Lighting Candles in the Dark Part VII: Inferno
Sandy slammed on her brakes at the sight of the armed men, who brought their guns up. But Melissa recognized one of the them. "Father Tobias! Tell them not to shoot!" He did, after a moment to recognize them, and when they saw the newcomers were three unarmed women, they relaxed, mostly. Melissa pulled Tobias aside for a conference, although the marines kept a watchful eye on them. Especially after the sergeant announced that another man might be coming, one that may attack them.
"Tobias, we have to get out of here, and save Ariel and Miles," said Melissa.
"Who are they?"
"My cousin, and her boyfriend. The necromancer that that sorcerer was so concerned about."
"Well, then, I guess that they don't need saving."
"Listen to what I say! They are not the enemy here! Who was it that brainwashed us? Who was it that kidnapped us off the top of the Union? Ariel is a decent person, and Miles looks like it, too."
"Such is the way of the Deceiver."
"Damn it, Rothwell! My father found it important enough to find a way come back from the dead! For some moments, at least. Look, if we don't do something, an innocent girl and a maybe not-quite-so-innocent man will die! They've been chased through these woods by bug-robots and flying winged things! Are those the mark of a servant of Christ?"
Tobias looked pensive, considering Melissa's words.
"Look, priest," said Selina, "I am not of your religion, but I am sorry about the other night. I know that you mean well, in your own way. Melissa has convinced me that Miles is not the real villain here."
"One who plays with the dead?"
"Yes, but his influence brought my father back, the one who was killed by Starbright!"
"What? They would kill someone?"
"How naive are you?" asked Selina. "Melissa's father said it was Starbright. And she's known for a while that they did it. Her parents were caught in an assassination. Remember the sinking of the Serafina? That was no accident!"
Tobias looked over at the marines with a pained expression. "What do you want to do?"
"Go out into the woods to find them, and sneak them past the marines."
"That's easier said than done. They're all around the mansion."
Melissa started to say something, but Selina cut her off. "Look! The dead thing is there, carrying something."
"It's got to be Miles! I think that's his aura. But where is Ariel?"
The marines leveled their guns at the two newcomers, but they ducked back into the forest. As the four tried to decide what to do, they heard a great racket as the marines fired at something in the air. The pair had leapt over the line of marines and onto the grounds of the mansion.
"They must be safe now, but where is Ariel?" asked Melissa out loud.
Joshua Solace set down on the front steps of Sablemorn, whose door opened at his approach. "Sablemorn, attend me! Our master is gravely wounded, and our mistress is lost outside! There are enemies at the gate! Protect!"
The house seemed to come alive, twisting to become more solid, more defensible. Twisted gargoyles, no two alike, dropped off of their resting places, and flapped off to do battle. Solace paused long enough to verify that the gargoyles were engaging the marines outside, and carried his master to the infirmary.
The gargoyles struck the marines. They tried valiantly to fight off the stone creatures, but their bullets bounced off without effect. Several marines where pummeled to death before the rest broke into retreat.
A gargoyle landed near the four civilians, ready to do the same to them. But it sniffed quizzically, and sat looking at Melissa in confusion. She said "Ariel is out there! Find Ariel!" It seemed to understand her words, for it took off over the forest. They ran for the mansion, even though the ground itself seemed to buckle and impede their progress. Melissa reached the door first, and began to bang on it frantically. It finally opened, and they piled inside, to be met by a large man wearing a leather coat, with burning red eyes. Tobias began to bring his borrowed gun into position.
"Hold, priest. You are not welcome here." The man showed fangs as he approached Tobias.
"Eek! A vampire!" yelled Sandy.
Tobias froze from disbelief. A... vampire? He pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed, and he frantically reached out with his newfound power, hoping it would work on storybook creatures....
When he opened his eyes, he found the vampire staring closely at him. "I won't kill you this time, but if I see a hint of you trying to kill me, I will splatter your guts across the nearest wall. And then I will feast. Priests always taste the best." He tugged the gun away from Tobias and snapped it in half. Tobias was glad his newfound magic had worked. Sort of.
The front door opened to admit a gargoyle carrying an unconscious Ariel. Melissa ran forward to hug her, but the vampire pushed past and took the redhead in his arms and carried her away. "Come with me, we will see about healing Greymantle and Ariel. We are safe for now. Sablemorn's walls can handle anything those joke marines can throw at them."
"Why are all the men I meet nowadays so pathetically sure of themselves?" asked Selina rhetorically.
"You're really a vampire, aren't you?" asked Sandy, hesitantly extending a hand to touch Solace's.
"Yes, I am. What's it to you?" asked the tall man carrying Ariel's unconscious form to the infirmary.
"I've never seen one before, but I hear such fun things about them..." Sandy shivered.
"Look, babe, I have other things to do. I'll be glad to show you just how fun being a vampire is later, after Greymantle and Ariel are being taken care of."
Selina stopped Sandy with a hand on her shoulder, so that they fell behind the others. "Sandy, I know that you like to get involved with men, but that's not a man."
"Looks like one to me."
"But he's also undead. He kills people just to live."
"That's just a rumor. I'll find out later." She took off.
Selina rolled her eyes. What was it that everyone except her was showing signs of unstability? There was the priest with the terminal case of naivete following the vampire warily, there was her friend Melissa who kept on trying to toss her life away in order to save her cousin Ariel's, and now Sandy was trying to take up with a vampire. Selina shuddered. This was her first personal encounter with the walking dead, and she didn't like it. This mansion was very spooky, now that she thought about it. A glance to a mirror on her left showed a horribly warped version of herself, gaunt in the rigor of death. She hurried after the others.
Solace led them to a room looking much like a Victorian hospital room. The man that Melissa recognized as Miles Thurmond already lay on one of the tables, being attended by someone in robes with his back to them. Solace laid Ariel on another table, and the man turned around. He was not human. His skin was pasty white, with some tattoos on his bare forehead, above his small widely-spaced eyes. He had no lips, so that his sharp teeth were exposed. There were spikes growing from his neck, what there seemed to be of it. He reached out his long spindly fingers to grab Ariel's wrist.
"Stop!" yelled Melissa. "You will not touch my cousin."
The medic stopped, glancing first at Melissa, then at the vampire. He spoke in a strange, guttural language. Solace turned to Melissa. "He will, if you want her to live. He's the best healer here, until Greymantle wakes up to summon another."
"But, but, he's a monster."
"So am I, what's your point?"
"You obviously don't know anything about us. Ariel has been here many times, and never balked at the horrors that Greymantle can call. Do you really know her? She trusts us to do what we can. We will not harm her, any more than we will harm Greymantle."
"We do not have time for this. He must find what ails our mistress, and work to fix it. Look, I do not have to listen to you." His eyes began to glow again. Melissa stood motionless, flicking her eyes from the vampire to the monster to Ariel. "Bah, go ahead, Sahr'kath." He waved his hand at the medic, who took Ariel's wrist in his hand and began examining her. Melissa slowly moved to the side of the bed, holding Ariel's other hand.
A man in charred robes landed in front of the fleeing marines. They stopped short, raising their guns at him. "Having some trouble, men? Doesn't Starbright only hire the best?" The sergeant gave the order to fire, but the bullets went right through the sorcerer. "Too bad that Wilcox betrayed me, I was going to just take Greymantle and leave. Now I think that I will destroy some annoying gnats." He waved his remaining hand, and a fireball enveloped the marines and the illusion of himself. He smiled and flew on towards the home of his enemy.
Later, after all the others had left for food or whatever else they needed, Melissa sat in the infirmary with her cousin and her cousin's boyfriend, the necromancer. Melissa still couldn't believe it, despite the certainty of seeing several dead things walking around this house of his. Sablemorn, that was what it was called. A strange name for a strange place.
There was movement in the far bed, and the necromancer sat up. "Oooh, I must be more prepared next time. Where am I?" he asked himself, pulling his long black hair away from his face.
"Sablemorn, you should know that." Melissa stood and walked towards him.
The necromancer turned his head to face her, and Melissa gasped as she got a closer look. Yes, this was Miles, but his features were more... angular. And his ears were pointed.
"Hello, Melissa. Yes, I'm not human. Does that unsettle you?"
His face spasmed in discomfort. "Hold a second." His eyes gained a faraway look. Melissa saw his aura, more powerful than any she'd ever seen, send links outward, then there were... creatures.. crawling on his skin. His aura, which had seemed clouded before, immediately cleared. He groaned in pain.
"It's all right. The poison is finally gone. I still feel a little weak, though."
"What are you?" breathed Melissa.
He smiled. "An elf, nothing more dangerous than that. I'm not a vampire or demon or anything like that." He swung his legs down off the bed and stood slowly, rising to his full six and a half feet. "Ariel..." he said suddenly, seeing her for the first time.
"Some... monster... was looking after her and you. It said that she was all right."
"Yes, yes, she looks well, just exhausted. That 'monster' you spoke of, that was not the thrice-damned vampire Joshua Solace?" He slammed his fist into the table.
Melissa was taken aback at his swift mood change. "No, he brought both you and Ariel here."
He sighed. "So he repented of his folly. You see, he left me for dead out in the forest, after he had dropped Ariel."
"He... dropped her?"
"Unavoidable, I think. There were dragons, and he lost his grip while dispatching one."
"He will not be doing things like that again. Tell me, what did this 'monster' look like?"
"Well, it had pasty white skin, with a tattoo in the middle of its forehead-"
"Oh, that is Sahr'kath, an old acquaintance of mine. Very old. A sorcerer, like you."
"Not like me."
"Yes, like you. He doesn't know much magic, at least compared to a full planewalker. Similar to you. Or Ariel."
"But, she doesn't know magic! Not more than maybe seeing an aura once in a while."
The sorcerer chuckled. "She's kept that a secret, I guess. She's been learning true magic, even though she's limited like Sahr'kath by not being a planewalker. She saved my life with a lightning bolt last week."
"She was there? You took my cousin into danger? You-"
"Stop. I had no choice. We were ambushed. She came out safe."
"Well, that opponent of yours is looking for you."
"I thought so. I had hoped that he was killed, but it seems that he's still out to find me. What do you know about him?" He bent closer to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "If he's still after me, this may be important."
"Take your hands off of her, necromancer," said Tobias from the doorway. He had pulled out his crucifix and was brandishing it at him.
The sorcerer turned to face the priest. "Look, your crucifix may have power over Solace, but it has none over me. You can put it away. Who are you, and what are you doing in my home?"
"I am here to serve my god, to drive the minions of the Deceiver from this world. Now, prepare to meet your doom!"
"I've heard that too many times today. If you're not going to do something effective, then please just stop it. Now, who are you?"
Tobias narrowed his eyes, and tucked the cross back inside his shirt. "I am Father Tobias Rothwell, pastor of St. Angus Church."
"Pleased to meet you. I am Thurmananthalas Greymantle, known on this plane as Miles Thurmond. I imagine that you came here with Melissa?" He extended his hand for a handshake.
Tobias remained still. "Indeed I did. And despite her pleas, I find from seeing this house that I was not wrong in believing that you are the sorcerer that brought destruction to Providence a week ago. My duty is to destroy you, or be destroyed in the process."
The sorcerer swiveled his gaze to Melissa, who shrugged, then back to Tobias. "Obviously, you saw the battle in which I was defending myself and this dear woman lying injured on the table from a dishonorable ambush. I do not cause destruction without good reason. This was good reason; I almost died."
"Lies, that is not how the Creator's Knight-Sorcerer spoke of it."
"Is that what he told you? He's no servant of your Creator. You and I must talk about him, so I can defend us from his possible attack. He's certainly not the good one in this. Look, I am not a minion of this 'Deceiver' of yours. You have seen me summon fell creatures, but I command the white arts too. Watch." With some effort, the sorcerer reached out.... and an angel appeared in the room, radiant.
Tobias blinked. It was her! "But she... she was eaten by that demon!"
"What? Oh, that was not her. That was her sister, Zelnastine. She, well, she was corrupted a while back."
"By Lord Hegromeltastonite of the Pit," said the angel. "It was... unfortunate. But fate has brought us back together under the command of this worthy planewalker."
"Together? But she was eaten!"
"And it was Hegromeltastonite who did the eating," said the sorcerer. "It does not matter. This is not her home plane, so only her incarnation was destroyed. I could summon her now, were I not so tired."
"By Hegromeltastonite? What sweet justice!" said the angel. "You need to stop to consider more before you summon that monster to solve your problems for you. Neither must be pleased."
The sorcerer looked pained. "Well, I was desperate. It will be a while before I call him again, he was angered that I cut him off just before he ate Ariel. And just before that, she cost him the other mage."
"Never make a deal with a demon, Thurmananthalas."
"Too late for that, Anastasia. Oh, sorry, this is Anastasia. And Anastasia, this is Tobias Rothwell, one of my would-be assassins. She's not from Scintilla, and she's not from your Creator any more than Hegromeltastonite or Zelnastine are from your Deceiver."
Tobias' head swam. "Scintilla? What's that?"
The angel laughed, a clear ringing sound. "You're standing in it, Tobias. That's what your world is called by those from outside. And so would the people inside, except it's closed due to Thurmananthalas' magic."
"Closed?" asked Tobias. "Our spacecraft have visited the other worlds in our solar system. There is no other sentient life there."
Melissa spoke up. "I think that she's talking about something different than that, something sideways, parallel dimensions?"
"Something like that. Only they're called 'planes,' and most are not like Scintilla. I can walk among them, as I am a planewalker. So is the other sorcerer who followed me here last week. Care to prove to yourself that Anastasia is an angel, Tobias? No deception here, just the straight truth. More than it seems you got from the other planewalker."
Tobias reached out and touched Anastasia's outstretched hand, then ran his fingertips along her proffered wing, a look of wonder plain to see on his face. Yes, this is an angel without a hint of darkness, he thought, questing outwards with his new magical senses. "I had never thought to see this day before I died..."
"Are you happy or sad for it, Tobias?" asked Anastasia.
"It is... wonderful. I found some feathers of yours. Do you wish them back?"
"No, keep them. I may not be an angel of your Creator, but sometimes I wish that I was. My home plane is torn by war between the gods, and when their minions fall there, they fall for good. Your Creator and Deceiver have not come to blows like that, as of yet."
"Not until the end of time."
"Which I hope will be a while." Anastasia smiled brightly.
Tobias sighed and slumped into a chair. "I've been a fool. I cannot condone what you do with the dead, but it seems you're respectable otherwise."
"We all make mistakes, Tobias," said Thurmananthalas. "Will you shake my hand now? I am not the epitome of good, and I have done things I have later regretted, but I do not cause harm to those who do not deserve it."
"I suppose so." He shook the hand that the sorcerer offered. "Thurmananthalas."
"Call me Miles. Now, Tobias, Melissa, what more can you tell me about the other sorcerer?"
The building rumbled with distant laughter. "Other than the fact it seems he's here?" asked Melissa.
To be continued...
"Lighting Candles in the Dark Part VII: Inferno" 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.