When I was young, before bitterness had tainted me, my mother would buy puzzles for us to put together. Small wooden chips were carved in a way that they only fit in a certain pattern. Most of them were painted so as to make the finish project easier to visualize. Scenes of gardens, oceans, and cities designed to be shattered and put together again. My father would even help every once in a while, though he often would antagonize me more than aid. Whenever a stray sound or whim pulled my attention away, he'd hide one of the pieces, and would only give it back when I reached the end of the puzzle and found that one black void amidst the color. He had said there was a lesson behind it all, one that I would only learn when I got older. Eventually, I did.
Don't trust a creator. Their restoration came only after the hardest parts of life had already been pieced together.
The bones reminded me of one such puzzle, though I did not dare to move them about. To the untrained, impatient eye they were little more than carved totems, fetishes to the spirits of the past. It required a mind sharpened like a blade to peel away the truths hidden beneath the surface. To do that, I needed grind a mental whetstone against the unnecessary distractions of the psyche.
First, I began to regulate my breathing. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. The cycle of life patterned in the rising and falling of my chest. This monotony would become the foundation of my meditative state, the physical act while I focused myself on a mental clarity in which true enlightenment could be achieved. Most days, I allowed my mindscape to be a collage, a bombardment of information that I tried to process throughout the passing trials. Now, however, I sought a blank canvas on which a single portrait would be cast. I focused on the bones in front of me, unmoving save for the periodical blink. I allowed myself this mortal habit, for now.
Efah had described much of individual pieces already, which was helpful to visualize their individual roles in the pattern. No discussion was had yet, though, on the entire collection together so I sought to draw my own answers out of the casting. At this time, that I was all I thought bone reading to be: the projection of your own interpretations drawn from your determination of what the patron would want to hear.
The rib and "womb" piece were the two most center pieces, which most likely meant it was central to the pattern. An unfortunate result, I thought to myself; I would've much preferred good fortune or uncovered knowledge over any reminder of a parent that failed me. Nevertheless, it required consideration given that the other bones seemed to orbit this pair.
The twin eyes had fallen closer to the left half of the circle while the yet unidentified bone shard that represented the mind settled closer to the center. I couldn't fathom what its placement might mean in the full picture, though it was higher than the three vertebrae that had formed an arched spine in the lower right quadrant. Perhaps, in that sequence, it could represent the brain atop the back. As for the other dozen or so bones scattered about, I hadn't a clue to their role. Efah had passed out before they had been read and they were too indistinguishable. They were probably chips broken off larger bones that the reader knew by sight but the casual reader wouldn't understand. The key, I realized, were the runes themselves. That, sadly, was not a language I could decipher.
Noise reached my ears from the alleyway behind me, but I forced myself to stayed focused. A pair of voices, men passing through to the next street over. I smiled to myself when all sign of them faded into the distance; no chance to steal my pieces when I looked away this time, father.
The next break passed by with little change in my understanding of the board. It did prove, however, an important test to quell the distractions of a clear mind. The most frequent, and the one I had the most success in combating, was the wandering mind. Whenever I felt thoughts creep in, I focused my gaze on a single piece, visualizing and memorizing the pattern until the other thoughts would pass. My bladder and hunger proved much more difficult to ignore. Perhaps, given time, I could come to push those aside as well, but no to-trial. By the time Efah came to, my stomach had begun to ache from its emptiness. My body cried in my head for relief. The bone reader proved a timely distraction.
Somehow, the woman found the strength to push herself up into a seating position. "What did you see?" she asked before a fit of coughing wracked her feeble frame.
I stood up and moved away from the board. There was a small table in the space that constituted as the kitchen where a pitcher of water. Digging through a pile of dishes until I found a cup, I poured the woman a glass and carried it to her. She accepted it in shaky hands, but she was still strong enough to sip from it herself. I backed away while she recovered. No need for me to loom over her.
"Thank you, child, for sticking around. Not every person would have." She sat the cup down on the end table beside the bed, a far off look in her eyes. "In a room full of bones, the sight of a dying woman can be even more frightening to some." She sighed, placing her hands in her lap. Her Tangle bled with the dull blue of sadness; I didn't need to see the full thread to know its source. "Would you like me to finish your reading. The stone can actually be picked up off the table, so I could read it from here just as easily."
I shook my head, holding a palm up to dismiss the offer. This woman had only been conscious for a few bits; the last thing she needed to do was strain herself further. Plus, I had spent long enough looking at the pattern already. I had grown to-trial, perhaps not in the ways I would've thought initially, but growth none the less.
Efah studied me for a moment. "Perhaps a parting gift, then. Bring a single piece over to me and I'll teach you the truths of the runes etched on them. Then, its yours to keep. As a reminder."
I glanced over my shoulder at the board, a budding question forming in the back of my mind. The woman offered a secret beyond what most men would ever learn. It was a gift, but also a test. A lot could still be discerned from the choice I make. I was about to cast a single bone and this woman would read the tale behind it. Power. I could only think of a single option. The most important piece on that entire board.
Moving over, I picked up the rib piece, breaking the touch with the womb, and carried it back to Efah.
And then I listened as she instructed the runes that had been carved into me.
-1 GN for Reading