48: The Oracle and the Oligarch
Byron brushed aside her fringe and cupped her cheek in his hand. Teasing her lip with his thumb, he felt her breaths, hot and moist, heaving with an insatiable intent. Without a word, she prised apart his shirt and pressed her nails into his chest. Leaning forward, she traced her lips across his cheek and whispered into his ear, “I need you.”
As she sat up and pulled herself free of her dress, revealing her impossible figure in all its heavenly glory, he realised this was all he ever wanted, all he ever dreamed of: this one, fleeting moment outside of time and space and pain and regret, this instant between heartbeats where all was one and one was all and nothing, not the world nor anyone in it, not past nor future nor life nor death, had meaning or consequence. For this one, infinitesimal infinity, he was in Paradise.
Her lips kissed his chest, and she smiled. “Surrender yourself to me,” she said, tracing a path down his stomach. “Give me all that you are, Brian.”
Brian! It struck like lightning, a blinding jumble of noise and colour, a scream across the aeons. Scenes flashed through his mind’s eye, momentary recollections of people and places he had never known and never seen, names from a world lost and forgotten—and a woman’s face, etched into his memory of memories, her smile a vicious curl and her eyes like twin gleams of twilight, filled with a voracious vanity. The Queen of Queens. The Mother of Saviours. Kore…!
Not like this…
Byron jumped to his feet, seeing now the viper before him for whom—what—she really was. His body ached, his groin yearned, but his mind was sure and his conscience clear.
“You are not my beloved,” he said. “And, sweet as it was, all this is but a dream. Your dream, Lady Matriarch.”
All around, the fabricated simulacra of the farmland he once called home began to crumble and rot, peeling away to reveal another world beneath it, a cavernous cathedral where canals of crystalline water intersected with weaving veins of neon blue light to form a grand mandala around a blazing rend in reality, a single shaft of light piercing its midsection to the ground.
And there, where once had sat the illusion of Aliza Adel in all her naked allure, stood a figure unlike any Byron had seen before. She was to an Oracle what an Oracle was to her daughters, a figure three steps removed from humankind, her bare flesh a cold platinum and her hair a cloak of optic fibres, ends aglow with a rainbow of colours. Across her brow, a diadem adorned with a crest of seven stars framed her furious, white-hot eyes. When she spoke, she spoke with both a quiet whisper and a screaming rage.
“Who are you who dares reject me?”
Byron clutched his hat to his chest and bowed. “Byron d’Arcadie,” he said, “poet laureate and wandering minstrel, of little importance but great of influence. I am honoured to make your acquaintance.”
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