Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen
A Visit From Afar
It was a clean and well-rested Franklin who strolled past the Cafe Du Monde carrying an empty white paper bag with white cord handles. He breathed in deeply, relishing the rich aromas of strong coffee and sweet fried dough. The chattering crowd amidst clanking white cups and plates, gave no notice to the faddishly dressed youth in new Levis, Nikes, and a black t-shirt that read Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll), as they sipped coffee and inhaled powdered sugar covered beignets.
From the cafe Franklin headed toward the river, the white paper shopping bag no longer empty, and settled on a bench along the river walkway. Opening the bag, he pulled out a warm, fluffy beignet and devoured it hungrily. Then with more patience, he reached into the bag again, bringing out a little metal shaker canister filled with powdered sugar. He sprinkled the next deliciously hollow, golden brown beignet until it was snowy white and dived into sugary ecstasy.
With stealth by magic, Franklin had learned to acquire the necessities of life, and more, but he still roamed the streets, a homeless loner. Franklin had always been a loner. He could barely remember his flighty mother and had no recollection of a father. He did remember his grandmother though, simple, soft-hearted, legally blind, and a bit senile. When his mother left him behind as excess baggage at the age of seven, Franklin was supposed to be in his grandmother’s custody. But when his mother left without telling her mother goodbye, Franklin staged a farewell visit with Granny, and effectively slipped through the cracks.
For the first few weeks on his own he lived in the little dilapidated shotgun house that he knew as home in the lower ninth ward just two blocks from Granny. There was still some food left in the house to eat. He slept in his own sagging bed and spent most of his time watching TV. It wasn’t until the utilities and rent went unpaid, that strangers came snooping around. So under cover of darkness Franklin moved bedding and a few personal belongings to a ramshackle shed behind Granny’s house and moved in.
He lived in that shed for the next five years, even interacting with his grandmother, not as Franklin, but as a neighborhood boy named Ben. Unable to see him, and in her state of mind, it was easy enough to disguise his true identify from her. Franklin did odd jobs for her around the house for food, or change, and told her vivid stories about the sights around her that she could not see. Sometimes she told him of her grandson Franklin who had moved away.
Then one day he found his grandmother dead, sitting in her rocker. Franklin bowed his head for a moment in quiet respect to her spirit, then walked through the house picking up what little money he could find, mostly loose change, and without notifying anyone of his grandmother’s death, walked away, leaving her body to be discovered by a welfare worker the next day.
The next few years were mean and lean. Franklin ate out of garbage cans and slept in alley ways, hiding from cops and gang members alike. Then he found the fiery orb. He touched the smooth round glass in his pocket reassuringly. Now gang members avoided him and cops had no reason to give chase.
His hunger satiated, Franklin ambled away from the river through the narrow streets of the French Quarter to the rhythm of Jazz, Blues, and Rock n’ Roll, even this early in the day, drifting out of the numerous bars. He spied a pretty, young woman in a flowing red dress. As Franklin concentrated, the skirt of the dress flew up in a non-existent wind, revealing white, lacy panties. The girl shrieked as she struggled to pull her skirt back down. Franklin walked on unhindered, no one connecting him to the incident.
He turned the corner onto Bourbon Street to the cacophony of honking traffic. Why, he could add to that! As he walked down the sidewalk, he sent every car’s horn blaring, creating a din that sent resident pigeons into flight. Like a skeet shooter, Franklin shot as many pigeons as he could out of the air, mentally firing deadly bolts of force at the targets. Dead pigeons dropped onto pedestrians and traffic, adding human shrieks, and the crunch of fender benders to the din and confusion. Franklin laughed fiendishly at his canvas of chaos.
When his merriment was spent, he entered a video arcade. Able to activate any game with a thought, he spent hours in virtual combat with multitudes of enemies…but he had no patience with defeat. When a game didn’t go as he wished, he would fix it to his satisfaction.
Franklin didn’t mind being a loner, or not having friends, not really. What did he need friends for? He could find plenty to do for entertainment. What he needed was his own headquarters, a place he could call his very own.
Franklin’s wandering through the city went on well into the night, and when he was finally exhausted and ready to sleep, he teleported himself nightly into a furniture store he had found and climbed into his bed. Well, it wasn’t his bed exactly, but it was the most magnificent bed he had ever seen, and he returned to it night after night. It was so massive, there was a stool to help you climb into it. From the bed frame four huge mahogany posts rose majestically at the corners, reaching for the ceiling. The great bed looked sad and trapped in the crowded store, begging to be freed. Franklin climbed up into it, consoling it, and went to sleep.
Restful sleep turned into restless dreams. He was hot molten lava, flowing through jagged crystal mountains. Violent eruptions shook the mountains, shattering crystals and spewing him across the galaxy. For millennia he lay buried under river silt until a great flood washed the silt away. Then it was morning and someone was unlocking the doors to the store.
Franklin woke with a start. Daylight illuminated the front store windows. He reached into his pocket for the orb, as he did every morning, to assure himself it was still there. Then pulling it out, he squeezed it tightly in his hands. Find me…Franklin paused…Find me and my bed a safe, comfortable place to live. A place where no one will ever find us he half pleaded, half demanded.
There was a gentle tug and a soft flutter of energy in his brain…and then Franklin and his bed were plunged into darkness.
Dirty snow splattered up from the tires of traffic honking at jaywalkers trying to cross busy Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. To Aaron, the city didn’t look like much. Old buildings and new ones were all jumbled together, the city’s horizon line nearly insignificant by Lower-48 standards. But the city was redeemed from total drabness by the Chugach Mountains that encircled it to the east, and Cook Inlet to the west, a mighty arm of the Pacific Ocean reaching far inland to Anchorage’s port just a few blocks away. A warm wind from the Gulf of Alaska was bringing in unseasonably warm temperatures, turning the snow on the city sidewalks to slush. The sky overhead hung low, dark, and gray.
Aaron, not acclimated to winter, shivered in the damp wind. His shoes were soaked through, his toes numb with cold. He had begged, borrowed and stolen to make it to Alaska, and had little money left to buy winter boots. Then he came upon an Army Navy Surplus Store and walked in; at least he could warm up a bit. The shelves and racks were piled high with coats, hats, boots, socks, packs, sleeping bags, canteens, knives…and just about anything else you could need for survival in a brutally cold environment. Aaron looked in his wallet, and considered. He could either have warm feet or eat tonight. Which would it be? He stepped outside to think on it, then came to a pawn shop with a pair of used boots displayed in the window. They looked like they would fit.
Aaron was feeling like his ill luck might be changing for the better as he strolled down the sloppy sidewalk carrying his newly purchased boots and socks in a shopping bag with enough money left over for a little something to eat. When he stumbled on the Brother Francis Shelter with room for the night, he began to feel downright lucky. Tomorrow morning he would hitchhike out of town. Rahlys and Maggie were in some little end-of-the-road hick town far north of Anchorage. This much he had found out in little devious ways from their friends.
He hoped Rahlys appreciated all he had been through to get here. He was starting to wonder if she was worth it.
Aaron fluffed up the hard, flat pillow he had been provided and stretched out on his cot, covering himself with a thin, wool blanket. An old man in another cot coughed from time to time to clear his throat. Occasionally, the peace was disturbed by a distant siren or the screech of brakes from the city that carried on beyond the walls of the room, otherwise it was quiet. Warm, dry, and fed, Aaron soon fell into dreamless sleep.
Rahlys lifted sleep-heavy eyelids to gray morning light, her body pressed into the mattress, weighted with grogginess. The residue of dreams, unlike any she had experienced before, drugged her mind. But now, all she could recall was a name…Anthya. Who’s Anthya, she wondered, her eyes focusing on the log beams overhead, each as unique as the tree from which it was hewn. Then she turned her head toward the dull light seeping in from the window and spotted the crystal suspended stationary over the birch night stand beside her bed, its soft light competing with the emerging dawn.
After much soul searching, Rahlys had decided that she would not confine the crystal to its pouch for a time. Perhaps this way, she could learn more, and it was unlikely anyone would be coming around to see it. Why had the crystal allowed her to tuck it away like a common object not currently in use? Because the crystal is an object, she reminded herself.
Rahlys sat up and stretched. “Anthya,” she said out loud, committing to memory the name from her dream. In an unexpected response to her utterance, the crystal brightened sharply, circled around…then hovered in place and dimmed back down again.
“You know Anthya, don’t you?”
The crystal pulsated light, spinning on its axis in seeming confirmation. Slipping out of bed, Rahlys gasped in awe as she glanced out her bedroom window at the clearing, forest, and creek below. Deep fresh snow had transformed the landscape overnight into a winter wonderland. Snow draped heavily from tree branches and blanketed the underbrush in soft fluffiness. Down below, the creek ran darkly through the pristinely white landscape.
And it was still snowing.
With the excitement of a child eager to try out her new sled, Rahlys rushed to get dressed. The crystal followed her downstairs, patiently waited for her to don boots, hat, and coat, then rushed out the door behind her. Rahlys stomped out a trail across the backyard making her way to the outhouse. Except for its light, the crystal was nearly invisible in the falling snow, whispering ever so softly in the still air, as it sifted down through the trees.
Returning from the outhouse, Rahlys paused in her tracks taking in the beauty and wonder of it all. Again she stomped the snow with her feet, packing the trail more on her way back to the steps. Then with a burst of magic, Rahlys brushed the snow off the steps. Reaching the porch, she knocked snow off her boots, grabbed an armload of firewood from the stacked row, and entered the warm, cozy cabin. When the door closed behind her, leaving the crystal outside, almost immediately it appeared again beside her, unmindful of any door.
After loading the stove, Rahlys donned her snowsuit and grabbing the empty five-gallon water container and the plastic sled from the porch, she headed down to the spring, the crystal following her. There must be a better way to break trail than stomping through it. Dropping the sled at the edge of the hill, she settled into it with the water container between her knees and wiggled the sled forward. Snow drifted into the sled with her and collected on her as it continued to fall. With the aid of gravity, the sled moved slowly down the unpacked slope and stopped as the trail leveled out by the spring access.
The crystal explored around the immediate area while Rahlys stomped down snow, kicked away the hollow icicle that had formed around the stream of water coming out of the pipe, and placed the container under the spout. The water flow was slow and the container large so she had time for more sledding while it filled.
Teleporting herself back up the hill, she dropped the sled to the ground and plopped down into it. Her second run was faster and took her further down the trail. By her third run, the sled had enough momentum to reach a second downward slope in the trail, helping her go even further. Carrying the sled, she walked the short distance back up to the spring and loaded the full water container into the sled. Then with focused concentration Rahlys teleported herself, the sled, and the water container to the back porch.
Rahlys made quick work of the chores after that, using magic to haul water and restock the firewood on the porch. But how she was going to eventually restock her wood shed was a dilemma she had yet to resolve.
Determined to maintain a schedule of sorts, Rahlys set herself up to paint. Then with a cup of hot cocoa cradled in her hands, she stared out into the snowfall, mesmerized, longing to depict it on paper. Placing the cup aside, she reached for a thin soft brush, dipped the tip in even thinner color washes, and gingerly, minimally defined the underlying structure of the forest, softening the infusion of subtle hues with a damp cotton swab. Between strokes, she glanced out at the white landscape, then back down at the white paper in front of her. The crystal hovered placidly nearby, lighting her work.
Then suddenly the crystal flew out of position and spun in the air around her. Questioningly Rahlys looked up from her work.
Startled by the unexpected message, Rahlys stood abruptly nearly upsetting her work, her stomach wrenching tightly as fear stabbed at her heart. But how…? She recognized the name from the dreams and staggered under the possible portent of such a visitation. What should I do?
Then there in the room standing just a few feet from her appeared a slender, wispy woman, her features so light she looked more like an apparition than a living being. A dark blue cloak draped over Anthya’s shoulders partially concealed a gown of shimmering silver. Before Rahlys could decide how to react, Anthya spoke softly, moving slowly toward her.
“Please do not fear me, Rahlys, Guardian of the Oracle of Light, I mean you no harm. I am Anthya, Councilor of the Crystal Table.”
Rahlys’ heart beat in her throat. She was unable to think as she struggled to comprehend the presence before her. Immediately, the crystal flew to Anthya and hovered over her outstretched hand. Rahlys fought a sharp pang of jealousy over the crystal’s lack of loyalty, then panic… was it being taken away? She felt a tremendous urge to summon it back. Then as though sensing her stress, the crystal flew up from Anthya’s hand and returned to hover near Rahlys.
Quickly Rahlys reached up and grabbed the crystal while she had a chance. Enclosed in her fist, she held it close to her body as she struggled to release enough tension in her throat to enable her to speak. “Where did you come from? And why are you here?”
“I am from a world far away across the galaxy. I have come to unveil to you the history of the Oracle of Light…and your destiny.” Images of a distant planet with crystalline mountains and golden seas brushed Rahlys’ mind. How could her destiny be linked with this alien world? The heavily ominous words, spoken with such gentle wisdom were foreboding. Rahlys stood speechless as Anthya continued her tale.
“When I was young, not yet a millennium of your Earth-years old, there lived on our world a very evil sorcerer named Droclum who nearly destroyed our planet through his insatiable greed and lust for power. His most prevailing opponent was the great sorceress Anthya, for whom I am named.” Mental images of Sorceress Anthya and the Sorcerer Droclum provided Rahlys visual references as Councilor Anthya related the history.
“Anthya and her followers learned that Droclum had produced a spell of horrendous darkness, a spell that opened the gate to immortality, with repercussions that could threaten our world. Only the darkest evil is powerful enough to achieve such a feat. In the final battle, Anthya dealt Droclum a fatal blow, but it was too late. The evil spell had already been wrought, and the body of her fallen foe, dissipating into smoke before her, was sucked into the boiling cauldron of Mt. Vatre. The mountain, and the ground beneath it, shook and heaved violently in an effort to rid itself of the abomination. For many planetary rotations, the cauldron boiled and the planet shook, until finally Mt. Vatre exploded cataclysmically, blowing a part of our world asunder.”
The images Rahlys saw were terrifying as well as spectacular. A planet erupted, sending a fountain of molten glass and rock exploding into an interstellar shower of shattered crystal, ash, and rock.
“In this eruption, Droclum’s formidable powers and evil being were forged into a fiery smoky orb and spewed out into space. Anthya and her followers traced the voyage of the Dark Orb across the galaxy through folds of space and time, until it was swallowed up and lost on this world that you now call Earth.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Rahlys shuddered.
“Because one day you will face Droclum and the powers of the Dark Orb.” For a fleeting moment Rahlys felt a touch of the unspeakable evil and unbearable darkness that was Droclum. It was the same evil that searched for her in her dreams.
“Why is he looking for me?”
“Because you are the Guardian of the Oracle of Light!”
“The Oracle of Light,” Rahlys said softly, and the crystal became warmer in her tightly clenched hand.
“All of Sorceress Anthya’s efforts over time to find the Dark Orb and destroy it failed. She blamed herself for the scourge placed on your world and ours, for not defeating Droclum in time.” Again Councilor Anthya paused, but Rahlys refrained from speaking, waiting quietly for her to continue.
“When Sorceress Anthya was near the end of her longevity she called me to her. In her hand she held a small cylindrical crystal I had given to her as a child, a crystal untainted by Mt. Vatre’s cataclysmic eruption.” The crystal fluttered in Rahlys’ tightly closed palm.
“She asked me to accompany her to her private chambers, and there with quiet, solemn ceremony, Anthya laid down on her divan. She asked that I stand beside her, and holding my hand for added strength, she squeezed the crystal in her other fist while she worked her last spell. The great sorceress seemed to age before my eyes. In the end, her body was tired and drained and her magic was gone, for her wondrous magical powers had been siphoned out of her and into the crystal. Then she took her last breath.”
Rahlys was stunned by the incredible story she was hearing. “But why, why did she do it?”
“To give Earth a fair chance. It was I who was given the mission to transport the crystal containing the Oracle of Light to this world and hide it until it was time for a Guardian to possess its powers. Fate chose you as the Guardian of the Oracle, and Anthya’s powers are now within you. When Droclum emerges, only you will have the ability to destroy him.”
Rahlys’ heart almost stopped beating. She shuddered recalling Droclum’s essence from her dreams. “Me, destroy Droclum! But how?”
“You are a powerful sorceress. You and your warriors will find a way.”
“My warriors?” Images of Vince, Maggie, and the raven appeared in her mind.
“Explore your powers, use your imagination, but heed one warning. If you use your power for evil intent, you will surely die.”
Icy cold fear crept through Rahlys’ spine. “What if I don’t want these magical powers?”
“It is your destiny. You have been chosen.”
The crystal would be contained no longer and fluttered insistently in Rahlys’ closed fist. In response, she opened her hand. Finally freed, the crystal flew out, zinging madly about the room, then came to a stop next to her, spinning slowly like a gyroscope.
“The crystal is a highly useful tool; it can help you in many ways. But remember, Sorceress Rahlys, Guardian of the Light, the power of the Oracle is already within you.”
And with that, she was gone.
“Wait!” Rahlys cried out to the emptiness where Anthya had stood, but Anthya did not return. Rahlys paced the floor, too tense to sit, as she tried to absorb all she had been told. “I am a powerful sorceress,” she said out loud as she continued to pace in agitation, the crystal following behind her like a tamed hummingbird. Out of habit, she stopped at the woodstove, opened it to check the wood supply, but didn’t even look inside before shutting the door again. She was too distracted to think.
“I am a powerful sorceress, and with my friends and a bird, I am to save the world.” Well, that sounded about right. The crystal, from a world so far away, followed her as she continued to pace the painted plywood floors. “I must destroy the malevolent magician Droclum,” she said aloud, and cold fear beaded down her spine as once again she recalled the feel of Droclum’s evil. Droclum must be destroyed! But how? Fear tied her insides into knots at the thought of such a powerful adversary. And her warriors…were they entangled by association? Maggie, Vince, and the raven encompassed her entire social life since moving into the woods. Was involvement with the crystal part of their destiny too?
When Rahlys had finally paced herself out, she sat and stared into nowhere. With a feeling of cold dread, she recalled Anthya’s dire warning. If you use your power for evil intent, you will surely die. Rahlys shuddered involuntarily. What exactly might be construed as evil intent? Glancing out the window Rahlys shook her head; there was too much to think about. It had stopped snowing and the sun was peeking timidly through tattered clouds revealing patches of blue sky.
“I need to go outside and get some fresh air.” Rahlys bundled up warmly, conjured the crystal back to its pouch, and placed the loop around her neck letting the pouch fall between her breasts. As she stepped out, a breeze was already knocking some snow out of the trees. The enlarging hole of blue sky overhead promised a clear, cold night.
Rahlys hiked aimlessly around the cabin through the mid-calf deep snow and then down the gentle slope to the creek. The water in the creek babbled unhurriedly around rocks and boulders ringed in ice. Little disks of ice formed on the surface of the stream where snow-laden branches and brush, bent over by the snow load, touched the water.
Where did Anthya come from, Rahlys wondered, and how did she get here? She said she was Councilor of the Crystal Table and had been named after the great sorceress Anthya, whose powers she now possessed. She had been present when the crystal was infused with Sorceress Anthya’s powers. How long ago was that? Anthya claimed she was still young at the time, only a thousand Earth-years old.
On a barely protruding ice-coated rock mid-stream in the creek, a dipper, short tailed and slate gray, bobbed up and down on fragile legs just inches above the cold, gurgling water. Rahlys gingerly stepped her way over snow-covered rocks to the water’s edge. Suddenly she slipped, her right foot going out from under her, her body twisting down while her left foot remained wedged tightly between two rocks. Sharp pain shot up from her left ankle overriding the additional pain at impact points on her arm and hip even though snow helped cushion the fall. Through clenched teeth she writhed and moaned. As some of the pain eased, she tried to extricate her left foot, but the slightest effort to move it brought renewed agony. Slowly shifting position she managed to free her foot from the rock crevice. Then sitting back on the snow-covered rocks, she pulled off her left boot, opening the laces wide to minimize the pain, and gritted her teeth as she examined the ankle. It was extremely sensitive to the touch, but she could move it and her fingers did not feel any misplaced bone. She tried to stand, but could barely put weight on it, and the rocks were slippery with ice and snow. Since she couldn’t walk, she would have to teleport herself back to the cabin.
Rahlys closed her eyes and relaxed, drawing on the force within her, and envisioned the warm interior of her cabin, willing herself there.
Opening her eyes, Rahlys breathed a sigh of relief as she found herself in the comfort and security of her living room. Now at least she wouldn’t die of exposure. She had been foolish to go out on the slippery rocks. What if she would have had to crawl all the way through the snow to get back to the cabin? She wiggled out of her coat and removed her boots, then managing to stand, limped over to the chair and sat down. Removing the sock on her left foot, her ankle loomed swollen and bruised. But even as she stared at it, the discoloration began to fade and the swelling to recede. She could touch it now without wincing in pain. Finally she tried standing on it again, then strolled around the room. She didn’t even limp. Incredibly, her ankle was healed!