Content notes: this includes allusions to some of the most awful stuff in the Addergoole ‘verse, but mostly in passing.
She was living in a cabin in the swamp.
It suited her; away from people she saw less, felt less. Also, she was still a fur-taker, would always be one, and that was a trade best plied alone. A man came once a month – he took the furs and skins and things, and brought her food and clothing and such.
Today was not that day. She grew a little fuzzy on the passage of time, true, but the moon had been full when he’d come last, and it was only a half-moon now. And yet there was a boat bumping against her dock.
The fur-taker threw on pants and her favorite shirt, soft and worn, the cuffs stained, but so comfortable. She had fancy clothes, but she did not dress fancy for uninvited guests.
She was “decent” enough by the time the delicate knock came at her door, and flung said door open with a dramatic woosh.
There was a woman standing on the fur-taker’s porch. She was dressed tidily, expensively, in a smooth dress that was just a little too sleek to be fashionable. She had, the fur-taker noted with approval, put on thick boots in defiance of fashion and deference to sense. Beyond her, a man waited in a sturdy row-boat.
She was, the fur-taker noted, a beautiful woman, blonde, clear-skinned, with a firm set to her chin and an equally determined set to her shoulders. She cleared her throat. “Are you the one they call the Skin-Taker?”
The fur-taker waited. This was her home. It was not up to her to identify herself first.
The woman coughed twice. “My name is Regine; I am called the Lady of the Lake.”
Nobody the fur-taker had heard of. But she’d done the proper thing, so she got a nod. “I’m the Skin-Taker.” This seemed like a social visit; she hesitated and added, “my father named me Chantal.”
“‘Stony’ and ‘song’.” The woman nodded. “They say that your name fits you.”
The fur-taker smiled sharply. She had shaped her teeth to points, herbivorous Change be damned. “Both names do.” To the woman’s credit, she didn’t flinch. “Come in, if you mean me and mine no harm.”
“I mean you no harm at all.” The woman took the invitation and stepped into the fur-taker’s cabin. “I come simply to consult. They say you are the best seer that has ever been.”
The fur-taker nodded her head. “That has been said.”
“I come to commission a seeing from you.”
Chantal closed her eyes. “They come at a high price.” Out here, she did not have to touch people, to see the future. Out here, there were only the small futures of deer and weasels and other such things.
“The price to not knowing is so much higher.” The woman’s voice broke. Chantal opened her eyes to surprise a brief moment of vulnerability on her visitor’s face. Not a Grigori, then, despite the loveliness. They were never vulnerable. “I have brought… some things. And I will send more with your man every month for ten years, if you perform a seeing for me.” She pulled a parcel from her bag; the smell of cheese wafted to Chantal’s nose. And – she sniffed deeply – yes, gunpowder and… cardamom. And as the woman opened the package, she saw salt and the glint of steel: one steel knife, and a new pistol, the style strange to her eyes.
She nodded crisply. “This is a good price,” she agreed. Her mouth was watering; it had been some time since she’d tasted cheese like that. “I will need to touch you.”
Some cringed at that. She was not particularly clean, living in the swamp, and she looked dirtier than she actually was. This woman put out her lily-white hand without hesitation.
Chandra closed her eyes and took the hand. Images flashed through her mind, pushing, forcing their way out. She gasped, forcing herself not to release the other woman’s hand. “The end will come,” she was singing now, always singing. “Those gone will come. The stars will come; children will come.” She shook her head, clearing the song. “It is coming, Lady of the Lake. The fire.”
“Yes. And after?”
After. “After?” The question prompted new images. “Death comes hard and slow, scours high and low. Rips the life away, steals the child away.” Again, she shook her head like a cat, clearing the images. “It will be hard. There may not be many left at all.”
“And if I go through with my plan?”
Plan? Again, the images pushed at Chantal. She opened her mouth, but nothing but a moan came out. She tried again. “So many sad children. Dead children, crying children, broken children.”
“And the rest?” The woman’s voice was implacable, unshakable.
Chantal’s vision cleared. She opened her eyes, confused, unhappy, but at the same time… “They thrive. The world ends, and they strive. The cities fall; they’re alive. The fires burn – they survive.” She spoke no more.
She didn’t need to. The woman nodded, sadly, it seemed. “Then I will do it. Thank you, Skin-Taker. Your payments will come as promised.”
Chantal waited until the woman had left, until the boat was out of sight. She picked from the package of payment a small bottle of scotch. Square and heavy, it did not seem to suit the woman who had just been here.
But at the moment, it suited Chantal just fine. She drank, sips at first and then gulps, until the sight of the sobbing, bloody girl had been scrubbed from her mind.
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