Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 193,064,531 Issue: 678 | 30th day of Sleeping, Y17
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The Prophetess's Tale: Part One

by encroached


Every time the prophetess made the icy trek, it seemed longer.

     Gracefully falling snowflakes pestered her nose as she climbed. Her feet were numb; it seemed as though they were no longer a part of her. A cold breeze swept through, scattering a wave of snow at her bare legs. Shivering, she cowered further back into her cloak.

     She lifted her head to find the way and was rewarded with a bone-chilling gust of air. The prophetess kept her head down after that, only able to see the feet which had to belong to some other shadow Gelert. They fumbled numbly in the snow, only half-effective at their function. The prophetess swore under her breath as her eyes burned.

     At least it wasn't a blizzard this time.

     Closing her eyes, the prophetess pressed forward in a robotic fashion. The only thing keeping her going was what would be at her destination. Left. Warm, warm fire. Right. Thirty flavors of tea. Left. An abundance of blankets. Right. Comfortable bed, comfortable couch. Left. Curling up with a good bo—

     The prophetess tripped and received a face full of snow. She sputtered and coughed, cursing whoever decided this whole "extreme weather" thing was a good idea. But, she supposed, if it hadn't been so extreme, then it wouldn't be as secluded as she liked.

     She brought herself to her feet. Her entire face prickled with the uncomfortable heat that accompanies contact with a pile of snow. Shaking the snow out of her eyes, she realized what she'd tripped over. It was a step: the kind of step that led to homes, and in particular, the one that led to hers.

     Tears streamed from her eyes and she nearly bent back down to kiss the step; instead, she settled for kissing the doorframe as her numb paws jangled the keys that would let her into her safe haven.

     The door gave way and she stumbled in, slamming it shut behind her. Already, it was warmer. At the temperature change, her ears tingled uncomfortably. The prophetess leapt to her fireplace and muttered a few words at it. It sprang into flame and simmered down into a welcoming crackle, as though it had been burning for hours.

     The Gelert slumped into the couch and extended her feet toward the fire. Every time she left her home, she asked herself why she had chosen a desolate part of a wintery mountain instead of a tropical island... and every time she came back, she knew just why. This was her happy place, miles upon miles from civilization. Sure, it made groceries a bit of a hassle, but it was warm, and it was safe, and it was hers.

     The prophetess allowed herself a few more moments of rest before putting a kettle over the fire. She settled back into her sofa and propped open a book. She couldn't so much as focus on the words; the flames of the fire entranced her. They bobbed up and down with rapidity in a sort of hypnotic dance.

     In no time at all, she had fallen asleep.


     The shadow Gelert woke with a start to an intense pounding noise. She lurched forward. Of course, the tea water had evaporated into nothingness by now. It wasn't until she had cooled and refilled the kettle that it finally hit her—there was a knocking sound.

     The kettle dropped from her paws and splashed water over the floor. The prophetess froze, torn between going for a mop and answering the knock. She gawked at the door. Whoever it was, and however they got here, it was ridiculous to go all this way to reach her. The door trembled under the weight of whoever's fist pounded on the other side.

     The prophetess took a deep, calming breath and went to welcome the noisy intruder.

     She cringed at the shaking of her door. Reluctantly, she opened it and stepped out of the way as a ball of fur thumped to the floor, having had all of its weight against the door. The prophetess took another wary step back, hoping she had not just let a madman into her home. "May I help you?" she asked, in the most considerate voice she could muster.

     The ball bounced to its knees, and she saw that it was not a ball of fur at all, but rather a distressed brown Lutari. Eyes wide, heavily panting, she thought that perhaps he really was a madman; she sifted her mind for a spell to send off madmen and couldn't come up with anything so specific.

     Noises tumbled from his mouth, but nothing coherent. As he caught his breath, they almost started to make sense, until he finally formed the faint sentence: "Please, I need your help."

     He had a dirty, crumpled piece of cloth clutched to his chest. The prophetess glanced over at the puddle of spilled tea water. With a few words, she could clean it up, but to utter them would be to reveal herself to the stranger. "What's the problem?" she asked at last, an edge of concern creeping into her voice.

     The Lutari held out the cloth to her. "It's my sister," he croaked. He took a few breaths to get himself together. "She's missing."

     The prophetess reached for the cloth and stopped; something was amiss. No, many things were amiss. For one, the trek out to her home was hours from civilization. Secondly, his labored breathing was too calculated, not ragged enough, as though he wasn't really...

     She saw her chance to turn him down, but something else tugged at her gut: a sense of responsibility, and a reminder of her paranoia. If she didn't at least try to help this person, it would eat at her for days; what if he really was in trouble? What if he really did need help finding his sister, and she was oh-so-conveniently the only one in the area, who also had the capabilities to find her...?

     She shoved all the paranoid thoughts away. "I'm... I'm somewhat of a fortune teller," she blurted all in one go, knowing that if she didn't get it out now she would back out and then feel awful. "I can see the future based on touch. Personal items, items of significance, and the like. If you were to give me your watch, I could tell you your future, for example, or that cloth which seems to belong to your sister..."

     It was too perfect, she knew. That he just happened to have something with him that was compatible with exactly the way her powers worked. Her next breath came out shaky. She'd already said it, and there was no taking it back; if this was a trap, she'd fallen headfirst in.

     The Lutari's eyes relaxed. "I can't believe my luck... Please, tell me where she is..." He nudged the cloth back toward her, shaking a little.

     The cloth was pink, smudged with mud, and had some fake golden buttons lining it in one area. It pricked at the prophetess's memory, though she couldn't recall where exactly she'd seen something like that. Even if she did touch the cloth, she assured herself, she could always lie to him about the future, tell him something to get him to go away.

     He stood quietly while she had her internal battle, leaning forward as though he could hear her thoughts that way. The prophetess finally nodded.

     She went to clutch the cloth, but only grazed it for a half-second before gasping and retracting her paw, as though burned. The image seared itself onto the back of her mind, just one, solid image. Her fur stood on end and she shivered involuntary. She knew, now, where the cloth came from, and she knew the image was something she was meant to see, not something she could lie off.

     She'd fallen for a trap. Again. The prophetess wanted to jump out the window, bury her head in the snow, and scream.

     The Lutari smiled warmly, as though he'd done nothing to change her life. White, well-cared for teeth flashed back at her.

     Oh, how could she have fallen for that, how could she not have trusted her instinct...

     "Well, then, Miss Kay, I believe you're interested in coming with me," the Lutari said slyly.

     The prophetess felt light-headed. She swallowed. "It's Cheyenne, now. I—I change it up every few months."

     The Lutari quirked an eyebrow. "Very well. Cheyenne. I'm Audley." He cleared his throat, his back instantly snapping into posture. The transformation was appalling. From the skittish, lost boy to the confident, charismatic man who was about to take away her away from her safe place. Smirking, he said, "I'm actually quite curious as to what you saw. That was a bit of a gamble. I had to assume it's something awful."

     Cheyenne could only nod. "You're despicable," she said under her breath.

     Audley's smile dropped. "Well, I can see we're not off to a very good start," he said. "That's regrettable." Looking around in a pretense of awkwardness, he rubbed his hands together maliciously. "I was thinking that, then, you would escort me to the nearest seaport. I need you for something."

     She would have preferred to slam the door in his face, to go over to that spilled pool of tea water and start scrying away, warning everyone before he had the chance...

     "Are you listening to a word I'm saying, Cheyenne? That's rather impolite," he scolded.

     "Why should I follow you, if I know you're going to do horrible things?"

     His hold on the cloth was slack now; if she was so inclined, she could rip it from his hands and see everything, see all of the awful, horrible things he would do and then try her best to—

     "So you can stop me, of course," Audley said. "So you can save her. I know you need to. After all, you're the only one who knows what's going to happen. Not even I have it planned out that far."

     Tears sprang to Cheyenne's eyes, but she held them back. "Okay," she said. She held her cloak more tightly around herself. "I'll come with you."

To be continued...

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