Interlude - River Stone

"Please, Oracle," the man pleaded. He stood at the foot of the dais, his arms cradled to his chest, twisting his canvas hat. "I don't understand what has happened to my people."

"Neither do I," Euphemia the Oracle replied, lounging across her couch, her chin resting on her hand. "Not until you tell me what happened."

"But don't you have the sight? Can you not see all?"

This was the fifth mortal to approach the oracle since her guardian had been slain. Euphemia was ready to enlist the help of a new minotaur to keep out the riff raff. Either that or she could force all pilgrims to gaze into her cousin's cursed eyes.

"I can't see as much as I used to," the oracle replied. "But let me take a stab at your situation and see how close I come. You're a once happy villager who farmed dirt with your fat wife and three vacant-eyed children..."

"Four children, ma'am."

She waved a hand. "Whatever. So there you were, hoeing your dirt field when the smiley people stumbled along and bit your wife and your children. Like any good husband and father, you wet your britches and ran like a rabbit to my temple, hoping I could solve the problem you were too cowardly to face yourself."

Wink snorted. He'd been sitting on the steps, his blindfold in place, his head bobbing to a song only he could hear. "And you tell me I'm cruel to mortals."

"Well it's what happened," Euphemia said. "Isn't that right?" She turned to the man.

"Uh, well, I tried to fight them, but their smiles... their empty eyes..."

"Yes, very scary." Euphemia sat up. "And you want me to tell you what to do? Well first, if you'd just stayed put and let them bite you, you'd be much happier right now."

"But it... it's not natural."

"No, it isn't. It's a man-made contagion. A brilliant fool conceived it as a solution to a problem that has plagued you mortals since you first crawled out of your caves."

Wink turned to her. "What problem?"

Euphemia frowned, her mouth drawn into a childish knot. "A bad case of the Mondays."

Wink scoffed and turned away.

"But how do I get my family back? What do I do?"

"There's not a damn thing you can do," Euphemia snapped. "Better men than you have tried and failed."

The man's shoulder's slumped. He stared at the floor.

"If it makes you feel any better, there are people working on the problem right now. They've begun a quest that will take them to..."

Wink's head shot up. He jumped to his feet. "What is that?"

A wave of goosebumps shot up Euphemia's arms. She sensed something approaching... something she should have seen coming from far off. She sat up on her couch and stared at the door. "A gifted child," she said, trying to sift through the extra-sensory information now descending on her mind. "A dragon on our doorstep. And something that defies my vision..."

A figure stepped through the darkened doorway. He wore a broad hat, shading his face, sunglasses and a bandana hiding his features. He walked in, a little Vayna girl following close behind.

"Who..." Euphemia began. Her throat had gone dry. She swallowed. "Who are you?"

The young man waved, only three fingers on his right hand. "Hi," he said. His voice sounding as if he were recovering from a cold. "I've heard about this place. It's nice. And you're looking lovely, Miss Oracle." He turned to Wink and waved again. "Hey, Wink."

Wink recoiled. "It's you."

The oracle stared from Wink back to the stranger. "I don't understand. Why do you hide your face?"

The stranger continued to approach. He stopped next to the dirt farmer and bowed. "I think you know. I hide myself from others to protect the stability of spacetime. I hide myself from you as a courtesy. You won't be much good to me if you lose your mind. My name is Winnie, by the way."

"That wasn't your name before," Wink said. He backed until he stood behind the oracle's couch. "But you're different now. What have you done?"

"Can't you tell?" Winnie asked. "I tampered in God's domain. Twice now, as a matter of fact."

"I still don't understand," the oracle said. She trembled, frustrated at her lack of insight. She pointed at the farmer. "I can see this man's soul. He has no aspirations beyond the desire to teach his children to dig turnips like his father taught him and his grandfather before." She pointed at the little girl. "This child is as bright as a star. She carries the destiny of a future queen."

Then she pointed at Winnie. "But in you, I see nothing. You are a black void."

"Don't you get it?" Wink moaned. "It's him. It's the kid that destroyed the future."

The oracle stepped back, stumbling onto her couch. She threw an arm over her face as if the sight of Winnie stung her eyes.

"You didn't see me coming?" Wink asked.

"Don't be absurd. Your very presence negates insight."

The farmer stared at Winnie. "You destroyed what now?"

"I've come for your help," Winnie said, addressing the oracle.

"I have no help for you. You have no future."

"I don't need my fortune told. I want you to take a look at this." Winnie reached into his pocket and retrieved a small smooth stone.

"That needs to go in a river," the farmer said. He stared, wide-eyed, his lost family forgotten. "There's a stream not far from here. I could show you."

Euphemia lowered her arm and looked at the stone.

Wink whistled. "That's dark magic there," he said, lifting his blindfold to peek.

"Yes," Euphemia agreed. "I suspect this is the very stone that's responsible for all the commotion down in the southeast. You were stupid enough to throw this stone into moving waters?"

Winnie shook his head. "No."

The oracle frowned. "But of course you did. Or someone did. This is the stone that hatched an army of snake warriors that now conquer cities in the name of the lamia."

"It is, and it isn't. The stone I hold has never been in any river or stream."

"But it should be," the farmer said.

Euphemia glared at him. "Why are you still here? Go back to your family and get bit. Then you won't be so mopey and pathetic."

"But the stone—"

"Go!" The oracle waved a hand. The farmer slid backwards away from Winnie as if he stood on a conveyor belt. He accelerated, his hands waving to keep his balance, his eyes wide. He flew out through the door.

Winnie and the little girl watched him go. Winnie turned back. "So, you have more power than just prophecy."

"I'm immortal, boy," the oracle snapped. "I've picked up a few skills over the years." She pointed down at the stone. "You say this stone has never been in a river."

"Yes."

"And yet an army of snakes spawned by that stone now plague the land."

"Yes and no."

She frowned. "Care to elaborate?"

"No."

"Then what do you want from me?"

"I need to know... can we turn this stone into a weapon."

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page published 8/19/2017