Chapter IXXX.

24 Jun

The streets of the great city appeared as drab and colorless as when he had left. For Ranid, it seemed that the past was returning to life. Memories remained fresh and strong. He recalled how he had visited the Praeposter that first time to apply for the job in the Archivum. This time his purpose was quite different. How would his mentor receive him after years of absence? Have critical changes of some sort occurred?

He knocked at the door. When a young aide appeared, Ranid identified himself and asked to be announced to the head of the Archivum. The puzzled assistant disappeared. When the door again opened, it was an older Hyle Xalus who stood there peering at him.

“Ranid! I could not believe it was you. First of all, let me welcome you back. Come with me to my sanctum. The two of us must talk. It has been a long time since you and I have been together.”

When they were seated and alone, Hyle began to question his surprise visitor.

“Why have you never written to me? Did you ever try to communicate? Many times I have thought of looking for you, but never did. Let me tell you this: your offenses against the Capitular, Caudo Eximius, are all but forgotten and erased. I have campaigned for your rehabilitation. You are now safe here in Caecilia City. There are no existing charges or accusations against you, I am confident. But it has not been possible to inform you of this development.”

Ranid, sitting opposite his former employer, made a sour grimace. “Does Eximius still exercise total domination over all the Salamandrites through his Apodist secret cabal? Does that remain the pattern of power here? Has there been any change whatever?”

Hyle gave a sad nod of the head. “His will is absolute. He decides the form that all scholarship must take. Nothing sees the light of day without his approval. It has become even worse than it was when you were here, my dear fellow. We are living under a tyranny within the Salamandrine faith. All thought is under strict, tight control.”

“He has a personal dominance over all the salamander-worshipers, then.”

The Praeposter bit his lip. “I resist that yoke, as I have always done. But my opposition has to remain silent and invisible. There has been no opportunity to act together with others. We are unseen and unheard of in our disgust with his system of domination and authority.”

Ranid decided to describe his recent history to the archivist.

“I am no longer a Salamandrite. My present position is in a new stream, that of the Conjoiners. Have you heard of our movement and its progress?”

Hyle looked surprised. “You are one of them?”

“I am in the top leadership. They have sent me to Caecilia City with a special mission. We need one of the largest auditoriums for a national convention aiming at the goal of spiritual unity. Could you help me obtain access to a giant hall like the Hypogeum? That will be of great importance to the future of all Amphibiots.”

The older man grinned. “I am familiar with the pamphlets of your new group. Its ideas are extremely attractive. I am favorably impressed by everything that I know about your small sect. In a way, I am no longer the kind of Salamandrite that I once was in the past. Our organizational structure is a fossilized skeleton with little life in it. I have become a mere time-server in a musty relic which is no longer what it once was. We live today within a different environment, not the old one. Everything within our lives has become oppressive.”

Ranid opened his mouth to voice his agreement with the feelings the other was expressing, but Hyle beat him to it with a surprising proposal.

“The Hypogyeum would be an excellent site. Why don’t the two of us go and have a look around about the place? That will give you some ideas to take back to your associates, and I myself can talk to its managers about the terms under which they might rent it out. My aim will be to win the best conceivable terms for this convention that is being planned.”

As the two walked along together through alleys behind buildings that fronted on major streets of the capital, Hyle described what he had been engaged in for the last several years.

“My interest in the Institutor, Alsike Caldus, has come to center on the years of the Great Schism and the way in which he negotiated his way through the storms and catastrophes of that contentious time.

“I have found archival correspondence that Alsike carried on with potential supporters and allies, as well as individuals distancing themselves from him. At first, it was a complex, confusing kaleidoscope of contending persons and ideas. But I am beginning to perceive certain repeated patterns and designs. The picture is starting to make sense to me.

“For instance, Alsike very often treated colleagues the opposite of what might logically be expected. If a corresponding acquaintance believed his own ideas were identical to those of the Founder, he would try to reveal and emphasize differences instead. And if someone wrote in opposition to him, Alsike usually highlighted the great degree of agreement between them, masking and disguising their contradictions.

“And this proved to be a good method of keeping himself as the focus of all thought about the odyle. But it also made my research very difficult, for I was compelled to probe into why he was saying a certain thing at a specific time, in a missive to a particular person with this or that background.

“The protean nature of all his serious correspondence can result in mind-twisting puzzles. My research often turns into an exercise in the solution of deep riddles. I have found it extremely hard to fit all the parts and pieces together into a harmonious system. It is nearly an impossible task to complete.”

Once the scholar became silent, Ranid decided to give an opinion of his own.

“Yes, Alsike often seemed to weave and bob about during the period of the schism between Salamanderism and Anuranism. He could not have predicted at the time how many problems this would present for future followers or for the researchers trying to understand how things happened.”

Hyle frowned. “The hardest nut to crack is the correspondence between Caldus and Vahid Devro, the first true Anuran. I still struggle to grasp what each of them meant in the letters they exchanged in those momentous years back then.”

Ranid smiled and nodded his head. “I can sympathize with anyone who delves into their correspondence. One has to have both patience and sensitivity for such a difficult task as that.”

The Hypogeum hall was reached by various stairwells that went down into the subterrane. The auditorium was enormous, at least a hundred and fifty cubitals from side to side. Its dome was very dramatic in design. Ranid surveyed the vast space with awe.

“What do you think?” asked Hyle. “Will it hold all who want to be here?”

“Certainly. It will encourage many to travel long distances to participate.”

“If only these sessions turn out successful. So much depends on what is going to happen here,” quietly meditated the Praeposter. “To give a coloring of safety to this unity convention, I will make the contract for the place in the name of the Archivum. That will give it a legitimate color.”

“Thank you,” said Ranid. “That is most generous of you.”

“We can head back to the Archivum now. There are some documents concerning the Institutor, Alsike Caldus. I am certain they hold great interest for you, my friend. Nothing like them has been uncovered before.”

“I will peruse them later,” promised the missionary. “My immediate objective is to look about the Hypogeum in order to test the acoustical characteristics of the building. We can meet at the Archivum later.”

The pair took leave of each other. Ranid went up on the main platform in order to test how sound carried from there to the farthest corner.

Two men took hold of Ranid from both sides as he climbed up the stairwell.
One of them wore canary yellow, the other a vitelline yellowish-red shell jacket.

“Come with us,” muttered the senior uniformed officer.

“Am I under arrest?” reacted Ranid. “Are the two of you public police?”

Neither made any reply as they guided their prisoner to the rear of an unmarked van and deposited him on a bench inside.

“Where are you taking me?” demanded the arrestee.

Neither of his captors answered. Soon the vehicle was leaving its location above the Hypogeum hall. Several quick surmises materialized in the mind of the prisoner. These two men were Salamandrite guards, with as much public authority as any state police. Where were they taking him? To the castellum headquarters of the cult, to where the Capitular exercised absolute power? To where that single person was the superior of everyone within the overall organization?

There was no answer from anyone to the burning questions on his mind.

Where were the public circles that controlled the policing power?

To the castellum headquarters of the sect, to where the old Capitular exercised authority over the members. That was where they were taking him.

Ranid had to come to only one possible conclusion: somehow, agents of the Capitular had caught sight of him.

Perhaps these men had been watching the Archivum and saw him enter, then come out again with Hyle Xalus. However it happened, he was now a captive. What was the best reply when they asked him what he had been doing the past seven years? How was he to protect himself?

Spiritual searching and meditation, that was the best alibi and excuse. Not a word about his missionary work as a Conjoiner. Nothing definite about his new specific orientation. No such identification or connection.

Could he succeed in pulling off such a justifiable deception? he wondered.

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