"Ah, the Chariot—that suggests a journey, of course, a path still in motion. Whatever road you're traveling, the wheels haven't stopped turning, yet. A little bit of unpredictability there, too—you ever tried steering a chariot? Bloody difficult, that, or maybe the horse was just particularly dickish."
"Was that before, or—?"
Molly shakes his head, glancing away from Yasha back to the card on the table. "No, this was...maybe a year back? Ten months? Something like that. We'd headed further south, near out of the Empire, and I'd, ah, cozied up to this rich fuck in town—a decent fuck, too, now that I think of it—but the sort to always show off. Fancy linens, aged wine, shit like that. Guess he'd done a stint with the Righteous Brand in his youth and held onto the chariot as a point of pride. Easy money that most of the stories he told about it were bullshit, but—" he flashes Yasha his familiar selling-a-mark smile, one she's seen often enough in small town taverns, candlelit while he's going through the fortuneteller routine, "—I was willing to indulge him. Indulged him in other ways, too, but that was to both our benefits."
"That sounds like you."
"Shamelessly." His smile stays easy, but Yasha knows the mask goes several layers deep. Even in front of her, sometimes, even with all she knows of him. Painted expressions stacked up like blanket furs on a cold Xhorhasian night. "Besides," Molly says, tracing out the purple-inked patterns on the back of the deck, "everything before is still—not even a blur so much as a blank. Maybe I did take a turn with a chariot back then. Maybe I was a bloody rich noble myself, or some distant prince, or a war criminal. Doesn't change matters now."
Yasha frowns a little, weighs the pain of her own past against the first time Zuala braided her hair back and pressed a kiss to the skin below her ear. "You really believe that?"
"Surer than I believe most anything else. Whoever had this body before wasn't me, and all I know about him is that he won himself a shallow grave at an early age. Whatever loose ends he's left behind, to hell with them. I want no part of his story." He thumbs the edge of the deck, shaking some of the stiffness from his expression as he does. "Anyway, whose fortune are we meant to be discussing here? I thought we were learning more about you, my dear, not me."
Yasha tilts her head in concession as Molly pulls the next card. She hadn't meant to push—gods know she wouldn't want such attention paid to her own history.
"The Anvil, is it?" He lays the card face-up on the table, slides it forward until it's centered next to the Chariot. "An interesting combination."
"Not sure I like the sound of that."
"Interesting doesn't have to mean anything bad, Yasha dear. In this case, it's more about the flexibility of the interpretation. I quite like the Anvil, myself—it's one of those cards that goes more than one way."
"I can see why you like it then."
Molly flashes her a wicked-edged grin before turning back to the card. "For some, the Anvil refers to the thing itself—someone steadfast, unbroken, helping to shape matters without undergoing much change themselves. Make sense? Others, though, are the metal on its surface, white-hot and still being forged, shaped towards some future purpose. Taken with the Chariot, I'm inclined to go with the latter. Movement, change, metal being hammered into its form."
He pulls the last of the three, turning it over where it sits next to the other two.
"The Shadow?" Yasha asks, reading the script upside-down. The words sit below the outline of a humanoid shape with a black ink cloud underneath, a silhouette with ill-defined edges that has the feel of something breathing.
"That suggests something you're dwelling on, something hanging over your head—often it's a matter from the past, though it could be something internal, or some combination of the two. The Shadow has a presence, and so whatever it represents is something stuck to your heels. Much like—well, like a shadow."
Yasha thinks of Zuala again, but this time of her lost grave, of the snow-white flowers she'd gathered in the morning and pressed between the pages of a book along with her other collected petals. Blood the color of crushed red tulips.
"Now, what does this mean in terms of the others? Possibly that this shadow of yours is somehow steering the journey—" he taps the wheels of the Chariot card, "—or that you're on a path to confront it, being shaped and strengthened along the way," he indicates the hammer at rest on the anvil's surface. When he looks up, he registers the slight frown she's wearing, the crease in her brow like a wrinkle running through fabric. "You alright, Yasha? You don't look altogether pleased."
She shifts a little in her chair, feet feeling restless under the table. "I don't like—not being in control. Or that I'm being shaped by decisions not my own."
Molly leans forward a bit and lowers his voice, conspiratorial. "Now—not that I'd ever admit it to someone who's paid good coin for my talents, but—you know I can't actually tell the future, right?" He taps the back of the deck with his knuckles. "What comes up on the cards isn't meant to be a guarantee so much as a guideline. Something to speak to your subconscious, to open you up to other possibilities." He pulls one at random and holds it up, the Silver Dragon's scales turning gold under the lamplight. Whether it's the flicker of the flame or the way Molly's twisting the card between his fingers, the image seems to waver and shift, the lightning-blue eyes of the dragon going from open to closed and back again. "But any interpretation is flexible, so let's look at these another way."
He sets aside the Silver Dragon and slides the Chariot forward. "The Chariot can often mean unpredictability, representing a gods-guided horse taking you where they will, but it doesn't have to be. If the hand on the reins is firm and steady, then you're the one in charge, steering yourself as you like."
Pushes the Anvil up until it's in line with the Chariot. "As for the Anvil, I'm still inclined to see you as the ore upon it, but no reason to say you aren't also the smith holding the hammer. You're being forged, sure, but you get to decide the mold, get to guide the metal as you wish."
Last, he shifts the Shadow. "Now, some see the Shadow as something ominous, following them whether they wish it or not, but it doesn't have to be quite so malevolent. The Shadow stays with you, but it can't harm you any more than your own shadow can. It's a reminder but not a threat, it's a companion that's neither friend nor enemy. It doesn't demand anything from you, but it is there until the time comes that you're ready to acknowledge it." He glances back up at her, his grin a little softer around the edges, a little less toothed. "Does that set your mind at ease?"
Yasha tries out a smile of her own. "It helps."
Molly nods but doesn't put the cards away, leaving them out on the table for Yasha to thumb through. Even though there's something more soothing in the grays of the Chariot and the Anvil, she finds herself drawn back to the Shadow, all sharp lines bled out in ink. Turns it over in her hands and imagines Zuala's silhouette in the shape of it, breathing and smiling beneath the black.