The Neovian Fortune Teller
Although Rascan knew the way, he always felt lost in the Haunted Woods. The trees always seemed to be moving and the winds always seemed to be whispering ominously. Tonight was darker than usual, the light from the moon barely shining through the thick foliage of the woods. He powered on, watching his footing, knowing that the Neovian Printing Press was due to close for the night very soon. His thieving mentor, Vatalyn, always requested the daily newspapers every morning, so Rascan had a deal with the printing press storekeeper to receive the newspapers before they hit the stands the next morning.
Shortly after, Rascan managed to spot the bonfire from the Gypsy Camp. The gypsies were still awake at this time, swapping stories in the light of the flickering fire. Upon seeing them, Rascan immediately switched to his stealth mode, which was slower but entirely undetectable. As he passed by, he overheard one of the gypsies say:
“Yes, he has put on a lot of weight, but he still doesn’t look anything like Mayor Thumburt!”
Rascan had to hold back a slight chuckle, as the idea of anyone not under the effects of a terrible potion looking like Mayor Thumburt was outlandish. He slipped through the camp with ease. In fact, it was too easy to move discreetly after years of experience as a spy. He was only now training under Vatalyn because he wanted to gain thievery skills as well. Turning away from the gypsy camp, Rascan followed the creepy path that led away from central Haunted Woods.
Finally, he emerged in Neovia. The moment he stepped away from the main path, the fog seemed to lift. Here, there was no more eerily glow to the trees or ghastly wind. Although Neovia had a dark past, it was now operating without any curses. Rascan pushed the wooden gate open to enter the city.
He had barely walked a few steps before he heard someone say, “Psst, over here!”
Rascan whipped his head around to the origin of the voice. “Who goes there?” he growled, his Aisha ears perking up.
Another Aisha came out of the Almost Abandoned Attic house to his left. She was a Zombie Aisha, who had pale skin and blank, seemingly unseeing eyes. Rascan’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, his stance defensive. Although he had heard tell of the Tale of Woe, he thought the undead Neopets had been cured since those events.
The Zombie Aisha approached him, unintimidated. “Rascan, is it?” she inquired.
“Who’s asking?” Rascan shot back. He knew Haunted Woods played ghostly tricks on its visitors, and he assumed this was another one of them.
“My name is Samara. If you want to know your fate,” the Zombie Aisha said, stopping in front of him. “You should follow me.”
Rascan scoffed. He didn’t have time to listen to the ramblings of a Neovian gypsy. He turned to leave, as he still had to pick up his newspaper parcel from the printing press.
“The store is closed,” Samara called after him, her voice ringing through the empty streets. “The storekeeper had an emergency and went home early today.”
How could she know about him? Rascan thought, still walking away. There was an easy explanation for that, he argued with himself. After all, he took the same path – the only path – to Neovia every night and she could’ve seen him from her house by the entrance. And, every night, Rascan returned to that gate holding an armful of newspapers. Samara was just a nosy citizen, nothing more, Rascan thought. As for his name, well, she could have overheard it somewhere.
After walking for a moment more, Rascan reached the Neovian Printing Press. On the front door was a “closed” sign and right under it was a note for him. It read:
“Rascan – I had to close the shop and stop the presses early today, as my mother is not feeling well. I apologize for the late notice! We will be back on schedule in the morning. Send Vatalyn my regards.”
After reading, Rascan folded up the letter suspiciously. Was it possible that that Zombie Aisha had gotten here first and read the letter? But it had been sealed and unopened! He looked behind him, partly expecting to see the strange Aisha looking at him from afar. But she was gone.
Rascan was used to the spook of Haunted Woods, but this was something else. Even though the Aisha was no longer in the street, he felt like he was being watched. He shook his head harshly. Get a grip! he thought to himself. He would solve this once and for all. Resolute, Rascan walked over to the Almost Abandoned Attic house and lifted his knuckles to rap on the door.
Before he could knock, though, the door opened from the inside. Rascan stepped back, unnerved again.
“I’ve been expecting you, Rascan.” The door opened to reveal Samara. “I did not take you for a non-believer. Come in.”
Rascan rolled his eyes. “I don’t believe in anything,” he said, stepping inside the house. “I’m here because you owe me answers.” The room was dim, lit only by a few burning candles. Thick dark curtains were draped all over the walls, half-covering an assortment of mirrors and large photo frames. Rascan could barely make out a portrait of Kauvara hanging over the fireplace. There was a covered Crystal Ball Table in the center of the room, surrounded by sunken pillows.
“But, of course you don’t believe yet,” Samara said, gesturing for Rascan to sit. “And, why should you? I have yet to show you anything to convince you to believe me. Unless I was wrong, and the printing press was open?” Without waiting for an answer, she moved over to the back of the house, where there was a small makeshift kitchen. She opened a Container of Glade Leaves, sprinkled some of the grass into a mug, and poured hot water over it.
“You could’ve seen the storekeeper close shop early, big deal,” Rascan replied with a scowl, sitting down reluctantly. The pillows were so worn down, Rascan felt like he was sitting on the floor. “Or did you read the letter she left for me?”
Samara laughed, an eerie shrill. She gave the drink a stir. “I don’t need to intercept private mail to obtain knowledge.” She walked over to where Rascan was sitting and handed him the mug. “Are you ready to start?”
Rascan accepted the drink. “Glade tea? From Kayla’s Potion Shop?” Rascan asked, after looking inside. “This is for injuries, and I am not wounded.”
“Everybody is wounded, if not outside than inside,” the Aisha said, pulling off the white sheet that was covering the Crystal Ball Table. Instead of the typical purple ball, this one was carved from a clear jade crystal. “Are you ready to start?” she asked again.
“Um,” Rascan answered. “Not really. I’m not sure what you expect to see. Or what’s going on.”
“I expect nothing,” Samara answered. “I simply ask the jade ball to show me your future and its mysteries do the rest.”
“Okay…” Rascan trailed off, still skeptical. “I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, then.”
Samara nodded, and then looked into the jade ball. Rascan watched cautiously as, after a moment, Samara seemed to go into a trance state. It looked like she was massaging the jade crystal, but her fingertips were just slight of actually touching the stone. Her unseeing eyes seemed to glance beyond reality, which was only highlighted by the large whites of her eyes…
Rascan was intrigued, but not convinced, as Samara could have been acting the whole thing out. But after a few more moments, the crystal began to glow, a whitish light with a tinge of green. His eyes grew wide, looking up at Samara for some answers, but she was looking off into the depths of the crystal. Minutes had begun to pass and he was beginning to think he had walked into a con, until…
All at once, the light of the jade ball flooded the entire room. Rascan squinted through the brightness, but Samara was unfazed. Just as quickly, though, the light dissipated entirely.
Samara, who was now free from her trance, nodded at Rascan. “I have seen it. Your future.”
“Well?” Rascan asked, impatiently. “What is it?”
Samara ignored his rudeness. “Your past with the spies will catch up to you, Rascan. Your heart does not lie with the thieves. Your loyalty will cause you to betray them. Especially him.”
Rascan immediately knew who she was talking about – Vatalyn, his mentor. Although he was confused to how Samara had learned so much about him from a glowing jade crystal, she was not wrong. Was it really from that jade crystal, or was there some otherworldly magic happening? His past as a spy was unbeknownst to all except his old colleagues. But before he could ask anything, Samara spoke up first.
“Go now. Leave,” Samara commanded. “But continuing on, remember to listen to your heart, it always knows best.”
Nodding slowly, Rascan got up to leave the room. He stopped, standing by the doorway. “Um, thanks, I guess,” he said finally, before leaving.
After returning to Vatalyn’s mansion, Rascan knocked on his mentor’s door, preparing to tell him about the printing press’s early closure. He heard someone unlatching the chain lock on the other side. The door opened to reveal Vatalyn, a striking Pirate Draik.
“Yes, Rascan?” he asked, clearly shocked to see his mentee here.
Rascan couldn’t meet his mentor’s eyes. He was thinking about what Samara had said about betraying him. “Well, I don’t mean to show up emptyhanded, sir, but the printing press closed early today and –”
Vatalyn cleared his throat to interrupt him, raising an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?” he asked, his voice tinged with confusion. “The newspaper package arrived an hour ago.”
Rascan stammered, bewildered. “Wh-what do you mean? By who?”
“It was left at my doorstep,” Vatalyn said. “I thought it was from you. Hmm,” he continued, thinking. “There was a note but I ignored it. Stay here.” He disappeared into the large house for a few moments, returning with a small envelope. “It came with this. I figured it was from you so I didn’t open it,” Vatalyn said with a laugh. He handed it to Rascan. “You’re free to have it, seems like it was meant for you.”
Rascan accepted it, still unable to keep the shock off his face. How could Vatalyn have received the newspapers that were not yet printed? “Thanks,” he muttered. “I’ll be going now, I’ll be back in the morning.”
“Of course. Have a nice night, Rascan,” Vatalyn drawled before closing the door.
The moment the door shut, Rascan tore into the envelope. It was completely unmarked on the outside, and had only a slip of paper inside.
It read: “Rascan, no need to thank me. Thank you for believing.”
Rascan’s eyes widened. Samara had sent Vatalyn the newspapers before they were even put into circulation! Rascan could’ve chalked up the glowing jade crystal ball to special effects earlier, but not even he could think of a rational explanation for this. He needed answers for this, not a psychic reading or hot tea. He rushed back to Neovia, unabashedly running through the Haunted Woods, and not even bothering to utilize any of his covert operating skills. It was light out now, anyway, so rushing through the town would not rise suspicion in any passerby.
When Rascan arrived back to Neovia, he noticed that the Almost Abandoned Attic house was boarded up. What was going on? he thought. Those wooden planks had not been there the night before. He looked around at the town that was slowly waking up.
“Uh, hey!” Rascan called out, waving down a passerby Neovian citizen.
The Wocky gypsy strolled over to him. “Can I help you with something?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Rascan replied. “I was wondering where the owner of that house went,” he said, pointing to the house he visited last night. “I had met an Aisha named Samara there very recently and I was wondering where I can find her now.”
The Wocky frowned. “You mean the original owner of the house, Samara Jade? She passed away over a century ago. Her great-great-granddaughter, the Ghost Aisha, still runs the Almost Abandoned Attic, though.”
“No, no, I’m looking for the fortune teller,” Rascan insisted.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, but you’re about a hundred years late, sweetheart,” the Wocky gypsy replied, before shrugging and dancing away, leaving Rascan alone with his thoughts.