Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 021
The way back to Portal Park from the Raiment District wasn't something Wanda actually knew, but it didn't matter. From anywhere in the Magic Kingdom, the park had a kind of pull. It was not a physical sensation, but a natural tendency for a caster's steps to lead her there. This place was not her home, and it seemed to gently but constantly remind her of it.
Still, her first real visit here had been breathtaking. Besides being the warmest place she'd ever been, it was overwhelming in all kinds of other ways. Mostly, her head was buzzing with the answers to questions she would never have thought to ask, before losing Tommy to Olive's foul kiss.
She'd learned some important basic lessons about speaking with other casters, too. They were a difficult, eccentric breed, and she wasn't sure she enjoyed their company. They had byzantine etiquette; quite a few of them would not even speak to her at all. Others came to that decision when told her level and/or discipline. She had managed to speak at length only with a Dollamancer, a Thinkamancer, and a Carnymancer, but they'd given more than enough to think about. (And the Dollamancer had sold her new raiment.)
There were birds in the magenta-leafed trees, teal chittering teardrops in the upper branches, and little brown peeping ones on the ground. Wanda followed a large road of granite brick that opened into the grassy park, as naturally as if she'd walked the route all her life.
More than a score of casters stood in her field of view from there, all coming and going. Goodminton's portal was a fair distance across the pathless field of glowing rectangles. No signs stood to point the way, but the Signamancy of a caster's home portal was plainer than writing. It was simply where you were supposed to be. Walk, and your feet led you there.
Wanda followed her feet, holding a small satchel and still looking around with naked curiosity. The styles of garments alone could have held her attention for turns on end. She tried not to stare, but was caught doing so a time or two, earning a frown or a glare in return.
As she neared her home portal, though, she caught someone staring at her. A hefty-looking woman in a green and yellow robe of satin, with a dark brown skin complexion was standing beside a gaunt man with wild black hair. He was talking to her, but she was staring directly at Wanda, and did not turn her deep brown eyes away when contact was made.
Wanda stopped, arrested by this woman's unbroken gaze. She was going to have to return home soon, but...
Her feet led her toward the two casters. The man stopped talking as Wanda approached, and raised an eyebrow at her. The woman's wide-eyed gaze never relented.
"I'm sorry," said Wanda, "was there something you needed?"
"I s'pose I didn't know until just now," said the woman, in an accent musical and strange. She pressed her thick lips together and looked Wanda up and down. Was she...was this a come on?
"I don't understand..." said Wanda. She was not sure she wanted to.
"I don't think you want to," said the woman. "I do undahstand, and I suhtanly don't want to."
The skinny man leaned forward, his eyes shining mischievously. He wore a tunic of purple and green, with exaggerated sleeves and a broad green belt. It was the first outfit Wanda had seen here which made her want to look away. "My ah, companion and I were just discussing how unfair it is that she hasn't the opportunity to use her discipline more. And when she does, she usually can't discuss it. I'm supposing this is one such time."
"No, I can discuss it," the woman said, turning to the man. "It's just that usually? Well, I shouldn't."
"What is your discipline?" Wanda asked. Learning about other magicks was the reason she'd come here, after all.
"Predictamancy," said the man, earning a glare from the woman. He cocked his head at her. "Or was even that something that oughtn't to be disclosed?"
His expression said that he was teasing her, but she was stone-faced. "Possibly," she said, looking guardedly at Wanda.
Wanda was disappointed. She had a Predictamancer to talk to at home, however awkward and difficult things with Delphie had become in the five turns since the air battle. But these two were still intriguing. Odd as they both seemed, there was a kind of familiarity to them, as if they were more real in some way than the other strangers in the park.
"I'm Lady Wanda Firebaugh," she said. "I'm...a Croakamancer, actually." She was aware that this might end the conversation, as it had with one or two of the casters she'd met. But neither of them was showing signs of instant revulsion.
The man was ignoring her, in fact, still looking at his companion. "Why so serious?"
The woman's mouth formed an exaggerated "o". "Oh, only because it is so serious." She shook her head. "I think I shouldn't have complained about being boahd. I'll have a lot of wuhck to do at home, now." She stepped closer to Wanda and said, "Wanda, you will find your way to us. But we should really not be talking to you right now."
"I see!" said the man, grinning slyly. "Well, if that's the case, who's to say we ever did talk to her? Hm? Why, I'll wager that odious Diversion Beast thinks we never met at all!"
He pointed, looking off beyond Wanda's shoulder. There was a growl, and something huge and threatening was moving at the edge of her vision. Whatever it was, it meant her serious bodily harm. She turned with a start, pulling her staff from its scabbard on her back.
She brought the weapon to bear, but there was nothing there to fight. Her heart thudded in her chest as she looked around.
A few nearby casters stared at her. But the man and woman had completely vanished.