Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen
A New Alliance
Vince was stunned by Maggie and Rahlys’ news of Anthya’s visit, and more than a little concerned about an alien joining them. The prospect was unimaginable. Even his purpose for coming was mystifying. “He’s going to train us in magic? All of us?”
“I don’t have much magic to train,” Maggie said aside.
“That means you don’t know the full extent of your powers,” Vince surmised, studying Rahlys.
“He is due to arrive in about three days.” Maggie informed him.
“Why didn’t he come with her?”
“Because he is traveling in permanent physical time, which is slower,” Rahlys tried to explain.
Vince gave her a puzzled look. “And what did you say his name is?”
“I wonder what he will be like.” Maggie said.
“Is he supposed to help us defeat Droclum? How long will he be here?”
“The duration of his stay has not been predetermined,” Rahlys quoted Anthya. “Since the High Council appointed him, I guess the High Council can take him away. I don’t know what say we have in it, if any. I always have the feeling that Anthya knows exactly what is going on here. Maybe the length of his stay will be determined by his effectiveness.”
“A noble concept for a governing body,” Vince said with skepticism.
“He will need a place to stay,” Maggie pushed on.
“He can bunk downstairs on the daybed. I want to keep a close eye on him,” Rahlys added quickly. “My magic is supposed to be greater than his, so I should be alright. Anthya said his purpose is to serve.”
“If it looks like he is going to be around a while, I’ll put him to work building a guest cabin for you,” Vince decided.
Wood harvest continued smoothly from there. Vince cut down several trees and bucked them up, and Maggie and Rahlys loaded the sled, taking turns hauling. Rahlys sped things up considerably by teleporting some of the wood. Soon there was a mound of firewood rounds waiting to be split and stacked in front of both woodsheds.
In the evenings, Rahlys painted patterns of snowmachine trails and stacks of firewood. At night she dreamed of voracious chainsaws devouring trees.
Rahlys opened her eyes to a morning glowing with sunlight. This was the day Quaylyn was expected to arrive. By unanimous vote, they had decided to take a break from wood harvesting. While waiting for Quaylyn’s arrival, Rahlys planned to concentrate on splitting some of the wood already harvested and stacking it in the woodshed. But there was no hurry, she decided, as she lazed in bed a while longer, lost in thought.
I shouldn’t have revealed the existence of the crystal to Maggie and Vince. Now I have put them in grave danger. An involuntary shudder racked her body as she recalled the evil that had exuded from Droclum when she had wrenched Vince free from his mental grasp. Vince and Maggie were not equipped to handle Droclum. Neither was she, but she put that thought aside. With Quaylyn’s help, hopefully she would grow in strength. She would learn how to use the frightful power she felt within. Leisurely, Rahlys rose to start her day.
Sunlight streamed in as she tidied up the kitchen. She smiled, looking out the window at the mound of freshly cut firewood outside her woodshed waiting to be split and stacked. It was a relief to see the mound grow. Her fears during the winter over how she was going to replenish her wood supply were now gratefully resolved, and warmth for yet another winter in the woods was thankfully assured.
Rahlys froze in thought. Quickly she telepathed to Maggie, Vince, and Raven. Then Quaylyn appeared in the kitchen beside her. He’s here, she informed them, intently studying the new arrival. The man standing before her looked more like a superhero from a comic book than an old sorcerer, certainly a far cry from an ancient Merlin, his muscular body admirably displayed in a form-fitting tunic and breeches. His finely sculpted face showed no emotion, but Rahlys saw an unmistakable twinkle in his deep blue eyes. A pouch slung across his shoulder was his only luggage.
“Greetings, Sorceress Rahlys, Guardian of Anthya’s Oracle. I am Quaylyn, at your service,” he greeted her warmly and bowed.
Rahlys wasn’t sure how to address him. Anthya had said he was a sorcerer and a warrior. “Greetings, Warrior Quaylyn,” she decided. “Welcome to our world. Should I ask, how was your journey?”
Quaylyn smiled, and his dark blue eyes sparked with friendliness. “It was an incredible trek across the galaxy. As you can see, I made good time.” Quaylyn looked around, feasting his eyes on a strange, new world.
“Welcome to my home. I’m afraid you will have to sleep on the daybed here in the living room.”
“And why are you afraid?” Quaylyn asked with concern.
“Oh…what I meant was, you will have to sleep in the living room instead of having a room of your own, which would be preferable.”
“I understand. Fear not, Sorceress Rahlys. I thank you for your generous hospitality.” His attention turned back to his surroundings. “Your home is made of dead trees.” It was more a statement than a question.
“Well, yes. It’s a log cabin.” And he was to be her teacher. He certainly wasn’t what she had expected.
“What did you expect?” Quaylyn asked.
Rahlys blushed, realizing he had read her thoughts.
“My lady, please forgive me, but as pleasant and quaint as your thoughts are, you must learn not to broadcast them for all to hear.”
“Aaaark,” Raven flew over the cabin, then landed in a tree at the edge of the clearing.
“Come, I will introduce you to one of my warriors,” Rahlys said, changing the subject.
Quaylyn gasped audibly upon stepping outdoors, despite his attempt at formality. He gazed around in wonder at the winter landscape glittering in the sunlight, then turned his attention to Raven.
Raven, this is Quaylyn, Rahlys telepathed, but apparently Quaylyn had already spoken for himself, because the raven flew down to him without hesitation.
“Raven is an unusually gifted bird,” Rahlys said. He has been magically transformed by the Oracle.”
“I understand.” Quaylyn said then greeted Raven bowing respectfully. I am honored to serve.
“Klawock, klawock,” the raven replied.
I look forward to you showing me the forest, rivers, and mountains, Quaylyn said, sharing his telepathed conversation with Rahlys. How strange that he had gained the raven’s confidence so quickly, Rahlys thought wonderingly.
“The others are on their way,” Rahlys explained.
“Yes, they are traveling by a mechanical device. I can hear it. What other wondrous creatures do you have here?” Before she could even answer, a squirrel ran up a nearby tree, twittering loudly. Quaylyn, in hardly concealed awe over the small furry creature, made his way deferentially to the tree, seeking out the squirrel, probably wishing to make its acquaintance, Rahlys thought. But the squirrel didn’t have the raven’s insightfulness and would have nothing to do with him. Chattering angrily it scampered away over tree branches.
You are being spied upon.
Rahlys quivered, her heart racing. The telepathed message had not come from the Oracle, but from Quaylyn. Who could be spying on her; was it Droclum? She probed the surroundings for a mental presence, and eventually found two hunkered down in the snow on the ridge across the creek. One mental signature actually felt familiar…it was Aaron, she was certain of it. The other one she didn’t know. Could it be Half Ear, the local Aaron had mentioned? What were they hoping to achieve by coming here? And how should she deal with this?
“Do you know the two men camped across the creek?”
“I know Aaron. The other, I believe, is his friend Half Ear.”
“He is not from Earth.”
“What do you mean, he’s not from Earth?” Rahlys asked in alarm, stunned by Quaylyn’s statement. “How can you tell?”
“He shields his thoughts.”
“Well, I’m certain Aaron is from Earth. I’ve met his folks. And since I can read his thoughts, I’m sure you can.” Rahlys could see Vince and Maggie approaching, the snowmachine accelerating to rush the hill, and then they were there, circling the cabin before coming to a stop. Quickly they were standing beside her.
“Quaylyn, meet Maggie and Vince. Maggie and Vince, Quaylyn.”
Quaylyn spoke first. “Greetings Maggie and Vince, warriors of the Guardian of the Light. It is my pleasure to serve.” Maggie gave Rahlys a meaningful wink off to the side.
“Greetings, welcome to our little woodsy community,” Vince extended his hand. At first Quaylyn didn’t seem to understand the meaning of Vince’s gesture, then picking up clues from his mind, quickly grasped the concept and took Vince’s hand, shaking it dramatically.
“Yes, welcome, Quaylyn, it is a pleasure to have you here,” Maggie greeted him warmly, unable to resist extending her hand for an encore handshaking performance.
“Good, now that we are all here, we can begin,” Quaylyn said. “Why don’t we start by you showing me what magic you’ve already learned?”
“Rahlys is the only one with any real ability,” Maggie explained. “But, you’ve just arrived and we haven’t even had a chance to get to know you yet. We thought perhaps you and Rahlys could come over for a barbecue at our place.”
“Of course, some socializing first would be in order. I humbly accept your invitation.”
“Aaron and Half Ear are spying on us from across the creek, and Quaylyn says Half Ear is not from Earth,” Rahlys informed them.
“What?” Vince said in disbelief. “Half Ear! Why, he’s practically the village idiot!”
“He must be spying on us and reporting back to Droclum!” Maggie said in dismay. “What are we going to do?”
“Act as naturally as possible, and hope they haven’t seen anything unusual. I wonder how long they have been there.” I should have been more vigilant Rahlys reprimanded herself silently. At least the crystal has been in its pouch. “Perhaps we should take Quaylyn inside and dress him in more conventional clothing.”
The next few hours were indeed interesting as they showed Quaylyn his surroundings. Vince gave him a ride on the snowmachine and even let him drive it around the cabin a couple of times. He was fascinated by their homes, the furnishings, and the way they lived. While they prepared dinner, he asked endless questions about the food they ate and where it came from as Rahlys and Maggie put together some side dishes and Vince fired up the grill and seasoned the steaks.
Then over dinner, Quaylyn told them a little about himself. “I am from the agriculture community of Lyngly. My chosen mother is Mythra, my chosen father, Kyemon, both from Lyngly.”
“What do you mean by chosen mother and chosen father?” Maggie asked.
“When the population needs to be replenished, a new person is produced by a chosen mother and a chosen father. Each new person is loved, nurtured, disciplined, and educated by the entire community, with each member contributing instruction based on their knowledge and skills, until the new person’s interests and talents emerge. Then he or she is sent to the community of the High Council, where the Academy is located, to hone those talents and interests until ready to be assigned a suitable, challenging First Mission. This is my First Mission. When my assignment has been completed, I will no longer be a new person, but an Accepted One. The outcome of my mission determines my future vocation.”
Rahlys realized that in Quaylyn’s eyes, he was an explorer to a new world, far more primitive than his own, who had been given a mission to accomplish, a rite-of-self-determination, so to speak.
“Why do you think, you were chosen for this mission?” Rahlys asked.
“I don’t know if I’m the best choice for your needs,” Quaylyn admitted, having read her thoughts, “I have not questioned the decision. But the Runes of the High Council would not have chosen me, if it were not meant to be. And I can assure you that I will do everything within my power to help you against Droclum.” Rahlys wanted to ask what he meant by “Runes of the High Council,” but Maggie spoke up first.
“Does your world look much like Earth?” she asked.
“No, not at all. Its colors and texture are very different. Even in the polar regions of our world, we do not have much ice and snow. The sky and water is golden, and the foliage of the trees and plants is mostly blue green and orange. Our mountains are made of crystals and colorful stones of green, pink, and lavender.” Quaylyn sent them mental pictures of the landscape as he described it, and a world of vivid colors like fauvist paintings flowed through their minds.
“When Mt. Vatre exploded, much of our world was destroyed. Multitudes died. Many species of life were extinguished entirely. The tainted lands are still uninhabitable, and magic as we know it no longer works there.”
When the table was finally cleared, Quaylyn, sitting directly across from Maggie, asked her curiously, “What did you mean when you implied earlier that you have little ability to train?”
“Well, I can communicate telepathically with Rahlys with her help, but I can’t move objects.”
“Why not?” To find out, Quaylyn reached over for her water glass and set in down in front of him. “There is an incredible amount of elemental energy to draw on all around us. Now conjure the glass back to you,” he instructed. “Don’t even think about the space across the table, just concentrate on where the glass is in front of me, and where you want the glass to be. Then relax and focus, and it will be there. Remember, the crystal has given you the power.”
Maggie, obviously feeling ill at ease at being asked to perform, worked at building up the courage to try. All eyes were upon her. She thought of the things Quaylyn had said as she focused on the glass, then tried not to think, but relax. At first nothing happened. Then the glass started to tremble, the water inside jiggled around. Seeing her so close, Quaylyn gave the glass the slightest mental nudge, and the glass vanished, instantly reappearing in front of her. Maggie screeched in excitement. “I did it! Did you see that?”
While Rahlys and Vince congratulated her, Quaylyn teleported the glass back in front of him. “Now, do it again,” he instructed her. Maggie would have preferred to soak in success a while longer before risking failure with a second attempt, but dutifully she gave it another shot. Quicker this time, the glass began to move, and just when Quaylyn was about to give it another helping nudge, the glass relocated itself in front of Maggie. It was Maggie’s success, but a breakthrough for them all, Rahlys realized. Quaylyn was obviously going to have a tremendous impact on their magical development.
That evening, after her alien guest was settled on the daybed downstairs, Rahlys laid awake in the darkness. Thoughts crowded her mind.
Tomorrow, she would begin her training with Quaylyn in earnest. Hopefully he would help her to embrace her destiny, accept her fate. The tremendous magical force that coursed through her had now become a power to bravely explore, instead of timidly deny.
Clouds moved in overnight, concealing the morning sun. Rahlys had been hoping for another sunny day, but the woods loomed shadow-less and gray outside her bedroom window. She slipped out of bed and into her robe, conjuring the crystal to her hand from the pouch on the nightstand beside her bed, as she approached the window, mentally checking on her spies. They were in the same location. Maybe they were waiting for her to leave, so they could look for the crystal, or maybe they were hoping to witness something inexplicable. How could she drive them away without giving them a chance to do just that? She didn’t want to convince Aaron of the existence of magic.
“Good morning,” she greeted Quaylyn when she went downstairs.
Rahlys put coffee on, then looked out at the stack of wood that needed to be split and stacked in the woodshed. Had the spies seen the stack of wood magically grow? I’ll just have to work on firewood the old fashion way, she thought to herself.
“We can use magic to split and stack the wood, and not be seen, if we produce an illusion spell,” Quaylyn said, reading her thoughts again. “This will be good practice for you in the use of creative magic. And while we do the wood, you can practice shielding your thoughts.”
Over breakfast, Quaylyn helped Rahlys formulate the illusion. If the spell worked, day and night, cloudiness and sunshine, rain and snow would transpire naturally in the yard, while their presence and anything they actually did, would remain unseen. Rahlys concentrated, putting the magic screen in place before they stepped outside to start on the task of splitting and stacking wood.
They walked across the yard to the woodshed, in what would be “in full view” for the spies across the creek, but if the spell was working as it should, and her confidence in her ability was growing, Aaron and his partner were still seeing a vacant yard with nothing happening. Upon reaching the shed, she slipped on the work gloves she had carried out with her, and checked once again on the location of the spies. They had not moved. She could barely make them out in their carefully concealed position, camouflaged like Ptarmigan, in the black and white landscape, under a white tarp.
Pulling the axe out of the chopping block and laying it against the woodpile close at hand, Rahlys picked a round from the pile and set it on end on the chopping block. “Here is the conventional way of splitting wood,” she said. Lifting the axe high over her head, she brought it down hard on the log with a sharp smacking thud. The wood cracked loudly under the onslaught.
“Does the spell cover sound?” she asked. “Because if it doesn’t, the spies will be apt to wonder what is going on.” Quaylyn had Rahlys weave another spell, drawing on the elemental molecular forces around her to block and absorb sound waves. Confident that sound was no longer getting through, she took another mighty whack at the wood, which rewardingly split into two.
Taku studied the forlorn image in the forbidding mirror, trying to identify the reflection in the eerie orange glow of the cavern. She still wore the pink nightgown she had awakened in…How many days ago now? She tried to calculate, but there was nothing meaningful she could use as a measuring stick…no clock, no sun…no stars.
Suddenly, Franklin arrived in the cavern carrying shopping bags. Taku dived under the bed, where to her surprise, she found her lost clothing, and actually recognized them as her own.
“Come out, Taku! You can’t hide from me.” Then after a pause, “I brought you gifts.” Franklin walked over to the stone table and set the bags down. Taku, still under the bed, dressed hastily into her clothes, tucking the gown into her jeans. Crawling around the spacious area underneath the bed, she located her wool socks and boots. By the time Franklin lost his patience and whisked her magically out from under the bed, Taku was lying in a prone position on the stone floor be- fore him fully dressed, including her jacket. The intoxicating aroma of cheeseburgers and fries wafted from one of the bags, gripping her senses. Her empty stomach contracted further, bringing her backbone closer to the floor.
“Get up.” Slowly, but obediently, Taku stood. Franklin unwrapped a cheeseburger and handed it to her. Not taking her eyes off him, she took it from him and devoured it hungrily. By the time she finished the burger, he had fries laid out for her on the table. “Have some fries.” Taku did not move. With a burger in her gut, she could now resist temptation. Franklin ended up eating all the fries himself as Taku slowly made her way, seemingly unnoticed, toward the bed, and dived back underneath it. Moments later, she was suddenly whisked out again, on the floor before him.
“Get up,” he ordered her once more. It was obvious he was becoming irritated. Out of fear, she obeyed. “Don’t you want to see what I brought you?” Taku didn’t answer. She couldn’t have answered if she wanted to.
Franklin pulled something red from a bag and held it up for her to see. A seductive, low-cut, red dress with a tucked bodice and spaghetti-strap shoulders, unfolded before her. Taku gasped soundlessly in horror. This could not be good. “Put it on,” Franklin commanded, to her even greater dismay. And when she failed to make a move to comply, Taku found herself suddenly wearing the dress, the sculpt bodice pointing hollowly outward, lacking the breasts to fill it.
Then Franklin handed her another bag. “Go ahead, take it.” Taku took the bag and looked inside where she found a long narrow black box with a hinged lid. Pulling out the box, she let the bag drop to the floor. Hesitantly, as though fearful of what she would find inside, she lifted the lid of the mysterious box. Astonishment lit her face.
Diamonds…a whole necklace of diamonds, breathtakingly beautiful, they sparkled and twinkled at her in the sinister orange light. Slamming the lid shut, Taku reached down for the bag, stuffed the box into it, and handed it back to Franklin. When he didn’t reach for it, she threw the bag on the stone table.
“You will wear the necklace,” he roared, not at all pleased. Then, in a heartbeat, the necklace appeared around her neck. Its sudden cold weight against her skin startled her, and she yelped soundlessly.
Franklin passed a critical eye over Taku. She needed a hair brush, and maybe some makeup he thought, and with a sweep of his hand transformed her face and hair. Not sure what was happening to her, Taku watched as he reached again into the bag, this time retrieving a pair of slender, red shoes with long, thin spiked heels. Instantly the shoes appeared on her feet, magically made to fit. Taku struggled to maintain her balance on feet, standing on irregular stone, suddenly thrust into high heels.
“Look in the mirror,” he ordered, his dark eyes smoldering.
Taku was slow to respond, not sure how to turn around without falling. “Look in the mirror!” he shouted, his violent anger sending shudders through her body. Taku turned, stumbling awkwardly in the red heels. She fought to keep her balance on the not quite level stone floor as she approached the mirror. A strange girl, this one even more frightened than the one before, stared back at her in desperate despair. Taku trembled uncontrollably, trying to recognize herself.
“Look how beautiful you are,” Franklin crooned, coming into the reflected image. Taku shook in terror. Perhaps thinking she was cold, he walked up to the mirror and removed the feather cloak draped over its back. Bringing it to her, he placed it over her shoulders, fastening the bone clasp in front. Taku nearly swooned. An inexplicable tingling coursed through her body and trickled through her brain as the cloak engulfed her.
The cloak, made of wave after wave of flowing feathers, was exceedingly light and airy. The number of birds that must have been sacrificed to make such a cloak, she feared to ponder. With mounting horror, she looked closer at the feathers; they were the feathers of ravens and eagles. Taku’s heart pounded, sending her pulse throbbing in her ears. Sickened, she ripped off the cloak, throwing it as far from her as she could. Then she kicked off the red heels, and dashed for cover underneath the bed. To her dismay, her own clothes were not there.
Then suddenly everything was gone, and she was plunged into cold, damp darkness.
Heavy, wet spring snow fell for the next couple of days; deliciously miserable weather for the entrenched spies on the ridge across the creek, Rahlys thought, and smiled delightfully over Aaron’s certain misery. She knew he wasn’t a happy camper even in the best of conditions, surely the cold dampness would drive them away. She checked on their position regularly, but the spies remained glued in place.
Despite the inclement weather, Rahlys and Quaylyn made progress with her wood pile. Moving the chopping block into the shelter of the woodshed, they alternated between splitting the wood with an axe and splitting it with the force of their minds. Both were tiring, each in their own way. “Conditioning of brain waves and body muscles are of equal importance for maximum efficiency,” Quaylyn instructed. The muscular tone of Quaylyn’s body was proof enough he practiced what he preached.
In the evenings Rahlys painted, her paintings richly expressing the feel and essence of a lifestyle dependent on harvesting firewood. Quaylyn often watched over her shoulders as she worked, saying little. The rest of the time he read books on history, political science, and philosophy that Vince provided.
Then the snow stopped and a new day dawned clear and cold, turning soggy snow to icy snow. When Rahlys reached out mentally to confirm the location of the spies…they were gone. Teleporting over to their fox hole, she traced their tracks out to the railroad corridor.
Rahlys and Quaylyn were finishing up in the woodshed when Maggie and Vince drove up on the snowmachine.
“I see you got all your wood split and stacked during all that snow.” Rahlys could tell Vince was impressed.
“It’s looking good, huh?” Rahlys grinned proudly.
“Are you sure Aaron and Half Ear are gone?” Maggie asked with concern. “Yes, I’m sure. Let’s go in,” Rahlys said. “I’ll heat up the coffee.”
Vince and Quaylyn pulled the wooden table away from the window toward the center of the room so everyone could sit around it, but Vince remained standing, while Rahlys blasted the coffee warm on a small propane burner and filled assorted cups.
“What do you think they saw while they were here?” Maggie asked. “Nothing, I hope,” Rahlys tried to assure them.
“I believe this person you call Half Ear is actually Theon, one of Droclum’s followers, and quite intelligent. Without a doubt, Half Ear is just a role he is playing.”
“You’re telling us that one of Droclum’s followers has been living amongst us all these years? Just how many of you are there roaming around our planet?” Vince looked toward Quaylyn questioningly.
“As it turns out…three…Droclum, myself, and Theon. When Anthya planted the crystal on Earth,” Quaylyn continued, “Theon was in hot pursuit. Anthya managed to elude him long enough to safely hide the crystal and remove herself from it before he could catch up with her again, but that was 12,000 Earth years ago. He was well along in age then! Who would have thought he would still be alive today! He must be nearing the end of his longevity.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about Theon before?” Vince wanted to know.
“When I was chosen for this mission, I was thoroughly briefed on what is known of Droclum’s history, but the remote possibility that Theon may still be alive on Earth hadn’t been considered possible.”
“So Theon has been looking for the crystal for 12,000 years. That’s a long time to hold an obsession,” Rahlys said. “Surely he must know that Droclum lives. He’s probably detected the use of magic. What do you know about the crystal?”
“It is believed that the great Sorceress Anthya wove in several enchantments during the making of the Oracle. I know the Oracle is protected against being used for evil; only one who is noble at heart can draw on its power. Therefore, Theon was seeking the crystal to destroy it, rather than possess it. Another spell makes it possible for the present day Anthya to communicate with the crystal.”
“So that is why she always seems to know what is going on!”
“Tell us more about Droclum and the Dark Orb,” Vince requested taking a seat next to Maggie as Quaylyn continued.
“Well, his early life was pleasant, if not especially noteworthy. He was nurtured in a coastal community that harvested from the sea. By the time Droclum was ready to enter the Academy, he showed incredible magical talent. There is a lot of mystery around what happened next. What is known is that Droclum left the Academy before receiving his First Mission.”
“So then what did he do?” Maggie asked.
“He became a renegade. Eventually he had a small band of followers under his command, and they started wreaking havoc for power and control. Droclum repeatedly escaped apprehension, and in fact, became increasingly more elusive. After many innocent people were mercilessly killed, the High Council decided that Droclum should be destroyed.”
“And Anthya?” Maggie asked.
“Anthya was a gifted sorceress who attended the Academy during the same time as Droclum. Later the two would become mortal enemies. At least as strong and powerful as he, Anthya sought Droclum out, through ages of time, to destroy him. Finally, Anthya and her league of warriors had him in their grip. But Droclum, smelling defeat and fearing his demise, wrought an evil, sinister spell, drawing on the dark forces. When Anthya struck what should have been a fatal blow, Droclum defied death. His life essence was drawn into the deep recesses of Mt. Vatre and forged into the Dark Orb. When Mt. Vatre exploded, the Dark Orb was catapulted through time and space to Earth, where Droclum would live again through the eventual possession of another soul.”
Aaron stared out the window, watching for Rahlys’ trail as he rode the southbound train down from Half Ear’s place in the woods back into town. Even watching for it, he almost missed spotting her trail as the train sped on by. After two days of camping in heavy wet snow, he and Half Ear had hiked the thirteen long miles back up the tracks from Rahlys’ creek to Half Ear’s cabin. Spying on Rahlys had been a miserable waste of time, although when he expressed this sentiment to Half Ear, he got a strangely unexpected response.
“You were right,” Half Ear said, “There is something mysteriously powerful at work here,” but would say no more. What was he talking about? Aaron wondered. They didn’t see any magic, they rarely even saw Rahlys the whole time they were there. She must be pissing in canning jars, for as often as she stepped out of the cabin. And who was that other strange fellow with her?
Without making any more stops along the way, the train finally clattered up to the little town’s tiny train depot. Passengers got off, mingling on the platform as their baggage was being unloaded, but Aaron would have nothing of pleasantries. He stalked off with his pack, his brooding thoughts blinding him to where he was going. A truck horn blew, alerting him to danger. Jarred back into focus, he stepped out the way to let the truck pass, but now the driver was motioning for him to go ahead and cross. Aaron did so, then stormed the rest of the way to Half Ear’s little unpainted plywood town flat, angrily kicking the door open without unlocking it. The flimsy, barely aligned door frame released the door with little resistance. Aaron slammed the door shut behind him, only it swung part way open again, the door no longer connecting with the catch in the door frame.