This is my curse: I will tell you your future, but you won’t believe me.
My apartment was tiny, which was why the trainer’s sharp knock sounded like a volcano erupting through my front door.
He was short and round and gruff, and he made no attempts at polite introductions. “You’re that prophet chick, yeah?” His voice was no surprise, shattered and coarse.
I had never been addressed so informally as a temple prophet, but it didn’t bother me anymore. No purpose was served in trying to be friendly and I much preferred speed over formality these days.
I nodded and told him my fee, which was low enough to be acceptable and high enough to keep me fed.
He pulled his tongue over his teeth, sucking them as he considered my offer. “Right,” he said at last. “You see this boy here? I want to know if he’ll win.”
Following his quick jerk of a gesture, I saw that a boy slouched against the wall not too far down my hall. He wore a dark green hoodie that hung loosely around him. I didn’t need to be a seer to know what strength lay just beneath the dark folds.
I held out my hand to him and after a moment, he pushed away from the wall and took it. Heavy calluses coated the skin of his palms and the pads of his fingers. These were warriors hands, but the little smile he flashed me held nothing of the battle rage inside it.
“I’m Troy,” he said. His eyes were an endless mosaic of emerald and earth.
“Kassandra,” I said and though I tried not to smile, I felt the edges of my lips rise.
With my eyes closed, I listened and his future came to me on the back of a snake’s whisper. I heard them speak of blood and death and pain, but also of victory.
“He will win,” I said to the trainer and saw in his frown that he would not believe me. But when my prophecy came to pass, he would remember and he would tell his friends and they would come seeking my council. It was always this way.
I took his money and I closed the door.
I didn’t expect to see him again, but I was glad to find Troy at my door on the day after his match. His smile was small and uncertain beneath black and purple bruises. They made a strangely beautiful pair on his face.
He’d won, of course, and his victory had been replayed on all the major channels. Arena matches always made good news, but his was exceptional because he was seventeen and unlikely.
“Wondering who your new trainer might be?” I asked. The news channels had also covered the trainer’s lack of confidence in such an excellent fighter with glee. He’d lost everything betting on the other guy. Troy was in the market and probably drowning in prestigious offers.
He grinned as much as his bruises allowed. “Not exactly. I was wondering if you’d like to get dinner with me.” His eyes narrowed suddenly. “Or did you know that already?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I couldn’t remember the last time someone knocked on my door without asking for the future.
“It doesn’t work quite like that,” I answered honestly. Somewhere behind me, wind chimes sang lightly from my little third story balcony. The breeze that teased the song from them tickled my chin and I said, “Yes, I would love to.”
“Be quiet and wait here.” I pulled a comb through my hair and straightened the creases of my dress.
“You won’t even know I’m here,” he said, kissing the palm of my hand and falling back on the bed.
The woman at my door was small with age. All of her seemed to bed toward the ground, her mouth was a sour, orange peel of a pout. She thrust out her fist full of cash with a little grunt.
“I must know,” she said in a voice that had lost all consistency and was as flimsy as maple syrup. “Will my granddaughter survive the trip?”
I took her hand and waited for the snakes in my ears to share their secrets. They spoke of darkness and elation and of an illness too great to defeat.
“No,” I said. “Please, believe me, she will not survive.”
The news of her death came two weeks later. I sat on the couch with my legs draped across Troy’s lap. The air was thick with the scent of rosemary and roast chicken because Troy had decided we should try being domestic for the evening.
But the little girl had gone with her father on the hike to the top of Mount Atlas and had mistakenly eaten the poison berry that grows in those cold woods. The reporter called it a tragedy before cutting to footage of the grandmother with the orange peel mouth sobbing into a kerchief.
“Why don’t they believe you?” Troy asked sounding distressed.
I gave the only answer I could, knowing that no matter how he might love me, it would be the same for him as it had been for my mother and my father and my two sisters. “They can’t.”
“Tell me my future, Kay,” Troy said into my ear. He tugged the lobe through his teeth and planted a kiss on my neck.
I laughed and turned in his arms so that my nose brushed over his. Tracing the three grooved scars that traveled down his left cheek, I frowned at the knowledge that he would once again enter the arena, this time to face a man twice his age and size.
“You know I won’t.” I said. “No futures.”
He brought his hands to my cheeks. “I will believe you. I promise.”
I still refused, but as he slept that night, I wove my fingers through his and listened to the snakes in my ears. They told me that he would make a choice, that in the end he would chose to let his opponent live and this would be his death.
And I wept knowing that he would die because he was kind, and I wept because I would make him break his promise to me.
When he woke, I said, “Troy, you must let him live in the end. Don’t kill him,” knowing that he would be unable to do as I said because of my curse and instead, he would kill the man who would have killed him.
He smelled like leather and soap when he leaned down to kiss me with a smile on his lips. “As you say, my lady prophet.”
The stands were filled to the top. I sat in the middle of them, my heart louder than all the screaming spectators could ever be.
The fight was brutal and long, which always pleased the arena keepers. Soon, blood shone on the dusty ground and on the metal of swords and shields. The smell of popcorn in the air made me sick.
And then Troy had knocked his opponent to the ground. Dust hung in the air around his feet as he crouched over the man to see if he lived. I waited to see his sword rise for the killing blow, but he lifted his gaze instead and found me in the middle of a thousand raging fans. It seemed that he smiled then, with his mosaic eyes on mine, and then he stood.
The world was a lion’s roar when I realized he’d kept his promise.
The world was a distant hum when I realized what that meant.
And the world was silent when the sword split his skin and slid into his heart.
Check back on Friday for fiction from Valerie!
Welcome to Tangled Fiction, where three YA writers collaborate to complete one story!
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one TF writer will post a piece of the same story. Each of us will be responsible for one beginning, middle, and end in a single month. The fourth week will be full of surprises, we're sure, and we'll share them with you when we know what they are.