Signs and Port Ends of Hearts and of Tarts

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Signs and Port Ends of Hearts and of Tarts

Postby Delling » Tue Sep 03, 2013 7:09 pm

Ch. 1- All in a Popping

“Fwip!” It was a bedchamber. Worse, it wasn’t his. His. Now there was a thought. He hardly had time to think it before a new sensation hit him. Warmth swelled to his cheeks. Blushing. Embarrassment. He was embarrassed to be here. Some other sense was filling him in on the details. There was a mirror in the corner. It had an elaborate baroque bronze frame, all curls and waves.

There he was. He wore a... raiment--that was it--a raiment of a charcoal grey tunic with a V-neck collar that descended to the middle of his hairless chest. A symbol hung there on a loop of black string, a necklace. A circle with an arrow. A sign. “Of course! Everything’s a sign,” he thought; well, not exactly. That would be the best summation he could later give of the feeling he had in that instant. On his right shoulder there was a single pauldron that covered a fair bit of his chest on that side. Like the sign around his neck, the pauldron was an electric blue. A strap from the pauldron down to his belt held the small tunic tight to his body. His grey slacks flared out at the bottoms, and … he was barefoot? Odd. He shrugged and looked in the mirror again. His attention had been drawn to the sign on his chest and the tilt of the mirror meant he couldn’t see his face. A half step toward the bed and there he was in the mirror. His face. Him. A round face with a round nose, electric blue eyes, and--oh, good grief!--on his head rose three great spikes of... electric blue hair.

“There you are!” A lilting voice came from the door. He turned to see who it was. A man with black slicked-back hair parted deeply on the left-hand side stood in the doorway in evening attire, a white bowtie tied neatly at his tuxedo shirt’s collar and a black suit jacket with tails. The man took a few steps forward and came to a sudden halt. His eyes resting on the Sign on the newly popped unit’s chest. He squinted. It was an odd expression given the dark haired man’s square jaw. “A HIPPIEMANCER!! ...oh, great...,” the man grumbled. and then said half to himself and half to no one in particular: “A Florist at least... we could have used... but a Signamancer...”

“But everything’s a Sign.”


Dismissively as though it were an afterthought, the other man asked, “Name and specialization?”

“Brian Rumble, Signamancer... ...Level 1, novice-class.” His voice dropped as if he were admitting it to himself. Even as he said it, something felt off, awkward, wrong about it. It wasn’t his name. That was him again; that was right. He looked down at his own hands. His hands looked to him as if they were so much more than the hands of Brian Rumble, the novice Signamancer.

“Well, you’d better come with me. The Queen will want to meet you...” the man trailed off, “Look, don’t mention your discipline when I introduce you... just say you’re a caster, okay?” Brian scrunched up his round nose into a wrinkle. “Do that for me and I won’t let on where you popped.” Brian looked around for a second... was he still blushing? No. Okay, then, still... He quietly nodded his assent. The two stepped out into the hallway, and after a few steps the other man turned, ran his hand over his hair, “Heh... where are my manners? My name’s Stanton Tyrone, Chief Carnymancer of Falderal. You can call me ‘Stanty’ if you like.” The man held out his hand. Sign of trust, handshake.

Brian reached out and shook the hand offered to him firmly. His hand slipped out, slimey. “Stanty” turned around and started walking, “Welcome to the side!” Brian looked at his hand. Some sort of Signamancy stuff responsible for the man’s slicked back hair was smeared on his hand. He wiped it on his bell-bottom slacks and trotted after Stanton.

They went down some stairs in a great hall. A three storied garrison, plus tower and dungeon. He’d popped in the main garrison? That didn’t seem right. “Do casters usually pop in the garrison?”

Stanton glanced at him with a raised eyebrow, “Not really... Usually it’s the tower or close to the Chief Caster’s quarters.”

Brian’s eyes went wide: “Was that your room!?” He asked with a shock.

“Heh, nothing that bad.”

Brian had been so absorbed with his Chief Caster that he hadn’t paid much attention to his surroundings. The angles to the doors and furniture weren’t square. Two long tables stood against either wall facing each other, opposite ends higher than the other, their drawers all irregular quadrilaterals. The wavey, curly, curvy shapes of the wooden legs reminded Brian of the mirror’s frame in the bedroom where he’d popped. There were six irregularly spaced columns which bowed inward and were wider at the top than the bottom. The walls seemed to lean outward so that the ceiling was wider than the hallway itself. The ceiling was covered in a fan vaulting splayed in that same wavy, curvy baroque as the table legs and mirror frame. In front of them stood two large doors. The open balcony on the second floor around the great hall meant the doors stood nearly two storeys high. Like the columns the doors were wider at the top than the bottom. Footmen stood to either side of the doors armed with long thing polearms, wearing formal attire with frills of lace at their throats and white carnival masks resembling poodles with faintly electric blue puffs covering the upper half of their faces. Helms, the masks functioned as protective headgear. Further out again from the door hung a banner to each side: a charcoal grey shape, bowed in at the sides, with an electric blue streak going around the edge and... a poodle curled up in the middle. Just what side am I on?

Stanton pushed open both doors at once and strode into the room, his arms reaching out wide to either side. “Presenting the freshly popped Brian Rumble!” With that, he made a half bow and swept his right arm to his chest in a gesture towards Brian standing behind him. Facing them, a short courtier with a paste mouse mask similar to the guards’ poodle masks backed away from the doors and Stanton before running around to the top of the long table.

A large golden throne stood vacant on a dais. At the base of the dais’s steps sat a long oblong table. The end closest the door was much narrower than the top of the table at the steps. There sat a woman with a giant puffball of very faint gray blue curly hair topped with a huge floppy magenta rose perched precariously to one side. Her gown was likewise magenta, giving her the appearance of a person rising out of a cupcake. Her bright red lipstick covered only the center of her lips in the shape of pursed lips, or a heart. The woman herself was short and squat yet somehow still very imposing, frightening even.

Actually, she sat to the right, not the center top or head of the table. Brian still noted her as his ruler regardless. To her left, sat a similarly short, squat man. He wore trousers with broad vertical stripes of a deep purple alternating with green, a brighter purple suit jacket, a vest underneath with a chain for a pocket watch, but most noticeable of all an enormous black top hat sat on his head with a card tucked into its band. Hat Magician, master-class. The Hat Magician slung his teacup onto the saucer in his right hand, sloshing the tea up and splashing a little on his jacket, then wrenched out his pocket watch, glared at it, and bellowed: “CHAAAANGE PLACES!!”

The mouse-masked courtier had only just taken a seat by a third person at the table when they all stood and dashed madly around, shuffling chairs in and out, two people trying for the same chair. In a matter of six or seven frantic seconds, the top of the table had shifted their seating. Stanton was striding up the hall behind the courtier. Now, the Queen sat at the head of the table. To her right, where she had been seated before, sat the Hat Magician; to her left, stood Stanton and sat the third member of the tea party, a warlord in a brocade suit with a scabbard strapped from one shoulder down to his hip. He wore a mask that looked like a hare’s face with long ears pointing upward.

Stanton bowed low. The Queen raised her white gloved hand, and he took it and kissed it gingerly. “Now, then, Stanty, have our new darling step forward then,” she said with her creaking, crooning voice as Stanton stood with his back to the throne looking back down the hall. Stanton gestured with a level upraised hand flipping his four fingers toward the palm, come here. Brian trotted forward up the left side of the table as both the courtier and Stanton had. The table broadened as it ascended the hall towards the throne. A trick, of sorts, it makes the hall appear longer, the distance to the queen seem greater. Halfway there, Stanton turned his hand so the flat of the palm and fingers faced Brian, stop there.

The members of the tea party eyed Brian sternly. Or so he thought at least for the hare and the mouse, but the masks obscured their faces. “You disappoint me, Stanty,” crooned the queen.

“Ma’am?” Stanton winced. She raised her hand in reply.

“With a name like ‘Rumble’, I should have hoped for a Shockamancer. Now, they can be GREAT fun. Naughty, but fun,” she intoned with a nod. She glared at the sign around his neck. “Signamancer, what do you think of my capital?”

Brian beamed sure he had the right answer, “It’s lovely. Very extravagant and fitting for Her Majesty.”

She raised her hand to him then. “Yes, I hired a Signamancer and Dirtamancer upon my mother’s croaking, at great personal expense, to reform things to my liking.” Personal? It was an expense to the Side. Brian could have rolled his eyes at himself for that thought as he didn’t really care but he managed to keep himself from it. “So, you see, Signamancer, what need do I have for you?”

Brian felt like he’d taken a hit. He felt certain there was more he could offer. He looked down at his hands. They seemed so small when he thought about Signamancy. “I--uh...” He had no answer. He was a Signamancer. He knew. He could alter a unit’s Signs but only superficially; the bonuses weren’t permanent. He could... impose order...HERE!? That thought made his eyes roll.

The Hat Magician took a handkerchief and wiped up some thick sticky stuff from the table. “Now, Your Highness, every value has a casta, afta aul...”

“Every caster has his value,” corrected the mouse with a nod. Brian nodded too. He was sure Door was right and in particular about him.

“Quite. That’s what I said,” the mouse opened his mouth as if to protest but the Queen raised one finger and shook her head with a very slight roll of her eyes. The Hat Magician continued, “He would lessen tuh small cost of maintaining tuh Signamancy of the court and its courtas.” No. More. I can do more. It came out aggressively, hungrily, from within his mind.

The Hatter spoke with a strong, strange accent to his Language. Hat Magician, in court with the Queen: NOT Chief Caster. Brian glanced at the mouse and hare. The mouse-masked courtier was just that, but the hare was a warlord. But not Chief Warlord.

“That is well enough, but I do not need to stop the trickle from the treasury for treacle and tea...” The Queen herself was interrupted by cheers from the rest of the tea party. She did not gesture to stop them.

“I say, good show, Madam!” cheered the Hatter. They all stopped to knock back their cups of tea.

“More tea for all, Sir Door,” the Queen beamed. As the mouse poured tea for each member of court, she continued, “As I was saying, I have no need of Signamancy now. Our trouble,” she paused, waited a half second, then continued with a noncommittal shrug, “is that we are at war. We look great, but we are at war.”

A door to the side of the room off behind the columns opened with a squeak. A man in a shining metal breastplate strode into the room. “Come to meet the new caster, mother!” He yelled out into the hall. Here is the Chief Warlord. He stood a little taller than Brian. His hair was shoulder length and ripply with streaks of golden blonde and light brown. A large sword rested on his hip. “Ah, there he is... he looks like a warlord,” the man said setting his forefinger and thumb to his chin. As far as Brian could tell, he was the first to notice the light armoring with which he’d popped. Brian felt a slight tug in his gut upon seeing the man and a slight blush rise toward his cheeks as he smiled slightly.

“Signamancer, actually,” he answered. The man’s arms dropped. Brian felt a slight pang. Had he just slipped up in his deal with Stanton? The warlord hadn’t been present while the rest were discussing his discipline.

The man’s hands rested at belt-level palms up directed at the Queen, gesture of curiosity and frustration, seeking explanation. “Tell me something, mother! Anything. All those turns...”

The Queen’s brow furrowed and the corners of her mouth dropped, frustration, annoyance. “I know no more than you, Iple,” she turned back to Brian then, “Apologies, Brian, this is my son” she smiled wide, “Prince Iple Sillius, Chief Warlord of Falderal and my Heir.” Brian’s brain frazzled and spluttered all at once. What was that? He felt the beginning of a headache, his first headache. Popping seemed so long ago, and at the going rate, he was a little worried he’d be disbanded in short order.

“Are you alright, Brian?” It was the Queen. Her voice was gentle and smooth this time. He glanced at her and for the first time thought he saw some genuine concern.

“Sorry, sire... headache.” The Queen eyed him as Prince Iple took a seat by the Hat Magician.

“Yes. In any case, Hatta, I believe it is time for introductions?” she asked turning to the Hat Magician who took out his pocket watch again and nodded.

“Welcome, Brian Rumble! These lovely wuvlies are my court: Hatta Matta,” the Hat Magician, “Haigha Matta,” the hare, “and Sir Door formerly of Mouse” the mouse courtier, each nodded their heads in turn. There was a second squeak from the side door.

“Sorry, I’m late, mother,” spoke the voice. Brian noted its tone was soft and apologetic. Mellifluous. Stop that. The younger Prince of Falderal as his brother before him stepped out from columns on the other side of the room. He stood at Brian’s height. Like his brother, he too had streaky hair of golden blonde and light brown, but his came down only to the middle of his ears. His face came down to a pointed chin, just as his nose sloped to a rounded point. The Queen raised her right hand toward him as she had to Stanton, and he dashed over to kiss the back of it.

“No matter, Sirius, here--” she waved her other hand towards Brian, “Meet our newest caster: Brian Rumble.” Sirius stood from his kneeling bow and fixed Brian with a serious stare. Brian felt that pang in his gut again; a wave of tension and heat in his shoulders followed.

“A Hippiemancer,” Sirius stated, breaking into a wide grin, “I’m sure he’ll fit right in.” Brian thought for just a second that the statement had been followed by a roll of the prince’s eyes.

“Yes, a Hippiemancer, but a Signamancer,” the Queen intoned and sighed. It seemed to Brian that a light went on behind her eyes: “Stanton! Take him to the Magic Kingdom. Find out what you’ve done, but you may not spend a single schmucker.” What you’ve done? What had he done?

Stanton shifted bolt upright from a slight slouch, “Yes, Your Majesty, of course. Brian, let’s beat it. Follow me to the dungeons!” Stanton’s reply had a lot of flourish to it. It was showy enough, but the court seated at the table didn’t seem to care. Brian followed Stanton to a door on the left-hand side of the throneroom dais, leaving Sirius standing by the Queen and the court seated around her. As he passed through the door, he heard Hatta exclaim: “CHAAAAAAAAAANGE PLACES!”
Delling
 
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Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 10:02 am

Re: Signs and Port Ends of Hearts and of Tarts

Postby Delling » Wed Sep 18, 2013 5:57 pm

Ch. 2 ~ Lessons

Stanton and Brian walked in silence from the throne room to the dungeon and into the Portal Room.

“Stanton?”

“Yea, Brian?”

“What did you do?”

Stanton stopped and turned to face Brian. Falderal’s portal framed in an uneven doorway stood behind him. He spread his arms wide, palms toward Brian, his elbows tucked in at the side, invitation, openness. “Say you were losing a war...”

“We’re losing a war?”

“I didn’t say that. I said... ‘let’s assume you are losing a war’. Maybe the magic you have isn’t so great or maybe it’s okay but you’re feeling desperate so you want better. Now,” Stanton paused and glanced around. The Portal room was empty except for a pair of token guards at the door opposite the portal. “Say you were something of a mad monarch and you got a crazy idea in your head: you can’t pop a caster, but one of your casters... He specializes in bending the rules.”

Carnymancy. Brian’s eyes widened; his mouth dropped open a little, but he said nothing.

“So, Queen Sue says to me, ‘I’m going to pop a caster’, and I says ‘how?’, and then SHE says, ‘you’re gonna make it happen’” He chuckled nervously. His eyes lifted a bit as he remembered the conversation. Brian recognized the Signs of remembering, of recalling, even though he had hardly anything to recall. He wondered what it was like... “...so the two of us are having tea with Iple, an’ tea turns to booze, an’ Iple leaves... and it’s just everything. Shockmancy, Thinkamancy, Flower Power, heck!--we even considered Croakamancy! Big hilarious fun chat about what sort of caster to pop. Then, before the turn ends, Queen Sue orders me to the Magic Kingdom: I’m to talk to a Turnamancer and... well, the guy we’re going to talk to now: a Weirdomancer. Figure out how to cast on a still poppin’ unit, you see? Next turn, she starts popping a warlord without even talking to me about it first. That’s you. I’ve been casting over the idea of you for the last fourteen turns!”

Brian turned everything over in his head. He kept turning it over and over and over. “So, then, I popped and...”

“And a Signamancer was not exactly high on our request list,” Stanton’s shoulders sagged. “It’s worse than that... For fourteen turns, I was here, had to be. A few turns, we paid for Weirdomancy scrolls. Got half price because they were experimental, theoretical, and I was helping to make them. But, that whole time, I was castin’, spendin’ juice on this while the war went on. Come on, let’s go see Herman. Maybe he’ll know what I’ve been doing.” With that, Stanton walked through the portal with the unspoken order for Brian to follow.

Magic Kingdom. Autumn dominion. Autonomous barbarian realm. Brian’s thoughts filled him in as he surveyed Portal Park. Stanton for his part was already heading off in the direction of a grove of grey leafed trees. “Come on, Brian,” he shouted over his shoulder, “No need to keep the man waiting.”

They hurried on through the trees. Little stands and lean-tos displayed the wares of Turnamancers and Dollamancers in the Raiment District. Some counters outlined shops where casters could be seen having raiment adjusted and fitted. In one clearing, a group of three Turnamancers took turns turning over a figure eight-shaped glass about half-filled with sand. Brian’s mind made some connections that even he wasn’t sure he fully followed: Hatta’s watch, Turnamancy item.

Stanton turned sharply passing between a gap in a close knit line of grey-leafed trees. “Here we are. Herman’s playhouse.” The awkward trapezoidal building before him looked like it had been misplaced from Falderal. Brian’s head swam taking it all in. There were elements of Dirtamancy, Carnymancy, Dollamancy, Foolamancy, and Weirdomancy. As Stanton ushered him in, Brian noted that the place was littered with furniture seemingly given motion and life. Some form of Weirdomancy and Dollamancy together perhaps? Everything done piecemeal, built up bit by bit with the help of other casters. Sign of status in the Magic Kingdom.

“Haha, heh heh here he is!” Herman was just shorter than Stanton. His attire was not quite so formal: though he wore a grey suit with a muted plaid pattern with black lapels, bright red lips, cheek, and bowtie. His hair, like Stanton’s, was slicked down but swept to one side rather than back and sitting much closer to his scalp. He was eyeing Brian carefully, shifting his lips from side to side, pinching up the dimples in each cheek in turn.

Stanton sat at the table, his face in his hands. “He’s a Signamancer though... all those turns, Herman.”

“BUT! He is a caster. That is something.” The man opened a wardrobe in the corner of the room and produced a scroll. “Here. Cast this. Free of charge.” He said tossing it to Brian.

Brian eyed the scroll: basic Weirdomancy. He unrolled it and read: “Denney. Beat. Fox. Persons!” There was a slight flutter in the room, and then there was nothing.

“And now, play this.” Herman handed Brian a yellow broom. Brian didn’t really understand but he took it. Looking at the bristled end, he thought, “Strum it!” So, he did. A sound filled the room. He felt a tugging in his hands and he played some quick riffs.

“Ha ha heh heh yeah!!” Herman bellowed, “‘kay, kid, stop.” The tug in his hands was still there and the little house was filling with a most glorious sound, but Brian fought his hands to a stop. “Basic, low-level Weirdomancy. Lets a unit rock out for the rest of its turn,” Herman nodded, “But being low-level, the rocking out isn’t that strong... more like a bonus to a unit’s innate ability to rock out. I guessed you might have a little aptitude there.”

“Herman, what are you doin’? You hand me a scroll and I can cast it.”

“Yeah, Stanty, yeah, but, Brian, would you follow my lead?” Brian watched intently as Herman strummed the air and hummed. It was weird. Wrong, even. Brian did it too, following along with Herman’s motions, and then--”Denney. Beat. Fox. Persons!” As he said it, he saw Herman gesture, raising both hands palms out with a diamond shaped frame pointing up. Brian did the same and saw he could see Stanton through the frame. For the first time, he felt his juice drop a little. Herman tossed Stanton the broom.

Ok, it wasn’t as good, but it was there. Stanton strummed the broom and a weak rumble filled the room. Stanton spun an arm round like a windmill and let a riff out.

“How’d he do that?” Stanton asked dumbfounded.

“You know how people cast off discipline?” Stanton nodded. “Weirdomancy is the magic of being different, unique. The general thinking among us is that there’s a hidden stat that measures a caster’s ability off-discipline. It’s only a theory, Stanty, but I think that’s what we managed: your casting might have made him a caster, can’t say, but I’m guessing it definitely gave him Versatility. And at a guess, pretty high Versatility given what we just saw.”

“So... he’s a Signamancer... but... he could learn anything?” Stanton’s eyes went wide.

Brian heard all that, but he was already turning over the words from the scroll in his head. He kind of got it. It kind of fit. This is what I can do.

“I think it’ll take time. Won’t be so automatic with anything more complicated. He’ll know ‘hoboken’” There was a pause; Brian realized it was for him, glanced at the other two and nodded, “Shockmancers can probably build him up from that, teach him some more spells. Now, most that can cast off discipline find some easier than others. Even with his Versatility, I suspect it’ll be the same for him... I’d say, get him lessons in as many disciplines as you can.”

Stanton nested his chin between his thumb and forefinger and nodded. “You might’ve just saved us both from being disbanded,” He was grinning wide as he stood, “All right, I know just who to take him to next. I’ll owe you one...”

“You still owe me several, now go on, thanks for stopping by, kids,” Herman answered shooing them both out. Stanton whisked Brian from the house and moved him at a brisk pace.

“There’s a Thinkamancer you need to meet... see, Sue... the Queen, she’s thought of this before, kind of... asked me to learn basic Thinkamancy, but I couldn’t hack it. I bring you back with some Eyemancy under your belt and we’ll be golden with the Queen.” Brian said nothing and trotted along behind Stanton. The quiet gave Stanton pause so he decided to fill it, “You know, kid, you’re really something... I mean, anyone can try to cast off-discipline, but... I’ve never seen someone do it so well so quickly.” Brian thought about that but then thought nothing of it. This is what I can do. “I mean, most everyone has some Rhyme-o-mancy; it’s that bit o’ Stagemancy makes the world go round, you know?” Stanton stopped and glanced at him. Concern, hesitance, he must not like what he’s seen. “... yeah, anyway, I mean, if you got Language, you have some natural Rhyme-o-mancy and if you know what you’re doing,” the inside of Brian’s head lit up, “you can boost your casting and do some other little stuff. But, going by what Herman’s said and you did” A smile crept over Brian’s face, sign of pride, and he was happy, and that seemed odd to him, being happy about doing what his signs told him he was meant to do. “...that’s nothing compared to your Versatility.” Brian felt pulled out and thrown in the spotlight. They were crossing the Park now at a pace, other casters were milling about, but they weren’t really noticing the pair of them.

Wait. Is... is Stanton giving me a peptalk? Peptalk... hrmm... rhyme-o-mancy effect. Seems like basic Signamancy but different... somehow...Brian was happy, but Brian’s head hurt.

They made their way into the Eyemancer’s purple-treed park, along paved walkways. Brian was, despite never having been there, before keenly aware of it when they took a right turn down a long curving path... away from the main path to the Temple of the Thinkamancers. They came eventually to a small wagon, long since set up by the side of the path. Its Signamancy screamed stagnation, decay.

“I Thought you’d visit today, but I didn’t know there’d be a guest.” The voice was female, rough but smooth around the edges with a gravelly backbone. It passed over Stanton and he visibly relaxed and tightened anew. Defensive, but different from being with the Queen.

“I’ve brought a new friend, someone who can help,” he shouted up at the opening to the wagon.

“Well, what are you waitin’ for? Come on in!” Stanton stood to one side and gestured for Brian to ascend the three steps of to the wagon door and a powerball visibly lit up the interior. The steps creaked under Brian’s still bare feet. The wagon’s gate door sang out creakily as Brian swung it open. Stanton was behind him quickly and soundlessly with one hand on his shoulder.

The interior housed a bed, a closed door for a latrine, and a fair bit of clutter, but out in the middle of the room stood a small table covered in a seafoam green tablecloth. On the table sat a deck of cards and a crystal ball. Predictamancy items? Beside it stood a woman. She wore a pink short sleeve blouse with a low V-neck and a skirt with a psychedelic pattern of overlapping loops and whirls like flower petals. Her face was framed in curly bangs with only dim Signs of age around her eyes and mouth. Strong Signamancy... she has seen many turns. She finished pouring three glasses of water and turned to face them.

“Brian, my friend, allow me to introduce... Madamoiselle Zeena!!” Stanton swept forward, waved his arms toward the Thinkamancer, and bowed low sweeping the arm closer to Brian to his chest.

“Welcome, Brian!” She eyed him closely. “Now, son, what’s your specialty? And why are you here?” She asked spinning around to plop down on a three-legged stool behind the table.

“Uhm... I’m a Signamancer, ma’am--”

“None of this ‘ma’am’ stuff, son, call me ‘Zeena,’” she said with a smile.

“Uh, and Stanton brought me to learn some Thinkamancy...” he winced. He had a distinct sense that he was stepping into a realm in which he was unwelcomed. Zeena merely eyed him and pushed forward the deck of cards.

“Cut the cards. Three times.” Brian reached over the table and split the deck into three uneven stacks. “Betcha think it’s weird, me havin’ this Predictamancy Stuff?” Brian nodded. “Yeah, well, the ball,” she gestured to the crystal ball, “the ball’s Predictamancy, but these cards? These cards are Signamancy. They say they were developed in one of the oldest Sides and carried out by its casters when it fell.” She drew seven cards and lay them out in an arch on the table. The Hanged Man. The Fool. The Magician. The Eight of Swords. The Queen of Staves. The Lovers. The Moon.

“Well?” asked Stanton.

“You’re here.” She jabbed The Hanged Man with two fingers. She stepped her fingers across the next two cards. “...and here’s our boy, Brian was it?” He nodded. “The rest? Well, your Queen... and some love in your future, Brian... but I can’t make out The Moon or the swords... Brian, take a look.” She gestured to the table. Brian stood dumbfounded pointing at himself as if to say “who? me?”.

Stanton by way of explanation offered: “Zeena’s a Thinkamancer and a good--great one, but she dabbles in other magicks, specifically other Fate magic. She isn’t a Signamancer, so I thought you could help her with the cards.” Brian swallowed and stepped around the table to look at the cards.

Stanton’s the Hanged Man... something about his past... can’t tell. This is my reading, he’s in my past... the casting while I was popping... The Fool. Me. His head drooped a little. Looking at the cards was quite the head rush, each one was heavily laden with Signs. Just means I’m learning. The Magician, also me. I’m gonna learn, but I have to not hold back... so... “Eight of Swords... I should lead a stack in combat.” Zeena and Stanton exchanged knowing glances as he continued. Queen Sue, Brian smiled a little … can’t say. He stared intently at the card. ...ouch! Zeena shook him.

“Hey, kid, you been starin’ at that card a while... If I didn’t know better I’d say you were flakin’ out...

“Uh... sorry... My head hurts...” he frowned, “I don’t think I can tell you anything about … uh... The Queen of Staves. Can I look at the rest?” Zeena nodded.

The Lovers. A warmth rushed over him. He got a dim feeling that he was looking at something he shouldn’t as if he were peeking at the answers to a test. Love... for me... in my future. ...The Moon. “The Moon, uh...” he stared at it a little more, “it means the readings not done!” He almost shouted.

“You can always ask questions ‘bout the cards with the rest of the deck,” Zeena said and slid the deck toward him. He eyed it. The idea of touching them felt wrong. This is my reading. I shouldn’t touch the cards.

“Uh... can I ask questions and you flip over the cards?”

“Sure, kid.” Zeena nodded and Brian felt like he had just passed a little test.

“Is... is...” Warmth, cheeks. Blushing again, great, “Is my love in the cards out on the table?” Two of Swords. No. He didn’t much care for the idea of being in a relationship with Stanton or the Queen.

“Well?” Zeena asked.

“Uh... rather keep it to myself?” Stanton and Zeena exchanged wry grins and nodded, “Last question... weird one... what would the last card be if we did out the seven again?” Zeena looked at him funny. The Tower. Zeena gasped. Something bad was coming. Brian didn’t understand, but he had the strangest feeling. It had two prongs: first, if they drew out the cards now, they would be wrong, and second, he felt he was stretching the cards to their limits. “Hrmm... I think we can’t do much more with this reading.” He felt a dull pang in his gut. Wrong. He shrugged.

“That’s all right, Brian, thank you. Watching you work with the cards has been fascinating,” Zeena smiled, “Now, Stanton, I shall instruct Brian alone. He can inform me of what he wishes or is intended to learn.”

“All right, you work with him. I’ve heard it all before. I’ll head over to the Big Top, be back in a couple of hours?” Brian nodded to Stanton.

~~~

Zeena and Brian talked at length. Carnymancy, Thinkamancy, and even Signamancy were all Fate magic. The premier Fate magic is Predictamancy, seriously heavy stuff. Zeena couldn’t say how the cards worked. She had hoped Brian could, but he didn’t really understand either. There was much he didn’t understand about Signamancy or other disciplines for that matter. He had a sense that it was odd that one of the first spells he’d learned was Weirdomancy, off-discipline for him. Zeena tried to explain the basics of Thinkamancy to him. Her demeanor and poise told him she was holding something back but he suspected she’d tell him more as the lessons went on. They worked out an exchange of sorts: he would teach her about the cards and she would teach him Thinkamancy. She seemed impressed with his first reading, so when it seemed clear he wouldn’t learn Thinkagrams this lesson, she turned instead to teaching him some basic suggestion and support spells, which she said he took to with a surprising agility. Then, Stanton returned to collect him.

“If he can help me with the cards and Signamancy, then I’d say he can work off your debt in three lessons, counting today’s,” Zeena told him.

“Excellent, learn anything good so far, Brian?” Stanton asked.

“Some basics... no thinkagrams yet, but I think Queen Sue should be pleased.” He beamed.

The two said their farewells to Zeena and headed back to Portal Park. As they crossed the park toward Falderal’s portal, Brian again had that sense of being pulled out and thrown into the spotlight, but Stanton wasn’t saying anything. Brian looked around. A man with flamboyant dark hair, wearing loose white pants, a tie-dye vest, and a small “medicine” satchel on a necklace, stood staring … leering … at Brian.
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