Sword Play

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I notice how heavily I'm perspiring as the lift passes the fifth floor. If anyone had suggested to me ten years ago, that I'd be going to an occult fetishists and spiritualists party on Yule Eve in The Celestial apartments, or that I'd be practising macharomancy, I'd have...

...well it's hard to say how I would have reacted. I mean I've always loved knives and swords. So maybe the machromancy isn't such a stretch. The ability to foretell on the cast of daggers came much later though. I'm still learning to do that. And the whole "reading" bones thing as well. It's weaker --the bone foretelling -- but it's there.

At least at The Celestial, I'm not the sole resident bizarro. My next door neighbour on one side is a Feri – a sexual mystic – and on the other, well he tells me he's a Soul Eater, but I try to keep our conversations short.

He'll be on the rooftop at the Yule Eve party though. Maybe that's why I'm sweating. And why I'm leaving it late to arrive.

When the lift door opens, I'm shocked.

I come up here sometimes to get real air. Normally, I'll find a few potted palms and the terracotta-bordered herb garden that Bonnie Angel tends. Plus some rusted wrought iron furniture that's been around for decades. Also, someone put a pentacle weather vane up last month on the south ledge, and Thierry Phillipe of the Dignari has been keeping carrier birds under the lift well alcove for about a year. Bonnie tells me he's convinced we'll need them when the government realises that the Esoterics are outnumbering the Rationals.

It's Thierry who approaches me now, as I step out into a wonderland.

'C'est jolie, n'est-ce pas, Tera?' he says. His accent is soft, like a Cajun.

I'm too busy gawking to reply. Candles flicker on every surface. The wrought iron is threaded with ribbons, and someone's dragged a large fir tree up here. It stands as a centrepiece, decorated with vodun dolls, bones, and crystals and the tips of each branch are alight with pert and unwaveringly blue flames that can only be obtained through witchcraft.

I hear Noon of the Solstice. It's being played on a flute or a tin whistle but as I scan the crowd, no one seems to have one in their hand. Bonnie is dancing to it by herself, wending her way between the clusters of partygoers, lifting her knees and kicking her bare feet about. Intermittently she flicks her fingers and sparks exploded into the night sky like miniature fireworks: vermillion and emerald. Yule colours.

She sees me, waves, and the sparks explode out in crazy patterns. Some settle on Beau Black's long, bunched hair. The leader of the Laguna Fore movement scowls and snuffs them with his thumb and forefingers.

That's when he sees me.

And Thierry.

I've become a bone between their political doggedness. One working for Esoteric integration into the wider community, the other preaching separatism. Unhappily, they both live in my building, and both seem enamoured with my predictive abilities.

To think that I moved to Celestial to avoid conflict...

'Tera, come here and give me a Christmas reading,' says Beau Black loudly enough that the crowd falls silent with curiosity. Beau carries the most weight in The Celestial community. But sometimes I think that Thierry has more.

The scales move.

'She's not working,' says Thierry. 'Leave her be.'

They both annoy me. Beau for one kind of presumption. Thierry for another. I can manage my own battles.

'The daggers are affected by Yule,' I say firmly. 'The reading'll be corrupted. Besides, I don't have any blood handy.'

Beau Black's mouth splits into satisfied smile. Seems I'm telling him just what he wants to hear. 'I took the liberty...' A quick nod from him and his lieutenant steps forward holding an animal crate. There's a chicken in it.

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