Kyrn let me shamefully rip off the idea of
the eye on a leash. CC supported the idea and poked and prodded me to make it better
the whole way through. Aithine pointed out where it didn't work and
corrected my mistakes.
Any problems or mistakes in the story all my fault.
Magic wasn't fluffy and cute. It was not found in cute and fluffy stores were little girls bought toys and stationary. The sacred arts the Sumeragi and Sakuramoriza clans had practiced for thousands of years did not dwell in a places like that. Ever.
Places like that should not have yellow lion plushies with wings glowing like a magical supernova sleeping curled on a red and gold book that shined only slightly less intensely then the plushie. Never should both be upon a simple table in a cute pink store called "Twin Bells."
It was wrong.
At least that's what a chain-smoking Subaru had spent a Sunday telling himself. He'd arrived at the store shortly after it had opened in the morning, and now it was shortly before closing. He'd watched schools of girls dart in and out of the store all day. No sooner then one chattering group would leave, then another would come. Released from the sameness of their school uniforms the girls were as colorful as tropical fish.
He wondered if he would ever have to net any of these schoolgirls for the Sakura. It was possible that one of them might someday have to be buried within the tree for the protection of Japan. Only vaguely though, because none of the storeís customers looked like the sort to tempt the magical defenses of a country.
Not a one had taken advantage of what a simple little sign in the window promised. It simply said "Fortunes Told." Simple black kanji on a white poster board. It lay flush against the front window near the door, and none of the girls had glanced at it. They hadn't talked about it. The sign with brushstrokes in a neat hand didn't seem to register with them.
That sign was the puzzlement and lure for Subaru.
Everyone with magic had hunches and guesses and lucky chances. Usually it meant that Subaru had an umbrella during an unexpected rainstorm. Other days, like today, it meant watching and brooding in outer suburbs of Tokyo.
Hokoto had personified the hunches, for her they could talk. She could spend hours describing the gentle calls that beckoned her towards her ankle high rubber boots with daisies before storms that would overflow the drains near their apartments.
To her, his simply werenít voices. He was the stronger older twin, and his hunches had form and action and occasionally accessories. This hunch, she would had said, was standing beside Subaru jumping up and down. It would be shouting and waving it's hands the "Fortunes Told" sign. There might have been hair torn out by the roots or even a crushed hat beneath it's feet.
The store would be closing soon, so he should just go in. He didn't want to have to repeat this pattern. Having a pattern was dangerous these days. It meant that a wandering Kamui might find him. Besides, it was more than a little foolish to be just smoking in the shadows and staring at a sign all day.
Moving out of the shadows and crossing the street halved the hunch's racket. Actually crossing the threshold of the "Twin Bells" meant the racket became a rattle.
The inside of the store only reinforced is impression of "cute." It was a store meant to be adored by girls. Stuffed animals cascaded in stacks hither and yon. Notebooks and pens were displayed in orderly cases waiting for just the right teen to buy them. Once upon a time, this would have been the sort of store that Hokuto would have dragged Subaru into, keeping him there for hours.
"Welcome!" The voice of the shopkeeper was bright and bouncy. She sounded as if she'd never known a moment's distress in her life. She moved from behind the counter, and Subaru took his first good look at her. The girl seemed a bit older and less slender than Hotoku. She had a fraction of Hotuko's energy as she came towards Subaru in her apron covered dress of pink and purple. "How can I help you today?"
"I'd like my fortune told." Subaru pointed to the book and the plushie in the window. The girl's glance at the pair of magical constructs betrayed a hint of unease. Subaru didn't bother to quash the satisfaction he felt at that. Seeing feelings beyond unadultrated joy and happiness in the child was nice, and it felt good to cause that.
"You want your fortune told right now?"
Subaru nodded. The girl sighed, and went to flip the store's open sign to closed.
"All right, Sumeragi-san. Please sit take a seat at the table." Subaru sat and stared at the plushie and the book. The plushie didn't react in any way, behaving exactly like a normal person would expect a stuff toy to behave. If Subaru had been normal, his life would have been so much simpler. In the pattern of his life, staring at a magical stuffed animal wasnít any odder than talking to an invisible magical hound.
The book seemed to be returning his stare. Actually, there seemed to be a lot of things staring back at him from in the book. Lots of restless and powerful things that seemed to want to stand between him and this nameless girl.
"What's your name?" She knew his name, and that was never good during an Apocolyse. She could be a trap created by the Dark Kamui. Or she could just have enough power to dance on the edge of the knife that was the End of the World. His hunch whispered at him, and he leaned toward the latter.
"You know my name, and I don't know yours." Subaru continued staring at the book. Truthfully, he hadn't taken his eyes off of it. The book seemed to be one magical creation that contained the several. The book had no agenda or purpose beyond containing the several whatevers within it. The whatevers were murmuring and muttering like his hunches. He could sense with magic that they were connected him to the girl.
They were probably the girl's tools. In this area of Asia, it might be some sort of set of stones or tiles. Some fortune telling sets developed a primitive unified conscious over time. But didn't feel primitive at all. It felt fully aware and very individualized. It also didn't seem to like him. But then, most things didnít these days. Such a reversal from his adolescence.
"Kinomoto." He couldn't figure out how the plushie fit into the scheme of things, and he obviously wasn't going to since Kinomoto-san moving the book and the plushie away from him.
"You're not going to use that set?" She wasnít quite hiding it. It was just being placed behind a counter. Because she didnít want it near him, or that she didnít want it too far from her?
"No." The girl shifted nervously on her feet beside the counter. "That's not the right deck of cards for you."
"Cards?" Not tiles, not stones. She used a set not quite of Asia. That expanded the mystery.. "Are they an old deck?"
"Fairly old. They were my father's." That wasn't the whole truth, but Kinomoto was in motion again to distract him.
"I'm going to use this deck for you." From the left hand pocket of her shop apron, she drew a covered bundle and sat down across from Subaru.
The cards had been protected in her pocket by pink silk stitched with cherry blossoms branches. The silk whispered to Subaru of the cloth markets of Hong Kong. It spoke of a brown-eyed boy hunting for days for just the right fabric. It mumured of the blue-eyed girl who helped him find it.
The cards sheltered in the fabric were a different story. When Kinomoto drew back the silk to reveal the black and gold deck of tarot cards and began to shuffle the deck. The cards caroled with the girl's magic. It was an impression of cherry blossoms that reminded and did not remind him of Seishirou.
Honestly, the only thing the pair had in common was the fact sakura identified some part of their talents. Seishirou's magic hadnít only whispered of cherry blossoms. It had been old blood streaked with ennui and dirt. This child didnít draw her powers on the earth, but instead pulled it from the heavens. Her power sang with stars and white drifting feathers.
"Sumeragai-san, this card identifies you." The girl interrupted Subaru's brooding to place a card face up in front of him. "It is the Hanged Man. It means that you're trapped. Either by duty or by yourself."
The card's picture was surprisingly mild. The man being hanged didn't even look like he was in any pain, but his eyes looked dead. Such an apt meaning for him. That this fortuneteller had seen meant that it was apparent in that ill-defined area where magic influenced life. Heíd must have been indiscreet in his pouting against fate if her powers had picked up he fact.
"These cards are your past." At Subaru's left hand, Kinomoto laid out three cards face down in a small triangle that point to his right hand. "They're behind you now, but they still effect all your actions."
"Aren't you going to turn them over?"
"No, not until after I finish laying out the cards." She placed in there more cards in a line in front of him. "These cards are the present. They are what you struggle with now."
"These cards are your future." Three more cards, this time at his right hand. The triangle wasn't as well-defined this time. Two of the cards rested against each other near the line of the present cards, and the point of the triangle faced off the table.
Subaru glanced between the cards to Kinomoto and waited for the explanation.
"The layout is different, because, well, that's what the cards wanted." She seemed abashed as she looked at Subaru. "Sometimes, the cards feel the urge to make a point."
"Right." Here was another hint on how the girl's magic worked. It was not totally under her control, and she was uncomfortable admitting it to him. "Are we ready?"
"Yes, we're ready." Kinomoto took a deep breath and flipped the cards that dealt with Subaru's past. The first was of a woman upon a throne. The second was of a man in a workroom. Last came the figure of what was obviously Death. She stared at the cards for a minute, then closed her eyes.
"The Empress and the Magician represent people in your past." Kinomoto licked her lips and reopened her eyes. "They influenced you and shaped you. They made you who you are, but Death keeps them from you, and always will."
"So, Kinomoto-san, what does my past mean? What should I do about it?" Hints of unease showed in the girl's expression and body language. If his past gave the girl pause, then what reaction would his present and future bring from her?
"Let them go, mostly." Blunt words from this sweet girl. His plucking at her had revealed some of stubborness in her. "Acknowledge that they made you and move on, Sumeragi-san."
"Easier said then done, Kinomoto-san." He was smirking and he playing with the girl. Did he really want to play and taunt an innocent child, just to relieve the boredom? Is this what it felt like? It was rather fun, in a mildly sadistic way.
"Have you tried?" There was that steel again. She wasn't fragile, and she wasn't as innocent as he thought. Naive, yes, but she wouldn't crumble under continued pressure. She'd simply find another way around the problem.
"I tried revenge, does that count?" What he had to smirk about was up to debate; he hadn't managed a proper revenge at all. There were days when he thought that he should just lead the damned eye behind on a leash. That would make such a stunning visual the next time the Dragons fought.
"No, Sumeragi-san, I'm sorry that doesn't." She revenge must be a foreign concept to her, because sheíd paled at the very mention of it. No one had ever reacted to him like that. Frustration and sorrow were the emotions he generally aroused in people. His old allies would be appalled with him at this point. His new ones would be amused or detached. Where they fell would all depend on their level of ennui with the with world.
"Pity." He relaxed his face, because there was still more to learn from the cards. It wouldnít do to have the reading summarily ended.
"Yes, it is." She relaxed, and then reached for the center line of cards. "Would you like to move to your present now?"
"Yes, please." Politeness had been drilled into him since childhood. It was a hard habit to give up now that he was trying to destroy the world.
"The World. Judgment. The Doomed Tower." A globe, a pair of scales, and a lightning struck tower burning were what the cards revealed. None of the signs seemed particularly cheery. There seemed to be more than a bit of blood on the scales of the Judgment card, and the globe looked to be burning.
"And all this means, Kinomoto-san?" Kinomoto didn't seem to be connected to any of the major powers in Japan, so it would be interesting to see what she knew of this grand war.
"The world is being judged, of course." That didnít tell him much, now did it? Of course, if he read between the lines, it was probable that this child knew quite a lot. If she didn't deserve the title of Dreamgazer, then it was only because she'd had no training.
"Do you know what the outcome of this judgement will be, Kinomoto-san?" Was this child as powerful as Hinoto, or was she in Kanoe's league? Considering the amount of power that radiating from this store, it was probably closer to the former.
"The future is not yet decided, Sumeragi-san."
"Really? Those cards you have before you make that a lie."
"I can only show part of the pattern of fate. What you see before you are only the most certain pieces of that."
"So, the four cards before play immutable roles in my future?"
"Yes and no."
"Which is it?"
"The fate of these two," she tapped the two overlapping cards, "is difficult to see. It hasn't been decided yet."
"Well, what could it be?"
"I don't know yet." With a quick movement she turned over the cards. The cards revealed the figures of two men. One was triumphant over the ruins of a city, and the other was alone in a wilderness. "The Hermit and the Conqueror."
"Those are actually very apt." Three for three, or rather five for five. The cards had nailed the personalities involved yet again. He was tempted to laugh, but that would require too much energy. "You know that, don't you, Kinomoto-san?"
"No, I don't. I'm just the fortuneteller. I only know what the cards tell me." She was lying, of course. She wasn't just a fortuneteller, and avoiding the prophetic dreams about the Dragons would have been impossible.
"But, your dreams don't they tell about us?" She closed her eyes. He'd hit her hard by pulling her dreams of the end of the world to the front of her mind. She obviously wasnít a sociopath, so her foretellings must had been having must have been heartrending. For once, it felt good not to be on the receiving end of pain.
"My dreams aren't why you're here, are they?" The girl rallied, but didn't really strike back. "Would you like me to finish the reading, Sumeragi-san?"
"By all means, finish the reading. What are the last two cards?"
"The Wheel of Fate." A simple wheel turning in a void. "And Justice." A blindfolded woman holding scales. Totally inappropriate for the current circumstances.
"Justice?" There was a hint of glasses under the blindfold. Justice could be Satsuki. Inappropriate tropes atop inappropriate tropes. "Where is the Justice in this?"
"Whichever side is right, whichever is stronger, shall win."
"Of a sort. It's a very old sort."
"Do you know who it will be?" If life was a fairy tale, then magic could solve everything, couldn't it? This girl could tell him the right choices to make. When to turn left, when to turn right, when to say no more. He wouldn't have to struggle anymore. No more waking up and realizing that he hadn't been lucky enough to have it end in the night.
"No," she shook her head to underline the point. "That's the meaning of the second card. Fate doesn't turn where you expect it."
"Fate doesn't turn where you expect it."
"I heard you the first time. Explain."
"I'm not sure how else to explain it, Sumeragi-san." Either the girl had hit the ends of her power, or her vocabulary was inadequate for the meaning. "Sometimes you get lucky."
"Sometimes you get lucky?" he growled.
"Or maybe, a butterfly flapping its wings in America can affect the formation of typhoon in the Pacific." She tossed her hands up. "Or it could simply comforting a boy when he was in pain could change his actions at some later date. The future is totally not yet decided, so trust it."
"The future is not yet decided?" Yet again, no answers or true guidance. Nothing to tell him what to do.
Subaru wondered when had he lost had his moral compass. Maybe when Seishiriou had revealed himself as a false idol and Hokotu died. Or perhaps, Hokotu had been it. There were only so many blows a pysche could take before it lost hold of the important things. The first betrayal must have been the one that broke him. Which said nothing good about his moral fiber. "Are we done, Kinomoto-san?"
"Yes, that's all, Sumeragi-san."
"So to sum up, I should let go of my dead, the world is being judged, and I should put my trust in fate because it won't turn where I expect it?"
"Yes," she whispered. "That's the basic reading."
"I could have discovered these myself." Anger took too much energy these days. Playing with Kinomotoís feelings had eaten up more to much energy. Tired was all he had left to muster for this child and her magical cards. "I didn't need to be dragged into this shop to hear this from you."
"But, Sumeragi-san, you did." There was such sorrow in those simple words. "You would not listen to your friends when they told you to let go. Now, you are drifting and ignoring your duties in this Judgement. You will not trust that Fate will make everything turn out. You will not listen to others, and you will not see for yourself."
"It has been interesting." Maybe anger wasn't too difficult theses days. One bird with sharp pointy talons summoned from an ofuda wouldn't require too much energy. Then again, destroying this pretty little shop down to the foundations would catch the attention of a Dragon. That would lead to an explanation of his behavior or a fight if the wrong side arrived first. "Have a good evening, Kinomoto-san."
It was time to walk away, as he always did when facing an emotional overload.
"I'm sorry." Or he would, if Kinomoto-san would just take her proverbial fingers off his proverbial ankle.
"Don't be." Sorrow from others had never been very useful. "You're not responsible for Destiny."
"Everything will be all right." A soft gentle whisper. "Iím sure of it."
That sounded like the platitude that this childís life was built on. Such a pity that it wasnít his platitude.
Subaru walked out the door, turning away from this powerful and disturbing Dreamgazer. There wasnít a resolution or a denounement and nothing really solved. Nothing ventured, and never would anything be gained.
Wasn't that just the story of Subaru's life.