Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska’s Sci-Fi Queen
Order of the Oracle
Franklin sat up suddenly in his great bed, awakening from a nightmare…or so it seemed. The cavern was thickly dark and clammy cold. What had happened to the light and warmth? What could have extinguished the heated rock walls that bathed his home in a comforting warm glow and kept the damp chill at bay? Franklin pointed forcefully at the cavern wall that he could not see, but knew had to be there.
“Light,” he commanded.
Something was wrong, he reasoned, as he started to shiver in the encroaching cold.
“Warmth,” he commanded, a little less self-assured.
Again, nothing happened.
With more than a little apprehension, Franklin felt for the orb through his jeans. To his great relief, it was still there; at least he still had that. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled it out. But to his utter shock…the orb did not glow. He couldn’t see it at all in the total darkness, only feel its smooth, round surface in his hand. Fear prickled through him, tying his innards into knots.
“Light!” he demanded urgently.
The orb remained dark.
With mounting fear, Franklin climbed out of the great bed and stood barefooted on the cold, stone floor.
“Light!” he shouted frantically in the dark…but darkness prevailed.
Groping in the heavy blackness, Franklin searched for shoes and socks, found one shoe and one sock, and put them on, the shoe on one foot and the sock on the other. Tendrils of cold crept in, tightening around him, the darkness weighing down on him heavily. He reached out into the black void, searching for the mirror, which reflected no light, and inching forward, eventually came into contact with its smooth surface. Franklin located the feathered cloak, draped over the back of the mirror, and wrapped it around him, imagining himself standing in front of the mirror he could not see.
“I am Droclum, a great and powerful sorcerer,” Franklin shouted into the blackness. His voice sounded weak and vulnerable; the other presence was gone. Franklin held up the Dark Orb in his hand.
“Light!” he commanded again, fruitlessly.
Unrelenting darkness prevailed.
In anger, Franklin threw the orb as hard as he could. In stunned silence, he listened to it bounce a couple of times, then roll and drop on its way to the little underground stream. There was even a barely audible ‘plunk’ as the orb plunged into the softly whispering water.
I will just teleport myself out of here, Franklin decided, and closed his eyes to the darkness, focusing on the feel of the hot, sultry, late summer heat of the deep south, the salivating aroma of deep fried seafood and gumbo, and the compelling rhythms of New Orleans jazz…but Franklin remained in the cold, dark cavern.
Eventually, in failure, he gave up the effort. Climbing back up into his great bed, wearing one shoe and one sock and clutching his feather cape around him, Franklin sat quietly in the unending darkness.
Pounding rain drummed unnoticed on the roof, its loud pelting unheard as Vince and Maggie slept soundly exhausted, nestled together cozy and warm in their bed, snoring. Surely the little bones in their ears picked up the vibrations, but their brains would have nothing of it.
The driving rain on the roof of the little guest cabin woke Theon from a deep sleep, leaving him wondering where he was momentarily. Then scenes from the day before flittered rapidly across his brain, beginning with the battle against Droclum and his daughter calling him Father, and ending with him spending the night in the little guest cabin, orienting him to the present and pounding rain. There is likely to be snow a few hundred feet higher up the mountains he thought after getting his bearings.
Raven, perched deep in the sheltering branches of a spruce tree, envisioned the approaching winter. It was raining now, but he instinctively knew that soon the winter snow would arrive.
The deafening pounding of the rain startled Melinda into wakefulness. For an instant she feared Droclum had returned, but once she reassured herself that it was only heavy rain, she relaxed under the warm covers on her pallet on the floor. She thought of the paintings she and Rahlys had started the night before, and wanted to get up and go look at them on the table where they had been left to dry, but it was barely light yet and chilly and damp in the room.
Ilene, asleep on the daybed, and Rahlys, sleeping upstairs even closer to the pounding on the roof, did not stir, so Melinda closed her eyes instead. When she opened them again, it was bright and sunny outside, a fire in the stove had taken the chill out of the room, and Ilene and Rahlys were nowhere to be seen.
Melinda jumped out from under the covers, quickly pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt, and rushed out the door into the sunshine as Raven flew in from the northeast squawking urgently.
“Aaaark! Aaarrk!” he cried, landing on the woodshed roof.
Rahlys stepped out of the outhouse, the crystal following her. Melinda thought the crystal looked like a fairy as it floated around sparkling in the sun. Since Droclum’s demise, along with the pouch, the crystal had been given free range, but generally remained near Rahlys. “Good morning,” Rahlys said as she came up to Melinda, giving her a hug.
“Aaarrk!” Raven squawked again.
What’s the matter? She asked him, including Melinda in the telepathed inquiry. Theon and Ilene entered the clearing coming from the guest cabin in time to receive Raven’s projected images of fresh, new, glistening snow on the mountain peaks.
“Termination dust,” Theon grumbled. “Winter is coming; it is the end of summer.”
Then Raven telepathed images far more gruesome, from lower down in the rain soaked valley, images of a torn and mangled partially eaten corpse on the forest floor.
“It’s Aaron,” Ilene cried out loud.
It would have been impossible to identify anyone with the images Raven sent, Theon thought, but Ilene seemed certain.
“How did he get way out there?” Theon asked with uncertainty. “Where did he think he was going? There’s some mighty rugged country between here and those mountains.”
Rahlys telepathed a message to Vince and Maggie, and they arrived almost immediately. Raven shared with them what he had seen.
“Should we see if we can make a positive ID before calling in the authorities?” Vince suggested. Everyone agreed, and taking a tarp, some rope, and surveyor’s tape, Vince and Theon, with Raven helping them to pinpoint the location, teleported to what appeared to be a bear mauling.
“Bear scat,” Theon pointed out as they followed the tracks to and from the kill. Torn up brush and the torn and mangled body were also clues. There was no pack or gun to be found. “It’s hard to tell who it is without a face.”
Vince gagged as he searched for some form of identification, and found a wallet in the victim’s back pocket with an expired Washington state driver’s license. It was indeed Aaron.
“What could have possibly gotten into his fool head to bring him way out here without a gun?” Theon shook his head mystified. “It doesn’t make sense. Getting here on foot across this kind of terrain would be quite a trek. I suspect magic was at work here.”
“Magic!” Vince gasped in alarm. “Who’s magic?”
Theon shrugged, “Maybe the Oracle’s.”
Vince was startled by the implication. Did the Oracle have something to do with Aaron’s death? Both Theon and Ilene claimed that Aaron sought the crystal with visions of power and wealth in his head. Had the crystal taken action against him because of his intent? Vince cringed; it was a scary thought.
After wrapping the remains in a tarp and tying it securely, they threw a rope over a tree limb, and hoisted the body up off the ground out of reach of predators. Then they marked the spot clearly with long stretches of bright orange ribbon to facilitate spotting it from the air.
Returning to the group, Vince and Theon described to the others what they had found. Ilene broke down and cried, and Rahlys and Maggie couldn’t help but shed a few tears themselves as they offered Ilene solace. Working together, Vince and Theon fabricated a story for the police about how they were scouting out the area to set up a hunting camp when they came across the body. Moose hunting season was about to open.
Teleporting to the top of a nearby hill where he could pick up a signal on Ilene’s cell phone, Vince phoned authorities and reported the find. Yes, he and his friend could help troopers locate the body by helicopter. Yes, they would come into town tomorrow by train.
The troopers were waiting for Vince and Theon when the train pulled into the station. After answering some initial questions, they boarded a state trooper helicopter, and took off following the railroad corridor at first then veered more northeast toward the mountains at Theon’s direction. The hilly landscape was carpeted with gold, green, and red forest, the mountains sugar-coated with glistening fresh snow. Theon’s intimate knowledge of the landscape led the pilot right to the spot, and a nearby muskeg provided a place for the helicopter to touch down.
“It’s the strangest thing,” the train conductor told investigators later, after the body had been removed, “I could have sworn I handed that guy down his pack when he got off the train; after all, a man doesn’t take off into the woods without a pack, and not notice it….Yes, he got off at the foot of the trail…Yes, I’m sure…but you know it’s the strangest thing…,” the conductor said getting back to the pack, “I can remember the space where his pack had been being empty when the train pulled away, and for some time afterwards…but it’s the strangest thing,” the conductor repeated shaking his head, “I know you’re not going to believe this…but when the train pulled into the station that evening, that guy’s pack was back in the baggage car, in exactly the same spot….Yes, the pack is still at the train station…no one has claimed it.”
After going with Troopers to airlift the body, Vince and Theon teleported back to the woods from Vince’s place in town. The day had warmed up nicely, and the group of friends took up comfortable positions in the sun on Rahlys’ front porch. Tomorrow Ilene and Theon were returning to town. Ilene’s four-day camping trip and Theon’s millennia long wait to confront Droclum were over. Father and daughter enjoyed the warmth of the weakening sun, both in deep contemplative thought, quietly absorbing the peace of the woods.
Maggie and Vince sat with their backs against the warm cabin wall, their faces glowing softly with contentment. By Thanksgiving, they would be parents…but for now they were lovers without a care in the world, lazing in the sunshine.
Melinda and Raven played at the foot of the steps. Rahlys had provided Melinda with two apples, one for her, and one for their feathered friend. Melinda couldn’t resist taunting the raven for a bit with her control of the treat before giving it to him.
The oncoming fall colors glowed cheerfully around them in the warm late summer sun. Golden patches of leaves triggered by cool nights gave the birch trees a mottled look. Beneath the trembling green and gold canopy, the blushing red underbrush spilled out to the edge of the forest. Ripe red rose hips beckoned where, seemingly so recently, rose blossoms had unfurled. Plump reddish-purple wine-filled watermelon berries dangled from fragile pale stems with yellow leaves, and the leaves of the seeded-out fireweed formed a hardy mosaic of brown, yellow, red, and green. But the most brilliant splashes of color were the high bush cranberry bushes dominating the underbrush with dazzling red leaves as red as the berries themselves that weighed down their heavily laden branches.
“I would like to call a meeting of the Order of the Oracle while we are all gathered together,” Rahlys said breaking the silence. The assembled group nodded in agreement at the designation. The crystal, which had been hovering stationary, zoomed around, anointing them with sparkle.
“The Order of the Oracle!” Ilene said mystified.
“It will be an honor to serve,” Theon approved, and bowed respectfully. “And for the first item on the agenda,” Rahlys continued, “I propose that we discuss Melinda’s education.” There were looks of pleasant surprise, but no objections.
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Maggie seconded. Vince nodded his head in agreement and Raven squawked his approval. Melinda was for anything that supported the concept of her remaining in the woods with Rahlys and the rest of the group. School would be starting in the outside world, but they couldn’t register Melinda, even for home schooling, without providing records.
“The education of a new person is a community responsibility,” Rahlys quoted Quaylyn, “and the Order of the Oracle is Melinda’s community. Each of us should participate in nurturing and teaching her based on our interests and abilities,” Rahlys explained. There were no protests.
“I could teach her language arts,” Vince volunteered, “since I’m a writer.”
“I’ll take home economics.” Maggie had been actively pursuing the homemaker’s arts, from canning fish to making blueberry jam, since arriving in Alaska. “Classes can start tomorrow. We will be making high bush cranberry ketchup.”
“I’ll take social studies,” Theon offered. “I know a lot about Earth’s history and geography.”
Raven projected images of him and Melinda playing outdoors through the seasons. “Raven will take physical education,” Rahlys filled in for him, and I’ll take art.”
“I’m good at math,” Ilene finally spoke up when she was the last one left.
Super! Melinda smiled radiantly over the idea of going to school in the woods and having the members of the Order as her teachers.
“Very good. Then all we are lacking is science and music, but we have enough subjects to get started.” Rahlys summed up. Then Theon spoke up again.
“I’m pretty sure I could teach some basic science, too. After all, I’m not that busy.” Everyone looked at Theon in surprise.
“And I played the flute in high school,” Ilene volunteered.
“We could set up the guest cabin as a school room, providing an area to lay out school projects, and a quiet place to do homework and study,” Maggie suggested.
Quaylyn was not present, but they felt certain he would approve. Rahlys conjured paper and pencil to the porch, and the members of the Order of the Oracle worked out a schedule together. Rahlys watched them, smiling contentedly to herself as they laughed and joked together, excited about their new project. She had come to the woods, longing for isolation, she mused.
She had found an extended family instead.