Yanlin's robes was a cool hue of the sky when it looks like it's about to rain, small crystals stitched on the fabric catching the light just right to make her shimmer while she moved. With her gentle movements, the silk rippled like the skin of a slithering viper, and paired with the acid-green tint of her eyes, she was an intimidating figure to behold.
The Xi Viper oracle - as Yanlin was called - was thought to only be sought out by the bravest. The spirits she called upon were not known for being friendly, and unless it was the Xi Viper herself who called them, they were known to drive people mad. Her talent has traveled more miles than she ever could in a lifetime, and many important names had come to seek her counsel, though some believed they stayed anonymous.
However, due to her fame, it cannot be helped that from time to time, wayward souls would appear on the temple's doorstep and demand her to be the solution to all their problems. Such one was the daughter of Taisu family, who thought that wearing a cloth mask and removing her emblem from around her neck was enough to hide her identity.
Yanlin smiled inwardly as the noblewoman plopped down on the cushion across from her, an ornately carved table in between them that was bare save for a tea set and a row of chimes. She knew exactly who she was just by the colors of her clothes - emerald green, like the lakes their state was known for. This daughter of Taisu was not very wise in her decision-making.
Then again, that was probably the reason she was here in the first place. Yanlin tilted her head innocently and smiled, though she has heard that people found that quite chilling. "What brings you to the mountain, my lady?" she asked almost fondly. She was going to have fun with this one.
The daughter of Taisu sniffed haughtily, making a show of looking at Yanlin down her nose as if she wasn't impressed. "You are the snake lady they speak of?"
Yanlin resisted the urge to scowl, her soft smile still plastered on her face like a porcelain doll even as the insult burned her very bones. Snake lady? Who does this damned woman think she is?
"I go by many names," Yanlin answered softly. "Even that."
The noblewoman huffed, raising her hand to wave it dismissively at her general direction. "I suppose you will do," she said begrudgingly and placed her weight on one side. Yanlin caught this minute movement immediately, her eyes sparkling in delight - the daughter of Taisu before her now was one of dozens, but only one of them was known for a bad leg.
"-wise I would have climbed all the way here for nothing."
The daughter of Taisu had continued talking as Yanlin took a few moments to observe, so she had missed the first half of her statements. No matter, she thought. I'm sure it was nothing important.
"I must thank my lady for traveling such a long way to see this humble oracle," Yanlin said with a slight bow of her head. Such an action was considered rude, as bowing with so little effort was a sign of disrespect. The daughter of Taisu was taken aback when she noticed Yanlin's actions did not match her words, but the oracle did not give her any time to recover.
"It must have been quite the trip for you Lady Wanlou, considering the state of Su is much too far south of here," Yanlin continued with a piercing gaze, her acid-green eyes holding Lady Wanlou's with as much intensity as a predator watching its prey.
"You... you know my name," Lady Wanlou uttered uselessly, her hands suddenly wringing the fabric of her skirts. "How could that be? Someone must have told you! I demand to know who and that you bring them to me for punishment!"
Yanlin tilted her head to the other side, her eyes unblinking and without humor. "Why, the spirits of course." Or did you forget you're talking to an oracle, you half-wit?
Lady Wanlou swallowed hard, struggling to keep her wits about her until she relaxed. Though she still kept a tight hold of her skirts. "The spirits... so they do whisper to you."
Yanlin nodded slowly, her robes slithering about her as she leaned forward. "I know many claim the title oracle, but the spirits that speak to them know nothing, and so they too know nothing."
Lady Wanlou took off her mask, recognizing that keeping it to cover her face held no purpose anymore. "Then you can help me."
"I can," Yanlin said. For a price.
Lady Wanlou parted her lips to speak, but Yanlin raised her palm abruptly and allowed her gaze to dart briefly to the side. There was a view there, overlooking the state of Meng from between the open pillars of her temple. "You are here for your husband," Yanlin said simply.
The noblewoman clamped her lips and her face lit up a bright red. She was too easy to read. "I... I have no husband," Lady Wanlou told her, the haughty woman from a while ago suddenly melting away to reveal a very lonely girl. Yanlin looked back at her and smiled a little wider - sincere now, and quite enjoying the sight.
"Not yet," Yanlin corrected, lowering her hand to rest on the table. With a single finger, she struck her chimes and the twinkling sound echoed ominously within her temple's walls, receding with a hiss reminiscent of a viper lying in wait.
Lady Wanlou's red face turned alight with excitement, her hands flying to her chest in disbelief. "Truly? Do the spirits really say so?"
"Oh I knew it! Father told me I will never find a husband, throwing me aside when my leg didn't quite heal right. He's such a wretched man it's no wonder my brothers hate him," Lady Wanlou ranted, unable to keep her excitement at bay with the hope of possible betrothal. "But tell me, do the spirits say anything else? Can they tell me who he is?"
Yanlin wanted to roll her eyes. They always wanted more.
"You await a soldier in the battle at the borders. Once he returns, your marriage is but inevitable," she answered after a pause.
"Ah, that explains it!" Lady Wanlou concluded. "He is fighting in the war for Juhan, so he has not come for me yet. I'll see to it he knows how upset I have been to wait this long."
"I'm sure he is only just as impatient as you, my lady," Yanlin replied. "That is all I have to offer. I shall now ask for payment."
Lady Wanlou's face fell, and suddenly she was angry. "What? No one told me about paying you anything! This temple is a guide for those who seek - is that not right?"
"That is indeed correct my lady, but surely you know the spirits do not give anything away without a price."
Lady Wanlou visibly bristled - no one, not even the emperor, wished to invoke the wrath of the spirits. "What price?"
Yanlin relaxed her shoulders and demeanor, allowing her robes to flutter about her like writhing serpents in a basket as she moved to lean on the table between them, her lips curling mischievously. "A very simple thing, my lady.
"They want to hear a story."