The small, blonde woman barreled down the street, bouncing off the oblivious backs of the congested crowd. Her brows were heavy with worry, her shoves growing more aggressive as the density of the marketplace funneled into a jampack bottleneck. The heat, usually balanced by the wind, smothered around her, causing a stressful sheet of sweat. Her stomach twisted.
“Excuse me, sir,” she kept saying. “Excuse me. Have you seen a man with bright blonde hair?”
Most ignored her. Some simply due to not hearing well over the bustle. She did receive some head shakes, a few, “I’m sorry, Miss,” but no one could direct her in her brother’s exit.
Kaia slowed at a break in the throng, mulling over if she should turn about and go back to the place he had left her. If he was ever to find her, he would probably look there first, right?
Back when she had a much shorter stature and a worse memory, times like these lead to a panic, a tear, and the horrific out of control fantasies. Losing Rasmus had always terrified her, even when she knew exactly where he’d gone. There were few times when he went off on his own, and every moment she’d run through the thousands of scenarios of what she would do if he never returned. If they lost each other, if one of them died, if they got into an argument, or someone got arrested, she couldn’t imagine what course of actions she would take. She’d never admitted it to him, but her life had been following him where he led.
Nowadays, her maturity being a little more intact, she didn’t fear losing him on a busy day. It would be a horrific waste of time, but eventually they’d find each other, even if they had to wait around until everyone else left. She’d finally learned that Rasmus wouldn’t ever just vanish on his own accord. Still, logic had not been welcome in her stomach for many years.
It was at that moment that a flash of bright pale yellow passed through the crowds and into a booth, the man looking about suspiciously before he swept inside.
The purple tent hung like a royal coat in the midst of brown and grimy white. Though old, age wearing the bright colors, the lavender of the cloth, the white of the stars, it stood proud as the only color in the entire market.
Kaia pulled back the curtain and walked in without even glancing to see if anyone had seen.
Her brother stood in the corner, handling a crystal ball and staring at all the peculiar items. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, his backpack set in the middle of the floor next to the large table. He was wandering.
“What are we doing here?” his sister asked.
He jumped, his skittishness measured in inches with the crystal flew from his hand.
“Kaia. Hell, don’t do that.”
“You left me behind!”
“You were having fun, and I needed to go see the fortune teller.”
Tarot cards vomited across the table cloth, accompanied by crystal balls of various sizes and a large purple sultan’s hat. She said, “It took you long enough to find her.”
“I was asking about and I got into a conversation with a young lady at the fish stand.”
She smirked at him, walking over to the table and leaning on it. Peeking at the myriad of decorations, she picked up a dried chicken foot.
“So, you told her what a strong, mysterious demon hunter you were, and she just smiled and nodded.”
His eyes drooped, brow down, he replied, “She was very fascinated, I’ll have you know.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“Put that down,” he said, heading back for the door. “We should go. She’s not here.”
“What’s the rush?” she asked, juggling a couple of candles.
“Have you met a magic user who wasn’t territorial? Or paranoid?”
She put the pieces back in place, somber. “Rasmus, I need to tell you something. I think… I think the missing girl wasn’t the only one.”
His lips pursed, face draining color. He waited, attentively.
“The storyteller said it happens once a year. These people get word about one child mysteriously missing in the village in the valley,” she said softly. “Which might explain the parents’ callousness too.”
His chest rose like a drowning man’s. He parted his hands. “So, we need to go back. We need to really understand what happened.”
“Actually, I’m getting sort of an idea. If we think of the timing of all this—a church built and religious accepted so recently? The scry spells not working? Henrik’s death? The demon?”
“You think they’re playing with the Wyrd?”
“I think they are
the Wyrd. Now, anyway.”
He crossed his arms. “A village of monsters took over where we grew up?”
“It has nothing to do with us. Shit happens, despite our involvement.”
“We stayed there for almost a week! If that was the case, they would have eaten us by then.”
“Maybe that’s not what they want.”
“What else could their motives for playing human be?”
“Well,” the girl said thoughtfully. “Maybe they’re not playing. Maybe they just want to be humans.”
Rasmus’s skepticism faded, arms dropping. He opened his mouth when the tent flap rustled. A voice came through.
“Hello?” it called. “Is anyone available?”
“Shit,” Rasmus hissed. “Kaia, we need to—”
She lunged for the hat.
But the man was already halfway inside. Rasmus dove for the back flap, fumbling through the purple folds without any grace.
Kaia landed flat in her seat, smiling at the aristocrat.
He did not fit in with the peasants here, his clothing lightweight and shining, puffy pants over starch, black boots, a giant green hat with a red feather, and frills along his shirt. Kaia scrunched up her nose at his strange sense of fashion.
The aristocrat blinked stupidly about the place.
Kaia smiled, giving a circular gesture of her hand.
“Who was that?” His voice was thick with an accent, though his speech fluent and without hesitation.
“Oh, an embarrassed client,” she said, her voice low. “The closed curtains mean we are occupied, you know.”
“I apologize,” the man said sincerely, removing his hat. He flicked away the two bodyguards behind him, men dressed in black barely peeking through, before taking a seat.
“It is… I’m just in a terrible predicament, you see. I’m in rather need of your help.”
“I don’t see your type down here often,” Kaia said, giving him a side eye.
He seemed affronted. “My type? I’m from the castle. If it weren’t for our patronage, your band of traveling misfits would have nothing to do but trade each other!”
“I meant someone so put together.”
He straightened his nose, stunned. “Oh.”
“You seem so… groomed for someone in such a state of distress. How may I help you?”
“You see, it is all this mess going on about here. Something is up, and everyone’s on edge. We have studied the stars and the years, and yet nothing seems to tell us why the Wyrd is acting so aggressively!”
“And you have come to me…”
“Do you know anything?”
“Well,” Kaia began, “Madame Glimmering does know all. Let me peer into my crystal ball and take a look. But first, let us be clear we’re on the same page. What exactly is it that you’re talking about?”
“Haven’t you felt the changes in the air? The animals are disturbed. Ghouls have been spotted down south. I need to know why.”
“Well, let me see what can do…” Kaia said, hesitantly.
“No, stop. If you could do anything, you would have done so already.”
Kaia clapped her hands on the table, waiting with thin lips.
“I want to talk to my mother.”
“Then what are you doing here?” Kaia said, eyes narrowed.
“She’s not alive.”
“Oh.” She tipped back her head. “Oh.
You want to do a séance. Well, to be honest with you, I’m not really—”
“Listen, lady. I’m warning you. I’ve dealt with frauds of all sorts. I know my mother. I will recognize if you’re lying to me. I swear if I catch one more fake, I will cut him where he stands.”
Kaia tilted her head, mouth open, uncertain where to go next. “Let me gather my things. Have you had a séance before?”
“Many,” he glowered.
The girl managed to keep a straight face, pushing the items before her around. She’d heard of seances before, read all about them, but it wasn’t exactly something she’d pay attention to; it took a certain kind of blood, a connection of souls, to call the spirits. They usually attracted ghosts, and she’d chased enough around to know she wasn’t especially alluring to the spirits.
“Have they ever been successful?”
He just raised a brow, mouth contorted into a snarl.
Kaia twitched, relief filling her stomach. She leaned back. “Right. Well, then, I’m going to have to ask you to not question my means then. If you want this to work, you are going to have to trust me. It’s not going to look like you expect.”
“What do I expect?”
“Flash. Bang. Those are the fakes. Reality is subtle. There’s no showmanship here.”
“Alright…” he said, sitting into his chair.
Kaia sat still, closing her eyes. “What is the name of your mother?”
“She’s from the East?”
“Originally, yes. Came here to marry my father.”
“That was just a guess. Not some psychic connection,” she explained casually. Then she shut her eyes again.
The room sounded liked it hovered miles above the street, the noise of passersby muffled through the thick fabrics. Breathing deep, she felt her body drop away and almost fell asleep.
A long time passed.
Her hand shot into the air. The silence continued.
Kaia didn’t actually know what she was waiting for, but eventually, she got bored.
Her pink lids fluttered open, the girl peering through her lashes as she said, “She is here.”
The man didn’t seem to hear, leaning in, an ear tilted. But then he did understand, for certain, flipping about in his chair like a panicked cat, unable to see a squeaking bird flying around his head. But nothing.
Kaia reintroduced her hand. “Ask her your question.”
There was a flicker of hope, but skepticism swallowed it fairly quickly. “You claim my mother is here? In this room, right now?”
“Lady, I’ll have you know I can smell a rat a mile away.”
Kaia perked up her ear, as if a faint noise was dancing around her. Her face contorted as if half of it had been smooshed by an angry artist annoyed with his sculpture.
“What?” she said, a little too loud.
“I… can smell a rat?”
“No, cram it. Excuse me? One more time?”
The room again seeped in silence. She turned to the aristocrat. “Sir… your mother… she never spoken in western tongues, did she.”
He leaned forward, perched on the edge of the table. “I’m sorry?”
“She’s not speaking Norn.” She fell back in her seat, clapping her hands on the golden sides. “I have no idea what she’s saying.”
His face turned white. “R—really?”
“Sort of can make out her facial expressions? Make your questions simple.”
“Do you feel her presence? Her joy?”
“She’s drifting. She can’t stay long.”
“Mama.” His hands were dead white, clutching to the arms of his chair. “Mama, people are changing. There are those infected with strange diseases, mutations.”
Kaia’s eyes went wide.
“The already afflicted, those with the blood of the others are struggling with their changes, their urges. Something in the air is going to happen to us. Mama, you always understood the Wyrd best. Is something going to happen?”
Kaia flicked her eyes back and forth. She breathed through her teeth.
“Shhi?” the man repeated. “Yes.”
“She is nodding.” Kaia’s eyes were dead.
“Mama, what is it? What do we do?”
Kaia hesitated, biting down the pain in her throat. She debated, only for an instant. “I don’t think she knows.”
It was as if she could see hope fall from his face, dragging down his features with it into a wide-eyed, slack-jawed boy of fear.
“She must go.”
“No. Wait. Mother!”
He was on his feet.
Nothing had changed. Kaia’s heart thudded in her chest as she studied him, slack in her chair, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He remembered her existence. He gaped at her in wonder. She shrugged.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak the language. Do you?”
He shook his head. I forgot long ago. She died when I was young.”
A tear rolled down his cheek. Kaia started.
“No,” he said, waving a hand at her. Don’t get up. Please.”
He tossed a coin at her.
Kaia eyed it unappreciatively. She didn’t move. He turned his back, head bowed, about to leave.
“What do you know about the changes here?”
The man hesitated, not fully facing her, head hovering in thought. “Things are aligning. A sacrifice, a break from hell, and the night the fairies commune. My lord heard word they all will lead to one final moment, a long-forgotten prophecy. I thought my mother might know. But I don’t think anyone does.”
The hut again was left in a moment of peace. It was cool for a tent, a light breeze making its way through.
“You hear that, Rasmus?” Kaia said softly. “We want to find the missing? Want to know what happened to the dead? We got to find a prophecy. Otherwise, something’s big is going to happen to us.”
Her brother didn’t respond.
She peered over her shoulder, golden painted chair creaking. Surely he wouldn’t have left.
Kaia moved for the back flap. “Rasmus, I think we might be in over our heads.”
Yanking it open, she saw her bother still standing there, but this time with company. An older woman clutched his hair in a gnarly claw.
“Get the hell out of my tent,” the fortune teller spat.
All rights reserved. ©2018 Charley Daveler.