Exile of Light Part 1, Chapter 3
By Ephraim Glass
The council was reconvened. The elders conceded that it was now necessary to break into the enclave that Rydia had established. Without the rat-things, those within would be without food. Leaving them behind the ice would have been unconscionable. Kain and Palom were assigned to begin cutting through the ice. Meanwhile, I selected one of the recent graduates of my school of White Magick, a lad by the name of Thomas, to accompany me on the investigation. When we arrived, a breach had just been opened in the barrier that Rydia had erected. Within was a deadly silence.
I struck a magickal light that I sent hovering at Kain's shoulder. With two of his dragoons at his flanks, he pushed through the small opening in the wall of ice. I followed shortly after, gesturing for Thomas to do the same. The fringes of the area were deserted. As we approached the center of the enclave, an odour of decay became evident. With my pulse quickening, I slid open the doorway into what must have been Rydia's classroom. What I saw within horrified me. Sixteen children lay unmoving on the floor of the room. The seventeenth, a little girl, was crouched in a corner, shaking with terror.
Thomas and I hastened to check the children's condition. Three of them were dead. The remaining thirteeen were unconscious and dreadfully ill. I approached the still-conscious girl and applied soothing magicks to calm her. As I tried to learn from her what had happened, Kain and his dragoons continued to search the enclave.
"Desert Fever," she sobbed, falling into my arms. "Rydia was teaching us a virus spell and I screwed up. Everybody got sick an' they didn't get better, even when I cancelled the spell."
Before she could continue, I heard Kain return from another part of the enclosure. When I turned around, I was struck dumb. In his arms, he was carrying Rydia's body. As my mouth opened of its own accord, as though to ask Kain if she were still alive, he shook his head, his lips pressed tightly together to conceal his own emotions. "The White Mage she coerced is back there too," he said. "Dead as well."
Only years of exposure to illness and death and the presence of the little girl, who needed my comfort, prevented me from weeping, myself. I steeled myself and performed a few diagnostic spells to determine that the danger of contagion was, indeed, nil. I gave directions to Kain to move the children who were still alive to the infirmary while I made known their condition to the council and arranged preparations for the disposal of the remains of the deceased. After leaving the little girl who'd caused the fever with Edge, who she knew, I braced myself for the most difficult task any healer ever has to face.
Standing outside the cabin of the only of Rydia's students who had kin aboard, I breathed deeply, trying to muster my courage and strength. Their son was lying in a coma in the infirmary and the only cure for his illness was the Sandruby, a bezoar formed by the Antlion, a creature of Earth. Five months from our home, there was no way to obtain the precious substance. Their son would certainly die.
That night, I returned to my chambers exhausted. The boy's parents had not taken the news well and it had been necessary for me to exert my will in order to prevent them from becoming violent. Compounded with the effort I was making to keep myself from falling apart, I was spent. When I lay down on the palet next to Cecil, I drifted immediately into sleep, but my slumber was haunted by nightmares born of anxiety and fear.
Barely more rested when I rose in the morning, I proceded to the infirmary. A fourth child had died during the night, but it was nothing that could have been helped. It would take a powerful spell to sustain the children and the effort of its casting would have daunted me even were I well-rested and in an unperturbed emotional state. Calling for Thomas and Raime, I instructed the former to help me weave the spell and the latter to observe.
It took five hours of intense spellcraft, but we managed to erect the magickal construct before any more of the children passed away. Investing a vast portion of our spirit into the spell, the children were infused with life enough to sustain them for a few days before the spell would need to be renewed.
Arrangements for the funeral still needed to be made. My tormented emotions drowned in exhaustion, it was with terrifying calm that I supervised the clearing of one of the cargo holds. We could not risk a fire for a cremation, so we would have to settle for the spaceborne equivalent of a burial at sea. Some of our craftsmen were formed coffins from empty crates, which were placed for viewing in the empty cargo hold. They would remain open until the following day, when they would be sealed and jettisoned into space.
Once these preparations were complete, I found myself unable to bottle up my grief any longer. I retreated to my room and wept bitterly until, tears sticky on my cheeks, I passed out from weariness. I awoke somewhat rested and able to impose a modicum of composure on my turbulent spirit. I bathed, dressed in my finest robe, and headed to the cargo hold to see my best friend for the last time. Rydia's coffin was flanked by four child-sized coffins and a second casket where the Callers' White Magick instructor, Alexoser, lay. Kneeling next to her body, I said a prayer for my lost Rydia and for the others who had been sacrificed to her ambition.
After the caskets were sealed, Cecil spoke briefly to those who'd assembled to mourn the first deaths of our journey. Edge said a few words, as did Alexoser's daughter. I delivered a benediction and then the hold was sealed. The vast doors were opened and the power of the vacuum outside flung the bodies within into space. As I watched the mourners leave, I was puzzled that Raime was not present. I thought he would have liked to say goodbye to Rydia, forgetting at the time that as mature as he was, he was still just a little boy and unfamiliar with death. I resolved to visit him later.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon with Cecil. Even though he'd become a Paladin on Mount Ordeals, he was still a soldier. Death was his business and so he accepted these losses stoically. As a healer, death has always impacted me profoundly and so I found Cecil's steady attitude reassuring. We talked a little, his strength restoring mine, before I left that evening to renew the spell that sustained the ailing Callers and then to visit Raime.
When I entered the infirmary, I was shocked to see Raime there and to feel the magickal energies driting around him. I slid myself into the river of magick and watched as Raime settled himself into the sustainer carriage of my spell and slowly let some of his life essence flow into the fabric, restoring the resevoir of vitality that kept the Callers alive. Only when he had finished did he realize I was present. Abashed, he slipped out of the construct. Withdrawing from the spell myself, I scrutinzed him for a moment. "You don't think that was a little bit dangerous?" I asked. "What would have happened if you'd donated too much of your life essence?"
Quickly, he blushed and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Rosa," he immediately apologized. "I shouldn't have messed with your spell without telling you."
As he paused for breath, I cut him off. "I'm not saying you shouldn't have done it," I explained. "I just wanted to remind you that it's important for you to understand what your magick is going to do to yourself before you go ahead and use it. I don't really think you would have done yourself any harm. You're a smart boy and I know you were watching when I set up the spell." I allowed my admonition to sink in for a few moments, then reassured him. "You did a fine job of renewing the magick."
Pleased, he quickly forgot his disappointment and smiled broadly. "Can we go back into the spell?" he asked. "It's really big. I want to get a better look at it."
I agreed and we both sank our consciousnesses into the magickal fabric. As Raime looked around at the various aspect of the construct, I allowed my mind to drift between the Callers, asessing their condition and redirecting the power of the spell slightly to offer greater sustenance to those in greater need. When Raime had finished exploring the spell, he joined me. After he watched for several minutes, he bespoke me. "What causes this illness?" he asked.
"A virus," I replied. "It's a kind of germ. They're not well understood. Their nature is simple and they are very hearty."
He remained silent for several minutes after that and I could feel him gently probing our patients. "It isn't like the other kind of germ...um, bacteria," he finally said. "They make people sick to stay alive. These look like they make people sick just because that's what they do. Sort of like sharp rocks cut your feet or thin ice over a pond makes you drown."
As I considered his explanation, I was pleased by his keen observations. These were things I now knew, but had never realized until they'd been told to me. "Very clever," I bespoke him. "Is there anything else you can see?"
He was quiet again, then instead of answering my question, he asked, "Rosa, what's a Sandruby?"
Shaken from my reverie, I withdrew from the spell before my shock harmed the Callers. Raime too, emerged from his trance. He studied my face for a moment, concern evident on his young face, then asked me again, more insistently, "What's a Sandruby?"
I explained to him that it was a stone generated by the antlion during the formation of its eggs and that it was the only known remedy for the Desert Fever. As he was wont to do, he fell silent once more, his countenance thoughtful. I felt it when he returned his consciousness to the spell. Anxious as I was, I dared not follow him. I left him there in his trance and returned to my chambers. Still suffering from fatigue, I lay down on my palet and slept. Oddly comforted that Raime was now devoting his attention to our patients, I slept soundly and long.
When I returned to the infirmary the following afternoon, I was startled to find Raime where I had left him the previous evening. Alarmed, I slipped my mind into the spell and found Raime there, intent on our patients, but well. I observed and as he became aware of my presence, he ascended from a tier deeper in the spell and bespoke me, "I think I have an idea," he told me. With the mental equivalent of a tug on my wrist, he pulled me into the depths of the spell. "Come look, Rosa," he urged. Curious I followed his consciousness downward to where it was bound to the patients, themselves. "Can you see?" he asked. "They're thinking. All of their minds are still working."
Studying the brains of the Callers, I agreed with Raime that they were still thinking. "Of what import is it?" I asked. "I'm afraid I don't understand why you're so excited."
"If they can still think, they can still use magick, right?" he asked. "If they can use magick they could still call a beast. Maybe we could help them to call an antlion all the way from Earth."
I was skeptical. "I don't think that's possible, Raime. We're moving so fast; As far as we've travelled, we don't even know where the Earth is."
Undaunted, he continued to explain. "But if the Great Whale's moving by magick, then it's left a trail behind it that we can follow back. Magick always leaves a mark. And if we can get some other Magi to take turns sustaining the Callers, then we've got the power of thirteen of them to drag an antlion back."
Reluctantly, I had to concede that the plan was possible, if not particularly plausible. How any magick we could conjure could touch the distant Earth and snatch an antlion from beneath Zeromus' malevolent gaze, I knew not. But Raime's confidence was contagious and seeing no other way that any of the Callers could be saved, I agreed that we would make the attempt. "How long do you suppose it will take to develop the spells?" I asked him.
"Well," he replied hesitantly. "A couple weeks, I guess. There's a lot we don't know about summoning that we probably have to learn first, so we know what to make the Callers do. And it'll probably be a gigantic spell, anyways."
"Then we'll get started as soon as possible," I concluded. "You ought to detach yourself from the spell, for the time being and go get some supper. You've been here far too long."
A faint wave of embarassment washed over me. "Yes, ma'am," he replied. As he ascended, his consciousness departing the fabric of the spell, I marveled at the child's ingenuity. If there had been any doubt in my mind, it was erased; Raime would one day be the greatest sorceror of an epoch of mankind.
As Raime and I worked feverishly to understand the principles we'd need the Callers to employ, Thomas was familiarizing a dozen other Magi with the spell that preserved the children, preparing them to occupy the sustainer carriage. After a week of study, we felt competent enough to perform this Call, elementary in nature, but enormously complex in scope. Two more weeks were required to integrate the complicated new elements into the fabric that kept the Callers alive. Raime synthesized most of the spells we'd developed while I refined them and performed the delicate task of binding them to the existing framework. This task was completed early on the twenty third day after Raime has first proposed the idea. As I surveyed his handiwork, I was awestruck at the insight and talent he'd demonstrated. Certainly, this magick had not been wrought by him alone, but I doubt any Mage that ever existed could have, without help, conceived of and instituted the spell we'd woven.
We decided that we would not work the magick until the following day. After contacting all of the Magi who would sustain the Callers while Raime and I worked, he and I went to bed early, seeking to restore our strength as much as possible, preparing for the activation of the potent magicks we had woven.
We found the Magi waiting at the infirmary when we arrived the following morning. Porom and her husband, Elgar, had volunteered to be the first two to occupy the sustainer carriage. Raime and I lay down upon a pair of cots and slipped into the construct. I flet my pulse racing, having never before thought magicks like this possible, let alone having believed that I would aid in such a casting. Raime and I had discussed at great length what we sould be doing. It felt very odd to be subordinate in this spell, having so often been the primary in cooperative magick. I'd conceded, though, that this spell was Raime's brainchild and only he had both the power and the familiarity with the construct to lead the casting.
As Raime's consciousness wandered the fabric, activating the spell, I felt the weave tightening as the magick took hold. It was a thrilling experience as the first element of the spell shunted my consciousness alongside Raime's beyond the hull of the Great Whale where our minds hurtled at breakneck speed along the filament of magick which had been strung along ever since out departure from Earth. Travelling at impossible speeds, our spirits took mere hours to traverse the vast expanse of void that had taken five months to cross corporally.
As our consciousnesses skimmed across the surface of the globe, even our great speed could not entirely blot out what a pit our world had become. Towers of black metal dotted the landscape and noxious fumes choked the air. Abominous beasts, servants of Zeromus, roamed in packs, hunting and killing fugitives from Zeromus's rule.
We were fortunate that our adversary had not yet chosen to subjugate the desert around Kaipo. We passed easily into the cavern where the antlion dwelled. Shortly, we came upon a nest of the creatures. Raime and I set about stringing them with gossamer threads by which the power of the Callers would be conveyed. Once we finished this task, the most dangerous portion of our scheme would commence.
Raime would return to the Great Whale and set in motion the power of the comatose summoners. I would remain behind, pouring my magick into the binding threads so that they would remain strong. I was to be drawn back along with the antlions by the power of the call. If this proved impossible, it would be necessary for me to find the Great Whale's trail by my own means and return to my body, unaided.
Following Raime's departure, the hours seemed to slow and my tenuous composure began to fray. I was tremendously relieved when I felt the vibration of the Callers' magick stirring the threads. I soothed the agitation of the antlions as the summoner magick began to cause them to dissipate. I felt myself being tugged along as Raime and the callers drew in the lines that he and I had laid. I continued reinforcing the threads, making great haste possible.
All was well for several hours and I was unprepared for the shock that befell me. We lurched, our pace slacking noticably. My consciousness felt as though it had been struck with a hammer and, were such a thing possible for a mind apart from a body, I experienced an intense wave of nausea. As I struggled to maintain the lines of magick that held myself and the antlions, an exlanation was not long in coming. One of the Callers, the polite girl who had delivered Rydia's note when I'd first been asked to train them in White Magick, had succumbed to illness and strain and had died. Feeling sick, I restrained my sadness, keenly aware that failure to maintain my presence of mind would only endanger the remaining twelve Callers.
Before I could fully compose myself for a renewed effort, I was assailed from behind by a fiery pain. Too slow to respond, I found myself torn free of the binding threads, adrift in the depths of space.
It did not take me long to ascertain that I was not alone. There, behind me, was an engraged, flaming beast. After a moment, I recognized it as Jinn, swiftest of the summoned monsters and the embodiment of fire. Unlike the proud monster that had once acknowledged Rydia's call, this creature's eyes were wicked and malevolent. They were the same eyes I'd seen in the Fiends of the Elements or in Cecil's brother, Golbez. Those eyes belonged to Zeromus.
Though a fragment of its former self, this revived Jinn was still mighty, a creature of great power, so caution was required. My first response was to erect a reflective barrier to protect my delicate consciousness from its magick. I was unarmed, but White Magi are not entirely helpless when confronted by the servants of evil.
The ghastly thing pounded on my wall for a while, surrounding me with flames as an egg in the midst of a bonfire. I was forced to renew the wall several times, lest I be incinerated. Even as a revenant, this Jinn was clever. It eventually realized the futility of its unsophisticated assault and began attacking with thin darts of flame that could possibly puncture my formidable defenses. I had nearly completed the spell to call upon the White Light that burns and terrifies evil beings when the Jinn smote my barrier with a devastating hammerblow. Before I could unleash my magick, it followed up with a tongue of flame that pierced my fractured wall and penetrated my belly, or the idea of my belly that my consciousness maintained.
The wound was clean, if painful, and I determined at once that it was not fatal. I leveled a steely gaze on the unholy beast and released the spell I had cast, directing the globes of luminescence to smite my leering foe's smug face. Jinn screamed when the light struck it, blinding it. Forced to retreat, it sped back ot Earth, my magick harrying it like a scourage as it fled to its master.
Only when I was sure that no more evil was in store for me did I cast about for the Great Whale's trace, which I found near a hand. Returning to the vessel was simpler than I had expected and I found myself back in my body in fewer than three hours. I woke to find Raime and Porom tending me. Both triumph and concern were evident on Raime's face. "We did it, Rosa," he crowed. "We got the antlions. They don't got any eggs right now, but I'm sure we can keep the rest of the Callers alive until they make some."
I smiled weakly and patted his hand. "It was your doing, Raime," I rasped. "Your genius, your power." I coughed, my through painfully dry and was surprised to find a fleck of blood on my handkerchief. Quickly, Porom began to probe me for injuries.
When she finished, she looked thunderstruck. "Oh my God, Rosa," she whispered. "You're pregnant."
Of course I'd known this, but I failed to realize why Porom was so shocked. When I mentally caressed the baby, I understood her horror. Jinn had not been attacking me, but the spirit of the child that I carried within me. My baby would life, but without eyes, he would never be able to see.