Oracle. It was an ancient word, one that had survived catastrophe and cataclysm, high tides and higher tragedies, the purging of populations and the burning of books to fan the flames of records revised, refined and revolutionised. In the long lost depths of the world’s tumultuous history, it referred to a woman who dispersed the wisdom of gods omniscient and unseen. In the modern world, however, in the age where soul and spirit, aether and afterlife were to science no more a mystery than neurons and neutrons, and the gods ready, willing and able to make themselves manifest, Oracles had come to channel a very different power. Chained to an ancestral spirit, an amalgamation of past lives that one could trace back to the highest heights of the Seven Cities, their insight rivalled that of those supposed gods, proving, once more, that humanity’s hubris had no limits in its relentless march to usurp the Maker from Its throne.
It was perhaps a touch ironic, then, that Oracles had no choice but to hide themselves away behind an indecipherable web of misdirection, lest they themselves fall victim to those who would, in turn, usurp them. Those like the man Byron now held hostage, wrists bound in alchemium chains, his veneer of Malkuthian privilege melting away beneath a sheen of nervous sweat.
Doyle, sitting guard next to him, sipped at his beverage. “You sure this’ll work, Ron?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” Byron replied. “No one ever finds an Oracle. Rather, it is the Oracle that finds you. Isn’t that right, my fearful friend?”
The nameless employee of the Fortunate Isles said nothing. He only broke his silence for the slightest of squeals when a man bearing the entwined serpents of the Oracle across his chest stepped into the bar and approached their table.
“You are Byron d’Arcadie,” said the eunuch.
“Word travels fast.”
“Your request was not unexpected. My Lady, the Akashvani of Avalon, Jadwiga Järvi, awaits your company. I am your escort.”
How they managed to reach her temple, Byron did not know. One moment he was rising from his table, ready to leave, and the next he was standing before an archway in a sea-green cavern thick with the humid breath of the underground. The more he tried to grasp at his fading recollections of catacombs and corridors, the more they wove together, until they knotted themselves into an indecipherable möbius strip of a map that proceeded to leak from his brain like the fickle visions that followed ill-grown weed. Standing next to him, still grasping the alchemium chain of their prisoner’s leash, Doyle looked about ready to upend his stomach over the cavern floor.
The eunuch gestured towards the archway, where two of his contemporaries stood guard. “My Lady awaits you,” he said.
“And I would hate to keep her waiting,” said Byron, and turned to his companions, “Shall we?”
The man from the Fortunate Isles remained silent, his body rigid as a corpse and almost as pale. Even his eyes had taken on death’s glassy sheen.
‘Akashvani’ is a Sanskrit term. It refers to a gift, or message, from the heavens (or one that delivers such a thing). Here, it’s the official term for oracles.