“Never thought I’d get to meet an Oracle in person,” said Doyle as they passed beneath the archway. “This is proper intense.”
Stepping into the Oracle’s domain, Byron felt a coolness wash over him, a breeze tinged with the shock of a winter’s morning so in contrast to the usual underground humidity that he thought himself stepping from one world into another. As he entered the temple proper, he had to run through the usual techniques just to make sure he hadn’t.
“Man, this can’t be real,” said Doyle, his eyes wide with wonderment at the sight before them, where a pool of liquid crystal stretched out beneath a velvet sky that twinkled with the chimes of a thousand stars. At its far end, a plinth rose from the waters, its summit shrouded behind a curtain of delicate silk. “This another one of their magic tricks?”
“Perhaps,” said Byron, though his training suggested otherwise. Mystical as they claimed to be, Oracles were no strangers to the power of modern technology, and many a magical tale owed its truth to the smoke and mirrors of science. “First impressions are vital, after all.”
“Indeed they are,” said a voice, soft as a lover’s whisper yet strong as a valkyrie’s war cry. “Be thankful yours met with my approval.”
With the slightest of rustles, the curtains parted, revealing a figure of such beauty no poem nor verse nor simile nor metaphor could do her justice. Momentarily speechless for perhaps the first time in his life, Byron clutched his hat to his chest and bowed his head.
“Lady Jadwiga,” he said, “it is an honour.”
He chanced the briefest of glances in her direction, like a child daring himself to peek at the sun. Her image burned itself into his retinas. Taller than expected, with flesh that shimmered like a precious metal, she had around her shoulders a cloak of silver hair and but the slightest of translucent cloths to conceal her modesty. As she stepped into the pool, the waters rippled with a gentle song.
“You are a long way from home, Byron d’Arcadie,” she said.
“And not through choice, I fear,” he replied, keeping his gaze locked to the waters and the Oracle’s distorted reflection, lest her gaze freeze the blood in his veins and turn all his muscles into stone. Reaching into his waistcoat pocket, he produced the magic crystal and held it out in open palms. “This magic has brought a curse upon my friend, yet its secrets elude me. I wish only to understand—”
Before he realised she had crossed the lake, he felt her fingers against his own, slipping into the cup of his hands like water into a bowl. “Ketos,” she said, and as she did so her voice dropped in tone, shifting to the low pitch of a mind in trance, a consciousness existing both here and there, in matter and aether both. “Through this she means to acquire a girl by the name of Aliza Adel.”
Unlike Ketos, that name struck a chord of familiarity.
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If this was a Dante scene, he would have spelt the Oracle’s name ‘Yadveega’. Byron, however, is somewhat more versed in these things.