Orphic Phantasia

48: The Oracle and the Oligarch

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“All my life I have served as vessel to a woman I never truly knew,” she said. “For all that time, I believed her guardian of Bolventor and guiding spirit to its people. Now, thanks to you and your friends, I know she is anything but that, and that I am just a disposable tool she will one day discard in favour of another.

“And you fear one of your daughters may become such a replacement,” said Byron. It certainly fit with what he knew of Oracles and their offspring. “I am not sure how I can help you with this dilemma, however. I wager you would have more luck asking Seelie for sanctuary. Asylum, even.”

The Oracle shook her head. “If it were so simple, I would have already sent them away, but there is no telling how far my mother’s influence might reach. No, the only way we can be sure—the only way my daughters can be free—is to destroy her, body and spirit in kind.”

“I see.” Byron’s fingers twitched by his pipe, his lungs eager for the soothing embrace of the herb, its warmth and reassurance. “But I fear you overestimate my abilities. Swift with sword I may be, but the magics required to slay a soul are far beyond my meagre experience. I fear the moment my blade strikes a fatal blow, she will simply cast her essence to anoth—” He stopped, realising at once what the Oracle was proposing—and why she had neglected to include her own freedom in her plea.

“Yes,” her voice, heavy as it was with sadness and regret, held at least a sparkle of hope, a faint smile for the daughters she loved enough to die for, “she will undoubtedly claim this body as her own. I will ensure it is the last thing she ever does.”

Were Byron the sort of hero that people clamoured for, a self-proclaimed saviour of souls such as the Princess Phantasia Caelestis, he would not have agreed with such a plan. Byron d’Arcadie, however, was not a hero, and he knew that every victory against tyranny and oppression required an equal and opposite sacrifice. “Still,” he said, “I am no assassin. This blade”—he gestured to the alchemium pendant beneath his shirt—”I carry for self-defence, not slaughter, and finding my way into your mother’s presence would require infiltration skills even a vagrant minstrel such as myself could not muster. Again, I feel you would have more success taking your request to Seelie. This is a task for an officer, not an initiate.”

“And I would agree with you, were it not for two things I believe shall give you a significant advantage over my mother. First of all,” she reached up and unfastened the chain around her neck, releasing herself from the mind-manipulating powers of Ketos, “this magic shall shield you from her eyes.”

She placed the crystal into his open hand and, as she did so, Byron realised, as if by instinct, how to work its powers. “And the second thing?” he asked, wondering if the Oracle would once again assign one of her daughters to his side.

“An ally,” she said, pointing to the shoreline, and the figure that waited for him there.

Chapter 48 End

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I guess it’s time I started drawing this episode’s plot threads together…

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