It had been a month since Serilda had found the ledger in Hugo’s grave. During that time, she had all but shut herself off from the rest of the world. The number of jobs that she was taking with Sabertooth had dropped to almost nothing, and she had cut regular communication with almost everyone. Even Mythal wasn’t hearing from her as much, though Serilda wasn’t even certain if he would notice the change. He had been pushing himself further and further away from her as of late, and she had no idea what to do about that. Heartbreak was starting to dwindle at the back of her mind, and she was finding herself slipping back into the state she had been in the last couple of years before meeting the man.
Which only made her current situation all the worse. Her visit to Colin at the Rune Knight prison in Clover had yielded information she needed, but certainly didn’t want. He had confirmed her fear that the lady she’d arrested in Ace of Spades months ago was, in fact, telling the truth about being Hugo’s lover. Colin has also told her that there was a sect of people that secretly been stealing goods from her family for years to make a profit in the black market, and that he had been thrown to the wolves by that group when they figured out he was going to turn himself in for the acts. To prove it, he had even told her that the people in charge of the operation had slipped some incriminating evidence into Hugo’s coffin before he was lowered, hoping to bury the information along with him.
But now, Serilda had that evidence in her possession. She had spent the last several weeks pouring through the accounting book, which covered a time of several years even before she and Hugo had been married. It listed in great detail what gems had been smuggled out of the mines, at what weight, colors, purities, and how much they had sold for. Millions worth of jewel had been stolen over the years, and everything in the book had been written in Hugo’s handwriting.
Even with all of this in front of her face, she was still having a hard time accepting the truth of it. What if Colin had been lying? There was enough evidence to incriminate him, too -- though he didn’t have much reason to lie, given that he was already in prison. Serilda didn’t know what to believe anymore. Or, more realistically, she didn’t want to believe what was very quickly turning out to be the truth.
She hadn’t told anyone. Not her parents, not even Mythal. This was too much for her to take in and she wanted to be absolutely certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything she’d learned was true before she started telling people and smearing Hugo’s name.
For four weeks she’d poured over the book, reading through every line of expenses. Quite a few things were familiar, lining up with dips in the Sinclair’s business. Losses that Serilda could recall from their end were reflected in gains for this sect of thieves. She needed answers, sure ones. All of this was just not enough for her to believe it.
It was because of this that Serilda found herself in Hosenka. The noblewoman had reached a point of desperation that she was ashamed to admit to. She had looked and asked around for a bit about a wizard capable of the services she needed, and everyone she’d talked to had informed her that this woman she was about to see was the best. The noblewoman stood outside the door to the gypsy’s place of business, a homey little shop called Bohemia. Taking a deep breath, she stepped quietly inside.
The woman wasn’t in the front room, but a little chime had gone off once Serilda entered to alert the owner that her client was there. “I’ll be right there!” came a melodious voice from the back.
“Take your time,” Serilda politely replied, turning to look about the room with an expression of mild discomfort on her face. The shop was beautiful enough, but it was filled with many items of superstitious natures that weirded her out a bit. Crystals, small statuettes and idols, tapestries depicting otherworldly creatures, and heavy velvet drapes of plum decorated the space. There were lots of plants and small fountains, and the air smelled lightly of incense. Music played softly from a place that Serilda couldn’t pinpoint, the sounds of guitars and violin intermingled with flutes and drums.
The sound of beads shifting pulled Serilda’s attention to a doorway that was blocked off with both a bead and fabric curtain. The woman that emerged was a few inches shorter than the noblewoman, with long red locks of hair that draped loosely about her shoulders. Her eyes were a bright amber color, and unafraid to look Serilda directly in the eye. There was a kind and easy smile on her lips, which were touched with red. She had a petite form that was covered by casual but flattering clothing. There were several visible piercings on the girl’s ears, as well as one on her nose, and a tattoo on her left shoulder of a realistic looking skull set on a bed of luscious red roses.
Serilda was a bit stunned by how drop dead gorgeous the woman was. Her look was like nothing the noblewoman had ever seen before, somehow both punk and glamorous at the same time. They appeared to be about the same age. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Lady Serilda. I’m Agatha.” The gypsy bowed to her, a practiced gesture that was evidence that this woman spent plenty of time around nobility.
“Serilda is fine. And it’s no trouble. Thank you for seeing me at such short notice.” Serilda extended a hand to shake, and Agatha accepted it without hesitation.
“Absolutely. It’s my pleasure. Please, come in.” Agatha lead Serilda through the curtains into a room that looked very similar to the front, if a bit more intimate. A low table sat in the middle of the room with several lush and oversized pillows surrounding it for sitting on. In the center of the table was a crystal ball that glimmered in the dim light of the room, and Serilda could see the source of the incense from another smaller table in the corner.
The redhead gestured to the table, inviting her to sit wherever she pleased. As Serilda took a cautious seat on one of the pillows, Agatha asked her, “Would you like anything to drink? I have coffee, tea, water..?”
Serilda shook her head, not entirely comfortable taking anything to drink here. “Thank you, I’m fine.”
Agatha looked at her for a moment, her expression gentle but unreadable. “Listen, Serilda… before we get too far with this… You seem more than a little anxious about all this. I could hear it in your voice when you called. Are you absolutely certain this is something you want to do?”
She was a bit surprised by how forward this woman was about all this, reading her so easily and bringing it up. It caught Serilda off her guard for a moment but she quickly reigned herself back under control. “Yes, I’m sure.”
With a sigh, the gypsy sat down on one of the pillows at the table across from her. Amber eyes met blue ones with a surprising amount of compassion and understanding. Agatha leaned forward a bit on the table, making sure she had Serilda’s attention before softly telling her, “The only people who ask this service of me are the ones that seek answers that they can’t get any other way. I’m not trying to deter you from this course, I just… I need you to understand. The dead cannot hide their true natures, Serilda. Sometimes it’s better if we just let the truth stay in the grave. This experience is rarely, if ever, a comforting one… and the answers you seek might not be the ones that you get.”
Serilda didn’t say anything for a while, sitting in contemplative silence as she returned the woman’s look. Though she wasn’t comfortable here, nor with the knowledge of the type of power this woman could wield, she had to admit that she was starting to see why Agatha came so highly recommended. There was a certain genuineness about her that was hard to mistake, and she clearly cared more about the wellbeing of her patients than making money off of them.
Finally, she replied. “Thank you, Agatha. Truly. But I need to do this. The answers I get here will effect more than just my own life, and for better or worse… if I don’t get some sort of conclusion to all this I think it will drive me mad for the rest of my life.”
It felt like forever that Agatha looked back at her, searching her eyes before nodding softly. “Alright, then. Did you bring what I asked?”
“Yes.” Serilda set a small pack on the table and opened it, carefully drawing out a few articles of clothing. It appeared to be workman’s clothes. They were dirty and worn, and had a frightening amount of blood stained on them. Carefully, she slid the folded pile toward Agatha, who handled them with a gentle care that did not go unnoticed by the noblewoman. “These were my husband’s clothes that he wore while working in the mines. He wore these almost every day for nearly a decade, and it was what he was wearing when he died.”
She was having a difficult time not getting a bit choked up over the memory. It had been hard enough to handle the clothes, which she hadn’t touched since his funeral five years prior. Talking about it was harder, even if it was just vaguely mentioning it.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Agatha said softly. “These should be more than enough. I just want to take a minute before we get started to explain this process to you, so you understand what’s going on as it happens.” After Serilda nodded her agreement, the gypsy went on. “Our souls all have a unique makeup to them, like a fingerprint if you will, that’s connected to our DNA. The more attached a person was to an item in life, or the more they touched or handled it, the stronger a spiritual imprint is left on that item from them. Items such as this, which also bear the weight of heavy emotional imprints from trauma, are especially well connected to the spirit that once used it. By attuning myself to his clothes, I can essentially call to him through the beyond and draw him here in an ethereal form.”
“If you are one who is skeptical of things like this, I suggest you consider asking a personal question that only he would know the answer to. It’s for this reason that I don’t ask for much information beforehand, to ensure that my clients understand they really are speaking with a lost loved one -- which is hard for some to grasp, even those who believe in such things.” It was a subtle way for Agatha to admit her guess that Serilda was a bit skittish or skeptical about things like this. “I must be here to keep the spell and the connection active. I will do my best to stay as uninvolved as I can, but whatever information is said between you I will be witness to. Is that okay?”
Serilda wasn’t terribly thrilled about that, but she expected as much. This wasn’t exactly the type of magic that one could just cast and walk away from. She smiled weakly. “I understand. Thank you for forewarning me.”
Agatha nodded. “Are you ready?”
The gypsy reached over to a small table next to her and picked up a bowl that was placed there. Inside the bowl were several ingredients: herbs, vials of liquids, small bones, and a few other unidentifiable things. Serilda watched as Agatha ground the herbs and bones together with a mortar and pedestal, mixing them in the bowl together with some of the liquids -- one of which looked frighteningly like blood. Then, she procured a knife from seemingly nowhere; it was a small instrument, but with an ornately crafted pewter handle that gave it a very ritualistic feel. With it, she cut out a small square of each piece of clothing Serilda had brought her, carefully making her incisions in the spots where the cloths had been saturated with his blood.
These small squares were also deposited into the bowl on top of all the other ingredients. Using the pedestal from the mortar, Agatha carefully mixed everything together until it was all saturated as one. Then, she pulled out a box of matches. Withdrawing one from the box, she pressed it again the striker and paused, giving Serilda one final look and request for approval, one final chance to change her mind. Serilda nodded her permission.
Agatha struck the match and lit it. “Et per ignota, quam mortem, ad te voco mortalium orbem terrarum. Spiritus audierit nomen tuum, et responde meae.” She dropped the match into the bowl and the ingredients within lit on fire immediately. Smoke wafted up from it into the room, more than might seem normal from such a small amount of kindling. It was blue in color, and Agatha continued to murmur chants in an ancient language under her breath as she used her hands and her magic to coax more and more of the mist into the room until it had created a foggy film that covered the whole ceiling.
“Call him,” she told the Voidwalker, her voice sounding aware but distant.
“H-Hugo..?” Serilda asked tentatively.
“He will not come if you lack the conviction,” Agatha said, not unkindly.
Serilda understood. She needed to truly want to speak with him, her desire needing to be greater than the elements that bound him to the beyond. With a gentle breath to steady herself she tried again, this time with more confidence. “Hugo. I need to speak with you.”
There was a brief pause before the smoke in the ceiling seemed to pulsate. Suddenly it began to swirl together and funnel down to a single point in the room where it took on a humanoid shape. A very large man stood there. He was well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a mass of muscles from a lifetime of hard manual labor. His hair was a bit on the shaggy side, but neatly so, and he had a thick beard that ran the length of his jaw from one sideburn to the other. There was a mixture of annoyance and confusion in his dark eyes as he glanced down at his ethereal form.
“What the hell is going on here?” he asked, though not loudly or with any great amount of anger. Bewilderment was leading his emotions currently, but that would soon change. Hugo looked around until his eyes fell on the white haired woman sitting there across from him. He frowned. “Seri?”
Serilda had been too busy struggling with her violent emotions to do anything up until this point. She was still afraid of the conversation to come, but at the same time seeing him before her again -- even if in a smokey form -- made her heart feel light. Fighting back tears, she smiled up at him. “Hey baby…”
In an instant, all of her happiness came crashing down around her. Hugo stared at her for a moment before groaning and rubbing his temples. “You have got to be kidding me. What do you want now?”
It was a tone he’d never taken with her before, certainly a side of him that was completely different from the gentle, thoughtful man she’d married. A small seed of dread began to spread within her. Serilda tried to squash it down. “We need to talk,” she told him.
“Don’t you think you talk to me more than enough as it is?” he asked her. “Gods, it’s bad enough that for five freaking years, every single time you go to my grave I get filled in with all your life updates and revelations. Now you’re actually going out of your way to summon me to talk back to you?”
“Whatever. What do you want already?”
She could hardly believe what she was hearing. Serilda was absolutely stunned, to the point where she couldn’t even feel anguish or betrayal over his behavior at first. Finally, she pulled the ledger out of her pack and dropped it on the table without saying a word. All she did was stare at him and wait for him to respond.
Hugo blinked at it for a second before recognition crossed his face. “Ah, fuck,” he muttered, knowing where this conversation was about to go and acting like he’d quite literally prefer to go back to hell rather than entertain this discussion. “Let me guess: Colin?”
The way he said Colin’s name with such derision stirred the beginnings of anger within her. “Yes.”
He chuckled darkly, crossing his arms. “Always knew that idiot was going to ruin things for everyone someday. Did he finally work up the balls to tell you how he feels about you, too?”
There was a smirk on his face that Serilda didn’t like. It took a moment for the indignation to form in her, as she started to accept that everything she’d been denying up until this point was true. “What is wrong with you?” she finally asked him. “Colin was your best friend, why are you being so cruel?”
“Colin was a coward,” Hugo retorted, snorting with amusement. “And whipped by a woman that barely even knew he existed.”
That remark stung deep. “So everything he told me was true, then? This is real?” Serilda tapped on the ledger. “All that time we were together, you were stealing from my family? Using me to work around our business?”
How easily and shamelessly he answered the question! It was like he was bored by the conversation, or worse amused by her wrenching frustration over it. “Were you cheating on me, too?” she finally asked, tears building up in her eyes because she already knew what the answer was going to be. “With that woman that has requip magic?”
His smirk deepened. “Well, if you want to be technical, I was cheating on her with you… but she agreed to everything before it happened, so it didn’t really count. You weren’t that great of a mistress anyway.”
“So how is my woman, then? I assume you actually met her, since you know what magic she uses. Did you two fight? I’ll bet that was a sight.” Hugo’s eyes glistened with something akin to arousal as he thought about it.
Serilda was disgusted, shock setting in once more. Was this really the man she had married? Is this who he truly was? “Did you even care about me at all?” she finally asked, her voice little more than a whisper. There was no point in asking if he had ever loved her, because there was no denying that he didn’t, but surely he had at least felt something for her over all those years.
Hugo raised a brow at her. “Why would I have ever cared about you?” he asked her slowly, enunciating each word carefully so it would sink in. “You know for a woman that was so highly educated, you really were so naive. You were so caught up in your happy little bubble that you were absolutely oblivious to everything going on around you. Do you know how many times you came close to uncovering everything? But you never did, because all it took was one mild explanation from me and you just filled in the blanks yourself. It’s astounding how blindly trusting you were. And gods, don’t get me started on your personality. Always so straight laced and uptight. Easily the most boring sex I’d ever had in my life, that’s for sure -- though you were willing enough, I’ll give you that.”
A feeling of violation shivered down her body as he smirked at her then, seeing her more like an object than a wife or even a person. She turned away as silent tears finally began to leak down her cheeks, and Serilda struggled desperately to keep all the emotions inside of her that were doing their utmost to explode and make her lose her cool. “The truth hurts, doesn’t it?” Hugo asked, finding enjoyment in seeing her crumble. “Trust me, my dear... No one will ever care about you or the stick in your ass.”
“You’re wrong,” Serilda spat at him, her voice low and quivering from the mixture of rage and heartbreak consuming her.
“Oh yeah?” he asked, raising a brow. “Then how are things going with that guy you keep talking to me about?”
Her heart may as well have stopped. Instinct would have her deny his accusation, but recent events kept her from speaking. He was right. Things between her and Mythal had not been good lately. The slayer had been pushing her away, rejecting her advances, distancing himself from her… She had been denying it all this time, coming up with excuses for him like she had with Hugo, but the truth of it now hit her with full clarity: For whatever reason, not even Mythal wanted her anymore.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, stunned by his words, before she ultimately stood up. Throwing money on the table, Serilda snatched the ledger. “Keep the change,” she murmured to Agatha before turning and bolting for the door.
Agatha was already dispelling the magic, Hugo’s laugh fading as the smoke disappeared and his spirit returned to the afterlife. “Serilda, wait!” the gypsy called after her, worry and concern etching over her features. The redhead was also crying, horrified by the exchange she’d just witnessed, but by the time she got up to chase after the woman Serilda was already long gone.