“How goes it?”
Her voice drew his attention away from the cards spread on the table before him and he looked up. She was stretching lazily in the bed, one side was illuminated by the pale light of the heavens slipping in through the open balcony doors. It contrasted beautifully against the side covered by the warm glow of the room’s lone candle, which rested atop a corner of the table.
“Well…” He let out a smoky breath, idly tapping his pipe with a finger. He paused, scanning the cards again. “There are a lot of influences upon this matter.”
“Which ones?” She crawled over to the edge of the bed, opposite the table from him, and looked down at the cards. The way she furrowed her brow when working on a puzzle was quite adorable.
“We have the obvious parties: the people involved directly.” He tapped the topmost cards of each stair, ignoring the shared crowning card. “The influence of one is dominated by Naerele, the other by burdens from the past.”
“Aren’t the Naerele long gone?”
“And then some,” he chuckled. “But there are scholars who study their ruins, and the occasional adventurer who stumbles upon some ancient trinket that still works. In this case, I expect it is the latter.”
“And the rest?”
“We have their allies, obviously. Looking at this bridge,” he said, tapping a lone card linking two of the lower steps. “They will be busy with each other.”
She looked at him, pulling the blanket around her to ward off a chill draft.
“Then we have the puppeteers, or major influences.” He indicated the bottom card for each of the towers, both black. “Both sides of this event are driven by the Void…” He paused, sucking on his pipe for a few moments. “The trouble is, I have never encountered that card before and do not know what it represents.”
“How is that possible?”
He threw her a grin as he grabbed the unused cards of the deck, spreading them out along an empty stretch of table and flipping them over. They were all blank. “It is a very special deck. The cards become what they need to be during the divination.”
She seemed genuinely confused, for the first time since he had started. He ignored it and instead moved on to the next card.
“Finally, we have the second mystery of this event: the third party. Someone who has lost everything they held dear, and who is a pawn either to the fey or their own emotions. Their actions will decide the outcome of this whole thing, and yet they weren’t even in the cards last time.”
She stared at him for a while, then pointed at the crowning card: the Dead King.
“It does not represent a person,” he replied with a frown. “It is the outcome that someone will die.”
“Which one?” She peered through her locks at the archway then up at him.
He shrugged. “Time will tell.”
She scoffed, then sat up. “Can you do mine now?”
He smiled at her and gathered up the cards. “Certainly. Of what do you wish to know?”
“My future!” Her eyes seemed to shine with anticipation, her intentions clear. This was not about fortune telling; her interest was one of learning.
“The towers do not work that way. They need an event.”
“Like the war with the Sollim?”
“Yes, or at least a specific battle.”
“Then find out who will win!”
“No one.” He placed his pipe on the table, then rose to his feet and closed the balcony doors. “ Now, pick something where you are a major player. This was to be your future.”
She pouted, then sighed. “Then tell me if I will do well tomorrow.”
The spread was simple, with only two short towers. One for her, one for her guild. Neither held anything special, though surely he embellished the reading enough to keep her interest without misleading her. Things would not go well during the hearing, but in the end it would work out for her benefit.
He did the divination almost on rote, barely paying attention to the cards or his descriptions of their meaning. Rather, his thoughts were preoccupied with greater events. Changes were coming; changes he had not expected.
Perhaps these changes meant he should no longer be merely an observer? Perhaps it was time for him to gather his family again?
The reading done, he moved over to the window to watch the Gilded Gate and the palace beyond. Malqish had many troubles ahead. Would the Prince Regent rise to the task? Would his advisors let him?
His gaze slid over the Nest and across the lake, climbing the hillside to peer at the horizon. Why did the Shadow Seer have an agent in play so far away from home? How did they know to send one? What other powers were meddling in this affair?
For all the things he had told the woman, the limits to his magic was a clear reminder of what he had lost. And what he had never had. Behind him the candle was snuffed out, followed by the rustling of bed sheets. Indeed, it was finally time to sleep.