Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen
Droclum, capable of seeing in darkness, watched with malicious glee as Rahlys and Melinda bravely faced the whirlpool. What did they have in mind? He tried to probe the sorceress’ thoughts, but they were tightly closed. According to the girl though, they were going to jump. Droclum laughed uproariously. Then mirth turned to seriousness. He wanted possession of the source of the Oracle’s magic; eliminating Rahlys would not be enough. But Rahlys would have to die first, or willingly give him possession of the crystal, before he could safely touch it. The source was kept in the pouch she wore around her neck, he was sure of it. He could feel its potent magic emanating from the pouch.
Droclum drew on the elemental forces around him and with great mental strength reached for Rahlys’ heart…but Rahlys was gone! At first he thought she had escaped to the surface, but the shield enclosing them had not been penetrated. Then he searched for her below, but couldn’t detect the presence of her signature…or the girl’s either.
Droclum conjured the orb before him. Find Rahlys and the source of the Oracle, he demanded angrily.
Journeying with the orb, Droclum scanned the watery network beneath the whirlpool, but Rahlys, the girl, or the source of the Oracle could not be found. Were they still alive, but undetectable, protected and concealed by the Oracle? It was not until he sensed the use of magic, when Rahlys teleported them out from the underground world, that furiously, he knew for certain they had escaped. By then it was too late. He had been foiled by his own faulty reasoning. Rahlys had outwitted him, making him look like a fool.
Howling ferociously, Droclum swirled through the caverns of the hidden sea, hurling bolts of flashing energy that toppled rock formations and blasted water into steam. But his rage was immitigable. Zooming to the surface, he uprooted trees, flung boulders, and shook mountains seeking release, but no amount of destruction could soothe his rage.
When finally worn out, Droclum returned to the cavern and conjured the orb to his hand. Red flames licked through black smoke inside the tiny sphere. Flinging it out from him, the orb went into a spin, sparking the air around it. Drawing on the power of the orb, Droclum worked his spell.
“Anthya…I am coming…and finally…you will be mine.”
If Melinda had concerns over the reception she would receive, she needn’t have worried. For in addition to the joy of reunion with trees, grass, flowers, and sunshine, she was also engulfed in kindness.
“Child, we have been worried about you for so long.” Maggie’s hug was warm and comforting, and Melinda melted into her embrace.
“Melinda, welcome! It is certainly good to meet you. You have indeed been in our thoughts for a long time,” Vince said, shaking her hand and patting her on the shoulder.
“Melinda doesn’t speak, but she can hear, and she’s telepathic,” Rahlys quickly informed the others.
“How did you get away?” Maggie asked an arm still around Melinda’s shoulders.
“What about Droclum?” Vince asked.
“He still lives. Where’s Quaylyn and Theon?” Through all this, Quaylyn still had not joined them in the yard. Upon hearing his name he stepped out.
“Congratulations on your success, Sorceress Rahlys and Warrior Melinda,” he finally said, with little emotion from the porch.
“What’s wrong with him?” Rahlys turned to Vince. “And where’s Theon?”
“Theon was struck down by Droclum…he’s inside, and very weak. Quaylyn…well, it’s sort of a long story.”
“I want to see Theon.”
“Then, come on in,” Maggie said, dragging Melinda along with her as she headed for the door. “I’ll look into putting out some refreshments.”
Melinda couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go indoors and leave all the wonderful bright sunshine, flittering birds, and droning insects behind. But the word ‘refreshments’ sounded good. Reluctantly, she allowed Maggie to take her inside.
To Melinda’s relief, it wasn’t nearly as dark indoors as she had feared it would be. Numerous windows, framing in portions of the shimmering forest, let in abundant light, the window scenes blending in with the framed paintings that hung on the log walls.
Maggie led Melinda to a chair at the table. Why, you must be starving? What would you like? A peanut butter and jelly sandwich maybe?
Melinda stared at Maggie, a surprised look lighting her face. You can do it too!
Everyone in this room is telepathic.
I would love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, please.
Coming right up, Maggie said jovially, and she gave Melinda another little hug. Would you like to help?
Yes. Can I take it outside to eat it?
Immediately Rahlys walked over to the daybed and placed her hand on Theon’s forehead, assuring herself that he was still alive. Vince filled her in on what happened. “When Droclum sensed your jump, he struck Theon a nearly fatal blow…and was gone. Then when you didn’t return right away with Melinda…”
Rahlys closed her eyes momentarily, focusing on transferring some of her renewable strength to Theon. Then she told them of her encounter with Droclum, and the Taku’s voyage through the flooded cavern… the earthquake…the whirlpool…and finally how they had managed to escape from Droclum’s clutches.”
While the others stared at Rahlys, absorbed in her tale, Melinda, carrying her sandwich and a can of juice, quietly opened the door and slipped out into the sunshine. A fleeting memory of cold dark caves made her shudder, despite the warmth and light. Sitting on the sunwarmed porch, she gazed about her in wonder.
When she finished her lunch, Melinda made her way to the edge of the sun-dappled forest where alyssum, fireweed, monkshood, and wild geranium bloomed profusely, attracting the attention of myriad little bees. Distracted by her own thoughts, Melinda watched as the busy little bees worked the blossoms. Perhaps she should run away before they tried to send her away. She considered the idea, but didn’t even know where she was. She didn’t want to go back to her village without her father. Even if she could talk, she couldn’t explain what had happened…she didn’t want to try.
Melinda stepped into the woods drawn by the play of light and shadow. With her first step under the canopy of the trees, the underbrush went aflutter with wings beating the air. A covey of spruce grouse, a mother hen with several nearly grown chicks, flew up in all directions, disappearing into the surrounding trees. Wrenched from her thoughts, Melinda searched the branches carefully, managing to spot the hen and a couple of the chicks, camouflaged by their determination not to move.
Then coming back into the full sun of the yard, Melinda saw aerial images of herself walking, the images drifting across her mind like a movie on a screen. But how? She looked around her for an explanation, a possible source. Where had the images come from? A raven circled overhead, then flew in and landed on the woodshed. Melinda stared at the raven intently. Did you do that? She asked in excited astonishment.
“Caw! Caw!” With that confirmation, Melinda received telepathed pictures of the raven relishing a mound of apple wedges.
Oh, I see, you’re a beggar.
“Aaarrrrk,” the raven cried in protest.
Meanwhile back inside, Rahlys strived to learn more of what had transpired while she was gone. “Has Theon regained consciousness at all?”
“Yes, once.” Vince nodded, twitching his head to one side. Following the direction Vince indicated, Rahlys glanced again at Quaylyn, who had followed them in, then stood fixed in place, something clasped tightly in one hand. Something definitely wasn’t right here, but the thoughts she picked up from Vince and Maggie didn’t seem to make sense. “What’s that in your hands?” she asked, seeking to understand his peculiar behavior.
Quaylyn revealed a strange little box, opened it, and pulled out a little golden chain with a glowing silvery rune dangling between his fingers, “Theon said he was returning it to me. It was given to me by my mother.” Quaylyn’s speech was monotone, void of emotion, his movements stiff as though in shock.
Vince cleared his throat. “Theon regained consciousness for a little while just before you arrived. He said Quaylyn is the son of Droclum and the Sorceress Anthya.”
“What?” If this were true, Rahlys could understand why Quaylyn was in such a state of shock. “Droclum and Anthya!” She looked back at Quaylyn, trying to absorb it, “Is this even possible?”
Quaylyn looked too distressed to answer, so Maggie retold Theon’s tale as Rahlys listened…stunned. When Maggie was done, Rahlys approached Quaylyn. “Is there even a remote possibility that you could be Droclum and Anthya’s SON?”
“I don’t know,” Quaylyn answered quietly. After some time he added, “I guess it is possible, but the High Council sent me here….”
“…to destroy your father,” Vince finished the sentence for him.
“I have your mother’s powers,” Rahlys realized. A contemplative silence ensued.
Then Maggie pointed to the necklace in Quaylyn’s hand. “Does it still have magic? Could it still protect you from Droclum?”
Quaylyn glanced at the glowing rune. “It didn’t prevent him from taking me away from my mother.”
“Quaylyn has learned of his parentage,” Zayla informed Brakalar with grave concern. The two austere councilors met in the beauty and splendor of the garden atrium outside Zayla’s living space.
“But how?” Brakalar asked. He had come right away, detecting the urgency of her summons.
Zayla paced the sunny garden path between spectacular blossoms and foliage, “Theon is alive…living on Earth.”
“Theon is still alive?”
“Yes, and he has returned to Quaylyn the rune necklace that was supposed to have protected him from his father.”
“Spells do not always work the way they were intended,” Brakalar reminded her.
Zayla paused and turned to face him, “Do you think we made the right decision back then when we found the capsule?” The capsule they had found on their expedition into the devastated lands around Mt. Vatre had been a marvelous work of magic, preserving the baby Quaylyn in magical stasis even through the Dark Devastation.
“Would you have preferred that we had destroyed the infant instead?” he asked her, lifting an eyebrow questioningly.
“No, of course not, but now we have sent him to destroy his father.”
“The Runes sent him to destroy his father.”
“We did nothing to stop it,” Zayla said, accusingly.
“Apparently, the Runes believe that Quaylyn may actually be of help.”
“Too often,” Zayla lamented, “we shun the responsibility for our actions by hiding behind the decisions of the Runes.”
I will find that crystal, no matter what I have to do, Aaron solemnly promised himself. Would he take Ilene with him once he had possession, he mused, as the train made its way north to Rahlys’ trail? Probably not, since Ilene wouldn’t approve of him exploiting the crystal for his own personal gain. Besides, there would be other women…lots of women…lots of beautiful, sexy women flocking to him once he got some money in his pocket. If Half Ear, or Theon, or whatever the hell his name is, thinks he is going to get the crystal for himself he has another thing coming, Aaron swore vehemently.
The Oracle sensed Aaron’s approach even before he got off the train, but it did not alert Rahlys. Arriving at his destination, Aaron disembarked, ignoring the friendly acknowledgment from the conductor. Disgruntled, Aaron watched as the train pull away. Then he donned his pack and started up the trail. Still the Oracle did not warn Rahlys of Aaron’s approach, but the protective spells guarding the Oracle had been ignited, and unbeknownst to Rahlys, the power of the Oracle masked the real trail, creating an illusionary one under Aaron’s feet that soon led him far astray.
Aaron fumed as he hiked the magically induced trail. A cool breeze under a partly sunny sky added a nip to the air and loosened the first few golden birch leaves from their branches. Shoulder high underbrush of purple monk’s hood and bloomed-out fireweed in sunny meadows of seeded grass, patches of fruit-laden high bush cranberry bushes, and spiny devil’s club stalks sporting inverted cones of bright red berries hugged the narrow trim foot trail that wound its way through the forest. Aaron hardly noticed the beauty around him, nor did he appreciate the light breeze that helped with the mosquitoes, keeping him out of range as long as he kept moving.
Eventually it occurred to Aaron that he should be getting somewhere soon. The terrain didn’t look particularly familiar, and this began to worry him. Had he unwittingly taken a wrong turn, he wondered. Perhaps the landscape would look more familiar facing the other way. To check, he turned and looked behind him. Aaron yelped in panic, his heart pounding in his ears. There was no evidence of a trail in the dense tangle of woods behind him! Quickly he turned again in the direction he had been going, just in time to see the trail he had been following…fade and disappear before his very eyes. What!? His breathing became labored.
Suddenly Aaron was very much afraid. His heart raced with the shot of adrenalin coursing through his system. A chilly tendril of fear crawled down his spine and panic clouded his thinking. The breeze stilled, and hordes of mosquitoes, now easily finding their mark, targeted in on his body heat. Panic-stricken, Aaron took off running, crashing through the brush in the direction he hoped would take him back to the railroad tracks. Unable to maintain the crushing pace for long, he slowed, his back wet with sweat, the unceasing whining of the mosquitoes driving him even madder.
When he could go on no more, Aaron dragged to a stop. He peeled off his pack, letting it drop to the ground. Batting mosquitoes and wiping sweat from his eyes, he remembered he had a can of mosquito repellent with him in his pack. Aaron turned around to retrieve the repellent, but when he reached for his pack…the once solid pack dissolved away like a mirage. Aaron gasped in shocking horror. His pack was gone! His gun…his gun was gone!
“What is going on here? Who’s doing this?” he cried out to the wilderness, his level of distress rising by the moment. Frantically, Aaron looked about, rustling through the tall brush, searching for the pack he knew in his heart he would never find.
Then in the near distance, Aaron heard another rustling equal to his own. He paused to listen; the sound was coming straight for him. Something big was barreling through the brush. In panic, he took off running again, stumbling blindly through thorny devil’s club and rose bushes as the rustling noise closed in on him.
As powerful as a bulldozer, the bear plowed into him, biting into his arm and shoulder. “Ahhh….!” Aaron cried out in pain. He tried to cover his head with his arms and play dead, but the grizzly tossed his body around, tearing at his flesh with its sharp, mutilating claws. Aaron screamed out in agony. The foul, fishy breath continued to bite him with daggers on his arms, torso, and head, eventually severing a jugular vein in his neck. Silently, Aaron took his last breath.
Where’s Aaron, Ilene wondered. Despite the provocative kiss of three days before, she hadn’t seen hide or hair of him since. It had been a busy weekend with people from Anchorage and Wasilla out and about enjoying what was left of the short Alaska summer, as well as out of state tourists, crowding the little gallery. In addition to the paintings and sculptures by local artists, the shop sold a wide variety of other locally made crafts. Candles, ceramics, soaps, embroidered pillowcases, fur hats and mitts, knitted caps, photo greeting cards, etc., filled the shelves and racks, and the customers’ needs kept Ilene and her mother hopping.
As they worked, Ilene pondered over her parentage. She gazed at her lonely, graying mother, when she wasn’t looking, and tried to picture her with Theon, a quarter of a century ago. As though sensing her daughter’s glances, Elaine looked her way. “Everything alright?”
“Your mind seems to be elsewhere.”
Ilene tried to look busy and focused. She longed to ask her mother directly if Theon was her father, but she didn’t dare pry open what had always been a closed door. She wouldn’t use the name Half Ear anyway. His name is Theon. The crystal said her mother didn’t know about that. Had her mother ever bothered to ask Half Ear for his real name? And if she had, what name had he given her? Probably something real common like Bill or John.
“Ilene, the customer is waiting to check out.” Her mother’s voice jolted her back from her musings.
Later that evening Ilene went to Theon’s pad looking for Aaron. She knocked on the weather-beaten door, but there was no answer. The door was unlocked, so she opened it, calling out as she walked in. “Aaron, are you here?” Receiving no answer, she walked in further, searching for clues to Aaron’s whereabouts. There was an almost empty beer bottle on the coffee table, dirty dishes in the sink, an empty pizza box on the kitchen counter, his small bed, a crumpled mess of bedding and clothing, didn’t look like it had been slept in for quite a while. Where could he be? Not finding any leads at Theon’s pad, Ilene visited all the eateries and watering holes in town. But no one had seen him for days.
That night, after she was certain her mother was safely down for the night, Ilene pulled out the crystal painting and propped it up on her dresser. Staring intently at the crystalline image, she put out her hand, and mysteriously, the glowing holographic image moved toward her. Ilene couldn’t help but smile.
“I have a question for you,” she whispered. “Where’s Aaron?”
GONE! The crystal wrote, flying up in a blaze of light.
“Gone? What kind of answer is that? Gone where?”
HE IS GONE, the crystal answered again…then the image returned to the painting as though refusing to say more.
How strange, Ilene thought, in restless confusion. Why was the crystal being so elusive? Stashing the painting back under her bed, she crawled under the covers and lay awake in the darkness of the short late summer night unable to sleep. Has Aaron returned to the woods, Ilene wondered. She knew he was still obsessed with wanting to possess the crystal…even though Theon had tried to talk some sense into him.
The next morning, Ilene checked Theon’s place again; nothing had changed, not a single item had been moved, removed, or added. Aaron had not been back. Ilene formed a plan, and sought out her friend Angela to help her put it into action. A nagging feeling in her gut told her that Aaron had returned to the woods for the crystal. She would take the train to Rahlys’ trail, and warn Rahlys of Aaron’s intent. Then she would hike to the camp at the point to assure herself that Aaron and Theon were alright, and have Theon confirm…or deny…that she was his daughter.
Knowing that her mother wouldn’t like the idea of her going into the woods alone, Ilene arranged for Angela to pick her up for a pretend camping trip to a state park located on the road system. But instead of going to the park, Angela would drop Ilene off at the train station before continuing on to Anchorage.
“Now, are you sure you have enough food?” Elaine asked worriedly, while stuffing even more fruit and cold cuts into the already full ice chest. “And enough warm clothing? You don’t want to be cold. There’s getting to be a nip of fall in the air already.”
“There’s a cafe and store nearby, we won’t starve. And I have plenty of warm clothes, including my heavy jacket.”
Angela arrived, cheerful as always, “Good morning, everyone. Are we ready?” she asked eager to get going.
“Just about,” Ilene answered with practiced casualness. Angela was going into Anchorage to meet up with her boyfriend, and would be out of town for the next few days. Therefore, there was little chance that she and her mother would accidentally run into one another while Ilene was up the tracks.
“Now, you girls, be careful,” Elaine said.
“Don’t worry, Mother. I’ll see you in four days.” Ilene threw her pack on her back, and her heavy jacket over her arm, then gave her mother a perfunctory peck on the cheek.
“Bye,” the young women called out to her with the ice chest between them as they walked out the door.
“Alright, have fun,” Elaine said, and closed the door behind them.
Maggie took Melinda home with her while Vince and Quaylyn worked on the guest cabin. Having lost the zest for living, Quaylyn worked quietly without humor or feeling. He hadn’t been the same since learning that Mythra and Kyemon weren’t his real mother and father. How had they been convinced to go along with the cruel deception? Thoughts of them brought only pain…the searing pain of his identity being ripped from his soul.
Rahlys stayed with Theon. Throughout the day she sat by his side, sending healing energy to his body and mind. Theon’s breathing was steady now, but he still hadn’t regained consciousness.
When Maggie and Melinda returned with a picnic lunch for everyone, they found an exhausted Rahlys by Theon’s side. Prying her away, Maggie steered her upstairs to her bed, and tucked her in. While Maggie was upstairs, Melinda curiously approached Theon’s bed. Unexpectedly, Theon opened his eyes, “Hello, little one. Who might you be?”
“So…you are Melinda!”
Upon hearing Theon’s voice and seeing him awake as she came down the stairs, Maggie telepathed a message to Vince and Quaylyn, Come quickly! Theon is awake!
Moments later, Vince and Quaylyn appeared in the room, and to their surprise, Theon sat up with ease. “Where’s Rahlys?” he asked.
“I just put her to bed; she was worn out.”
“I can imagine,” Theon said, looking decidedly better, “she saved my life. She needs to get some rest. There isn’t much time left.”
“Glad to see you are recovering,” Vince said. “Maybe now you could answer some questions for us, beginning with, what do you mean there isn’t much time left?”
“I have heard much of what has been said, and it is plainly evident that Droclum’s strength is growing fast. Soon he will be capable of penetrating Rahlys’ protective barrier. I’ve seen it happen before. No doubt he is enraged over Rahlys’ escape, and such anger will only empower him more. Yes, a confrontation with the Master of Darkness is imminent. Rahlys may have outwitted Droclum this last time, but when he comes challenging her, and he will, she will have to stand up to him and fight…or run like a coward.” Maggie gasped over the horror of the inevitable. But Quaylyn’s unfocused stare was void of readable emotion. Only Vince noticed as Melinda slipped out the door. He didn’t like this news one bit.
“How can I help her in this fight?” Vince asked. The thought of standing by and watching helplessly, while Rahlys battled with Droclum… was unthinkable.
“I’m not sure that you can.”
Then Maggie saw Rahlys coming down the stairs. “Well, you didn’t stay down long.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Theon,” Rahlys said, ignoring Maggie’s comment.
“Thanks. And how about you?”
“I’m fine. I’ve been listening to your conversation from up there.” She looked around. “Where’s Melinda?”
“Outside…and while she’s out the room, we should discuss what we are going to do about her.” Vince had been pushing, over the last few days, for a decision on Melinda’s future. “She must have family that’s worried about her.”
“Her closest relative, I found out, is a married aunt, her mother’s sister, living in Ketchikan,” Maggie said. “They have four boys.”
“Then they would probably love to have a girl!” Quaylyn said, more like himself than he had been in days.
“And how are we going to explain to authorities how we found her?” Rahlys asked.
Vince thought for a while. “We don’t; we place her on a beach where she can be found.”
“You can’t be serious!” Rahlys exclaimed indignantly.
“Rahlys is right, we can’t just dump her and place all the burden of explanation on her shoulders,” Maggie said. “Besides, she isn’t ready to go back where she came from.”
“Maybe you should ask her what she wants.” Theon suggested.
“But she’s just a child. A child can’t make that kind of decision. And if what Theon says is true, she would be safer somewhere else,” Vince argued. Then Melinda walked in, a bouquet of wildflowers in her arms, bringing the conversation to an abrupt halt.
Over the next couple of days Theon and Rahlys regained strength; Rahlys rather rapidly, Theon quite slowly. All seven of them, including Raven, gathered at the nearly finished guest cabin to contribute labor or encouragement, either manually or magically, depending on one’s gifts, in an effort to bring the cabin to completion. The plan was for Theon and Quaylyn to move into the cabin immediately, and Melinda would have the daybed downstairs…for the time being. Her eventual destination was still undecided.
Vince and Quaylyn installed the woodstove and chimney, while Theon constructed a rustic table with two rounds of firewood standing on end for chairs. Maggie hung curtains she made herself over the windows, and Rahlys hung a couple of her paintings on the walls. Spare kitchen items and bedding were rounded up from both households and Melinda picked flowers for the table, using a canning jar for a vase. Theon had his own bedding, also some camping gear and dried food to contribute from the campsite at the point.
“It looks so cozy,” Maggie said, when the group declared the job was done.
Ilene is approaching, the Oracle announced.
“Ilene is coming up the trail,” Rahlys informed the group.
“What about Aaron?” Maggie asked.
Rahlys scanned for Ilene and Aaron’s signatures, but found only Ilene. “She is alone.” Raven flew off to take a look. Surprised by the announcement, Theon also scanned for Ilene’s signature. She knows, he said to himself when he found her.
Curious as to the meaning of Ilene’s unexpected return, Rahlys quietly left the merry gathering at the building site, and strolled down the short stretch of trail to her clearing. Then Rahlys received a second message from the Oracle…this one chilling the blood in her veins. The message that she had dreaded for so long filled her brain.