Here is a story segment covering some of the events after The Boiling Earth, Chapter III: The Scouring of Prospect Peak. It takes place just after Steve passes out in his motel room’s bed from pain and fatigue at just having had his midsection sewed back into one piece on a tile floor then cleaned up, dragged to a bed and put down to rest.
* * * * *
Sighing heavily, Linda slipped over to the sink. The pale and sickly woman stared at her haggard and blood-begrimed self there and shook her head. The cut on her cheek was still bleeding, and blood had run out from under its soaked bandage to befoul the neck of her jumpsuit. Some had gotten in her hair as well. Stitches for herself after all, then. She cleaned off her hook-shaped needle and suture thread then cleaned the wound out once more and placed some antiseptic in it. Then, she went to work, finally sewing the nasty cut closed with quick yet careful motions. Yes, it hurt. No, she didn’t want to deaden the pain with anything that would dull her alertness for now. Pain was in her nature anyhow, so she decided to just suck it up.
That done, she cleaned and put away her tools then assiduously washed her hands before shedding her bloody jumpsuit and the body armor underneath it. The jumpsuit went into the sink to soak, and Steve’s pants joined it. both suits of body armor got draped over the back of the nearby chair and she quickly wiped the blood residue off of the stain-resistant polymer that made it up. Her water-resistant duster was easily cleaned as well. Cleaning the jumpsuit and pants would take a bit more doing, and Steve’s rugged jacket looked likely to be a total loss due to how badly it had been ripped. The tired woman reminded herself to ask Odysseus whether he knew of any especially quick, easy ways to break down dried blood stains, and how to repair the special material of those body armor suits.
Linda silently padded to Steve’s bedside wearing nothing but her underthings to check on him again, then mentally berated herself for hovering like a deranged mother hen. No, she had to let him rest. That was what he needed. What she herself needed was a shower, a good wash of her hair and to go get a stiff drink. An intact man would be nice too, but she’d settle for the drink.
First things first: the bottle of cheap anesthetic that Steve had passed out hanging on to went on to the nightstand next to a carton of orange juice. She rearranged his things so that they’d be in easy reach and carefully pulled his 150-year old coach gun out of her duffel. She could practically hear the weapon’s indignant sputtering at her having subjected it to captivity in the bag, and worst of all she had left it unloaded but she didn’t much care. In a matter of moments she had popped the weapon’s barrels down and slid a pair of fresh shells into place, then snapped the action closed again and set it down on the bed within arm’s reach of her wounded charge. Just in case. She patted the cherry wood stock and the gun seemed a whole lot happier where it was at least.
That done, she finished stripping down and climbed into the shower. She was not one of those women that would routinely spend a half hour under running water. That was for when she was really depressed. Today she was angry and bitter. So instead she was in, cleaned up and back out as fast as she could possible manage. The blood in her hair took some doing, but she knew how to manage that. Any abused woman did.
She emerged from the bathroom, toweled off and made sure that Steve was okay (or as close as he could be for being a casual push from the brink of death). They spoke briefly and he instructed her to get him a bite to eat and then to reconnect with Amrita. He’d be okay so long as he had the TV, food, booze, OJ and something to do with his hands while he was laid up. All of that arranged for, she set out the door.
* * * * *
She clambered into her vehicle and rummaged through her duffel for a few moments, and her fingers found a case. This was not what it was looking for, but something told her that it was what she was supposed to find. Her long-fingered hand drew the case out and saw the mystic symbols on the exterior. The Tarot deck she had acquired at Overwatch HQ. She looked over the sigils and she pondered.
Her mind went back to the sigils she saw on Prospect’s slopes. Pretanic Keys. The names of the Urges and Excrescences. Almost unbidden, a Key came into her mind. LThGG, the key of Lethargg the Urge-Wyrm of Apathy, whose Maeljin was Thurifuge the Lord of Disease, and whose associated Bane-Totem was the Whippoorwill, who in turn was the patron of the Black Spiral Dancers, the tribe of Linda’s birth. The Urge that the Order had proclaimed to be hers upon her own initiation.
Linda thought for a moment, and decided it was time to recenter herself. She needed guidance, and badly. She needed to look past the rational, for it was an irrational world that she was living in. In a flicking movement, she knelt on the van’s grubby floor facing rearward, using the bench seat for a table and drawing her cards from the case. She had not performed many readings with this deck, and it was so different from the decks with which she had first learned, but its arcane symbology felt so right despite its unfamiliarity.
As she shuffled, she tried to open herself up. Not to the thing that lived inside her corrupt and broken soul, but to the Beyond. To the wisdom of the higher worlds. To Truth. Her eyes going out of focus, she dealt the cards into the spread with which she was most conversant. The Celtic Cross. It came to mind that to be Celtic was to be Pretanic, and so this was potentially a most auspicious choice.
Refocusing her eyes, she looked at her spread at last. Her seeker card, representing the present status of the querent, came up with Page of Primordialism, reversed. This was the Caul, a corrupted womb issuing from a tumbled goblet and containing an entrapped figure. Reversed, it meant deception, an obstacle… but also stood for possession. There were no doubts in her mind that this would be a true reading, for there could be no better choice for her present existence.
The card of conflict… The Lovers, reversed. Separation, repulsion, disharmony. From what, precisely? Was it about herself from her tribe, or from the Gaian Garou, or even from her daughter? She did not know, but the cards should shed further light as the reading went on.
The basis of the recent past: Six of Pattern. Philanthropy. The figure of a man giving coins with the mark of Pattern to a beggar, making himself his brother’s keeper out of a desire to uplift. And it was a Pattern card too, which has technological implications… Devin. Yes, her own recent past had come about largely because of Devin’s kindness and efforts to help her.
The more distant past: The Ace of Pattern, which stood for prosperity, production and success. Bringing order out of chaos. Linda was a bit mystified at that card’s relationship to her own messy, chaotic and impoverished life. It had to relate to some outside force or event influencing the present. Something about those technomancers maybe? Or the Feldings? She had just about decided to move on and see if anything else shed more light on what that card was doing there, when a thought came to her: Stretching from the recent past to the more distant, there were both cards of Pattern. Devin’s actions were part of a larger Pattern also. One that he attributed to having observed his own father many years prior, at his own Chantry. Pandora’s Box. The Chantry that Ashton had been so essential to. As had Matthew. She had met Matthew at the bustling nightclub that was the face that the Box showed to the world, and his own skill at bringing order out of Linda’s chaotic feelings had been what ultimately turned Linda against the Black Spiral Dancers, and had left her a nightmarish, subhuman thing. This card had to represent the Box, even though that once prosperous Chantry was now a parking lot.
Next, she looked to the card that represented the immediate future: The Five of Questing, which was Strife. A battle of wills even in the face of common cause, and obstacles and competition coming from those who should be one’s friends. She thought over the events of the past couple of days and months, and the nature of the Garou Nation as well as the magical community, and she simply shook her head. Yes, occasionally even tarot of all things had a gift for stating the obvious.
But she was getting ahead of herself. No, she needed to contemplate the matter of the crowning card, the best possible outcome of the matter of the conflict and separation represented elsewhere by the inverted Lovers. The Nine of Pattern: Gain. This card had many associations, but in this context it had to be unification for the separation of the Lovers or restoration of the damaged balance. A surprisingly hopeful card, given the huge obstacles and her own largely hopeless circumstances. Hope was what was at the bottom of Pandora’s Box, but in order to find the hope, one first had to pass through the host of plagues. Through Strife, she thought as she glanced back towards the Five of Questing.
But how to reach this outcome? And what concerns within herself might be factors either help or hindering it? According to the inverted Eight of Dynamism, the answer was freedom or release from captivity. This related back to several earlier cards, especially the Seeker’s inverted Page or the inverted Lovers that reflected the core conflict. Her own desire for a release from the nightmare of existence might be what this was getting at, or perhaps her near obsession with finding and freeing her daughter. She remembered then that this had to be her own internal concerns: the imprisonment from which freedom had to be sought was self imposed. From despair. From hopelessness. From… Misery.
Outside influences were at work, of course, possibly friends or society’s effect. The reversed Nine of Dynamism made it clear that this influence was no friend to her, even if those through whom this influence came meant to be friends, for it was Despair. Suspicion, doubt, shame or imprisonment were writ large on this card. This connected back to the Lovers again, and to Dynamism Eight. Did this card represent Jez and the malefic outside influence that the Misery Bane had over her? Or could it be the despairing doubts of the Garou, who were perennially so suspicious of one another, and had such good reason to be suspicious of her personally? No. Though Jez was a being from outside, she and Linda were now one in a horrible codependent mess… her presence had to connect to all of this for she was after all Misery, but this card was not about Jez as such. It was the War. The War of Apocalypse that the Garou fought. The Ascension War that some Tradition Mages still fought against all comers in their bid for the future of reality. The war that they fought amongst themselves out of foolishness, suspicion and doubt. They had imprisoned themselves in their own losing conflicts, and Wyrm and Weaver were more than happy to exploit this fact. This was a frightening card, and one that left Linda feeling very small, alone and threatened.
Then, a card that she had been dreading to look at: the card bearing her hopes, fears and desires. The Queen of Primordialism, also called Barabbi. The terrible white-maned Nephandic beauty on the card sat enthroned in her flowing black dress, toasting Linda with her uplifted goblet. This card was ominous and perverse, but it represented imagination, drawing new identity and new life from the unconscious. Stepping out of old ways to express a new being without blame or judgment on oneself. She certainly dreaded the prospect of becoming like the regal woman on the card… but she also knew that this card need not only be about succumbing to darkness, but could be about drawing on deep and unutterable truths to step out of herself into a new and better identity. For a moment, she hoped that this might be what the card meant in this context, but she also feared the pain, danger and improbability of attempting such a transformation. Linda had been able to make a deal with Jez, once before when Steve and both of them were threatened with annihilation, and the Bane had remade her into a vastly more formidable being. Could this card be about herself taking in the Bane, embracing it and making it her servant and weapon rather than her hated destroyer to be locked away and hidden from? She tried hard to deny that she desired such a thing, to be able to draw on the power that the spirit granted her in order to obtain her other desires, and to resolve the separation of The Lovers. Staring into the eyes of the Queen of Primordialism, Linda knew better, though she could not face such a potent and unspoken truth just now.
In sum total of the entire reading, its final outcome, she looked upon the last card and shuddered. The King of Primordialism. Of the cards of the Primordial court, only the Knight was absent from this reading. Only the card of direct action. This suit represented the element of water, and ancient, deep and powerfully primal truth but could also represent the Nephandi and corruption… and the sum total of the reading was this suit’s King. This reading was potent, raw and deep in its implications. The Primordial King sat on his throne in his watery realm, which was the sea of the subconscious, reigning over the world of insensate life as the master of creation and destruction alike. The wellspring from which all sprang, and to which it might return if sufficient action was not taken. But action was missing! Her eyes fell upon Strife again before looking hard at the King once more. This card was Power. Emotional commitment and responsibility, but with room for both generosity and cruelty.
Looking back and forth between the Gilledian figure on this card and the robed authority on the Nine of Pattern that sat in the position of crowning the reading, Linda shivered. She would need to ponder and meditate further if she were to make sense of this amidst her emotional and mental turmoil. She lifted her smartphone and engaged its camera function, snapping a couple pictures of this reading to preserve it. Perhaps she would share this reading with somebody else that had deeper insight or perhaps greater objectivity than herself. Understanding what the cards were trying to tell her so forcefully felt dreadfully urgent and important, but she was just too emotionally exhausted, and she had promised Steve that she would check on Amrita.
Yes, the cards could wait just a little longer. Linda had a phone call to make.