Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
The Community of the High Council
Zayla guided the members of the expedition out of the garden through a stone arch of lavender and rose that led them onto a wide, cool, crystal-domed avenue. Raven flew over to join them, strutting along uneasily at a comfortable distance behind the rest of the group.
Stone and glass mosaics depicting pastoral scenes covered sections of wall spanning between more lavender and rose stone archways that opened to parks, pools, gardens, orchards, and outdoor sport arenas. High overhead, the crystal ceiling fractured the sunlight into brilliant colors that spilled across the stone avenue, wide enough for ten people to walk abreast.
“This walkway we are on is called The Way and runs the entire length of our community,’’ Anthya said for the benefit of the visitors. “At this end, The Way leads up to the Council Hall of the High Council.”
“What’s at the other end?” Ilene asked, finding wonderment at every turn and brimming with excitement over the whole adventure.
“The Academy,” Theon said, his thoughts transported back to another time. Her father had said little since arriving on this world, but his eyes told volumes. He was home.
Rahlys purposely lagged behind the others to join Quaylyn who stayed pretty much to himself off to one side. She still hadn’t gotten over her cool reception in the garden.
“I have something for you,” Rahlys said, reaching into the pouch of the small pack she carried. “It’s a letter from Vince and Maggie.”
Quaylyn took the envelope from her hand without any emotional response, and tucked it away into a pocket without comment.
“You do remember Vince and Maggie?” Rahlys asked, stunned by his reaction, or rather his lack of one. She had imagined Quaylyn joyfully animated over receiving the letter and had expected him to ask numerous questions in regards to their health and happiness.
“How are Vince and Maggie doing?” he asked with belated spark after picking up on Rahlys’ deep concern, but too late to sound convincing.
“They’re fine. Their son, Leaf, is almost three. Melinda is sixteen, and they are expecting another baby in a couple of months.”
“They’re going to have another baby! That’s great!” Quaylyn exclaimed, suddenly animated, drawing the surprised attention of those in the back of the group who heard him. Then, he quickly composed himself. “I will read the letter later,” he assured her, nearly smiling. “I can easily envision Vince and Maggie with a house full of children.”
For a brief moment Rahlys had caught a glimpse of the Quaylyn she knew and loved emerging from where he was buried, hidden beneath self-blame and sorrow…and then he was gone. By “loved,” she meant loved as a friend, of course.
“Vince and Maggie’s family is growing so rapidly Vince had to add another room onto the cabin to accommodate them all. They sure do miss you,” Rahlys said softly.
So do I, she added quietly to herself, keeping a tight rein on her thoughts and emotions.
Quaylyn didn’t respond, and they walked on in silence.
She had been so excited over the prospect of seeing Quaylyn again, and now he was walking beside her. She couldn’t express her disappointment over the condition she found him in, but could she help him recover from his emotional turmoil?
The Way ended at two massive doors set in a stone wall, one of which stood wide open. Zayla ushered them in following close behind, but Raven, unable to tolerate closed spaces, lingered outside.
The Council Hall was vast and airy, covered with a high crystal dome. Rahlys circled around, mesmerized by its beauty. In the center of the hall stood the massive oval crystal table of legend, the eight silver etchings of the Runes of the elemental forces adorning it, just as Quaylyn had described it to them years ago. Eight crystal armchairs with silver cushions encircled the table; a ninth crystal throne sat on a raised crystal dais, set back from the table at one end. Aqua stone support arches opened invitingly onto botanical gardens enclosed by the stone wall and crystal dome.
“Please, everyone choose a seat,” Zayla said. “Brakalar will join us shortly.” Brakalar left the rest of the group earlier while they were being served refreshments and hadn’t returned by the time they left the garden.
Rahlys took a step forward and gazed in awe at the legendary Runes of Power etched into the table, one before each seat. Even from as far away as across the galaxy, these Runes had managed to impact her life. She was to sit at the Crystal Table, Rahlys realized, a table endowed with great power! Admittedly, her heart constricted a little in apprehension. Were they to go through some kind of ritual or test? She randomly chose a seat. Since she couldn’t decipher the runes, she didn’t know which elemental force she had chosen.
By the time they were all seated, Brakalar arrived accompanied by another man, as warmly appealing as Brakalar was coldly intimidating. The stranger, to Rahlys and apparently to most of the rest of the group judging from their reactions, stood tall in his lean muscular frame, his deeply tanned, strongly sculpted face warmed by smiling blue green eyes streaked with gold. His mane of curvy, dark brown hair fell in thick locks to below his shoulders. The two men nodded a greeting to those already seated at the table and slipped into the remaining seats.
Who is he? Rahlys wondered. Will he also be going on the expedition? If so, why hadn’t he joined them earlier in the garden? All eyes turned to the entrance way again as a stunning lithe woman with dark brown skin and long black hair braided with jewels entered the hall and took a position on the raised dais. The doors to the Council Hall closed behind her with a soft swoosh.
“Welcome Councilors, friends, and visitors. I am Clova, High Councilor of the Crystal Table. You have been summoned here before the Eight Runes of Power: Crystal, Water, Fire, Air, Soil, Sun, Moon, and Void because you are embarking on a long and perhaps dangerous mission. The Crystal Table does not only serve councilors by helping them make wise decisions, but can also be utilized to help launch any endeavor of great importance. Together, we seek purpose and direction for the greater good of all. If you are ready, this meeting will begin.”
There were no objections; no one spoke. Before Rahlys could gather her thoughts, the crystal dome above them darkened suddenly, and the eight Runes etched into the table before them…began to glow!
“When the Rune in front of you moves above the center of the table, it is your turn to speak. If you are chosen to speak, it is because the Power of the Rune wants us to hear what you have to say. While your symbol is in place, no one else, besides me, is allowed to speak. You must speak truthfully. A spoken falsehood would be instantly recognized and would disqualify you from the expedition. If you are ready, we will begin.” Everyone nodded an affirmative.
With a wave of her hand, Clova opened the proceedings and the glowing Sun Rune in front of Brakalar floated up, glimmering over the center of the table. “Councilor Brakalar, as leader of the mission, you have been chosen to speak first.” Clova took her seat, and Brakalar rose to speak.
“Thank you, High Councilor.” Brakalar surveyed the expectant faces of the chosen members of the expedition. “I wish to thank you…all of you…for undertaking this important mission. I want you to know that whenever you have a problem or a concern, you can come to me at any time. I will do all that I can to help.”
Brakalar took a step closer to the man he had brought in with him. “I would like to introduce to you Rojaire, whom I doubt any of you have met. Rojaire is a lone independent explorer who has spent more time on the devastated continent than anyone else on the planet.”
Independent explorer? Likely just a cover for “renegade,” Zayla thought silently to herself. There were still those few who acted, lawlessly or otherwise, independently from society, without regard to the common good of all. How did Brakalar find this independent explorer?
“The safety of the expedition is of paramount importance. The more we know about some of the dangers we may face, the better prepared we will be. Rojaire has agreed to share his knowledge and accompany us on this expedition.”
But why has Rojaire agreed to this? Zayla couldn’t help but wonder. His type always had an ulterior motive.
That moment, the Sun Rune returned to its place in front of Brakalar and the Soil Rune before Zayla rose with an earthy glow and moved to the center of the table. Brakalar sat down; it was her turn to speak. She stood to address the group. There was a brief pause as she guided her thoughts back to positive civility.
“I am Councilor Zayla, second in command of the expedition. May I be the first to welcome you to the team, Rojaire, on behalf of myself and the rest of the group? Knowledge and experience such as yours will indeed be very valuable.” But I wonder at your generosity. What do you hope to gain by joining us? These sentiments she didn’t voice out loud.
“I’m looking forward to working with all of you,” Zayla continued. “An expedition has been lost, seven bright dedicated individuals, never heard from again. Part of our mission is to find out what happened to them. Brakalar and I have mapped out the route of our first expedition, taking off from the beach, then going inland to the Crescent Mountains and the Sooty Caves where we found the capsule that contained Baby Quaylyn,” she smiled softly in Quaylyn’s direction as he struggled to conceal his embarrassment, “and returning by a slightly different route on the way back to avoid certain pitfalls we had encountered on the way in. Perhaps Rojaire can help us plan a better, safer route based on his experiences.” Then to Zayla’s relief, the Soil Rune returned to its original position in front of her.
To Rahlys’ surprise, the glittering Crystal Rune directly in front of her rose to the center of the table. At first, she just stared at it in admiring disbelief. After too long a pause, High Councilor Clova spoke.
“Sorceress Rahlys, Guardian of the Light, the Runes of the Crystal Table wish for you to speak.” All eyes were upon her. Rahlys rose, intimidated by the proceedings, and with great effort, collected her thoughts.
“I am Rahlys, from the planet Earth. It is an honor to be here and a pleasure to meet all of you.” The group nodded in acknowledgement, then looked to her for more. “As you know, I possess Sorceress Anthya’s powers through the Oracle of Light. I am here because I want to help this world heal its devastating wounds.” She couldn’t help a quick glance at Quaylyn seated almost directly across from her. Could Quaylyn’s emotional wounds be healed? The Crystal Rune still held the center of the table. “I want to learn to use my powers…Sorceress Anthya’s powers…to help others.”
“Perhaps you could show us the crystal,” Clova suggested.
“Oh, of course.” Rahlys put out her hand, palm up, and conjured the crystal to it. Immediately, it appeared hovering before her, twirling slowly, emitting its soft light of ever-changing colors. She removed her hand and the crystal began to circle around the table. “It was Raven who found the crystal originally,” she said, searching for something to say. The crystal paused only once in its circuit…recognizing Councilor Anthya…then completed the tour to hover in front of Rahlys. She conjured the crystal back into her pouch and sat down before realizing the Crystal Rune was still in the center of the table. “Oh,” she said out loud, not meaning to, as she jumped back up. There were amused smiles all around.
“And where is your familiar?” Clova asked.
“Outside the doors to the Council Hall. Raven is a creature of flight, at home only in wide open spaces. He doesn’t go into buildings,” Rahlys explained. Finally, the Crystal Rune returned to its place, and Rahlys’ turn to speak was over. Gratefully, she sat back down.
Quaylyn was chosen next as the Void Rune glowed hollowly in the center of the table. He stood without hesitation and began immediately to speak with a vengeance.
“I am Quaylyn, son of Droclum, the scourge of the universe. I go on this expedition to help right my father’s wrongs, and to visit the site where I was found encapsulated,” Quaylyn gave Zayla a scornful look, “and to locate the site where I was born. I carry my father’s ashes, to dispose of them, for I believe only when my father’s ashes are returned to the bowels of Mt. Vatre will his curse on the land be removed.” Rahlys could barely stand to hear the pain and hatred in his heart.
Stone silence followed Quaylyn’s speech as the Void Rune left the center spot, and the Rune for fire took its place, burning brightly in the center of the table. Theon was being called upon to speak. He rose slowly, almost painfully, to address the gathering.
“I am Theon, once Droclum’s closest friend, but I am not the same man today that I was then. Since the Dark Devastation, I have lived on Earth. A lifetime on that world…a long lifetime I might add… has taught me much. I wish to revisit the lands of my youth, assuming they are even recognizable, and I am willing to answer any questions you may have about Droclum and my past, especially if it will help with the success of the mission.”
Seemingly satisfied, the Fire Rune burned out, and the Moon Rune, shining brightly, took its place. It was Ilene’s turn to speak. Timidly, Ilene stood up and looked at the expectant faces turned toward her.
“I am Ilene, daughter of Theon. I was born on Earth. It is only recently that I learned that Theon is my father. Realizing my father’s desire to return to his world, I decided to come with him…to be with him. When he was hurt in the battle that destroyed Droclum, I discovered I had a talent for healing. I wish to learn more about healing while I am here.”
“We welcome you, Ilene, daughter of Theon,” Clova said reassuringly. Then, the Rune signs changed once again. Now, the Water Rune wavered phosphorescently in the center of the table and Rojaire boldly stood before those assembled.
“As Brakalar said, I am Rojaire, a lone, independent explorer. I would like to emphasize the word ‘lone,’ for I am affiliated with no one and break no bonds of loyalty by joining this group.” There was a dramatic pause. Rojaire’s mannerisms and expressions were ideal for the stage. “I explore for the excitement of discovery. I have seen things you can hardly imagine. Every venture into the devastated lands brings new discoveries. It will be my pleasure to work with Councilor Zayla on mapping the region.” His smile was warm and looked genuine, and his independent self-assured air made him charmingly irresistible…almost.
If he’s not a renegade, he’s surely a rogue, Zayla decided to herself. I will keep a close eye on this one.
The Water Rune retreated and Rojaire sat down with a gracious bow. Only Anthya was yet to speak. The ethereal Air Rune rose into position at the center of the table. It shimmered luminously like an aurora in the darkness, beckoning Anthya to speak.
“Councilor Anthya.” Clova spoke softly, urging her on.
Anthya stood, by all outer appearances, calm and serene.
“Greetings…all of you…,” she paused, choosing her words carefully. “I want to see, as much as anyone, a successful conclusion to our mission. I was born during the Dark Devastation. The great Sorceress Anthya delivered me from my mother’s womb into a shattered world. With my mother’s last breath, she named me Anthya, in her honor. Orphaned and homeless, Sorceress Anthya took me with her as the world fell apart around her. She and her community raised me through the hardest of times. I was a young woman when I assisted her in the forging of the Oracle of Light. Anthya wove a spell into the Oracle that gives me a communication link to the crystal and my First Mission, assigned by the High Council, was to take the crystal to Earth and hide it until it was needed to help defeat Droclum.
“At long last, Droclum has been defeated, but the taint of his evil remains on the Devastated Continent. I am here because I would like to see Droclum’s curse lifted and access to the power of the elemental forces restored on the continent.” Anthya waited calmly for the Air Rune to return to its place before her, and quietly sat down. Then the crystal dome above became transparent again and the great hall was flooded with daylight.
High Councilor Clova rose from her seat on the crystal dais to address the group. The High Councilor had the power of final decree. “Each of you has much to offer toward the success of this mission. May you use your resources wisely. When the star Seaa rises, making conditions prime for teleporting, you will go to Limitation Island, a short distance off the coast of the Devastated Continent. It is the closest you can travel to the continent by teleportation. From there, a ship has been outfitted to take you to the mainland. I wish you a safe and successful journey.” And with that, Clova departed, rather quickly, Rahlys thought, as though she had a pressing agenda. The meeting was adjourned.
“How long before Seaa rises in the sky?” Rahlys asked, fighting off weariness. It seemed the day had no end. Was it only this morning they had arrived?
“Not for another rotation, giving you time to rest,” Anthya said, picking up on her weariness. Upon leaving the Council Hall, she teleported them to a residential area sculpted out of the mountains surrounding the fertile valley. Veins of crystal running through colorful foliage-draped stones of aqua and rose were cleared free of vegetation to let in natural light. Wide steps, cut into the side of the mountain, led up to the entrance way.
“A day has already passed on Earth since your arrival,” Anthya explained, leading Rahlys, Ilene, and Theon through a maze of light airy crystal and stone corridors, chambers, steps, and opened-air balconies to what would be their quarters for the duration of their stay. It was refreshingly cooler in the mountain catacombs than out on the surface. “Earth completes a single rotation on its axis in roughly twenty-four Earth hours, but one complete rotation of our world takes about six Earth days.”
“You mean when the sun finally sets, it’s going to be night for three days?” Ilene asked, doing the math.
“You’ll get used to it,” Theon reassured her. “Besides it doesn’t get all that dark, most of the time, because of Seaa.”
“You may also be interested in knowing,” Anthya continued, “that a month has already passed on Earth due to the time distortion created when traveling in permanent physical time.”
“What?” Rahlys couldn’t help exclaiming. She tried to picture Maggie, already a month further advanced in her pregnancy, and Vince a month more anxious over the outcome.
“These are your rooms.” Anthya entered a sky-lit chamber and paused, indicating three archways that led into separate living spaces. “Food, water, bedding, and basic comforts have been provided. I will come for you again when you have rested. May your stay prove to be comfortable,” and without further ado, Anthya was gone.
“Let’s take our chances and pick blindly,” Rahlys suggested, too exhausted to compare or care. Was she experiencing some kind of jet lag? “I’ll take this one. See you later,” she said, and stepped through the first arch and around a short privacy wall, without waiting to see which archways Ilene and Theon chose.
Rahlys expected the room to be small and simple, but the deep, spacious chamber she walked into was simply elegant. The polished stone furnishings built into the walls and ceiling and floor were carved into utilitarian and artistic shapes right where nature had planted them. Some of the niches and surfaces were covered with padded cushions and fluffy pillows to serve as seats and beds. Crystal sky lights and a large opening looking out over the valley let in ample light.
Drawn by the view, Rahlys strolled to the wide, waist-high stone railing that guarded the cliff end, and peered out of the window onto the cultivated valley below. The opening was protected by a rock overhang, but there was nothing to keep out the wind and the rain and the bugs, although none of these things seemed to be a problem at the moment. Beyond the stone railing ran a small unprotected ledge that led to a dizzying drop below. From her high vantage point, she could see fields, orchards, forests, and open spaces bisected by The Way, with the crystal dome roof of the Council Hall at one end and the massive stone structure of the Academy at the other. Beyond the valley, the Golden Sea stretched to the horizon, glimmering softly golden in the sunlight, mirroring a softly glowing golden sky. Standing at the railing, she could feel the encroaching tendrils of outside heat seeping into the coolness of the mountain. Where is Raven? she wondered suddenly.
Rahlys closed her eyes and searched for him, mentally calling him to her. Soon, through the eyes of the raven, she was flying over a frolicking stream cleaving through a cut in the crystal mountain. She could see the stream glistening in the sunlight as it meandered along the base of the foothills and out into the Golden Sea. Then she spotted him flying toward her, across fields and orchards, a lone figure in an empty sky where nothing else moved, not even a cloud.
“Aaaarrrk!” Raven cried as he landed on the ledge. A couple of hops, and he was up on the stone rail strutting to and fro a bit indignantly. He had been searching for her everywhere. “Aaaaaaa!” he whined again, nearly in her ear.
I’m sorry…but look at these nice quarters, she telepathed, indicating the mountain ledge and stone rail so perfect for him and the chamber with its elegant furnishings for her. She offered him something to eat from the sculpted wooden platter she spotted on a table, but he had already helped himself to an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord from the fields and orchards below. Hopefully, that won’t be a problem.
Thanks for coming with me, she told him, stroking the top of his head with a finger. Rahlys could feel his homesickness; she was feeling a little of the same. I just need some rest, she reassured herself. Try to stay out of trouble while I get some sleep, and leaving Raven, she turned away from the ledge, seeking her bed.
“What do you say?” Theon asked. “Shall we tour the other two chambers together?” Theon sensed his daughter was still too hyped to sleep, but that would change soon when euphoria allowed exhaustion to take over.
“Yes, I would like that.” The second archway led them down a curving hallway, up a short staircase, and into living quarters similar to Rahlys’, but facing more toward the river. At first, Ilene could only gasp and exclaim over their findings. “Oh, it is so beautiful, all of it, the room, the scenery! Is this how you remembered it?” she asked her father.
“Well, sort of,” he tried to explain. “I lived more on the outskirts of society…but it’s the same planet.”
Ilene gave him a bemused smile. He looked tired; she probably should let him get some rest, she decided, and was about to suggest they take a quick look at the other apartment, when she spotted Raven flying toward the mountain. “Look, there’s Raven!” she cried out in excitement as she ran to the railing along the edge of the ledge overlooking the valley.
“Rahlys has probably summoned him,” Theon speculated, and they watched Raven’s approach until he disappeared around a contour of the mountain to their right.
“I want these living quarters,” Ilene said.
“Now, don’t jump to a decision too fast. You might like the other one better.
“Nothing could be better than this.” Ilene tried to take in all the strange beauty around her. “You can stay here with me; it’s plenty big enough for the two of us.”
“Oh, no, you need your space, and I’m not such an old fart, I can take care of myself.” Although he was home, he spoke more like an Alaskan woodsman. “Let’s go see what the other archway has to offer?”
They descended the stairs and wove their way through the curved hallway back to the sky-lit chamber. The third archway was across the room from the first two and opened onto a long corridor that ramped gently down to the left before leveling off into spacious living quarters level with a high rocky valley, secluded and untamed, on the opposite side of the mountain from the Academy and Council Hall community.
“This is the place for me!” Theon smiled broadly as he gazed out at smooth, large-leafed foliage of yellow, red, blue-green, and orange growing over outcroppings of crystal and rose and lavender stone. “You can have your cliff dwelling,”…and your view of the establishment, but he kept that part to himself. “I’ll be fine here. Why don’t you go and get some rest.”
That was just what Ilene wanted to do, she realized suddenly, and since her father seemed happy and content, she kissed him on the cheek and left for her own quarters.
It was what Theon wanted also; he needed to be alone so he could think. He walked through the chamber, hardly looking at it, to the open-aired window and door, and stepped out into the valley. Finding a natural stone bench, he sat down in the hot sun to a view of the forested valley below. If I were younger and I didn’t have Ilene to watch over, I would take off walking here and now…never to be seen or heard from again…but it couldn’t be.
While feasting his eyes, he thought about the chosen members of the expedition. Rahlys, Raven, and Ilene he was sure about and knew he could trust, at least for now. Anthya and Quaylyn were probably okay, although Quaylyn’s emotional state left something to be desired. The only reservation he had concerning Anthya was Zayla’s possible influence over her. But Brakalar, Rojaire, and Zayla were all red flags of concern in his opinion.
The Zayla he once knew so long ago had been bold and determined, and highly intelligent, but now she seemed dangerously intelligent. He wasn’t sure why he felt that way. Zayla and Brakalar found Quaylyn long after the Dark Devastation on a previous expedition…still an infant, encapsulated in suspended animation. Now that was an unlikely miracle!
That same Quaylyn, the son of Droclum, had been sent to Earth for his First Mission to destroy his father. Now, Quaylyn was here today as a member of the expedition. What else might they have found besides Quaylyn? For Theon knew of objects wrought with Droclum’s evil power that must never be found. Where they were hidden he did not know specifically. Droclum had kept this kind of information to himself, but based on where Brakalar and Zayla found Quaylyn, he had a good idea where to look.
Brakalar was hiding something for sure…but what? And this Rojaire fellow, his cocksure attitude reminded Theon of Droclum in their younger days.
But Quaylyn, despite being Droclum’s spawn, was not evil. He’s just afraid he’s going to be evil, and needs some sense knocked into him. I would have thought seeing Rahlys would have cheered him right up.