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  Imagine Life Unlimited

The Oracle of Xiaroc Isle

CHAPTER 1

 

The sun was a ball of blood that crept over the waters of the eastern horizon. The crimson glow bathed the blue and green ships docked in the ports of the Talgourgese city of Nyogo Harbor. Some were transports, others were patrol vessels, but each had Isle Patrol, along with an identification number, embossed on them.


Further inland, several dozen aircraft with the same coloration and identification were stored in domed, corrugated steel hangers.

Captain Dom Nussis, standing on a wooden dock, spat burnt residue from his pipe into the oil-stained waters below. His face was wrinkled and permanently tanned from over fifty years at sea, the last twenty commanding one of the transports. He turned to the olive-skinned man standing next to him.


“Evil sun, that.”


The Ormnian nodded. “The Curtain is coming. It has already infected the minds of many.”


Nussis scanned the horizon. The baleful sun had cleared the waves, and in the distance a darkness, pencil-thin, danced on the water. It had not been there yesterday morning. The Captain looked over the Isle Patrol vessels. Most had Ormnian registration.


“I take it you and your crews aren’t going back anytime soon, Admiral?”


Admiral Meril Kuhn looked up to the taller Talgourgese man. “Back to what? A Korl firing squad for disobeying orders?” He shook his head. “I love my home, but it is gone, I fear, forever.”


A cold breeze came off the water, rife with death and decay. Sea birds silently circled overhead, then glided inland.


#

 

The holding cell in Erat was dank; the miasmic stench of urine took hold deep in the lungs, constricting the chests of those locked within.

Enna Racyne, the former Sysseran priestess, had not noticed. Since the arrival of the Lady, little else merited attention. Her body was wizened and emaciated; sustenance was no longer one of her chief concerns. Neither was personal hygiene.


After she had been taken away by the Empress’ Guard that day in Talmount, nothing had mattered anymore. That whore, Erenia Sanna, had taken it all away from her: her political career, her lover, Parmen Warsas, her life – gone.


The Lady had promised to give it all back. She had appeared in Enna’s dreams for a week now. Dark and powerful, she evoked sapphic feelings in Enna, making her writhe in transcendent pleasure while promising Enna future glory and sweet, sweet revenge. The Apollyon shall deliver all.


Enna Racyne now knew Syssera to be a falsehood, a myth, as powerless and fleeting as breath upon a mirror. The Lady was real. The Lady was power.


Enna Racyne looked at her cellmate, an Ormnian prostitute who had killed several customers as they lay flaccid and sated, and then stolen their money. She was big for an Ormnian, much taller than Enna, with a solid body. She was sleeping on the only cot in the cell, a filthy, lice-ridden thing that she had bullied from Enna when she had been thrust in with her two days earlier.


The whore had bullied Enna out of her ration of food, as well. The jailors watched as she beat Enna any number of times, their eyes apathetic and bored. Enna feared for her life.


The Lady had promised deliverance from fear and powerlessness. She no longer needed to be afraid.


Enna glided over to the sleeping form and stretched out two grimy hands, the long, dirt-encrusted nails bared like jagged shards of glass. The whore snored like a cow, her flabby body limp and weak. Enna’s nails plunged into the Ormnian woman’s eyes, the closed eyelids no obstacle as they ripped into the sockets and tore out the gelatinous orbs within. The prostitute awoke with a screech. Her large body went into violent spasms, her burly arms swinging and connecting with Enna Racyne. The former priestess held on and kept tearing at the woman’s face, one eye popping in her grip, the fluid and jelly running down her skinny arm. Enraged and agonized, the prostitute finally threw off her attacker and stumbled from the cot. She swung her arms, screaming in torment, her mind nearly gone from the sudden, savage assault. The red sockets where her eyes had been were bleeding, oozing holes.


Enna wasn’t done. Judging her moment, she jumped on the larger woman’s back and fastened herself, hanging on like an insect. She sank her teeth into the thick meat of the woman’s neck. The prostitute’s struggles intensified. Enna clung like the damned, her teeth sawing through muscles and tendons, finally reaching the artery they sought. Enna’s jaws clamped down, and a brilliant red spray drenched her face and showered the cell.


Reduced to a near-animal state, the prostitute gave over to base instinct and slammed her body into the wall, finally dislodging the creature that tormented her. Continuing to screech, the large woman thrashed about, swinging her arms in increasingly sluggish attempts to locate her assailant. Enna Racyne, blood dripping from her mouth, watched with glee as her tormentor bled out. The whore finally collapsed to the floor, creating a wave of blood that splashed at Enna’s feet.


The Lady was happy. The offering was accepted.


Enna Racyne closed her eyes and opened herself to the Lady so she could impart her wishes to her new disciple. The Lady promised to give Enna the sight, so she could become the Oracle and guide those who would follow the Lady to ultimate triumph. Just one sacrifice was required. Enna smiled rapturously. It was so little to give.


She raised her bloodied nails. Without hesitation, she dug out her own eyes. Pulp and blood ran down the former priestess’ face, mingling with the saliva that oozed from her open, gasping mouth. The empty sockets looked up. The Lady had kept her promise. Physical eyes no longer impeded her vision. She had been given the sight.


The guards, finally responding to the hellish commotion, took a step back when the gore-encrusted Oracle cackled with triumph.


CHAPTER 2

 

“I can’t leave. The territories need me. You’ve said as much.”


So much had happened over the last week, none of it good. Kyu rubbed eyes that stung with grit and fatigue. His muscles were loose and languid from adrenaline withdrawal. His knees shook and coldness sank hooks deep into his bones. The loss of Ocelot, less than a week ago, along with the loss of the daughter he would never know, was a ravenous cancer chewing his soul to pieces.


“It’s for the best,” Raelin told him.


“The best?” Kyu’s aching eyes bore into the Kidemur. “The territories are on the verge of internecine warfare, something that hasn’t happened in a thousand years. This time, they have guns instead of swords, tanks instead of battering rams, aircraft instead of catapults. They can kill more of each other in a shorter amount of time. How can you say that my not being here to do something is for the best?”

“You need training and experience with your newfound powers and responsibility. It is very conceivable that right now you would do as much harm as good if you took an active hand in the events of your world. Yes, the lands you love are in the midst of conflict and change, and it may get bloody before all is resolved, but Asrath is still the chief threat to your world. You need to focus on her.” Raelin sighed. “The problems your world faces now are secular and internal; it will go much better if they can solve them without you.”


Kyu shook his head. “It may get bloody before it’s resolved? Millions will die, and what happens then? The Disian Curtain will be energized and swoop in, and at that point I don’t think I can stop it.”


“Your predecessor, Haena Ardrassis, tended to allow emotion and an unbending loyalty to her brother’s policies to shape this world into what she wanted it to be, instead of allowing the peoples to accept for themselves what was best. In the end, while the world she created stood for a thousand years in relative peace and prosperity, the lack of change and growth stagnated the cultures of these people. Restlessness and discontent simmered just below the veneer of a supposedly happy civilization, allowing Asrath, when she returned to this world after Haena brought you back, to easily manipulate and foster these feelings, using her abilities to drive wedges into cracks and turn them into gaping chasms.”


Raelin rested a dark hand on Kyu’s arm. “Have faith in the people of your world, Kyu. They’re letting loose with long-repressed nationalistic fervor, but they understand where the real threat lies. If they are allowed this period of adjustment without interference, they will, in the end, be much more cohesive and strong than they otherwise would.”


Kyu squeezed his eyes shut, near tears. It was too much. “You’re saying all this is the fault of my aunt for enforcing Harra’s wish for territories-wide unification?”


Raelin shook her head. Jet black hair cascaded from side to side. “No. Your aunt did what she had to do. I am not laying any blame. I am explaining the situation, and how it got that way. We all feel the need to follow our hearts; we don’t at our own peril.


“Haena Ardrassis was a good person and an effective Odigos. She knew the danger to your world, and she used the best tool at her disposal, her nephew, to counter it. It may seem cold and heartless to refer to you in that way, but Haena did what she had to for her world, and it worked.”


Raelin paused, her eyes softening. “It is true that she manipulated and shaped you into what you have become, but do not doubt the love she felt for you. You do not realize how much it pained her to thrust this upon you.”


Kyu turned away and gazed at a patch of ground covered with yellow suncups. His life, his love, lay buried underneath. Corrosion filled his veins, a blackness thick and viscous that raced to his temples and burned away all thoughts except one. How could this be worth it? Why did his love have to be sacrificed, his happiness gutted and torn out, to keep this world spinning, blissfully unaware of the dark forces that would devour it if he was inattentive for even a moment?


He closed his eyes and stomped down the scalding anger, knowing his fury was useless. He had accepted this. He had a duty. He had to listen to Raelin, even if her words sliced through him like a sword.


“So where exactly am I going, and what will I be doing?”


“You will go to the best teacher there is for your abilities, your ‘awareness’ as you refer to it. You will go to Haena Ardrassis.”


“What are you talking about? My aunt has moved on to another reality, one that I cannot reach.”


“In this world, yes.”


Kyu shook his head in exasperation. Raelin was speaking in puzzles, much like Haena had. “Just tell me what I am to do, all right? No more cryptic talk, please.”


“You are so impatient. Your emotions, especially your anger, come to dominate you too easily. You must learn control. There are many realities and universes. They are countless, not just in space, but in time, as well. You are to travel one of those roads in time, back a thousand years to a reality nearly identical to this one. You could go back in time in this exact reality, but it would be horribly catastrophic for you to appear there. This nearby reality is much safer, and just as effective for our needs.”


“I can do that?”


“Yes, and you will.”


“So, I’ll be going to a reality where my aunt is still physically alive?” Kyu thought it through then came to a stunning realization. “And my father as well? I will meet my father?”


“I imagine you will, but always keep in mind that this is not your purpose. You are to contact and train under Haena Ardrassis, who at that time is already proficient with her abilities. You will stay as long as needed.”


Kyu’s mind swirled in disarray. Just a week ago, he had been a happily married, retired arena fighter living a simple, joyful life. Now… “I was given the responsibility of protecting the people who live in the territories. Now you’re telling me I have to abandon them. They are on the verge of warfare. How can I leave?”


“This is far more important, Kyu. As you are, you cannot effectively protect your world from far greater threats than internal strife. Whatever happens to these people, it is as nothing compared to an invasion from Dis. That is your primary responsibility, not policing people whenever they have disagreements among themselves.”


Raelin was right. Damn her. “Can I take Aest with me?”


Raelin smiled for the first time. “Of course. In fact, I believe his accompaniment will prove essential to your success.”


“When do I leave?”


“As soon as possible.”


Kyu thought it through. He had to go, but there was something he needed to do. He was not looking forward to it. “Let me take care of one thing first,” he told Raelin, then disappeared from the top of Empress’ Mountain.