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#2072

[ This follows the scene with Dhashi and the scrying bowl ]

“Hey there, little one. Yer Dhashi, right?”

“Oh!” Dhashi, kneeling on the cold stone floor, lifted her head from her hands and wiped at the steadily falling tears. In the doorway stood a tall man wearing the usual uniform of a gunslinger, complete with brimmed hat and sarape. If Overwatch existed in this universe, Dhashi would have noticed he looked extremely similar to McCree; but it doesn’t, so she didn’t. “Y-yes,” she replied, getting unsteadily to her feet. “Who are you? Where’s the Raven Queen?”

“The name’s Mercer. She sent me to show you around, get you settled and stuff,” He took a step into the room, figuring the girl had had enough scares for one day and not wanting to alarm or overwhelm her. “That okay?” Dhashi glanced back at the basin, her only link to the world she had just been ripped from. “But… my friends…” Mercer came a few steps closer and laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. “It’s okay, you can come back here any time you want.” The touch calmed her a little, and Dhashi managed a braver smile than she felt. She nodded for him to lead on and he steered her back out into the long, columned hallway, an arm resting around her shoulders.

“So this is the Raven Queen’s home?” Dhashi glanced up as they walked, eyeing the dark stone arches and the weak light filtering in from windows set high in the walls. “It’s so… spooky.” She shivered as a spider skittered across the marble floor. “And dark.” Beside her, Mercer shrugged. “It ain’t so bad once you get used to it. And you won’t be here often once you become a Champion.”

“Oh,” Dhashi’s feet seemed to stop of their own accord as her stomach flip-flopped. “Right. That.” Mercer stopped as well and knelt down so they could talk on level, his hand never leaving her shoulder. “Don’t worry, kid, you’ll do great.” He gave the aasimar a conspiratorial wink. “You have the best in the business to teach you.”

“You’re one of the Raven Queen’s Champions?” Dhashi’s look of surprise changed to one of suspicion and she eyed him as if he would transform into a monster at any moment. “But you’re not all scary and mean like the other one.” Her comment made Mercer throw back his head and laugh, and the atmosphere between them relaxed once more. “I assume you mean Mage. Yeah, she’s… intense, that’s fer sure. We’re not all like her, though. Think of us like special tools – you need the right tool fer the job, whether that’s somethin’ small and delicate,” he pointed at Dhashi, “or big and strong,” he pointed at himself, “or utterly terrifyin’ and almost certainly insane.” He laughed again, not noticing how wide Dhashi’s eyes had gone. “Are my friends going to be okay with her?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, they’ll prob’ly be fine,” Mercer climbed to his feet, then finally noticed the tears welling in the girl’s eyes. “Oh jeeze, wait, don’t start cryin’ again,” he pleaded, but it was too late. The tears fell in waterfalls. “Dangit,” he muttered, “I’m terrible at this mentorin’ thing. Uhh,” he glanced around desperately for a distraction, “look, birds! Look at the nice birds.” He steered Dhashi toward the nearby rookery, pointing up at the ravens of all sizes and ages that roosted or hopped from perch to perch in the airy room. He had no way of knowing how much Dhashi missed her own animal companion, Charlie, but either way he breathed a sigh of infinite relief as her tears ceased and her smile reappeared.

– – –

“Going well?” The Raven Queen appeared at Mercer’s side as he leaned against the open doorway. He nodded to where Dhashi sat on the rookery floor, birds already nestled among the folds of her dress, perched on her arms, and grooming her long, golden hair with their sharp beaks. She murmured to them as she smoothed their glossy feathers, and the ravens burbled and croaked in reply. “She’s got a big heart,” Mercer conceded. “And she’s braver than she realizes. Dunno if that’ll be enough, though.”

“It will have to be,” The goddess clapped him on the shoulder, then disappeared. Mercer stood watching Dhashi for a moment more, then went to join her. She smiled up at him as if they were old friends and began telling him the birds’ names.

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#2071

“You can talk to her, if you want.”

This was it; they had finally arrived. After traveling south from the ruins of Lunanoff,sailing across the Bay of Pitch, laboring their way through the mountains beyond Dull, and fighting their way through the undead keepers of the Raven Queen’s temple, Ro and Ilkan and their new companion workplace associate Mage finally stood before the infamous goddess herself. However, their hope to be reunited with Dhashi, and subsequently rid of Mage, was not to be fulfilled; the goddess explained that Dhashi wasn’t yet ready to return to the mortal world, that she needed more time to train before she could act as the Raven Queen’s champion. They would all be together again soon, she promised, but not yet. Disappointment weighed on Ro and Ilkan, two battle-hardened warriors who would never have guessed the absence of one irritating, hyper-optimistic teenager could hurt them so. The Raven Queen understood, of course. The Raven Queen had dealt in death and loss since the beginning of time.

“You can talk to her, if you want,” The Raven Queen, who towered over the three cursed companions as she sat on her throne, motioned toward the scrying bowl at her feet. Mage, bored now that the killing was over, picked her nails with a knife. Ro resolutely shook her head, eschewing anything the goddess of death might offer and holding fast to her raging grief. But Ilkan nodded and moved toward the bowl. “I’d like to,” he said, voice uncharacteristically thin. The Raven Queen held her hand over the bowl and the mirror-clear surface shimmered, then stilled again. Instead of Ilkan’s reflection, the water showed a man garbed in the brimmed hat and sarape of a gunslinger. “Mercer,” she said, “put Dhashi on.”

“Got it,” The gunslinger tipped his hat to the goddess and then turned to someone beyond the mirror’s edge. “Dhashi!” he yelled. “Dhashi, the boss wants you! …Dhashi, c’mere! Stop paintin’ the ravens’ claws and–” Behind him, a mass of black wings and pink glitter shot past. “DHASHI GET YER BUTT OVER HERE.” Mercer disappeared, replaced by a Dhashi who looked fairly unchanged, albeit paler and a little diminished in some essential way. She waved hesitantly and managed a fairly good approximation of her usual smile. “Hi Ilkan…”

“Hey,” The goliath waved one giant hand in return. He was already fighting back tears. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Dhashi shrugged a little, suddenly shy for all that she had been longing to speak with her friends again. “It’s not so bad here. Mercer’s nice. How are you?”

“I’m.. we’re…” Ilkan glanced over to Ro’s stiff back and shrugged as well. “You know.”

“Yeah,” Dhashi wiped at her eyes, then managed a truer smile. “You guys are doing really well, though. I’ve been watching.” A moment of silence passed, strained with all the things that could be, but were not, said, and then Dhashi brightened a little. “Can I say hi to Charlie?” Ilkan managed an honest chuckle at the eagerness on the aasimar’s face and nodded. “I was just about to get him out,” he said, pulling the little glass bowl out from where he had stored it in his pack before the battles in the temple. He held it over the scrying bowl and the little fish inside swam around in its usual unhurried manner. “He misses you.”

“Hi Charlie!” Dhashi wiggled her fingers at the fish, who didn’t seem to notice at all, and wiped away more tears as they continued to fall. “Thank you for taking care of him, Ilkan. I miss you guys so much. I’m trying really hard so I can come back soon.” She turned her head to look at something or someone beyond the scrying bowl’s surface, then looked back at Ilkan with a bittersweet smile. “I should go. Say hi to Ro for me, okay?” Ilkan nodded. “Okay.”

The mirror’s surface shivered and cleared, once again reflecting only the Raven Queen’s temple and Ilkan’s tear-streaked face as he turned away. As he carefully returned Charlie to the relative safety of his pack, he caught the sound of a surreptitious sniff from Ro’s direction. When the party gathered back together, though, she had her emotions under their usual tight rein.

#2070

“A Candlenights celebration? We have to go! Please please please?” In the tavern common room, Dhashi turned her wide blue eyes back and forth between Ilkan and Ro, bouncing eagerly on the balls of her feet as she did. Candlenights was her favorite holiday and she absolutely couldn’t miss a chance to celebrate it in the big city. She was sad that she couldn’t spend the holiday with her fathers, of course, but this would totally make up for it.

“Will there be food?” Ilkan asked, and Dhashi knew she had him. “Lots!” she replied. “And most of it fried.” The goliath shrugged. “I’m in.” They turned their attention to Ro, who scowled over her tankard and jerked her head in her version of an eye-roll. “Fine,” she muttered. “I suppose we could use a break from saving the world anyway.”

“Ohmygosh yay!” Dhashi dashed up to their rooms in a blur of ribbons and glitter to change into a more holiday-appropriate outfit.

– – –

“Oh my gosh, everything’s so beautiful!” Dhashi’s eyes glimmered with the reflection of the colorful lanterns bobbing in the air above the festival. Her outfit, a monstrosity of red and green ribbons, white lace, and little bells that tinkled every time she moved, blended in so well with the festival’s decorations that several passersby assumed she was one of the performers. As Ro and Ilkan stared dubiously into the packed crowd, the assimar danced back and forth to a tune only she could hear, apparently, and tried to catch snowflakes on her tongue. But then a chance gap in the crowd revealed the rows and rows of game booths, the giant prizes caught Dhashi’s attention, and she went bolting into the crowd with a trailing, “Ooh, games!”

“Aaaaaand there she goes,” Ro sighed, wondering how they would ever track Dhashi down in the chaos. “Bloody hell.” She turned to her companion, who already had his nose in the air sniffing out the direction of the food vendors. “Shall we hunt down some of that promised fried food first?” she suggested, and would have lost Ilkan in the crowd as well as he ran off, had he not stood several heads above everyone else. Ro followed after at a more sedate pace, using her swinging cane to clear a decent path through the crowd and begrudgingly admiring how fast Ilkan could move when food was involved.

– – –

Stuffed animals, lanterns, charms, dolls, there were so many prizes to choose from that Dhashi couldn’t pick which game to play first – until she reached the last stall and stopped short, staring up at its rows and rows of glass bowls, each with a goldfish or betta fish swimming lazy circles inside. Her eyes somehow managed to get even wider and she hurried up to the counter. “Oh my gosh,” she asked the bored teenager running the booth, “how do I win one of those fish?”

“You gotta knock three statues down,” The teenager mumbled around her mouthful of gum, raising one lazy finger to point at the setup. “It’s five gold for three balls.”

“Okay, I’ll play!” Dhashi threw down her gold, collected the balls, and tossed them with zero skill at the wood statues stationed in rows. One of the balls managed to hit, knocking one statue down, but the other two flew too wide. The teenager yawned and tossed a floppy lock of dyed black hair out of her eyes. “Too bad,” she said woodenly. “Want to go again?” Dhashi pursed her lips and slammed down another five gold. “Yes!”

Miss. Miss. Hit? No, miss. Miss. Miss. Dhashi exhaled furiously, glaring at the traitorous, clearly rigged game. Still, she set down another five gold, and then another, and then yet another after that. As before, she missed most of the time and failed to knock down three statues even when she did hit. After each attempt the teenager would repeat in the same disaffected tone, “So close. Want to try again?” and Dhashi would throw down her next five gold. She went to do this a final time… and found her wallet empty. Her eyes filled with disappointed tears. Her bottom lip trembled entirely of its own accord. All she wanted was one little fish… She’d never had a pet before…

“Oh good lord,” Ro, fried dough in hand, had been watching this pitiful display for some time. The tears were too much even for her, though, and she dug out five gold. “Here, take it, just… don’t cry.” She set the gold on the booth’s counter and Dhashi wiped away her tears, gazing up at the jenasi with awe. “Really?” she asked, sure this must be a trick of some kind; Dhashi knew she wasn’t exactly Ro’s favorite person, and certainly not high enough in her esteem to warrant such a gesture. But Ro waved at the proffered gold and went back to eating her fried dough. “Yes, really.” Dhashi stared at the game uncertainly, then shook her head. “I’m too nervous!” She grabbed Ro’s free arm and tugged her forward. “Will you do it? I keep missing.”

“What? Oh, bloody hell,” Ro transferred her dough to her other hand, picked up one of the balls, and tossed it at the game in one fluid, careless motion. She hit one of the statues dead on, and as it tumbled down it took two others with it. Dhashi squeaked in triumph; the teenager clapped slowly, snapping her gum. “Congrats,” she sighed. “Which one do you want?”

“Um…” Dhashi stared up at all the bowls, unable to decide which fish she liked most. Then she knew. “The saddest one, please,” she requested, knowing the prettier, flashier fish would all find homes before the end of the festival. The teenager rolled her eyes but did bend down to pull out a dusty bowl. Inside a betta fish swam in idle circles, its scales a dull brownish-green that matched the algae growing on the inside of the glass. It was, admittedly, not a very lovely or lively fish; yet Dhashi accepted the proffered bowl like it was filled with gold, hugging it to her chest. “I’ll name you… Charlie!” She beamed up at Ro. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you!”

And that is the story of how Dhashi the magical girl warlock aasimar found her familiar, Charlie the depressingly bland betta fish.

#2069

Alice stands on the dark beach with sword drawn as she watches the figure walking out of the waves. Water streams from Mage’s tangled hair and tattered black garb; the moonlight illuminates her white skin and glitters in her hard green eyes.

Eye.

Alice frowns, studying her enemy more closely. The iris of Mage’s right eye has gone black, and from the edge of her collar some sort of black scar or tattoo creeps up the side of her face like a lightning strike, cutting even through her eye. Though she can’t tell for sure, Alice suspects the black substance originates with the hook which has already transformed Mage’s right hand into sharp black claws. Despite the warm night, Alice shivers.

“Alice…” Mage bows with a flourish of her clawed hand. The movement is almost too grandiose to be purposeful, as if the woman is inebriated. “I’m honored to be greeted by the mighty captain herself. Then again,” she snickers, “there’s no one else on the island to do it, is there?” Alice just sighs. “You’re wasting my time. Did you come to taunt or fight?” Mage mimics the sigh. “Oh Alice, you think you have it all figured out.”

“Taunting it is,” Alice stabs her sword into the sand at her side, then crosses her arms. “Okay, get on with it, it’s the middle of the night and I’m tired.”

“I’m sure you are,” Mage tilts her head and her voice goes light and lilting. “What keeps you here, guarding this empty rock in the middle of the ocean? They’re not coming back. Any of them. They’ve moved on, forgotten who they were, forgotten who you were. Do they call to you in their dreams anymore?” She takes a step toward Alice. “Do they answer your coded letters or leave you sigil graffiti?” Another. “Do they even know you’re still here, still fighting?” And another. “Do they know how tired you are, how alone, how close to giving up?”

“I will keep fighting through my very last breath,” Alice, goaded by the uncomfortable truths in Mage’s words, takes a step forward herself. Her arms drop, hands clenched white. Mage just winks and replies, “You keep telling yourself that. But remember, I don’t need to. I don’t need to kill you. I don’t need to break you. I just need you to see the truth. Once that’s done, this could all be over. You’re the one who keeps it going. You’re the only one who still believes. If you just admitted that it’s done, that he fucked you over and now they’re all gone, this tragic little kingdom in ruins, you could rest.”

“Are you offering a truce?” Alice snorts, partly at the thought but also partly as a sign of bravado. This isn’t like their normal trading of insults. “That’s not like you. Maybe you’re more exhausted than I am. You’re not looking too well these days.”

“I was betrayed too, you know,” Without warning, Mage’s mocking demeanor falls away, replaced by a snarling, teeth-baring anger edged with madness. “It was my home; they were my friends; he was my mentor. Do you think any of them stuck around after he left?” She barks out a laugh. “The ones who wanted something from me did, for a while at least; the rest fucking ghosted. And the ones who were lost, permanently lost – do you think I don’t remember them? That I don’t mourn them?” She shakes her head. “I was not born of the void to oppose you, Alice. I have a past too. Remember that.”

Alice wants to hold onto the anger and adrenaline that push her through these confrontations, but exhaustion wells up and extinguishes what energy she has left. She gestures wearily toward the breaking waves and sheathes her sword. “Go back to your ship, Mage. That hook’s getting the better of you.”

“You will die defending nothing, Alice,” Mage almost spits the prediction with the force of her anger, but her next words are softer. “And it will be such a waste. Don’t you wonder who you are, besides his scapegoat?”

“Goodnight, Mage,” Alice turns and starts back toward the lighthouse. Her nemesis says nothing in return, but her accusations and questions are not so easily dismissed. Alice knows she will get no sleep tonight.

#2068

I dreamed I was in a giant antique store which contained all sorts of pagan/witchy items. While I was walking around, a woman I did not recognize (either in the dream or in real life) found me and was convinced I was supposed to be her teacher; it seemed she had received a sign or some sort of spiritual message that I was the one to teach her witchcraft. I politely turned her down at first by saying I thought she had the wrong person, but she would not leave me alone. She stuck by her story and her certainty that I was the person she was told to find. At some point I became frustrated and snapped, “I’m not even a witch! I’m just a pagan who does some witchy stuff with my gods!” Yet something in my gut told me the woman’s certainty must have a bit of truth to it. I was even considering showing her my book of shadows, but the dream changed at that point. I woke from the dream feeling like I needed to listen to its message; while some of my dreams feel like random sleeping-brain entertainment, and others like memories of past lives, this one definitely felt like it was trying to tell me something. I couldn’t figure out what, though, so I turned to my tarot cards.

Question: What message was my dream trying to send?
Card: Ace of Pentacles
Interpretation: The Ace of Pentacles is all about prosperity. It can indicate financial security, a new financial or educational venture, or other forms of abundance – though it also cautions that patience and work are required to make these gains. Pentacles can also apparently refer to self-image, self-esteem, and the ego, as well as that which manifests itself in the physical world.

Question: What step should I take now?
Card: Justice
Interpretation: Justice counsels the need to make a reasoned and thoughtful decision after having weighed all factors. It also urges you to admit and acknowledge the truth of a situation. Justice is not necessarily a mind-over-heart card, but it does emphasize balancing the two.

Question: Who sent this dream?
Card: Nine of Wands
Interpretation: The Nine of Wands is a lull, a little breathing-room amid the constant battles of life. It indicates someone with a core of inner strength, someone who won’t back down from what they believe is right; they might be called persistent or tenacious, or even stubborn, inflexible, or rebellious. This card is also associated with fire, and especially with the fire signs Aries and Leo.

After mulling over the cards and talking with my wife, I think I sent myself the dream – or at least some inner shadow part of me did. I think the woman in the dream was that part of myself trying to get my attention. It could be that I have focused so much on outward aspects of my spirituality, such as my gods, that I have neglected to nourish my inner spiritual aspects. Even with my new journey toward self-love, I’ve been focusing way more on Inanna, what She wants from me and what I can do for Her, than myself… which is kinda the opposite of self-love. I think I need to focus inwards and get to know my (witchy??) self.

#2067

She is steel wrapped in silk, head held high as she stands before a jury of closed minds and bitter hearts. Her own father reads out the charges (“witchcraft”, “sorcery”, “necromancy”, even “treason and rebellion” thrown in for good measure) and though he never meets her gaze she keeps her hard eyes locked on his face. Blessings last longer than curses and so she blesses him silently; blesses him with long memory, with long life, and with much time in which to remember her. Not just black hair and red lips, white skin and emerald eyes, but the carelessness of her laughter, the swiftness of her mind, the grace and surety of her every movement. No matter how many thousands of years pass, he will remember every aspect of the daughter he cast out – and he will remember this moment clearest of all.

She, for her part, already seeks to forget it all. Even as the court moves through the formalities of her punishment she is already discarding useless memories: the marble halls where she danced through the night (“exile”, her father declares), the silver trees and water sweet as wine (“may never return, nor seek to contact”), all the people who claimed to love her until she began seeking real knowledge (“surrender your name and your past”). Only when the king holds out one hand and demands, “Your ring,” does she turn her attention outwards again. The guards shift as if preparing themselves for battle but she does not fight; she merely lifts one pale hand, removes from it the little silver ring she has worn for two millennia, and drops it into her father’s waiting palm. Her eyes sweep over the assembly and her upper lip curls in disgust.

She says, “You may have my name; I neither need it nor want it. But yours you should cling to as long as possible, for by the time I return to this place it will be naught but ash and all your names lost to the wastes of time.” With a final glance to her father she adds, “You will weep to be so alone.” And with that she turns away from the court, walking out with the composure of a queen and nothing but the silk dress she wears to call her own, and she is no longer ———. She is nameless, homeless, kinless. She is nothing and no one.

She reaches the edge of her father’s lands by nightfall. Beyond the immortally green elvenwood the earth slumbers in winter’s deep grip. Any other traveler would shiver, turn away or beg shelter somewhere, but not her. In the shriek of the wind she hears welcome, wanderer… and in the distant cry of ravens we have been waiting for you… and she is not afraid. She will never be afraid again.

#2066

I’m really struggling lately to focus while at work and I know it’s affecting my performance. After cleansing my cubicle to hopefully rid it of bad vibes, I did a tarot reading to learn more about this issue. You can tell from the “questions” I asked that I was in a particularly frustrated mindset.

Question: Why am I being a shitty employee?
Card: Ace of Cups
Interpretation: I am starting out on a new chapter of my spiritual and emotional journey, and this is understandably consuming a lot of my energy. This card may indicate that I’m unhappy because my job doesn’t nurture this growing part of me, and thus I’m putting energy in without getting anything in return. Yes, I recognize and am incredibly thankful for the perks of my job, but on a daily basis I’m not doing work that nurtures my soul.

Question: How can I stop being a shitty employee?
Card: 2 of Cups
Interpretation: I need to get out of my dumpy, isolated mindset and focus on teamwork. I like my job best when I’m able to take burdens or tasks off of my manager’s shoulders, so I should frame more of my day in that context. Fostering harmony among my teammates will allow me to see the daily impact of my work and keep me from getting lost in the weeds. This card may also indicate that I need to interact more with my coworkers, instead of just hiding in my cubicle. That’s probably very true… but ugh, human interaction.

Question: How can I prevent myself from being a shitty employee again in the future?
Card: 8 of Wands
Interpretation: This self-defeating mindset comes over me when I have too much time on my hands. Therefore, to avoid it I need to remain focused, energetic, and strive continually toward my goals. Instead of stopping at the base of every hill I reach, thus giving me time to see how tough the climb will be and psych myself out, I need to push on and use my momentum to carry me to the summit.