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16. Development

Updated: Mar 28


The blue flame rises from the centre of the planet. At the core, there is a lake. The lake is placid and clear, despite the great flame that rises from the centre. The priests bring the initiates here to learn the mysteries; each initiate is led through the tunnels to the very core of the planet and, finally, blindfolded before entering the centre. The journey takes several months. On the way, there are small stopping points where the initiates can rest. The supplies here are basic: water, cheese, and a little dry bread. There are tunnel men who live down here most of the year; their job is to carry the bread and cheese to the resting points. There have been cases where initiates have died during the journey; their bodies are embalmed beneath the earth. Sometimes, terrible moment, a torch will catch an embalmed initiate and cause a party on the way to the centre to pause in shock—usually, they give a small scream. It does not hurt, an old priest tells me, to frighten the initiates a little; it helps them to understand the gravity of the situation: they are about to enter a mystery.

Above ground, there are people who talk about mysteries. They talk about sacred mysteries, but they are really talking about money. You can hear them in the pubs and public places; they make their pitches, and many people follow them. They eat strange mushrooms and claim contact with the gods. Often, these people have merely become possessed by malevolent daemons or mischievous elves. It is the quiet people who find the true priests and are led down to the centre. The priests say they can tell if someone is worth initiating from the look in their eye. An approach will be made, quite subtly, perhaps using a parchment covered in strange hieroglyphs. The initiates who understand what this means, usually through intuition, are led into the tunnel network through a temple in the countryside. They are given a milky substance to drink first; nobody knows the ingredients, though it is whispered that the drink consists of beer mixed with honey and berries from the forest.

At the planet’s centre, the initiate is given a white robe to wear and, little by little, the blindfold is removed. He looks at the great flame. A few initiates have, at this moment, gone mad. On the surface it is generally believed that there is no entrance to the underworld of the planet. Those that maintain their sanity find that their hair has turned white and, even before touching the flame, they discover that they can hear the thoughts of the priests around them—the thoughts that the priests allow them to hear. Then they are led into the lake and, finally, through the flame itself; it is quite cold, so they tell me. A mysterious flame! On the other side, they are anointed and taken to a small hut where maidens, covered by golden ingots, tend them. The initiate is exhausted now; his breath comes in short pants. He lies down and is given wine to drink. The initiate sleeps. He moves across galaxies and constellations and, when he awakes, he looks upon the world as it really is and always has been. He walks up and out of the underworld with firm footsteps; the priests offer him gentle applause. If he wishes to become a priest himself, there are many more steps he must take: the first job is to get out from under.

The initiate breaks out in the centre of the imperial metropolis: he has come from the forest to the city via the underworld. He mixes with the merchants and soldiers, but he is gentle with them. Their corruption does not call for chastisement; he finds a staff and carves it to his liking. He will carry the flame across the world. The flame is between his eyes, and, I am sure, you will meet him soon.

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