Lighting Candles in the Dark Part VIII: A Comforting Glow
Tobias had followed the newly revealed necromancer from the infirmary. He seemed to be the boyfriend of one of the members of the college-going group he had met the previous week. True, as Tandalus Zivo had said, the necromancer was not human, but an elf. Tobias was not sure what that meant, but Christ had not given him any warnings when the necromancer Thurmananthalas Greymantle was revealed to him. His crucifix had had absolutely no effect, so Tobias guessed that elves were not some form of demon. And then there was the angel the elf had summoned... Tobias realized that the situation was much more complex than Zivo had explained. Zivo was no follower of the Creator. "Knight-Sorcerer" indeed.
The elf then had left Tobias and his new acquaintance Melissa with her friends Sandy and Selina in the kitchen of his mansion, racing off to protect them from Zivo, who had revealed his true colors and was assaulting the mansion. It was called... Sablemorn. Yes, that was it. It exhibited interesting characteristics, like shifting its corridors around by itself. Tobias hoped that it would let him leave safely when the time came.
"Do you think that he'll be all right?" asked Sandy of the group, all sitting at a table in the kitchen. "I mean, he was wounded a lot from just getting here, and now that nasty Mr. Zivo person is attacking, and even though he's missing a hand, I think that he may win, and then what'll happen to us?"
"Sandy, shush," said Selina, the oriental woman who seemed to be the unofficial leader of the group. "He will be all right. His aura burns brighter than Zivo's, and this is his home. I imagine that he has some tricks up his sleeve. Don't you ever read any fantasy?"
"But, what if he kills Miles, and then comes after us?" said the short brunette. "We've sort of chosen sides against him. He may not like that we've gotten out memories back."
"That was... unfriendly, what he did to you and Melissa. But I'm guessing that he had a reason to not want you dead, erasing your memories of the battle and trip to Starbright instead."
"I think I know," cut in Melissa. "Because he didn't want to raise suspicions in Ariel or Miles. If I disappeared, I'm sure she would have gotten him to search me out, and then the battle would not have been on Zivo's terms."
"Oh? And it is, now?" Selina raised an eyebrow.
"Well, I don't know about that. Something must have happened wrong, like Miles surviving the first part, or something. Now the cloak of secrecy is gone. The one that the priest helped set up."
They all looked at Tobias, who had been carefully keeping quiet though the discussion. "I... made a mistake, the Deceiver tricked me."
Selina replied, "Don't bring your god's foe into this, old man. I think that you'll agree that neither of these wizards have connections to your religion. You were duped, hearing what you wanted to hear. Zivo must have read your mind, from what Melissa has told me. You went along with him a little too easily..."
"Now wait a minute, young lady, I am human and have my failings. Yes, he spoke the truth according to what I saw last week. I am deeply sorry about what he did to your friends, my friends, so I realize now. What could I have done, even if I tried to stop this?"
Selina stared at him harshly, not speaking a word.
"Now, hold on! We're on the same side here!" said Sandy. "He made a mistake, and goddess knows that I make lots of mistakes, but there was no harm done."
"Brainwashing is no harm done?" asked Selina, not breaking her eye contact with Tobias.
"Well, that got fixed. I think that it cleaned out some of the dust in my brain cells."
"Oh, stop it, Selina," broke in Melissa. "Things will turn out fine, think that you'll see. Tobias, I think that you'd eventually see, is a lot like you. Hard-headed, strong-willed, dedicated to his beliefs. Even if those beliefs are different."
"They certainly are."
"I must agree," said Tobias.
"Selina, Tobias, just shut up. Soon, we may be able to go back to our separate worlds, and be rid of each other." Melissa seemed a bit hesitant in wanting this to happen.
"Good riddance," said Selina. "It's his fault we were sucked into this."
"And were able to help Ariel? And meet a real wizard?" retorted Melissa.
Selina's mouth opened and clicked shut, then she said to Tobias, "Just stay out of my way, priest. I've had too much trouble from the likes of you."
"But I have never done anything to directly harm you. And only a little through human failings to harm them."
"That may be true, but your presence still leaves a terrible taste in my mouth." She stood, and left without a word.
"I think that maybe she doesn't like you," said Sandy.
Later, the defense of Sablemorn was complete. The angel Anastasia bore her freshly wounded master back to the infirmary, followed by Melissa and Sandy. Tobias remained in the kitchen, brooding over a cup of coffee.
"Wow," said Sandy, as they followed Anastasia. "I don't think that I want to be a wizard, if they keep on getting beat up like this."
"It is not common, Sandy," said the angel. "This opponent is much more crafty than the usual ones. And Thurmananthalas is concerned with many things, such as your safety. Your whole plane's safety, that is. This is the first time it has been called into doubt since we came here. He should be easily healed from his wounds this time."
"But what about nuclear weapons? Aren't they a threat to safely?" asked Sandy innocently.
"They are not Thurmananthalas' concern. He did not bring them here, but he led this now vanquished planewalker here. That one should not trouble Scintilla again."
"He didn't... kill Zivo?" asked Melissa.
"No, unfortunately, he escaped. But he is in bad shape. He might not even survive the trip to another plane."
"Good," said Melissa, though she was uncomfortable revelling in the death of even one such as Tandalus Zivo.
Melissa snuck after Miles as he later searched for the now-healed Ariel, and Sablemorn for some reason assisted her, keeping her from Miles' notice. This was to be a private moment, but Melissa had a niggling feeling about it. Sablemorn had let her see a little of the process with which he forged a ring, but most of it was incomprehensible to her, just streams of magical energy. But it did not take overly long, giving Melissa a bit of nervousness about the power of her cousin's possible future husband. She had been very surprised at his plan to marry her, as she didn't realize that they were that close. They spent a bit of time together, but Melissa didn't hear much of what he was like from Ariel. She was looking forward to talking with Ariel about Miles, after the proposal. But why did she feel like there was some impending doom?
Miles passed through a door into a dark room, that seemed to be lit only by starlight. Melissa stepped up to it, but Sablemorn ceased its aid, and it was locked, unable to be budged. She pouted and leaned up against the wall. They must be in there. She was glad that Ariel might be finding happiness now, although Melissa was unsure what her faraway aunt and uncle would say when they found out about their daughter. Or would they tell them Miles' secret?
There were sounds of a struggle inside, and Melissa vainly tried the door again. Finally, it opened, and she stumbled through to find Miles crouching over the rigid form of Ariel. This was an observatory of some sort, thought a small part of Melissa's mind. He looked at Melissa with a gaze of pure malice as she stumbled in.
"Miles...?" she asked, unsure of what was going on.
"He's taken her away," raged Miles. "He's replaced her with an assassin clone. He will pay!" He stood and made as if to cast a spell.
Melissa finally noticed the blood oozing from fresh wounds on Miles' neck and arms. "Miles! You're not fully recovered! He almost defeated you, here, at Sablemorn! Hold on!"
"She is your cousin, do you not wish to save her?"
"Well then, let us ride. He is gone from this plane, and any minions he left begone will be swept aside like fallen leaves." The necromancer gestured, and the darkness on the other side of the observatory coalesced into... something. It came closer, and Melissa saw it had the shape of a black mare, that snorted flame.
Melissa hesitated. "A horse, such as this?"
"A nightmare. In some planes, dark dreams have physical shape." He swung up onto the mare's bare back, and offered a hand to Melissa. She hesitated again, but then grabbed his hand, and he pulled her up easily behind himself. He slapped the mare's flank, and she started to run.
"How will we get out? There's only the one door..."
"Who needs a door?" The mare reared up, and with dark flames streaming from her hooves, she started cantering into the air. They approached the glass of the ceiling, and Melissa cringed, but then they were through into the colder outside air.
"Wow..." Melissa said, looking back at the receding dark shape of Sablemorn, and the police lights flickering on the road in front of it. "So this is what it is like to be a wizard."
"Yes," agreed Miles. "Others desire your possessions, just because it is yours. Including your very life."
"Tobias? Have you seen Miles?" asked Sandy as she returned to the kitchen after leaving the infirmary. She was surprised that Miles had decided to ask Ariel to marry him, because she, Sandy, knew so little of him. She guessed that Ariel knew him a lot better. But, hey, it was cool being married to a wizard. She'd have to try to find an eligible one.
The priest looked up, startled at her entrance. His cup of coffee was only half-empty. "No, not since he was carried by."
"Weeeelllll, I got some news." Sandy sidled over to the surprisingly mundane refrigerating unit, opened it up, and pulled out a Qwirki Cola. "Nice selection. I wanna move in."
"Some news, child?"
"Oh, yeah." Sandy slammed the door shut, popped open the can and drank a bit as she slid into the seat opposite Tobias. "Miles is going to propose to Ariel! Isn't that cool?"
"Yes, cool," said Tobias absent-mindedly. The necromancer was planning on marrying a human? True, he seemed decent, but some of the other planewalker's claims of this Miles were true. He did, in fact, consort with the undead. This Joshua Solace, this vampire, was an example. Tobias could not verify other things about him, like how close he was to the creation of these undead. Did he kill them himself? Or did he just use those already dead? This whole topic of doing things with the dead disturbed him. The only things that the Creator would have mortals do with the dead was say last rites and bury them, not make them walk around, a horrible mockery of the living. And now he wanted to marry a human? One of his flock. He searched his memory. Yes, the Bernards were from far away, but when their daughter had come to Providence for college, she had been to St. Angus a few times. Erratic attendance, like many college students he had noted. And this one had interesting taste in friends. The fact that they were of a different religion, one that dealt in sorcery, was vaguely disturbing, though Tobias liked to think that he kept an open mind. Even more open recently, he thought.
"You don't sound so enthusiastic," said Sandy, pouting slightly and then taking another drink of soda. "Do you think that they'll get married in your church?"
"That I certainly could not say."
"But wouldn't it be grand?" she asked. "Oh, we don't know what religion he is. They might get married out in the woods or something."
"Among other things."
"Oh, well, I still think that it'll be neat." She stood up. "I'm going to find out if ther're some vids around. Hey, he has a refrigerator, so maybe he has a vid. This is a really neat house!" She stepped out.
Perhaps exploring this place would be a good idea, thought Tobias. It would seem to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to see the house of a wizard, even one as dark as Thurmananthalas Greymantle.
Selina walked for a while after storming out of the kitchen. That priest was... infuriating. All of the peace and love that he and his brothers preached, yet what narrow-mindedness they possessed. She could see the eyes of the few priests she had met harden when they learned of the nature of her faith. Pah. Soon he would be gone, and she wouldn't need to cross paths with him again.
She eventually stepped through an archway, and found one of the more familiar rooms in Sablemorn that she had seen: a library, lit by dozens of candles. There were hundreds of books there, of all shapes and sizes, among the accouterments a tasteful decorator would furnish a private library with. Selina almost let herself smile in approval. This library was meant for reading in, unlike some sterile rooms that Selina had seen pass as libraries. She revised her opinion of the necromancer upwards, and began to run her fingers over the spines of the books, trying to find one in a language that she could read.
Tobias found himself suspicious that the building itself was herding him, but could not consciously find any evidence of it. He paused at an intersection, glancing both ways down the corridor. He almost resorted to randomly choosing a direction, when he saw a faint gleam down the hall to his left. He followed it.
The gleam emanated into the ill-illuminated corridor through a slightly ajar door. Tobias put his hand to the door and pushed it open slowly. Tobias blinked at the sight, as it seemed to be a fully furnished chapel. Down to the accurate representation of Christ on His cross, over the altar. Was this Thurmananthalas a Christian anyway?
"I thought that you might find your way here," said a voice to his left. He turned, and there was the angel Anastasia. "Sablemorn is like that."
"Why, why is this here?"
"For the same reason much of this is here. For knowledge's sake. Do not worry, Greymantle did not steal these, he saved them from destruction in the past. Besides, Ariel is of your religion, though of course not quite as devout as you."
She laughed with a clear ringing sound. "No, I do not mean to laugh. He has met too many gods to follow any of them any more. As a group, they are petty and conniving, such as my own." She looked sad. "But he has not met your Christ, and I believe Him to be different. I come here every so often, trying to contact Him."
"An angel, trying to contact the Lord?"
"Ironic, yes. I abandoned my own petty masters when Greymantle came and offered me a way out. Neither of us can go back there, lest we be destroyed."
"It is a terrible thing."
"Yes." The angel's eyes glistened.
Selina had found a book that she had only ever seen mentioned in passing. It was in ancient Greek, the chronicles of the sorceress Circe, penned in her own hand. Well, it would have been a book, had it been written later. It was really a scroll, still supple after all these centuries through some magics. Selina was pleased that she had spent the time to become fluent in ancient Greek. With trembling hands, she read through the scroll.
Something impinged on her consciousness. She looked up from the scroll in her lap, feeling something strange in the air. Placing the scroll carefully in the table beside her, she stepped through the door opposite from where she came in, trying to identify the feeling.
Tobias and the angel talked a while, until she suddenly stiffened. "Thurmananthalas needs my martial skills. We can continue our discussion later." Then she was gone. Tobias was slightly taken aback at her sudden disappearance, but the ways of magic did not seem as strange to him as before. Perhaps she would return soon. He did not want to think about what she was going to fight.
Then he caught a whiff of something odd, odder than he had felt before in this strange place. He left this strange chapel, built by a non-believer as part of his quest for knowledge, and attempted to follow it to its source.
Selina followed her hunch, feeling the sensation become stronger all the time. Finally it became strong enough that the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and she opened a door. She gasped, for there, on the floor, lay Ariel. Selina rushed forward and knelt by her.
She was slowly breathing, just enough to keep her alive. Otherwise, she did not move. Selina pushed her senses outward, and saw that indeed that there was a spell upon the redhead. A spell of paralyzation, one that bore the marks of the necromancer. "What the hell is he doing? Some relationship." She reached out, and with the help of the blue jewel she wore around her neck, finally broke the enchantment.
"Selina. Thank goodness it's you," said Ariel, looking up into the oriental woman's eyes.
The feeling guided Tobias through more corridors, until he came to an open door, unlit except by the stars and moon. Inside, he saw Selina bending over something. He almost turned to go, but then he saw that the something was Ariel. He went in.
Selina turned at the noise, and dismissed his presence with a glance. She helped Ariel to stand, and they moved past the priest to exit the observatory. Tobias squinted his eyes a moment, then asked, "Ariel, have you seen Thurmananthalas recently?"
She stopped, and after a slight hesitation, turned to Tobias and said, "No, why?"
"Oh, no reason. He was looking for you earlier, about something important. I'm sure that he'll find you eventually."
"I think he will." Ariel followed Selina out of the observatory.
Tobias looked after them for long moments, finally realizing the significance of Anastasia mentioning that the necromancer was needing her martial skills. Where was he, with the other sorcerer gone? He asked the question aloud, but nothing answered him.
Tobias found Sandy slouching on a couch in front of a large vid screen, drinking soda and eating from a large bag of potato chips. "Hey, this is the life, isn't it, Tobias?"
"Yes," he said, perching on the edge of a chair. He was about to continue, but his eye was caught by a utterly white-skinned woman with silver hair on the screen. She was singing some sort of song in a very tight black dress, with multicolored flashing lights around her. "How can you watch this?"
"Oh, that's Sybarria. She's my favorite. Cool, huh?"
Tobias shook his head at what passed for entertainment nowadays, and pushed it out of his mind. "Sandy, are you sure that Miles was going straight to Ariel when he left?"
"I guess so," answered Sandy, eyes fixed on the screen. "There was something about making a ring, but he didn't seem to think it would take a while. So, did she say yes?" Sandy bounced on the couch, finally looking at the priest.
"No, she hadn't seen him yet. And Anastasia suddenly left to help him fight."
"Oh, that's bad. Potato chip?" She offered him the bag.
"You don't seem to be taking this seriously. Something strange is going on, and I think that we should find the others."
Sandy pouted, then said, "All right."
They found Selina and Ariel in a library. Selina was absorbed in reading a scroll, and Ariel was looking through the shelves with a frightful intensity.
"Hi, guys!" bubbled Sandy as they entered the room. The two women already there looked up, took in the newcomers, and went back to what they were doing. "Not very friendly, are they?" asked Sandy in a quiet voice.
"No, let's talk to Ariel."
They moved over to the redhead, scanning the shelves. "So, Ariel, find anything interesting? Looks like Selina did!"
"Not yet, leave me alone."
"What's the matter? No time for your friends, now that Miles proposed?" Sandy looked mortified, and clamped her hand over her mouth.
Ariel looked confused for a moment, then said, "That's the first I heard of it. I didn't think that he'd ever do that, us being different species and all." Tobias used the momentary disorientation to quest out with his new senses, to see if he could ascertain if the sorcerer had left any strange magics on Ariel. No, she seemed normal, except...
Ariel turned to glare at the priest. "Now that's not polite. I'm going to start to agree with Selina's opinion of you priests."
Tobias had a doubt form in his mind. "Haven't you met a few good priests in your time?"
Ariel replied hastily, "No, they sort of stay away from our kind..." She trailed off as Tobias lowered his head slightly and drilled his magical ability into her with as much force as he could muster. Ariel gasped and lurched back against the bookcase, as Sandy and Selina let out gasps of surprise.
"She's not Ariel, I saw something like her outside, it turned into a copy of that vampire and attacked me. Help me restrain her..." But the fake Ariel leaped forward with a feral growl and attempted to gouge Tobias' eyes out. He tried to block her blows, but he was unused to fighting and found that she drew blood. He tried to back away, to gain a bit of breathing room, but he tripped over a table and went sprawling. The duplicate leapt over the table to continue the fight, and Tobias raised his arms to ward her off, but only a dead weight landed on him.
After realizing that the duplicate was not fighting, he opened his eyes, and found her unconscious on top of him. He carefully pushed her off to the side, and saw Selina standing over them with a large brass candlestick in her hands. "Good call, priest. Getting this clone to reveal herself by not knowing the original was Christian. The marriage thing was a good touch to get her off base." She gave Tobias help in standing.
"But, but he really was going to," said Sandy. "I don't know what happened..."
"He's fighting something, somewhere. Anastasia went to help him," offered Tobias.
"Maybe to find the real Ariel. I found this one paralyzed. I should have left her alone," said Selina. "I hate to say this, but thank you, Rothwell. I still don't like you, but you are not the unfeeling wretch I first thought."
"Umm, thank you, Miss Selina." He bowed his head slightly to her, with a slight smile on his lips.
"It is not given lightly. Now, let's find a way to confine this clone, find Melissa, and stick together until daylight, so we can get out of this place. I have no wish to see what other things Sablemorn will throw at us."
"Agreed," said Tobias.
The End, but Miles' fight to find Ariel can be found in "Points of Brilliance 7: House of Cards."
"Lighting Candles in the Dark Part VIII: A Comforting Glow" 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.