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 Post subject: Day Trip [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:23 pm 
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Day Trip
by Tevish Szat
Status: Public :diamond:
Word Count: 3,425


Aria sat across from the magician, morosely staring at the cards before her. He hadn't seemed to have caught on, but the very first card he had flipped up was “the fairy”, and that had set Aria quite on edge.



“So,” Nasperge said, “We see the Fairy connected to... the wanderer. Interesting, interesting indeed. We can't be sure of an interpretation of the pattern until we have a whole, but for the moment...”



Why had Mari suggested this? Get her fortune told, then meet up with some other planeswalker she'd never met to go traipsing around a plane she'd never heard of? It did not seem like a very useful course of action for either of them, and beyond that it did not seem like Aria's idea of a good time. But Mari had been a good friend to her since their chance meeting in the Shadow's Bar, so Aria was willing to give it a chance.



“The magician itself is connected to the Jester. This suggests a likely positive trickster figure that will play a part-”



And that was when a chipper, energetic voice intruded on the reading.



“Ah, hello!” he called, a pale face crowned with disordered black hair, peeking in through the tent flap called. “Aria? Nasperge? I do have the right tent this time, I hope. The next one over was very embarrassing to barge in on... may I come in?”



Nasperge rolled his eyes and beckoned the man in.



“Hello,” he said again, then extended his hand to Aria, “I'm Illarion. Illarion Vale. Mari mentioned me, right?”



“Yes...” Aria said, edging away from the extended hand and glaring dubiously at it as though it was a snake that might bite her, “She didn't mention your... pep, however.”



“Well,” he said, drawing out the word, “It's not every day I get to show someone around somewhere I've actually been before. Imagine, me, a tour guide!” he laughed, a very earnest laugh, “Well, I guess you wouldn't know but it's a bit silly. Something I don't really do.” His manner then became more controlled, and his hand returned to his side as he spoke softer. “Something... I haven't done for years. Mari...” he shook his head, “Ah!” he cried, resuming his jovial tones, “What's all this then?”



“The Aubedore reading you interrupted, young man.” Nasperge replied, pleasant enough that Aria couldn't tell whether he was cross or amused with the situation. “I was just about to reveal the destination and fate cards, but I feel like it would be rude to do so without the subject's permission. Miss Aria?”



She waved it off casually as though she felt nothing for the coincidences already swirling around the deal. “Go ahead.”



“Let us see,” Nasperge said, “We have the destination card of... The Tavern, under the fate card of the Tempest. Both proper.”



He smiled up at Aria. “I see an eventful trip in your future, after which you shall likely need to wind down. I'll be here for today and tomorrow, so if you return before then I can recommend a few fine establishments at which to acquire stiff drinks.”



Aria feigned a smile and thanked Nasperge quietly. She did suspect she would need a stiff drink when this day was over.



“And what about you, mister Vale? Shall I perform a reading for you?”



“Maybe when we get back,” he said, “It does seem very interesting.”



“Well, then,” Nasperge said, “I shall probably be available until midnight, should you have the opportunity. Be seeing you.”



And with that, Illarion looked to Aria. He smiled in a rather awkward way.



“Shall we be off?” he asked.



Might as well get it over with, Aria thought.



***


Aria had to admit that the natural scenery was rather stunning. According to Illarion as he rambled on about it, the plane had no mammals or reptiles, but was entirely populated by insects of sizes ranging from the normal to the gigantic. It had sounded horrifying, but the dragonflies that alighted on the branches were no less fair to look at than birds, and it was indeed something that Aria had never seen before.



Aria spotted a large beetle near her. The creature was maybe as large as a dog, its head dominated by its massive compound eyes, its carapace glimmering azure-green as it nibbled at a fern frond. She ventured closer, and knelt down beside the little thing, which appeared to be quite fearless. Or perhaps it was a stray pet of the coleopterous race Illarion said called this part of the jungle, the Upper Jungle, home?



“You know,” she said, patting the thing on its head softly, hoping it would appreciate the attention, “You're actually kind of cute.



Then, Illarion saw her.



“Aria...” he said, the quiver of fear in his voice.



She looked up, and saw his eyes were wide.



“What is it?” she asked in a breathy whisper.



“You... you should come away from there.” he said.



By the gods, what was wrong? Aria edged away from the thing, which cooed slightly, and looked at her hand.



“Is it toxic?” she asked



“No,” Illarion said, “It's a baby. And if I'm right about what that is, mommy will be somewhere nearby and extremely protective. Which means, right now, extremely angry if she sees-”



There was a rustling crash, and the front end of a truly gigantic beetle pushed between two trees. Its massive, dark eyes seemed far more hostile than the infant's, and it produced a rasping, clicking sound.



“Baloth beetle!” Illarion declared, grasping Aria's hand and pulling her to her feet. “Run!”



Even if she hadn't been inclined to follow, Illarion would have left Aria no choice. And it was a good thing too, because before she even realized what was happening, the gigantic insect produced an unearthly sound that could only be described as a scream like the nails of a dozen giants scratching down Dominia's largest chalkboard. They had a lead, but the crashing came swiftly behind them, the sound not only of a formerly silent-striding creature now stomping and crashing through the foliage, but of trees snapping before its onslaught.



Their flight was unreasoning, and in the panic Aria nearly stumbled once or twice, but the vise-like grip she and Illarion held on each other's wrists ensured they both stayed moving.



“It's blind with rage!” Illarion shouted, “I heard they get that way but I never thought I'd see it!”



“Do you think this is funny?!” Aria demanded without turning her eyes from the path ahead nor missing a step.



“Not at all!” Illarion replied, “I think it's terrifying!”



Aria focused on the motions. The Baloth Beetle didn't seem to be catching up, but neither did they really seem to be outpacing it. Her breaths were hard and deep as she ran for her very life, leaping deadfallen trunks or swerving with Illarion away from standing trees. While he had dragged her into the flight at first, it seemed that she was the fleeter, for he was two steps behind when their path dead-ended.



Dramatically.



Aria bounded over a hedge and through a wall of leaves only to find herself in open air. She fell, but Illarion stopped before the edge and kept his hold on her as she dangled from the cliff's edge, over the Lower Jungle perhaps a thousand feet below.



Illarion strained, trying valiantly to heave her back up onto the world as the sounds of the Baloth beetle came ever closer. In that instant, two scenarios came to Aria's mind. In one, Illarion might have the strength to haul her up, but not quickly, and the beetle would be upon them. In the other...



As terrifying as the consequences of that possibility were, they were better than being stepped on by a bug. Aria heaved herself upwards with the hand Illarion held her by, then dropped down with all her weight, the sudden shift pulling him off the cliff with her. As they tumbled down she got her arms under his, and locked her hands around his chest. Then, her wolf-fur cloak shifting around to the side and her illusions dispersing with the violent effort beneath, she began to flutter her wings.



At first, as frantically as she beat nothing seemed to happen, but as Aria strained their fall slowed until, flapping at the air with all her strength, they were descending as slow as a dandelion puff.


“Aria...” Illarion said, looking up at her in wonder, “That's... that's amazing!”



“It's no use.” she grunted, “I can't get us back up like this, I'm not strong enough.”



“That's okay.” he said, no doubt trying to assure himself as much as her, “Can... are you going to be OK? Can you keep this up?”



“I... I think so.”



“Then just get us down safely, please, and if you need me to planeswalk out so you can land on your own just say so.”



“Down.” she gasped, “I can do down.”



“Ah, that's good. The Lower Jungle is lovely. No Baloth Beetles.”



***


It was evening. After the debacle with the Baloth Beetle, and having to reveal her nature, Aria had at first wanted to flee, but Illarion had... he hadn't been afraid of her or even shocked, and that itself was something rare and strange. He seemed to know plenty about the Fae, but didn't seem to care, not the way anyone she had known before, save Mari Gwynn cared – with terror or disgust. Instead he urged her to speak on her past, and offered quiet condolences for what had happened to her.



In the late afternoon they had reached a village of mantis men, and Illarion, having come prepared, traded them a few of what must have been rarities on this plane, such as swatches of fur, for what seemed a royal welcome. They were treated to grub-meat steaks roasted with fragrant herbs, savory and spicy delicacies wrapped in soft leaves, unleavened bread flavored with bitter chocolate and a hint of honey, sweet jungle fruits, and even sweeter drinks, almost thick like soup, fermented (however slightly) from the same.



And Aria, at first too elated and then finding it more awkward to try to stop than to continue, talked with the mantis people and Illarion as well, and told stories of the places she had been in between his far more interesting ones, and laughed, and listened in awe when the natives brought forth their instruments of droning wood and strung, carved chitin and played unearthly music.



It felt exceptionally good. Aria's head was swimming, and though she might attribute some of that to the mashed-fruit drink it mostly seemed to come from just being alive. She would have to apologize for doubting Mari Gwynn's taste, and wondered why the unicorn herself had not come on the expedition.



“You know,” Illarion said when she finished a particularly odd and interesting story she had seen play out in a small Zent town, “When you're not clammed up and morose you're terribly good company.” he took a sip of the fruit drink, of which he had had a few more cups than her. “Your boyfriend is a fortunate man.”



“Boyfriend?” Aria remarked, “Oh, no!”



“Girlfriend? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to assume, and look at me, why did I even say a thing like that?” he put the cup down and pushed it away, “It was terribly-”



“It's quite alright.” Aria said. She took a deep breath “But while I am presently making an exception I most often prefer solitude to any company. There is no one at all. Thank you for the kind complement.”



For a moment, they were both silent.



“And you?” Aria finally asked



“Hm?”



“Who is there in your life... If anybody?”



“Oh... ah... I hadn't mentioned? I'm actually engaged, as it were.”



“Engaged?” Aria asked, “Why isn't she here, then?”



“Well,” Illarion said, “She isn't a Planeswalker. There's actually a bit of a story I could...”



“No need.” Aria said, forcing a smile and feeling very odd about it, “That's wonderful to hear, really.”



Illarion hesitated, then spoke. “You and Mari would be quite welcome to come to the wedding, you know. Half of why I'm still wandering about right now is getting invitations to all the people I know. The Planeswalkers, really. Otherwise my side would be rather empty.”



Aria despised large crowds, parties, and unknown planes.



“Let me or Mari know when you have a time and place.” she said. Despite her proclivities, perhaps meeting a few other Planeswalkers wouldn't be so bad. As long as she was careful, and what could go wrong at a wedding with such a group in attendance?



And then the crowd buzzed, and an elderly mantis with a carapace of the darkest green paced forward, and began to intone an epic of his people. Aria and Illarion sat and listened to the poetry of his people, the legends of their gods and heroes, and wars against the great kingdoms of the ants. And when the poet retired for the night, Aria and Illarion did so as well, save that their rest would be worlds away.



***


Aria walked up and took a seat next to Mari Gwynn, inwardly remarking once again how one of the advantages of the unicorn's company was that, whatever form she was in, no one would be paying attention to Aria alongside that.



“Did you have a nice day?” Mari asked



Aria nodded, “Quite. I have to hand it to you, I didn't think traipsing around the jungle with Illarion would be at all to my liking, but you were right.”



“Hm,” Mari intoned, smiling slightly, “And what of Illarion himself?”



“What of him?” Aria asked



“Well, I know he can be rather exuberant, and wasn't sure how you'd take it.”



Aria shrugged.



“He's a fine fellow. It's not everyone who can well... find out... and not... well.” Aria took a breath and let it out “Like you, I'm sure he'll be a good friend.”



“You told him?” Mari asked, beaming with happiness.



“Not exactly.” Aria admitted. “I had to. The morning was more exciting than I wanted. There was a cliff.”



“Oh,” Mari said “Be that as it may, have you thought about asking him for another tour? Maybe the two of you could travel more often?”



“I don't know about that.” Aria replied, “But he did invite us to his wedding, or rather said he would invite us once he had everything worked out.”



“His...” Mari frowned. “Oh dear. Well, I suppose that's the best reason for the two of you to not have hit it off like I'd hoped.”



“Hit it off?” Aria muttered. Then, she put the line of Mari's questioning together. “WHAT?!” she shrieked, at the absolute top of her lungs. After the outburst there was dead silence, and Aria glanced fearfully around. All eyes were on her, and she tried to remind herself it was because she'd just screamed. Her breaths came fast and shallow and only as the ordinary folk turned away did she regain any composure.



“You... were trying to play matchmaker with us?” Aria hissed, trying to be quiet but still unthinkably agitated. She wasn't angry with Mari, nor was she afraid of Illarion, but the idea was simply unthinkable. “That was supposed to be a date?”



“And,” Mari said, “aside from the fact he'd never mentioned any fiancee or anything of the sort to me, it seems like I wasn't terribly off base.”



Mari quietly took a sip from the glass before her, while Aria slumped down to the table, head in her hands.



“I'm going to need that drink.” she groaned.



***


“Now,” Nasperge said, “In the crossroads pattern we reveal and read the cards around and inward. First the corners, then the spokes, then the destination and fate cards in the center. Let us begin.”



Nasperge turned over the first card.



“The wanderer.” he declared. “An auspicious start when reading a Planeswalker. We continue on to... the Lovers. And the Ring.”



Nasperge smiled quietly, seeing Illarion watch the cards in wonder.



“Now even if I did not know you, sir, the ring represents a union, and in the position following the lovers, the meaning is unmistakable. The only question would who and whom – the subject of the reading, or someone around them?”



“Myself, this time.” Illarion said, quietly. “I'm going to be getting married soon, after all.”



Nasperge nodded sagely, having of course expected such an answer.



“Moving on, we have. Hm. The Queen, and inverted. This could represent many things... a man of great power, a woman of little power, a woman of much power but none of it conventionally temporal, one party taking a submissive role in the relationship given its position following the Lovers and the Ring, or so on. I expect the spokes shall clarify. To begin there we have attached to the Wanderer... the Lost. It indicates that the wanderings are not entirely voluntary, nor pleasant.”



“They haven't been.” Illarion replied.



“Well then, to the Lovers we have the Seeker, and I find it likely that this is the solution to the spoke of the Wanderer and the Lost. Home is where the heart is, mister Vale.”



Nasperge now had Illarion's rapt attention, and smiled faintly as he revealed the next card.



“Connected to the ring, we see the Throne inverted. The throne represents power, the having and the claiming. Inverted, I suspect it means a surrendering of power. It seems your wedding would resolve many problems in your life but she is not a planeswalker, is she? To have a life with such a woman you would have to turn your back on Dominia at large. I will say that also likely explains the Inverted Queen, leaving only a little mystery as...”



Nasperge turned over the next card and stopped. He had expected something in the vein of the Tavern or Healer, perhaps an inverted Sufferer or inverted Endless Maze, fitting with the narrative of a union centered around finding center and home. But the deal had become far, far more interesting.



“The Ancient One.” he declared, as though he had anticipated the twist of fate. “Connected to the inverted Queen I believe that removes the interpretation of a particularly common or notably powerless woman. Rather, it suggests a woman of great powers but who is no ruler indeed figures significantly in your future and the matter of your wedding, mister Vale. You would not happen to know anyone like that?”



At once, Illarion lit up. “Ah, the ring...” he said, “The ring I bought for the wedding was made for a Planeswalker long ago. I wonder if she's still alive? The stories made her sound like a decent sort, though. Someone I wouldn't mind meeting.”



“Then,” Nasperge said, “Perhaps you shall. But whoever that spoke represents shall play a large part in what is coming, which it is now time for us to reveal.” Nasperge laid his fingertips lightly on the center of the deal. “Your destination, and the fate that governs the passage to it. That, mister Vale, is what takes an Aubedore reading beyond a simple parlor trick of guesswork and platitudes and makes it a true tool of divination. Shall we see what-”



A shrill shriek of “WHAT?!” in a rather familiar voice rent the night air, and Illarion jumped.



“I don't know why,” he said hastily as he stood, “But I think that's my signal to go very quickly. Thank you for the reading!”



“But it isn't...” Nasperge began, eyes darting between the incompletely revealed crossroads pattern and Illarion Vale, but his protests were far too late.



As Illarion darted out the tent flap and into the Blind Eternities, Nasperge found he could not help himself, and turned over the final two cards. The destination card was the Fish, under the fate card of the Dragon. Truly, it was a fascinating reading, more provocative than most. It could mean a flight across water for the lovers to be united, but there were many other possibilities, especially given what Nasperge knew of Illarion Vale. Only one thing was certain beyond doubt.



“The course of true love never did run smooth.” Nasperge quipped as he picked up the cards, wishing he had an audience, even of one, for the line. He smiled to himself, and hoped whatever adventure was in store would turn out for the best. All the same, he would rather not be a part of it.



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