Lighting Candles in the Dark Part III: Catching Flame
What's happening, Father Rothwell?"
"Nothing, nothing you need to concern yourself with, William." Tobias pulled the sweatshirt over his head, checking to see if it still fit. Yes, it did.
"Father, where are you going? I don't like this...."
"William, you have been a good friend for a long while, but I'm afraid that I need to keep you in the dark about this. I'm... meeting someone."
"Who?" said the elderly maintenance man.
"You don't have to concern yourself." Good, he thought. The jeans still fit, too.
"It's about that battle with the angels and demons last night, isn't it?"
"William, that might be. Now I need to be going."
"What about your collar?" said William, pointing to the clerical collar sitting on the dresser.
"I... won't be needing that tonight," said Tobias hesitantly. He brushed past William and soon was out in the gathering night.
Since the autumn evening was relatively warm and clear, Tobias walked the few blocks to his objective: Beaumont University Union. He arrived at the ornate fountain marking the center of the campus just as the archaic clock on BU's tower began its tolling.
Tobias checked his watch, silently cursed, and hurried past the fountain into the Union. Now where was he supposed to meet Sandy? Near the vending machines, she had said. Where were they? A lounge? Tobias found that the center of the Union was an open area, down to the basement. But he could see no vending machines on the first floor, nor on any of the other floors in view. Gaudy Halloween decorations, however, were quite in abundance. He stopped one of the few passing students and asked for directions.
"Say, I know you, man!" said the student. He closed one eye and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth, sizing Tobias up. "Yeah, you're that priest guy on the news vids. You must have been shootin' some good stuff to see all those demon guys."
"Maybe you should show up in church once in a while, and you would see the same," Tobias said cooly.
"Whoa, that's heavy, say don't you have like a uniform or something? Are you in, like, disguise to find those nasty demons and blow them up with grenades or something?"
"Er, something like that. But I'm hungry right now, and I want a snack. Where are the vending machines?"
"Sure, man. Toss 'em a grenade for me. They're down those stairs, and turn right. Or left. I forget."
"Thank you," Tobias said, leaving the student to his deliberations. Not a student for much longer, Tobias predicted.
The stairs proved fruitful, and soon Tobias found the vending machines in an area with many tables, mostly unoccupied. He looked around, and finally saw Sandy standing at the Qwirki Cola machine. She popped open the can she had just pulled out of the machine, then looked around, her eyes brightening at the sight of Tobias.
"Wow, guys, he's here!" she said, bouncing up and down. She bounded over to Tobias, and pulled on his hand. He followed the short brunette over to a table at which an auburn-haired freckled woman, an oriental woman, and a brunet swarthy-skinned man sat. "He wanted to talk to you, Selina."
The oriental woman at the table, who wore a beautiful multi-colored vest over a white blouse, scrutinized Tobias closely, then said, "You certainly look out of place here, old man."
Tobias considered his words carefully. "What makes you think so?"
"Those clothes are at least twenty years out of style, and besides, there are no students quite as ancient as you here."
"I'm only 45, Miss Selina."
"...and, and," Selina squinted her eyes at him in an expression of concentration. "You're a priest."
Tobias narrowed his eyes. "What makes you say that?"
"I can see it in your... eyes. I have not had, shall we say, good relations with your kind."
"Is that a reason to pre-judge me? I have no wish to harm you. I merely seek knowledge. Something has happened..."
Selina blinked. Her face clouding, she almost snarled, "Don't try any mind tricks with me. I thought your religion forbade magic." She angrily pushed herself away from the table and stalked off, followed somewhat hesitantly by the other two at the table. She turned and said, "Don't dare come on this campus again. We have no dealings with those of your god. Leave us alone, and we will return the favor. Come on, Sandy. You should have known better."
Sandy looked as if she were going to cry, swinging her head from Selina to Tobias and back, clutching the can of soda to her chest. Finally, she hung her head and followed Selina slowly. The oriental woman turned with a flare of her skirt and stalked out of sight.
Tobias sat down heavily in the fourth chair at the table, and rested his head on is hands. He thought soberly, what was that all about?
Tobias was startled out of his reverie twenty minutes later by Sandy sliding into the seat next to him. She patted his elbow. "I'm sorry."
"You didn't tell her I was a priest, did you?"
"No! Of course not! It's just that she can... see things sometimes."
Tobias sighed. "Oh, well."
Sandy reached into a pocket of her jean jacket and produced a candy bar. "Care for an 'Oh, Nuts?'"
"No thanks." He paused as Sandy opened it with her teeth and began gulping it down. "I'll have to find someone else to help me."
"Like me?" came a feminine voice from behind them.
Tobias turned to see the other woman from before, the one with shoulder- length auburn hair. "Possibly."
She slid into the chair on Tobias' right and lowered her voice conspiratorially. "My name is Melissa. Selina can be... hard-headed sometimes. Okay, you are a priest. I can deal with that, I used to follow your god. Until... something happened to make me not believe in a higher power. That's all you need to know about it. I imagine that this is about the fight that took place last night?"
"Yes," said Tobias slowly.
"We all saw it, Selina included. She's the best one at aura reading, but I have a touch of the second sight myself. Those creatures were not the angels and demons from your Christ. I could tell. Nor were they from Selina's pantheon. We have no idea where they are from."
"Why are you being so helpful?"
"Like I said, Selina is bit hard-headed. We want to know about these creatures, and I can tell that you can help us. Even if Selina doesn't want to stoop to get information from you, right Sandy?"
"Mmmmhph?" said Sandy around a mouthful of candy bar. She swallowed. "Yes, we want you to help!" She leaned against Tobias' left arm. He pulled back slightly.
"You see, you have some power over people. Sandy... is quite susceptible, it seems."
"What do you mean?"
Melissa looked puzzled. "You don't know? No wonder you're doing it so indiscriminately. Selina took it as a personal affront."
Tobias thought back, and with a quick glance to the woman leaning contentedly against his arm, realized that she had changed temperament rather suddenly while they talked in the museum earlier in the day. And then there was the policeman at the site of the battle...
"I'm working sorcery?" asked Tobias, his voice a bit louder than he intended.
"Yes, you are. And it's disgusting, how susceptible Sandy is. Release her. Please."
"But, I don't know how to. Sorcery is-" he stopped.
"Great. Look, I can help you, if you care to trust me. But not here. It's too public."
Tobias looked around with wide eyes. There were a few people around, but none nearby.
"If you can keep Sandy from trying to break your vows, please come with me."
"I assume you, she won't do any such thing."
"You don't know her." Melissa stood, and with a toss of her hair, led Tobias to the elevator. Sandy followed, almost in a trance.
The elevator stopped at the fifth floor, the topmost one. Melissa led the other two through darkened hallways to a door marked with a lighted "Exit" sign. "We're going to the roof. Hold on a second. Melissa fished in the pockets of her jeans for a moment, then produced a set of keys. She went through the door, then climbed the stairs upwards. Unlocking the door there, she stepped out onto the darkness of the roof. "The custodians really shouldn't leave their keys lying around. It was too easy."
"You stole their keys?"
"No, I made a copy of the the important ones, and gave them back. We like privacy."
"And the roof gives it to you?"
"At night it does. Besides, the Student Council would laugh in our faces if we wanted to form a Magic Club and get an office, because magic does not exist. This serves well enough. No one ever comes up here."
"Now, for your problem. Come with me." She led him around some some dark shapes that must have been heating/cooling units, and found a hidden trunk, which she opened with another key from her key ring. Melissa pulled out a stone on a chain that glinted blue in the moonlight. "Remember, priest, that we look at the world in different ways. This looks like a normal stone to you, but to me, this is a focus for magical power. Alas, Selina is much better at this than me, but I will try to manage. Sit here, and concentrate on releasing Sandy."
Tobias sat on the trunk as instructed, and Sandy sat down unbidden next to him, holding onto his left arm. "Concentrate," said Melissa again, and she closed her eyes. With one finger, she touched Tobias' forehead. He closed his eyes, and concentrated. After a short while, there was a flare, and with his inner eye, he could =see=. A cloud of whiteness surrounded him, which had to be this "aura" that Melissa had talked about. There to his left was a vague bluish cloud that had to be Sandy, sitting next to him. She seemed to be bonded to him by more than physical contact. There was a white cord running from his aura to hers. In front of him, was a bright aura, as bright as his, only this was distinctly blue. Melissa. The blue cloud touched the cord, and began to slowly pick it apart, as if it were severing strands of a rope. Tobias started to help, and within a moment or two, the cord snapped. Tobias reeled.
When his vision cleared, he found he was still sitting on the trunk, and so was Sandy, although she seemed to be stunned. Melissa was leaning against a chimney, trying to catch her breath. "Well, Tobias, you are more proficient at such things than me. I would have not been able to sever the spell without your aid. Are you convinced now that you can use magic?"
Tobias whispered, "Yes," and closed his eyes.
"Wow, that was weird, Tobias!" said Sandy.
"No doubt," he replied. "Forget about it."
"Well, OK," she said. "I still think that you're kind of cute. Don't believe everything that Selina says."
"I don't think that this is still your... magical charisma, Tobias. It's just her personality," said Melissa.
"Thank the Lord," muttered Tobias, and he opened his eyes, trying to ignore the stare he was getting from Sandy.
"Well, now that that's over, Sandy, Tobias, if you'll get off the trunk, we have something to look at." They complied, and Melissa opened the trunk again. After replacing the jewel in a small bag, she pulled out a large book.
It was very old, with yellowed pages and red ribbon bookmarks attached to the spine. "This cover, it's leather?" asked Tobias.
"Good call. I didn't know too many people knew what leather was anymore. Or books."
"We have several books, some leather bound, back at St. Angus."
"Ah yes, the patron saint of cows!" interjected Sandy.
"No, the patron saint of tinkerers and problem-solvers. We make sure we keep the holy writings in physical form. Electronic is too... ephemeral."
"We are not so different, then," said Melissa. "Magic spells do not take to data crystals too readily. This book is centuries old, though, older than the printing press even. Or so we believe."
"It is handwritten, then?"
"No, that is the curious part. Portions of it are, but not all. Some are typeset. And some are in a different language entirely." She opened the book reverently, holding it on her lap. "Like here."
"I can hardly see it."
"Let's get some light, then." She pulled a candle out of the trunk, then closed it and put both objects on top of the trunk. The candle lighted with a snap of her finger.
"Magic?" Tobias queried.
"No, self-lighting candles. You don't have them in your church?"
"No, we're usually traditional."
"They're a lot easier to light with the nanotech. Look..."
Tobias glanced over the writings, which were not in the letters he was familiar with, nor did they seem to be the pictographs from the Far East. What might have been letters were blurred together into one intricate design that covered the entire page. "I can't read this."
"Neither can any of us. They match no alphabet that we've seen in the Beaumont library, nor at Fullbright. I'm under the impression that it's extraterrestrial."
"Extraterrestrial? We've never met any others in space."
"Well, yes. Nonetheless, there are parts that are not like anything that's been seen on Earth. And then more parts added over the centuries here on Earth, before it came into our possession. Selina found it in a musty old bookshop on the other side of Providence. The owner didn't have any idea what he had. It even has its own aura. Well, trust me on this."
Tobias pursed his lips, then replied in the affirmative.
"The book, I think, says something relevant to us now, somewhere around... here." Melissa riffled through the pages, which were still supple despite their yellowing, and finally opened to a page with a familiar picture.
"An angel," Tobias breathed.
"Yes. Unfortunately, this is one of the pages with strange writing on it." Tobias looked over the small script, which at least looked like it might have come from a human pen. That is, except for the fact it blurred into a new color every two inches or so.
"Um, guys, we may want to go," said Sandy, eating another candy bar. Two heads snapped up to see her returning from the edge of the roof. "There's some strange people who just ran in the front door. I think that they're carrying guns, even though they're hiding them well. And they're all cybered up."
"Drat," said Melissa.
"You're on the run from the law?"
"No, it's just that, well, if they find us up here, it'll be suspicious."
Melissa shot him a dirty look. "Well, and we don't often get armed men running on campus. I imagine that's the same for St. Angus?" She blew out the candle, then replaced it and the book in the trunk.
"Yes. So how do you know they have cyberware?"
Sandy's mouth was full, and Melissa cut in. "She can see the auras of metal, sometimes. Not quite as useful as what I can see, but useful in its own way. So, are you on the run from the police?"
"Not that I know of."
"Well, come on. Maybe we'll be able to nonchalantly walk out of here and not get involved." He helped her hide the trunk again among the HVAC units.
They were almost to the door when they heard a harsh voice call "Freeze!", followed by the metallic click of a gun. Sandy gave a quick "Eeek!"
"Too late for not getting involved, I'm afraid," said Tobias, as he held his hands out so that whomever it was with the guns wouldn't shoot him by mistake. He hoped they didn't want to shoot him on purpose. "I hope this is all a mistake..."
"I don't know, they're all around us," said Melissa.
"Oh, I don't like guns!" quavered Sandy.
To be continued....
"Lighting Candles in the Dark Part III: Catching Flame" 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.