The room was silent while Drina kicked the last pouch from the set corner. All eyes set on her, waiting for her to speak, though Drina didn’t know what to say. The purpose of the summon was to find the spirit attacking her, but she’d discovered something far worse.
Hestar broke the silence, rushing to touch her shoulder. Drina spun around and stepped back to avoid her touch. The wounded look in Hestar’s eyes didn’t help her already fading hope.
“What happened? What did you see?”
How did she even start? Searching for words, Drina could only stare at her blankly. Lulu spun around with a frustrated huff, stomping off to her office. It left Ocan confused, looking between Drina and Lulu with uncertainty. Slams and bangs came from the room before Lulu stomped in a rush back out. She was on a war path, holding gauze, ointment, and a hell-bound look.
Drina retreated, stubbornly holding her unwounded arm up. “No, it’s fine. It’s not that bad, honest-”
Lulu swished her hand, whispering a faint word. Without warning, the chair behind Drina slammed into the back of her legs, knocking her back. She fell with a hard thump, grunting at the pain in her legs. Golden ropes then leap out from the chair and swirled tightly against her. With a gasp, Drina tried to escape to no avail; she was tightly trapped.
With a final stomp of her foot in front of her, Lulu glared with pure rage. It was the first time anyone had seen her this upset.
“You stupid girl!” Lulu ripped a long strand of gauze off the bundle and shoved it painfully into Drina’s wound. Her voice was harsh as she lashed out at her, “Do you know how stupid you really are? Summoning the unknown, bringing it in here with stupid intentions!”
Drina cried out from the forceful jab at the puncture. “I didn’t think it was going to be-”
Another glow of gold sliced at her clothes, cutting them from her neck to the sleeve. With a careless tug at the cloth, Lulu ripped it down to expose the rest of the wound. Drina painfully grunted the rest of her sentence.
“-a dead god! Can you please use a little less force?!”
Lulu froze, allowing Drina to shuffle the chair just out of her reach. The burning sensation of the air and gauze caused a small tear to tremble down Drina’s cheek. Ocan and Hestar stood in shock, watching while she growled from the pain.
With a softer touch, Lulu stepped forward to open the ointment and apply it. The sizzle of her skin made Drina cry out in an unexpected yowl. Black smoke rose out from the wound, dissipating quickly after. Drina could only grit her teeth, unable to move.
“Dead god or not. You are lucky. The poison didn’t get too far.” Lulu scoped more ointment onto her fingers, holding it up in front of Drina, “Ready?”
Drina dropped her jaw at the amount dripping from her fingers. Closing her eyes in despair, she knew what was coming. Lulu removed the cloth from the hole, letting it fall to the floor before shoving her finger inside. It took everything in Drina not to pass out from the blinding pain.
A few hours passed when Lulu finished bandaging her shoulder up. The golden ropes around Drina had already faded, allowing her to move freely. Instead, she could do nothing but stare off into the distance. Hestar sat on the couch holding Ocan, both eager to continue speaking to Drina.
Pushing back the chair, Lulu stood up to stretch her back out, walking to the counter to pull the boiling water from the kettle. She poured two cups and dropped tea leaves into them before returning to Drina’s side. Extending the cup out, Lulu waited for Drina to accept it.
Drina stared at the cup. The smell was from a herb she’d known from a very young age. Lifting her patched arm, she tested to see how well the healing salve worked. Accepting the cup, she held it for a moment to assess the pain. To her surprise, there was none. Lowering the cup, she took a deep sip of the tea.
Lulu sighed, taking the seat in front of her again, clasping the cup while she waited. There was a long silence again, allowing Drina to look up at the windows to see where the sun was. She was at a loss. How was she going to solve her problem now? The soft, tender voice of Lulu broke her thoughts.
“Was it sincerely a god? I knew the moment something broke through the barrier; it wasn’t just a haunting spirit, but a god?”
The image of the red piercing eyes burning within the enormous skull of a beast flashed in Drina’s mind. There was no doubt about it. “I think there is more at play than we are aware. This situation is no longer just a bound spirit; it’s a contract.”
It was a little worrisome how Drina’s voice sounded, even to her. It sounded distant, more assertive than she felt. After all the screaming and crying she’d done, it was a surprise she still had a voice. Lulu sharpened her gaze.
“A contract?! I’m sure we would have noticed signs of a contract made.”
Although Lulu was right, Drina was certain. The display of power the culprit exhibited had no other explanation. Drina rubbed at her chin, looking down at her cup of tea. For a contract to be made with such power, it would take at least a dozen people. It was typically common within gypsy tribes, needing fewer people to accomplish it due to their bloodline.
The god that her mother followed was passed down from her grandma, as it was from hers. Despite the many generations from the original contract, it still left a mark on each child born within the family. In her case, the ability to see and speak with the dead.
Drina looked up from her cup to the table, her deck of cards still splayed out untouched. Standing up, she took a look at the display once more. Each card had a specific meaning: Five men with wands, the skeleton queen holding a ring, and the burning tower. Tilting her head, Drina spoke without looking away. “Hestar, how many men have you dated in this town?”
Hestar blinked, pulling her arms away from her embrace around Ocan.
“Dated?! I… didn’t date anyone as much as I…” she paused to clear her throat, feeling awkward by the sudden question. “I didn’t date anyone.”
Drina felt her ears burn. She suddenly didn’t want to know the answer to the question that followed. Lulu stood up, moving to the other side of the table to look at the cards. Drina was thankful for her graceful tact.
“No need to fret, my dear. I’m sure Drina is just trying to ascertain the meaning of the cards. What are they implying? Can you share what they generally mean?
Drina heard the girls joining them around the table while taking her time to decipher the cards. It was different than reading her fan, even though the intent was the same. Because she was reading through a shared bond, how much of it was sheer distortion? Reaching her hand out over the card, it proved otherwise. Dark power flowed out and around each card, confirming that it was attached to the targeted being. She tapped the card while speaking aloud for the others.
“This card represents the person in question. The five men represent several opposing forces, the wands showing that they were in battle. Not a physical one, but a shared ideal. Assuming it’s a male, it could mean they are all fighting for the same goal: that goal being Hestar.”
Hestar slowly turned red, catching Drina’s attention. Seeing her embarrassment at the idea that men were fighting for her attention made Drina feel unease. Was she just another player part of the battle? Drina’s voice broke with a crackle, moving quickly to the next card.
“The qu-queen usually stands for a woman; someone mature, grounded, loyal. However,” Drina picked up the card to examine it closely, feeling its energy. “When upside-down, it’s the opposite. Shallow, possessive, chaotic… Jealousy.”
Ocan gasped, reaching for the card to touch the side. “It’s a double meaning. The woman wasn’t looking his way, and he got angry. So he decided to take things into his own hands.”
Drina nodded, handing the card to Ocan. She took it absently, studying the card intently. Drina watched cautiously, waiting to see what would happen. It wasn’t the first time Drina had let her feel the cards during an active reading. One day Ocan would eventually awaken and learn the craft. Better to get used to the feeling to understand it.
Ocan broke her concentration to look up at her sister, handing the card back. Drina offered a meek smile, placing it back down on the table. Moving her hand to the last card, she hardly touched it when a shock jolted her entire body. She stiffened, unable to move while the world distorted around her. With all her strength, she pulled her hand away to break free.
Sweat poured down Drina’s temples from the sudden surge, panting from the energy it admitted. Reaching her hand over to Ocan, she stopped her from wanting to touch it too.
“For this last card, I think we can safely assume the meaning. He’s become violent and based on the failed attempt at murder, he isn’t planning on stopping soon.”
Drina felt exhausted, plopping down into the chair behind her. Pinching at the bridge of her nose, she sighed exasperatedly. Ocan reached out to hug her, resting her head on her good shoulder. Hestar leaned over the table, staring at the cards dumbfoundedly. Laughing, she spoke with heavy sarcasm.
“Simple. We just have to find a man who is madly in love with me. Shouldn’t be too hard since half the town already has a crush on me.”
Lulu scoffed, placing her teacup down to rest her hands on her hip. “Honestly, girl! How much of the town have you seduced?”
Hestar crossed her arms defensively. “I haven’t seduced the town at all! It doesn’t hurt to go out and show a little kindness for business. How else do you think we keep busy during the summer? It’s not my fault they can’t tell the difference between being in love or being polite.”
Drina dropped her hand to Ocan’s arm, watching Hestar. The pain in Hestar’s eyes was palpable. It was equally painful to witness. Biting sharply at her lip, Drina forced herself not to think about it. Yet Drina couldn’t stop her sharp words from hurling like daggers. Just thinking of Hestar with another man was something she couldn’t handle.
“Seduction or not; there’s an obsessed lover who wants all of your attention.”
For the first time, Drina saw real anger in Hestar. Dropping her arms, she shot a disproving glare at her.
“I’m aware that I’m a notorious flirt. I’m also aware the entire town gossips about my past flings or possible lovers. I’d even been accused of adultery by others.” Hestar took a few steps back from the table, fighting the tears welling up in the corner of her eyes. “But the truth is: I’ve only ever had one lover in this town.”
A hard punch suckered Drina in the gut. Confusion rolled across her face. What? Who? Hestar’s stare lingered a moment longer. Her expression looked as if waiting for Drina to figure the answer out herself. The tears won, rolling down Hestar’s cheek. With a loud tsk, she turned to leave the room.
Drina pushed out of the chair, breaking through Ocan’s arms. She wanted to reach out to her, say something, or hug her. Instead, she stood there and watched Hestar take off down the hall. Drina frowned. What? Again, she replayed the words in her head. Who was her lover? As far as she knew, the only person Hestar wanted to be with was her.
Lulu growled in frustration. “She means you! Go!”