Sharun prodded us with the Dragon’s Tooth. Noel and I backed up. Noel stared at Sharun, her eyes full of confusion and betrayal. I stared at the grinning Oracle, biting my teeth. What did she mean I came to this world on my own? There was no magic on my Earth, how could I have come here on my own? It would suck if this was how I found out I was originally from this world or something.
I looked up in the sky. The red star looked gleeful. “So the God of Evil brought me to this world?”
The Oracle frowned. “Master will not appreciate your tone. You speak his name as if he is evil.”
I blinked. “His name is the God of Evil, evil is in his name!”
“I see,” said the Oracle, “My master’s magic lets you speak our tongue, but even he cannot fix your wretched language. Savage humans, you never change.”
“Wait, the God of Evil gave me my translation magic?” I said, aghast. “But why?”
“I should tell you to shut up and walk into the darkness,” said the Oracle, “but master wants to know why you did not fulfill your destiny. It is the first time a mortal has defied his predictions without the help of one of master’s enemies. Fine, let us talk. The translation magic my master gifted to you was supposed to help you meet and understand Noel.”
“Noel?” I looked at her. She had collected herself. Now, she was staring daggers at the Oracle. Or perhaps, she was trying her hardest not to look at Sharun.
“I think when I told you about the judgment of The Terrible, you were supposed to go inside the cave with me,” said Noel.
The Oracle nodded. “There the two of you would receive your blessing, but the outsider would grow selfish and scared. He would attempt to kill you, but you would accept my master’s support, in exchange for becoming like me: his Ikon.”
“His Ikon?” I said.
“To be an Ikon is an honor,” said the Oracle, “you would not know, child of the outside. Ikons are personally blessed by their masters. Unimaginable power, riches, and abilities that defy all common sense. It was my master who gave me the ability to see the future, since the future is one of the domains that he governs. He gave me the power to defeat that wretched king Barson and take control of the elven tribes.”
Sounds like an apostle or avatar for deities in mythologies back on my Earth. But then why not use those words? Perhaps there wasn’t a perfect translation.
“So the God of Evil wanted to make Noel his slave,” I said.
“An Ikon is not a slave,” insisted the Oracle, “but there is no point in arguing about this with you, outsider. I don’t need to waste time on savage humans.”
“Savage humans? You’re the one who’s trying to sacrifice me to make my friend an evil god’s slave!” I said.
“See, even your tongue betrays your base nature,” she said. “You are not being sacrificed, you are merely fulfilling your destiny.”
“Is that what you did to the other humans you’ve summoned? Did you sacrifice someone to become your god’s slave?” I said.
“That human was a beast!” she cried. “He saw my ears and lost his mind! I ran into the cave of The Terrible and if it were not for my master’s blessing, that beast would have—” She cut herself off and took a deep breath. “I am getting distracted. The only reason you aren’t in that cave yet is because I need to know why you didn’t go in there yourself.”
“You mean when I first got here?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the Oracle, “my master was sure you would follow little Noel inside and lose yourself to your base desires. He would have rescued her as he had rescued me, and a new Ikon would have been born.”
I frowned. I probably shouldn’t answer her truthfully. Why help out someone who’s trying to kill me, right? But… “I don’t know,” I said.
“You don’t know?” repeated the Oracle, slowly.
“I don’t know why you think I would go inside a dark, clearly supernatural cave, and I also don’t know why you would ever think I would attack Noel. Especially when I’d only met her for a few minutes!” I said.
The Oracle narrowed her eyes. “You were a directionless young human male with no consort, inhaling a dangerous substance all alone at night. My master wasn’t completely sure of your future, but all the signs seemed to indicate—”
“I was a senior in college!” I cried out. “That’s just how we all are, dang it!”
The Oracle frowned. “No, there is something else at work here. The moon was out that night and little Noel has been frequenting a certain tree. Either of those enemies could have done something.” The Oracle stroked her hair. “No, my master can tell when they are involved. This was something else. You did something, something my master wasn’t expecting.”
“Well, I think I acted like any normal—”
The Oracle interjected: “Yes, that’s it! You didn’t act like any normal human. A normal human would have gone into the cave. An ordinary human wouldn’t stop at the entrance and stare at symbols he couldn’t understand!”
Wait. “You’re saying the reason I didn’t end up as a sacrifice inside that cave, was because I tried deciphering the runes at the entrance?” I said, incredulously. I guess being a language nerd actually paid off. That was not something I was expecting would ever save my life but hey, I’ll take it.
“Enough,” said the Oracle as she rubbed her forehead, which was still hidden behind her bangs. “Grab an offering stick and get walking!” Sharun poked us with the Dragon’s Tooth. Noel and I backed up, slowly, until we were right at the edge of the darkness of the cave. I considered firing some magic and running away, but after recalling the way Sharun had killed the one starred monster, I gave up any thoughts of resistance. I took a step back, and my vision went dark, as if someone had snuffed out the only candle in the room.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to do that,” said Noel.
I shrugged and waved my lit offering stick. “Hey, this thing is basically a torch, alright? I’d rather not stumble through the darkness and get ambushed by The Terrible.”
Noel hesitated but lit her own offering stick with fire magic as well. “What do we do now?”
“I don’t know,” I said, looking around. Apart from the thick, vapor-like darkness, the cave was pretty ordinary. There was only one direction we could go, and it was further in. “Don’t suppose we could wait here for a little while and walk back out. Our sticks are lit, after all.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that’s gonna work,” said Noel. I chuckled. The mood was too heavy. The Oracle had laid out way too many secrets and truths. Sharun killing Noel’s dad. Me not being an elf. The God of Evil summoning me to this world and giving me translation magic. And the fact that I was being sacrificed to an evil god so Noel could be his slave! Yeah, heavy stuff.
“There’s a lot of things to talk about,” I said, “but we should save most of it for later.”
Noel nodded. “I agree. There is one thing I want to know, though.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“The way the Oracle was telling her story, it sounded like I needed to choose to become the God of Evil’s Ikon. You were supposed to attack me, and I was going to beg the evil god for his help,” she said.
“Right,” I said, “but why would I attack you?”
“That’s the part I don’t understand. She sent us in here alone and even told us what she needed us to do. Why would you attack me now that you know I could ask for the evil god’s help?” said Noel.
“And why would you ask for the evil god’s help, if you knew it would make you his slave, I’m sorry, Ikon,” I said.
Noel and I thought together in silence. The only thing we could come up with, was that something might try to take over my mind and make me attack Noel. Otherwise, it would make no sense for the Oracle to send us in here after explaining everything. Well, she could have been lying about the whole thing, but it would have been a really pointless thing to lie about, since we were stuck inside this cave anyway.
“Then what if I knock you out as soon as something takes over your mind?” said Noel.
“Whatever takes control of my mind will probably make me stronger too,” I said, “or else you wouldn’t need to ask an evil god to save you. You’ve lived a much more physical life than I have. You could drop a couch potato like me, any day of the week.”
Noel frowned. I explained to her those weird words at the end were an expression back on my Earth. On a side note, it felt good not having to pretend like I was from a distant elven village. I’d have to explain life back on my Earth to Noel someday, assuming we got out of this cave alive.
“So we have no choice,” said Noel. “We have to walk into this cave and face whatever is in there.”
“Looks like it,” I said, as I stared over my torch into the darkness. Shadows danced on the cave walls to the side. I stared at them and narrowed my eyes. “Wait.” I reached out and touched a shadow. “There’s something I’d like to try.”