The Lost Hour

The Oracle awoke and things were Wrong.

She sits up from her bed, glancing around her darkened, sparse room. She squints at the timepiece she keeps by her bedside and frowned. Things were Wrong. With a groan, she pushes herself up from her bed.

Dark, dim eyes reflect back at the Oracle as she looks into her mirror. She can see today will be a heavy draw on her abilities. Things were Wrong.

Dawn breaks and the Oracle sets out. The veils between reality are particularly weak as she enters the liminal spaces that lie between her and her usual haunts. Settling into her place on the roaring conveyance, she keeps an alert watch. Others look back. The transport is silent beyond the natural rumble and screeching that becomes background in only a few scant moments. Things were wrong. The alert, awake Oracle snores lightly as dream overtakes her.

She wakes up in a forested clearing. Lilting, slightly distorted birdsong surrounds the expanse. A light, brisk wind plays across the Oracle’s neck, eliciting a shiver. The sun is high in the sky and the underbrush glitters lightly under its rays. The trees reflect the light at an impossible angle, drawing attention to a faded stone path. The Oracle sighs and approaches the path with resignation. Even if things were Wrong, sometimes they are clearly part of the Right Thing.

The sparkling forest gets more ethereal as the Oracle walks steadily down the path. The green leaves subtly shifting into blues, the birdsong becoming increasingly distorted and faraway, and the faded stepping stones becoming more refined and precious. The sun becomes less present and the glittering more intense as the Oracle steps deeper into this world. Things were wrong. A feeling of dread builds in the Oracle’s heart as the temperature drops, her resignation to her fate wavering as she enters another clearing.

Ice sculpture predominates, depicting the same features as the forest she just left, sparkling with frozen beauty. Gems coat the ground beneath her feet, clinking lightly as she treads lightly. The birdsong is fully replaced with the sound of a harsh, driving wind, high and clear in the unmoving air of the courtyard.   The Oracle looks around carefully, treading even more slowly through this strange place. A melodious voice calls out from nowhere – “Dearest Oracle!”

Things were Wrong.

A terrifically beautiful woman steps into the clearing. The Oracle’s wandering gaze is immediately arrested by her, unable to take in anything else. The Oracle’s eyes dim further as a flood of Right Things come to her.

-This woman has power.

-This woman is missing something important.

-This woman is a Not Queen.

-This woman knows of The Maze.

-This woman knows of The Oracle.

-This woman knows what is wrong – the Oracle has lost an hour.

-The Oracle now knows she has lost an hour.

-This woman can offer a Boon to fill the gap left by that hour.

-This woman wants The Oracle’s help.

The Oracle puts it all together – the woman offers her a Boon in exchange for finding…

-This woman has lost her pendant.

…her pendant in The Maze, rumored to hold a shard of LaPlace’s Demon. The woman feels the Oracle is uniquely suited to retrieving the pendant and possibly even escaping with it.

-Things were Wrong.

The woman knows that the Oracle is feeling the pain of the lost hour…she can make things Right again. The Oracle knows the Right Thing is to help the woman. The Oracle trusts the woman. The Oracle will do this task.

 

The Oracle goes to The Maze. She’s unsure whether she’s awake or asleep at this point – her body is practically moving on its own, but it always does that. The Oracle’s eyes become more and more blank as she takes each turn, The Maze seeming increasingly featureless – stone walls becoming lineless, moss becoming a vaguely green shape, the ground below her becoming a sense of the color brown. The Oracle keeps walking. Every turn is a Right turn, because the Oracle knows Right Things. The Oracle is untouched as she arrives at the center of The Maze – LaPlace’s Demon sits there contemplatively, simultaneously acknowledging and not acknowledging the Oracle.

-The woman lost her pendant to LaPlace’s Demon in a Deal, not through absentmindedness.

LaPlace’s Demon is nondescript in a particular way. Have you ever gotten the sense that, when you meet someone, that you’re seeing exactly what they want you to see? Except, rather than you realizing this when you meet them, you realize only in hindsight when it’s far beyond relevance. LaPlace’s Demon is like that except infinitely worse. LaPlace’s Demon is exactly what it wants you to see before you met it. LaPlace’s Demon is exactly what it wants you to see when you meet it. LaPlace’s Demon is exactly what it wants you to see after you meet it. It does not put up face work, it is timeless in a way that cannot be captured.

-Things were Wrong.

Bright, lively eyes reflect back at the Oracle as she looks into her mirror. She can see today has been a heavy draw on her abilities. Things are Wrong. LaPlace’s Demon holds herself dominantly as she takes the Oracle’s form, looking back with a mix of curiosity and disdain.

-LaPlace’s Demon has the pendant

The Oracle sees a glint below her mirrored image’s neck, a blue teardrop that stands out clearly against her chest. She doesn’t remember seeing that before she knew it was there. Her vision blurs a bit as she fixates on the pendant and she rubs her temple.

-This is a competition of oracles.

-Predict the other’s loss.

-Do not allow escape from the prophecy.

-LaPlace’s Demon wagers the pendant.

-The Oracle wagers…

-…

-LaPlace’s Demon goes first.

The Oracle tells the Demon that the Right Thing is for her to go first. She agrees. She gives up.

-DON’T SPEAK.

The Oracle looks levelly at the Demon, who continues to look back with those lively eyes, having not moved from her seat.

-The Oracle has the pendant.

The Oracle looks to the Demon’s neck, and then to her own. The blue teardrop is around her neck, exactly where it was on LaPlace’s Demon at some point. The Oracle has a sense of having lost.

-DON’T SPEAK.

The Oracle stays silent, touching the pendant lightly – it’s delicate. LaPlace’s Demon speaks, in a clear voice that matches the Oracle’s, “Do you really want to bring that back to her? Is it worth it? I could take it back, spare you the burden.” It’s a taunt – LaPlace’s Demon already knows what will happen. The Oracle opens her mouth…

-DON’T SPEAK.

…and closes it again. She gently clasps the pendant in her hand, against her chest, and turns around. LaPlace’s Demon looks almost sad – but not surprised. The Demon is never surprised.

The Oracle returns to the Not Queen’s clearing.

-Winter Princess.

The Oracle returns to the Winter Princess’s court. The Oracle wakes up. The Oracle is at her destination. The Oracle’s eyes are only dim as she looks at herself in a nearby window. Things were.

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