The War of Lights

3 Sep

What am I, a government official or a priest of divine Ahura Mazda, the magus asked himself.

His thoughts were dark and confused as he read news ribbons coming out of the photonic communicator in the main fire temple in Damascus.

An aide brought him a report telling of the sudden, unexpected death of the Grand Magus in the imperial capital of Persepolis far to the east. This jarring bulletin electrified the tall, stringy Astyag, for he knew that the coming conclave to name a successor to that top religious post would be considering him a likely candidate. It was the highest position offered within the Zoroastrian faith, a seat of great power and influence.

He knew how central, but also perilous, that lofty office was.

Astyag withdrew to his private sanctum and paced up and down there

As Chief Magus of the provinces of Syria and Palestine, there would be many friendly allies supporting him in the assembly of magi from the entire Persian Empire. Who did not know of his original writings, or of his brilliant, inspiring sermons and lectures?

What lay ahead if a majority picked him to become their leader?

How was he to square his interpretations of the teachings of Zarathustra with the aggressively expansionist policies of the current Shah of Shahs, Yazdeg?

Astyag did not see how to resolve the inevitable conflicts that would occur.

His agile mind foresaw terrible problems ahead should he be elected to the prime priesthood.

The stately stonework of Persepolis glowed with glorious magnificence. There was nothing to compare with it anywhere in the many kingdoms of the Persian Empire.

Astyag was familiar with the great palaces built there by Darius and Xerxes.

Endless colonnades led to throne rooms, audience halls, and private quarters.

Gilded and silvered canopies covered the royal chair where sat Yazdeg, the reigning Shah.

The ruler was intently studying a giant map lying on a small table in front of the throne. He traced the borders of imperial Persia with its main neighbors, Moslem Arabia, Manichean Egypt, and Christian Byzantium.

How he hated these dangerous, hostile enemies!

The Persians owed their elevated position and power to being first in the science and technology of light. Mastery of photonic energy was the basis of their economic and military superiority.

The Shah did not keep secret his dream of world dominance everywhere.

A vague doubt festered in the back of his mind. What military deeds of his own could equal those of his ancestors? How would future generations of Persians judge his life and career?

All at once, a side door opened, interrupting the musings of the ruler.

A large, stocky man in the golden gown of a magus slowly entered.

Yazdeg looked up from the map and nodded to his premier and advisor, the priest Hystasp. The latter made a low bow to the emperor, then stepped forward and stood directly before him.

“Are you busy surveying your realm and possessions, Mighty One?”

The sovereign grinned slyly. “The question that bothers me is why my dominion does not reach farther. My forefathers took Bactria and Sogdiana to the east, but I am limited in that direction by the boundaries of China.

“Persia is now the center for the production of photonic generators and lamps. No other land dares to compete with us. We have monopolized the areas of energy and communication. Our devices are advanced and superior to anything found elsewhere. Persia is today the financial and industrial hub of the entire planet.

“If all that is so, why is my power still limited? Why is it less than total and universal?

“Why may I not aspire to rule the world within my lifetime?”

The heavy cleric wrinkled his brow and frowned.

“Can I lay out the truth for you, Sire? It is not at all easy to describe the cause of our present difficulties. We have succeeded, indeed, in the development of civilian products. But we have not created the advanced ultra-weapons that our imperial military needs so badly.

“I believe that for years we have concentrated too much upon the peaceful, civilian side. The result has been the weakness of our defensive borders.”

Yazdeg lowered his dark eyes as he sighed in anger. He now spoke in a low, growling voice.

“I blame our overly unworldly, contemplative mages. They are the ones who have forgotten that the divine Ahura Mazda is a warrior against the evil spirit of Ahriman. These dreamers have dropped out of the eternal battle against that deceitful liar who is the enemy of Ahura and all that is good.”

Hystasp seized the pause by the Shah to jump in.

“Do not count me among those spineless weaklings, Great One. I know that it is our primeval enemy, Ahriman, who controls the kingdoms and countries beyond the limits of our beloved Persia.

“Only your empire fights beside divine Ahura Mazda, the champion of all that is good and worthwhile.”

Yazdeg hesitated for a time, staring at the priest while he formulated the thoughts in his mind.

“I shall use all my authority and influence over the coming conclave to have you elected the next Grand Magus. Only one like you, who believes in Persia and its divine mission as I do, deserves the high position of spiritual leader and guide of the Zoroastrian faith.

“I need you to serve me and the empire that I rule.”

“I shall do so!” exclaimed Hystasp with unconcealed enthusiasm. “With all the energy that Ahura Mazda has given me, I shall labor to make your plans come about everywhere upon the earth.”

The face of the Shah glowed with joy and confidence.

Astyag flew to the imperial capital by solar express. He was one of the last of the high magi to arrive. The flight by light-engine airship had been long and tiring. He found a room to rest in at a crowded high-rise hotel at the edge of gigantic Persepolis and hoped he could catch some needed sleep. But the magus was surprised to have a visitor within only an hour of settling in.

Hystasp, as if in semi-disguise, wore a white tunic with matching pants. A gleaming tarboosh sat atop his pointed bald head.

“May I come in and talk with you?” whispered the huge priest whom Astyag had often seen walking behind the Shah.

Once the big man was in the room, he began talking without taking a seat.

“I have been discussing the approaching conclave of magi with our beloved emperor, and he is most anxious that there be no divisive fissures among the prelates of Ahura Mazda. The Shah has told me that he wishes that you tell any possible supporters that you do not wish to occupy the post of Grand Magus. You are to say to them that you feel yourself unprepared for such heavy duties and responsibilities. Should that elevation be offered to you, your task will be to announce that you must refuse it.

“Is it clear what the emperor requires of you?”

The brain of tired Astyag felt caught in a spinning whirl.

How was he going to answer the one who brought this message?

“I am surprised and overwhelmed,” he managed to say. “How can I respond to what you say the Shah wants me to do? There is absolutely no ambition in me to possess the glory of supreme office. Never has the top post been my goal. I believe that I can happily go to my death without having been Grand Magus. That is not a rank that I have dreamed of or craved.

“But how can I make any promise, even the most general, until it becomes clear to me who has the best chance of being chosen by the assembled conclave? Until I know how I should cast my own vote, everything must remain suspended. Nothing can be final.

“What you have asked of me only becomes possible after the names of possible candidates are presented and nominated. Only then can I judge what their chances of winning are. Then, I can honestly withdraw myself from consideration.”

The face of Hystasp flushed a dark red.

“You must obey what I tell you,” loudly cried the visitor. “Here is the wish of our Shah: that you immediately take yourself out of the voting. That is your duty. Everyone must know what you have done.”

Glowering with rage, the giant priest hesitated only a moment before turning around and departing without another word.

Astyag felt numb, as if he had gone through an exhausting physical battle.

The Shah was sitting on a bedroom stool, staring at a photonic screen tuned in an official site, when his premier rushed in.

“How did the meeting with Astyag go?” asked the emperor.

The priest made an angry grimace impossible to misinterpret.

“Not at all well, I have to confess. It looks to me as if he intends to stand as a candidate for Grand Magus. The fool refused to listen to the case I made for his staying out of the contest. He seems stubborn about the matter. I cannot see what he aims to accomplish on his own, even if he wins election. It is a confusing mystery to me.”

The Shah concentrated on deep thought for a while.

“Perhaps if I myself spoke to him, my words could convince him to drop out of the running. The man must have some degree of cool, sane reason.”

The priest made a sour face. “The conclave will begin tomorrow, Sire. What can we do? Whatever is attempted must begin at once. There is no time to lose.”

“I myself am scheduled to go to the conclave hall and address the magi on the state of the world today and our relations with other nations. While I am there in that building, a private audience can be arranged for this troublemaker.”

All at once, Hystasp flashed a smile. “I will see to all the details at once, Your Magnificence,” he obediently promised.

Fighting broke out on Persia’s frontier with the Arabs that evening.

A mighty artillery battle began near the port of Bahrain and soon spread up and down the Persian Gulf.

Hystasp awakened the slumbering Shah to give him the important news contained in military dispatches. Airship crashes and ground troop casualties were mounting. All-out war was very near.

“Send orders to mobilize all units on the border and send them toward the Bahrain front. We have to teach these nomads a lesson they will find it hard to forget. I am fed up with the Arabs. They must be made to pay for what they have again done.”

“Yes,” said Hystasp, walking away fast. “I will see to it that supplies and re-enforcements are on their way at once.”

The Shah tried to fall back asleep, but found it impossible to do so.

How are my soldiers of Ahura Mazda doing in battle? he asked again and again.

Dawn was a brilliant golden sunburst the morning that the conclave opened.

Two thousand magi from all sections of the Persian Empire entered the gigantic hall in a serious mood, in solemn processions. The task ahead of them was going to be an event of historical importance, all of them realized.

As the crowds of magi dedicated to Ahura Mazda assembled, filling up the huge auditorium, word arrived that the Shah himself was on his way to address them. Expectant excitement spread swiftly among the many clerics. What was the reason for such an appearance? they all wondered.

Astyag, surrounded by a ring of friends and supporters, took a seat in the rear of the hall, near one of the entrances.

What is the purpose of the emperor’s coming? pondered the puzzled magus from Damascus. How would his presence and his words influence the process of selection?

It was impossible to guess what the aim of such an action was. Astyag would have to wait and see.

The sun-powered phaeton of the ruler, surrounded by running guards in gilt uniforms, arrived only a little later than expected.

The Shah entered the great structure through a hidden, secret door reserved only for him. All eyes focused on his official costume of shining silver and spotless white.

The emperor stood for a time, facing the columns of silent priests.

“I have come to your convocation because there are a number of important matters that all of you must become aware of at this time.

“First of all, there is an unprecedented international crisis for our beloved Persian Empire. A horrible new conflict has broken out and is raging in South Arabia. The enemy is bombarding our defensive works around the city of Bahrain. The Arabs are using kinetic cannons of an advanced variety that they have not built, but imported from Europe. Our military leaders have suspicions as to who in the World of the Lie is providing such potent weapons to those nomadic slaves of evil who follow the Twisted Path of Ahriman.

“Our brave Persian armored cavalry has repelled these devouring adversaries of goodness and light. Our successes arise from the superiority of the Persian transmitters and sprayers of orderly focused light rays. We wage scientific photic war with enhanced light, annihilating those who challenge our military might, a gift from Ahura Mazda.

“No question, our fighters will soon defeat their Arab foes.

“But there are other demonic enemies, more dangerous to us than the nomads of the sands. What about the Egyptians? How about perfidious Byzantium? We can expect attacks from either direction or from both simultaneously, at any moment. They may decide to prevent Arabia from collapsing by making a surprise attack of their own. There is no limit to their malevolence toward us.

“Our position abroad grows increasingly perilous. We must arm ourselves both externally and within. That is why the choice of a new Grand Magus is so important. The future of our empire hinges on a correct selection.

“He must above all else be a fighter against the envious Ahriman and those who are followers of the Lie. His duty is to aid me in the struggle against the destructive darkness that has captured the souls of our evil neighbors.

“I expect that an all-out conflict with Byzantium and Egypt will soon occur.We must be prepared for this in our minds and souls. There can never be any compromise with the Liars. The divine will of Ahura Mazda commands us to take up the weapons of light he has given us.

“I now announce the name of the person best fitted for the office. He is the magus called Hystasp. It is your duty to make him the leader of the faith we have inherited from the Prophet Zarathustra.

“We can be certain that such a selection will be fully satisfactory to our Lord, Ahura Mazda.”

Awestruck, the assembled magi watched as the Shah left the rostrum and exited from the hall.

A great chorus of murmurs arose, growing ever louder. Was the conclave going to act immediately to fulfill the emperor’s command?

But the oldest of the magi, a white-haired veteran, went to the rostrum and announced that the meeting was adjourned till the next day.

Astyag, as he moved toward the nearest door, looked across the hall to the spot where Hystasp stood surrounded by close friends and followers.

A venomous look from the huge priest foretold of troubles ahead.

Worried and exhausted, Astyag lay down on the pallet in his room. He was surprised by a loud knock on the door. It took him a few seconds to rise, go to the door, and open it. A short young man in the golden gown of a priest stood there.

“I hope that I am not disturbing you, but it is necessary that we talk about what is going on.”

Astyag examined the face of the cleric, deciding that he looked trustworthy.

The pair sat down, the visitor on a stool and the host on the pallet.

“My name is Myasag,” began the stranger. “What I wish to talk to you about is the selection of Grand Magus and its possible impact on the question of war or peace. I have learned much about you and your background from friends in Damascus. Several magi who worked with you have sent me information over light tubing lines. As a result, the group I am affiliated with wishes to elect you as the next Grand Magus. We are opposed to the powerful Hystasp. Our knowledge of that man makes him unacceptable. Even with the approval of the emperor, he cannot win our support.”

The surprised Astyag asked a question. “How much do you and your friends know about me?”

Myasag gave him a pleasant smile.

“Tales concerning you have come from Damascus. We have discovered that your views resemble those of my friends and me. You read the teachings of the Prophet Zarathustra as oriented toward peace-making, not toward the killing and mayhem of war.

“Are we correct in our belief that you favor compromise and concord between nations and peoples, and that you are not eager that Persia fight more wars and lose more warriors on battlefields?”

Breathless with excitement, Astyag took his time in forming a reply.

“I am amazed at what you found out about me from Damascus. That is an accurate account of my attitude toward war. Yes, I consider myself a dissenter against immediate attack by our forces. There is no reason for haste. Patience is called for. We must not rush events, for delay will do us no harm. The wisest course is one of calmness and steadiness. That is my evaluation of the situation of Persia.”

The young man looked ecstatic. “My friends and I wish to support your candidature for Grand Magus. That is the best we can accomplish to help avoid a general war with all our enemies at the same time.”

Myasag grabbed hold of his right hand and shook it vigorously.

The following morning, Astyag found himself at the center of a peace party he has never suspected was there.

In the corridor outside his room congregated a crowd of those in the conclave opposed to an aggressive military policy based on advanced photic weapons of expanded power and range.

“We shall now have a single leader and voice!” shouted Myasag to his colleagues and sympathizers. “Our candidate for Grand Magus promises to represent the views of peace-lovers. He shall win that office and direct the way we treat our neighbors.”

Astyag suddenly realized that everything he had preached and written over the years had prepared him for the leadership of those who sought international harmony.

The post of Grand Magus was sure to make him the premier of state and the principle advisor of the Shah. Overzealous militarism would then end.

Action dedicated to peace was a guarantee of continued prosperity and well-being. It would bring closer the Desired Realm, the Paradise Kingdom to Come once prophesized by Zarathustra as marking the end of time.

But he had to take care to avoid anything that appeared to be critical of the Shah himself. The ruler’s dream of further conquest had to be controlled and limited through adroit handling. Only against Hystasp were sharp words possible. Indeed, they were called for in the present contest for the high office of Grand Magus.

The true principles of Zarathustra demanded that he attack the idea of war for imperial expansion and material gain.

Astyag chose a balcony of the hotel from which to address his fervent followers. He spoke to them with all of his vocal power.

“Brethren, allow me to express my concern about the crisis now engulfing Persia.

“As you know, it was Ahura Mazda, our Divine Lord, who created the entire universe and continues to maintain the cosmic order. His True Spirit is the source of all truth, all life, and the all-illuminating light. It gives us joy and good, eternal and undying creativity, but there is also the opposite way of thought and living, that of evil Ahriman. It dwells in death and darkness, in a deceitful kingdom of Lies. That destructive spirit of chaos and ruin would turn this world into a desert. Should Ahriman use war for his own ends, he would make Persia a realm of discreation, opposite to the creation that began with the light from Ahura Mazda.

“Let me emphasize a simple, fundamental truth: photic rays exist to be used creatively for life, not destructively for death. Light rays are blocks for building, not weapons for killing. Do not permit beloved Persia to fall into the zone of Lies. Our faith gives us a different direction. How many fronts, how many enemies are we to fight against? How much death and annihilation are we to take part in? The present moment calls for a Grand Magus who can distinguish good from evil, right from wrong. He must be able to tell the truth to our beloved Shah. His voice must be independent, unafraid of consequences.”

Astyag looked out over his silent audience, in a trance resulting from his words to them.

The Shah paced back and forth, and then circled around the map room. He finally halted and spoke to Hystasp, who was sitting in a chair.

“Do not be concerned. You will be chosen Grand Magus tomorrow. The conclave has no alternative. And I myself have reached a decision of monumental proportions. It is something I have long dreamed of. Can you guess what it is?”

“Does it concern the war we are beginning?” asked the priest, standing up.

“That is correct. I intend to start a full invasion to the west at dawn, using the new, experimental photonic annihilators our laboratories have recently developed. Concentrated, condensed bundles of light quanta that are produced and projected cannot be stopped or repelled.”

Hystasp grinned slyly. “I imagine you plan a surprise attack against Byzantium, Sire?”

“Yes, both there and against the Egyptians at the same time.”

The priest looked astonished and gasped for breath.

“The risk is high,” continued the Shah, “but I have confidence our armies can win. They will have weapons that our enemies cannot match. The new light bundles will bring us victory.”

Who was able to sleep that night?

Along three scattered lines of battle, brilliant rays of destruction lit the sky. The pitch of conflict rose ever higher. Death fell upon thousands in a short, condensed length of time. In the palace map room, the Shah and Hystasp monitored a flood of reports from Arabia, Palestine, and Anatolia. All three fronts blazed with the flames of battle.

In his hotel room, Astyag prepared for the speech he planned to give to the conclave of magi. Hours rolled by imperceptibly. He had a sense that something unforeseeable was about to happen the next day. There was some invisible factor involved, unnamed and unknown.

A brilliant, magnificent dawn arrived, finding everything in suspension.

Astyag heard a knocking at his door and went to see who it might be.

A short, fleshy figure stood there in an oversized cloak that hid his face. The shape hurried into the room before it identified who it was.

Only after closing the door and approaching nearer the stranger could Astyag reach a startling conclusion.

“Your Magnificence! I did not recognize that it was you!”

The Shah addressed him in a rough, exhausted voice. No sleep had come to the emperor that night.

“You and I must talk,” mumbled the visitor. “It cannot be put off. We must come to some understanding.”

“Please be seated, Sire. Take the stool over by the wall.”

The emperor did that. He sat still, recovering his strength. Astyag watched him with patience as minutes passed by. The magus was totally puzzled by the situation he was in.

The Shah, at last, looked up and started to speak.

“All my plans have collapsed. They are turning out ruined. No one could have predicted how the three fronts would end up. We face shameful defeat everywhere. Our three enemies are more treacherous than I supposed. They were secretly allied and coordinated. Their unity has proved amazing, especially in weaponry. They must have been working together for years. The same type of kinetic artillery is shared by all three. It is used against our armies on all three fronts.

“Vibratory waves,” whispered the ruler. “They are the key to our complete defeat. They are invisible, unlike the visible light that we fight with. Such waves are said to be based on mass gravity, the force that holds our universe together. These vibrations can destroy and disable, my scientists say. Our armies proved defenseless against the power of kinetic gravity. The new weapons are superior to light, because their force can never be seen or detected ahead of an attack.”

“This is incredible,” said Astyag in a thin voice. “You say that Persia faces defeat?”

“Our armies are being decimated and are in complete, irreversible retreat. The situation is hopeless. Ruin hangs over our empire.” The Shah looked pleadingly at Astyag. “Hystasp can no longer remain the candidate for Grand Magus whom I favor. And I shall no longer take any advice from that clumsy fool. I need a different kind of counselor, someone who will speak to me with intelligence and wisdom.”

He looked with desperation into the eyes of Astyag. “Will you do this for me and the Persian Empire? I admit that I have been mistaken.”

What was the magus to say? His reply was a brief, succinct “Yes.”

“I wish you to leave at once, as soon as you are elected, and fly to Alexandria for peace talks,” commanded the Shah. “You will be in charge of peace negotiations and the terms of agreement that must be reached.”

Astyag drew a deep breath. “With the blessing of Ahura Mazda, we shall end the war and be able to live in peace.”

The two shook hands, both of them realizing that they had to deal with the victory of gravity vibrations over Persian light.

That was something neither had ever envisioned.

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