Awakening In Fire
You open your eyes….
You find yourself in pure white space. A pedestal seems to emerge from nothingness, as though it appeared from the mists. On the pedestal, there is a set of golden scales, with two blocks of diamond each bearing a tray in perfect balance. Each of them holds a collection of chess pieces. On the left most tray are a set of black pieces. On the right, the white pieces.
You reach out and touch one of the white pawns. You are suddenly filled with the sensation of floating on air; your eyes perceive a clear blue sky, white puffy clouds gently moving through the air on a soft breeze….
You let go of the white pawn, and pick up a black pawn, and you are thrust into a congestion of downtown traffic. Order, created by rules, overwhelmed by the desires of the people. You let go in shock and are returned to the white space.
Hesitantly, you pick up a black bishop. You hear Father Holmes’ voice… “You have always wanted there to be a right answer, a specific way for things to work. And when there isn’t, you sometimes question yourself. What will you do when others also question your one path?”
You find yourself switch out the piece with a white bishop. “But isn’t faith about believing that doing what is right will lead through the chaos of this world and lead to the serenity that is the life eternal? Acknowledging the chaos as what makes each of our paths different, even though the final destination is the same?”
You see a rook on each pedestal. These castles stand tall and firm in the center of their trays. Looking at the white one, you feel a sense of divine correctness, and the strength of conviction that you sometimes feel you lack. Looking at the Black one, you sense chaos, but you pierce through the chaos and see the order of The World. You see an insight into how the minds of others work, and through them your own.
On the black tray, the Queen, mightiest of all pieces stands. You touch it and you see Stefini’s face. You see her stand against darkness as it threatens to surround her. You see her reject light as it tries to infuse…or maybe possess…her.
On the white tray…
…there is no Queen.
A plunking sound is heard and you glance down at your feet. A King piece, made of dull, unfinished pewter rests. It calls to you. You pick it up and you hear your own voice, “Where do I stand….”
I rest the King upon the white tray, eager to shed my doubts, to embrace the order and certainty that has been promised, only to pause with my hand still gripping the piece. The Black Queen sits alone on the other tray, and I cannot shake the image of Stefini surrounded, a target of light and darkness.
“You hardly know her,” I whisper, “just another old friend. How many of those have you already abandoned to the mists of time?”
“And yet, what is this strange gravity?”
I lift the King and set it beside the Black Queen, letting it hang suspended from thumb and forefinger. The scale tips towards the black, the white tray rising up. There is a choking sensation that builds with every millimeter the tray descends, like sinking into quicksand.
“You deserve it, you know,” I mutter to myself. “You belong in the dark, where you can’t deny your fears. Where the world will see you the way you see yourself.”
But that is not satisfactory either. I feel trapped between my desire to help, my desire to scourge myself for my failings, my need to recover my sense of purpose. And time is… running out?
Isn’t this a dream? No. This place is separate from time, separate from reality, but I know it is real. A literal symbol, a real metaphor. I love those.
I remember the previous night’s dream, arguing with myself. With that memory to serve as a landmark, I cast forward to today, running for my life, being hunted, being attacked. I see the sphere of transcendent flame rolling towards me, hear the heavenly choir, watch in silent awe as the angel gazes into my soul.
“I am not dead.” I feel a rush of certainty. It feels good.
Years of self-doubt, self-repression, even self-loathing melt away in the face of that certainty. It fuels the fires of Ego.
“I am not dead, and I refuse to be dragged down into the dark!”
With one move I lash out and snatch the Black Queen from her tray, King and Queen now tucked together in my left hand.
“Neither will I bow my head and beg for a glimpse of light!”
I plant my right foot on the base of the scale and push with all my strength, toppling it and scattering the chess pieces upon what passes for a floor.
In my mind I see the man calling the flame to his hand, the same flame that burned in Stefini’s shattered home. How dare they? To take that power and use it for something that would hurt an innocent person. To shatter our peaceful lives like they were nothing.
I climb atop the empty pedestal and address the room, letting my emotional momentum give me courage. “I am named Michael, and my name is a rhetorical question: Who is like unto the Lord? I know the answer all too well, for I am a candidate for the priesthood of Melchizedek. None of us are like unto God.”
The reminder stings more than it should. My fist bears down on the chess pieces, the friction warming them uncomfortably.
“I have seen a man, not unlike myself, wield the fires of Heaven. If he can usurp that lofty power and use it for his own ends, so shall I. I too will seize the fire, and with that fire I will empower my people against any false prophets, any false gods, who bar our ascension! None of us are like unto God, but we will strive nonetheless!”
A thunderous voice calls out, from nowhere and everywhere at once. “You seek powers you cannot possibly understand! You think yourself worthy to judge, to overrule the designs of the divine! You, who like the faith in the Light, believe you can pulls yourself and others up from the darkness! You are Icarus, daring to fly so close to the sun. If you are not careful, you will burn in the sun and fall from the sky into a darkness like that you have never known!”
The white around you turns to celestial flames. “To wield this fire requires a control beyond that of any normal man! And you think you are able? Your mind is closed! Unwilling to embrace that which falls outside of your teachings and experience! You must free your mind, open it to the possibilities. The possibility that you are right…that you are wrong…that you can…and can’t do this….That you can save Her. Or that She will fall. You must be willing to sacrifice anything if the situation demands it.. and you must have the will to fight for it as well. Are you one who can do this?!?”
The flames around me are nearly blinding, and I can feel their… not heat… their power, radiating. There is fear in my heart, and I feel my bravado slipping as I consider the possibility that this voice is an agent of the divine, my judge and perhaps executioner. But it has not smote me or commanded me to remove the metaphorical sandals from my feet, so I barely manage to resist the urge to drop to my knees, and instead consider the question.
And once again, I wonder why this… dream, vision, visitation, all of the above… seems to place so much importance on my recently-reunited childhood friend. I want to help her, of course, but why is it so insistent on casting me as some sort of champion? I open my left hand and stare at the chess pieces. A King and a Queen, side by side. Like that could ever happen.
“In the past three days, I’ve faced more challenges to my beliefs, not to mention my existence, than in all twenty-four peaceful years of my life. I’ve already accepted that magic is real, and I’m sure I can accept just about anything else that comes my way.” I gaze out into the fire. “I’m not afraid of being wrong.” The revelation is surprising to me, even as I say it. “I’m not afraid to change.”
“I am afraid of what I’ll become if I have to change the best parts of myself. I’m pragmatic enough to know when to cling, and when to let go. But there are some things that I won’t let go of, some sacrifices I won’t make. Not because I’m incapable, or because someone else says that I shouldn’t, but because I so choose. Because otherwise, the world is just a ball of dirt, lost in the void, and we are but a swarm of ants.”
I can’t let that be true.
“In spite of that, I still believe that I can wield the flame. Icarus fell because he forgot to treat the power of flight with the respect it deserved. But his father, Daedalus, was the one who built those wings. Daedalus tried to lift himself and his son up, for the alternative was to remain trapped forever on their island prison. Daedalus knew the danger, and though he was unable to teach Icarus sufficient caution, he avoided his son’s fate and made good his escape.”
I try to stand tall on the pedestal, recalling that Spring day, nine years ago, when I felt the sun on my face and knew for certain that it was merely a reflection of an infinitely greater light. “I don’t know which of the two I am, Icarus or Daedalus, but I’m willing to don the wings anyway. I know that I suffer from arrogance, but it is not my hubris that calls me to fly. Now that I know there is something beyond my island, I cannot turn away. Give me the chance to prove my worth, and I promise to soar.” And with that boast to give me courage, I leap from the pedestal, my Cretan tower, out over the sea of flames.
You begin to pass through the flames. They flow around you without burning… in fact, there is no heat at all. In your hands, the two chess pieces begin to feel like lead weights.
“You are not yet worthy of joining us atop the pentacle, son of flames. In time, perhaps… but you have much to prove….”
The flames collect around you and move you, you have the sensation of falling….
The flames erupt underneath your feet, a solid path beneath them.
The flames clear, a tower of emerald glowing with contained power stands before you, a golden key inscribed along its height. In your hand, the black queen and pewter king have fused themselves together, their shape altered to that of an old-fashioned key. The key’s appearance seems to match the door on the tower before you.
“Take the power you seek if you are willing, He Who Toppled Justice to Claim His Perceived Right. And may your future actions bare out your claims….”
I release a shuddering breath, unbelievably grateful that my leap of faith did not end with a splat.
“I’ll remember the warning,” I call out to the empty air. “Thank you!”
The adrenaline high is incredible. I’ve just stood my ground against a booming voice from the sky, and I’m not dead! Letting the heady feeling carry me, I give the key a playful toss-and-catch, and immediately start walking towards the tower. A steady pace seems about right. I’m not about to jog into an unknown situation. And so long as I’m walking, I might as well try to get my bearings. “Where am I, anyway?”
Energy in all its forms courses through the world around me, and I cannot help but suspect that there are even forms that I cannot begin to imagine, just as the Voice said. I suppose I have acted rashly, boasting about seizing the flame, diving from the pedestal. When the world stopped making sense, reason and caution seemed insufficient to keep me safe. And safety itself ceased to be my dominant concern. Once I learned that the impossible could happen, I wanted to see just how far I could go. And my destination, it seems, is this tower.
It looms over me, its glowing surface a beautiful shade of green, like the crystal I found when I lived out in Arizona. I am a guest here, but a favored guest, for I have the key; there is no need to knock. I place the key in the lock and give it a turn.
You glance around as energy arcs all around you and into this tower before you. You can see the energy cascade upwards, flowing towards the top. Every so often, the top of tower flashes brightly… light a beacon or a lighthouse.
The key fits the door and turns with ease. The door slides open, alternating panels of emeralds raising, lowering, or turning out of the way.
Inside, you are treated to a light show unlike that which has ever been seen by man. The flows of energy you saw rising up the tower reflect all throughout the cavernous interior, emerald panels reflecting the power, eventually all focusing on a central point in the room, before being sent upwards and then flashing out.
Looking closer, you see the focal point is a great tablet, perhaps made of the same material as the tower, although it is hard to tell with all the flashing lights and crackling energy surrounding it. On the tablet, there seems to be something written in a strange runic alphabet. Next to the tablet is a jeweler’s chisel.
You feel a calling to go to the tablet. There doesn’t seem to be a way through the fields of energy surrounding it, though.
The voice from before now echoes in this room, the sound creating new waves of pure energy that crackle around you before being directed in to the tablet. “So…what lengths are you willing to go to find what you seek, young one?”
I glance around, following arcs of electricity, jets of fire, gusts of wind, blasts of sound, beams of light, ripples of gravity, invisible waves beyond my limited spectrum, and… some sort of energy I don’t understand, like iridescent fire, the essence of power. It is phenomenal and terrifying, but in it I can almost see a pattern. Perhaps I could redirect the flow, weaken the field around the tablet, damp the incredible energy standing in my way….
But I didn’t get this far by playing things safe, and this place makes me feel more alive, more energetic than ever before. “I don’t know if this will work, but I’m going to try it anyway!” I’m not sure if I’m shouting that to the Voice or to myself, at this point.
I charge headlong across the crystalline floor, not giving my mind time to over-analyze and paralyze me with indecision.
There is no barrier for me to crash into, just a sensation of resistance, like jogging into a strong wind. It builds with every step, slowing me, pushing me. I throw myself at the tablet, putting all my weight forward. A few… more… feet.
I can’t make it. In another second, my momentum will fail, and I’ll be launched backwards. My first, stupid attempt will fail mere inches from the goal, and I’ll have to try a light-and-mirror puzzle while bearing the shame of defeat. Unless….
I yank the key from my pocket, the gold shining like fire in the intense light, and thrust it through the last few inches of the field. I dimly hear the faint clink of metal contacting crystal, but that is drowned out by the buzzing. Gold is conductive, and I have just completed a circuit in a room filled with energy.
The pain is… exhilarating. It operates on such a level that I almost don’t notice it, my brain unable to process the agony. Instead, I watch the lightning course across my body, down my right arm, and through the key. I can see the tablet clearly now, its face engraved with names, and an empty space just waiting for me. The lightning etches my name into the emerald, and I finally drop into darkness.
As the darkness closes in, I realize what I’ve done. I succeeded, not through cleverness, but through brute force. Not yet worthy, the Voice had said. Maybe it was right. My hand still hurts. It is my only proof that I’m still alive. And yet, the tingling in my fingers reminds me: I have the fire now. I will have to become worthy.
A voice, close by and strangely familiar, reaches me in the darkness. “Welcome, to the real world.”