Lighting Candles in the Dark Part IV: Flickering Lights
"I don't think that they're friendly," said Melissa, brushing her auburn hair away from her face as she raised her hands.
Tobias agreed. The soldiers, or whatever they were (he could not tell as there was little moonlight illuminating the rooftop, and he didn't have the aura-reading ability Melissa claimed) advanced a little.
"Oh, please don't shoot us! We're harmless!" wailed Sandy, the small brunette cowering to his right.
"No, we're not," muttered Tobias. "What can you do to get us out of here, Melissa? I don't think that these are police."
"They're... not. You seem to think that every mage can do great magic. That's just in fairy tales. I can only read auras. And they're certainly not police. They're... corporate guards? You didn't default on a loan, Tobias? Or not send in postage with your box top?"
"No. Which one is the leader?"
"You're not going to try your new spell now, are you? You don't know how well it works..."
"I have an odd feeling about them. Christ is trying to tell me something..."
"Father Tobias Rothwell of St. Angus Church?" came a voice, and one figure stepped forward. "We wish to speak with you."
"Well, it's worth a try," he muttered, then he raised his voice. "I'm sorry, sir, but you are mistaken. There's some resemblance, I'm told, but the good father is probably preparing next Sunday's sermon in his rectory. He's quite good."
The figure paused a moment, then replied, "We've apparently made a mistake. Our exuberance overtook us."
"Another weak mind," muttered Melissa, glancing sidelong in the darkness at Sandy.
"Sergeant!" came another voice, "That's definitely him! I know him! What are you doing?"
"Belay that mouth, Stevenson!" retorted the sergeant. "Come over here."
"This isn't going to work," whispered Melissa.
"Have a little faith."
"Like I said, I have none, not any more."
"I'm sorry," said the sergeant. "I guess I have made a mistake. You certainly are my target."
"Uh oh," sighed Melissa.
"Turned in by a parishioner," said Tobias. "What irony."
"Come along quietly, and we will not harm you. The ladies, of course, will also have to come."
"Waah! I don't wanna! Don't shoot us!"
"It's best to submit, Tobias. We're surrounded."
"This has been a dark day," said Tobias as the soldiers closed in around them.
The trio was hustled off to the edge of the roof by the soldiers, which Tobias now could see were dressed in clothing that might pass on the street unnoticed. Except for the fact that everyone was wearing exactly the same longcoats, that is. It was not long before a surprisingly quiet helicopter dropped out of the dark skies and hung above the roof, moving a little in the slight wind. "A Ferro-Spunkmeyer Condor!" breathed Melissa. "I never thought I would see one up close." A ladder was let down, and one by one the soldiers and their prisoners climbed up. The sergeant signalled to the pilot, and they zoomed off into the night.
Soon, they got to downtown Providence, and the helicopter moved toward one of the office buildings.
"Starbright!" hissed Melissa. The soldiers riding nearby shot her hostile glances.
Indeed, Tobias now saw that the building that they approached was emblazoned with the three-circles logo of the Starbright Electronics Corporation. It was most well-known for its entertainment division, although it had cyberware and communications divisions as well. Tobias knew little about it, as he was not all that interested in replacing his body with metal, nor the trash that passed as entertainment in this age.
"Wow! Will we get to see Sybarria?" asked Sandy innocently.
"No," grunted a brown-haired soldier. "She's too busy to see the likes of you."
"Aww, she's my favorite singer!"
"Shut up," said another soldier, this one blond with a bandanna around his right arm.
"You're not very nice."
"I said, shut up." The soldier raised his gun, a short but brutal- looking affair, and pointed it at Sandy.
"Waaah!" Sandy melted against Tobias, trying to seek shelter.
"Give it up, Stevenson," said the brown-haired soldier.
Stevenson growled, then lowered his weapon. Tobias studied him closely. Yes, he had seen this one at St. Angus, once in a while. "I forgive you, Stevenson," he said on a hunch.
"What? I don't need none, father. I'm just doing my job, same as you."
"It is not the same, but I forgive you anyway."
"Shut up, father." Tobias fell silent, but after studying Stevenson's face for a few moments, he was sure that he had had an effect. He smiled slightly.
After the helicopter landed, the trio was herded into an elevator, which plummeted several floors down to the 38th. The sergeant led them into a posh-looking reception area, and the mahogany doors opened of their own accord to let them into a darkened main office.
"Took you long enough, Koenig," came a voice from the darkness.
"He... was away from the church. We had to track him."
"And who are these others?" Tobias peered into the darkness, but he couldn't see the speaker.
"They were with him. We didn't want to leave any loose ends."
"Picking up women, father?" He could hear a chair creaking, as if the speaker were standing up.
"No, sir, whoever you are. Why are you so interested in me?"
"Koenig, take your marines and leave. I wish to talk to these alone."
"Go. I am adequately protected."
"As you wish." The soldiers left, and the pool of light from the anteroom expanded without bodies to block it.
"Aster, lights. And close the door." The doors quietly closed, and the lights came up slowly. They revealed a well-appointed office with a large wooden desk. There were two sections of bookcase behind the desk, and several overstuffed chairs in front of it. The right hand wall was completely transparent, overlooking the city. The man who stood behind the desk was about six feet tall, with close-cropped graying hair. He wore an expensive business suit, which was slightly rumpled. And there was some blood on it, noted Tobias. As well as some on the desk.
"Matthew Wilcox, CEO of Starbright Electronics Corporation," breathed Melissa.
"One and the same, dear lady. And how is it you know me?"
"I watch the vids. How is the Yensida takeover going?"
"Quite well, actually. But obviously, I didn't ask you here for financial advice."
"Ask?" Tobias raised an eyebrow.
Wilcox ignored the question. "You see, there is a slight problem I have, and the father's little segment on the news piqued my interest. You are not the only one who watches the vids. Aster?"
A holographic painting on the left-hand wall faded out, and was replaced by Tobias' face, talking about the angelic/demonic battle the previous night. "Stop," said Wilcox as Tobias began to wrap up his remarks. His face remained on the screen, his mouth open in mid-syllable.
"What else can you tell me, Rothwell?" asked Wilcox, sitting back in his chair and resting his chin on his interlaced fingers.
"You kidnapped me and two other people to find out about something that I was glad to talk about? Is this how the corps work? Where is the sanity in this?"
"Father Rothwell, I suggest that you take a more civil tone with me. This blood you see on my desk is not my own. Certain... events have been set in motion that have culminated in an attack in this very office, and I intend to find out more about them. You, judging by your news report," he jerked his thumb at the screen, "may be able to assist me in that."
"Christ does not like His priests being threatened."
"I am unconcerned by Him. Dammit, this is larger than that. Tell me."
"Larger than the Creator? I think not."
"Tobias," whispered Melissa. "He can help us."
"I can hear your whispering, you know. You might as well speak out loud."
Melissa shot him a withering glance, then continued whispering, "There was a mage here, a powerful one."
Tobias glanced over at Wilcox, whose eyes were wide. "You, you know about that? Dammit, how?" Wilcox rose and pounded the desk with his fist.
Sandy spoke up. "She can read auras, silly." Melissa looked exasperated.
Wilcox sat down heavily. "Auras?"
"Yeah, silly. You have one," she said, pointing at him. "And I have one, and Melissa has one, and Tobias has one. Everybody has one! Isn't that neat?"
Wilcox regained some composure. "So, miss, what can you tell me about my aura?"
"No, I can't read your aura, but she can."
Wilcox turned to Melissa. "So, Miss Melissa, what can you tell me about my aura?"
Melissa sucked in a breath, and shot an exasperated glance over at Sandy. "You have a strong will, I can tell, but it's been disturbed by self-doubt recently. You are possessive, and you have no compunctions about whatever methods you use to keep what you have or gain more. There's a heavy mark of this mage upon you. He's been in close contact with you. Is that close enough to the mark, Mr. Wilcox?"
Wilcox sat motionless for a few moments, then said, "There... is something in what you say. It seems that you are either a highly-skilled observer and made a lucky guess, or you are a mind-reader. Look. Aster, show us the prisoner."
The screen changed to show a sleeping blond man in a hospital bed, strapped down with IVs in his arms. His right hand was missing. "What does your sight tell you about this man?"
"He's sleeping, and he's blond. And kind of attractive, except for the scars." Melissa looked at Wilcox levelly.
"What, none of this 'aura sight'?"
"It doesn't work through cameras. Unless you have one that can pick up auras..."
"Well, obviously, I don't."
"He was there..." said Tobias hesitantly.
"What?" said Melissa and Wilcox in unison.
"He was on the losing end of the battle last night. The one that I spoke about on the vids, Matthew. Release him, he is a servant of the Creator."
"What?" asked Wilcox.
"He is the light sorcerer, I feel it in my bones. He... You found him, near death, after he was defeated by the dark sorcerer with the demon. You have held him prisoner, and he tried to escape from this very office."
"How... astute." Wilcox's eyes narrowed. "You wish help in tracking down this dark sorcerer? I may be able to help you, along with this person."
"Why should we trust you?" asked Tobias.
"Trust me or not, you won't make it out of the Tower without my leave. Neither will he. He's in bad shape. But I feel generous, father. We certainly can't have that dark sorcerer indiscriminately destroying Providence, now can we?"
"No, we can't," agreed Tobias, although he had a bad feeling about this.
They were ushered into a suite of rooms higher up in the tower. Wilcox had promised to let them see the sorcerer in the morning, when he had more time to recover from his wounds. Of course, they were his guests for the night.
"Yeah, right, we're his guests." said Sandy, kicking the door after it slid closed. "The door's locked."
"There's not much we can do right now," replied Tobias. "There's a lot of guards in this building, and I'm no good at fighting."
"Neither am I," said Melissa distractedly, looking around the room. "Sandy, why don't we see if there's any food to eat?"
"Good idea! Yippee!" Sandy crossed over to one door, finding that it was a kitchen. Melissa gave Tobias an OK sign as she followed Sandy in.
Tobias slumped on a chair, letting the fatigue of the last 24 hours wash over him. In the last day, he had seen what he thought was going to be the final battle at the end of the world, when the Creator and Deceiver return to physical form on the Earth to decide the fate of the inhabitants. It could not have been, for a great demon had vanquished the angels, but then left. It had been revealed to him in a dream from the Creator that it was a sorcerous duel between servants of Christ and Satan. Later, he had found Sandy and Melissa, who showed him some information from an ancient book that those angels and demons possibly were not even of Heaven and Hell, were from a more distant source. And then there was this strange ability he had discovered that allowed him to affect people's minds. And now, he was trapped high in Starbright Tower. He should not have gotten up yesterday morning...
"Tobias, come here. I found something that you'll like...."
"Let me rest."
"This is really good, and I think that you should come and have some."
Tobias sighed. "Coming, Melissa." He slowly rose and made his way to the kitchen.
Melissa held a small metal device in her hand, and put a finger to her lips. She drew him closer, to the back corner of the kitchen, near the refrigeration unit.
"Keep it down. I got Sandy to find the bug in here for me."
"Yes, you expected one, right?"
"Er, well, no."
"You never watch the spy vids, I guess. Wilcox is hiding something."
"I didn't miss that."
"Good. Be wary. Starbright is duplicitous. Don't let your quest for justice make you blind."
"Also, I saw the mark of the sorcerer on Wilcox's aura. Don't believe that he's entirely pure."
"You're working second-hand. Wilcox may have stained it."
"You don't know much about auras, do you? The sorcerer was rummaging around in his head, and I'm sure Wilcox doesn't fully realize it."
"Is that the mark of a 'good' man? Psychic surgery on the unwilling?"
"It is if it's for the greater good."
"Rothwell, you're incorrigible. Get some sleep."
They were roused out of their beds in the early morning by one of the guards, the three-circles Starbright logo emblazoned on the chest of her uniform. Blinking the sleep out of their eyes, they ate a quick breakfast and were brought back to Wilcox's office by two guards.
"Ready to go?" Wilcox asked, a little too brightly for so early in the morning.
"Yep! Let's go!" exclaimed Sandy. Melissa and Tobias looked at each other, as each could tell the other hadn't slept well. Sandy, apparently, hadn't had that problem.
Wilcox led them to the elevator, and the entire group went down several floors to the infirmary. "How is the... patient?" asked Wilcox of a doctor.
"He is mostly recovered, but has not woken up yet," she replied.
"Good, good." Wilcox ordered the guards to wait outside, and took his three "guests" through an airlock into the isolation ward. Wilcox approached the head of the bed, with Tobias right behind. Sandy grasped Melissa's arm tightly, and they stayed at some distance, though the room was small. The sorcerer was still asleep, like they had seen him the previous night.
"Hello?" said Wilcox, prodding the sorcerer on the right shoulder. "I have brought visitors."
The sorcerer's eyes flickered open, and he turned his head to view Wilcox. Then his eyes moved onto Tobias, who cocked his head to one side, studying the sorcerer intently. Then the sorcerer raised his head and looked with veiled contempt at Melissa and Sandy.
"Welcome back, Matthew," spoke the sorcerer finally. "Who might these be?"
"This is Father Tobias Rothwell, who says he was a witness to your battle the other night. Melissa and... her friend are his companions. They wish to help you find the man who left you like this."
"A man of faith, I see. I am fortunate to have met you. I have been sent to this place to bring a necromancer to justice, but I was foully ambushed before I could capture him, and part of your city was destroyed. I am deeply grieved."
"But we will be able to set this right now. That altercation upstairs came from my not fully understanding the situation," said Wilcox.
"That is forgiven. I was a bit presumptive."
Tobias broke in. "What of this dark sorcerer? How can we find him?"
"Tobias, the necromancer I seek is not born of a woman, though he wears the guise of a man. His true name is Thurmananthalas Greymantle, but he is usually known as Miles Thurmond in human lands."
At the other end of the room, Sandy and Melissa gave an inaudible gasp.
To be continued....
"Lighting Candles in the Dark Part IV: Flickering Lights" 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.