Smoke and Mirrors

“I won’t do it.”

Her voice swirls alongside the curls of sweet smoke, the odour suggesting rosy hues and silken smoothness. The scent fills the cavernous room, though it is dark and heavily shadowed. The darkness reaches its foremost intensity in the room’s upper reaches, the domed ceiling looking like a midnight-black sphere encircling the world.

“You must, Delphine.”

“No.”

Emotions are dry in the two voices; the words spoken are cool, calm, and flat: like the ice of a frozen lake.

As a backdrop to the two women, others utter hushed moans and mumblings, the oracles at their craft. The noises they make are punctuated by the deep breaths they take, filling their lungs with the scented air all about and the cindering sticks they hold in shaking hands.

“Delphine.” Commanding, condescending… an elder speaking to a child.

A sigh from the younger woman.

“You cannot hope to incite visions without a catalyst. No god will show you favour if you show no faith in his enlightened methods.”

“In that you are wrong, lady Nestre,” Delphine replies. “I have my visions, without the help of your ‘enlightened methods.’”

“You merely dream, girl,” Nestre spits back. “Everyone dreams. Only the oracles prophesy.”

Despite their escalating voices, the women about them remain entranced, fixated on receiving portents of the future from whatever god they can appease.

But they do not appease you. How can they think that they can be privy to your intentions by flooding their blood with poisons? Faith indeed: faith that some god will pity their stupidity and save them from death.

“The dreams I dream are not my own,” Delphine whispers, barely audible amid the drone of the oracles. “You know that, or else you wouldn’t ask of them insistently.”

Nestre’s eyes narrow, her face becoming sinister. The creases of her wrinkles deepen with the shadows, her eyes hooded in black veils as she bows her head.

“I had imagined you a worthy girl.”

She turns from Delphine and leaves her alone, moving to a shadowed recess at the edge of the room.

She is a worthy girl, though. You have shown her favour thus far, and how can those favoured by a god be anything less than worthy? To say she is set apart from the oracles is only half the truth: she is set above, perched atop a column that they can only claw at in their drugged stupors.

A sliver of light streaks into the room when Delphine opens a door to leave. It illuminates the smoky wisps with silver hues, and pierces the dilated pupils of an oracle crouched over a glowing gathering of embers. With talon-like hands she swats at the invading light, a vain attempt at warding it from her sensitive eyes. When the door falls back into its frame, shut behind Delphine, the luminescent dagger disappears, shadows descending upon the oracles once more.

Outside, Delphine’s skirts are swept by the light wind, and the breeze carries the clinging scent of smoke off of her clothes. She breathes deep, just like the women inside. But she does not hallucinate; she does not fill her body with poisons and toxins.

You send her a vision, though. Or rather, a sign to carry her in the right direction.

The sunlight glints off a silver plate in the market, a bazaar that stretches out in front of the oracles’ temple. The lustrous shine catches Delphine’s attention, and she moves towards it.

Away from the oracles, away from Nestre, you might be able to lead her.

The End

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