It was hard to tell whether the man accepted Byron’s lies, for men like him had faces chiselled with intent to deceive. “No less than the Oracle herself,” he replied. “She does not take well to rivals encroaching upon her territory and would like to see young Aliza removed at the earliest opportunity.”
Byron had heard of the so-called prophecy, whose words had marred Emily’s first day in Avalon, but knew better than to believe it the work of a genuine Oracle. “Are you certain?” he asked. “I, myself, have crossed paths with her daughters and have seen not the slightest taint of aggression in their attitudes. They treat Emily as they would a sister.”
“Perhaps you should be more mindful of their motives. These seers can be wily individuals, and their spells as potent as any we might carry. That you have entered their presence is itself”—he paused, the slightest tilt of the head betraying a moment of contemplation—”concerning. For all I know, they may well have already devoured your soul and replaced it with some monstrous mimicry of one, ready, willing and able to act on their behalf.”
Were he a lesser man, Byron might have caved beneath the pressure — but years of performance, both before rowdy crowds of drunken hecklers and underworld businessmen intent on intimidating him away from his wares, had steeled his nerves in preparation for confrontations such as this. “I can assure you otherwise,” he replied. “As you yourself said, we are on the same side.”
“But not the same page. If you are as honest as you say, then show me your blessing. It surely would not shine for one whose ambitions are not in line with our benefactor’s.”
As if to prove his point, the man tugged at his cravat and opened his shirt, revealing a pristine blue star of magic at rest upon his flawless beige skin.
Without a tremor of nerves, Byron opened his own to reveal the single shard of alchemium he kept hanging from a chain around his neck.
“I admire your effort,” said the man, reaching for his magic with a smile smug with certain victory, “but I am afraid it wasn’t enough.”
You will serve me, said the voice. You will bring me Aliza Adel!
I would rather not, Byron replied, before thrusting an alchemium blade through the insipid fiend’s shoulder. The shock that followed was enough to neutralise all but the most potent of humanoid synthetics.
“I am afraid I do not fall for the same trick twice,” said Byron, kneeling to take the man’s crystal for himself.
Doyle nudged the unconscious body with his boot. “What we gonna do with him?” he asked.
Byron could not restrain a smirk of gleeful delight. “Why, after all his heinous slander regarding her supposed plans to slaughter Emily, I thought we might introduce him to the Oracle.”
Unlike Dante and Emily, Byron doesn’t capitalise ‘alchemium’. Truly, I am an editor’s nightmare.