Chapter XXX.

25 Jun

Ranid trembled when he thought of questioning by the Capitular himself.

It would be a bitter contest of wits between the two of them. The van they were in stopped and the prisoner prepared to climb out of it.

The cuddy used in his interrogation was ridiculously small, yet bright with concealed sources of light. Ranid sat in an old pilaster chair. His several questioners always stood directly in front of him. None of them ever sat down to rest.

Several times exactly the same inquiries were made of him.

What was his true name? Where had he been the last seven years? How had he been earning his living? Who were his closest associates? Why had he come back to the city he had fled from some time ago?

Ranid gave his name and nothing beyond that. He demanded to know why he had been picked up and brought here. What were they after from him? he asked. What was the nature of the accusations and suspicions concerning him? When did they intend to release him? Could he send out any kind of message to anyone he wished to communicate with?

His intransigent attitude aroused the ire of each griller who entered the tiny chamber. But he knew what he was waiting for: the appearance of the Capitular to take his turn in dealing with this difficult prisoner.

It became evident to Ranid that the day had ended and that night had fallen. How had Hyle Xalus reacted to his failure to return? Had he understood the seriousness of what had happened to his long-lost friend?

A rest period was given to him. A container of menthe tea was provided to quench his terrible thirst. He could relax a little, although his sense of tension and danger was very high.

He made a guess as to who would be appearing there soon: the top man in the Salamandrine hierarchy.

As soon as he entered the interrogation chamber, the tall, commanding figure was recognizable. He no longer was the same thin and gaunt Capitular as years before. With passing time, his weight had radically increased. The man could only be described at present as grossly fat and unhealthy.

The sherry eyes of the executive had not lost their sharpness of focus.

A smile came to the lower face of the supreme official of the Salamandrites.

“It is good to see you once again, after so much time. What is it that you have been doing all these years, may I ask?”

“I have been like everyone else in this land of ours, hunting for spiritual revelations and solutions. Isn’t that what all men and women are seeking?”

The Capitular stopped smiling in a fraction of a second.

“I offered you so much, yet you ran off in refusal. Your behavior was not at all easy for me to understand. Your career in our ranks would have been guaranteed and assured, but something made you go in an opposite direction. Your motives at that time were a total mystery to me. They still remain that.”

Ranid lowered his voice as if fearful of being overheard.

“I could not become a pretender or counterfeiter like some do. How could I claim to be a traditionalist in the Salamandrine vein while also belonging to an arcane inside cult that was centered upon the Apod? No, I could not become that kind of faker. My conscience did not allow me room for such supreme hypocrisy.”

Caudo Eximius glared at him with his anger barely controlled.

“Do you dare call Alsike Caldus, our Institutor and Originator, a dealer in fraud? Is that what you dare to say?”

“I believe it is you and the Apodists who make such an inference possible,” shot back the prisoner. He suddenly decided to be more cautious in his statements to this authoritative figure at the top of the hierarchy.

But the face of the Capitular continued to blaze with stark fury.

“Do not think that I know nothing of your activities, first with the Anurans of Feretrum, then more recently as the main missionary of this new, combined sect, the Conjoiners. I have been receiving detailed reports on you. Your crimes are an open book to me. I am aware of the entire story of your madcap wanderings. Nothing can be hidden from me.”

Ranid gasped in surprise. “You know what I am attempting to do here in the capital?”

The official nodded yes. “In fact, I do not plan to impede your convention in the Hypogeum. Why should I do that? It is all going to turn out favorable to the special, inner organization that I head. Our hidden power is not going to be damaged at all. The existing balance of forces will continue as it has.”

“How is that assured you?” said Ranid excitedly. “I am not about to become your agent within the Conjoiner ranks, sir.”

“This is your second chance, young man,” archly whispered the Capitular. “There will be no third one for you. I assure you of that.”

The two exchanged bold stares, each taking the measure of the other one.

“I would like to go back to the Archivum,” said the prisoner. “It has been years since I worked there. It was a site of profound happiness for me.”

“You are free to leave here and go wherever you please,” said the now heavy man with an evil grin on his face.

The Praeposter and his former assistant talked long past midnight after the latter was released by the highest Salamandine authority.

Xalus surprised Ranid by describing a series of letters he had recently come upon in forgotten, obscure collections.

“We know that in the Age of Schism it was common for those who wrote to others on spiritual and philosophical topics to disguise their identity with a pseudonym or allonym from someone else’s name. One has to take care to decipher who it is standing behind this or that false designation. Unconscious marks of style can often indicate the true identity of the real writer, and I have tried to use them to find out how Alsike Caldus signed the correspondence originating with him.

“I told you, Ranid, of a most interesting letter that was received by the Institutor, expressing profound agreement with his hypostatic interpretations. This intrigued me, so I devoted a lot of time to pinning down the actual author. From mannerisms and hints, I had to conclude that it was Vahid Devre, the man who at that time was setting the groundwork for the rise of Anunanism.

“You must read a copy of this communication that I transcribed from the Devre letter. The importance of the message will be evident to you at once.”

Xalus rose to his feet and went over to a metallic box lying on a table. Out of it he took out a cartonboard folder full of papers. Moving back, he handed it to Ranid.

The latter opened what he had been given, finding a five-paged letter inside. He began to read with increasing slowness, analyzing each word and phrase. Finally, he looked up at Xalus, standing beside the chair he sat in.

“This is quite meaningful, I believe,” admitted Ranid. “If this truly came from Devre, it means that the Founder previously wrote him an original exposition of his deepest views on how the divine odyle came to be incarnated in amphibians. Nothing like that has ever been seen or referred to, as far as I know.”

“What has become of the prior communications that Alsike sent to Devre?” Xalus made an enigmatic grimace, neither a smile nor a frown. “No one can say for sure, of course, but they may still survive.”

“But where?” eagerly asked Ranid.

“The greatest probability is in the Devre family archive. Anurans have never collected all the correspondence of their creator within the central records of their association. It is entirely possible that letters from Alsike Caldus were signed with a pseudonym that no one, down to this day, has recognized or decoded. Since we have in our Archivum the response from Devre himself, there has never been any way for the scholars on their side to perceive or understand the importance of something which only acquires significance when its writer is identified. It’s this separation of the two missives that conceals what they really are about.”

“The whole situation is an impasse, then,” sighed the Conjoiner. “If only it was possible to look through the papers of the Devre family!” He pondered this difficulty, when a wild idea struck him. “Wait a moment,” he said, rising to his feet, reaching into his inner coat pocket, and removing his money wallet. A folded card was located, then taken out.

“This is my entrant card when I joined the Anuran community at Feretrum. There is some chance that this can get me into the family archive, isn’t there?”

Xalus looked astounded. “You went into their organization?”

Ranid nodded that he had.

“I have been both a Salamandrite and an Anuran,” he explained. “But now I am a unifier, one of the Conjoiners. Nothing beyond that.”

“And you still hold your old identifier?” asked Xalus with astonishment.

“I forgot that I was carrying it on me. Hopefully, that card can now be of practical use to me. It can perhaps open the Anuran archives to what I am after.”

“You are willing to attempt this?” said Xalus with excitement on his face.

“Why not? A probe might end in success.”

“When will you start, Ranid?”

“As soon as possible, tomorrow morning.”

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