11 Jan 2012 13:03:41 EST
Written by the EM Team
“Last time I do a favor for Rollins…” He looked at the note he’d been given from Rollins about taking a friend of his along with him. Victor glanced around his horses, and checked the fastenings on the saddles for the fourth time as the wind picked up. He looked at the skies as the heavens threatened to open up and deliver their own cargo upon the land, before exhaling heavily. Climbing back up into the bench on the front of the wagon he muttered, “I just hope whenever this Sherry gets here that she’s packed and ready to go.”
“I’m right here and ready, sir.”
“By the Virtues!” Victor exclaimed as his heart raced in his chest, looking down to where the voice had come from, and seeing only a tawny little mouse wearing a tiny grey shawl over her shoulders. He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes, before realization hit him. “Y-you’re the Sherry! Sherry the mouse I mean!”
“That’s right! It’d take me a lot longer to walk to Yew than I’d like, so I asked around if there were any travelers on the way, and that’s how I found you! Permission to come aboard, sir!” Sherry let out a few quick squeaks which Victor chose to interpret as her attempt at giggling. He reached a hand down to help her, and she scampered quickly to sit next to him. With a crack of leather he lashed the reins of the horses to spur them on towards the road.
Sherry squeaked in surprise at the noise. Looking slightly abashed, her voice rose above the hoofbeats, “Sorry! It’s been a while since I’ve ridden with anyone. I’d almost forgotten how fast it feels traveling this way! So how has your trading business been lately?”
Victor shushed her, much to Sherry’s chagrin, before he spoke quietly enough that it hardly rose past the percussive beat of hooves. “It’s been…good and bad. I’ve been getting more pay for my goods, but the roads have been more dangerous lately, and a lot of traders don’t make it to their destination. We must be careful.” Victor sighed at length, looking across the darkening road as the sun descended further in its orbit. “It seems that the feeling left over from banding together to defeat Virtuebane is swiftly vanishing, and the nobles are fighting even worse than before.”
Sherry’s face lengthened as she listened, and she looked down to the road swiftly passing by underneath the wagon, before looking back up to Victor. Victor’s eyes were locked on the road, but they darted back and forth in the gloom of the forest, seeking out hidden dangers. Sherry started to open her mouth but was interrupted as Victor spoke once more.
“There’s a lot of paranoia and tension in the realm. I’ve seen fights break out between trading partners of decades, and families torn apart over their family businesses. I don’t think there’s a way to stop it.” Victor shuddered at something that this mention conjured up inside him, and Sherry stared at him briefly.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Victor’s eyes held a haunted and tortured look in them, and he took a deep breath before he spoke, but he refused to meet Sherry’s gaze. “Sherry … let me tell you a story about an … experience I had last week in Vesper. Maybe it’ll help to finally tell someone. It started off with an innocent enough encounter…” Victor took a deep breath, and as Victor told the story Sherry swore she was seeing it unfold right in front of her very eyes…
Victor paused amidst the bridge and looked south towards the sea, taking in the sights of the boats on the horizon before he heard another’s approach. He ignored them until he noticed that the woman had stopped and rested her own hands on the bridge and seemed to be gazing out to sea as well, though her wide-brimmed hat covered much of her face. As thunder echoed in the distance the woman spoke so softly that at first Victor wasn’t sure she’d spoken at all. “Excuse me?”
“There’s a storm coming, you know.”
Victor chuckled good-naturedly. “Not a rare thing here in Vesper.” He looked over to the woman but his smile vanished in an instant at the sight of her face as she turned to look at him. While the gypsy woman’s toothy smile was almost malicious in its bearing, it was her clouded, murky white eyes that resonated through a chord of fear in his being. Despite her obvious blindness, her gaze seemed to bore deep within to his very core. He had never felt a sense of trepidation like that which accompanied her next question.
“Would you like to know the future, boy?”
Victor swallowed hard and his hand went down to a pocket to fish out a few coins, hurriedly passing them to the woman while nodding his assent. Realizing his mistake he swallowed again, as all the stories of fortunetellers and oracles that he’d heard as a child flooded back to him in an instant.
“Y-yes, I would.”
The gypsy’s arms rose up and the shawl around her shoulders fluttered as she gestured with her hands, performing some archaic bit of wizardry to allow her to pierce the veil. Her voice dropped into a hoarse whisper as her movements held a rhythm all their own that kept his attention riveted.
“People have risen and people have fallen, and throughout it all none hear the calling. The storm clouds gather and their potency rises, as none step forth to address the crisis. Though the raging winds and lightning ensue, it’s their aftermath that poses to consume. The path will open to our preservation, but not without its own consternations. The flames will brew and threaten us all, unless a way is found to pacify the squall.” Her tones had taken on an eerie cadence of song to them, and her swaying came to a close as she finished her incantations, regarding the shaken Victor as if waiting for some kind of response.
“I…I don’t understand. What do we do?” Victor’s voice trembled for a moment as he forgot himself, while he felt a swell of dread rising in his gut. The gypsy folded her arms over her chest and bowed her head slightly so her hat covered all but his view of her mouth. Her lips moved ever so deliberately as she spoke once more, but this time with none of the lyrical tones she had adopted during her divinations.
“The fires of fate will burn hot and bright, and this cannot be stopped by mortal hand; it is our duty to determine what these fires do.” With that she started to walk across the bridge before he shouted to her, causing her to pause and seemingly glance back over her shoulder.
“What do you mean? I still don’t understand!”
“Fire is a destructive and constructive force. In its embrace is where we can burn away our impurities, but linger too long and nothing is left to salvage.” With that parting shot, the blind fortuneteller strode confidently through a Vesper that felt colder and harsher than it had mere moments ago…
As Victor’s tale drew to a close, Sherry gave the wagon driver a plaintive glance, and her tiny body shook as she swore she could almost hear the woman’s voice. She couldn’t find any words in response and instead studied Victor’s face inquisitively. It was plagued with worry and uncertainty, and she could feel its infectious touch beckoning her.
Victor’s dismayed expression only darkened as they passed by the burned and arrow pocked wreckage of another caravan along the road, and the sky suddenly burst forth with a crash of lightning. Raindrops began to patter along the wagon, and Victor gestured to the covered portion. “Go ahead and get inside, it’ll keep you warm and mostly dry. I’ll tell you when we arrive.”
Sherry climbed inside the wagon without a word and curled herself up into a ball against a few sheafs of wheat that were in the wagon, carefully avoiding the holes in the patched and worn canvas roof. Despite the shelter of the wagon keeping her warm and dry, her body was wracked with shivers from a chill that emanated from within. When sleep came to her, it arrived riddled with nightmares.