Chapter 25Mature

Every night in Valhalla stores and businesses closed down as the sun set. Colorful awnings were taken down in the market place, and the inviting tapestries of the storefronts were turned over to display a closed sign. Tourists and citizens dissipated from the market, into the safety of their homes.

 Night clubs, and sketchy bars opened their doors to a new sort of cliental. Vermin. The night time in Valhalla was reserved for crooks and illegal rings, it was not a time to be caught wandering.

"Do you know why the night time here has become infamous for crime as of late?" Rayna asked conversationally as the pair ventured toward the Shark's Paw for patrol. 

Sparrow shrugged.

Rayna grinned knowingly behind the Iron mask. "The town has finally found a way to cut corners by dispelling night guards in exchange for mechanics that function better in the daytime then at night."

"Solar robotics?"

Rayna nodded. 

" Why so ignorant?"

"Crazed is more like it. This technology is revolutionary as far as the mayor is concerned. We were primitive before the robots. Industry and revenue  in Valhalla has more than quadrupled in the last decade since the release of the first prototype. With those sort of statistics, people tend ignore the semantics, or question flaws."

"And you believe the mayor is on this band wagon?"

 "He's practically driving it. And why not? He's filthy rich from this scam. Besides, if it werent for the mess and evidence in the early mornings, the crimes would  go unnoticed. The only people wandering these streets at night are travelers passing through, or bottom feeders. People who won't be missed."

Sparrow glanced at her feet. "Where do we fall in that sentiment?"

Rayna turned her deer hide knife over in her palm. The light of the full moon bounced off the newly polished blade, illuminating the mysterious runes. She made a point to ignore the question. 

Sparrow cleared her throat "Either way somebody should warn the citizens that they're being fooled, that they're taxes are funding corrupt government policies, that they're-"

"Being robbed?" Rayna injected.

Sparrow froze before changing the subject."The oracle is in town," she  said pointing to a small white canvas tent across from the Shark's Maw. Dark silhouettes contrasted  as a flame flickered from the inside. "We should go in," She suggested, with a childlike smile.

Rayna shook her head. "We're here for business not tourist traps."

The girl's face fell. "Much respect Captain, but don't you think  we could use the guidance of a higher power right now?"

Before Rayna could respond, the flaps to the white tent were thrown open. A gypsy with bright billowing skirts, and equally vibrant head scarves stepped into view. "Don't sneer at me woman, there are worse ways one can make a living, and shouldn't you know?" The old soothsayer infered.

Rayna felt heat raising in her cheeks. She crossed the alleyway to confront the woman, before her loud mouth gave her away. "How can you see me behind this mask?"

The oracle laughed. " I have three eyes, but only the third works for me anymore."
Rayna simply stared. The Oracle turned her back and beckoned for them to follow. "Come on now, while I'm still young." The elder woman  hobbled  into the tent.

Sparrow all but ran to the tent. Rayna hesitantly  followed. Lavender candles were set up on various surfaces inside the Spacious canvas. The aroma was pleasant. Shelves contained old books, and tiny viles etched in runes. Rayna suppressed a groan, though not entirely surprised. The runes seemed to accompany  her like a shadow these days. 

A small bed was stationed in one corner , covered in animal pelt, with a cedar chest at the foot of it, and a round table took up residence in the center of the tent. On the table sat a clean knife with emeralds embedded into a gold hilt. 

"Have a seat." The oracle's voice was none to gentle.

Rayna's response was clipped. "I'd rather stand."

Sparrow busied herself with the viles and old books, while the Oracle starred daggers at Rayna. "Very well, but as you stand erect, so does your shadow."

Rayna glanced at the canvas wall, sure enough her silhouette was prominent to any nosy onlookers. Without a word, she pulled out a chair for herself. The oracle took a seat adjacent to her. "Do you care to remove your mask?"

Rayna  shook her head. 

The Oracle muttered something under her breath before responding. "Very well, lets make this quick then. Give me your hand."

- "No."

The oracle took it anyway. She hastily pulled off a glove, without activating the switch claws. Rayna uncurled her fist as the woman placed her palm on hers. Oddly enough, she felt at ease, as if holding hands with gypsies was nothing new to her.

  The Oracle closed her eyes, and hummed softy to herself as she deliberated. "I sense a great darkness in your life though the circumstances are unclear."

Rayna pulled her hand back. "So much for having the third eye."

Sparrow gasped, and poked her head out from behind one of the various shelves. "Captain you can't talk to the oracle  like that, she's believed to be a  phrophet of the Gods!

Rayna reached for her glove."Not a belief I share." 

"Ah yes, the little viking believes in very little these days. Anyway, my senses are urging me to ask about this journal you took on your wedding night"

Sparrow dropped a vile she had been holding. Its contents spilled on the ground.

"Careful." The old lady warned. "Some of those liquids have irreversible consequences."

Sparrow nodded, and wiped a shaky hand on her tunic.

Rayna redirected her attention to the woman. "I thought you had to be holding my hand..." She let her voice trail, she wasn't about to feed into this nonsense with any preconceived notions on how she thought the process of soothsaying worked.

"The hand holding is for my benefit," the oracle admitted. "After what seems like eons of being alone, you begin to crave human contact. Like a drug." She focused her gaze. "Since you seem hell bent on criticizing everything I do and say, let's try another method." She walked over to the shelf Sparrow was looking over. She chose the vile  whose rune was a slanted "F".

Rayna straightened. "What is that?"

The oracle sat back down. "Sweet dreams. This potion will show you things about yourself, better than I could possibly explain. Take before bed, and after two fortnights come see me again."

 Rayna crossed her arms. No way in hell was she going to drink anything the oracle offered.
The old lady ignored Rayna's indifference. She unscrewed the cap to the vile, unleashing a pungent odor.  "The only thing missing are your tears." She held the vile up to the corner of Rayna's eye, the container grazing the iron mask.

 Rayna scooted her chair back. "It's too bad I don't have tear ducts," she bluffed.

The oracle loomed over Rayna. She picked the knife up from the table, and grabbed Rayna's hand. In a swift motion she sliced her palm. A shallow cut, only deep enough to draw blood. It was enough to make Rayns curse and jump out of her chair.

"Blood works as an alternative." The Oracle scrapped the few droplets of blood from the blade into the vile. She replaced the cap, and smiled up at Rayna as if she hasn't just cut her.
Rayna's chest heaved as she considered the consequences of murdering a prophetess.

"For five coins this potion can help you see your future more clearly, and reach-"

Rayna knocked the chair back. "You dare charge me for something I don't want, something made from my own blood!"

Sparrow crossed over to the table. She bowed at the Oracle. "Thank you for your hospitality your graciousness. I believe my captain wishes to leave now." Sparrow, ever the mediator, extended her hand towards the Oracle. 

A minute later they were headed in the direction of the catacomb, completely writing off their patrol duties. They walked in silence for awhile before Sparrow sighed in exasperation. "You're married," she stated in awe.

It was a subject Rayna was hoping to avoid entirely. "Technically."

Sparrow began to frett. Rayna quickly intervened to dismiss the subject. "This is not a matter that you can question me on. It's not something you can discuss with anyone else, not even the quartermaster. Do you understand?"

Sparrow nodded quickly.

"It's best you just forget that you heard that."

Sparrow nodded again. "Of course. And captain, I know you don't want to, but here," she reached in her pocket and produced the tiny vile that now contained Rayna's blood. "It might benefit us all, if you can glimpse the future. We'd be better prepared for when we do leave Valhalla."

Rayna smirked. "You stole from your lovely prophetess?"

Sparrow smiled in return. The effect made her appear even younger than her seventeen  years. "So, you'll take it?"

Rayna shook her head. "I admire your courage for taking the vile, but I'm not taking anything from that cursed woman."

"Blasphemy!" Sparrow cried.

Rayna ignored her and quickened her pace, leaving the girl to pout over her beloved prophetess. 

A minute later Rayna heard a strangled cry coming from behind her. Quickly, Rayna ran towards Sparrow. She was being held up by a drunk with a knife, while his partner began to search Sparrow, with eager hands. "Lets see what the pretty little fille has on her." Sparrow kicked and twisted against her captor. 

Something inside of Rayna ticked. She triggered the talons on her gloves, as she crossed over to the men, without any other plan than to cause them harm.

She swatted at the  man handling Sparrow. He cried in agony, as her talons pierced and raked over his face. He fell to his knees. The man with the knife didn't miss a beat. "Iron Vikng, save me!" He mocked in a drunken stupor. His knife pressed deeper into Sparrow's kneck. Rayna froze, one wrong move and she'd get the girl killed.

"This your bitch viking?"

Rayna said nothing, and he turned his gaze back to Sparrow. "Come on little Fille, why would you want a puny little man like that, when you can have a real man, right here, right now?"

Rayna blanched. Never had she had to worry over anyone but herself. "What do you want?"

The man held up two fingers. "I want yer woman, but first I want yer mask off, so I can see your face when I take her."

Tears pooled in Sparrow's eyes. Her hands fidgeted with the vile in her pocket. The vile that supposedly contained glimpses of Rayna's future. She dropped the vile, and kicked it over towards Rayna.

The man caught sight of the gesture. Rayna stared, bewildered. Had Sparrow meant for her to use it as a bargaining chip, or for Rayna to run with the potion?  Anger overcame Rayna, when she figured Sparrow's intention to be the later motive. How could Sparrow expect her to just leave ?

"Leave it!" The drunk ordered. "Take the mask off, or  I'll gut her like a fish."

Rayna's hand felt for the clasp at her mask, she unhinged it, and removed it from her face, she pushed the hood away. 

The man simply stared, before erupting into a wheezy fit of laughter.  Even his partner, doubled over in pain, delighted in the Viking's true identity. For that they would both die.
He fidgeted with the knife. "Well look at this," he gave a low appreciative whistle. "Come here." He pointed to a spot in front of him. "Come here and kneel, before me bitch. Or I kill your little friend."

Rayna forced her legs to move, she hadnt gotten too far, when a new idea struck her. She glanced at Sparrow, and took note of the way she was angled towards the man. She turned her wrist so the mask would soar  like a flying disk before she launched it into the air. And it did. It quickly found its mark and knocked the man out stone cold.

Rayna retrieved her mask and the vile. She unsheathed the machete from her knee high boot.
 The man's  partner cried out, begged for mercy, as if he knew what fate now awaited him. And Rayna was merciful. She killed him first, in a single clean swipe of her blade, that severed his head almost effortlessly. She killed the other man in a similar fashion. Sparrow knelt between the bodies.

Rayna wiped the sword on her the shirt under her cloak. "What are you doing?"

"Praying for their souls."
What souls? Rayna thought as she sheathed the machete. "Pray quicker, we have to leave before somebody sees us."

With a solemn nod, Sparrow stood up. They proceeded towards the catacomb in complete silence. 

The End

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