“Fortune telling needs some pageantry, wouldn’t you agree?” Roen chided her, though not unkindly. He had an apparent fondness for theater, this one. Taking a quick sip of his brandy and setting the glass aside, Roen reached over his desk and toyed with the key on one of his laps. Turning it, the flames therein dimmed, as did those in other lamps located throughout the study. He made no comment on this, treating it as the extravagance of the rich on gaudy and flippant use of Genesarian artifice. It did make for some decent ambiance, though. Kassandra was just a shade brighter than a silhouette in front of him, though that would likely change once his eyes adjusted.
Patient, Roen indulged Kassandra’s ritual work. Relinquishing control over his hand to her gentle ministrations, he locked gazes with the wanderer and feigned a wince when she slid the sharpened tip over his index finger, cutting clean through callous to the tender flesh beneath. Blood beaded, and he grimaced, saying nothing. With his hand back firmly in his possession, Roen drew his injured finger to his lips and, forgetting polite decorum, sucked on the injured tip with an expression somewhere between petulance and grievance.
“That hurt,” he complained in the quiet tones typically reserved for funerals and libraries. He drew his finger away from his mouth and folded his hand in his lap, squeezing the tip against his thumb to stop the bleeding. Preoccupied as he was with selling the indignation of bleeding his own blood and the pain involved with it, he did not fail to notice how the temperature dropped. It put him into an altogether less charitable mood. Until that point, he had not taken the traveling girl any more seriously than a charlatan, or a wood’s witch with lore little more esoteric than the arcane.
But here, now, the world was responding in sympathy to her will and intent, and that was enough to turn his smile as frigid and brittle. It fractured altogether into the crippling shards of a frown as hoarfrost crept up the interior of his lamps to extinguish their flames, rendering both traveler and lord into distinct, sharp shadows of themselves. He had indulged her, he had gone through the rote in an attempt to charm and solicit friendliness, but now the game had become something serious, and while he was tempted to put an end to it then and there, he knew, with bitter rue, that he could not.
She was in the middle of weaving, and without knowing what craft she divined her talents from, there was simply no way of telling how a dissolution would end. So, he watched, unhappy and uncertain, while she wove somatic gesture, melody and ritual into her soothsaying. Briefly illuminated by the striking of a match, Roen’s thoughts drifted into the clinical and analytical. No use of a fetish. Spell reagents. A rose, sulfur, wood. Ritual. Aethyr, possibly arcane. No grams or straight lines or wards; uses tune and diction for control. Possible faen. That was the extent of his ruminations, however.
The flaming rose haw went into the bloodied water, and then all was smoke. After a moment, Roen breathed it in. He did not close his eyes to it, but stared into it, unmoving and unmoved. Prophecy, visions of the future, the past. Roen screwed his mouth tight, grinding his teeth until jowls turned hard and tendons started to creek. He saw familiar shapes, familiar eyes, familiar truths, and felt his ire rise, as well as his gorge. He smothered the deep, enduring ache in his chest with these feelings of contempt and fury, and was granted a reprieve when the vision drifted away, much like the girl it had been styled by. Kassandra’s voice found him in the midst of these sights, somewhat disembodied, yet bolder, firmer. As if she were both near and far. It raised his hackles in a way few things ever did, though whether it was her talk of love, a chase, and sons born by blood, he did not know. All of it, perhaps. Perhaps none.
More, more, there was always more. The promises, the traps. Prophecy, he said he hated prophecy. He had tried to fight fate, once. He had tried to rally against it. What is it that he told her, what was it that he had said..
’To see the future is like looking up at the branches of a tree. From the ground the trunk is visible, but after a while the tree begins to branch. Suddenly something that was one becomes several. Those branches in turn divide again, and again, and again. The further up you look the more the tree branches, the more the lower branches hide those that grow higher still.’
He had showed her, he had entreated her. He was so furious, that night. He had been so hateful.
Roen had his Vindicta, once.
'Now you see that the tree is a living thing, its every inch moving between new growth and death. Leaves bud, wither and fall. The tree grows higher, and a wind rises. New branches spread above you. Some branches die, and become dry limbs creaking as they scrape the sky. Sometimes the wind is just a breath that only stirs the tiniest twigs. Sometimes it is a gale. The tree sways, the branches thrash. And all the while, through every change, every stir of air, every new growth, you are looking up, seeing the pattern of branches change, glimpsing its heights only to have them hidden again.
We see what is closest most clearly, what is further away perhaps not at all.’
Hate, fury, fire. To predict the future wasn’t to see one leaf on a tree. It was to see a forest, and find one tree, and on that tree a single leaf. And he had looked at her, the golden-eyed girl, and he told her there were easier ways to divine the future. To destroy every other possibility except the one he wished to occur. He had threatened butchery. He had threatened savagery. And then -- and then he relented, and he had yielded, and he lost something, something vital, something necessary. He had lost his vindicta, and now, now.. Now…
Now the vision was gone, and with it the smoky haze of castles falling, cities crumbling, and promises of glory. And while she said he sought death who sought him in turn, he felt keenly dead already. His eyes had adjusted, though. He saw Kassandra, saw how she looked at him, and heard her words with no small measure of discomfort. Without waiting for her to register the look of pain writ clear on his face, Roen pushed himself up from the table and turned his back on the wanderer, more upset with himself and his naivety than her wonderwork. What she had produced was controlled, articulate, and neat - more than this, it did not leave him feeling dirty, or soiled. It was not an invasive soothsaying. No, he couldn’t be angered with her talent, only with himself for ever doubting it. With the lamps gone dark and cold, Roen moved to the window and parted the heavy curtains to let moonlight in. It was a half-moon tonight, with stars aplenty to light their encounter.
“That’s what my detractors called me..,” Roen hedged, skirting the line between lies and truth. “Devil.” He licked his lips and raised a hand, touching his jaw. It hurt, the tension there slow to fade. A pause, a further digest of what she had said and what they had seen. Fury, wrath, vengeance. He licked his lips. It echoed in his mind, that word. It haunted his dreams, took hold of him in nightmares. Hatred, fury, vengeance. Revenge. He drew in a low, shaky breath, then released it.
“Vindicta.” He closed his eyes, tasting the word on his lips. “The word haunts me. It is like poison in my mind.” Quiet and sincere, he confessed to this girl. In darker days he might have slain her for the discomfort, but.. these were different times, and he was a different man. “You find me in shame and shadow, Miss Le’or, and tease me of being reborn in black and gold. What an interesting guest you have become.”