In Absentia Luci

Brother Abselius had not always been an ambitious man. He entered the Order of the Omniscient Shadow mainly because they promised initiates two square meals a day, and he had seen the way people slipped offerings to the other brothers as they walked the streets of the city. Dark things occurred in dark places, so it paid to be in the Shadow’s good graces. If sometimes the pay happened to go into a brother’s stomach instead of onto an altar, who was to know? But the more he learned of the order’s teachings, the more power he gradually came to wield, and he found that it tasted better than any poor peasant’s stale bread.

“What news, Brother Mordo?” he asked when he reached the designated meeting place.

“The First meditates in the Pit, Second,” the heavy-set fourth-level disciple replied, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Her candle suggests she will be there for at least two more marks.”

“Good. I will send you word when… well, I will send word.”

Brother Mordo nodded and slipped into the shadows, as if the Second could not track his movements easily. Still, he supposed it did not hurt for the disciple to practice.

It was customary for the First to finish his journey into shadow in a reasonable time, thereby allowing the Second to ascend to First and lead the Order. The current First, whose name was mysteriously missing from the Order’s records, had been in her place for at least the past three hundred years. This hadn’t been important to Brother Abselius–until he became the Second.

The Pit was the deepest room underground in the sprawling complex that housed the Order. Brother Abselius passed through the above-ground temple that was all most people experienced, with its jet-black stone walls and portraits of significant historical events. He descended into the upper floors, where the wide-eyed pledges began their initiation trials, then down to the darker middle floors, where routine business was conducted by the fifth and sixth level disciples, and farther down still, past the silent chambers of the third and fourth levels in their solitary studies.

If the First would not go gently into the waiting arms of the Shadow, then Brother Abselius would be more than happy to assist her in her passage. He had complete mastery over the Order’s secrets, after all, and was no less than the First in skill, he was sure. Darkness itself was his plaything, his servant to call upon and mold to his will, and there was no place more full of darkness than the Pit.

As he had been told, the First’s candle sat in an alcove outside the thick stone door, at least a mark remaining until the flame guttered out. With a smirk, he casually flicked a shadow at the light and it extinguished in a puff of smoke.

He could not open the door because the First would hear him, and as no one dared disturb her in her meditations, she would at the least be on her guard, if not inclined to retaliate immediately. But he was a patient enough man, and had carefully crafted the tiniest pinhole through the rock wall of the Pit, curved so that no candle light might accidentally reveal it to the person inside. It was a simple enough task to slip into the shadows and slide through the hole in the blink of an eye.

The First sat in the center of the small room, her back to the door, her small frame hunched over her legs with her head buried in her crossed arms. She was still as the stone that surrounded her, and the Second had only to drive a spike of darkness into the back of her neck to secure his glorious future.

“Brother,” the First said, her voice like a whisper of wind through tall grass. “Reconsider.”

He said nothing, but struck, sending the icy stiletto at the woman with the full speed of dark. It sank into her skin without a sound, and she sighed.

Then, to his dismay, she slowly unfolded her limbs and rose to her feet, her black eyes boring into his.

“Your learning is incomplete.”

“I have mastered the dark,” he spat, preparing for another attack.

She shook her head. “You have not.”

Softly, so that Brother Abselius thought he imagined it, the First began to glow. Her skin brightened from the faintest reflection of a star’s glimmer to the pale gleam of the moon, and the Second’s eyes struggled to adjust from the total darkness. His pupils could not shrink fast enough, and the moon soon became daylight, then the searing glare of the sun itself. He threw up his arms to shield his face, but the light penetrated even through his closed eyelids and thick black robes. He could feel his vision burning to white and knew he had gone blind.

“To master the darkness,” the First said, “you must first master the light.”

Brother Abselius screamed.

When the First left the Pit a mark later, she left alone. Inside, on the wall near the door, a vaguely human shadow stained the stone a slightly darker hue that no one but the First was ever likely to notice.

12 Responses to “In Absentia Luci”

  1. Icy Sedgwick says:

    I can’t actually express how much I enjoyed this. Such a vivid world, and a fantastic ending. Total mastery of language, excellent pacing – the works.

  2. jim bronyaur says:

    “To master the darkness,” the First said, “you must first master the light.” <— what a line!!! 🙂

    Great story.

    Jim

  3. John Wiswell says:

    Brother Mordo is a perfect name for the member of a shadow society.

    Burned blind, how’s he supposed to master the light? Feels like they cheated a bit. Any chance the Predators are members of the Order? I mean, they are lightbenders.

  4. Truly excellent … sounds like she sent the Second into the dark by the way of light. You created a solid, strong world and I hope you do more with it.

  5. I agree: a solid world, described very well and so believable. I really enjoyed this story and the world you have invented. The First is such a serene and powerful character, I was on her side immediately, but forgot that she too, is part of this dark order.

  6. Gracie says:

    Splendid. Takes my breath away. Let me join the chorus of “make this a trilogy of novels, please.” 🙂

    Seriously. Perfect in every way. I think it’s my favorite flash this week.

  7. Ambition does bad things. Well told.

  8. Angie says:

    what a fantastic story! such a clear setting, and all the intrigues laid out – so many possibilities for you to run with it 😀 Great job!

  9. Some people simply don’t have enough patience. Good story!

  10. Aidan Fritz says:

    Great world-building here. I like how you opened with ambition which plays out through the rest of the story. The shadow on the rock is a nice ending image.

  11. Maria Kelly says:

    This is great! I love the world you created here. Very dark, indeed. I’d love to read more of this!

  12. Valerie says:

    Thanks for reading, all! Glad you liked it. No plans at present to set anything else in this world but I’ll keep it in the back of my mind somewhere.

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