Shay wasn’t an idiot, by any means. He was illiterate, and he thought with his fists instead of the brains that he did possess, but that did not make him an idiot. Even an idiot could have figured out why the Oracle wanted him singled out, and if he were a more prideful man he might have been insulted that she thought she could trick him so easily. He would just have to keep his guard up until morning. Oracles couldn’t do their stuff while a person was asleep, could they? Maybe he would have to forgo sleep for the night, as well. That wasn’t something he was looking forward to.
“Shay, I have a favour to ask,” the Oracle said, still seated at that miniature table of hers. He was starting to think she was nailed to the floor.
“If it’s about my future, you already know the answer,” he said a little sternly.
“It is not about your future, though I am certain you will let me read you eventually,” she said, a playful grin on her face that the Olmaean couldn’t help chuckling at. “Shay, I need your help. I would ask Rinian, but he does not seem the type.”
“Y’know, I don’t remember telling you my name.”
The Oracle laughed. “I am an Oracle, Shay.”
The Olmaean had to give that one to her, he supposed. It didn’t make him any less uneasy on the matter, though. Strangers knowing his name wasn’t something he could afford, prophetic visions or not. Still, now that she wasn’t spouting nonsense, he knew he should take the opportunity to quiz her on all things Oracle. He knew Aoife would never forgive him if he wasted an opportunity like that, especially when she and Rinian were so hungry for knowledge.
“How is it you know my name like that, but you need my permission to read my future?” he questioned, and the look on the Oracle’s face implied it was a question she’d heard plenty of times before.
“Names are easy. Seeing someone’s destiny is a much more delicate process.”
“What’s with the eyes on the hands?”
“There are numerous ways of divining the future,” the Oracle began to explain, finally moving from her position behind the table.
She stood, walking to the other side of the shack and giving Shay an eyeful in the process, and he couldn’t deny something in him began to stir at the sight of her. He’d seen plenty of naked women in his twenty three years, but they had all been women he had charmed out of their skirts. The Oracle was different, though. She stood naked before him, and she was utterly unattainable. And frankly that only made him more interested. Well, that and that perky little bottom of hers.
The Oracle made her way back to the table, placing a small wooden box down on top of it. The box was a lot like her home, looking as if it were about to collapse at any moment, but inside it was an array of objects, books and glass bottles. She rooted around in the box, pulling a few faded crystals from it and setting them down beside it.
“Most Oracles use these, but they are not the most reliable, and they are costly to replace when they burn out,” she went on to explain, only earning more confusion from Shay. “When you use crystals like this, you channel yourself and the person into them. There is only so much each crystal can take, and when they can take no more, they burn out, like a match.”
“So you use the smoke and the eyes because…?”
“Have you ever heard the saying ‘the eyes are the window to the soul?’”
Shay nodded. “All the wackos in Olmaea used to say it to try and sell protection charms and things like that.”
“Well, they were not wrong, in part. It is not these eyes,” she gestured at her own eyes, “That are the window to the soul. Each man, and woman, possesses another set of eyes, for the soul to observe. The wildsmen in the East claim these eyes are in the forehead, but Oracles believe otherwise, so we are taught to draw them on the hands.”
“Taught by the Order?” Shay asked, only a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“Laugh all you like, Shay, but someone must teach us the ways of our kind. Little baby Oracles are raised in Ankora by older Oracles, the matrons. When we are old enough, we are sent out into the world.”
Shay wasn’t sure he wanted to ask how old was ‘old enough’ considering the girl in front of him barely looked over eighteen. Life started early in the slums—he’d been on the streets picking pockets by the age of six—but he’d assumed the rest of the world had it easier. Suddenly he was filled with thoughts of little girls barely old enough to be away from their mothers' sides being sent out into the world, completely alone, and forced to survive by themselves. If all the Oracles were naked, that only made matters worse. He’d never met any face to face—that he knew of—but he’d heard horror stories of men with a sexual appetite for young girls. Putting one of them in front of a young and vulnerable Oracle couldn’t end well in any lifetime.
“How old were you?” he asked eventually, the question having trouble slipping from his tongue.
“Fourteen,” the Oracle said, smiling when she saw the look of relative relief on Shay’s face. “Some leave at sixteen, some leave at thirteen. It all depends how skilled you are.”
“Why so young? I mean, I was working my ass off by the time I was fourteen, but I didn’t get sent halfway across the world all by myself to do it.”
“It is tradition,” she said matter-of-factly, but there was no disguising the sadness in her voice. “All of our customs, they are old traditions. All of this is traditional,” she gestured at both herself and her shack. “And this is why I need your help, Shay.”
For all he pretended to be the heartless lout, Shay had a decided weakness when it came to women. Perhaps it came from his own dear mother, a whore by trade, but he held a greater respect for women, and whenever one asked for assistance he would endeavour to help them. For men, asking for help was a matter of pride, but for women? In the slums, since that was the extent of Shay's experience, a woman asking for help would be expected to spread her legs in thanks, unless she asked the right calibre of man. Shay liked to think he was the right man to ask, and that sentiment extended as far as the Oracle. Whatever she needed, he would do his best to assist.
"I need you to lay with me."
That hadn't been what he was expecting, and the surprise was visible on his face. The Oracle did not take this shock as an answer, though, and she sat waiting expectantly.
"That's... that's not what I was expecting. Can I ask why? Won't anyone in Karasti take the bait?"
The Oracle was quiet a moment, gaze drifting to the floor. Her eyes remained downcast as she spoke. "They know of the old traditions, and they uphold them as a means of punishing me."
"You're going to have to explain all of this to me, Miss," Shay said, not understanding a word of what was being said. All this talk of tradition and yet she hadn't actually mentioned a single one. Did the Oracles even know what their traditions were?
“Oracles are virgins,” the Oracle said tiredly.
Shay couldn’t say he blamed her. If he was after sex and someone kept asking him question after question, he would likely grow tired of them as well.
“If an Oracle loses her purity, she is free of her chains.” There was desperation in her voice now, instead of the exhaustion from before. “Please, Shay, I cannot bear this life a moment longer.”
She could only hope her pleas wouldn’t fall on deaf ears, as they had the men of Karasti. Hope that Shay didn’t believe she deserved this ruin of a life as well. No matter how many times she explained it, words could never do justice to the horrors she had been forced to endure in her life. She had seen young girls, her sisters as they had called themselves, starve themselves in the name of tradition. When she was younger, and still under the matrons’ watchful eyes’, she had been forced to do the same. She had never known any parents other than the matrons, and they had sent her away to the other end of the world, to a town where her kind was hated, and left to fend for herself. What kind of life was that? In her first year alone, she had almost starved for lack of food, something the people of Karasti were obliged to supply her with, when they could spare it.
But she had tired of this life. She had tired of being hungry, and cold, and forever wrapped in chains, even when she removed the ones adorning her body. She had tired of Karasti and its venom, and all she wanted was to return home. Not to the matrons—they would never accept her after this—but to the East. Perhaps not Ankora, since it was the home of the Oracles and she doubted she would be welcome there again, but there was plenty in the desert, and she missed the warmth of the sun and the sands. All she needed, much to her chagrin, was a man to set her free.
“How does it free you? I don’t understand,” Shay protested, trying to wrap his head around it. He had bedded many a virgin before—in fact, he had garnered quite a reputation for it back in Olmaea—but somehow this felt wrong.
The Oracle sighed, but she retained most of her patience, moving to sit closer to Shay in the hopes of distracting him with her body. She was no fool, she had caught him looking.
“If an Oracle is no longer a virgin, she loses her abilities, and she is free. Do you understand now?” she asked, hands reaching out to grasp Shay’s own in an incredibly childlike manner. “I cannot bear it any longer, Shay. I miss my home, and my sisters, and I cannot spend another day divining someone’s death and lying to them to make them happy.”
She had seen more death than she cared to admit. Thankfully none of it had been in the flesh, and she thanked the Maker for that each day, but to witness so many deaths, no matter how far off they were… It took its toll. Part of her had been scared to divine Rin and Aoife’s fates in case she saw the same. Was Shay expecting to die? Was that why he would not let her read his fate?
She could tell Shay was nervous. The better part of her liked to think any man would when faced with such high expectations, but she doubted there was little truth in her wishful thinking. She had heard enough stories of men forcing themselves on her sisters to think too highly of them as a whole, but Shay seemed a respectable enough type. He had cast his eyes upon her, and while his attentions were welcome this time, he had made no attempt to act upon them. Perhaps more importantly, he had been able to look a naked body straight on without so much as a coy blush, unlike Rin who had barely taken his eyes off the ceiling for the entire duration of their encounter.
The Oracle closed the distance between the two of them, delicate hands still joined with Shay’s as she knelt before him. Shay was unresponsive, still processing the situation in his mind. Normally he’d be jumping at the chance of a quick shag, especially with a beautiful girl like the Oracle, but something left him uneasy. All his doubts and concerns were pushed from his mind when the Oracle’s lips met his.
No one could ever accuse him of being a romantic. He was far too rough and too heartless to care for more than his own satisfaction. He would play the charming gentleman long enough to seduce a woman into lifting her skirts, but after that chivalry did not come into play. He was courteous enough to pay attention and do his best to make sure his lover enjoyed herself as much as he did, but the Olmaean could make no promises. But when it came to virgins… Well, that was an entirely different story.
He let the Oracle take charge of the situation, and he knew his actions must have seemed cruel to a young girl with no experience, but sooner or later she would discover his unresponsiveness was a small mercy. It was a tactic he had adopted a long time ago, and it had always yielded brilliant results. Perhaps that was why he had bedded so many virgins in his life. In letting his fair maiden set the pace, it ensured she would not be forced into anything she wasn’t comfort with. More importantly, however, it meant she was in total control of the situation, and that sense of security proved wonders for getting women wet between the thighs.
The Oracle's lips barely left Shay's as she lifted herself into his lap, legs hooking around his torso, her feet interlocked at the small of his back. A brief glimmer of worry flashed through the Olmaean's mind at just how light she was, but his concern was pushed to one side at the warmth radiating from all that exposed skin. His hands began to roam her body, all soft gestures and lingering touches, and Shay could have sworn he heard a quiet laugh filter from the young woman. That was always a good sign, making girls laugh. If they were relaxed enough to laugh, they were relaxed enough to get frisky.
The jangling of her chains as she moved was enough to drive any man mad, and Shay found himself reaching up to remove them without thinking, easily tearing through the thin golden links. He froze when he realised what he had done, expecting her to be mad with him, but if anything it only seemed to spur the young woman on. She kissed him more fervently than before as if their encounter suddenly held more purpose than her freedom.