Chapter XXXIII.

26 Jun

A large salon in the Traveler’s Hotel at the Magneto-train Depot was rented for a strategy conference of the most prominent leaders of the Conjoiner movement. This hotel was a cement structure situated above the station and the rail tracks.

Eretho, Dixo, Sugal, and Ranid sat at a long pigwood table facing the room full of activists.

Dixo called the session to order and proposed that Dr. Sugal preside as chairman. The latter rose to his feet and began the business of the meeting.

“I have the honor of asking Mr. Ranid Rolius to address us about a recent discovery he has made while engaged in an investigation of archival documents. He has revealed the specific features to no one yet, so that this will be news to all of us.”

He sat down again, at the same time as Ranid stood up and began to speak.

“The facts that I have uncovered are startling and promise to overturn the idea systems of the older streams who long ago divided during the Great Schism. They promise to have extraordinary effects on the thinking of both currents within Amphibianism.

“I have stumbled upon a clear exposition of the conjoining, unifying viewpoint many generations ago, many years back in the past. In fact, at the climactic moment of the Great Schism itself.

“And who is the one who wrote such a prefigurement of our philosophy?

“No one else but Alsike Caldus himself.”

A collective sigh of shock and surprise seemed to become audible to everyone present. All eyes focused on the speaker.

Ranid decided to plow ahead with a plan of action.

“At the convention about to begin at the Hypogeum, I intend to read the most central portions of this correspondence. For the ideas of the Institutor of Salamandrism were addressed to no one but the founder of Anuranism, Vahid Devre.”

The sound from the audience rose to a soft murmuring.

“I sincerely believe that what I read out will echo far beyond the Hypogeum. The words put down so long ago by Alsike Caldus will affect the thinking of untold thousands.” He looked about the salon, then went on. “We should immediately take advantage of this surprise by holding a spontaneous parade and demonstration about the center of Caecilia City. We should steer this march past both the Anuran and Salamandrine headquarters, so as to prove our strength in numbers and fervor. This will win for us the attention of the members of both of these spiritual strains.”

A frenzy boiled up in the minds of his listeners.

Ranid foresaw strong, solid support from an enormous crowd of Conjoiners. That would provide a weapon of victory in the looming conflict ahead. It would overwhelm all its opponents.

Talem Devre walked a wild, random route through the dark streets of central Caecilia City that evening. His thoughts weighed on his brain like a pile of heavy slag.

There was a way out for the Anurans, he thought. But it necessitated a dangerous gamble. And he was the only person who could carry it out.

Did he have sufficient skill and courage to manage what had to be done?

Could he direct events in a desired direction?

Gritting his teeth, Talem decided to test his capability for action.

First of all, how was he to arrange a meeting with the Salamandrine Capitular, Caudo Eminius? That could not be done by merely announcing himself at the gate of the enemy’s compound. Some convenient pretext had to be found to facilitate his approach.

Talem walked up to the front portal of the Citadelle, the huge castle of the Salamandrites. Agate, silica, flint, and rock crystals reflected the light from street lanterns. The great building resembled some magical castle out of the faraway past.

Taking a blank card and a stylo from his coat pocket, he wrote down a sentence and his name.

When he pressed a humming sounder, it brought an attendant to the gate.

The Anuran handed his message to the startled subordinate.

What would the reaction of the top official turn out to be? he asked himself as he waited. At last, the uniformed doorkeeper returned.

“Follow me, please,” the man told Talem. “The Capitulary is descending because he wishes to see you.”

It was evident that the plea had worked in drawing attention. “Must meet with you at once. I have the secret of how to defeat our common enemy. Signed Talem Devre, Head Secretary to the Anuran Syndics Board.”

That had been enough to attract the interest of the top power-holder in the system of Salamandrism.

Talem followed the uniformed man down a long, narrow corridor.

“He will be with you shortly in there,” said the attendant, pointing to a greenwood door. Opening it and cautiously entering, Devre found a dimly lit triangular cabinet with a cardwood table and two folding chairs. He sat down and awaited what was to come next.

The door opened and a ghostly shape clothed in solid black entered the strange room.

Talem recognized the Capitulary at once from photochrome pictures in the news journals. He started to rise, but the official gave a hand signal for him to remain seated.

“I am thoroughly amazed by your short note of introduction, sir,” began Eximius, standing upright before the visiting Anuran. “My hope is that what you say on your card is true.”

“I believe so with all my heart,” declared the visitor. “What I wrote is not a lie. It can be substantiated. Everyone is going to believe what it says.”

“Please explain what you mean, then.”

“A person named Ranid Rolius, a Conjoiner, asked to study in the Devre family archive…”

The Capitulary interrupted him.

“Ranid Rolius! That name is familiar to me. I have collided with such an individual in the past. He was, at one time, a serious Salamandrine student with exceptional scholarly talents. But then we had to expel him from our organization for serious doctrinal irregularities and heretical ideas. But please go on with what you were saying.”

Talem did just that, taking only a few minutes to describe the archival discovery that Ranid had made by himself.

Eximius grew ever redder in the face as he heard more and more.

At last, the narrative of the visitor came to an end and the official spoke again.

“He claimed to have done the same thing in our archives: discovered documents previously unknown because of incorrect labeling and cataloging.”

Talem now bit his lower lip.

“He must not be permitted to create new libels based on false attributions and phony claims. I believe I know how to defeat what he plans to do at this convention of Conjoiners.”

“What is that?” demanded Eximius with an anxious face.

“I have taken the letters that this man attributes to Alsike Caldus and have concealed them well. They are no longer in the Devre family archive. Thus, Rolius has no material platform to stand on, none whatsoever.”

The Capitulary smiled sardonically.

“But what will happen tomorrow when these heretics meet?”

“The center of Caecilia City must be flooded with proclamations opposing his fraudulent claims. My own sister can be convinced to denounce him and swear that there never were such letters in our family’s possession. They never existed at all, she will learn to say, backing me up. All of this will prove that Ranid Rolius is nothing more than a liar and imposter. His claims are pure fraud, nothing more than that.”

Eximius, still standing, thought hard with a lot of exertion.

“You must compose such a broadside attack,” he said. “Then, we will copy and print it for distribution. This is one time when we have to work together, despite our many differences. There is no alternative for either of us under present circumstances.”

Dawn surged bright and clear over the Hypogeum, and the participants and audience were already arriving and being seated by specially assigned Conjoiners. The great throng entered the hall in solemn quiet, as if acknowledging the potential historical importance of this day and event.

Men and women displayed cards and badges and identities were verified.

No food or beverages were to be available for this serious, sober occasion.

The interior of the Hypogeum was lit by abundant gas lanterns high above the crowded floor.

Few conversations occurred among those being seated in the tiers of the hall.

On the raised rostrum, Dixo and Ereth went over the schedule for the day with Dr. Sugal. The morning would be taken up with necessary organizational business. Rules and structures were to result for the expanding movement. The main speeches were to be heard after a noon recess. All three leaders knew that address was to come from Ranid, who was not present at the moment. He was still back at the depot hotel, preparing and rehearsing the presentation of the spectacular revelations he was determined to make.

Meanwhile, something with consequences was happening at the Devre residence.

Talem rose and appeared downstairs early, as his sister was finishing her breakfast.

The brother sat down in the kitchen alcove, just as she was about to rise from the table.

“This is the day the heretics begin their convention sessions,” said Talem, staring at his sister. “I have taken certain actions that will result in their collapse as an important movement.”

Dera opened her mouth but said nothing.

“I have removed the letters sent to our ancestor,” he went on. “There is no longer any proof of what this Ranid Rolius claims he will make public before the assembled Conjoiners. He can now be attacked as a fraudulent liar, a criminal faker. There is no way that the man can prove what he will say before his fanatics.

“And it has happened that I now have an important ally in erasing this radical danger.

“The Capitulary of the Salamandrites is going to coordinate an assault upon our common enemy. There is no way that the Conjoiners can survive as a credible stream of thought and belief when this opposition arises.”

Dera looked confused and disturbed.

“Will any harm come to Ranid Rolius?” she bluntly asked him.

He replied with a hollow laugh. “Let me say this: I myself would not be connected to anything like that. You know me well enough to realize that, Dera.”

She looked away from him. Neither one of them said anything more.

Talem finally excused himself and left the Devre residence.

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