Orphic Phantasia

48: The Oracle and the Oligarch

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Despite his politesse, her glare lost none of its fury. “And did Aliza Adel send you here, Byron d’Arcadie? Are you another of her hopeless suitors, beholden to her every whim?”

Byron removed the pipe from his pocket and struck a match to life. “Far be it for me to correct your great wisdom, Lady Matriarch,” he said, plunging the flame into his pipe and drawing a deep breath, “but I am here of my own volition. There are things I wish to know, and who better to ask than she who stands at the very roots of Paradise.”

Her hard, metallic frown of displeasure did not so much as twitch in response to his compliments. “Poor boy,” she said. “Your love for her has blinded you to her true ambitions, and to your place within them.”

“On the contrary, I know well her desires, for I was there when she rose from the underground and took the name Emily Fomalhaut to escape her past. I saw then the pain she had to endure, the loss and the tragedy, the burdens she carried upon shoulders ready to buckle and break, and I did my utmost to help her attain the life she desires—a normal, peaceful life bereft of drama and free from hurt. You, however, would deprive her of that, and I wish to know why. Not so that I can stop you—unless, of course, you give me no other choice—but so that we can reach a compromise.”

The Matriarch narrowed her eyes. “You would seek to barter with me?”

“Though I find my passions in poetry, I am, by trade, a salesman, and I am confident we can reach a mutually beneficial arrangement. For example, I would ask that you give up your pursuit of my friend, and we, in turn, shall see that your operations here remain respectfully anonymous.”

“Unacceptable. I cannot allow Aliza Adel her freedom. However, should she surrender herself to me, I shall see that her life here is a pleasant one. Assist me in this, and I shall grant you your desires as well.”

Byron suppressed his urge to grin and made to stroke his stubble in an act of contemplation. He had to make the most of this. Every word was vital. “This would not be the first time I have heard such a promise,” he said. “Ketos also promises great rewards for Aliza’s surrender. Unless, of course, you are one and the same?”

He knew from the scowl that crept across her face that they were not. “Ketos is a witch and a fiend,” she replied, holding her tone even as her expression betrayed her loathing. “I would never lower myself to her level.”

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Well, that sure complicates things…