Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Musk-oxen and a Wolf
Suddenly, Caleeza was standing in a cold landscape of swirling white, with bitterly cold wind biting into her exposed flesh. Where am I? How did I get here? The urgency of her situation left little time for speculation; already, she was shaking violently from the cold. She had to do something quickly, or she would freeze to death. Attempting to draw energy from the elemental forces, and relieved at her success, she created an aura of warmth around her body by heating the air molecules surrounding her. Success meant survival for the moment, but she had to find shelter. She was ill dressed for an expedition to such a cold region with only a cloak to keep her warm. Her thin garments were designed for protection against the sun, not freezing temperatures; consequently, she was expending a lot of her strength and energy maintaining warmth.
Where am I? she asked the vast emptiness, but the cold, roaring wind offered few clues. One thing was certain: She was no longer on the Devastated Continent.
Caleeza stumbled across frozen snow-covered terrain, her silvery-blue cloak pulled snugly around her, the hood covering her head and shadowing her face, concealing shortly-cropped dark red hair, creamy white skin, and violet eyes. The cold, white terrain looked deceptively level and smooth, but mats of short crispy frozen foliage mixed with jagged jumbles of rocks and ice crystals hidden beneath a covering of snow challenged each step. She didn’t know where she was going, but she could not stay here. Maintaining body heat expended a lot of energy, an energy expenditure she couldn’t maintain for long.
Caleeza tried to recall her last moments in the Crystalline Landscape. In an effort to reach the shattered volcano, ground zero of the Dark Devastation, she and Sarus had struggled for rotations to cross the landscape of monolithic crystals…when the ground began to tremble. She remembered losing her balance and falling forward, bracing herself for violent contact with the sharp crystals. Somehow, she never made contact. But how did I get here?
In a fluttering instant, she had been transported to this astonishingly brutal frozen landscape of blowing snow, with Sarus nowhere in sight. Am I on another planet? Or was she in another dimension, maybe a parallel universe? There were no frozen wastelands on her world, and instead of the warm golden sky of home, the sky above her was a bitterly cold blue streaked with gray. Clearly, she was no longer in the land of the Dark Devastation, so where? Cold wind whispered ominously of a cold death as she struggled forward toward a weak sun, blurred by the haze low on the horizon. Desolate, frozen landscape stretched in every direction as far as she could see.
Caleeza’s heart moaned in chorus with the wind. To speed up her forward progress, hopefully, to somewhere more hospitable, she teleported herself to a relatively high spot on the horizon and looked about. The high spot turned out to be a mound of rock and ice erupting from the frozen ground. As she surveyed the vast frozen desert around her, the diminutive weak sun sank from view with a diffused splash of color reminiscent of home.
Her thoughts turned to Sarus as she scanned her bleak surroundings. What had happened to him? Was he still in the Crystalline Landscape…alone? Preparing to draw once again on her drained reserves of strength for another leap toward the next horizon, Caleeza spotted several dark forms lying low against the leeward side of the rock mound. At first, she thought they were part of the terrain, but one snow-dusted dark form in a long thick shaggy coat moved. He stood up on four short legs, or maybe they just seemed short, for the creature’s thick, shaggy coat was so long it nearly dragged the ground. Across his forehead, ran short, wide, curved horns that came to a point at each end. Her heart pounding with the excitement of discovery, she gently probed the mind of the life form, seeking clues on how to proceed in making her presence known.
The thoughts she detected were slow and ponderous, collective memories through unfathomable time. The mental connection took her on a journey over endless distance through countless seasons, through continuous unending cycles of life and death. Detecting her presence, the short shaggy life form turned toward her with primordial alert and concern. Caleeza soothed the creature’s uneasiness, telepathically reassuring him that she posed no threat. Darkness was closing in and she needed shelter for the night. Then, with his acceptance, she gingerly made her way down the wind-blown rock mound. The herd offered her shelter and protection. Needing rest, she nestled down close to the dominate male, seeking warmth. The smell of his musk filled the darkness. How long the darkness would last, she could not guess.
The sky cleared, revealing a spattering of distant stars with one thick band of stars cutting through it. There was no evidence of a moon. Her stomach growled with hunger, but she forced herself to ignore it. Her supply of food tablets was running low. She would eat whatever the native life forms ate when it was light again, which she hoped would be soon.
When Caleeza opened her eyes at dawn, two members of the herd were already grazing, rooting and exposing a frozen mat of dead-looking foliage from under the snow. She rose off the ground, stiff and cold, depleting most of her energy reserves to prevent further loss of body heat. Walking several yards from the sleeping herd to where the others were cropping and munching, she kicked away the snow from the frozen foliage below. Then grabbing a handful of small, elongated reddish-brown leaves and short twigs, she brought the food to her mouth and took a crunchy bite. It was not easy to chew, or as palatable as she had hoped, and after a couple of mouthfuls, she decided to consume one of her few remaining food tablets.
She also needed to hydrate, but all the sources of water were frozen. Her companions seemed to get what they needed directly from the snow. Her efforts to transform frozen water to liquid or maintain her body’s core temperature eating snow also expended lots of energy. She obviously couldn’t survive here for long; it was time to move on. Leaving the life forms with a mental thanks and farewell, Caleeza teleported to a visible point before the foggy distance. A cold sun burned feebly through the patchy fog.
Many physical short hikes and teleported long jumps later, she was still alone in a vast, white, frozen wilderness. Only the contour of the land had altered some, from undulating flatness to long gently rolling hills with blue peaks on the far horizon.
Caleeza came across tracks in the snow that suggested great numbers. Following the tracks, she eventually came across what made them. Cresting a hill, she spotted innumerable life forms stretching out before her in a broad valley below. These four-legged creatures were smaller and thinner than the first, or maybe it was the lack of thick, bushy, long-haired coats that made them appear so. They wore long curved antlers on top their heads, and were lithe and light of feet, able to cover ground with quick ease.
Caleeza didn’t know which life form to focus her thoughts toward, there were so many. She noticed some agitation and movement along the edge of the herd directly across from her. Upon closer examination, she spotted the cause. Two humanoid shapes dressed in white, to blend in with the landscape she assumed, were sneaking up on the gathered creatures. They carried long curved objects that could be a weapon of some sort. Were the humanoids meat eaters hunting for food? She crouched down to conceal her presence and watched. With a soft mental touch, she picked up on the two signatures and connected. A lust to kill, so intense it made her shudder, flooded her mind.
Caleeza watched with intense interest as the men snuck up on one of the hoofed life forms they had separated from the herd. Occasionally, the hunters dropped to the ground, remaining motionless for a time to elude detection by their target. Then, one of the hunters stood ever so slowly raising his arms up level with his chest. Taking aim with the strange instrument he carried, he released a missile that struck the target in the neck. The creature dropped. Quickly, another missile was released and the four-legged creature did not move again.
Caleeza stayed hidden as she stealthily watched the hunters disembowel and dismember the body into several parts using a handheld cutting tool. Since they had not noticed her mental touch, she probed a little deeper while they worked and saw images of family and community. Their lives were not just about killing. Would it be safe to ask for help? The men packed the meat onto a small sled they had carried in with them. She thought about revealing herself, but the lust to kill she had read earlier made her cautious. She let them go. They would leave a trail that she could follow.
Once the hunters were safely out of sight, Caleeza inspected the kill site. The snow was red with blood, the pile of internal organs still steaming slightly in the frigid air. Hunger reigned. Immediately, she began digging through the remains, stuffing bits and pieces that looked edible into her mouth. The tidbits were warm and moist and chewy. On her world, food from animals only came from the sea. The practice of using land animals for food died out long before she was born, when most land animals became extinct during the Dark Devastation.
The sun was already setting again. She needed to start moving; the men had enough of a head start. Caleeza cleaned her hands with snow. The herd had moved off quite a distance, but the tracks she intended to follow went in the opposite direction.
Following the distinctive markings two men dragging a sled left in the snow was not a problem, as long as there was light. Where were the men unknowingly leading her? Hopefully, there was a village nearby with food and a warm place to sleep. She was contemplating comfort when she spotted the two men in the near distance. Having nearly caught up with them, Caleeza dropped down into a shallow depression in the snow, counting on the contours of the land, increasing darkness, and the hunters’ determined forward momentum to conceal her.
As darkness cloaked the landscape, the hunters turned on lights they wore on their heads. No longer able to see depth and contrast in the gathering darkness, Caleeza stumbled on, following the light. She fell repeatedly; tripping over unexpected rises and dips in the tortuous landscape. Then, after a time, the lights ahead of her climbed a short rise and stopped.
There was a pause of movement; perhaps, they needed a moment to catch their breath. Then the beams of light jiggled around as the hunters moved their heads in various directions, talking to one another, and intent upon some task. Caleeza crept in closer under cloak of darkness to get a better look. There was something else standing there, silhouetted in the dim starlight, something big, dark, and unmoving, as though it had been patiently waiting for the men to arrive.
Suddenly, a humming noise and bright light spilled out from the large dark form. It seemed to be mechanical rather than biological in nature, Caleeza decided, as she watched the men load the sled and its contents into a large cavity they opened up at one end. With the meat and sled loaded and the open cavity closed, the two men climbed into the mechanical device from opposite sides and closed themselves within. A little disheartened, Caleeza watched the conveyance as it moved away, its lights quickly diminishing in the distance. Maybe I should have revealed my presence, she admitted to herself as she climbed up onto the deserted rise, the wind blowing cold in the loneliness that surrounded her.
Not knowing what else to do, Caleeza started walking in the direction the mechanical transport had taken. It was easy going compared to the terrain she had been crossing. The surface was flat, hard-packed, and for the most part, cleared of snow, except for what the wind blew across it. The trail had obviously been constructed expressly for mechanical transports like the one she had already seen. It was likely that, eventually, more vehicles would pass this way. With this thought in mind, her spirits lifted. The path leads to somewhere; all I have to do is follow it.
Laughing gleefully, Maggie and Leaf romped around the yard and on the nearby trails, brightly covered with golden leaves, in an effort to wear off some of Leaf’s youthful energy. They ventured into the woods while Vince and Melinda hauled firewood and water to the porch and house. Already, the trees were nearly bare, the red and gold of the underbrush fading in color. Clouds obscured the sun low on the horizon; the air felt cool and damp.
“Come!” Leaf called, running ahead a little, luring Maggie ever deeper into the woods.
“Leaf, wait for me!” Maggie hurried to catch up with him.
“Look,” Leaf said, running up to a pile of autumn leaves on a moss-covered stump.
“Oh, yes, isn’t it amazing how high the pile of leaves has grown,” Maggie said a little breathless. She inspected the leaf pile with exaggerated interest while her son gathered more leaves to add to the pile. It did seem like the leaf tower had gained some unexpected height since she and Leaf were last here. Did he and Melinda come this far into the woods without telling her? She made a mental note to ask Melinda about it, when Leaf stopped his leaf-gathering effort suddenly and pointed to something directly in front of him.
A short distance away stood a rangy gray wolf, low growls rolling from its throat, its tongue dripping frothy saliva between bared fanged teeth.
“Leaf, don’t move,” Maggie gasped in horror, suppressing icy fear as she took steps toward placing herself between her son and the growling wolf.
Wolf, Leaf picked up from his mother’s mind. Leaf didn’t move, but he read his mother’s fear. He would protect her from the big bad wolf.
“Bad wolf,” he reprimanded the feral animal, his right arm stretched out before him.
“Leaf, no,” Maggie coaxed, nearly closing the gap between them. The wolf crept threateningly closer and crouched, ready to leap.
Leaf would not let anything hurt his mother. He pointed his chubby little forefinger at the beast that glared back at him with wild staring eyes.
“Bad wolf!” Leaf cried with strange intensity as the wolf sprang forward, yelped loudly in midair, and fell to the ground stone dead.
Vince heard the sharp yelp, the sound traveling easily in the thinned out autumn woods. He reached out mentally for Maggie’s signature. She was crying. Dropping the firewood, he rushed to the scene, teleporting across most of the distance, a feat he hadn’t accomplished in some time,…and found Maggie clutching their little son as though she would never let him go.
“Maggie! Leaf! What’s wrong?” Vince asked, arriving on the scene. “Anyone hurt?”
“No,” Maggie said, trying to say more.
“I killed the big bad wolf,” Leaf said, mimicking a favorite story. Vince spotted the dead wolf a short distance away.
“What happened here?”
Maggie, still in shock, didn’t know how to answer. Had she really witnessed her little boy, not yet three, kill a wolf…how? Rahlys and Anthya may have such powers, but Leaf was just a small child.
“I killed the big bad wolf, Daddy.”
“You…” Vince walked toward the dead wolf.
“Don’t touch it!” Maggie cried. “It’s sure to be rabid.” Leaf struggled for release, and she let him down, holding on to his hand.
“It’s dead,” Vince said after brief inspection.
“It wasn’t dead a moment ago,” Maggie said, in almost a whisper. She looked like she was about to collapse. Vince ran up to her, offering her support.
“Let’s get you two back to the cabin. I’ll come back and take care of this,” he said, giving the dead wolf a quick glance. Then you can tell me all about what happened here. Vince hoped that only Maggie could pick up his mental message.
While Leaf and Melinda played Candy Land, Leaf’s favorite board game, on the living room floor, Maggie and Vince were seated at the kitchen table, discussing quietly what had transpired in the woods. They leaned toward each other for support and comfort, their faces drawn, even grim, from the gravity of the discussion.
“Wolves generally avoid people, unless they’re starving, or sick,” Vince said.
“It appeared so suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and it was so close to Leaf….” Vince took her hands into his own.
“Are you sure that Leaf actually killed that wolf? If it was sick, and it probably was, it may have been time for it to drop dead.
“I’m certain Leaf killed it. I know what I saw,” Maggie said emphatically. The image of her tiny son taking control blazed fresh in her mind.
Leaf’s ability to kill using powers they didn’t understand was a hard concept for Vince and Maggie to accept. They didn’t question the fact that their son was an exceptional child, but this was phenomenal.
“You know, it’s not like he did anything evil. Leaf is not a vicious killer; he was only protecting his mother.”
“For which I am grateful, but Vince, he’s just a toddler. What might he kill next? Can we really expect a toddler to act with discretion based on moral judgment? He shouldn’t be killing at all.”
“Where and how did he get these powers?” Vince couldn’t help wondering. “And what about our unborn child? Are we in for more surprises?”
Maggie instinctively placed a protective hand over her protruding belly. “I don’t know. I guess time will tell. We are going to have to take life’s challenges one day at a time. Meanwhile, what are we going to do about Leaf?”
“We are going to give him lots of love, teach him right from wrong, and like all parents, hope for the best for him.” The noise level from the other room rose, and Vince leaned back in his chair. “What’s going on over there?”
Both Leaf and Melinda jumped up and rushed over to Vince to try their case. Melinda, being older, held more power and spoke first.
We accidentally knocked our pieces off their spots on the board. Now Leafy wants to put his man way ahead of where it was.
“It there,” said Leaf.
No, it wasn’t there. Melinda’s attitude was one of sophisticated impatience.
“How did the pieces get knocked off their spots in the first place?” Vince asked, searching for more evidence…and time to work a solution.
We were laughing and giggling and horsing around, and I accidentally kicked the board, Melinda admitted.
“With her foot,” Leaf said, kicking the air and laughing in delight at the memory of how the pieces had tumbled.
You’re silly, Melinda told him telepathically and smiled. There was no malice in her thoughts.
“Well, I think you should start the game over and try not to upset the board this time,” Vince suggested.
“Okay,” Leaf said, and ran off in youthful exuberance to set up the board for a new game.
“Is that okay with you?” he asked Melinda.
Of course, Melinda said, giving him a reassuring smile.
“Come, Melinda!” Leaf called eagerly from the other room.
You’re a sweetheart, Maggie praised her. Melinda sensed that they were having a private discussion about something. Leaf told her he killed a wolf, but Melinda doubted that. Giving Maggie a little hug, she left them to join Leaf in the other room.
“See, our kids are perfectly normal,” Vince reassured his wife tenderly.
“Yes, perfectly normal,” Maggie agreed. She felt fortunate to have Vince as a partner in this daunting task of parenting. His cool logic, fair reasoning, and loving support comforted her.
But she wished Rahlys were here.
This thought she did not share with Vince.