Thursday, February 10, 2011

Little Betriz

Keisa looked up and down the cramped little alleyway. Looming, leaning rooftops made the "street" seem more like a tunnel. If she reached out both of her arms at once, she could touch the buildings on either side of it. The bright sun overhead seemed to mock her; this bitter little end to Cheap Street was swathed in darkness. She turned around and leaned against the wall waiting for the signal.

Najat nodded. All clear; nobody was watching. Keisa turned and ran the last few yars to the rickity, age-silvered wooden door, darted through it, and closed it behind her quickly. She caught her breath and turned around.

"Hello!" said a cheerful voice. An eight or nine year old girl with her hair in dark pigtails was standing just a few feet away inside the house. Keisa could see her lacy white dress. It was adorable. The little girl stepped forward and smiled, a tiny crack of sunlight making its way through the overhanging roofs, through the crack above the door, to shine on her face. Keisa gasped. The girl's eyes were dead black. Shark eyes.

"You're all alone," the little girl said, frowning suddenly and looking around in confusion. "How are you going to pay?" With a flick of her wrist, the girl was suddenly armed with a glittering straight razor nearly a foot long. She stepped closer to Keisa...

At the end of a tiny, cluttered and filthy excuse for a street deep in Porto Liure's colorfully named Soddens district there's a tiny little shack that sees a lot more traffic than you would expect. This shack is the home of Little Betriz.

Be careful who you ask about Little Betriz. Sure, she's part of Porto Liure's folklore, and if all you want to do is hear titillating stories about hauntings, possessions, and the work of the devil, it's a harmless enough subject, and the locals will probably warm up to it. If you actually are trying to find Little Betriz's shack, nestled as it is in the winding maze of unmarked alleys, cramped "streets" that are barely wide enough to walk single file, dead ends and abandoned, ancient houses that even the rats seem to eschew as not suitable for them to raise their families, be prepared to come up against surly silence. Be prepared to be jumped later by those you asked, and if you're lucky coming away with the beating of a lifetime. Otherwise, be prepared to be murdered before you can do worse yourself. Even in a town as free and as morally rudderless as Porto Liure, people know better than to associate with Little Betriz, and know enough to discourage anyone else from doing so using the strongest means possible.

Nevertheless, Little Betriz manages to get a steady stream of visitors slipping in during the dead of night, usually. Little Betriz is the foremost oracle in the entire Terrasan territory and even beyond, and her readings are reputed to have saved (and toppled) entire kingdoms, recovered (or hidden) vast fortunes, and meant life or death to thousands of individuals. Little Betriz is so named because she is a little girl, with a pretty little white dress and dark curly hair in ringlets or pigtails. Despite her appearance, she is not human, however, and she's said by many to be the daughter of Chernavog himself, or some other god or devil. The oldest grandmothers and grandfathers remember hearing stories of Little Betriz, or even catching furtive glimpses of her from their own childhoods. Nobody remembers how or when she came to Porto Liure, but she's been here at least a hundred years, and hasn't aged a day. Her glittering, solid black eyes are extremely unnerving, and her habits are even moreso. Her tiny shack is barely larger than an outhouse, and there's no room for her to sleep or even lie down comfortably. All stories report that she is standing when seen.

While her oracular divinitions are reputed to be without fault, they are not without price. To make a divination, she disembowels a victim, usually a captive or slave brought by the person requesting the divination. Plunging her soft little hands into the steaming entrails of the moaning, dying victim, she reads the future until the lights in the eyes of the victim fade. She always requires that the body be left with her; some stories report that she immediately begins to devour it, and doesn't stop until every scrap is consumed, even the bones, with the exception of the skulls, which line the back wall of Betriz's shack like morbid tiling.

Other gossips will refute this, but all accounts agree that the floor and walls of Betriz's shack are covered with layer upon layer of caked and dried blood, and the place reeks of death and decay.

Occasionally someone will get it into their minds that Little Betriz is a menace, a daemon, and that she needs to be forcefully removed. Soldiers, zealots guardsmen, once even an entire squadron of witch hunters have marched into the Soddens to remove her once and for all. None have returned alive, and their skulls (presumably ) line the walls of Betriz's little shack like her other victims. What exactly Little Betriz really is, and what her purpose in telling fortunes in the glistening coils of someone's guts is completely unknown and unknowable, but nobody in Porto Liure doubts the fact that she's really there, and that she can provide as advertised, the best, most accurate, most pertinent divinations in the entire Mezzovian Sea region.

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