The night passed without any further events. Once or twice Lotye spotted a Guardian walking amongst the crowd of happy people and she tried to keep her head down. But as far as she could tell, they didn’t notice her or didn’t have a good enough description to identify her. Still, she had a to be careful and therefore only made a meagre profit, but profit nonetheless. At least it was more than she had made in most other places. In the end, coming here already was worth it, she thought while the coins rattled through her fingers as she counted them.
Long after midnight, Lotye still sat around the bonfire some of the circus people had lit in the middle of the square. It shone bright against the dark of the night, a circle of light that separated them from all but the most curious of eyes in the city. Mead began to flow like water, some musicians got their instruments and began to play a funny tune. They danced, flirted, performed little tricks and told each other of their past exploits. It was this sense of community among these people of the road that Lotye loved about travelling with people like them. Finally, when all of them were tired and went to bed, she, too, retired in her cart. The two cards still lay open on her box and once again they transfixed her with their strange and horrible beauty until she managed to douse the light.
When she woke up the next morning, she found a strange scroll next to her straw mattress. It took her a few moments until she realised that it was part of what she had stolen the day before. In a sudden impulse of curiosity, she opened the scroll before doing anything else, even before standing up, and read through it. In florid words it spoke of summoning otherworldly beings and sacrifices to be made. At first, still half asleep and not completely come to her senses, Lotye raised an eyebrow in surprise and fascination. But then she read through it a second time and afterwards she decided to dismiss it as a fake. Sure the cards seemed to have something magic on them, but what she read on this sheet of parchment simply sounded too fantastic. Actually I should try to produce something like this myself one day. Could be an easy way to raise the price for some items if people are really willing to pay in hard coins for fantasies like this.
Also, she didn’t have the things needed for the “summoning” and if she had learned one thing during her time as an apprentice to a guild wizard, it was that it could have problematic consequences to toy with magic. She had learned that the hard way. Still, maybe she would see if she could find out what magic had been done to these cards once she would leave this city, just to satisfy her curiosity and to find out for what other reasons someone could have paid money for these cards.
Lotye ate a simple and not all that nutritious breakfast mostly consisting of porridge and a crumb of old bread. Then she washed herself with a bucket of cold water someone had fetched from one of the canals surrounding them. Lotye preferred not to think too much about how clean it was, but while she shivered because of the cold water on her skin, she had to agree that she had seen much worse. Most of the remaining morning was spent by combing her hair thoroughly and making sure that it gleamed beautifully. Maybe I should buy me some cheap little mirror from my hard-earned money. After that she prepared for her business again, put on her best clothes and tidied her stall and made sure her merchandise was presented as well as possible. This time she somehow felt the urge to carry the cards as close to her as possible, probably because she was afraid of someone stealing them from her just like she had stolen them, so she put them in a small pocket under her dress. When the festival got going again, Lotye stood in her stall and sold her goods and so her second day in Sesus passed just like the first one, but much quieter and without any chases.
But on the third day, something happened. It was about midday. Lotye had laid out the cards openly in front of her again. She wasn’t sure if she looked at them to wrest their secrets from the cards or to get pulled deeper into their promises of money and power. It didn’t really matter to what the cards actually did. Nothing at all, probably. Yet she was somehow fascinated by them, by the images they showed. By now, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to sell them at all. She wanted to look at them for a little longer, though, and that was what she did. It was about midday and soon she became hungry, her breakfast didn’t last long. So she took a loaf of hard bread out of one of the bags in which she stowed away her food. With her old dagger she cut a slice off. But she didn’t really concentrate on what her hands did, her mind was occupied with other things and her eyes always wandered back to the cards. Suddenly she felt a biting pain in her thumb and when she looked down, she already saw how her blood began to flow. More out of surprise and shock than because of real pain, she let out a little cry and threw her hands up in the air, bread and dagger falling to the ground. She saw how a few drops of her blood flew through the air, nearly weightless and, at least in her perception, slow like a flying bird. She followed them with her eyes until the little red drops, one after the other, landed on one of the cards on her improvised table.
She didn’t think of anything in this moment. Instead, she took a look at her thumb. The cut was deep, but clean. Nothing she couldn’t take care of. She put her other hand around the thumb, focused on her aura and spoke the words in Atultaec for Elven Health, a simple healing spell. But something didn’t feel right. Sure, as she took a second look at her finger, the cut had nearly disappeared, but as she had spoken the words, it felt as if not just her own aura had been bent back into shape, but as if some other source of aura close by had been manipulated, too. Lotye looked up and noticed something on one of the cards. Four new red dots between the three crazy men, right where drops of her blood had landed. They quickly disappeared, as if the card was absorbing, drinking the blood. Suddenly Lotye felt the fear well up inside her. What if the parchment isn’t just a joke …?
People began to shout outside. She heard strange noises just outside her cart. Something had happened. The cover of her cart was ripped apart, a talon-like hand burst right through the tarpaulin. “Ii-argh!”, Lotye shrieked in surprise and terror, jumping back from where the thing had entered her home. More sounds of panic sounded from the square. Quickly she grabbed her most important belongings and the cards and climbed out of her cart, to have a better overview of what was going on and to be able to flee if worst came to worst. Outside she could now see that whatever it was now let go off the cover of her carriage. It was hairy, dirty, with too long limbs, fingers and fingernails. Then it slowly turned towards her. There was no face to see, only a mouth in the middle of all the hair, moving, drooling, making incomprehensible noises, as if the worst, toothless old drunk was trying to speak. The man, because it was a man, as strange as it was, was naked and where the skin was visible under all the felted hair and dirt, it looked as if it had never seen the sun before. It was disgusting to look at. and yet she had seen it before. Can it really be?
The man made a stumbling step towards her, accompanied by more gibbering, an arm pointed at her. Lotye quickly took to her heels and retreated around the corner of her cart. It can’t be … How could this card summon a spirit like that? Why should someone want to summon a thin, old, naked man? But he looks just like it! On the other side of her cart, she was greeted with yet another perplexing sight. The visitors of the festival on the square did their best to hold distance from a figure walking towards them that could have been the brother of the one behind her. At least concerning hair and dirtiness. The fine-dressed crowd was running and spurting in fear of the stinking and terrible looking man who had suddenly appeared in the midst of it. But from her position, Lotye noticed something else. The man’s skin wasn’t just pale, it was somehow transparent, as if the man, this creature or whatever it was, wasn’t even really there. Maybe it didn’t work as it should? What can I do?