Aphelion Issue 231, Volume 22
August 2018
 
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The Power of Reverie

by Sergio Palumbo


Seruele had a splendid magic lamp. It was a tiny, oblong receptacle in pure silver, flat-bottomed and enriched with sparkling and elaborate ornaments all along its surface, with a proper space for the fuel oil hidden inside. A clever artisan of the Elvish community of the Golden Forest had crafted it from a single silver ingot, and some five years ago had presented it to Seruele's grandfather.

Despite its intricate craftsmanship, Seruele loved the lamp not for its beauty, but for what it could do.

The day he had given it to her, grandfather Albegrel had said, "Keep it, my darling, I give you this valuable lamp as a present. Be careful and always look after it with great attention. You see, this is not a common plaything, but it's a real magic lamp! You must only light it, this way... then concentrate, and thanks to it, with the help of your powers, you will be able to evoke many little creatures that will keep you company and entertain you during the afternoons when I must dedicate myself to studying my books of sorcery and will not be with you. "

"Really, really?" Seruele had asked.

(She had been much younger then, her blonde-brown hair braided and embellished with many showy light blue ribbons, her white dress intricately embroidered, a colorful necklace that had belonged to her family for a very long time around her delicate neck. Now, several years later, she preferred to dress more simply -- at least in terms of the number of ribbons in her hair.)

"Certainly, my darling," Albegrel had replied. "So long as its flame burns, the magic of the lamp will bring forth the creatures you conjure, and keep them here with you -- provided that you deserve it, obviously... " The old academician's lips curved in a loving smile framed by his thick white beard, his eyes sparkling like blue diamonds. "Try to gladden our palace by means of it. It is our home, and beautiful in its way, but generally it seems rather gloomy, I must admit. Some colorful butterflies to fly around the gardens and to circle the towers would be nice, don't you think?"

"Yes, grandpa, I'll do it!" she had said with eager conviction.

Actually, at the beginning it had not been so easy. Event to summon a single butterfly, it was necessary to think exactly of its shape, its size, how its legs and antennae were joined with its body, and last but not least, the delicate tangles of patterns and colors on its wings. She spent hours in the garden, studying the few insects that she could catch, and hours more looking at paintings and etchings in her grandfather's books, but eventually, she was able to imagine precisely the features of the butterflies she wanted to create. And then, thanks to her practice, the lamp had showed what it was really able to do. In the course of a few months, the little girl had learned how to easily summon other than simple insects, materializing in front of her even some squirrels, a lovely finch and much more.

The lamp, although magical, had some definite limitations, of course. In fact, every summoned creature would exist in this world only until while the lamp burned. Moreover, the more complicated and elaborate the beings to be brought to this plane of existence, the faster the fuel was consumed. Still, she was really very proud of it and decided that one day she'd astonish her grandfather showing how skilful she has become in the meantime...

That morning Albegrel was going at a good pace along the great path of his estate leading up to the little garden on the north wing of the palace, just in front of the main gate. He thoughts were focused on understanding the unexpected outcome of a spell tested not long ago inside his study, when suddenly, just beyond a stone archway all covered with verdant creepers, he ran into an unforeseen scene. His little grandchild -- only-nine years old -- was sitting astride a magnificent, milky unicorn which pastured quietly in the first delicate grass of Spring!

The old wizard almost gave a start. Seeing his little grandchild on such a mount, high and imposing as it was, what's more set free to trot at will within the boundaries of his own estate, left him dumbfounded. How on earth had this happened? To imagine such a creature in enough detail for the lamp to bring it to life...

"Grandpa, grandpa!" Seruele cried out happily when she glimpsed the old man's well-known outline, "Look at this, I wanted to give you a surprise! What do you think about, isn't it really a wonderful creature? "

"My darling... "Albegrel broke off almost immediately, his voice hesitant. He really didn't know what to say. Of course, he had thought that the lamp could give some moment of happiness and lightheartedness to his granddaughter, but he had expected that she would be able to summon only harmless little things like colorful insects or birds, creatures of little account -- something that could keep her busy during the long afternoons the little girl spent alone inside the palace while he was, unfortunately, engrossed in his difficult researches. But a unicorn?

The old wizard had always known that Seruele was really very gifted, as she had proved her considerable capabilities since her childhood. But obviously, he had even been too conservative in estimating her real potential... It was clear that Seruele kept inside a great power, surely a gift from her parents. Moreover, her mystical energies, interacting with the magic of that lamp, had been further strengthened. Thanks to them his young grandchild had been able to summon a supernatural creature of considerable size and power.

The wizard supposed that the surprises of the day had not yet ended... However, he decided that he must be more careful: one of these days Seruele could conjure a creature less docile than a unicorn (which, recognizing Seruele as a gentle soul, was gentle in return) -- a great bird of prey, a tiger, or a wolf --. He didn't want to come back late one afternoon and find Seruele seriously injured and frightened...

"You must give me back that lamp, Seruele. You could really wound yourself!" the man said, making an effort to show a reassuring and, at the same time, persuasive look.

Seruele, taken aback, gazed at him wide-eyed "But. grandpa... I did nothing wrong. It's my best toy!"

"Yes, I know, my darling, but you see... "Albegrel replied, scratching nervously his beard with his right hand. Then tears began to stream down the little girl's delicate face, and he remembered the awful day -- not so long ago -- when he had discovered her parents' lifeless bodies, barbarously murdered by a horrible bloodthirsty demon emerging out of the shadows, and he saw again the sorrowful days following those terrible events, when little by little, he had discovered how much attention his infant granddaughter needed...

Maybe he could have let her keep the lamp for a few more days, until he had found a new object she could properly entertain herself with. He would have to watch her more closely, of course, and place some restrictions on her use of the lamp... "It is all right, my darling. But you must promise that you'll only use the lamp when I am around. Otherwise, it could be very dangerous for you... "

Seruele's bright face glittered in a burst of sudden happiness "Thanks so much, grandpa, thank you! I promise that I'll never use it again if you are not with me!"

"Yes, all right, all right. And now let's go have a tasty lunch together... "

The lunch passed quickly, as always. After which grandfather Albegrel kissed her cheek and retired in his rooms to devote himself to his own business. And so, even that day, the doors of the long, tedious afternoon opened for Seruele, time to be spent in a gloomy hall of the palace, while brilliant sunshine filled the courtyard just outside.

At first the little girl remembered her grandpa's orders and concentrated on a richly illuminated little book that she had been given just that day, trying to keep her mind off the lamp. Unfortunately her interest soon dwindled and she tossed the little tome aside.

"...You must promise that you'll only use the lamp when I am around," her grandfather had said, and she had agreed to obey. At the time, it had seemed an easy promise to keep, but now...

As she wandered absent- mindedly across the wide hall, Seruele's eyes were drawn to an impressive set of painted statues carved into the stone just above the main door. It depicted a scene where a knight in armor drove his sword through the torso of a monstrous creature much bigger than he... What strange creature might it be? She had studied that frieze many times before, but the room was full of lots of sculptures and engravings. She didn't remember ever feeling such curiosity about any particular piece, and that one, disturbing thought it was, was no stranger than many others...

Although she forced herself to think of other matters, her mind recalled that peculiar image more than once during the endless afternoon she had to pass alone in that wing of the building and -- like any child who has been ordered not to do a particular thing -- eat a sweetmeat before dinner, or venture into some forbidden place -- inside her an irresistible and tenacious rebellion was growing on apace. She had to know what the monster in the frieze was, and why the knight had to fight it! An idea entered her mind as fast as a lightning. She could use the lamp to bring the creature to life! At the same moment her grandpa's emphatic warning echoed in her, and she hesitated.

She had promised, it was true, but nothing she had ever conjured with the lamp had ever harmed her. Her grandfather worried too much...

It was already late in the afternoon when the old wizard finally left his study. Confident that his beloved Seruele must be hungry, the two slices of cake he had left for her retreating to his studies long since devoured, he hastened along the passageway that led to the hall. When he came near the massive wooden door, he heard something large and heavy slam against the stonework inside the room, followed by a shrill cry.

That was no unicorn! he thought. He shouted, "Seruele, what's going on in there? What was that awful noise?" There was no answer.

As soon as he threw open the door, Albegrel was stricken with horror. Seruele had her back to the opposite window while a reddish demon, more than nine feet tall, stalked toward her.

Its crimson skin was covered with blackish wounds dripping with blood, its head studded with huge, twisted horns. Its very shape radiated evil. If there was any doubt as to its intentions, it raised its massive claw-tipped hands over its head, preparing to strike the defenseless girl.

It's happening again, Albegrel thought. The same demon that had slain Seruele's parents had returned somehow. I will not let it harm her!

The wizard rushed into the room, raised his left hand, and sketched a complicated shape in the air, reciting a magical incantation. Tendrils of light burst forth and struck at the demon, opening new wounds wherever they touched its already-mangled flesh.

"Get away from it, Seruele!" he cried. "Hurry!"

The demon turned back and thrust a huge hand towards the advancing wizard. Everything happened in a single moment: the tips of the awful fingers of the demon hit the man's chest, passed through the doublet and tore open his skin, then crashed through his ribs and deep into his chest. Albegrel was lifted up bodily and then hurled against the solid floor more then ten feet away.

Seruele screamed, the cry of a child who has lost everything and everyone she loves. She slid down to the floor, tears staining her dress.

"Seruele, what's happened..."

"Grandpa... I summoned a terrible creature by the power of my lamp! It was really monstrous, its teeth like spears, ugly, angry..." She paused, suddenly uncertain. "I saw it hit you. I saw you bleeding..." She looked down and saw the magic lamp at her feet, its flame

"Ah, yes, now I remember, there was a damned demon inside the hall... I defeated it eventually!"

"Yes, grandpa, it has gone away. The demon has been driven back to the terrible place it came from!"

The old wizard's bright eyes seemed partly to clear up "Please, promise me, once and for all, that you will never attempt such a stupid thing again when I am not with you, my darling..."

"I promise, Grandpa, I promise!"

"Very well, my good little girl. If you behave properly from now on we will always stay together and live happily, you'll see... "

"Yes, yes, we'll be together, every day that will come, forever!" Seruele was quick to add, clutching his hand with all her strength, "Forever!"

But she knew that 'forever' would only last as long as the fuel in the lamp.

THE END


© 2009 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Sergio Palumbo is an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estate branch. He has published some short stories in Italian Science Fiction and Fantasy Fanzines and last year wrote a Fantasy RolePlaying illustrated Manual, WarBlades, of more than 400 pages. He likes to speak and write in English, and is a skilled scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models. Some of his work has been featured at the American sites StarShipModeler and MechaModelComp.

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

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