Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen
Firewood and Fishing
Rahlys felt a resurgence of energy brought on by brighter, sunnier days and lengthening daylight. In tiny increments, the sun arched higher and wider across the sky, gradually lifting the veil of winter and offering a promise of spring…though somewhat distant still. As winter grew milder, daily chores became a reason for going out into the bright, and somewhat warm, sunshine. Twenty above felt good after twenty below; thirty degrees above zero felt downright balmy.
Maggie’s holiday visit ended and with reluctance she returned to town. After a couple of weeks, she was back for a longer extended stay, a decision backed by Vince. Maggie, who had disdained at first living a rustic lifestyle in the woods, had unexpectedly found everything she had been looking for: contentment, romance…even adventure.
And there was always lots to do. Besides the chores, Vince taught Maggie how to make bread, and Maggie showed Vince how to be creative cooking with canned moose, which worked out great for Rahlys who was invited over often to enjoy the results. Feasting on moose, bread, and wine, they speculated on Droclum’s plans and whereabouts.
“I wonder why he hasn’t been back around,” Rahlys said. There had been no sign of Droclum since Vince had nearly been sucked away.
“Because he can’t find us.” Maggie had unflagging confidence in Rahlys’ protective shield.
“Sooner or later Droclum will find Rahlys again. We must never let down our guard,” Vince said, always on high alert.
Vince also laid out strategy for firewood harvesting. The snow on the ground was forming a crust as the surface repeatedly warmed during the day and froze hard again at night. He had the women practice driving the snowmachine on and off established trails, learning the lay of the land, and how to get themselves out when they got the snowmachine stuck in deep snow. They ran the snowmachine on the woodlot trails repeatedly packing them down, and Vince groomed the trails with a trail drag so they would freeze smooth at night.
When the woodlot trails proved firm enough, wood harvest began in earnest. Vince and Maggie headed out with the snowmachine pulling Vince’s special firewood sled loaded with snowshoes, axe, and chainsaw, as well as extra gas and oil for the chainsaw.
Rahlys, dressed in layers, the crystal secure in its pouch around her neck, stepped out into the cool brightness and summoned Raven. A gentle warmth from the sun touched her face as she gazed skyward. Soon the raven was sending her images and Rahlys spotted Vince and Maggie in the woodlot.
As Vince came to a stop, parking the machine a safe distance from the trees he wanted to cut, Rahlys appeared on the trail beside them. “Perfectly coordinated!” Vince said with satisfaction, as the raven came in for a landing in a nearby tree. “We’ll take a couple of trees out of that group of five,” Vince said, pointing to a stand of trees conveniently close to the trail. He unloaded the sled, setting the gas and oil containers in the snow, then picked up the chainsaw and headed toward the trees he had pointed out. Maggie and Rahlys waited by the sled till further instruction.
The first tree Vince chose was a large, tall birch tree, its trunk clean and white, the lowest branches at least fifteen feet off the ground. With chainsaw in hand, he stomped the snow down around its base, giving himself room to work. “I’m going to make the tree fall right along the trail there,” he indicated like a pool player calling his shot. Putting on headphones and protective eyewear Vince started up the chainsaw its roar filling the woods, and Raven flew off squawking his displeasure at the noise.
Vince made one deep cut and then another, slicing out a wedge a couple of feet above the ground on one side of the tree. Then stomping down more snow, he moved the chainsaw to the opposite side of the tree trunk and made another cut above and toward the first until the tree began to buckle and fold on its hinge. As the tree shuddered, cracked, and toppled, Vince stepped back and away with chainsaw in hand. There was a snapping, crunching crash as the tree landed in the snow precisely where he said it would. With a smirk of self-satisfaction, he shut off the chainsaw and set it down on the snow.
“That was incredible!” The women came running up, truly impressed. They looked at the mighty tree with respectful silence. So many long, hard winters it had survived to be sacrificed now to keep them warm.
“I’ll remove the branches that are blocking the trail first. Then one of you can go for the snowmachine, getting it turned around in the right direction, while the other clears the trail, piling the branches out of the way.”
Vince grabbed the chainsaw, started it with one mighty pull of the rope, and deftly trimmed off the branches. Then he started slicing the trunk up into stove length rounds.
Maggie went for the snowmachine while Rahlys magically lifted the bare, severed branches and tossed them neatly in a pile off to the side. To Maggie’s relief the snowmachine started up on the second pull of the rope. Getting the machine started had been her biggest worry. Heading away from the fallen tree, Maggie found the overlap of the first and second loop that served as a turnaround, and was soon heading back toward the group feeling pleased with herself.
Rahlys, spying Maggie’s speedy approach, conjured the last tree branch out of the trail and onto the pile with a quick, focused thought, then stepped out of the way as Maggie sped by too fast to stop before the snowmachine and sled passed them.
“Whoa! Whoa!” Vince shook his head, turning the chainsaw off to take a break. There was the flicker of an amused smile before his face went solemn. “Go around again, and this time slow down when approaching so you can line up the sled with the firewood.”
While Maggie drove the snowmachine around, Vince struggled to free a large freshly cut round out of the trough the fallen tree had made in the snow. Rahlys teleported the log round out from Vince’s grasp to the edge of the trail. The sudden lack of resistance landed Vince on his seat in the snow. Soon she had all the cut sections standing on end along the trail. Vince looked at Rahlys with increasing wonder and deference as Maggie came in for a second landing, braking gently. The sled lined up perfectly with the waiting load.
“Good job!” Rahlys praised her. Vince quickly lifted the first and largest round of firewood just high enough to clear the hitch and shuffled the wood to the back of the sled. Then Rahlys teleported a second round onto the sled, next to the first. Soon he and Rahlys had the sled loaded with the six largest sections from the lower end of the tree, and Vince strapped the wood in.
“I’ll take this load,” he said. “It will be the heaviest one, and it will have to be unloaded at the woodshed.” Rahlys and Maggie readily agreed. Rahlys was already feeling the energy drain from the mental exertion. It was her heaviest use of repetitive magic since her encounter with Droclum, and she frequently peered cautiously about searching for a strange dark cloud of mist, or other threatening phenomenal show of force, but nothing happened. Whether it was because the protective shield was working, or no one was searching, she didn’t know.
After watching Vince pull away with the heavy load, Rahlys and Maggie sat on upended rounds of firewood in the warm sun. “We should plan a surprise in the woods for Vince on his way back,” Maggie suggested.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe you could conjure an obstacle onto the trail…like a dragon or something.”
Rahlys chuckled, “Do you really think he is deserving of a dragon?”
“Wouldn’t you like to see the expression on his face…?” Maggie trailed off as Rahlys stood in surprise over the sudden, unexpected message. “What is it?”
“Anthya is coming.”
And then Anthya was there, standing before them in a long, flowing sky-blue gown that shimmered like her pale silken hair in the late winter sunshine. Maggie fell over backward off her stool into the snow. “Greetings, Sorceress Rahlys, Guardian of the Light and Warrior Maggie.” Maggie slowly righted herself, not taking her eyes off the gleaming apparition. Rahlys smiled at the salutation.
“Greetings, Councilor Anthya, visitor from afar. What can we do for you?”
“Defeat Droclum, for the security of your world as well as the rest of the universe.”
“So you have said, and have you come now to tell us how?” Rahlys, surprised by her own audaciousness, recalled her first encounter with the self-assured otherworldly visitor.
“I have come to inform you that the High Council has assigned a highly skilled warrior and talented sorcerer on a mission to Earth, to train you and your warriors in the use of magic so that you may realize the full potential of your abilities.”
“A sorcerer is coming here to teach us magic?” Maggie repeated astounded.
“His name is Quaylyn. He is at the beginning of his longevity on our world, but hundreds of years old in Earth-years. This is his First Mission. As Guardian of Anthya’s Oracle, your powers are far greater than his, but there is much that he can teach you.”
Rahlys sensed that there was much she didn’t know about her magical abilities…but an alien visitor? This Quaylyn person could be more trouble than he was worth. So far she had been able to stand off Droclum on her own. Still Rahlys felt it unwise to refuse any help offered. She bowed gratefully to Anthya. “Please thank the High Council for me, for their generosity.”
“And where is this sorcerer warrior named Quaylyn?” Maggie asked.
“He is traveling in permanent physical time, which is slower than nonpermanent physical time…as I appear before you now. Expect his arrival in about three Earth days.”
“What do I need to do to prepare for him? How long will he be here?” Rahlys asked.
“His needs are modest; a warm dry place to sleep, nourishment, and regional clothing to disguise his origin. The duration of his stay has not been predetermined. His purpose is to serve. Good luck, Sorceress Rahlys, Guardian of the Light.”
Before Rahlys or Maggie could ask or say more, Anthya dissolved away. The words “nonpermanent physical time” came to mind.
A fishing boat shimmered on the serene water of the bay not far offshore, while a small skiff languidly hugged the beach. Two people, a man and a girl, were walking on the shore! Franklin was startled by the presence of people and boats. Never before had he encountered boats in his bay, and people on his beach.
Get rid of the boats.
The presence within that haunted his dreams, now found him during wakeful hours as well, but getting rid of the boats was exactly what Franklin had in mind. Hidden from view at the edge of the brush, he focused his concentration on the skiff anchored to the shore, and transported it to the hidden sea, deep beneath the mountains.
The man and girl, probably father and daughter, they had the same brown skin and black hair, didn’t notice the skiff’s disappearance for they were walking toward Franklin, facing away from where the skiff had been anchored. The girl he saw, as they got closer, was just about his age, maybe a little younger. She would be perfect, he thought.
Franklin stepped deeper into the edge of the brush to let them past. When they were safely beyond him, he focused on the fishing boat anchored out in the bay…and soon it too was gone.
Hidden from view, Franklin waited for a reaction from the beachcombers. He didn’t have to wait long. The man came running back up the beach, screaming frantically over the disappearance of his boats, his daughter following close behind him, crying helplessly.
Franklin laughed, his laughter unheard over the cussing and crying. He didn’t have any use for the man, but the girl would serve well toward fulfilling his fantasies. Franklin concentrated and mentally grasped the man’s heart, squeezing it tightly, cutting off the circulation. The man gripped his chest, slumping quietly to the ground.
“Papa, Papa!” the girl screamed, running to his side, crying all the harder. “Papa, what is happening?”
But Papa didn’t answer…he was dead.
Franklin decided to quickly remove Papa from the scene, and teleported the body, right out from under the dead man’s grieving daughter, depositing it in the small open cave up the mountainside.
Seal off the cave.
Franklin, under Droclum’s tutelage, concentrated power on the mountain around the opening. An isolated tremor rattled the boulders above the tomb, until the side of the mountain shuddered and gave way in a rockslide that effectively sealed off the cave.
The girl’s shock at the sudden disappearance of her father from her arms, cauterized the flow of tears. No longer able to comprehend, she looked around bewildered. There were no boats…no father. Where could he have gone? What happened to him? She tried to call out to him, but try as she may, no sound issued forth.
It began to drizzle, the misty grayness enveloping her. Grief turned to terror. At any moment she, too, could vanish into oblivion. Silently she wailed to keep the evil spirits at bay. Perhaps the elders were right, and the new generation was wrong. She had nothing to lose by trying, but would it work without sound?
Franklin stepped out onto the beach and approached the girl unhurriedly. When she spotted him, she squinted her eyes and tightened the muscles in her face in an increased effort to ward him off, his evil aura nearly smothering her as he came closer. She screamed with the terror of a thousand nightmares, a silent scream, too spiritually deep for expression on such a delicate instrument as human vocal cords. Reaching her, Franklin grabbed her arm and teleported her with him to his cavern.
It had happened with the speed of a swallow snapping a fly out of the air. In the blink of an eye, she and the evil spirit were no longer on the beach in the cold drizzle, but in a warm dry cave lit with an eerie orange glow, probably from hell’s own internal furnace.
Franklin released his grip on the shuddering girl and walked around her appraisingly, aroused by her tangible fear. She was just what he had been looking for, sweetly young and delicately innocent. He tried to remove her jacket to get a better look at her, but she clung to it with all her might holding it closed with her arms pressed tightly in front of her. A focused thought, and the jacket was magically removed. The girl cried in silent despair at the disappearance of her outer line of defense, tears visibly coursing down her beautifully smooth brown cheeks. Franklin reached out to touch her tears. Startled, the girl recoiled out of reach, bumping into the corner post of a massive bed.
“What’s your name?” Franklin demanded.
The girl’s lips and mouth moved in an effort to speak, but still she seemed unable to utter a sound.
“I will call you Taku,” he decided pulling the word from her mind. “I am Droclum, your master. You belong to me and will do as I say.”
Franklin’s body quivered with desires, the quick fiery desire of impetuous youth, and the burning seething lust of millennia of restraint as Franklin/Droclum moved in for the taking. Taku struggled in silent terror, but inevitably her efforts at resistance were overwhelmed. Finally, unable to bear any more, she went limp in evil’s cold embrace.
Taku slowly drifted back into consciousness. A sickly feeling in her heart told her all was not right. She tried to pull together some loose threads of memory. She had a father…she could see him in flashes, but the image wouldn’t stay focused…did something happen to him? She couldn’t remember. Her eyelids were still too heavy to lift, but she could feel she was lying on an unfamiliar bed. Where had she seen a strange bed? Or had it been a strange place for a bed? So much thinking soon wore her out, and the soft gurgle of running water lured her back to sleep.
The next time she awoke, her mind drew a blank, offering her no clues to her past. She opened her eyes in alarm and discovered she was in a large cavern, on a strange bed. Slowly, she sat up and looked around, then laid her head back down, trying to remember…trying to remember something…anything, but her memories hid behind a gray curtain, unwilling to reveal themselves. She struggled to recall her name…was it Taku? That didn’t seem quite right, but she was certain Taku was the name of something. She sat up again to take a better look at herself and her surroundings. Barefoot and dressed in a pink nightgown she did not recognize, she gazed over the edge of the massive bed, estimating the drop. Spotting the foot stool, she clambered down.
The air in the cavern was warm, warmer than a cave would normally be. Orange light emanated from spots of glowing stone high on the walls, but the stone floor felt cool under her feet. Gingerly, she took a few steps, shaping her feet to the stone, making her way down to the next level.
Here stood a massive stone table littered with bones and feathers, and uneaten fruit in various stages of decay. In a niche along the wall, was a metal supermarket shopping cart filled with bags and boxes of packaged foods. Across the room from the stone table stood a large mirror, framed in carved wood, a cloak of feathers draped over its back. A stranger with disheveled black hair and a tear-stained face stared back at her from the mirror. Not wanting to face the fear in the strange girl’s eyes, Taku turned away.
The level below the table and mirror was covered with animal hide rugs, and furnished with a large throne-like chair made of stone. From here she could see where the unceasing sound of gurgling water was coming from. Another level below her, a little stream flowed through the cavern. Carefully, she clambered over the rocks to the level of the water. Reaching the edge of the stream, she cautiously dipped her fingers into the cold water. Then scooping some water up with her hands, she threw it on her face, washing off the crusty salt residue from her tears, and cupped more into her hands to drink. The cold water soothed her dry raw throat. Lifting the pink gown above her knees, she stepped into the shallow, chilled water, the stones slippery under her feet. Soon her feet were icy cold, and she stepped back out onto the heated shore.
Taku looked back toward the higher levels of the cavern, and saw the large four-posted bed on its stone dais. Slowly, she retraced her steps back, thinking hard. The more she thought, the more fearful she became…something about an evil spirit…and it had a name.
Then she saw the name written in the dust on the mirror. Droclum. The spirit who brought her here called himself Droclum! Taku’s innards contorted in terror. She needed to find a way to escape before he came back! Where was the door? Looking around, she followed the entire contour of the cavern walls, but there was no door to be found. There had to be an opening somewhere, else how could she have entered? Something nagged at her thoughts, but she just didn’t seem to be able to grasp it. Then finally she understood; evil spirits didn’t need doors.