Lightning in the Dark (book)

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Lightning in the Dark
By Gridaksma Wavengam

A hesitant voice came, intruding on his studies. "Ah, excuse me?"
He looked up from his book. "Aye?"
A young woman stood just outside the doorway and fidgeted, tugging nervously at the neck of her acolyte's robe. "They say --" she began, then bit her lip as he raised an eyebrow at her.
"Aye?" he prompted again, closing the book and motioning her to come in.
"They say you're the one to talk to about -- about what it means to be a, an ev--, a dar--"; she stuttered, blushed, and trailed off uncertainly.
"'They' said you should come to me to find out about what it means to be an evil cleric who follows the dark path?" he asked, raising the other eyebrow as he fought back a chuckle. "I have some small wisdom that I can share, although I do not think it is quite what ye are seeking," he warned. "Evil, dark, it is all a matter of perspective. Here, have a seat and I shall share a tale with you."

Lightning flashed, brilliant and unexpected as it illuminated the darkness with savagely released energy. The raw power of the lightning brought clarity to all who saw it, those who had sight to see. There was no storm, no cloud in the sky, and the flash glittered not across the heavens but only behind the eyes of an Elf.

I understand.

When those words rang through his mind and soul for the first time, he had been gifted with visions of the path he must take. He saw the lands of the Starry Road, observed the sacred lights that no living eyes were truly meant gaze upon, the sights that were familiar only to those who saw with more than physical sight -- the simple, the mad, the god-touched. A simple calling to service, but holy none the less. A calling that had lead to this moment in time, with his heart beating in tense anticipation, a terrifyingly beautiful exultation, as he walked towards the building. He knew he was destined to pass through its doors, to enter as a common Elf but to leave as something more. The days he spent within those holy confines alongside the Maiden of the Snow melted away from time as if it were a fleeting dream.

Day turned into night, night into day, and a blurry passage of time of indeterminate length slowly snapped back into focus. It was daunting, all the new information that flooded through his mind, but it didn't satisfy him or the ache of his calling. And so he left her side and journeyed forth into the great lands of Elanthia.

His travels took him down many long roads, each path ending with intense study in many a dark and damp library, always and endlessly seeking, searching. He lived for one thing and one thing only: knowledge of the soul. He would not be satisfied until he knew all there was to know about every aspect of the soul. Yet, eventually his studies halted when his sources of information inexorably became exhausted by his tireless research. There were no more books, no more manuals, no more decaying scrolls for him to peruse and glean any more learning from. He felt lost, abandoned by his god whom he had dedicated his life to. His prayers were no longer answered. He kneeled at the altar of his god, raised his voice heavenward and begged Truffenyi to hear his plea, to send him some sign of where he could learn because not learning the truth had pained him so. Lightning once more flickered deep within his eyes, bringing illumination as he called out for the great god of mercy.

I understand.

His eyes opened by the revelation placed before him, he sought his guildhall again and began to dedicate himself to helping those who were dead, to learn of the soul by tending to the fallen. He learned what mercy meant in those long days, and helped everyone he could, giving Truffenyi's blessing freely. His spirit sang with new gladness he had never felt before -- he believed utterly and completely in what he was doing, that dis- pensing Truffenyi's mercy to the fallen would bring him closer to the true being he knew as his god. Day after day he spent in that hall protecting those fallen warriors and healers, scholars and jesters. He watched with wide-open eyes, taking in the sights of life and death and the transitions both of them would bring about when passing from one state into the next. This was good and he was happy for a while.

Then it all changed.

His eyes were wide open still, but he did not, could not, believe what he saw. The fallen became ill-tempered and chastised the clerics who helped them. The dead sought to command those who protected their memories and brought their bodies back from the edge of the void, treating the clergy with a disdainful and disrespectful manner that should have brought shame to them. He was appalled: how could the god of mercy allow such things to those priests that followed Him most closely? He prayed once again to his god and once again the lightning flickered deep within. The same two words graced his lips.

I understand.

He left his guild that day full of pain and a sense of loss, but he continued to follow the path his god had sent him on. He came to a clearing and he looked up for the first time that day, seeing the world around him as if he wasn't in his own body. The world was grey and dull. There were no flowers, no trees, no buildings, and no people. He prayed to his god and there was no answer. He lay in that field and wept, cursing himself and Truffenyi for he could not believe, could not accept, that his god had led him to such a bleak land devoid of anything. He closed his eyes and dreamed.

"My son, do you hear my words?" spoke a voice that seemed to well up from deep silences of his own soul.

"Aye, I do. I always have. Why didn't ye answer my prayers? Why did ye desert me in such a horrible place?" His own reply was anguished, his words those of man tested to the breaking point of his faith.

"But -- you didn't pray to me." The voice seemed on the verge of laughter, barely subdued mirth skittering maddeningly through the words.

"Lord Truffenyi, please say ye jest at my expense," he cried.

"I do, indeed I do jest. But I do so to teach you. And I am not Truffenyi." And with those words, the source of the voice suddenly was apparent. It wasn't the voice of faith welling from the cleric's soul, but rather a small weasel that darted around his ankles gracefully.

"Be gone, vermin! My god is Truffenyi, the wise and merciful." The cleric raised his hand as if to banish the creature but it merely blinked, then laughed at him.

"But I am of the truth. Always and ever was it my riddles and games you followed," The weasel tittered maddeningly again as the Elf's eyes widened in incredulous betrayal. "Yes, now you begin to see, don't you? Truffenyi was but a mask I wore for you, since I knew you wouldn't follow me if I showed you my true form in the beginning, for I am Huldah. They call me a trickster and I live up to the name proudly." The weasel's eyes shone brightly with a slightly mischievous twinkle.

"I don't believe you," protested the cleric, but his faith was shaken, for his mind whispered that the weasel's words made far too much sense.

"You don't have to take my word for it since I can prove it," chuckled the little rodent. "It was I who told you to visit the Maiden of the Snow, Tallis. I knew she would guide ye along the starting of the greatest path one can follow, the path of the holy. When you thought you had learned all there was to learn, it was I who broke through your closed mind by telling you to learn from the dead. And you did so, even though part of you knew full well there was nothing to learn from them. Everything you needed to learn is, and has always been, inside you. When you questioned your faith to Truffenyi, my father, I was the voice that whispered to you to leave the guild where the heathens threaten the enlightened. I told you how to find this clearing. I had a point to prove here, and now I will impart that to you," stated the weasel matter-of-factly. It took a few leaps away from the cleric and waved one sable paw, causing the dream world to ripple slightly before reforming to a blank grey canvas.

"Do you like my great work?" the avatar asked, cocking its head to one side as it gazed up at the Elven cleric.

"It is a bit boring to look at. It's merely a blank canvas -- there is nothing on it. It is void of any different colors or patterns. There's no depth, no complexity, nothing of interest," he replied.

"You just took the first step on the true path."

"I don't understand."

"Without light there is no dark; without the dark there is no light. All is grey and formless. You will help me shape and mold this world. That has been your destiny; this is what you have been chosen for."

The cleric recoiled and shook his head. "Nay, I will not follow you, for you are evil."

The weasel silently bent its gaze upon the grey canvas, which shimmered as a scene grew within. "Watch," the weasel commanded. "Learn."

The grey canvas as no longer blank, but instead showed an elderly priest who stood beside a well, accompanied by a young acolyte. The priest drew a bucket of water from the well and poured thewater into his pitcher. Then he drew another and poured that in. And still yet another. The acolyte watched this for a while and then suddenly blurted out, "O Father, the water is running out the other end. There is no bottom in that pitcher!"

The priest looked at him indignantly. "I am trying to fill the pitcher. In order to see when it is full, my eyes are fixed upon the neck of the pitcher, not the bottom. When I see the water rise to the neck then the pitcher will be full. What has the bottom got to do with it? When I am interested in the bottom of the pitcher, then and only then will I look at it."

"But, Father," said the acolyte. " Are you not being one-sided? How can you see one side of a situation while forgetting the other? By not looking at things from all angles, you're dooming yourself to failure." And at those words, the priest smiled and praised the young acolyte even as the vision faded from the canvas, leaving it blank and grey once more.

"I bring the contrast you lack on your own. You who are so bent upon bringing light onto this world, to remove all shadows from the land, you fail to recognize that doing so will make the world nothing better than this blank canvas," the weasel said.

"Everything is dual in nature; everything has its pair of opposites -- opposites are identical in nature, only different in degree; and all truths are but half-truths when spoken with no regard to their opposite. Love, hate. Courage, fear. Good, evil. By failing to see things from all angles, you willfully blind yourselves, crippling your minds and souls by denying half of creation's glory."

And once more lightning flashed, brilliant and unexpected as it rippled across the grey canvas. And once more the raw power of the lightning brought clarity to those who had sight to see.

I understand.

And so the veil is lifted.

That was the turning point in the young cleric's life. There is no good and evil, no light or dark, nor even simple neutrality. Everything is the way it is for contrast, to bring the world into vivid focus. Without light there is no dark; without the dark there is no light. And so the cleric gazed at the world around him, with eyes truly open for the first time. He did not look down upon anyone, nor did he look up. He did everything he could to bring learning to any that would hear his words. He lectured as often as he could, and at other times he drew cold steel, and his blade kissed the throats of those that needed to learn from the more direct teachings of the gods upon the Starry Road. When he killed he did not do so out of anger, but out of care, for those that don't understand the gods should visit them in order to learn more. Some souls are just too stubborn to learn on their own he reasoned. For a long time he traveled frequently and many people listened to him, but for every one that listened there were three that shunned him, and more than a few that began to resent and to hate him.

He was outcast; day after day he was insulted, threatened, and sometimes even killed. Each day he would return to his god and ask the weasel for guidance, and through the weasel's tricks he learned more about himself and the world around him. The key of the whole philosophy given unto him was a simple truth reflected in the balance and cycles of give and take. In the end, one force does not conquer the other but both merge toward the middle ground, where there is no longer any idea of one force prevailing over the other. Balance. Harmony.

The last word, harmony, hung in the air like a blessing between the two before it faded into peaceful silence.

The silver haired Elf regarded the acolyte before him steadily. "Some have accused me of using my tales to spread corruption in our guild. That I seek to turn others to evil, for that is how my god is viewed and so must I be. I say that is not so. I seek merely to enlighten. To illuminate. To provided the other side to the story, the other half of the truth, to help guide. For each must find his own path. Like the young cleric did, like I did. Like ye will. The knowledge is yers now, and so is the choice. Choose wisely, my friend."
The acolyte bowed her head in silent thanks, but not before the Elf had glimpsed her eyes. Her lightning-kissed eyes. And he smiled quietly to himself as he left her to contemplate her choice.