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Inauspicious Auguries

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THE PARENTS

* The Yellow Bird * The Stones * The Burning Head * The Plant * The Ladder *

Dear Mother,

I hope you're enjoying your new incarnation and that the transition from lithic repose to avian fluttering was not too disquieting.

I do wonder at how Father manifested such a strong metamorphosis curse, especially since his stated intention was a minor casting to reheat his tea. I, my familiar, and the first circle of phantasms have all reconstructed his incantations; at most, a second degree burn should have resulted. It's quite vexing.

Of course, one is doubly vexed by the inability to question him directly. I laud the adeptness of his self-casting when he immediately chose to follow you into metamorphosis, but it was a daft decision. However, you will be pleased to know that the poets find it all quite romantic and have already begun composing epics in your honor.

I'm not sure how your current desire to eat bugs, worms, and grubs will fit into their verse -- silent sentinels overlooking humanity, forever together in love and yet standing separate, enshrined as stone statues, et cetera, et cetera, was much more romantic. (They ignore that even stone fades in time, worn away by weather and fouled by graffiti and animal effluvia.) I have been haphazardly collecting their efforts; I am sure that you'll want to read them, reclining on the settee, your head in Father's lap, professing much embarrassment as a delicate rose flushes your porcelain cheeks.

I will, of course, keep researching counter-curses so that such a scene may come to pass, but active spellcasting has never been my strength, and if a spirit bent towards mischief, if not malice, answers my summons it could be quite injurious to developing a method of transforming you and Father back. My cards murmur to me, but they are a tool ill-suited to the task.

Basil has declined to join me in my efforts, believing that this must be fate, or Father's casting would not have gone so far awry. Zillah is as yet incommunicado, so I know not what she would think of the conundrum the curse presents me.

Nonetheless, I will persevere. Perhaps you will read this some day, and you will sigh over my efforts to thwart fate's fancies.

I can live with that.

With respect,
Greta

THE STUDENT

* The Bundle * The Bottle * The Ancestor * The Limb * The Insects *

Greta Weyrd, age fifteen, was angry.

In order to communicate this to the world -- namely, her parents and siblings -- she slammed her bedroom door so fiercely that the framed diagrams on her wall rattled. Deciding that her efforts were understated, she re-opened the door and put her shoulder into it. The results were much more satisfactory; the extispicy print fell down, the glass cracking over the series of interpreted pig entrails.

She flung herself onto her bed, dramatically laying her forearm over her eyes as to block all light from the world. After a minute, she felt the pillow by her ear depress as her familiar, Cetus, joined her.

"You know," said Cetus, "for someone who professes a hatred of your family's penchant for overwrought melodrama, you do manifest certain tendencies."

She rolled over so that she could glare at the black hamster. Its purple eyes glittered, and its sharp teeth gleamed.

"I," she stated, "am not histrionic. I am quite reasonably frustrated by the utter inanity of this household and the lack of a sensible education. Channeling spirits is a task for which I have neither inclination nor desire, and yet I am required to take these farcical classes. The ouija board cracks when I touch it -- no omen could be clearer. I want the cards."

Cetus chortled. "You are being ridiculous. You know that the foundational principles apply across all the arts, and that the only way to learn your aptitudes is to experiment with different manifestations of talent. This approach is rigorous, scientific, and proven; that you're frustrated when you're not a prodigy in one facet of the phantasmagoric arts is a sign that you're not ready to advance in your studies."

"Begone, foul beast," she said, gently nudging Cetus' head with her finger. It chortled again and then scurried off, probably to go taunt her sister's cat.

She rolled back over, covering her eyes with her forearm once again. She contemplated ratcheting her anger down to sulking, but she decided she wasn't ready to do so at this juncture. The aura emanating from her room ought to clearly communicate her thoughts about being denied the tools which would allow her to progress in her studies; understating her feelings on the matter would be dishonest.

THE WANDERER

* The Sea * The Écorché * The Effigy * The Feather * [The Black Doll] *

Dear Zillah,

It has been some time, Sister, since we shared spiritual communion, and I know not upon which otherworldly shore you dance. Nonetheless, as my revolution around the star begins anew and this year’s portents unfurl before me, I find myself thinking of our childhood, and so I pen this letter to you.

I hope this letter finds you well. Cetus tells me that there has been no inkling of mishap or mischance in your life, but matters can always be concealed from our familiars, no matter their insight. Thus, I ask plainly: how are you?

My peregrinations across the land have brought me knowledge, although they have seldom brought me welcome. I know the journey we undertake teaches us how to navigate the world, which sits so uneasily in our insight. I can hear mother lecturing us about the impossibility of seeing the webs which bind us all and which we pluck in our differing ways if we haven't observed their endless vicissitudes and experienced our own entanglements.

Of course, I have a hard time picturing Mother assailed by the rudeness of many of the people I've encountered, although I know her journey is when she met Father and decided to bring him home to the manse.

I wonder, Sister, how Mother knew that Father would adjust to the phantasmagory, that he would successfully reorient his habits and preoccupations to account for the supernatural as well as the mundane. Twice now I believed that I had done the same, that I had found someone whose life could intertwine with mine in such a way as to strengthen us both. However, twice I have examined the branching paths before us and recoiled at the catastrophe that awaits.

I can hear you, laughing as you pirouette, chiding me about looking for the future instead of embracing the present and reminding me that paths can wander.

Which is, I suppose, why I decided to write to you; I need that perspective in my life, and so I will summon it from your shade in my memory if I must.

Be well, Sister. May you dance under undiscovered moons.

With love,
Greta

THE SEER

* The Tunnel * The Child * The Blue Dog * The Urn * The Waltzing Mouse *

Greta Weyrd, mediocre medium, abysmal augur, and superlative cartomancer, would never be a fantastic tasseomancer. She much preferred tea that came in easy little packets and was served in sturdy mugs to faffing with warming tea pots and swirling tea leaves and making sure that the liquid oozing from said leaves did not stain the white lace tablecloths adorning the tables where she did business as Goerda Weyrd, initiate into the mysteries, nominee to the third phantasmagoric circle, cartographer of the future, et cetera.

However, needs must when opening pathways to the other world, and tea leaves were the most reliable medium for determining auspicious timing.

Sometimes she thought the universe could use a good shake. Generations of seers relying on soggy leaves had given them such inertia and weight that deviating was asking for unpleasant reprisals, but there were so many more sensible ways to communicate the information with greater clarity.

"Don't say anything, Cetus," she said, feeling her familiar's eyes boring into her back as she stared at the pot, waiting for the tea leaves to become sufficiently waterlogged. (It was pastel blue with pale yellow flowers. It was hideous.) She heard its tiny huff and then the scurry of its toes along the floorboards, leaving her to her task. She was well aware that it thought this was a foolish endeavor that would come to naught, knowledge neither gained nor lost but hours, days, or weeks lost in grasping for it.

She drummed her fingers on the table, humming Cassandra's March to keep time. After three repetitions, she poured the tea into a mug. She sipped, remembered why she never did this, and promptly decanted the tea into the pot holding her moribund Venus flytrap, leaving the leaves behind. After a few minutes of contemplation, they followed the tea.

She then stood up, grabbed the teacup, and hurled it to the ground. It shattered, its fragments spiralling out within the circle that she'd drawn on the floor. Slowly, shadows pooled, forming a well of scintillating darkness, a gap in the connective tissue stabilizing the boundaries of the world.

She felt Cetus clamber on top of her shoe and looked down. "I would be remiss were I not to accompany you," it said. "You should not consult tomes banished from this world without due care, and I would not see you transformed into a newt or your molecules reconfigured into heat, or light, or air."

She bent down, offering her hand to the hamster. It stepped onto her palm and did not, for once, natter on about how nauseauting it was to be lifted into the air. When it alighted onto her shoulder, she gently stroked its head. "Thank you," she said. "My life would be tedious without your incessant commentary."

It nipped her ear. "Indeed."

She plucked her valise from the table top and stepped into the dark.