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Post by Valonia »

I've seen it in the flights of birds
I've seen it in you
In the entrails of the animals
The blood running through
But in order to get to the heart of things
Sometimes, you have to cut through
– “Heartlines”, Florence and the Machine


Though she had stayed in Trinsic for several days, Valonia hadn’t actually planned to visit the Shrine of Honor. Toyed with the idea, perhaps, but what purpose would it serve? Did she think the shrine would talk to her as it had to ancient heroes of old? Did she think she would be bathed in a pool of light and be both literally and spiritually enlightened?

Did she think it could absolve her of anything when she couldn’t do it herself?

Idiocy. Maybe such things worked in the before times, but those weren’t the times she lived in now. The Shrines were relics of an ancient time. The Avatar was gone; Lord British was comatose. Whatever glory had happened in the past was done and over with. The Virtues were a decent ideal, but the world was different now. People were different now.

And yet…

With a grimace and a roll of her eyes, Valonia turned around and headed in the direction of the Shrine. She didn’t expect to actually get anything out of it… but she knew she would regret not going. Even if it was to prove to herself that it didn’t mean anything.

The route to the Shrine was treacherous, just as the road to Trinsic had been. But unlike the path to Trinsic, there were no roads to the Shrine. She was forced to use a rough map she’d picked up in Trinsic, using landmarks that no longer existed to gauge roughly where the Shrine would be.

The landscape here was less familiar than the northern part of the continent… even moreso after all the turmoil of the last few years. More than once it occurred to her that it was foolish to put this much effort into something that she didn’t see would do anything. The ground was lined with whipping vines that lashed at her face and arms regardless of whatever woodscraft she tried to ply, and the humid jungle writhed with serpents, spiders, and snakes. The climate was also far warmer here than norther parts of the continent, forcing Valonia to stop several times for water and to remove her leather armor. She bunched up her armor in her pack, strapped her staff and bow to her back, and rolled her sleeves up as far as they would go. Her cloak wouldn’t fit in her satchel, so she pushed it behind her, wrapping her belt around it so it would stay behind her back under her staff and bow. It was a hassle, but she continued in spite of herself.

By the end of her trek, she was sweaty, covered with mud and grime, and her hair was matted to her forehead and the back of her neck. But reach the Shrine she did, though it was late afternoon by the time she managed it.

Which made it even more insulting to see what appeared to be a Roma woman standing at the Shrine, all cool and calm, without a drop of sweat on her face or skin.

Valonia noted enviously that the woman’s mostly black hair seemed all in place as well. A filament of silver apparently kept it all in place, somehow woven elaborately around her mass of hair, as well as through a lock of white that ran along her left temple. There did not appear to be any fastening mechanism to the wire, which seemed a bit strange to Valonia. Did the woman hand-bend the wire every time? It didn’t make sense.

The other woman wore a sash in a dark red across her waist, in the manner of the Romani clans. But unlike other Romani Valonia had seen, this woman’s was looped through some sort of belt loop depicting a carved sigil of a black hand, palm outward, with a red blade pointed upward. And very unlike the Minoxian Romani Valonia had seen (who tended to be either colorfully dressed, or garbed in some manner of traditional attire), the woman wore a black robe. And attached to the woman’s sash were the sorts of pouches often containing reagents.

That, coupled with the fact that the black-robed woman had placed several items on the Shrine, everything seemed awfully suspicious. Was she part of the Cult of Tyball? Was this some manner of ritual? The items didn’t appear to be gifts, but they didn’t seem to be normal magical items either…? One was a very old straw hat that was practically disintegrated. The next item was a flower so brittle it could plausibly fall apart at a touch. The third was an old dagger, made of some sort of dark metal -- though the leatherwork on the hilt had practically worn away, leaving only the faint hint of black-dyed leather and decorative gold threading. But the dagger aside, the woman did not appear to be armed.

That didn’t mean anything, of course. The reagents on the woman’s sash made it clear what she was. And with the ether clear now…

“Ave magica, sister… druid, is it?” the woman said, interrupting Valonia’s thoughts. She spoke clearly, but with a very faint trace of an accent. Regardless of whatever stylings the woman wore, it was clear she had not been around her people any time recently. She finally turned toward Valonia. “Is that what you are?”

That was an odd inflection in that. Valonia wasn’t sure what to make of the greeting either, or the assumption of sisterhood. “Uh. Yes? And well met.”

“Hm. Very well then.” The woman said nothing more on the subject, turning instead back to the Shrine and the items placed upon it. “Yes, well met.”

“What did you mean by asking what I was?” Val was curious now. “Why did you ask? And what do you mean by calling me sister?”

“You practice the Art, yes?” The black-robed mage glanced over her shoulder at the other woman.

“Yes, though I have only taken it up fairly recently,” Valonia answered.

“Long enough, apparently, that it is appropriate for me to call you a ‘sister’ in the Art.” She then turned her whole body around once more to face Valonia directly. “So what I mean, sister, is simply being polite. As for questioning you on what you are… You are a curious mixture of essences. I had to determine what it is you call yourself. Is that why you are here? To clarify your essences?”

Valonia wasn’t sure how to answer that. In a way, that was kind of true? After all, Valonia had been carrying around unresolved questions that troubled her. She wanted answers in order to find some manner of resolution. In that way, she wanted some sort of ‘realignment’. More accurately, she wanted to find some sort of… peace, she supposed? Quietude? She didn’t expect the Shrine to fix all her problems, or make the questions stop. She just wanted to come to terms with things she had been carrying around for some time.

“I suppose I am seeking to clarify my essences, in a manner of sorts,” Valonia answered finally, then shrugged. “Though I would not have put it quite in that manner…”

The mage woman waved a hand dismissively. “Yes, we all interpret things according to our own schema, and you call these Shrines ‘shrines’ rather than foci, yes… But perhaps I can help. I have been studying this focus and providing you answers may aid me with my own.”

“Wait… You want to help me?” Valonia asked.

“Of course. I have some interest in aiding others of the Art -- and as I said, finding answers for you may help me with my own,” the mage explained. “Otherwise, you will simply have to wait your turn for the Shrine. So, will you let me assist?”

These were strange times indeed. Valonia, of course, had heard tales of the Avatar being helped by a gypsy woman who used potions and cards and questions. But Val certainly wasn’t the Avatar, and this Roma was… Well, she certainly seemed magical enough, but her eyes were a little too incisive for Valonia’s tastes, like the woman wanted to cut her open to find whatever answers were crawling around inside. It was a rather unsettling way of helping, that was for certain.

The black-robed mage woman looked at her expectantly, awaiting an answer.

Valonia grimaced, and tried to gently redirect the subject onto what she hoped were safer methods than whatever the woman had in mind. “I am not against the idea… but assist how? Were you suggesting helping with… uh… tarot cards or something?”

The woman gave her a sharp look. “I am not really that manner of ‘gypsy’. I only do tarot these days for nostalgia. I did not spend all this time studying magical arts to resort to crude pictograms and vague superstition. Surely you do not expect the most primitive tools when others are available?”

Valonia held up her hands in what she hoped was a placating manner. She supposed it was rather insensitive to assume anything. “I meant no offense. I just do not know what methods you mean, or who you even are—”

“Ah. Yes, introductions are in order… though as the one who approached, it would have been polite of you to announce yourself first.” She eyed Valonia critically. “I am Nerivanni. And you are…?”

“Valonia," she answered simply. "And I apologize for, um, not introducing myself earlier. I was not expecting to find anyone here.”

Nerivanni arched a brow slightly in surprise. “No? Do people not visit Shrines these days?”

“Not really?” Valonia shrugged, a little confused why this woman would not have known that… though she had her suspicions. “As far as I am aware, they have not for some time.”

Not until the Avatar cleansed the Shrines, Valonia mused.

“Hm. Curious, for such important foci. Then again, I suppose they had been falling out of favor even in my day.” She shrugged a shoulder then turned back to the Shrine. “It explains your unease.”

“Unease?” Val wasn’t exactly sure what Nerivanni was specifically referring to… though the black robed woman wasn’t exactly wrong. Valonia was pretty uneasy about all of this. It was very strange to say the least.

Nerivanni fixed a dark-eyed gaze on the druid. “You looked at the Shrine with wariness. Why?”

Valonia wasn’t sure how much she should say… but she decided that it was best to be direct. In the same way certain animals could only be handled by standing one’s ground and not running, so too did this woman not seem the sort to tolerate anything else.

“I have been tracking the Cult of Tyball,” she explained. “They are garbed in black, not unlike yourself, and… well, one of the running theories is that they are prying into things out of Avatar tales. The dungeons mostly. But I was wary because I did not know what you meant by placing items upon the Shrine, and had worried you were one of them.”

“Ah.” Nerivanni nodded in comprehension. “No, I am not affiliated with this Cult you speak of. I wear black as a representation of discipline. It was, and is, the color of my former magister, and I have adopted it as well.”

“As for these.” The mage then turned to the Shrine, and gestured to her objects. “These are… not exactly gifts or offerings, but something of the sort… I am uncertain I have a word for what they would be. Foci too, perhaps? As this is the Shrine of Honor, I have brought items that represent the concept to me.”

Valonia noted the other woman didn’t explain the red sash, or the sigil… but Val decided she could figure out the meanings behind them on her own.

At any rate, Valonia’s curiosity was piqued. She had brought no ‘offerings’ of her own, but wondered how the Roma woman had come to her selection.

“How so?” she asked.

Nerivanni brushed her fingertips over the remains of the straw hat. “This belonged to a man who followed Honor. He was principled, fair, just, and incorruptible. This seems a foolish hat –and it truly is--, but yet it is also a partial representation of an unshakable Integrity. For even in this simple matter, as in all things, he followed his own guidance rather than be swayed by the opinions of the world. He did not allow other people's limited perceptions to define him. Yet this steadfastness was not mere obstinacy; he also made sure that his knowledge, beliefs, and actions were as right as he could make them. Though I am certain mistakes were made, and actions were taken in error, I can think of no time when his word was not good.”

In spite of the woman’s previous callous, indifferent tone, the way she spoke about them now showed that the objects clearly meant a great deal to her… and perhaps the people they belonged to?

The next item Nerivanni turned to was a small, shriveled flower, which she handled delicately.

“This was a gift from a man who believed he had no Honor. Yet, he persevered. Many times, through many tribulations -- both external threats, and through trials that were self-caused. If asked, he would likely have admitted to himself and others that he possessed many flaws. And yet, --and YET!-- he was true to himself even if it incurred the ridicule of others, rather than be false and incur his own abhorrence. Perseverance is sometimes foolish, but sometimes one cannot help but respect it. And while I personally believe one should try to be open to taking a new path, there is something to be said for having the will to endure when the world around you would tell you ‘no’.”

She moved next to the old dagger. Though she reached forward as if to touch it, she halted. Instead, her hand remained just above the old dagger. She did not pick it up nor did she touch it as she had the others.

“And this? This was the dagger of a man who believed in Honor. To some oaths he held true, to others… less so. But he looked unflinching into both the dark and the light. He served a difficult lord without faltering -- and as I understand it, returned to honor oaths he had broken. This dagger is a symbol that what was broken can sometimes be restored. Yet it is also is a lesson that there is also Honor in leaving some things behind. Duty is as light or as heavy as one makes it, perhaps.”

She stood back to silently survey what she had placed on the Shrine. If she had anything to say on why she had brought these items here, or what her purpose was, she kept it to herself.

Still, it did help Valonia to hear lessons the other woman had learned in her life, though she was unsure how to respond. She valued her own privacy, after all. And though she was curious, she had no desire to clumsily dig into the life of another and cause pain where there did not need to be.

Finally, Valonia spoke and broke the silence. “I can tell there are stories there, but I will not pry. I value my own privacy, and will respect yours. I just wanted to say that it does help to hear such things. I no longer question whether you are here to desecrate this place.”

Nerivanni nodded slightly in acknowledgement, though her expression made it hard to know what she thought about Valonia’s words.

“How could I help you find your answers, by the way?” Valonia asked haltingly, hoping she was not clumsily treading on dangerous ground. “What answers were you looking for?”

“My own,” Nerivanni replied simply, clearly not wanting to elaborate. “But if you want my aid, and to offer me aid in return, I do have cards, if that would be more palatable to your tastes. Not the Virtue cards of the simple, but some of a different sort. I have them with me, though mostly for the artistic value.”

It felt like a concession. Humility was clearly not the woman’s virtue. Still, though Nerivanni clearly saw it as primitive, she was willing to do it for Valonia’s sake. It was a gift, and Valonia would not dismiss it so carelessly.

“I would like that, if you are willing to do so.” She nodded. She had not come to the Shrine expecting any of this. She hadn’t come to here expecting anything, really. So while stories of Romani soothsaying and insight leaned a bit toward the insensitive cultural stereotype side, Valonia was still interested. “What does it involve? Will you need me to do anything?”

Nerivanni drew a deck of cards from a pouch at her sash, and held them up for Valonia to see. “You ask a question, and I draw a series of cards from this deck. Nothing more, nothing less. Each card and pictogram drawn represents a meaning that may or may not symbolize matters in your life. Any clarity you seek will have to come from your interpretations, but the cards provide some manner of answers.”

She looked around, and found a nice flat topped rock, then took a seat next to it. She patted the ground beside her.

Valonia obliged, and took a seat on the ground across from Nerivanni.

“So let us begin,” the Roma woman said.
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Re: Heartlines

Post by Valonia »

“This first card represents the issue at hand. For this, hold in your mind a thought or a question,” Nerivanni directed. “You do not have to speak it aloud. But concentrate as best you can. The clearer your answer may be.”

Valonia did her best to comply. Her intention was to ask of a way forward. Whether there was something she could do in the present… but her thoughts kept drifting back to the past. That was why she had come to the Shrine, after all. Because she kept dwelling on the past.

Nerivanni drew a card from the deck and placed it upon the stone before them. The card depicted a woman sitting up in her bed with her head in her hands. She appeared to have been jolted awake from a terrible nightmare that left her disturbed, scared, and anxious. Swords hung above her head.

“The Nine of Swords is a card of worry, guilt, and anguish,” Nerivanni explained, watching Valonia intently. “It represents the pain and anguish generated within ourselves. It is the worry about whether we have done enough, whether everything will work out all right, and what further course of action can be taken.”

It was apt. Too apt. Valonia had to look away.

“You said these cards were primitive tools,” she said quietly.

“They are,” came the other woman’s reply, though her gaze remained as sharp as ever. “The only meanings they possess are the meanings you give them.”

That didn’t seem entirely accurate from Valonia’s perspective. It certainly didn’t feel random, though she had just watched the Roma woman shuffle the entire deck thoroughly. But how could the cards know what she was thinking?

“I take it you find meaning in this one?” pressed the Roma woman.

“Yes… you could say that,” Valonia replied. “It was why I came to this Shrine specifically, but how…?”

“Focus,” Nerivanni ordered sternly. “If you are overwhelmed by the question, how can you expect to find an answer? You must push through the doubt.”

Valonia didn’t feel she needed the reprimand, but nodded briefly anyway just to be polite. The woman’s words were true enough, even if she seemed… well, excessively harsh. “I am fine. Continue, please.”

“Very well. The second card represents the past,” explained the Roma woman, then drew the next card and placed it before them.

Valonia paled at the sight of the card.

The card depicted a young knight in full armor, seated on a rearing horse, poised and ready for action. The horse was a bold orange, with a mane that looked like flames. The knight too bore a helmet with a fiery red plume, and wore a flowing yellow cloak that billowed behind him. Salamanders repeated themselves on both his clothing and the drape over his horse. He seemed to be ready for battle, though instead of a sword, he was bore a wand of wood alight with fire.

The appearance was obviously not the same, but even Valonia understood something of what the card represented. Our way lighted by burning men…

Nerivanni raised a brow at Valonia. “Ah.”

Valonia felt distinctly uncomfortable under the woman’s scrutiny. “What? Why are you looking at me that way?”

“I see by your expression that you know this man.”

Knew. And… not exactly like that one specifically.” Valonia shook her head. “There were no horses and he did not dress like that. I do not know what the salamanders mean either.”

“They represent fire.” Nerivanni fixed the younger woman with a steady gaze. “The cards are symbolic, Sister Valonia, not literal. The Suit of Wands represents passions, the heart, primal energies. And in Britannian tradition, yellow is the color of Love.”

Valonia didn’t feel like saying anything about that.

Nerivanni tapped the card before her. “This Knight of Wands specifically represents a fearless, confident and self-assured young man. A man of action. One who believes he knows best, and presents as heroic, rebellious, and brave. Yet he is often too sure of himself and his abilities. He has a hot temper and can rush into action without thinking things through.”

Valonia looked away, feeling like the black-robed woman had torn open an old wound just to see her bleed. “He did, yes. But he is gone now. It does not matter.”

“Does it not?” Nerivanni regarded the younger woman intently, then intentionally switched to a pattern of speech more common to ancient times. “Thou hadst sworn to do thy Lord’s bidding. And yet he…” She paused, letting the old speech pattern drop. “Did he actually covet a piece of land?”

“He was not my lord, I did not swear any manner of oath, and I thought you said you were not that kind of gypsy,” Valonia said crossly, squirming.

“That is still the case. And yet here we are.” The Roma woman seemed terribly entertained– a little rudely so, in Val’s opinion. “So what did he want?”

Valonia toyed with the idea of not telling her. But this was the Shrine of Honor. The questions she asked were… appropriate? If Valonia didn’t deal with them here of all places, find answers here in this moment, where else would she?

“Some of the bandits we had been chasing took refuge in a small farming community,” she explained quietly. “He proclaimed that the whole community was made of enemies, and that we should take their supplies for ourselves.”

“Ahh. And he ordered the farmers removed,” the Roma woman concluded, nodding in comprehension. “So tell me then... Didst thou serve Justice, refusing to act? Or Honor thine loyalties and unfairly evict the landowners?”

“Honor, though it does not feel like such,” Valonia admitted.

“It does not feel like ‘Honor’? Or does it not feel right?” Nerivanni questioned. “For those are two very different things. For by Britannian definitions, it falls quite soundly within the virtue of Honor, even if it was not Just. The question I asked was one of those archetypal ones from the tales, after all. Both options represented a virtue. You simply chose to value one virtue over the other, regardless of whether you regretted your decision later.”

Though Valonia didn’t like it, Nerivanni had a point. “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it did not feel right then. But I suppose that is why I ended up a druid now.”

Nerivanni studied the younger woman. “But is it because you chose, or because it was the only path you feel left?”

“I do not know that I understand the question.”

“What I am getting at is intent. Will,” Nerivanni explained. “You seem to speak of being a druid as something that happened to you, something you ‘ended up’ as. Not only are you placing your locus of control into the hands of others, but you are avoiding the responsibility of choice. An accident or mere circumstance is neither Virtue nor ethics, sister. So I ask again, are you where you are because of choice? Or because of circumstance?”

Valonia was about to say that she had chosen… but had she truly? She had felt it the best path, yes… The most appropriate, perhaps?

“I… do not know,” Valonia admitted. “Do not mistake me… I was given a choice. And I wanted to make up for what I had done. But if you are asking what I wanted? I do not know, exactly… I simply wanted to make up for the past.”

“Hm. To reclaim Honor you believed lost,” Nerivanni commented. “Interesting. But consider this if you will... which is what this next card represents.”

She drew another card and placed it upon the stone before them.

The card depicted a cloaked figure, bowed and grieving. It was difficult to tell whether it was male or female, as their back was turned and their face covered in despair. Before the figure, 3 cups lay upended and spilled. But behind the figure, two cups remained righted. In the distance, a powerful river flowed between the figure and some manner of building, either a house or castle. It was too vague to tell.

“This is the Five of Cups,” Nerivanni explained. “It represents a person who has allowed themselves to focus on their regret.”

She pointed at the cups still remaining behind the cloaked figure.

“Look. This person is too busy mourning over those which are fallen, that they do not see what remains,” she continued. “The water pouring from the cups forms this river, separating them from home. You have allowed yourself to become this person. This is the source of the chaos in your essence.”

Valonia frowned at the card for a moment, then looked back up at the Roma woman. “Did you know what the next card would be?”

“No, of course not,” Nerivanni replied, then arched a brow at the other woman. “Why would you think that? Do you believe I am a fortune-teller too? Shall I read your palm next?”

“I did not mean-… It just seemed like-… oh nevermind,” Valonia sighed, trying not to seem like some sort of casual racist.

The card was accurate, uncannily so. Even Valonia could sense the truth of it. She just didn’t know how the other woman was doing it. Val had seen no sleight-of-hand, nor any switching of cards, or any sort of deceptive tactic. The deck was right there before them both, and the cards had been shuffled in Valonia’s own sight.

Or perhaps she was asking the wrong questions.

“Alright, the card is true. But what do I do now? Where do I go from here?” Valonia asked. “If there are still cups left… if I have not lost all my honor, what do I do now? Am I where I need to be? Am I on the right path?”

She paused for a moment. Yes, the cards had been accurate… but they had told her nothing she did not already know. What was she doing seeking advice from them?

She rubbed her face. “Look, nevermind. You have been… kind? to do a reading for me. But it occurs to me to ask myself why I am asking cards what to do.”

“Precisely.” Nerivanni regarded Valonia with a steady gaze, and flipped the next card.

The card depicted a hand holding a single sword. The blade pointed upright, and at the tip of the sword sat a crown draped with a semi-circle of vines. In the background of the card, there were mountains depicted across an ocean.

“The blade in the Ace of Swords is symbolic of the mind and the intellect,” Nerivanni explained. “The wreath? A sign of victory. The crown? A symbol of power and force. The card represents clarity, victory, fortitude, and the triumph of Will. Well. Force, rather. Triumph of force. But we are all bound by our own schema.”

All of that sounded meaningful… but Valonia half-wondered whether this card was more literal than symbolic. Were there not literal threats present in those mountains -- or rather the dungeons within? Was Lord British’s fate not literally related to the conclusion of such things? And was it only Valonia’s imagination that the ‘wreath’ appeared more to be vines?

“Does this card represent what lies ahead, then?” Valonia asked. “Or was it the answer to my question?”

“Yes,” Nerivanni replied with an enigmatic smile.

“Wha-… That was not an actual answer.” Valonia scowled.

“Was it not?” Nerivanni smiled even more, then glanced toward the Shrine suddenly. “Aha. Good. It seems it worked.”

Valonia glanced back over her shoulder at the Shrine only to find that the items Nerivanni had placed upon it had disappeared.

The Roma woman scooped up her cards in a quick, deft stroke, and placed them in a pouch before standing. “I shall be on my way. Ave magica, sister Valonia. I hope you find your clarity.”

“Wait, what happened?” Valonia asked, also standing. “What worked? What answers did you get?”

Nerivanni did not seem inclined to answer that, though she patted the other woman’s shoulder gently as she passed. “The mantra is ‘Summ’, by the way. It is written down in books, if you are able to read. Such a shame about the Britannian literacy rate.”

“I understand, and am working on that. But wait, what happened with the-…” She looked back at the Shrine, confused. The items were still gone. “What happened with those? Did the Shrine accept the offering? I know you called them foci, but were they meant as—”

She turned back to Nerivanni… but found herself alone. The woman had disappeared too. Valonia wasn’t sure if she was more confused than before, or simply possessed the same amount of confusion she had when she got here. Still, she had come all this way, she knew the mantra, and the Shrine was right there.

She turned toward it. For a moment, she just studied it. Then, quietly, she said simply, "Summ."
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