reached for his coin bag. “I think she's hinting we haven't paid yet.”

“So far this has been a waste of time,” Severos said. “Now you want to waste our money? What happened to all that would be unknown would become known? She did say that, didn't she?”

Horo looked at him. “That was just her opening sales pitch. Why so grouchy all of a sudden?”

Severos sighed. “I don't know. Maybe because my soul is being consumed by a force so dark and powerful that I don't think I can fight it much longer. I have one best friend who has been taken from me, where who knows what is being done to to her even as we speak. And I have another best friend who keeps changing into different looking people.”

“I am the same man you met in Warfall,” Horo said, adjusting his hat. “This ‘me’ is just a rejuvenated version of that man.”
Severos rubbed his tired eyes. “You say these things like you expect me to understand what they mean.”

“I don't expect you to fully understand, just understand enough. Do you understand any of what she's doing?” Horo asked, changing the subject.

Severos saw the woman had now pulled out a deck of Oracle cards and laid them out in front of them, face up. The cards were vividly illustrated with enigmatic figures and symbols that meant nothing to him.

“I have studied different fields of magic, but never cartomancy...”
Esmeralda smiled as she gestured down at the cards on the rug. “What you see before you, Severos, is a portion of your recent life's journey. It has been a great internal struggle against a tide of corrupting darkness. I see many outcomes, all of which depend on you, and your willingness to carry on and not give in to the honey-sweet whispers of that foul being which dwells within that book of yours.” She pointed down to a card with a winged demon on its face. “That is the Devil card, symbolising the being which has poisoned your soul. But Galathus Kelmor–”

“Okay, let me stop you right there.” Horo interrupted. “Kelmoran isn't who we came here about. There is a much worse being out there, a hive entity from beyond time and space which I have on very good authority is a threat to just about all of existence as we know it.”

“Ah, of course. The foe you challenge for the life of your friend...” She pointed with a ringed finger. “This card, Injustice, means a terrible wrong has been done. The Malefactor has destroyed lives for selfish fun and profit, upsetting the balance you so enjoyed in happier times. Sadly because there are so few willing to accept the consequences for standing up for what is right, our world is full of too many such injustices as these.”

“We intend to stand against this evil,” Severos said, “even if it costs us both our lives.”
“As it may well.” Esmeralda pointed down at another card. “This one, The Broken Man, indicates that your struggles and sacrifices may all be in vain. The Fates have never been as kind to heroes as the bards would have us believe.”

“So we're doomed?” Horo asked.

“Not necessarily.” The soothsayer indicated another oddly illustrated card. “The final end of your quest is The Moon, which represents lurking dangers, terror, calamity, but also hidden surprises that may lie in store for you. Those could be either good or bad.”
“My coin is on bad,” Severos said. “But look at that Horo, there is a dog pictured on the card that is howling at the moon. Could it be a dog that wanders, perchance?”
“Har har,” Horo said, leaning forward. “That looks more like a wolf to me than a dog.”
“The dog or wolf is representative of each of our beastly natures.” Esmeralda explained. “But the shining moonlight can guide you on a path to a clearer vision, helping you grow spiritually and triumph over this overwhelmingly corrupt world. But like the moon, this light waxes and wanes, and when it wanes our paths are ones that we cannot be sure of, and we are filled with much anxiety.” She looked at Severos.

“So are you saying I'm the dog?” the mage asked.

“No, I think you were right the first time. That must be me,” Horo said, smiling.

“Maybe you're that little crab-like thing crawling out of the crack in the ground near the dog's paws...”

“That is a crayfish,” Esmeralda continued. “That which emerges from the depths of ignorance. It symbolises our life's journey to carry out a greater, and often divine, purpose.”

“Divine?” Severos said. “Our friend Orla was once very close to a god.”

“Goddess,” Horo corrected. “A seemingly fickle and uncaring one, but with some goodness to her. Maybe.”

Esmeralda smiled. “Some say the gods above are beyond good and evil, which are the sole responsibility of us mortals. Our burden. Our test.”
“If that's true it's no wonder the world is such a miserable place,” Severos said. “Many people are just out for themselves and their own self-interests, and they'll step on
anyone to get what they want.”

Esmeralda nodded. “Far too many are not held to account for their pettiness and cruelty, but karma will catch up with these people, if not in this life, at some future time.”

“Not before they've caused a lot of suffering in their wake,” Horo said under his breath.

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