Freebie Mondays: The Oracle’s Ambition

Freebie Mondays: The Oracle’s Ambition

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. That was, of course, followed by The Oracle’s Dilemma.

It took some time for the next portion of the story to manifest, but here it is in all it’s glory!
. . .

Phalaena folded her arms to her sides, using the momentum of the motion to slingshot her body through the swirl beyond the vortex. Her feet fluttered behind her, driving her ever forward while she scanned her surrounds.

It was like swimming, though there was no moisture and little air. Rather than delving into some great deep or floating on giant thermals, she plunged through time. Events surrounded her, visible only briefly before they spun into the distance. Waiting to happen or long since passed.

Faces appeared and vanished so rapidly she couldn’t have identified them if she wanted to. Voices whispered all around her, sometimes drowned by screams or cries, but always fading into forever as she plunged deeper into the tangle.

She had far to go and she couldn’t be distracted by any of the possibilities that flashed around her. Yet Phalaena found herself scanning the images for particular faces, faces she had come to know as a result of her hunt.

These were no random events, after all. These were the Oracle’s victims, the innocent souls who shattered the discs she gave into their care in hopes of finding better lives. Outcomes and possibilities passed so quickly, the buzz became a roar and the roar a cacophony that threatened to drive her mad. Yet Phalaena persisted, gritting her teeth, holding the images she sought in her mind.

At last she caught a flash of bright eyes and a wide grin as a hand slid across canvas, leaving a bright splash of color behind. Bethany hadn’t been the worst of the Oracle’s crimes, but her fate struck a chord in Phalaena’s cold, black heart.

Bethany had been an artist. She had seen the world a particular way. Perhaps her flaw had been that she could only see the world that way and no other. It had never occurred to her that the Oracle might send her to a world different from the one she wanted. Art didn’t concern itself with cause an effect outside of how the mixing of certain words or colors might strike the eye or ear.

Bethany had taken all the pieces of her life she hadn’t liked and re-written them in her head, sketched them into a masterpiece that should have eclipsed all other possibilities. She had believed in a world where love at first sight could be real. Where logic and money could support passion. Where one successful artist could lift others out of their gloom with a helping hand.

In exchange, the Oracle had turned her into the CEO of a fortune five hundred company. Drained of color and exuberance, she had been condemned to a world of grey. To a life where all choice had been stripped away, leaving her little  more than a prisoner of fate.

It was exactly what the fae council had done to Phalaena. For her mother’s crimes, her own ambitions had been extinguished, at least until she could exonerate her family name. In the fae world, there was no way to escape a blood tie. Power bound  power and the two strongest types of power lay in blood and names.

Bethany’s art evaporated around her as she gained speed, plummeting ever faster into the distant past.

It wasn’t just the dreams of artists the Oracle had devoured. It wasn’t just economic progress and medical cures she reversed. No, the Oracle’s crimes were far worse than that. She had toppled entire civilizations into dust in order to achieve her ideal vision of the future. One that allowed her to sink the tendrils of her power into every aspect of cultural development.

Had some of those grand empires survived, the level of human technology might have soared beyond belief. They might have reached the stars long since, built grand palaces among the void and discovered new secrets of the universe.

But the Oracle simply couldn’t allow that to happen. Because as soon as humanity moved beyond the cradle of her influence, history would be beyond her ability to manipulate. She would be trapped, like the rest of them. Forced to accept things as they occurred, forced to work around the ambitions and desires of those she considered beneath her.

Phalaena would crush her for Bethany, and everyone like Bethany, who had been punished for simply wanting a second chance.

For it was those who used the disks the Oracle punished most. That was the most insidious of her deceptions. The Oracle suggested ruminating on the use of her gifts not because she wanted people to make wise decisions, but because she wanted to populate the material plain with tiny pieces of her power.

The more memories people devoted to the Oracle, the deeper her Vision could penetrate within the universe. The deeper she Saw, the more possibilities she gained access to. The wider her reach, the more she could manipulate, unweaving the rightful tapestry of the universe and reforming it according to  her selfish desires.

Great spires rose around Phalaena as she began to spin. Bright light filled her vision as she saw ancient civilizations offer tithes of technology to the Oracle’s offer in exchange for dominion over their enemies, rather than developing the technologies that would have allowed them to advance without intervention.

Humanity grew small and scattered, their settlements less numerous than their more magical brethren. Here, in the deep mists of time, the Oracle’s captured moments became few and far between. There were only ever a dozen present at one time, often less than that.

Here, in the early years of her power, the Oracle had been weak, barely able to see beyond her current location or people she interacted with for long periods of time. These were probably the gravest of her travesties, because she had to actively mislead her victims for years at a time before sinking her invisible claws deep enough to twist their lives.

Had Phalaena been trying to penetrate the true heart of the universe, the center of the vortex would have contained the birth of everything, a spectacle that even her advanced brain was incapable of fully comprehending. But because she was descending through the power of the Oracle – a pale imitation of the universe at large – she stopped well short of the dawn of time.

At last the image she sought took formation. The same image that once inhabited her disk. The one that made the Oracle quiver with fear.

There was her hated enemy, dressed in mud-stained rags, her eyes bound by a simple, thread-bare cloth. A crack hung in the air across from her, its contents darker than the deepest darkness.

Beyond that hole in reality, something powerful swirled and slithered, its dark power seeping through the edges of the crack, inviting the Oracle to reach within and seize it.

Be careful, a serpentine voice hissed from the depths. There is a cost for what you desire. A cost far greater than you might wish to pay.

“But the future can be mine,” the Oracle protested, her voice impossibly young, almost innocent. “Every possible permutation, every pitfall, every ideal. I do not have to sit by and watch. I can guide as well!”

Have you any idea what the universe will exact from one with such capabilities? The Knowing alone will drive you insane, the rough voice insisted with a desperation that made Phalaena cringe.

Heed my warning, foolish child, the voice went on, warping and twisting as Phalaena approached, until it sounded like an old woman instead of a snake. It is the only one you will receive. The forces you desire to manipulate cannot be fooled into devouring other souls as payment for your interference. Sooner or later, you must pay the price for the web you weave.

This was the moment Phalaena trapped the Oracle in, the loop they had been trying for months to untangle.

This was the choice the Oracle had given herself. The choice between walking her original path and abandoning the ambition that brought her to ruin. This was the desperation her companion mentioned shortly before her departure.

The Oracle on the other side of the void, the Oracle that spoke from the future, was bound to give her younger self a chance to escape the prison she wove for herself. She couldn’t help but hope that youth and vibrance could give way to wisdom if only the proper message could be conveyed. It was the only way for her to escape the madness she brought upon herself and forge a better life.

But the Oracle had given no such leniency to the rest of her victims, and Phalaena hadn’t come to reason with her. If she killed the Oracle, she could break the cycle. History would fix itself and she would be free to live the life she desired.

Perhaps when she was free of the Oracle’s taint, her mother might even be able to clear her own name, allowing Phalaena to live without the shame of her actions.

She summoned a sword of pure energy to her hands and raised it above her head even as the Oracle lifted her hand and plunged it into the depths of the void.

“The resolution we seek is too important,” the young Oracle said as ice began to form along her fingers. “We cannot be turned aside. We cannot falter.”

Phalaena loosed her sword, carving a graceful arc downward. The speed and momentum should carry through most of the Oracle’s body, cleaving her nearly in two.

But just as the blade reached the edges of the Oracle’s flowing hair, a bright flash surrounded them both.

Phalaena fumbled, her blade suddenly heavy and awkward in her hands as she tried to shield her eyes with her elbow.

The blade didn’t bite hair, skull or flesh. The Oracle vanished and so did the crack in reality.

“You cannot steal the soul, child,” a familiar voice proclaimed. “Only it’s memory.”

Blinking, Phalaena lowered her arm and tried to regain her bearings. The swamp was gone. In its place stood a rushing river. On one side of the river, stood the young oracle, her eyes unbound and full of tears.

On the other side of the river stood a woman Phalaena hadn’t seen for over a thousand years. A woman of such grace and beauty, Phalaena had never been able to forget her, no matter how much she tried to hate her.

Her wings were massive, marking her stature among her people. They glittered every shade of gold, orange and yellow, their markings highlighted by thin lines of darkest black. She was like a monarch butterfly, glorious beneath even the dimmest illumination. Her hair was red at the roots and black at the tips and fell in a waterfall of curls to her knees. Her eyes were a color Phalaena still couldn’t name, halfway between green and gold, sometimes flecked with rich amber swirls.

She extended her arm across the river and its girth seemed to shrink so that the two women stood on opposite shores of a babbling brook. Her fingers brushed the tears from the young Oracle’s cheeks and where they touched they left sparks of purple light.

“So if the memory is written upon the essence of the universe, the fate can still be changed?”

“Perhaps,” Phalaena’s mother murmured, soft and kind even to one who would prove so cruel. “If one could find the power to reach backward. Forward is easy, you see. Forward is pure potential, which makes nearly everything possible.

“Backward, though… Backward is set. That makes it difficult to convince the universe to rearrange its memories.”

Phalaena blinked again and her breath lodged in her throat. She wanted to scream, wanted to charge into the center of the scene and prevent it from ever taking place. Because the words her mother spoke next were the words that damned them both. But she didn’t really seem to be here. Her flailing hands passed through air, water and women alike, no matter how hard she clawed.

Purple-tinged tears raked the young Oracle’s cheeks as the tiny dots of light left by Phalaena’s mother’s hands began to seep into the whites of her eyes. They trailed like blood veins toward her pupils and the moment they reached them, her fate – and Phalaena’s – would be set.

“But it can be done?” the distraught young woman pressed.

“Nothing is impossible if you’re patient enough, child. But you would have to go forward to find the strength. And the farther forward you go, the farther back it will be, and that will make the task difficult indeed.”

The Oracle formed fists at her sides even as the last details of her irises disappeared into the purple glow. “They must know what happened here,” she snarled with more acid than Phalaena had ever heard. “The fae court’s actions cannot be allowed to stand.”

“Wha-?” Phalaena started, but her voice had no more substance than her arms or legs.

Not that she needed to ask. As the Oracle’s eyes blazed with stolen power, the insubstantial ground seemed to slide from beneath her feet. She tumbled into the darkness of unknown history, unable to orient herself enough to trace the years.

She was still in the Oracle’s memories, entranced, perhaps, by her thoughts in the moment she reached through the void to claim her power.

The flashes here were far more frantic than the ones Phalaena passed after entering the time tangle. But since there were fewer of them, they were easier to piece together into a coherent whole.

But what she found when she strung events into their liner order made her blood run cold.

This had to be the Oracle’s vision; one of her first.

Phalaena saw a white-haired woman with tears coating her cheeks running through a dark wood. She saw her nearly falter and hug a tiny bundle to her breast. She saw her part the trunk of a tree with words of magic long since lost to time, and tuck the bundle into the open space. The bundle cooed and hiccupped before the bark concealed it.

Then she saw the destruction. The remains of houses scattered across the ground. The scorch marks and ashes. The bodies.

How it happened, she could guess. Because she had seen destruction like this before. Ruthlessly efficient. Almost bureaucratic.

The fae court’s specialty.

And suddenly she understood the one thing that had never made sense, no matter  how hard she tried to reconcile what she knew of her mother with her position among the court.

She had betrayed her people, yes.

But only because they had betrayed the universe first.

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