Freebie Mondays: The Oracle’s Dilemma

Freebie Mondays: The Oracle’s Dilemma

What started as a random picture prompt has now transformed into a serial story. This tale began in The Oracle’s Disk – which was originally meant to stand alone. But shortly after posting it, I wrote The Oracle’s Game. And shortly after posting that, I wrote The Oracle’s Choice. It seems the Faerie Court may have become tangled in the clean-up efforts. But will they succeed?
. . .

“You cannot steal the soul, child. Only it’s memory.”

“But how can tangible markings grave themselves in permanent structure upon an intangible, ever-shifting segment of energy?”

“Foolish child! Are words different when they are written upon paper than when they are written upon sand? And if waves should catch the edges of the form, and drag them back into oblivion, has the meaning really changed? Once written, once read, do words ever really vanish?”

She would not have considered the answer to all these questions to be the same, so she simply did not answer.

“Touching knowledge, is not the same as understanding it. To grasp meaning when its source is no longer in front of you, that is the first step toward true power.”

She had spent several thousand years studying those words, though she had never really come to understand them. The only thing she knew for certain, the only true remnant from that lost and forgotten conversation, was this: one did not have to steal the soul of the universe to control it.

She only needed to access its memories.

And where else would the universe store its memory, if not in its history?

*   *   *

Hard to believe the very nexus of the universe had come to rest in the uppermost floor of an oversized highrise constructed near the edge of the downtown district of a city that wouldn’t be at all memorable if it didn’t house the Oracle’s Sanctuary.

Or pit of doom – depending on how you looked at things.

From this height, the city looked like a toy village, constructed from tiny grey and black building blocks, interspersed with bright splashes of colored light. The people looked like so many ants, frozen in the act of daily living, cluttering the sidewalks and clogging the roadways while they waited for normal reality to resume.

The Faerie wondered briefly if any of them were aware of the disturbance and decided quickly that it didn’t matter.

It had taken far less than a few thousand years for her to grow bored of her task. In all, it had taken about four months.

“They look so helpless with no Fate to guide them,” she muttered, her breath fogging the window through which she had been observing the frozen city. “Like so many dolls, waiting for their master to tuck them away.”

“Please stop being so ostentatious, Phalaena,” a second voice sneered from the center of the room. “I can’t stand it when you get like this.”

Phalaena crumpled her face into a mask of contempt before sticking out her tongue at the reflection of her own expression in the fogging glass. It would be easy to pick a fight at the moment, if only so she would have something to do, but it would hardly be productive. Instead she flicked her fiery curls off of her shoulder and spun to face her companion.

“Have you made any progress yet, Alstroemeria? Time is sooo boring when it isn’t moving forward.”

The other Fae creature paused in her efforts to cast Phalaena an acid glance. Her hair glimmered silver in the eerie purple glow of the room, though its tips shimmered blue as ice. Her eyes were bright purple, though, and managed to summon a unique spark of fire to express her annoyance. “When the Oracle’s power dissipates, the tendrils she created should begin to unravel. At that point, history will begin to correct itself. The veils will be restored, and balance will reassert itself.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Phalaena huffed, folding her arms in front of her chest. She began to tap one foot impatiently. “I meant, have you found a way to wrest control of the tangle from the Oracle’s grip?”

“You know as well as I do, there are only two ways to correct this problem.” Alstroemeria annunciated each word, making them a series of sharp, staccato beats.

Phalaena resisted the urge to growl, instead spinning to glare at the clouds frozen in the darkening sky beyond the tower. Death or discharge. Those were their only forms of recourse. Either the Oracle must agree that she had been foolishly playing with powers well outside her understanding and relinquish control over the forces she had spent the last several thousand years summoning. Or she must die.

“I’m starting to think we should have chosen the more expedient method of dealing with this situation,” she muttered under her breath, then sighed, momentarily blotting out the view through the window.

“Your mother would be rolling in her grave if she heard you talk like that,” Alstroemeria chided, though she had already turned back to her work.

Phalaena stiffened, glad her luxurious curls hid the way the comment made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. “My mother is the entire reason we’re stuck in this mess to begin with,” she snarled. Alstroemeria, of all beings, should have known better than to strike such a nerve. “And if the Court weren’t so fixated on families we could have handled this my way.”

Alstroemeria sighed and cast a somewhat apologetic look in her best friend’s direction. She must be as tense and frustrated as Phalaena if she was allowing it to show. “I hate to be the one to say it, “Phal, but your way often causes more problems than it solves.”

Now Phalaena did growl. She spun away from the window and stalked in a full circle around the massive room before approaching where her friend knelt in the center. “At least we would be doing something. Something other than watching this endless time loop, waiting for an opportunity to arise. The Oracle doesn’t even seem to realize she’s been tricked-“

“Of course she doesn’t realize,” Alstroemeria snapped. “That’s the whole point of the Great Mother’s weaving!”

Phalaena bit the inside of her lip and forced herself to draw three deep breaths before she allowed herself to speak again. “I only meant that I expected there would be more for us to do other than serve as caretakers of a frozen world while we waited for the spell to run its course.” She chose each word with care, forcing a slightly cheerful tone past her lips so that she wouldn’t sound as angry as she felt.

“We haven’t even been at this for a year,” Alstroemeria insisted, holding both palms in front of her as if begging for a moment of peace. “The Great Mother did say it would take time.”

“Time, yes,” Phalaena grumbled, stomping across the room to throw herself in the Oracle’s abandoned couch. “Everything takes time. It will be time to think. That’s what she said. I can’t help thinking she means time to reflect on past mistakes. As if we’re to be punished for something we didn’t even do.”

Alstroemeria drew a deep breath and stuck out her chest, as if bracing to receive a blow. “Listen, Phal, I know you don’t like the Court’s decision-“

“I played the role they wanted me to play,” Phalaena retorted through clenched teeth. “And played it well. Why shouldn’t that be enough?”

After all, it wasn’t the Fae Court that bound her to this mess, though their word was law as far as every creature of Fae was concerned. Her mother was to blame. If she hadn’t gone and shared Fae secrets with the Oracle, none of them would have to deal with this tangle.

Alstroemeria slid to her feet, brushed the dust from her knees and glided across the room to lower herself onto the cushions beside Phalaena. She lifted one delicate, long-fingered hand and placed it on her best friend’s shoulder. “Because even if you could leave this place, where would you go? The only unaffected chunk of reality is the Fae Court, and you know as well as I do that things are hardly any better there. The Court would never have acted if their own situation hadn’t been so dire. You know their own best interests are their top concerns.”

Even among the Fae, their rulers’ tempers were legendary.

“Their hand would have been forced eventually, since one of their own made the critical mistake. Still, I don’t know what anyone expects me to do anymore. I found the key to interrupting the Oracle’s work – and then only because it once belonged to my mother. But they had only the one interaction, which leaves me nothing left to leverage.”

They sat in silence for several minutes, listening to the steady hum of power as it radiated from the center of the room. They might have sat there a small, immeasurable eternity, since time was not actually moving forward. But the Fae’s innate sense of time warned her it had only been a few tangible minutes when Alstroemeria opened her mouth to speak.

“Perhaps we’re going about this all wrong,” she insisted, shaking her head. “The Great Mother would not have set you this task if she did not trust you were equal to it. She would have sent one of the elders, and they would have had no choice but to listen.”

“Perhaps,” Phalaena muttered, but only because she could not speak ill of the Great Mother, without whom none of them would exist.

Alstroemeria squeezed her shoulder. “Perhaps she does, indeed, mean for you to handle this your way. After all, you have never been known to stay idle for long.”

Phalaena grinned, mirth momentarily bubbling free of her chest. But the good humor faded quickly. “I wish it were so, Alstro. But as I have said, I have already exhausted my leverage.”

“Do not be so quick to dismiss the role you are meant to play,” Alstroemeria chided, doing an excellent impression of the Great Mother’s voice. “Perhaps your mother left you more to work with than you realize. Or perhaps all you need to do is trust yourself. After all, you played the Oracle once. Maybe all you need to do is get back into her head.”

“Wouldn’t I love to!” Phalaena barked a laugh. “But if the Oracle refuses to listen to herself, why would she ever listen to me?”

Alstroemeria tilted her head to one side while she considered this, then nodded as if she had come to some sage understanding. “Because the Oracle is set on giving herself a choice, for obvious reasons. You, on the other hand, are under no such obligation.”

Phalaena opened her mouth to respond, but the snappy retort died on the tip of her tongue.

Maybe she had been over thinking all this. And if she was wrong, at least cleaning up her own mess would give her something to do. Something she couldn’t really complain about.

Besides, if memory was the fulcrum of both understanding and control, at least she had something to work with.

“Alstroemeria? You’re a genius!” Phalaena proclaimed. She leaned back, made a grand show of cracking her knuckles in front of her, then leapt to her feet. While her stunned friend was still trying to make sense of what had just happened, she leaned down and planted a light kiss on her pale cheek. Then she vanished in a puff of lavender scented breeze.

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