A Shade Of Red

Chapter 1

druids.jpg (16701 bytes)She looked out the tower window at the tiny forms below. From that height, the White Robes resembled ants. They were just nameless, faceless creatures, to be stepped on without thought. That is what she hated about the place. To some, the white towers and buildings represented the peace and happiness of that place: the white stones reflected the light, shining like a beacon of hope in the surrounding evil. However, something was not right about the place, at least in her eyes. There was a cold feeling to it. Everyone dressed alike in their white robes, which covered their faces, removing their individuality. All were vowed to silence, except the higher ranking white robes like herself. It was almost like living among zombies; there was no life there, only a feeling of death.

Celeste turned away from the window. She had lived in the place for seven years, and it seemed to get worse all the time. She felt as if she were doomed to rot there, never to learn more, never to get more power. She had reached the highest level she could, that of the White One's Apprentice, aside from taking over the White One's position. She knew that there was more power, more magic, available somewhere in the outside world. However, she was trapped in that place of white.

The White One entered the room then. He always gave the effect of shining because his robe was brilliantly white. It was made from a mysterious fabric, made especially to reflect the light, so that he would stand out among the other White Robes. In addition to his white robe, the White one had pure white hair and a long, white beard. He always appeared to Celeste as ancient, and at the same time infinitely ageless. His appearance awed the other White Robes, especially at Sun-day lectures, when he stood with the rising sun at his back. He even awed Celeste, at least momentarily.

When the White One entered, Celeste stood up and bowed her head slightly, as was customary. As she raised her eyes, she could see that the White One's face was troubled. He walked towards the table and sat in a chair opposite to Celeste. She sat down and waited for him to speak.

For a few moments, he stared at the wall, his mind elsewhere. Celeste sensed that he was trying to make an important decision. She wished then that she could read his mind, as he seemed to read hers, so that she knew what was troubling him.

Finally, the White One spoke. "My mind is troubled . . . I sense that you are restless here. I sense that you seek more power, more than I give." He looked towards the window, staring without seeing. "It was seven years ago that you showed up at the gate, dressed in rags and half-starved. The moment I saw you, I knew there was more than met the eye. I knew you had the potential to be a very powerful person, to take my place when I fade out of existence some day. For even though I have lived many years, and shall live many more, I am not immortal." He looked back towards Celeste. "I apologize if I seem to be rambling on. I am having trouble finding the right words for what I am about to say . . . " He sighed and continued, "I see a great deal of potential in you, and have much more to teach you about the world, and yet I feel you drifting away. I had a vision last night . . . I saw you walking towards darkness; I saw you embrace it, and I saw it consume you. I sense that you will seek the darker powers, and you must not. There is much good to be done in the world, and we can do it together. I dream that one day the forces of good will unite, and evil will be destroyed. Then, the world will be at peace again, as it was in the Beginning." He leaned forward now. "This is my dream, and I want it to be your dream too. I hope that you will never leave here, never leave the light. Stay away from the darkness, my child. Promise me you will never turn to evil."

Celeste's face was expressionless, although her mind was in confusion. How could he have known that she sought the dark powers, that she sought always to find the Black Volumes? She did not want to leave him, she did not want to see him hurt, but what else could she do? What power could he give her that the dark forces could not?

She turned away. "You ask me to promise what I cannot. Who is to know what the future will bring? Will I stay here always, as I always have? I would like to do what you ask, to ease your mind, but I cannot."

"This is as I feared. I fear that I am losing you to the dark forces which pull you towards evil." The White One paused. "I have thought long about this, and I see only one thing for me to do. I must show you the horrors of evil, so that you will not be so eager to turn to them. I will show you the Black Volumes."

Celeste found it hard to keep the emotion from her face as her heart pounded. He was letting her see the Black Volumes! They were ancient books, hidden away in some secret place, and forbidden to all but the White One. They told of the magic of the Black Robes, the group of sorcerers who worshiped evil and wielded dark powers. Contained in these books were instructions on how to perform the Blood Ceremony, a ritual that the Black Robes used to obtain power. Celeste knew that it involved drinking the blood of a human being, but she did not know how it was done, so she had never tried it. For years, she had searched for the hidden Black Volumes, and now she finally had the chance to see them.

"Follow me," said the White One as he arose. She did as he asked, barely able to contain her excitement. She followed as he walked down the hall and proceeded up the spiral staircase, his robes making a soft rustling sound. Celeste had climbed those stairs many times before, but never had it seemed to take so long. She kept pace behind the White One, only resisting the urge to rush ahead because she did not know where they were heading.

Finally, they came to the top of the stairs, and entered the White One's study through an arched doorway. "They cannot be in here," she thought. "I have been in this room many times before, and never have I seen the Black Volumes."

The study was cluttered with jars of herbs, stacks of books, and many unidentifiable gadgets. The White One and Celeste made their way to a shelf of books at the side of the room. Celeste scanned the books, but did not see the Black Volumes among them. She turned to the White One, confusion showing on her usually emotionless face. "Where are the Black Volumes? I have never before seen them in this room, and yet this is where you lead me."

The White One smiled. "Looks can often be deceiving, my child." With that, he shifted a small stack of books, revealing a pebble that jutted out from the smooth wall. He muttered a few words under his breath and pushed the pebble. After a few seconds, the bookcase swung back slowly, creaking and groaning. A dark, dusty passageway was revealed. The White One pulled a pouch from within his robes, sprinkled the contents in the entrance to the passage, and said more unfamiliar words. Instantly, the passage began to glow with an eerie light.

Now that they could see where they were going, Celeste and the White One stepped into the passage. As they walked forward, Celeste noticed that the floor was sloped, and it wound its way higher into the tower. After walking for a couple of minutes, they reached the end of the passage. Before them was a wall.

Celeste looked at the White One. "I presume that this is another secret door?"

The White One smiled at her. "Only sixteen, and already wise beyond your years. Now, my child, I suppose that you can open this secret door?"

Celeste looked at the wall before her. In the light from the glowing walls, she could see the faint outline of a doorway. She tried pushing, to see if it would open in that simple manner. It did not. She then searched the wall for something to push or pull, triggering the door to open. She found nothing. When faced with a problem such as this, she knew there was only one thing to do.

Celeste closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting her mind relax. After a few moments, the wall appeared in her mind. At first, she could see nothing special about it. Then, she saw the ceiling above the wall. She turned her head towards the ceiling and opened her eyes. There was a trap door above her.

She reached up to the low ceiling with little effort and pulled on the handle. The door swung down, along with a folded ladder.

Celeste turned to the White One, a sly smile on her face. She gestured at the ladder, saying, "After you."

They ascended to the higher level, entering a dark room.

"Take this and light it," the White One said, handing Celeste a torch from the wall. "I would not suggest the use of white magic in this room, with all the evil surrounding us. Who is to say the effect it would have."

Celeste reached into one pocket of her robe. She was always prepared for any situation, with each pocket of hers filled with odds and ends. For this occasion, she pulled a match out. She had learned how to make her own matches in a lesson years ago. She struck the match against the wall now, then used it to light the torch. Instantly, the small room was filled with light. Celeste gasped as she saw the Black Volumes before her.

She kneeled on the floor and reached her hand out, brushing the books with her fingertips. She shuddered involuntarily as she felt the dark powers contained within the books.

The White One knelt beside her. "Can you feel the evil contained in these books? Can you see why you should never turn to evil?"

Celeste said nothing. She did not see any reason not to turn to evil. The powers within the books drew her towards them like a magnet. She knew she could have great power, if she could only read the spells contained in the Black Volumes.

"My purpose for showing these things to you is to show you the horrors of evil. I hope the things you see in these books will not disturb you. I know they make even myself shiver at times."

Celeste eagerly opened the first book. The cover was made from black leather and was inlaid with gold runes. Inside, the writing was in blood-red ink. A collage of pictures bordered each page, depicting demons performing unspeakable acts. These drawings intrigued Celeste.

Celeste flipped through the pages, looking for one page in particular: the one that would tell her how to perform the Blood Ceremony.

"What you see before you is what the Order of the Black Robes does. Every bit of it goes against our policies. If you were to embrace the darkness, this is what you would be getting yourself into."

Finally, Celeste found the page she had been searching for. She looked up to see that the White One was now absorbed in a green leather-bound book he had brought with him. Celeste looked back down at the page before her and began reading.

The Blood Ceremony is the ultimate method of obtaining power. The blood contains the power of the being it belongs to, so all blood contains power to a varying degree. If one were to consume the blood of an animal or a peasant, one would gain some power, but not as much as if one were to consume the blood of a mage. The Blood ceremony is widely used among the Order of the Black Robes.

The first step is to procure a victim. No blood should be lost in this process, for that would be a loss of available power, and the victim must be alive. The victim should be secured, using a rope to tie them. A small incision should be made on the left wrist, precisely above a vein. Before doing this, however, the area where the incision is to be made should be cleansed with spring water. After the incision has been made, the blood should be collected in a cup made of pure gold. No other material should be used, since it would contaminate the blood, and render it powerless. The blood should then be warmed over a fire, with wood from an oak as kindling, and with the fire sprinkled with thyme. After a few moments, the blood will be ready. An appropriate Power Spell should be recited (see appendix D) and then the blood should be consumed. The whole cup should be consumed to get the whole effect. It is not suggested that more than this amount be consumed, since this may overwhelm the one consuming it. The blood should also be consumed slowly, especially by one who is inexperienced.

Usually, the loss of blood in this process causes the victim to die, or at least to become weak and powerless. It is suggested that the victim be allowed to die, since they are a witness to the ceremony, and they may seek revenge for having their blood taken from them. Although they would be less powerful than the one who drank their blood, they could still pose a threat.

It should also be noted that the Blood Ceremony is to be performed at night during a new moon.

Celeste finally knew how to perform the Blood Ceremony. "If I can only try it out," she thought, "I would have so much power!"

"It is getting late, my child," the White One said then. "Let us leave these books of evil; I hope that seeing these horrors has helped you to turn your path from that of evil."

Celeste said nothing. She did not want to tell the man who had raised her that she wanted to go against all that he believed in. She wanted to embrace the powers of evil.

They left the room then, returning down the passageway. Celeste hated to leave the books, but at least she had found out what she wanted to know.

Chapter 2

Celeste returned to her room at the base of the tower. She had that location, and a room to herself, only because she held the second-highest position in the Order of the White Robes. Most White Robes were housed in large rooms, crowded with many people.

Celeste's room contained a bed, a table, two chairs, and two sets of shelves. On these shelves were books lined up by color and subject, jars of herbs in alphabetical order, and scrolls piled in neat piles. Hanging on the wall, there were charts of the stars, charts of anatomy of various animals, and lists of plants with various uses. On the windowsill, there were various plants growing in flowerpots.

Celeste stepped inside and closed the door. She looked out the window and saw that it was still only dusk. She thought she had better eat something, since she had not eaten since that morning. On the table, there was an apple that she had set there earlier. Even though she was too excited about the Blood Ceremony to eat, she forced herself to eat the apple. As she ate, she made her plans for that night.

First, to find a gold cup. Celeste surveyed her room from where she sat. There were few trinkets in her room, since the White Robes were supposed to lead a simple life. Finally, her gaze fell on a goblet high on a shelf. It had been a gift from the White One when she had become his apprentice one year before.

As for spring water . . . there was a spring in a forest nearby. It was a secluded place, and Celeste did not think anyone else ever went there. This would also give her privacy to perform the Ceremony, and oak wood for the fire. Thyme was easy to find; she had a jar of it in her room. Rope was also easy to get, since she had some in a box under her bed. Now she only had to find one more thing . . . a victim.

The victim had to be someone with enough powers to be worthwhile. They also had to be someone she could lure out to the secluded area, and someone that she could tie up with little trouble.

Images of various White Robes marched through her mind. She did not know many of them, since most of them were vowed to silence, although they often broke that rule when higher White Robes were not present. She finally thought of a boy she knew, around ten years old, who always ran errands for the White One. He was mischievous, always breaking one rule or another. He talked to Celeste, even though she was of a higher rank than him. He did not possess a lot of power, but he had enough to make the Blood Ceremony worthwhile. Celeste knew it would be easy to lure him out to the secluded area and then tie him up.

By the time Celeste had decided on a victim, it was night. It was the new moon, but the stars shone clearly. Celeste proceeded to gather the items she would need. Then, she only needed to find the boy.

Celeste stepped outside her room. It was forbidden for White Robes to be out after dark, except those of higher rank like herself. However, she knew that the boy would be roaming about somewhere, happy to be breaking the rules and getting away with it.

Celeste walked outside, keeping to the shadows. There were not many people about, and she did not wish to draw attention to herself. She silently cursed her white clothing which made her stand out in the pale light.

Celeste decided to begin her search near the tower. The boy often went there to spy on the higher White Robes. She had caught him around there many a time, and he always had some excuse.

She had begun her search in a good location. As she rounded the corner of the tower, the boy was there, attempting to climb a tree to a second-level window. Celeste walked over to the tree and whispered, "Come down from there. I would like to talk to you."

The boy, caught in the act, climbed carefully back to ground level. "You see," he began quietly, "I was only trying to do a good deed. I was out here running an errand for the White One, getting him a snack from the kitchen, when I thought I saw something up in this tree. I thought it might be a cat who climbed up there and couldn't get down, so I climbed up to save it. When I got up there, I realized it had just been the wind blowing the leaves that I had seen. I was just about to continue on my errand when you came along and saw me. Now if you will excuse me, I'll just continue-"

"Wait," Celeste whispered. "I know that you are lying. I have just come from seeing the White One, and he asked you to do no such thing." The boy looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet.

"Do not fear, though," Celeste continued, "I do not wish to punish you. I wish only to ask you a favour."

The boy looked suspicious. "I knew there was a catch. What kind of favour is it?"

"It is only something simple, although it requires some work. I have found a location in the woods that would be perfect for meditating and doing spells. However, the clearing is scattered with debris, and I would like you to help clear it. Manual labour is unbefitting for the White One's Apprentice, is it not?"

"When do you want it done?" The boy asked. "The White One has me quite busy tomorrow, and the day after that . . . for the rest of the week, actually. It just might be a while before I get around to it . . . "

"Tonight. I want it done tonight." Celeste saw that the boy was just about to say something, so she said, "I had a few things I wanted to work on tonight. This starry sky is quite inspiring . . . besides, if you wait, you may never get it done. 'There is no time like the present,' or so the White One always says."

The boy sighed. "Even though it is past curfew, I'll do as you say, since you're my superior."

Celeste began walking towards the forest, the boy trailing her. When they had passed the last building, the boy asked, "Do I not need a rake, or some other tool to do this work?"

Celeste stopped walking. "Um . . . yes, yes you do. I had almost forgotten, so it is good that you reminded me. Run along to the tool shed and get a rake." As the boy turned to do this, Celeste said, "And do not make a lot of noise, for we do not want to wake everyone in this place."

The boy left and returned shortly, rake in hand. Celeste had lit a candle she had in one of her pockets, so they proceeded into the forest, the candle lighting their way.

Celeste pushed through the branches that reached out to claw at her face. She always had a good sense of direction, so she used her instincts to lead her to the clearing.

After traveling deep into the woods, they finally found the clearing. In the light of the candle, they could see a space of about twenty feet. Off to the side, there was a spring, and in the centre of the clearing, there was a fallen tree and a fire pit ringed with stones.

"This is a great place! I wish I had found it first . . . wait a moment, I thought you said there were branches and leaves all over the place?"

Celeste had crept up behind the boy. She reached out suddenly, pinning his arms to his body and covering his mouth, just in case anyone was nearby to hear his yell. He struggled, but being small for a boy of ten, he was no match for Celeste. She managed to tie his arms and his legs, and to gag his mouth. The boy lay on the ground, staring up at Celeste, fear in his eyes.

"Do not fear," she said gently, gathering oak branches for the fire. "You will not die needlessly. Your blood will be combined with mine, in that sacred act called the Blood Ceremony. In this way, you will be part of the most powerful sorceress who ever lived. Some day, when I rule over everything and everyone, your spirit will look down from the clouds, and you will be proud that you contributed to such a worthy cause." Celeste had gathered enough wood, and now she proceeded to sprinkle thyme on the fire. "Oh, yes, I will be the most powerful," she continued. "The dark powers have opened doors for me that I always knew were there, but for which the keys were hidden. With the Blood Ceremony, I can get so much power, much more than I could ever get with the teachings of the White One!" Celeste removed a match from her pocket and lit the fire. "Maybe I will travel south, and receive the teachings of the Dark One himself." She removed the gold goblet and a small knife from one of her pockets. She took them to the spring to be cleansed. "Then, some day, I will be more powerful than even the Dark One, and I will crush him like an ant beneath my shoes." She returned from the spring, the gold goblet filled with water. She used it to wash the boy's wrist. "Then, I will find the secret to immortality, and I will live forever." She leaned over the boy and repeated, "Forever!"

A tear rolled from the boy's eye and slid down his face, then dropped to the ground. Another tear followed.

Celeste turned away. "Do not cry," she said, her voice steady. "It will be over with soon."

Celeste picked up the knife. Keeping her hand steady, she cut a small X into the boy's wrist. She avoided looking at his face. As the blood began to drip from his wrist, she grabbed the gold goblet, and let the blood fall into it. Slowly, the cup began to fill, the red blood appearing black in the dim light.

Celeste waited until the goblet was full before she picked it up. When she did this, she spilled blood on her hands. She took the goblet over to the fire, only to realize she had nothing with which to hold it over the fire. She held the goblet as close to the fire as she could, without burning her hands. When her hands became too hot, she brought the cup up to her mouth, spilling blood over her white robes. She knew she had forgotten some detail of the ceremony, but could not figure out what. She continued on, putting the goblet to her lips. She took a sip, then spat it out. The taste of the blood sickened her, even though she craved the power it contained. She realized then the detail she had forgotten: she did not know any Power Spells to recite. She threw the cup to the ground, then put her head in her hands and began to cry.

"Celeste, no!" She did not know how long she had been crying before the White One arrived, but he stood before her now, shining and white as always.

"How could you do this? I had hoped you would not turn to evil, but now, now this! You have committed the ultimate sin, taking the blood of another human being." Tears fell from his eyes as he looked at Celeste from across the clearing. "I have raised you all these years as a daughter. I had hoped you would one day take my place, but now my dream is shattered. You are no longer worthy of your robe of white. You are banished from the Order of the White Robes, and I never want to see you again!"

Celeste stared at him, horror-stricken. He hated her. She had not wanted him to hate her. She stood up shakily and backed away. She had to leave, she had to go somewhere . . . she turned and ran then. She ran away from the forest, away from the White Robes. She never looked back.

The Rest of the Story

Although the first two chapters of this story could almost be a story of their own, there is more to come. After being banished from the Order of the White Robes, Celeste wanders south to join the Order of the Black Robes. She shows up there weak and weary, and wearing her white robe which has been stained black from the blood. The Dark One knows of her, and knows the powers she possesses, and so he welcomes her and makes her his second in command. She gains much power with the Black Robes, and even performs the Blood Ceremony many times, although secretly it still repulses her. After two years, the Dark One decides it is time to claim a very powerful gem for his own. He has not had the power to control it before, but now he does. Not wishing to risk going himself, he sends Celeste to get it for him. She must go alone and secretly, so that the White Robes will not learn of their plan. Little does the Dark One know that Celeste plans to use the gem herself to defeat him, since she believes she has enough power to control it. She sets off on her journey, staying safe because of her powers which allow her to sense danger and dispose of it. She finds herself in a beautiful setting at one point in time, and she lets her mind wander, and does not sense the danger she is in. A band of rogues set upon her unawares, planning to steal any gold and jewelry she has, and then murder her. Before she has a chance to react, a young man comes into the picture, planning to save the "damsel in distress" from the rogues. He knocks two of them unconscious before being surrounded by the rest. Celeste then uses her magical powers to kill the rogues. She is upset at being caught unawares, and is angry at the young man for trying to save her, telling him she could have taken care of herself. They then discover that they are both heading in the same direction, and the man convinces her that they should travel together. She thinks he may come in useful someday, and so she agrees. They travel together, overcoming dangers and experiencing adventures that have yet to be specified. They become good friends, and he loves her, although she will not let herself believe that she really loves him. Eventually, they discover that he is a White Robe and she is a Black Robe, and they both seek the jewel for their masters. They continue to travel together, she planning to get rid of him when they find the jewel, and he hoping to save her from her life of evil. When they do find the jewel, Celeste takes it for herself, and tries to use it to challenge the Dark One. Unfortunately, it is too powerful for her, and it ends up almost destroying her. The young man uses his powers to intervene, saving her life. As she lies there dying, he realizes that the only way to save her is by using the jewel. He is not powerful enough, so he realizes he must perform the Blood Ceremony to take her power and combine it with his own. He does this, although it repulses him and goes against his beliefs. He uses the jewel and saves her life. At first she is bitter that she is weak and powerless, but then she realizes what the young man has done for her. She realizes that having love and friendship is better than having power. They take the jewel into their possession, vowing that the White Robes and the Black Robes will never have it. Since they are both now outcasts from their Orders, they start up their own, the Order of the Red Robes. This group of people has a mandate to always maintain a balance between good and evil, and remain neutral themselves. Since they have the jewel in their possession, they are the most powerful of the three groups. Celeste eventually gets her powers back, although it takes time.

June 1995



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Property of Suzanne P. Currie. Updated July 04, 2007 12:08 AM -0400.