In a world gone wrong, where does your faith lie?
That April was a sort of cold, windy April, and when Del found the next day overcast with a breeze coming in from the South-East, she shivered a couple times before resolve sunk into her bones. They set out at dawn as they had planned, and as the sun began to flood the sky they lifted into the air in the biplane and the weather took a turn for the worse. A light rain came in and the air seemed to get colder as they hit the sky. Delilah wished she was somewhere else, anywhere else.
But despite her hesitations, it was an easy trip. The Good Lich's tower was only forty miles North of Oklahoma City, approximately, and soon enough they looked down and saw the ivy-covered spire climbing out of the plain. After circling a couple times, Huck found a good place in the dirt where the grass was short and landed the plane without a hitch.
As they shut the engine off and climbed out of biplane, a harsh silence descended. They were really here now, face to face with God knows what kind of magic and undead reverie. From the air the tower had seemed small, but now it stood over them, higher than any building in Oklahoma City.
"What are we gonna find in here?"
"I don't know, Del."
"Should I take pictures of it?"
They stood in the slight rain and the wind as Delilah took a couple shots of the landscape and the tower. It still thrilled Delilah to hold such awesome technology in her hands, and even though it took a while to develop photographs into reality, she could still feel a sort of electricity up her spine with every click of the camera. When she was satisfied she lowered the gadget and nodded at Huck.
"Okay," she said. "Done."
"C'mon then. No use dillydallying."
They circled the tower until they found a large iron door, facing to the east. Upon close inspection, they could see the tower was constructed out of a reflective rock of some sort, but the size and shape of the blocks were not uniform in any way, leading to a kind of unkempt pattern to the walls.
Even Huck seemed afraid to touch it. But he finally reached out and knocked on the big iron door, and a hollow ringing sounded. They waited for a moment, half-hoping no one would answer. Huck was about to knock again when they finally could hear locks unfitting behind the metal, and gears rattling.
The large door swung inward slowly, and a thin, long-haired young man stood before them. He was dressed in a dirty yellow tunic and sandals, and didn't look older than eighteen or nineteen. He was dark haired and purple-eyed, pure Iskan, and his posture was bad, his complexion worse, but he smiled good-naturedly and greeted them.
"Hello. What can I do for you, kind travelers?"
"Uh," said Huck. "We're here to see the wizard. Reverend Parsons, from Oklahoma City -- he sent us."
"I see," said the young man. He had a thick Iskan accent on his English, curling the consonants around his tongue and drawing out the vowels curtly. He smiled. "I am Ivaile. I am the apprentice."
"We have a message, for the wizard," said Huck. He pulled the envelope out of his pocket.
"Of course," said Ivaile. "You had better come in then."
The boy gestured for them to enter. Huck and Delilah took a quick moment, and then did so.
The first thing Del noticed was the strong scent of dust. It was almost overpowering. There were no windows, and the place was lit by candles -- dozens of them, perched on candlesticks that reached sometimes up towards the ceilings, which were high. They were in a large hall with three wooden doors and a stone staircase leading both up and down. Delilah was wide-eyed, both fearful and in awe. The place seemed ancient, and there was no denying the awesome ambiance of such a strange room.
"Please," said Ivaile, "Follow me."
He went to the spiral stairs and quickly ascended them. Huck and Delilah followed, clenching their fists and trying to settle their quaking nerves. They climbed many stairs -- it was dizzying -- passing floor after floor.
"That's some machine you've got out there," the apprentice commented, speaking of the biplane. "I never would have imagined such a thing.
I never would have imagined this, thought Del.
"Thanks," Huck told Ivaile.
"I'd love to take a look at it sometime -- but I'm afraid I don't really understand mechanical things."
"Anytime you want," offered Huck.
They continued up the stairs. Finally, when it felt like they came to a large wooden door adorned with abstract, wiry metal sculptures like script. Ivaile opened the door and led them into a parlor or waiting room of sorts, well-lit with candles, and filled with couches and chairs, as well as a grand wooden table covered with scrolls.
"Have a seat," said Ivaile. "I will see to my master."
Of course," said Huck. He gestured to Delilah to sit.
Ivaile disappeared into another door which he closed behind him and Huck and Delilah sat down on the creaking, dusty furniture. They were silent at first, looking at each other fearfully, until Delilah spoke.
"Uncle Huck? Are we gonna die here?"
"No," he said. "As strange as this is, I don't think we're in any danger."
"Well. I was twenty-nine when you was born. Now it's been sixteen years. I haven't let anything happen to you yet, have I?"
"No," she said.
"I promised your mom I'd take care of you, and I will."
"I know," she said, forcing a smile.
Ivaile came back into the room and smiled at Huck. "You may see the master now. But the girl should stay here until your message is delivered and you have had a chance to talk to the master."
Huck gave Delilah one last reassuring look and then released the girl to her temporary fate alone in the parlor.
"Uncle?" Delilah asked.
"So..." said Ivaile to Delilah once Huck was gone. "What is your name?" He sat in a chair directly across the room from her, and stared into her with his haunting eyes.
"Me?" she asked. "I'm Delilah."
"That's a pretty name."
"How do you know your friend there?"
"Huck? He's my uncle."
"I see," said Ivaile. "I noticed the family resemblance."
"Yeah..." she said. The apprentice made her nervous. Everything about this made her nervous.
"Don't be afraid," he told her, as though he sensed her thoughts. "I mean you no harm. And the master is... good and kind."
"Okay," Delilah spoke. "I'm not afraid. Just cold. It's ah, cold in here."
"Oh, I'm sorry. We have to keep it this temperature for the experiments."
"Uh-huh," she said.
Ivaile was silent for a moment. Without thinking, Delilah started a new conversation.
"What do you do here?"
"I study, mostly. The master has a lot to teach."
"Are you a wizard?"
"Not quite," Ivaile answered. "I am a Dreamer."
"What do you mean?"
"I... study my own mind, I guess you could say. Do you know what lucid dreaming is?"
"I don't know."
"It's when you can control your own dreams, when you sleep. I'm trying to master that."
"Well... it is a very useful skill."
Delilah didn't understand why that would be, and she didn't press. Instead, she asked about something else, figuring talking would make the time go faster, and thinking, maybe if she found out stuff, it would help Huck.
"Is there anyone else here?" she asked Ivaile.
"No, no, not for quite some time."
"Just the two of you?"
"It seems lonely."
"I guess it is. But I rarely feel alone. I'm very busy."
"Where are you from?" she wondered aloud.
"Well, I come from a small hamlet near the Gyainne trade route, south of Ireulea."
"Where's that? Iska?"
"Yes. Very far away now."
"Did you choose to come here? To America, I mean."
"No, the master and I are... as helpless in regard to our fates as you are, I suppose." Then Ivaile burst out laughing. "Oh," he said. "I set about to interrogate you and here you are interrogating me!"
"I'm sorry," said Delilah.
"Don't be. Don't be. I'm just kidding. I'm just curious about you and your world. I forgot you might be equally curious about mine."
"I am curious," said Delilah. "I can't help it."
"Neither can I," said Ivaile. "Curiosity is one of my strongest traits. Knowledge... thrills me. I... thirst after it."
"I like knowing stuff too," said Delilah.
"Tell me about yourself then," said Ivaile. "What is your story?"
"Ah," she said. "Me and Huck, we're just trying to survive, you know?"
"My parents, they were killed. Don't ask me how, I don't want to talk about it. But they're dead now and Uncle Huck is all I got. I'm all he's got."
Do you? she wondered. She wasn't sure who this young man was at all, and she didn't trust him any further than she could throw him. Still, he was interesting. Different from anybody else she knew. She had never really talked to an Iskan before. Not this long, anyway.
"Can you do magic?" she asked him.
"No..." he said. "Not yet. My skills lie in a different discipline."
"What's that?" she asked.
"Psionics. Do you know what that is?"
"Let me show you..."
Ivaile crossed his arms and closed his eyes. Del almost jumped when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she looked, she saw one of the old scrolls on a table lifting up to the air and floating over to Ivaile. It was like nothing she had ever seen. Ivaile opened his eyes and plucked the scroll out of the air, smiling.
"My god," Del said.
"No, nothing divine about it. It's just a skill like any other."
"Wow," she said. "I wish I could do that."
"You can!" Ivaile protested. "Anybody can do it. You just have to learn how."