The entrails were noxious as they spilled from the dead rabbit’s carcass- a sign of an unclean cut.
His hands trembled slightly, and she could taste the veneer of his revulsion as it stained the marsh air, his soft skin oozing as he glanced her way. His forehead crinkled, round eyes flitting across her, as if searching for something – anything – to relieve his uneasiness.
She exhaled a soft, reverent hiss, and let her fingernails trace from his elbow to his hand as she pulled the blade from his grasp, voice a husky whisper so quiet as to be audible only to the two of them. “Yes, very good. Just like that; all will be revealed, but that one has eyes which might see.” His pliable hide grew softer beneath her palm, and he nodded numbly, letting his breath escape in a soft, trusting sigh.
Her teeth flashed in a smile that had been learned among his kind, but that might confer aggression to another Saxhleel; the outside ways were as instinct, now, and she moved between cultures deftly. Careful, with all the heaviness of ancient ritual, she drew the blade across the ridge of her lips and tasted the blood of the sacrifice, indifferent to the metallic tingle that set the spaces between her vertebrae crawling. He watched her, the whites of his eyes prominent in the fading twilight.
The dagger found its sheath at her thigh, and she crouched down low to examine the shimmering organs by the glow of the conjured magelights, which bobbed with the marsh breeze.
“Can you see anything-?” The man’s voice was thin and reedy, like the whining of a mosquito’s wings. She felt a momentary twinge of irritation, but let it slide away, recalling the weight of his coinpurse.
“Patience; you may sit, if you’d like. This will take time. The Gods do not impart their Vision frivolously, nor are the portents easy to decipher, once they’ve been witnessed.” She didn’t waste the motion it would take to turn and look at him, to offer comfort.
She fell to a crouch, the ground swampy beneath her knees, and bent over the dead animal, using the tip of her nails to gently lift a segment of intestine. It leaked where the tip of her client’s unskilled blade had punctured, green-black bile dripping from the cut. Her nostrils flattened in displeasure, eyelids briefly closing as she reached upwards, towards the Sight.
Her magic unfurled like the creaking of joints, uncomfortable yet somehow pleasurable at the same time- the blood on her tongue tasted sharper, the buzzing in her bones felt like a hive of bees stirring. Her skin felt too hot, then too cold, then too tight by turns. Her teeth ached and her pupils itched, and all around her, she became intensely aware of the humming, buzzing cacophony of life. Even here, at Blackmarsh’s dirty edges, the whisper of the Hist was deafening – each wing that stirred and heart that beat seemed dredged in its rhythm.
Her tongue pressed against the points of her teeth and when at least she opened her eyes again, her eardrums throbbed and the inside of her skull shimmered with heat and ecstasy. Her eyes were hungry, devouring the sights before her; a thousand fleeting images could be discerned in the coils and viscera, but few of them lingered long enough to be grasped, turned over in her mind’s eye and understood in the fabric of the greater whole.
Even those that lingered could be read in myriad ways, the barest detail changing everything, yet the harder she tried to hold on to the vivid imagery, the less there was to hold to. The surface of her eyes felt like the skin of a drum stretched too tight and pounded with hands, with mallets –
A golden eagle soared high above the mountains, white voids where its eyes should have been, blind . A tree burned underwater, the flame blue-black and the branches bedecked with skulls where leaves should have been. A sword lanced through the air, striking the ground hard and splitting off into lightning patterns across the surface of an untanned hide.
Her jaws ached and her vision was streaked with grey as she quested forward, pushing stubbornly to snatch at omens, but the more she tried, the harder it became, and she was aware of a horrible sound piercing the discord. Reluctant, she exhaled a shuddering breath and fell back on her heels, tail curling about her feet and eyes wrenching shut against the bright, ever-shifting colors of the Sight.
And then a hand grasped her shoulder, shaking her vigorously. “Jin-Rei! Jin-Rei, are you alright? Don’t leave me here, I don’t know the way out, I’ll die – Jin-Rei!”
She twisted away, eyes opening again to what seemed to blinding darkness. Her throat was hoarse, and her breathing labored as she turned toward the source of the panicky cries, irritated by the ragged sound of his fear. “- Is fine. Give me a moment.”
He stank worse than before, his hands groping at her roughly to check her pulse, and it was all she could do not to hurt him, blind as she was. His soft pink skin dragged across her scales, intrusive and unpleasant; she tolerated it, if only barely. “I have Seen. You must patient; all will be made clear soon.”
“The lights! The lights, they all went out, and you screamed – your whole body shook! The guts, they started twisting!”
“Patience, Ivan. Give me a moment.”
She felt the faintest traces of a smile tugging against her teeth, and she allowed it, waiting for the black fog to clear. She’d make note of that later; pieces of the carcass might prove useful. A harvest of reagents for her talismans, perhaps – or for curses, depending on the wind and the placement of the stars.
Her breathing grew easier as the minutes ticked past, and she began to make out shapes again, indistinct though they were. She turned to her would-be savior, and bowed her head, rising unsteadily and lifting her arms high.
Voice quavering, she exalted the skies as she spoke – “I have Seen!”
A pause before she continued, allowing herself to waver ever so slightly as she cried out to the skies- “And as with all things, the measure of your joys shall only equal the measure of your sorrows! Your child will be born, healthy – a male child, with yellow hair and strong of lung!” Here, her arms lowered, head bowing. Her eyes closed. “But your wife will take ill; she will not last the day of his birth.”
She could hear the man more easily than she could see him. He was clammy with terror, and his sharp intake of breath was all she needed before she pressed on. “There is yet a thing which might be done… the fates may be changed, with the twist of a string – allow Jin-Rei to help you.”
“Y-you’ve done so much already – how can I ever repay your kindness?” He gabbled, reaching for his coinpurse. “I- I will ask your help to change this fate – I cannot lose my beloved Hilda, she is everything to me…”
Jin-Rei nodded wisely. “Be warned, Ivan; to change her fate is to change the very nature of time. What I have Seen may be rendered false if we move forward; but I will do my best to help you keep your wife.”
“Anything – anything, for my lovely Hilda!”
Exactly what she’d counted on.