'I don't use live animals,' I say automatically.
'That can be remedied.' His smile broadens, as he kneels down and slides a knife free from a sheath strapped to his calf.
'No! What I mean is... I use... donated blood. Human donated... blood...' I trail off lamely. This is not a conversation I want to be having in front of all the residents. Part of The Celestial's attraction is the fact that we make a point of minding our own business. I sense Bonnie's proximity and her concern for me, which makes things worse. Bonnie's not one to worry.
'Dirk will oblige,' says Beau Black calmly.
Dirk is my Soul Eater neighbour. His blood is the last thing I want to be around.
But Dirk dutifully takes the knife from Beau Black and slices into his wrist so precisely that I know he's done it before.
His blood is a wellspring of red on the smooth terrain of his skin. He extends his arm to me with a certain vague grace.
I hesitate. To refuse Beau Black is offensive. To agree is dangerous. I have no control over what I say during readings. No ability to manipulate. It's always the truth, as I find it, at least. And everyone knows that the truth causes problems.
It could be that my reading will start something that can't be stopped, right here, on the day that two factions of Esoterics gather to celebrate another year of survival.
I don't wish to be the harbinger. Nor do I want to be scorned for occult weakness. Both outcomes are bad for business.
'I'll do it,' I say. 'On one condition.'
Beau Black inclines his head and the rest of The Celestial seems to hold their breath.
'It should be your blood, not Dirk's. That way the reading will be clearer.'
He frowns at my demand. I've called his bluff to a degree. De-trivialised what he sought to use as entertainment.
I can feel Bonnie's approval, and Thierry Phillipe's apprehension.
Beau Black wipes the knife on Dirk's sleeve and steps closer. 'Very well, macharomancer. How would you like it?'
'A small circle,' I say quietly. 'Enough to encompass my dial.' I take the folded and laminated sheet from my pocket and spread it on the concrete floor. Its diameter is sufficient to accommodate my athame. But I wait for the blood-letting to be complete before I produce the double edged blade.
He draws a sketchy circle around the dial with drops of his blood.
When I am satisfied with the coverage, I nod.
He steps back, a finger pressed to his wrist.
The others move in closer. They don't blot out the night sky -- the Big Dipper is up, and the Seven Sisters -- but they take some of the oxygen out of my space by drawing their breath when I place the athame on the dial.
The blade is a study in metallic glow.
'Ask three questions,' I say. 'No more. No less. No repeats.'
'Will the Laguna Fore prevail?'
The question is bold, and I set the athame spinning on the dial, feeling the rush of my powers. They fill my chest and then my head. I'm clear-headed and distant at once. Strong.
The answer to the first question is apparent before the dagger stops. I wait though, to be sure. 'No,' I say loudly.
Perhaps there is a murmur among the audience. The hum in my mind makes it hard to judge. Beau Black though, is angry. I see the emotion roiling from him.
He pauses and thinks. Then his next question is a little breathless. 'Who will be our downfall?'
I spin the dagger a second time and it finally settles.
'Beware of false friends,' I intone.
There is a ripple through the crowd this time. Shifting feet and sideways glances. Each looking to the other. Laguna Fore at Dignari. Dignari at Laguna Fore. Their alliance is fragile.
Despite my heightened state, I comprehend that the roof top is suddenly no longer large enough for their two sets of beliefs. A fight, a power exchange, up here on Yule, could destroy The Celestial. And still there is one more question to go.
I glance helplessly at Bonnie. Her jaw is set. But she's thinking. She moves behind the crowd towards the tree and disappears from view.
'Are the Dignari false friends?' Black asks.
I hesitate before spinning, try to buy her time. But the compulsion is too strong to fight for long and my fingers set the dagger in motion. It spins and spins and I know that my future has just been cast.
The answer forms in my mind before the athame settles. But as I move my mouth to frame the answer, sparks shoot upward from behind the crowd and the Yule tree quivers and crashes. It obliterates my dial and sends the blade skittering away. The crowd scatters to avoid the deluge of falling crystals and sharpened bones. I jump as well.
When I find my feet, Beau Black is on his knees, and Thierry is close by. They are staring at me; the reading can't be repeated.
I'm the only person who saw the answer.
And they know it.
YOU ARE READING
Sword Play - A Skin Hunter short storyParanormal
Faith in scientific rationalism is wavering and there's a shift in belief towards the occult and esoteric arts. Some businesses are even getting in on the act by employing contract soothsayers, diviners, mystics, and clairvoyants to help with decisi...