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One Day Soon

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It was a long time before Roen found the initiative to turn the dials on the shower and cut the water. Cleansed of the day's activities, he had found it far more difficult to wash to grit from his -- soul, he supposed. Grabbing a towel for modesty and another for practicality, he dried himself off and left the steam soaked bathroom for the coolness of his inner rooms. While the villa was an ode to luxury and opulence, Roen kept his personal quarters as close to spartan as he dared, lest he be called monkish. He had a bed for sleeping, a desk for working, and all the odds and ends needed to lead a quint life, but little else in the ways of, as he liked to put it, frivolity. Most of all, it was clean, but too quiet. He looked around, vague and unhappy, and sighed as he eased himself into a chair to rub the weariness from his eyes. The beach was quiet again today, and lonely. He had waited over an hour for -- something, he did not know what, but he had waited. He left when he couldn't feel the warmth in the sand anymore, and returned to the villa. 

Now he sat, weary, and wondering if he could get away with crawling into bed and sleeping his way into the morrow. He couldn't, though. Not tonight, not before seeing Philippe. It was getting harder and harder to do that, too, he thought with guilt and sorrow. The boy's happiness was not infectious, and he was growing by the day, with his mother's delicate features and coloring coming in more and more. And his eyes, so green and so bright, so intelligent and always watching. Roen felt judged by those eyes. One day there would be words to come with their judgement. Where's mom? Why did she leave? What did you do? Roen rubbed his eyes harder, scrubbing more than weariness from them, and rose to get dressed. Dry socks, britches and boots. The soft linen shirt, open at the breast and cuffs. The black waistcoat of silk with the golden brocade, the Orisian Noble. He looked at himself in the mirror, feeling a little less raw, a tad less bare, and more of himself, now that he was armed and armored with the visage and mien of the Outsider. 

He tied his hair back with a plain ribbon, and took a closer look at the man in the mirror. It was the eyes, of course. They arrested the gaze, and stared back at him with hard, quiet intensity. He didn't like looking in the mirror, the Outsider. Those eyes, small and dark, shadowed beneath the heavy bridge of a furrowed brow. They were stern, unhappy, unforgiving and angry. And sad, too, it had to be said. It was a hard man in the mirror, bearded with scruff so infrequently maintained. Roen grabbed at the beard on his chin, soft from the shower, red and gold in the flickering light of the candles lit in his room, and looked close at it. Yes, he could see it just vaguely, the signs of ash among the gold and flames. It wasn't enough that he was gray at the temples, no, it was creeping into his beard, too. He considered shaving, but decided against it. That, too, required more fuss than he felt up to. Instead he hung up his towels, took one last look at the mirror, and left his room. 

When he went downstairs, he set the melancholia aside, put on the mask of the Gentleman Sage, and pursued the staff for the whereabouts of his son. And when the pair were reunited again, a boy being picked up and balanced on a hip, Roen quite unbidden forgot what it was like to despair in front of a mirror or into the palms of his hands. There was only Philippe, and their small little adventures through the villa, such as, 'Let's Steal Lemon Cakes From Andre' in the kitchen, or, 'Let's Flirt With Margot' in the library, which Philippe was very keen to do whenever he crossed paths with the Outsider's librarian. Munching on a bit of lemon cake he had graciously shared with his father, Philippe snuck quick, furtive glances at the Margot, who was a young, green-eyed girl. It was her hair that interested him so much. As red as burnished copper, it framed her oval face. She was no great beauty, cute in her own way, if anyone had bothered to ask the Outsider (they didn't), but it was her hair that made Philippe laugh and smile, at least when he was not busy being spoiled with cake. 

'The last shipment should be here by mid-week,' Roen was saying to Margot. He was adjusting Philippe on the crook of his arm while Margot was playing with the boy's dark hair, as infatuated with him as he was with her. What was with women and small children? 'By mid-week,' Roen said again, louder. Margot stiffened, smiling sheepishly. 'Y-yes, of course. I'll make sure the porters are there and waiting.' Roen nodded slowly, pursed his lips, then held Philippe out. Margot needed no more invitation, and beamed as she took the little prince. It was ghastly, the child's charisma. With all the charm of his mother, Roen had to fear if the boy might inherit the father's caprices, and so enslave, tantalize and plague the fairer sex. After a few long minutes, the Outsider was taking Philippe away, jealous. They left the library and Margot to her work, the pair, and went on their way to other parts of the villa to visit the staff, as was their habit. They took great joy in this, both father and son, as both bonding experience with eachother and themselves with the staff. 

These are your people, Roen thought quietly, after a quick and kind word with the captain of the household guard. They were native Orisians, men and women all. Human, every one of them. It is important they see you grow, and you see them live. 

Edited by Roen

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Inhaling deeply, Kassandra tested the air. Sickness permeated the room, lingering thick and heavy from carpeted floor to whitewashed ceiling. It smelled sharp and sweet, odors Kassandra was well familiar with. For a long moment she held her breath, analyzing the feel of the disease, tasting and smelling it before exhaling in a long, drawn out sigh. She looked down, thinking.

On the other side of a bed the mother wept, as she had been for the past half hour. She was an elderly lady, with speckled gray hair and weak hips. Many years before she had given birth to a single daughter. The labor had been long and hard, and she delivered early the small infant that slowly grew to be the joy of the household. Now the young woman lay dying, ravaged by a rare disease she had contracted from the mainland on a holiday trip. Her mother and father had been unable to help and her illness left the local healers dumbfounded. It had been only lucky chance that Kassandra had been passing through and heard the woes of the citizens.

Normally, Kassandra was not a healer herself. Far from it. But as a precaution for herself, she had studied the usage of magic, herbs, and chemicals in tending and healing injuries and sicknesses. Brushing back a stray lock of auburn hair, she focused her green eyes on the weeping mother as the breathing of the sick woman grew ever more erratic and shallow. Over in the corner of the room the father stood, facing the wall. He was too proud to cry and yet not strong enough to look at his dying daughter.

What useless people.

“Enough,” Kassandra said, startling the parents. She reached into the dark green folds of her robes, retrieving a knapsack. Setting it down, she withdrew from it a small wooden bowl and mallet. Into this she dropped a few gnarled roots and withered herbs which she ground into a fine powder. It was then dissolved in water.

Kassandra set the bowl in front of her and stared into the thick, foul smelling, grey liquid. She set her hands above it and once again inhaled.

A cold breeze stirred in the small room, ruffling hair and clothes.

The liquid in the bowl changed into a glowing, sanguine red.

Kassandra released her breath and, bowl in hand, drained it down the sick woman’s throat. The woman coughed as the liquid burned her tongue. Her body convulsed, so hard the bed shook. The father rushed over, dropping to his knees before the bed. The mother gasped, tears running down her cheeks.

The woman suddenly stilled. Her breathing stopped, then returned, steady.

“She will be well,” Kassandra said calmly. The mother and father stared at their daughter, whose pallid skin was even then returning to a healthy shade.

“Oh, thank the gods,” the mother whispered. “How... no, I will not ask. Thank you, thank you!”

Kassandra let the parents rejoice for a few moments. Finally, she held out a hand. “Your payment, please.”

The mother and father stared. “We… we do not have…”

“You do not expect my services to be free, did you?” Kassandra inquired. Her eyes narrowed. “All things come with a price, my dear.”

Several minutes later Kassandra left the house, her coin purse filled with the girl’s dowry. She smiled as she walked down the village path, following the queer smell and radiation of power she had felt from far away. It had drawn her here, this uncommon scent of fire and smoke, of burning rock and lava. She wanted to see for herself what gave off such a deadly fragrance.

She stopped in front of a magnificent villa. Clearly the home of a powerful personage.

Who lives here, I wonder?

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Philippe had no intention of sitting at his father's right hand. While it may have been the place of the lord's son to sit beside his father during meals, Roen's son was lacking in the social gracious, being just a toddler, and while the mahogany chair looked appealing and very comfortable, the little prince was much happier to sit in his lord father's lap. He sat there now, happy and burbling to his father while they supped with those staff whose duties were finished and were on the last hours of their respective shifts. This, too, was Roen and Philippe's habit, sitting down with members of their household staff and guard to eat, drink, and talk of things both great and small. There was fish baked in clay pots, a roasted cornish hen, freshly baked loaves of brown bread, cooked onions in gravy, as much butter and salt as any table would need, and other courses which Roen neither had the time nor inclination to look over. The staff was happy to enjoy the evening meal at his table, and that was enough. He watched them in between feeding his son, indulging himself through proxy in their animated talks, idle gossip, and gentle teases. 

He liked them, these people. He liked them as he liked all Orisians, native or otherwise. The Summer Isles were a world apart from Valucre, and bred a manner of person wholly apart from mainland Genesaris or far off distant Terrenus. 'Oh, you're a messy boy..,' Roen chided Philippe, though not unkindly. The little prince had stolen a spoon and, in a fit of artistry, smeared cranberry sauce across himself, the linen table cloth, and not a little on his father's waistcoat. Taking the spoon away was a bit of a struggle followed suite by a bit of a cry, but Roen soothed his son with quiet words and the idle bounce of his knee, which rocked Philippe up and down until his temper cooled. It was strange, what was passed down. How easy going, Philippe could be. How fierce his temper could be, so easily roused. Roen sighed in a good nature and smiled sadly. The little prince was done and contented with his meal, and leaned back against his father, safe and secure with a strong arm wrapped around him. As for Roen, well, he did not eat, or at least ate very little. His appetites, much like his passions, had waned in the intervening months since his family of three had turned into a family of two. 

'Excuse me,' he said at last, as the sound of cutlery dimmed and conversation grew. 'Thank you all, but Philippe says I must carry him to bed, now.' Drowsy, dosing where he sat, Philippe had said no such thing, but the sentiment was true enough. 'Goodnight. I will see you all tomorrow, get home safe.' Some raised their glasses to their employer, but most just smiled and nodded as Roen rose from his seat with Philippe his arms and left the dining room and its laughter behind. 'Let's get you washed up and tucked in, hm?' Roen asked quietly, letting the boy rest against his shoulder. It was a quick walk to the nursery, where a pair of nannies were waiting. This, too, was ritual. Roen was many things, and though he tried his utmost to be a good father, the task was raw and new to him, and he had not a woman's - or mother's - touch to see the rearing of his son smoothly. These two, a mother and daughter, with a little babe of her own, were brought on to help him. He did not leave Philippe entirely in their care, though. He went with them and observed, making idle chatter as they cleaned the baby, dressed him, and tucked him into his crib. 

Roen was leaning against it and covering the little prince when there came a knock at the door. A guard had come and exchanged a quiet word with the younger nanny, who whispered something to her mother. Both glanced Roen's way as he was turning to see. The guard stepped in, his hand twitching with a half-salute, more habit than necessity. Roen smiled thinly. 'Yes?' He asked, eyebrows lifting. A tardiness of one of the guards for the overnight, Roen guessed. Pierre, probably, on account of his clingy wife, or Justinian, who displayed a remarkable penchant for forgetting the hour of his shift, regardless of how many times the captain of the guard threatened to tan his hide over it. Roen was already considering having pay docked when the guard explained that there was someone loitering near the property, presumably seeking entry. Young, dark of hair, fair of complexion. Roen's smile turned brittle and icy, and his stomach twisted. He leaned more heavily on the crib and looked away, glancing at his son. No, no, it couldn't -- she wouldn't. Would she? She was flighty, whimsical. She hadn't meant it. She was reconsidering it. Dread fell upon Roen like a cold mantle, though his heart beat faster. 

'Where is she now?' He asked, without looking up. 'Just outside, sir. Shall we --'  Roen raised a hand, cutting him off. 'No, no. I'll handle it. It's nothing, probably just a lost soul. Everything's fine. Return to your post.' The guard saluted again, though this time sharply. He was young, but was trained. It was in the crispness of his uniform and the definition in his gestures. Absently, Roen approved, though his mind soon turned to the matter of the unannounced guest. Bidding Philippe a fond farewell and trusting the two women with caring for him, should the toddler wake, Roen left the nursery behind with a sense of purpose and length of stride unseen or unheard of in these halls for weeks. Life returned to the villa's lord; it granted him color, vigor, and not alittle spryness, for anxiety was a double-edged blade and lent excitement to the unknown with the hopeful. He took his waistcoat off, though. It was stained, and he did not want to look unpresentable.  Passing mirrors, the Orisian Noble passed a hand through his hair, rubbed his face, and lamented that he had not chosen to shave after all. 

Still, it was not enough to deter him. He left through the main foyer and closed the door behind him before walking the cobblestone pathway down towards the gates that led onto the property proper. It was a modest estate in comparison with most others in the capital, but not without its charm. With an acre and a half of property, there was enough room for some private gardens and a luxurious fountain, though sadly not enough for a hedge maze, which Roen had desperately wanted but could neither afford in both monetary and spatial ways. Regardless. He approached the woman at the gates, the heavy iron bars swung inward, inviting all for entry. That was his prerogative. There were no enchantments laid on the villa, no wards of prophylactic measures that might bar or disturb those who came onto the grounds. The villa and its property were open to any and all to come and go as they pleased, without difficulty or injunction. Mundanely, this also meant the gates were never closed, night or day. Roen's manse was open to all, and -- and she was not who he was hoping for, or expecting. 

As Roen drew closer, he realized immediately that this fair-faced girl was too tall to be his lady, though he had the grace and courtesy to not allow his disappointment to show on his face. He should have known better. Drawing in a smooth, deep breath and donning the mask of the Gentleman Sage, Roen tucked a hand into his pocket and set the other on his hip as he drew near under the cover of night and a slitted moon, it and the stars all the light any needed to see on a clear Orisian night. He was unarmed, without a tail and without his power laying heavy over him like a shroud, but the scent remained, that vague aroma of peat and spice, citrus and quenching iron, and blood and smoke. All of these scents, yet none of them, radiating off of him as the subtle fragrance of seductive hell itself, both inviting and repulsive. Then, with his deep and measured tenor, he called out. 'Hello there.' Crisp, clean, with the diction of a practiced orator, he had a handsome voice if not a handsome face, Roen. 'Looking for something? Or -- someone? You've wandered onto my property. Young girls give my guards apoplexy in the evening, I'm sad to say.' He said, smiling just a bit wider, though it did not quite reach his eyes. They looked at her casually, not unkind or disinterested, but just -- normally. They might as well have met in the middle of the street. 

'Ah, forgive me, my manners. I am Roen..,' he trailed off. He had no surname. For a second, he was seized by a wild and totally inappropriate desire to name himself a Du'Grace, and almost but not quite laughed out loud, but he controlled himself fiercely. Philippe had that luxury through the matrilineal union - Roen did not. '.. and this is my home. Would you like to come in?' 

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In no particular hurry, Kassandra examined the manse. The iron gates were high and of the sort that did not permit climbing, but they were open, suggesting unrestricted access. The owner was either entirely trusting of citizens and visitors alike, confident of his or her ability to protect the property, or simply stupid. She preferred to believe it was the former two. She certainly could not abide the last. Her normally high tolerance for the ignorant had dwindled somewhat over the past few days and those foolish parents with their sick child did not help the cause, either.

Despite the inviting gates, Kassandra hesitated to venture further onward. She was not rude, and who knew what kind of spells this sort of high-class abode might hold to deter one such as herself from entering? She narrowed her eyes, extending an unseen flicker of energy to cautiously caress the gates and the smooth ground around them. She did not detect anything, but her physical eyes did catch the movement of armed guards. None of them came forward to challenge her, but she did see one dart into the manor. No doubt to warn of her presence.

Kassandra was not alarmed. She leaned back on one foot, crossing her arms as she waited. As the smell of smoke and fire tinged with a myriad of other scents grew stronger, she hid a smile.

The man who exited the villa was not particularly imposing. He was shorter than she imagined, with no great power radiating from him in any boastful manner – at least not then. He looked slightly unkempt, unshaven, but he was young and comely enough despite the bits of grey she spotted among his hair and beard. He walked with a vigor and spryness that belied any sign of great aging in any case. But it was not any of this that caught her attention.

Eyes are the windows to the soul, so they say, and his were filled with such sharp intensity and, yes, there – deeply set grief that her curiosity was roused.

Men of such eyes often kept interesting lives with interesting secrets.

One eyebrow rose as he greeted her with a must succinct voice. The other brow joined its twin when he actually invited her in. He certainly didn’t look like a fool but, she supposed, one never knew.

“Young girl?” she echoed. She smiled, not unkindly. “It is good to know my features have not crumbled.”

Roen. The name sounded familiar. Her mind raced as she searched her memory, but to her chagrin could not place it. The lack of any titles or last name didn’t help. Still, she kept the smile on her face and, lifting a portion of her robes, dipped a polite curtsy.

“Kassandra Le’or,” she said formally, elegantly rolling the R’s with a distinct accent.  “Traveling healer and fortune teller, if you please.” Honest enough. “You are quick to invite a stranger, but I would be most honored, milord Roen.”  

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For a long, quiet moment, Roen stood before Kassandra with a fracturing smile. It fell from his face piece by piece, falling somewhere between a frown and a scowl. "I'm pleased to meet you, Miss Le'or." He finally said, low and smooth and full of the half-starved effort of the cordial and gentlemanly kind. He knew his lines, this theater actor, even if he did not feel them as honestly as he should have. He knew how to be polite, even while his heart knocked painfully in his chest. Turning aside and gesturing, he invited Kassandra to follow him with a curl of his fingers. It was the accent that hurt him, if he had to be honest with himself. That he would have called her a gypsy was a given, and he'd have never thought twice about it; but that she rolled her 'R's so distinctly, it wounded him. He had known another gypsy so accented, had known her well and true and long, and missed her when she passed from the world, as all friends and acquaintances of the old and the powerful did. It was a slight stab and an old wound, and he handled it properly and carefully before setting it alongside the other myriad aches and hurts he carried with him throughout the years. 

Rather, he set his mind towards being the Gentleman Sage and host to a new and already well-loved guest. As they walked along the cobblestone path together, he spoke with quiet wit and sincere candor to his companion. "There is an expression where I come from. A proverb, if you will." The smile that had turned so brittle now blossomed again, like fresh warmth from embers dusted of ash. He liked his wit and impressive repertoire of trivial facts, and loved little more than to share it with young and old souls alike. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers," he quoted, the merry sound of a chuckle lurking beneath his somber tones, ready to burble up, "for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." It did come out, then. The chuckle, the dry laugh so full of self-satisfaction. One could not live in so abject isolation if they did not at least like themselves, and Roen enjoyed his own company a great deal, it seemed. Leaning closer towards Kassandra, his already low voice dropped into a conspirator whisper. He was warm, this man. Too warm, as if stricken with fever. He was not flushed, however. 

"I think they meant to say you can never be sure who shows up at your door, so it would be best to treat them all kindly, lest they curse or destroy you. Angels were good for that sort of thing." 

His smile turning somewhat sly and mischievous, Roen leaned away to assume a more proper walking of his companion, but by that time they had already reached the manse's wide double-doors, which opened on hinges both quiet and well-maintained. Beyond was the grand foyer, an edifice of pale white-yellow marble floors, Ionic columns and vaulted ceilings that disappeared into gloomy shadows. Within were waiting staff - a swarthy-skinned man with a balding pate, a freckled youth with sandy-blonde hair, and a dark-skinned, middle-aged porter who smelled of coconut oil and spicy colonge - who looked at their lord and his guest expectantly. Roen introduced them all in turn. "This is Kevan, Gareth, and Donovan. Gentleman, this is Miss Kassandra Le'or. She is going to be our guest for the evening." The men dipped their chins and curled their arms beneath their sternums, bowing briefly. Unbuttoning the cuff-links at his wrist, little platinum bas-reliefs of a dragon wrapped around a pawn - Roen walked through the foyer, gesturing again for Kassandra to follow him. "Prepare the guest suite for Miss Le'or, Donovan." Roen turned his head, glancing over his shoulder to take a long, lingering look at his guest. 

He pursed his lips speculatively, heeding her from head to heel and back up again, his gaze untoward, perhaps even unpleasantly so, then he frowned. "I'm sorry, that was rude. They're for you to freshen up in." Then he smiled, quick as sin to draw unhappiness away. "Our cook has retired for the evening and, mm, we've all had our supper. But I'm sure if we're quiet and discrete, our good chef Andre wouldn't mind if we picked through his larder for some leftovers. Are you hungry, Miss Le'or?" The manse was, sufficiently put, large. Not robust or thrilling, but lavish and accommodating. Kevan and Gareth had long since abandoned them, chiefly to help Donovan prepared the guest suite for Kassandra, which they set about doing with a lady in mind. That meant new sheets, hot water, and the other odds and ends, should the guest opt to spend the night in the villa, as many guests were wont to do when taken with their Lord's hospitality. He was not niggardly, their Lord, and was frequently starved of companionship beyond that of his servants and staff. 

So starved that he preferred to play host himself, which he seemed very keen on doing, now. The kitchen, one of several in the household, was a private affair with a center island, more for quiet gatherings than that large gatherings Roen held in the dining room when he supped proper with the household. This was the Nocturnal Fast, the place where staff, Lord and princeling would go for late-night eatings beyond judgement or incrimination. It was also where Andre stashed the select foodstuffs and a smaller larder, which the staff and Roen included keenly raided every so often. Roen fixed his sleeves and bared his arms, and looked less an Orisian Noble and more -- well, nothing, really. Just a man, green-eyed and eccentric by all means. As he took out a cutting board and grabbed a sharp knife out of a block, he queried his guest absently, making light conversation and nurturing her ears while he sought to nurture her belly. "What brings a traveling gypsy to the Summer Isles, Miss Le'or?" He asked, setting the knife down and going for the larder. The door opened, cool air coming out and rolling across the floor like gossamer smoke. 

"Oh, do you want some fruit? A meat platter, perhaps?" He glanced over the larder door, his smile more of a smirk, his eyes a tad more wicked. "Or would you care to nevermind your figure, and have a dessert, instead? I've something of a sweet tooth, and Andre caters to it relentlessly..," he trailed off, peering back into the larder again. 

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How strange it was that simply silence could imply so much. Though her smile remained on her face, perfect in its curve and not to wide nor too small, she watched curiously as Lord Roen’s smile faded. She wondered if perhaps he guessed at the small lie in her words, and what she would do if he had. Such an inconvenience it would be. She didn’t mind being turned away from the hospitality of his manse, but she did worry about whom he might tell, to what gossip he might share.

Perhaps she might have to dispose of him…

But as quickly and surely as the thought came to her mind did he turn and gesture her in, his smile returning full and at least appropriate sincere as he told her of an ancient proverb. She’d heard of it before, the adage not as uncommon as he appeared to believe. It might be told in different terms, with different terrible consequences, but the message remained the same.

“I’ve heard that,” she said, her voice smooth and elegant. “There is a tale where I am from, they say a great king turned away a stranger, who was in truth a djinn in disguise. She cursed him, and his kingdom fell to ruins before his eyes.” Her smile grew. “I am neither djinn nor angel, so I am not sure if my blessings should be worth anything. But I will be sure to do so anyway, milord.”

Kassandra stepped in politely behind Roen, and looked around the interior of the manse. It was large, impressive and beautifully built, though not overly grandeur, she was glad to see. Such buildings, castles and such, inspired a small bit of scorn within her. So many people, including the couple whose daughter she had saved, lived in increasingly modest buildings, and many lived in squalor in other lands. Nobles and lords, queen and kings, often lavished luxury over luxury upon themselves, ignoring the plight of the common folk. It was cruel, and contemptible.

She bowed again to Roen when he inquired about her appetite. “I would be grateful,” she said honestly. “I haven’t eaten recently, and my supplies are low.” She followed him to the larder, and breathed in the fresh, chill air and the scents of food and drink stored there in the pantry. “You’re so kind,” she commented sweetly. “Some fruit would be wonderful. If you have any bread and honey, that is a favorite treat of mine.” It was wise to not be greedy on the generosity of another.

Gypsy, am I? she wanted to laugh at that, and her eyes sparkled in the light. “Ah, I travel everywhere, my Lord, plying my trade for room and board. My home was merely a farmhouse; boring, if you please. But my mother,” …rest her soul… “taught me what she knew, and sent me off to do good.” She waved a hand hither. “The daughter of the Tyristers, if you know of them, I have performed some healing on.” She smiled again. “If you have need of any healing or a glimpse into your future… why, I’ll do it for free, in return for your hospitality. Mmm, I can sense…” she breathed in dramatically, “great possibilities, my Lord.”

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"Kind, she says." Roen said under his breath. "Wait until I tell her the bread's stale from this morning." 

A lord's courtesy extended, Roen let Kassandra speak of herself with nary any interruption while he rifled through the larder, save for a noncommittal grunt or two to show he was paying her the attention she deserved. A traveler, oh, yes, she had a wildness to her, this one. A good Samaritan, if even half of what she was intimating was true. He didn't know the Tyristers, though to be fair he didn't know much of anyone these days, but he hummed and smiled, closing the drawers he had picked for choice fruits and turning, idly kicking the larder closed behind him. He had bunch of grapes, several small tangerines, two plums, a handful of cherries and last, but certainly not least, two tarty-sweet apples, his favorite. He laid his prizes on the island's cutting board and picked up his knife, already cutting a slit in the skin of the tangerines to start peeling them by hand. Their citrus scent quickly filled the air. 

Glancing up, he favored Kassandra with one of his more disarming smiles, albeit a lopsided one. He never smiled fully, the man. And his half-smiles never quite reached his eyes. It could be said it was the smile of indulgence, but the attention he gave quite belittled that supposition. She had his focus, even as his calloused fingers made quick work of the tangerines and pushed their grinds away before he began separating the wedges. "I've heard of the Tyristers," he lied blandly. "They're good people." Again, that half-smile. He brought a hand up and sucked on the tip of his finger, quick as sin. The tangerines were sweet, very sweet. He started plucking grapes from the vine. "Can't say I ever met their daughter..," he demurred, throwing honesty over the shade of the lie to make it more palatable. "What was wrong with her?" He asked, though the question itself wasn't really the one he was asking. It was Kassandra's abilities he was curious about; he could gauge them accurately, once he knew what she cured the daughter of. 

He stopped plucking grapes when she mentioned fortune telling. His smile twisted, his sensual lips pursing ever so slightly. He was reminded of a conversation with Kahlan, years and years ago, when he was more than just the lord a villa. She had asked him about divination, and the skeins of fate. 'Few things make my teeth itch in irritation the way prophecy does.' He had said, wise and terrible and profound. 'What other science or sorcery is so useless and imprecise? What other art relies so heavily on hindsight? He started moving again, like a machine it its gears rewound. As he drew a plate with bowled edges out to array a platter of fruit for Kassandra, Roen's forced his smile to twist into something far more charismatic, lest she take him for a poor host indeed. "You flatter me. I've always dreamed of some greater, nobler purpose than this." He gestured vaguely with his knife, indicating the villa, the capital, Orisia - the world. He went back to arranging the food, cutting neat little slices of apple and spreading them out neatly. He seemed to be enjoying himself, this lord. He tried to hurry up before she grew cross with the time he spent on decoration. 

"Do you read palms?" He asked, genuinely curious. Though he had no respect or care for prophecy, there was no denying that it was possible to divine the future. He himself dabbled on occasion, and in doing so had come to loathe it, but still, he knew. He was aware. The Veil, the Aethyr, it sung of possibility, but only madmen and fools believed its every song. "Or do you need some of my intimate parts?" He gestured towards the chair opposite him at the island he stood at, and set the platter between them. Host though he was, he was not above stealing several grapes and eating them. He hummed at their sweet and sour taste, relishing the way they burst between his teeth. "I've heard of witches slitting the wrists of slaves to watch for patterns in how their blood fell. To capture their last breaths, and hear their souls' desires in those final gasps." He ate another grape, looking at Kassandra darkly. "Some even take the vitreous humours of eyes to see the secrets in their uncried tears." He paused, then laughed sheepishly. "Forgive me and a lord's bad sense of humor. Things are boring in these parts, and I've taken to reading some of the most dramatic works of fantasy fiction as of late. No angel or djinn, mm, but a gypsy schooled in divination and healing arts. You can't imagine how exciting that is for someone like me." 

He indicated the platter, gracious and pointed. "Please, enjoy. I'm sorry about the bread, though. I'm sure Andre will pick something fresh from the bakery tomorrow..," he trailed off. "That is, if you plan on staying with us until then. You're more than welcome to stay the night, for the price of telling me my future." 

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If Kassandra had any notion of Roen lying, she did not show it. Truth be, she wouldn’t have cared, as the Tyristers were merely a form of income and selfish benefit, nothing more. She cared more for fruits that Roen procured from the larder, and more for the appearance of his fingers. They were calloused, signs that perhaps he had not always been a noble as his manse suggested, or that he performed activities more arduous than a common Lord’s chores of signing papers and lifting wine glasses.

She lifted a finger to her lips when Roen asked what had so afflicted the Tyristers daughter. She was indubitably spoiled, she wanted to say. Indulged to a fault. Lethally sheltered. Surely doomed to a naïve life filled with superficial views, meaningless desires and groundless dreams. Raised by parents whose only purpose was to see her living the ideal and impossible life with a husband who would abuse her for her faults, and eventually crush her innocence. So sad.

Instead, she said, “’twas nothing more than a derivative of the Gray Flu common in the coastal cities of Genesaris. Most contract the disease at some point, and most overcome it naturally, never contracting it again. But as a native to Orisia, the sickness caught a stronger hold of her, and she had a compromised immune system besides.” Kassandra shrugged. “A bit of magic eased her suffering and a simple potion will chase away the illness… but the knowledge of both is rare, especially in places where the Gray Flu is not seen.”

She lowered her finger, wagging it at him in a playful manner. “I do not flatter, milord. I merely speak the truth. You are interesting.”  

Deep in thought, she wove her fingers together. “I prefer more… accurate and precise methods of determining one’s future. I can do palms, but why bother when alternatives are so much more interesting and truthful?”

The platter of fruit was ready, and Kassandra settled in the chair across from Roen, looking appreciatively at the delectable fruits. She took up a slice of tangerine, and nibbled at it delicately. Were it not for her practiced control, she would almost spit it out when Roen told of the blasphemous practices of fairytale witches. Fantasy fiction indeed! “Goodness me, my Lord, you do read some inappropriate tales,” she laughed.

She shrugged again at Roen’s apology for the lack of bread. “I would love to spend the night here rather than at the shabby tavern,” she said. It had looked rather dirty. “And I would be pleased to read you your fortune.” Or misfortune. She nibbled as bit more of fruit. “I require very little to do it… a quiet room, a bowl of water and a small drop of… blood. A pinprick, nothing more. If you’re… ah… gentle of stomach, no matter. I can manage without.”

She smiled at him over a wedge of apple. “Are you gentle of stomach, milord Roen?”

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“It is a guilty pleasure,” Roen conceded smoothly. He was leaning against the island, now. Heel of his palm pressed against the wood, he scanned the platter, his green eyes searching for a morsel he had yet to decide upon. Inwardly, he mused on his guest’s deviating dialect. Sometimes her enunciation was crisp and educated, while other times it slipped into a commoner’s drawl. He was ‘milord’, now, where he had been ‘my lord’ before. It was interesting, suffice to say. Nothing so sinister as to provoke some sense of paranoia, but it did make him wonder if she was putting on a facade to seem more than a woman of common birth, and inevitably slipping back into old habits as she grew more at ease and comfortable around him. If so, it endeared him. 

Taking a grape between thumb and forefinger, Roen bit off half and chewed musingly. Like she, he, too, ate delicately. Had he been alone, he might have taken three, even four grapes in hand to throw into his mouth, and ate with all the dignity of a cretin at the farmer’s market. But here, beneath this roof and in these halls and before this girl, he was a lord, and appearances had to be kept. Still, this did not stop him from licking wayward juices off the tips of his thumb and finger after taking the latter half in his mouth. He sucked, quite uninterested in slaving himself to the act when habit was so much more simple and ingrained. He caught himself, and smiled ruefully. 

“Blood?” He asked, lifting a dark and heavy brow. “I live in Orisia, Miss Le’or. You needn’t tell an Orisian the importance of blood.” He trailed off, then, his voice quiet and subdued. His gaze, much like his thoughts, drifted towards the window, where the city - and the castle of the reigning monarch - lay beyond. A pregnant pause lay between them for several long heartbeats, but will soon subsumed the spell, and it broke with Roen issuing a small, quiet laugh between thinly parted lips. “Vampyres.” He said at last, turning and looking back at Kassandra. He took another grape, and quite forgetting himself, threw it into his mouth whole. The skin snapped pleasantly, and he indulged in the cold juices and meat within. 

Raising a hand, he shook it and his head both. “I balk at magicks. After all, they’re all fairytale nonsense, but.., well, our queen, gods preserve her, is a vampyre. A non-human. The Genesarian High-Lords themselves are men of grandiloquent power. I know this, but..,” he seemed to be grasping. Finally, he simply gave up. He shrugged. Then he smirked at Kassandra. Pressing both heels of his palms against the island between them, Roen leaned and looked at the lord-styled gypsy, his gaze half-lidded and his mouth crooked with a smile. “No,” he said, putting emphasis on the word, “I am not gentle of stomach, nor have I ever been accused of such. I’m just not in the habit of parting with it, especially to pretty young girls that show up on my doorstep.” 

Plucking several more grapes - Gods, but they were delicious - from the platter and holding them in hand, Roen chewed briefly on his bottom lip, playing for all the world the part of the lord he so ever espied to be: charming, witty, and very, very uncouth. “I think I can make an exception for you and my future, though. A bowl of water and a quiet room, you said? We can bring one up to my study.” He indicated the platter, gentle and kind. “After you’ve eaten, of course. I’m not so cruel as that. Donovan and the boys are surely just about done preparing your quarters. You’re more than welcome to freshen up and change out of your traveling clothes.” His eyes roamed, moving away to land on a clock standing near the wall, his lips pursing speculatively. While he kept odd hours himself, he didn’t think it at all kind to make his guests do the same. Still, Kassandra offered. He looked back her way. “My fate is in your hands, milady. We can start whenever you wish.” 

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So it was true. Kassandra smiled around a bite of fruit. She had heard on the mainland rumors of the sovereignty concerning Orisia – that the queen was a vampyre, as powerful was she was beautiful. Supposedly allied with the eastern kingdom of Umbra, the stories surrounding Orisia and its Black Queen ranged from royal kidnappings, renouncements of the throne, even frightful regicides, to many other fascinating tales. Kassandra had wanted to see the land that harbored such conflict and excitement, to see if it was all folly and meaningless gossip.

Apparently, at least some of the gossip was true.

Kassandra focused her hazel eyes on the Lord Roen’s and smiled pleasantly. “Thank you, my Lord. I’ll be pleased to tell you your fortune…” she glanced at the clock. It was getting late, but then again, she was something of a night owl. The far hours of evening did not trouble her or her concentration, and she preferred the quiet, cold moon to the active, blazing day. “… as soon as I change, it seems.”

Roen invited her to finish eating, and so Kassandra ate at an efficient but unhurried pace, enjoying the rich taste of ripe fruits and berries. She was not a glutton, however, and was soon finished, sated but not stuffed. An overly full stomach was known to fog the mind and tire the body, after all, and that would not do. She thanked the Lord Roen as a servant came to lead her to an upstairs guest room, nicely furnished and complete with a prepared vanity for women. The servant left her instructions to Roen’s upstairs study, ready whenever she was, and departed.

Kassandra was in no hurry, knowing Roen might need to make preparations of his own. If he was wise, he would know fortune-telling and séances of the future depended as much on the skill of the soothsayer as much as the subject. She set down her satchel on the fluffed bed, opening it, checking her items. Vials and a ceramic bowl. Medicinal herbs. A small needle and thin, small spools of thread in many natural colors. A small handbook with quill and pot of ink. And below all this – she sighed as she pulled out a garment of silk, folded and refolded many times to preserve space.

She smoothed out the dress along the bed, seeing the fine, smooth material shimmer beneath her fingers. It was made of many shades of green, from translucent emerald to the deep greens of healthy woods and forests. It was embroidered richly in silver around the front and waist, with a small slit at the right leg for easy movement.

A bath was needed first, and it was all prepared for her. She made herself clean, washing the impurities from her skin, rinsing away the taints of earlier magic and castings that might disrupt her plans.  Only thereafter did she slide the dress on and check herself in the vanity’s mirror. She smoothed and combed back her hair, and closed her eyes for a moment.

“Hmm… La’Ruta, I believe it was called. Interesting…” she murmured. “Harmless enough this far out. It should not cause us too great a trouble.” She flashed a smile at her double in the mirror. “All the same. Be careful, my dear.”

She let a few minutes more pass, and then traversed the distance to the study. She mounted the stairs leading up to it, satchel in hand. She was interested in what the man’s personal study might look like, what it might entail. What she might draw from it, what it might hold in secrecy.

“No new visitors now, my Lord,” she called out, singsong. “Privacy is important.”

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“There’s no rush.” 

Favoring Kassandra with one of his warmer, more genuine smiles, Roen gave her leave with a gentle incline of his head, then busied himself with the mundanity of clearing the leftovers. When he was done, he made sure the larder was fastened, dimmed the lights in the kitchen, grabbed a bowl of water, and closed the door on his way out of the dining area. Guards patrolled the halls at irregular intervals, men and women running the gambit of the graveyard shift. Roen greeted some as he walked passed, but left most to their devices as they took up their posts for the evening. 

He was heading towards his study when he found Donovan near the staircase, leaning against the railing. Exchanging a quick word with the man, most of their brief discussion concerning the state of the household, the Lord of the manse bid is favored servant a good evening, and ascended the staircase. In no great rush, Roen took a moment to check in on his son. Opening the door and inching through the crack, Roen swept his gaze through the room, seeing first the two women tasked with watching over his son, before his eyes landed on the babe himself. 

Peaceful in his crib, Philippe stirred ever so slightly as the shadow of his father passed over him, but otherwise remained in slumber, dreaming of whatever it was that toddlers dreamed of. Roen resisted the urge to enter and giving his son the adoration the little prince deserved, and tried to content himself with long, several moments of simple observation, drinking in the sight of his son until one of the women stirred where she slept. Roen met her bleary gaze with an apologetic smile. “Sorry.” He whispered, shutting the door with a subtle click. Sighing, he moved on to his private quarters. 

It was quiet, here. Closing the door behind him and lighting the candles with flint and steel, Roen tensed and stretched out weary limbs, and stifled a yawn. A lack of oxygen, he told himself with a wry hum. Walking through his suite and making headway for the study, Roen found his preferred setting already lit and warm, with its windows open and curtains rustling with gentle breezes. It smelled of orange blossoms and sandalwood, which brought him comfort. 

Unlike most of the villa, which was both fashionable and luxurious, Roen’s rooms were austere, bordering on spartan. He had a desk for writing, chairs for he and guests to sit in, a bookcase for reading material, and a quiet corner for reading before a fireplace that was seldom lit, with two comfortable chairs and a table set between them. He set the bowl of water on his desk as he stepped around, and eased himself into his chair. Lips quirking, he reached into a side drawer and, after a moment’s consideration, pulled out a bottle of brandy with two glasses. 

He set them on the desk, uncorked the bottle, and poured several fingers of the dark liquor for himself and Kassandra, whenever she meandered into his study. He was working on his second glass when he heard her sing-song voice, and after swallowing and clearing his throat, called out in turn. “In here,” he told her, loud enough to be heard but quiet enough to avoid waking the household. He waited until she opened the door and entered the room to push against the desk and raise himself from his seat, as was proper on account of a lady. “I doubt anyone will be interrupting us.” Giving Kassandra a quick once-over, neither overt nor iniquitous, Roen gestured towards the seat opposite him with charmed entreaty.

“You’re a vision, Miss Le’or.” Chuckling, clearly amused by his choice of words, Roen waited until she sat before lowering himself back down into his seat. He meant his praise, of course. Though he wasn’t so asinine to have a favorite color, he had to admit that green flattered Kassandra in ways it might have other women. It complimented her complexion and hair, and made her beautiful when before she had been but pretty. He tried not to think too much about her choice of attire, and chalked it up to showmanship and theatricality on her behalf, which he appreciated to no end. A soothsayer had to look the part, after all. 

Taking up a glass half filled with brandy, Roen moved it closer to Kassandra before leaning back and taking his own, cradling it in his lap. “Should I dim the lights?” He asked, somewhat teasing. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve had my fortune told..” His eyes flicked, drawing down to the desk's surface. A letter opener lay near the bottle, its edge keen and sharp. He glanced back up at Kassandra, offering her a crooked smile. He made no comment, but the stare was telling. He found the idea of bloodletting all too amusing, if provincial, it seemed. 

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Careful not to make it obvious, Kassandra made a quick surveillance of the room. Spacious enough, it was, while certainly not dour, simple in comparison to the otherwise lofty villa. It held everything one could want in a study, holding an air of comfortable privacy. The books she regarded with interest and appreciation, their mere existence here giving the study a scholarly sort of feel. Though their titles weren’t scandalous or too interesting at a glance, she wondered if Roen was an intellectual.

She smiled at his words. If not an intellectual he was, if nothing else, quite the gentleman. But soon enough, she would see what else he was. Everyone, man and women and child, held a secret. Some dark, some light, some whimsical, but all interesting – captivating. In all her years, Kassandra had learned that these secrets were always invaluable. A tingle of excitement ran up her spine; what sort of little surprises would Roen part with tonight?

Seating herself, she took the glass of brandy with another coy smile, breathing in its unique scent before taking a small sip. It was strong, with a note of spice and caramel to compliment the aged fruit. “A man of taste,” she complimented Roen. “Dim the lights if it pleases you, my Lord. We have all we need right here,” she said, patting her satchel before passing a hand over the letter opener. She set the brandy aside, placing the satchel next to it, and sat for a moment, hands folding in her lap, eyes half-closed.

She took a deep breath as her eyes opened fully, the green in them vibrant. She focused on Roen’s eyes as she reached across the table, one hand picking up the paper knife while the other gently lifted his hand. She flipped the small blade over, the edge glittering in the light, and quick, smooth, practiced motion, slid it over the tip of his forefinger. She held it there for a moment, until the blood from the shallow cut saturated the end the opener. Then she removed it, letting his hand go.

She drew the bowl of water close to her and held the knife over it, giving it a one good shake so that a few small beads of blood dripped into the water. She closed her eyes again as she dipped the letter opener into the stained water, swirling it round and round.

If Roen wasn’t too focused on his finger, he would notice the temperate of the room drop sharply.

Kassandra began to hum, a soft, wordless melody. She reached into her satchel, withdrawing a budding rose hip and a match. She held these over the water as she struck the match on the end of the table and set fire to the fruit.

Rose hip, to give sweet dreams.

She let the rose hip go just as the fire reaching her fingertips. Ablaze, it dropped into the bloodstained water and went up in smoke.

The smoke, black and lined in silver, washed over Kassandra and Roen.

There were images in the smoke. Dancing, swirling, whispering images. Gray as death itself, but there was life in them, life in the way they moved. Life in the low, unintelligible, phantomlike sounds they made. Life in their colorless eyes.

The smoke convulsed, and the image of a women flashed, with muted colors that could be felt rather than simply seen. She had dark hair. She was pale. She had glowing golden eyes, filled with sorrow.

There for a moment, and then she was gone.

“You love, but do not chase the love that calls you,” Kassandra’s voice echoed in the room. “You bear a son of blood and a son by blood. Guard one, and gods watch the other.”

The smoke writhed, and the image of a castle flashed. White and gray like the hues of stone it floated in the air. It rotated, glorious, beautiful… before suddenly it collapsed, crashing down, shattering against unseen earth. Glasslike shards erupted everywhere, and then it was gone.

“Screams of glory and pain await you.”

A strange image, a shapeless mass of black and gold, flashed briefly, and was gone.

“You will don armor a dragon shall envy, and yet it will not protect you. Death comes, its chariot driven fiercely by a mighty specter, but will you follow?”

Another image, a city. A grand, fine city. This too shattered, but the shards came together and built a new kingdom, one made out of miniature swords.

“The Black shall be no more, forged anew between your hands amidst the cries of fury, of wrath, of vengeance sevenfold. But do not let it take your life. The trials are and do begin. You sit passive and peaceful, but it will and cannot last.

“You seek Death, and Death seeks you. Who will find the other first?”

The smoke convulsed again, and suddenly it was gone. Like a ghost, it vanished, dissipated like a fine mist. Kassandra’s eyes opened. The rose hip was all charred remains, drifting in the water that was now a muted pink.

“My, my,” Kassandra finally said. “I did not think to encounter a devil here.”

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“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.” 

Edited by Roen

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Dark and sweet-smelling, the smoke floated around the room for a few moments more before finally fading. Slowly but steadily the temperature returned to normal, warm and comforting after the chill of the magic she had spun. Even so, there was a lingering touch of her sorcery, heavy in the air, an odd feeling of strange origin that would not soon pass. Such was normal with the black arcane; it was not easy to rid all traces of it once used.

Kassandra sat easy and serene as she was when she began her soothsaying. Her green eyes, light again, watched Roen as he moved to the window and withdrew the curtains. The moon and starlight washed the floors in a faint veil of silver, followed by a whisper of wind that rustled the boughs of trees outside. It was going to be a cold night. Briefly, Kassandra wondered if Roen would have her leave. The weather, whether aggressive or pleasing, did not often trouble her, but she did prefer sleeping in a bed. Not that any wish of seeing her gone was unwarranted, considering what had just occurred.

She smiled as Roen spoke, his words quiet, in the tone of a confession, as one might take when revealing sins to a judging priest. Pushing back a stray lock of auburn hair, she considered only for a moment. “No teasing, my Lord. I think you’ll find out soon enough, but anything you have discovered this night will undoubtedly come true. But, perhaps not in ways you expect. Many tellings of the future are… abstract, shall we say? Not so easily interpreted. Often, when people try to understand the visions they see, they end up disappointed. Some happily, others… not so much,” she chuckled.

One hand reached out, taking hold of the bowl still filled with infused water. The blood of a devil… what a wondrous thing. She brought the water close and sniffed it. Yes, there it was. Fire and brimstone, ash and coals, power and hate and grief above all. She had not been mistaken. “Milord Roen, next time someone asks for your blood… do not be so hasty to give it.” She smiled coyly. “Just some harmless advice. For now…” She upended the bowl, sending the water splashing over the fine carpet of the room. It hissed, as if it had been boiling, but when it ceased… the floor was dry, and there was no stain nor spot of moisture to be found. “A courtesy, since I think I might like you.”

She stood. The glossy folds of her dress shimmered as she walked to stand next to Roen. She looked out at the evening sky, so of mysteries and secrets. Every second that passed, a person died. Every second that passed, a person was born. The continuation of time, life and its impending doom, it was all so very fascinating. It was that fascination that had turned her into what she was now.

“You weren’t too far wrong, Roen,” she said lightly. “How does it feel, to have a witch in your household? I will leave if you wish, and leave you unmolested further, since you’ve proven to be so interesting… but I will say, the magic I wove for you tonight is rather taxing, and perhaps worth more than a simple bed for the night?”

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