Vladimir breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the young woman, with an honest smile. She could really help him. He tucked the tie around his neck and then took a seat. He did all that while holding the briefcase.
I am very happy that you can help me, money will be no problem - He said while rubbing one of his eyes. Then, making a hand movement, a white glowing fire appeared and then it was replaced by a box from which he took out a few bills, they were 200 euros but, he also took out a small bag with 10 gold coins, which had Celtic symbols. They probably did not seem valuable but people on museums would think different. L-Like I said ... I need to track three people ... I wonder if you can include a reading of them? I haven't heard of them in a long time... - Vladimir sighed, if anyone could read his emotions, although it wasn't so difficult, in his blue eyes could be noticed several emotions: Sadness, concern, worry, failure and fault...
Arlana couldn’t contain her surprise when Vladimir’s hand glow with bright fire and a box appeared out of thin air. Her surprise was quickly drowned in mild annoyance. Of course it would be another fucker from the Hidden World, was she a fricking weird magnet or what? She grasped the deck that laid on her lap, ready for anything. Hopefully, the white paladin had something to distract the girl from her bitter thoughts.
The pair of blue and deep eyes behind the hood sparkled when the bills landed on the table. Arlana wasn’t in the best of moods, that’s for sure. But the sight of 200 hundred euros on her table was more than her bad temper could handle and, much to her regret, felt herself slowly leaving her fit of rage behind. Two hundred was certainly less than the stack of bills that Jun had left (which had been burned on a... unfortunate accident) but It was till way more than she could eve dream of. Yet it was the mysterious bag her newest costumer had laid on the table what caught the girl’s eye.
Curiously, she reached for the leather bag and pulled it close to her. The teenager forced herself to contain a squeal of delight when she saw the Celtic coins. Ever since she was a young girl, living on the calm Irish country side and surrounded with all sort of fantastic books, she had been fascinated with that sort of medieval stuff. And the Celtic symbols always infused everything with a magical look, they even resembled her Pentacles.
Carefully, Arlana put her pay away and straightened her back. That awesome present had managed to keep her temperament down… for the time being. A smile threatened to get away from her lips as she made a few hand gestures over the candle fire. “It’s not me who you should be asking those questions…” she proclaimed, recovering the mysterious tone she had used with Jun as she slid her cheap tarot deck across the table, opening it like a fan “the cards will be the ones to answer, I’m just a mere reader, a vessel in which the power of the cards pass through into this mortal realm”
“Now… are you ready to dive into the unknown and find your answers? Or is there anything else you want to say? A clue, perhaps…” She added, staring meaningfully at the briefcase over the table. In fact, Arlana didn’t give a damn about clues, but she did want to know what the hell was in there. “If there’s something there, I swear to God I’m going to slap a Pentacle on his face” Arlana thought for herself.
The paladin's eyes gleamed for a moment at the action of Arlana, the poor girl will have suffered enough to have to subsist on her own. Listening attentively to her words, Vladimir opened his briefcase. Anyone would have suspected much simpler objects, papers ... something related to offices, after all he seemed like a simple business employee. But as he extracted each object, his body seemed to tighten a little, while his face expressed a little more sadness as he continued to observe them.
First, he took out what appeared to be a small white blanket with a blue border. Celtic symbols were subtly decorating the fabric and appeared to be in perfect condition. Then he took out a bracelet, was small and made of gold, with a small black pearl on one side. That had written a name but was no longer able to be read. And finally he pulled out a stuffed animal, also in very good condition. It was a white bunny, very soft to the point that anyone would be tempted to touch it.
Then the paladin closed his briefcase. Leaving those three objects on the table, while watching the cards. He glanced at the blanket and then took one, then, he did the same with each object.
The girl let out an almost audible sigh of relief when Vladimir opened the briefcase. Well, unless that guy was planning to maul her to death with a stuffed bunny, she wasn’t in any immediate danger. “Three you seek, three you have picked… fitting” Arlana muttered, sounding mystical. The girl stared at the three cards, face down on the table in front of the curious objects and slowly left her mind enter the empty and blank state needed for a reading.
“Let us first see, who the ones you are looking for are” she said, her fake mystical tone faded away as she spoke and was replaced with an emotionless voice which didn’t belong to the seventeen year old girl. Her hand reached for the card that laid in front of the fancy blue blanket and turned it around with a quick and skillful finger play. An old man sat on a stone throne that stood proud over barren mountains. On his hands were an ankh and a golden orb and his body was wrapped in a red and elegant robe. His grey hair was hidden inside a simple gold crown, decorated with deep and colorful jewels. This ancient man seemed like the living representation of wisdom, his infinite years of experience arising from every inch of his figure. The Emperor was indeed a collection of every aspect of a good ruler but…
“The reversed Emperor” Arlana said, her unearthly voice was tainted by a hint of irritation. She didn’t know why, but the sight of that card next to that expensive blanket made her want to slap an arrogant idiot. Hopefully, that reading state cleaned her mind quickly enough. “The Emperor represents authority and wisdom. He offers advice, guidance and wisdom which has been achieved after years of hard work and worldly experience; his presence brings comfort and security to those around him. Those are qualities sought by every man who desires to be a benevolent and respected leader. But as you see… the Emperor appears upside down.” The girl had to take another moment to shake off that annoying bitch-slapping need so she could continue reading.
“The one you are looking for, he…” somehow, Arlana new that it was a man “possess a position of power, an influential guide to not only himself and the ones close to him, but the entire land which he is responsible for.” the girl explained as she pointed at the globe on the Emperor’s hand, which represented his kingdom. She examined the card thoroughly and something seemed to click on her head. The wise and noble image printed on the cheap purple background seemed to change under her gaze. The secure and experienced stare that beamed out of the card now seemed hesitant, doubtful and young which was futilely trying to hid behind a cover of arrogance. “He is, indeed, powerful and influential. The symbol the Emperor held in his left hand is an Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of Life, which represents the souls that are in his care and, if you watch it carefully…” Arlana now pointed to the Ankh’s hole, which held a tiny and shinning jewel “We can see a deep blue Sapphire, the representation of his power. I guess this information will mean more to you than it does for me” she added, crossing eyes with her costumer for a moment before going back to the card.
“The reverse Emperor tells us that, despite of his power, the one you seek is young. With his youth comes inexperience. And that lack of experience corrupts the qualities of a good ruler. Humility becomes arrogance, kindness becomes egoism. But this does not mean that everything is lost, as there is still good inside of him. As the Emperor preaches, all he need is some guidance in the right direction” The girl finished and almost bit her tongue to stop herself from adding ´which can be done with a clogging him in the face´.
Wondering why the hell she was getting so worked up about that, Arlana waited for Vladimir´s reaction. Her blue eyes scrutinized his face, trying to guess if she had nailed it or not. Ironically, she felt as unexperienced as card she was just reading when it came to her work. For the first time in the evening, Arlana paid close attention to his costumer’s face and soon enough she caught herself looking for more than just danger signals. Behind his serious and formal demeanor, Arlana caught a glimpse of the deep and melancholic sadness, hidden inside his blue eyes.
The girl’s eyes instantly hardened and her hand unconsciously reached for the bandage on her neck. The last she had tried to be kind, she had ended up with a knife in her throat. “This is just my job, I’m not here to help these guys with every little problem they have” She thought. However, a small and brave part of her was already looking for ways to make that guy’s eyes shine. It took more than just a small brush with death to stop a kind person, after all.
Vladimir listened intently, watching the blanket. He seemed to be plunging into his own thoughts. As Arlana pointed out the details of the Card, the paladin approached them more closely, intrigued as he tilted his face to one side. As she said, the letter contained a meaning that he understood better than she. Apparently the little baby that once used these blankets, now was an adult... well, something like that. He understood the fact that he carried a great responsibility and remembering the situation in which he would find himself, Vladimir's face could only express worry through his eyes. He couldn't help but sketch a small smile when he heard about arrogance and selfishness... although he actually smiled for a much more important reason.
There was still goodness in him.
He couldn't hide it when a small tear escaped his right eye while he smiled, that seemed to be more than enough to know how that person was - Derek is undoubtedly your living image, Elatha... - He said almost in a whisper, though he wouldn't know whether Arlana heard him or not.
Seeing the bracelet now, the paladin looks again at the girl, indicating that she will continue reading.
Boom! Nailed it! Arlana could almost see the metaphorical ball going through the hoop when her costumer’s reaction told her she was going the right way. The girl quickly brushed her joy aside to clear her mind but Vladimir’s mumbles did caught her attention. “Derek… where did I hear that name before?” she thought, getting that annoying feeling again “Ah whatever, I must have read it somewhere or something like that”. Focusing on the task at hand, she reached for the card and turned upside down.
A beautiful, young and gentle woman stood in a field of grass, under a clear golden sky. She was wearing a pure and simple white robe, ornate only with a belt and a crown of weeds and wildflowers over her blonde hair. The woman’s calmly gazed at the fierce lion at her feet and pet the felines head with both hands, one over its head and the other under its chin. The beast itself stood happy and surrendered to the woman, his tongue slipping out of its mouth was a living proof of it, as animals won’t bite if their tongue is out. Over the woman’s head floated the symbol of infinity.
“This one is represented by the Strength” Arlana stated “It’s a very peculiar card. It tells us that this person is strong, but not in the same way as other cards like the Chariot. The mere fact that a woman appears on this card…” she tapped gently the woman’s head “is a sign that his strength is not solely physical. She tames the lion with quiet strength, mental from her right arm and physical on her left. A more complete sense of power, strength and stability. But don’t be fooled by the Strength’s gentle appearance. The power she preaches is neutral in nature and can be used for protection and destruction.” Man, that Derek thing kept bugging her! She couldn’t concentrate as usual. “The one chosen by the Strength is a protector, a calm and compassionate guardian for those close to his heart” she explained, pointing at the woman “But… the only compassion his enemies will find, is the cold and fierce bite of a lion” she added, her finger slipping towards the feline.
Vladimir breathed a sigh of relief. He felt that this person was strong and was on the right track, but that didn't rule out that he would need someone to guide him, although he couldn't prevent his own instinct from telling himself that something wasn't going well... He felt that the card was telling him that this was a spiteful person. He smiled as he scratched his cheek, the reading was fine... But could he get a location? That was an important question, although he didn't know if he could approach any of them... He was afraid to put them in danger or worse, to be rejected by the three of them.
I am grateful, for some reason, some things I expected them... I don't know if it will be instinct or something else - He said shyly as he smiled. Although, of course, he was quite worried about them, and now knowing what they were like, more. What a silly old man! he thought to himself.
And... The youngest? - That had escaped his mouth, covering it in a reflex act couldn't avoid reddening his face. But he hoped Arlana wouldn't mind and proceed with the reading.
Vladimir’s sheepish smile caught Arlana by surprise. The guy looked so serious when he entered, but smiling like that he looked as if he was about to tell the worst of dad jokes. Arlana found herself smiling widely at that older and kind man, her young features brightened by the dancing light of the candle for an instant, before going back to her rehearsed reading attitude.
Her mind was getting fuzzy drifting off, the reading state was starting to get a difficult as the questions piled up on her head. Now that she was calmer, her curious nature was getting the best of her. Who was that guy who could summon bright flames out of nowhere? Who were those three idiots he was searching for? And what was the deal with the Emperor that was annoying her so much? She shook her head for a moment and tried to power through, as she reached for the last card and turned in upside down over the battered table.
A mature and wise woman, dressed in pure light blue robes, sat in a small marble throne. A book rested on her lap, her palm face down on the cover. She sat between two strong pillars, one black at her right and a white one at her left, and a long simple curtain behind her separated her from the world. Her feet stepped through her robes over a waxing crescent moon.
“The High Priestess” Arlana proclaimed “The High Priestess is a wise card, but kind unlike the Hierophant. It represents the knowledge of the divine, serenity and motherly understanding. She is placed in a peculiar spot, divided from the rest of the mortals by the curtain at her back and sitting between two worlds: reality…” she pointed at the white pillar and then slipped her finger to the black one “and another world, an elusive world. She is the mediating link between those two worlds” She left a minute of silence as she reorganized her thoughts.
“Although it’s a female, the cards are applicable to all mortals without discrimination. The one linked to that bunny…” she gestured towards the white plushy “has a strong connection to religion, a priest of some sort. He is kind, attentive and always helpful, as the High Priestess lacks the hostile belief of the Hierophant. But do not mistake her lovely nature as weakness, as the Priestess possess a deep resolution, more powerful that any kind of physical strength.”
“What is more interesting is the road that brought this person to that dangerous position between worlds. It wasn´t an easy one.” She said confidently, looking at the tome on the Priestess hands. For a moment, the dim candle light danced over the card and the woman´s hands turned red, crimson with blood. “His first encounter with this other world was not serene. Blood was spilled. Blood that changed his life forever. But he didn´t falter and, faithful to the Priestess, was able to overcome that dire situation by words, not by sword. That way he became the link between the two worlds and we can see that victory on the card, on the crescent moon under the Priestess feet. It’s a sign of triumph over the night lurkers which wronged him.”
With those words the girl collapsed on her chair and felt the familiar sensation of her strength abandoning her, now that the reading was complete. Trying to read the fortune of just one person wasn´t too hard, but three at the same time was really something else. As she took a couple of moments to breathe in and out, a slow realization drifted into her mind. “A prince… and a priest?” she muttered “oh, fuck”
The old paladin noticed the change of the atmosphere when Arlana smiled back. Probably it wasn't by his own nature to be so worry about kids, it was also a tradition that Driaochtas had inherited from Celtics, Kids were invaluable diamonds and it was the adult's duty to keep them safe... even if that means being far from them to avoid misfortune. Listening to Arlana's voice made him tense, not in a bad way. If he didn't have 400 years old and needed to go to a hospital, people would blow their minds after discovering that the man has more anxiety than a poodle. Probably he would have white hair! But thankfully that didn't happen. He thought about that for a moment... He wasn't like that 21 years ago.
He glanced towards the bunny, he bited his own lips. Even if he was far from those kids, misfortune was always behind them, always making them suffer... but at least it made them stronger. Those little gifts that he once gave to them now were the only reminder of how tiny and defenseless they were in the past, and how the paladin thought that leaving the families would keep them safe from his curse. Not only the three teenagers he was looking for, but as well their families... He remembered, all of them. He still remembered the grandfather of one of them, the one he admired the most, he glanced against the Emperor. That card really suited him if he were still alive, but sadly, it was the triad. Born, live and die. And the cycle would repeat again.
When the girl finished her reading, he stood up to help her. He took from his pocket a white marble, it looked like candy and he offered it to the exhausted girl.
I'm so sorry! I-I didn't know it was too much for you... H-Here! It'll help you to regain strenght - He said, completely worried at the point he didn't hear when the girl muttered something.
Arlana stared at the white marble her guest was offering with deep distrust. She had heard enough stories about girls getting drugged by strangers to get more than a little paranoid about the fact that that weird old man was offering some sort of pill. “I don’t know what kind of person I think I am, but I won’t need anything like that” the girl said drily, clutching the deck of cards firmly on her hands. If that bastard wanted to do something weird, he was going to get a surprise when a Pentacle slapped him on the face. “I warn you, my powers go far beyond this mortal realm. I could destroy you into a million fragments of stellar energy without breaking a sweat” Despite that exaggerated threat, the girl couldn’t stop a frightful shiver go down her spine and felt her hands get sweat around the cards.
“Now…” She said, trying (and failing miserably) to sound confident “Is your curiosity satisfied, seeker of the ones travelling on the Path of the Fool?”
The man tilted his head to one side, while he frowned without understanding plenty of the stuff Arlana just said. Then he ate the candy, it only worked to calm a bit his stress. Sitting again on his chair, without paying too much attention to the threat.
I do not understand... Why someone with such power is living in this conditions? - The man took a look at the place, even if it was a bit darker. He didn't seem affected by the threat or Arlana's behavior, he was more curious like someone trying to solve a puzzle. Then, his eyes met with hers again - What do you mean by the Path of the Fool? Is something dangerous? Is something bad for them to be in that path? - Now his voice sounded more worried, more than before in the whole session.
After a long time eating those candies, the effects only worker for a couple of minutes but no more. Then he sighed and smiled a bit. Sorry, I know it must be a natural reaction to reject things from strangers, if you were my daughter I would be proud of you for rejecting it... but the threat... - He said as he glanced to other side with a weird smile, he didn't wanted to hurt the girls pride so it was better to not say that he...thought it was very childish...
“Well, some of us can’t afford the luxury of throwing money and coins around” the girl thought bitterly, but refrained herself from saying it out loud. Instead, she chose to keep the mysterious and powerful facade even though it seemed to be falling apart. “I chose to live like this, as the material plane and their possessions mean nothing to me” she replied, instead. And of course, her empty belly couldn’t have chosen a better moment to let out a deep and embarrassing growl. She cleared her throat “I only offer and exchange of money for my services to satisfy the desires of the flesh,” OH MY GOD, did she really phrase that that way?! “…And help those who wander without direction”
She cleared her throat once again, glad that the darkness of her hood help her conceal her blushing cheeks. “A threat like that was necessary as they are foul intentioned beings who try to take advantage of my power… just today, one of those appeared at my doorstep. It took only a flick of my wrist to made that woman disappear” she was referring to her last costumer, the Asian girl that had left her scared in tears. But that didn’t sound as good. Arlana knew that it was stupid to keep talking like that, but the mere mention of the word ´daughter´ had woken some painful memories. And, of course, she had panicked.
“The path of the fool is indeed fraught with dangers and hardships” the girl explain, leaving that question for the end to avoid following the other threads of conversation “But, although difficult, it’s a necessary road to take to advance and grow, to become the person you are meant to be and fulfill your wishes. Each of the Fools who take this path experience it differently but all the roads will end in a final challenge to break through your previous self… unless you’re not enough to face it”
I-I think I get it – The old paladin blinked when she explained herself – But I’m paying for your services… more if it’s about those boys… - Vladimir glanced to the floor, if he was being scolded but then he returned to see her, smiling – Money is not a problem when it’s about kids… is the only thing that I can do for now
He noticed the sound of her belly, but he preferred not interrupt her… probably it’ll be offensive to point it out. He understood that the world outside of the Kingdom was completely different, but still he couldn’t get accustomed to it. He knew it was awful, if his ancestors knew about the conditions of the world they’ll panic… as Celtics were always so concerned about kids and women, he sighted.
As he listened again to Arlana’s explanation he felt like leaving a big weight, so it was a test, well… not just a test, it was the path of the life. When the girl spoke the last words “unless you’re not enough to face it” he swallowed his own saliva. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he had faith on them. He had to believe in it.
Everything seems clearer now… thanks you – The man spoke, probably his sad face wouldn’t go away that easily, but it really calmed him…
Arlana let out a mental sigh as his costumer blabbered about those kids. It was clear that they were something special to him, obvious through the emotion escaping through his words and sad eyes staring nostalgically as he seemed to remember the past. It was at that point where Arlana’s previous… tense encounter with her last costumer finally slipped out of her mind and the girl found herself feeling an obnoxious pinch of pity towards that weird old guy. Well shit, here she went again…
“Wait…,” she muttered “The cards are telling me something else. These two…” with a pass of her hand over the doubtful Emperor and the calm High Priestess “I can see a abode… a mansion harassed by waves and rain, haunted by spirits to the north… playful danger surrounds them there, but they managed to escape unharmed” the girl spoke in waves as if she was repeating the words someone or something else told her.
Of course, she could have told him that she had met that arrogant Goldie Locks and his priest friend at a haunted house near the coast. But where was the fun in that?
The man blinked for a few seconds, not because of the situation in which the two boys had ended (and thanks to the gods nothing serious had happened), but still... what surprised him was the fact that they were together... destiny is such a mysterious and complicated thing. Vladimir could feel some color rise to his cheeks, a small part of him was extremely proud of how those children had dealt with that situation.
I really wouldn't know how to pay you everything you've done for me, ...it's so nostalgic - Then, with his hands he pretended to hold something small, about the size of a baby - One day they are so small and then... Well, I'm not someone to talk about that but still - He let out a chuckle before returning to his typical nervous behavior - Really, thanks you and... I really hope that the coins and money are good for you...