Lighting Candles in the Dark Part II: Alpha and Omega
The commotion was horrendously loud, and the sounds were not those one usually heard in the city of Providence. Tobias parted the curtains and looked out into the darkness to find the cause. It was almost as if the zoo had let out it tenants, he thought. Or Hell had been let loose upon the Earth.
His suspicions seemed to be verified a moment later when a bright light appeared in the sky, and a radiant winged figure descended from the clouds. Tobias' jaw dropped in surprise as he recognized the being as something he had sought his entire life. Now it was here. The figure, unheeding of its viewer, disappeared behind another building, and the light faded away.
"Father Rothwell?" came a voice behind him. "What's happening?"
He turned, a gleam in his eyes. "Something we've been waiting for all our lives, William. The angels are here for the final battle. It's the end of the world."
The ground trembled as Tobias stumbled out of the door of the church to seek the battle between Heaven and Hell taking place inside the bounds of Providence, his city. The elderly maintenance man William was cowering inside. He had no conception of what was taking place now, unfortunately. A man of weak faith, Tobias thought. Those who were able should fight on the side of Good to gain salvation. Also, it was only right to help the Creator who had given them everything, prevail against His enemies.
Tobias checked that his crucifix was still around his neck, and that his pistol was securely in his coat pocket. No sense in being unprepared. While his faith would be strong enough to turn back the minions of evil, those humans corrupted to their side would need more earthly persuasion. It was an old gun, and he feared that he was not very proficient in its use. But his faith would guide his bullets. The sounds of battle came ever closer, and a new roar, seemingly from the very pits of Hell, drowned out them all. The priest faltered slightly in his run, and doubts blanketed his mind. Would he be strong enough to fight the Deceiver Himself? Tobias dared not even think of the Deceiver's true name now, lest He notice the priest before he was ready. Even if he couldn't win, his death would be in the service of the Creator, and his place in Heaven would be assured. To die would be such a small sacrifice in the service of his god. He resumed his run.
Finally, he rounded a corner to find the battle. A warehouse that had already been ramshackle was now totally demolished. Standing in the middle of the wreckage was what had to be the Deceiver Himself. His dark form was highlighted by flashes of an infernal red light that seemed to come from nowhere. Few details were discernible except for the form's wings, great taloned arms, horns, and glowing red eyes. The Deceiver reached out with His hand to pluck a small form from the ground. Tobias, frozen in fear, realized that this was the angel he had seen come from the sky earlier, her wings and radiance plucked from her. The demonic form bit down once, and the angel was gone. The Deceiver launched Himself into the air and flew toward the other end of the warehouse, away from Tobias. Tobias shuddered and felt very insignificant. The demon's flight was blocked by something that Tobias could barely see, and then a bolt of lightning flashed from the cloudless sky and struck near the demon, a point hidden from view by the rubble. The demon cast about for something, but as soon as He seemed to find it, He opened a way back to Hell and was gone.
Only then did Tobias see the lone figure standing a bit off to his left near the warehouse leap into the air, float for an unnatural length of time, and land out of sight on the other side of the warehouse. So this was a sorcerous minion of the Deceiver, thought Tobias. The side of evil had won the battle, and he was too late to give his life in the service of his god. Tobias sank to the ground. This wasn't the end of the world, as he had first thought. But the minions of the Deceiver had to be punished. He would track down this servant and punish him for bringing the Deceiver to Providence, before the appointed hour.
Tobias brushed past the inquisitive William at the door, not wanting to admit that he had been wrong about something as important as the end of the world. He went directly to the church proper, now only lit by a few candles. The darkness did not bother him, as it was only the normal kind, not that of the Deceiver's dark arts. Besides, he knew the church well enough to find his way through it blindfolded.
Reaching the altar, he laid out upon its surface the remnants of the battle he had been able to find before the police had cordoned off the area. There were three seared feathers of surpassing size and beauty, fallen from the angel's wings as the demon had plucked them from her back. Tobias carefully laid them out on the altar and knelt before them, praying for guidance in finding the servant of the Deceiver, Satan.
Such was Tobias' concentration in praying that the hours flew by swiftly, almost unnoticed. Finally, he felt a warmth on his shoulders. He looked up, and saw a vision of the Christ, the Creator, in front of him. Tobias was awed at the Creator's beauty and radiance, and he was stunned into inaction for the second time in less than a day. The Creator regarded Tobias slowly, regally, and then was gone. Then He was replaced by a vision of the battle earlier in the night. This time, the priest saw more of it.
There were not one, but two, users of sorcery there. One light, and the other dark. The dark one was not quite human, but had defeated the light one in a pitched battle. Tobias now realized that the dark form he had seen could not have been the Deceiver Himself. The demon was "merely" that- a demon in the service of Satan, lent to the dark sorcerer for some dark purpose. The angels - there had been two - were sent by the Creator to assist the light sorcerer defend Providence. There were infernal machines there too, like none that Tobias had never seen. Oh, cruel day that people would have to rely on sorcery to protect them! Cruel that the light sorcerer had been defeated, though Tobias could not see his fate. Fortunate for Tobias that that seemed to be the dark sorcerer's plan, that he did not continue to destroy the city and those in it.
Tobias felt a hand on his shoulder, and the vision faded.
"Father? Wake up." Tobias realized that he was splayed on the floor in front of the altar. "It's morning." He opened his eyes and found the face of William.
"I was asleep?" asked Tobias, then answered his own question with a yawn. He blinked rapidly, then exclaimed, "Christ visited me!"
"He did? When? What did He say?"
"Just now. In my... dream. You don't believe me, do you, William?"
"I've learned that people a lot of the time dream about what they want to, Father. Maybe He did visit you. But you always say that He's always there, to the congregation."
"Indeed I do, but He was... more there. I had a vision of the battle."
"I've also learned that some things are better left alone. Please don't get yourself killed, Father. People need you."
"There is a sorcerer of evil loose in this city, William, and he must be found. If not me, then who?"
"Begging your pardon, Father, but sorcery is for children's stories, not for grown men to go chasing after."
Tobias sighed heavily. "You may be right. I have no idea where to start."
Later in the morning, Tobias walked over to the destroyed warehouse to see it again, maybe give him a clue to the sorcerer's whereabouts. There was yellow tape reading "POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS" around it, but no one in evidence, not even a surveillance drone. Shaking a little at his disobedience, he ducked under the tape and examined the area. There was another warehouse destroyed on the other side of the first one, plus part of an office building across the street. Tobias blinked at the devastation. Encouraged that there was no one about, he roamed the area searching for something -anything- that would lead to the sorcerer. His search was fruitless for long minutes, until he saw something gleaming white under the edge of a fallen wall.
Tobias pried some of the bricks aside, and there was a leg bone, a femur if he remembered his anatomy correctly. And there was more. The little rotting flesh remaining on the bones showed that this person had not died recently. His skin crawled at the conclusion he drew, but he steeled himself and reached down to pull the femur from its resting place. Yes, certainly this was no ordinary skeleton. He could feel something there. It seemed as if the Deceiver's grasp could pull someone from beyond the grave....
"You there! Out! Before I cite you!"
Tobias looked up, and after some moments of searching found a brawny blond policeman with a large mustache marching toward him.
"This area is off-limits! Don't worry, you'll see it all on the news tonight." The policeman jerked his thumb at a news van pulling up. "Move... Oh, father!" he said, noticing Tobias' clerical collar as he stood. "I'm sorry, this is off limits to men of the cloth, too."
"You'll just kick me off more respectfully."
"Right. There's no truth to the rumors."
"The rumors that angels and demons fought here last night?"
"That one. You can't get anything past a priest, I always say."
"Except that I saw them fight."
"You did? Then, er, you'll have to come with me to make a statement..."
"No, I will not," said the priest, brandishing the femur unconsciously in front of him. "I have more important things to do."
The policeman blinked and replied, "Of course you do. Do you need some assistance?"
It was Tobias' turn to blink. "No. I can handle it without your help."
"Good day, then." The policeman turned and walked off to intercept the news crew. Tobias looked after him in wonderment. What had changed his attitude so quickly? Something about the bone, which he hadn't even seemed to notice? Despite the foulness it gave off, but he could neither see nor smell, Tobias tucked it inside his coat for further study. He set off in a direction to avoid the news crew on his way back to the church.
But they found him anyway. They came up behind him as he was about to disappear around the corner of a building, near the spot he was rooted to the previous night.
"Sir? Might you know something about this disaster?" came the petite blonde reporter's question over his shoulder.
He turned, and though he initially had dreaded the thought of talking to the press, suddenly had an idea. "Why, yes. I saw it from near this very spot..."
After detaching himself from the crew, Tobias decided that he would likely now get some sort of response from those who could help him, once the story was on the news. Of course, maybe his target would be watching, too. But even that might cause him to search Tobias out, and the priest could act out his god's vengeance.
But now to find out more about sorcery, and how to find a sorcerer, and how to defeat him when one finds him, thought Tobias. And the answer to that, as far as he knew, began in the Fullbright Museum of Natural History. Tobias had been there a couple times, years ago, marvelling at the wonders that Christ had created. All except, of course, the exhibit on sorcery. Sorcery was, of course, part of the world the Creator had wrought, but had been perverted by His eternal adversary, the Deceiver, into something evil. Or so it had been taught to him. The battle last night had shown him that sorcery could be used, if not for pure good, for mitigating the effects of evil. So it was this section he now had to visit for the first time.
With one last slight hesitation, Tobias stepped through the archway into the room that held the exhibit. No alarms went off and no fires leapt up, as he had half expected. With an inward sigh of relief, he began to study the exhibit. And found himself somewhat enjoying it. It seemed that before the perversion, magic could do wonderful things, make one's burdens lighter, entertain such that no holovid could, lift one into the air like a bird...
Tobias frowned. There was a reason for this trip. A successor to this joy, now truthfully called the dark arts, had troubled Providence, and had to be found before he could do more harm. Tobias continued his search.
A while later, someone to Tobias' left cleared their throat. The priest glanced over, and saw an earnest young woman peering at him. "Might I do something for you, Miss?" he asked quietly.
"It's just, well, that I don't many guys like you come in here," she said quickly, her curled brown locks swaying as she talked. "It's, like, against your religion or something, isn't it?" She cocked her head to one side and peered at him with large hazel eyes.
Tobias paused a moment to take in what she had chattered, then replied, "Sorcery was perverted by the Deceiver long ago, but it is still a part of what Christ made."
"Yeah, something like that, I remember now! Wow, that's interesting. So you're here because of that angels and demons and stuff thing last night? Wasn't that exciting?"
"You saw that too?"
"You betcha. It was neat! A lot of magic going on too, more than I've ever seen in one place."
"Sure. I look out for that sort of thing. Not much going on nowadays, not like the wizards of old, like Merlin or Nimrel or Circe or any of the others that they only can have displays of a few here. Now that was an exciting time! All those fireballs and enchantings and calling up dragons and unicorns and worms..." She stopped. "Now why would anyone want to call a worm up? They're so icky and slimy and stuff." She made a face.
"Darn straight! I mean, they're pretty easy to call, speaking relatively, of course, it's pretty hard to call anything at all, even if it's for supper! He he! OK, that's not so funny."
"How would you know?" Tobias said, somewhat surprised.
"=I= always come to supper when I'm called. But you mean like, with magic? Well," she moved closer, looking around conspiratorially and standing on tiptoes to whisper in Tobias' ear. "Well, I know someone who's done it. She's really good at that magic stuff, although of course that means he can do a couple things. That's about three things more than I can do with magic, except maybe my boyfriend would say otherwise..."
"I'd like to meet this friend of yours," Tobias said suddenly.
"What, my boyfriend?" She giggled. "He's not your type."
"Your other friend, the one who called a worm."
"Oh, I don't know about that. It might not be a good idea. We're not from your church, and she's had some bad experiences with priests in the past. Something about witchcraft, I think..."
"No matter. I want to learn about magic now. I won't harm your friend."
The young woman blinked suddenly and said, "Sure, we can do that. She won't mind, this time. You can tell us about that battle last night. It'll be fun. How about this: meet us in the Union, first floor, near the vending machines at 8 tonight. We'll have such a good time!"
"Of Beaumont University, of course! Good ol' B.U. You know how to get there? It's pretty close to the fight. About a dozen blocks."
"You might want to wear something different, though. Most everyone gets nervous when a priest appears on campus, no offense, sir. Oh! Hello, my name is Sandy. We're doing the conversation sort of backwards, with the 'Hello's at the end instead of the beginning, which is of course the wrong way." She thrust out her hand.
"Call me Fa- Tobias." He grabbed her hand and gave it a swift shake.
"What a neat name! Not a normal boring one like, to pick an example, 'Sandy.' Well, gotta go! See you later!" She darted off, as exuberant in motion as she was in speech.
Tobias looked at the archway through which she had disappeared for a while, sorting out his thoughts. Something strange was happening, certainly. He shouldn't have been able to convince her so easily, especially since her friend (and probably herself too, he guessed) had been harassed by those who shared his faith. And then there was the fact that it was the first time in decades that he had made plans to meet a woman in the evening. He chuckled to himself, and resumed looking at the displays.
"...and I hope that some good will come from this incident, that it will bring more people to the church, where they will find something that they've been missing," said the curly-brown-haired man on the vid, identified at the bottom as "Father Tobias Rothwell, Pastor, St. Angus Church."
"And there you have it, a witness to the destruction of two warehouses last night. This is Claire Fredericksen, Action News."
As the newscasters back at the studio restarted their banter, Matthew Wilcox was making a call. "Sergeant Koenig, I want to see the pastor of St. Angus Church here, tonight. Don't fail me." Wilcox waited for the affirmative response, then steepled his fingers and put his feet on the desk so recently stained with the blood of a phantom bird. He would get some answers....
To be continued....
"Lighting Candles in the Dark Part II: Alpha and Omega" is Copyright 1996 by Timothy Bailey. All rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for profit, with the exception of the normal charges for online time.