Pearl and Flame

In a Tibetan city high above the clouds, a figure in a red, hooded robe hurried through narrow streets.  It was just after midnight, and a cold wind blows against the tightly-closed windows and doors, accompanied by a thin flurry of snow.  The man in the red robe holds a lantern in his hand, which is shuttered and gives off no light.  His footsteps are barely perceptible above the whistling of the wind, the man’s eyes searching furtively in the darkness.  The man finally recognizes the alley which he seeks, and darts to the left.  At the end of the alley, there is a door which appears to be weathered and stained.  However, the man recognizes ancient symbols on the door that would be unrecognizable to the casual observer.  The man presses himself against the door and knocks frantically.  Then, he waits, breathing heavily and cradling the shuttered lantern.  As he waits, the snow develops from a trickling flurry to a heavy snowfall.

After what may have been an hour, the door cracks open, and a hand grabs the red-robed man and pulls him inside.  Inside the door, it is pitch black.  The red-robed man only feels a hand tightly gripping his arm.  A voice speaks, and only then does the man see two rows of long, white teeth, almost like fangs, hovering in the darkness above his head.

What brings you here?  Says the voice belonging to the long teeth.

I come to see the Speaker of Truth, says the man.

What do you bring with you?  The voice is almost a guttural hiss.

I bring flame and pearls.

The tall figure slowly exhales, and pulls the robed man around a corner, to a passageway with candles on the wall, a single door visible at the other end.  The robed man can now see that the tall figure is wearing a robe much like his own, except that his hood is drawn up over his head so his face is not visible.  He looks down at the hand dragging him along, and sees that it is gnarled, cracked, and not entirely human.  The fingernails seemed unnaturally long and the color of ash.  The man, while being initiated in the secret ways that have been hidden for centuries from the world, is still frightened by the prospect of things that have not yet been revealed to him.  He clutches the shuttered lantern even tighter to his body, his heart palpitating at what he must disclose.

At the end of the hall, the tall figure opens another door covered in symbols, and shoved the man inside.  The door closed behind him, and the man in the red robe beheld the Speaker of Truth sitting in front of him, his face wreathed in smoke.  He was much older than most people the red-robed man had ever seen, with a smooth head covered in tiny tattoos.  He wore an old brown robe, and held an old, yet thin, book in his hands.  He sat in an old wooden chair in a room full of books like the one he held in his hand, tattered and falling apart.  The smoke from the arghila pipe sitting on the floor flowed to the dark ceiling.  He stared at the red-robed man over half-moon glasses, and beckoned his head for him to speak.  The red-robed man forgot all about the fear he felt from the fanged creature that brought him down the hallway, and now his words spilled out.

Speaker of Truth, I have brought something that beckons a new age.

Immediately, the Speaker of Truth raised a gnarled, tobacco-stained hand to silence the man, and began to speak, almost recite, in a low voice like a bubbling spring.

Let me tell you, my son.  For centuries, humankind stretched and clamored to place our heads among the stars, to bring forth a new age.  A mere 200 years ago, they put man and machines on the moon, one person could talk to another on the other side of the world.  Humankind traveled through the air, their massive vessels visible as moving lights against the sky.  We grew out of our past, beyond the Gods and Giants that surpassed us and ruled over our lives and legends.  Now, we have recused ourselves, the tide has receded, the waves failing to reach the mountaintops.  There are no more moving lights in the sky; most of the world is quiet again.  We now live in bleached out wastelands, among the straws and twigs, in the dust and ashes of our hubris.

The man in the red robe listened to this speech, his fingers twitching.

Speaker of Truth, they have returned.

At this moment, the red-robed man brought out the lantern, and tore off the shutters.  The Speaker of Truth leaned forward to see what was inside.  It appeared to be a large, green gemstone, an emerald of unsurpassed perfection.

It is but an emerald, said the Speaker of Truth.

No, it is more than that, said the man, and he gently thumped the glass of the lantern.

The emerald vibrated.  It then unfolded itself, and the Speaker of Truth’s eyes grew large with amazement.  The emerald was now a tiny dragon, with golden fins and flashing green scales.  The dragon undulated and twisted inside the lantern, staring back at the Speaker of Truth with pearlescent eyes.  The Speaker of Truth reached out his hands to take the lantern, and at that instant the dragon breathed a jet of flame that filled the inside of the lantern.  The man dropped the lantern with a cry, and it shattered on the floor with a crash and an explosion of smoke.  Both men jumped back, and the dragon darted from the cloud of smoke to the top of the arghila, its claws gripping the red-hot coals.  It opens its mouth to reveal teeth and flame.

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