Chapter IV.

11 Jun

For Alsike Caldus, the axolotl had become the genuine acme, the apex of spirituality in every sense.

Ranid reviewed and reread what Salamandrine scriptural texts said about that particular amphibian.

“The axolotl is the living symbol of the sacredness of the salamander. It represents and stands for all salamanders, large or small, wherever they may dwell. Whether spotted or black, mottled or single-colored, the axolotl is the highest form of living being. Once hunted down as a delicacy, it must today be protected from harm by the force of law. It alone possesses the attribute of neoteny, whereby its reproduction occurs as early as the larval stage. No other amphibian has anything similar to the larval reproduction of the axolotl.

“As an adult, the axolotl lacks the typical gills found in amphibians, but has to depend upon its special lungs. This makes the axolotl a unique, unmatched salamander, the summit of all spirituality. There is nothing like it in the whole of nature.”

Sitting in his study cell through the night, Ranid wracked his brain for a solution.

How was it that Alsike hit upon the axolotl as the epitome of the amphibian spiritual essence? Official histories of Salamanderism saw the origin of this core idea as a lightning flash of inspiration during the Founder’s mysterious journey to the sea coast. But what was the reality of that trip? What had actually occurred there that had led to the birth of their sect?

He still lacked an adequate answer to these questions, Ranid told himself. Perhaps more reading in the local collections of documents might put him on the right road to an answer.

The researcher decided to explore beyond the notes of Bufe Ascaphus. Were there other persons who met and influenced Alsike Caldus when he visited Calluella at that crucial turning point in his life? That was a possibility worth exploring.

It did not take Ranid long to locate what he was after. The diary notes of a Brag Omphalus, a local notary, revealed a second factor, overlooked by everyone. There was an influence on the Institutor even greater than that of Bufe Ascaphus.

The young Salamandrite was shaken by this second revelation found in the Archivum. He read on with pulsing heart, learning what had been buried and forgotten.

-The invisible odyle must have its emissaries and interceders in this visible world. As far back as time goes, this question of intermediacy lies at the crux of all spirituality. Who is the agental being that represents the infinite and sublime?

-Who can be the sacred intercessor for human beings? In the watery land of Caecilia, it has to be an amphibian animal, no other kind will do.

-The odyle of the universe is difficult to comprehend. What can stand for it yet remain a particular, substantive being? Someone must know that. It was the ancients who once had that knowledge and can tell us if we study what they said back then.

-Old people, in scattered moments, speak of the lizards of earlier times. These were the sacred apods. Did our ancestors know and recognize them? Why have we of the present age forgotten what they once were?

-Today a stranger arrived here from Caecilia City. He claimed to be investigating traditional folk spirituality, but I have grave suspicion of him. He associated for a time with a local naturalist and made excursions on the water with him, but then the two of them broke up and quarreled. No one knows why. The stranger insisted upon speaking with me, because he heard that I am familiar with the ways of old. This young scholar was open and candid, I found. He is hunting for a sacred amphibian. I told him to look into the past and find out what was once known about apods. I promised him that he would experience a startling surprise if he did so.

-The stranger asked me to introduce him to our special cryptic circle. What was I to do? The other members, at first, were suspicious of him and refused to let him enter among us. I argued in his behalf, convincing them that he posed no danger at all. So, for several weeks this man attended our apod circle. He rarely said anything, except to ask questions. I could sense that he was absorbing the lore concerning the apodic lizards that we love and worship.

-I learned that the outsider has left Calluella overnight. Someone said that he had more trouble with the local naturalist, but I know nothing of that.

Ranid took time to ponder and think out the meaning of what he had unearthed in the inner recesses of the archival collections. His brain was fundamentally shaken, his mind unhinged.

His native land was called by the ancient name of Caecilia, derived from the appellation for legless lizards. These were the earliest, most primitive amphibians. They were the evolutionary ancestors of all future species that were to appear later. No amphibian was older in terms of time.

Apodal caecilians had always squirmed over the ground here. Did earlier humans worship them? Possibly. Were they also the earliest emblem of the odyle? Had ancient temples been built to them? Were they the center of original spiritual enlightenment?

There was nothing in either folklore or history to contradict that suspicion.

An even more important matter was the position of Alsike Caldus toward the circle of Apodists he had come into contact with in Calluella. Had he absorbed any of their ideas? What was the actual influence on him of this early sect? Did he become one of their members?

Ranid decided to make an appointment to see the Praeposter at once.

The implications of what he had uncovered were astounding ones. If the Institutor and Originator had once belonged to this Apod circle in Calluella, that surprising fact changed the entire accepted, standard history of the formation of the Salamandrine system of belief. It also transformed all the credenda of the Anurans as well. Everything in spiritual life stood in danger of being overturned.

Ranid was compelled to acknowledge that what he had found out was genuinely revolutionary. Was he to suppress what he now knew to be true? Should he bury or destroy the evidence he had come upon?

Only the Praeposter could help him out of the dilemma he faced.

Hyle Xalus appeared to be astounded by the scripta on his desk. He read them over several times before looking up at the young man.

“What does all this imply, Ranid? Are we to conclude that a quarrel with Ascaphus pushed the Institutor away from a focus on the proteus and that a secret apodic circle then recruited him for a short while? These supposed findings of yours threaten to stir much commotion in our Salamandrine spheres. They would certainly turn our understanding of our history upside down. There would be general confusion among our masses of believers. They would have to deal with total confusion concerning how their system of thought arose.

“I foresee the potential for enormous conflict should the Anurans get hold of those two sources that you found. Their predicants would rage night and day against our claim to priority and originality. They would surely call us schismatics descended from earlier, primitive Apodism. There could be widespread unrest, even violence if that should happen, I am afraid.

“Who can predict or foresee the results of publicizing your discoveries?

“I can see general confusion and disruption among our followers, let alone the officiants and ministrants of our faith. Shock and panic would infect all ranks of Salamandrism.

“Both you and I need experience-based advice, Ranid.”

“Who can provide us that?” inquired the latter.

Hyle thought a moment. “The Capitular of the Syndics, our highest official. He alone will know what to do about the matters you have uncovered.”

The Praeposter promised to make arrangements to see the man at once.

Ranid left in a quandary. What had he begun? The supreme prelate of his sect was now about to look at his findings. What would be the reaction of that authority to these surprising discoveries in the Archivum? How would he deal with Ranid and his surprising research?

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