Passing the Torch

By Karen Lewis


How strange it is, that of all the things I should miss from the World Above, the sun should prove to be the source of the most powerful regret! Nowadays there is not a day where I do not miss it - long for it, even - yet I can still remember how as a student I would stay awake reading in my dorm, heedless of the hour and the darkening of the sky. Even then I was seen as "eccentric", the one who was happier under the wattage of artificial light than in the heat of the sun. Maybe the dreams that transport me now, as my head nods over my books, are some ironic consequence of that thoughtless youth?

Whatever they are, they have become a force I cannot escape. Invariably I find myself in the open air, in the middle of an unfamiliar heartland. I watch the bright sky, dazzling at first until it slowly purples into dusk. I feel the warm breeze turn cooler as it plays softly over my face. I taste the freshness of the night air on my tongue, the cleanness of it. It is the taste of youth, and so powerful is it that when I finally awake and shift in my chair I am briefly disoriented by the flickering shadows that meet my eyes. The spines of my books, the rough-hewn walls of the cavern, the stumps of candles that sparkle like a starry sky; all of these seem unreal. They seem part of a hallucination, a dreamscape from which I can yet awake.

Then a sound reaches my ears. The jangle of the pipes, the sentinels tapping their messages into the depths of the earth - and, though faint, it manages to pierce to the very heart of my dreaming. The sunset vanishes. Reality settles around me: all of a sudden these images are invested with familiarity. For of course I know this place. These books, this cavern, these people around me: all this is my world, the world I strove to build on the foundations of my beliefs, the world for which I gave up so much of what lies above. To think of leaving would be folly, a betrayal of all I hold dear.

I must not complain that it is a long way from the sun.

And yet I am old, and the visions disturb me. I go out even less than I used to now, although I have been careful not to let the others see that my step is slower, my vision more sensitive to bright light. That I can never feel the fresh wind or the warmth of daylight on my face again is a fact I have grown to accept: I can make do with the faint night-wind, or the glow from the lichen that grows on the tunnel walls. Twilight has a certain charm to it, after all.

But these dreams are more than a beautiful vision of my past: they are a reminder of the passing of Time even in this seasonless world. The time that has passed and - I must face the truth - the little time I have left. I have told no-one else and have been careful to conceal my growing weakness, but I know for sure from my painful cough that my health is failing. These years underground have taken their toll upon me. I may last the year, but not the next.

Is it strange that, mindful of this, my thoughts turn to Vincent? No, it is not strange. He will be the next leader of the Tunnel Community, I am certain of it. If I know him, he would not even venture his name for election, but the others love him: they will choose him. Who could oppose him? He is the very symbol of everything the Community holds dear. He was the tiny baby who, all unknowing, forced an abyss between myself and the man I thought a friend: he forced the whole Community to choose between us. Now he is the epitome of the outcast who finds shelter in the World Below. But I know that he is not yet ready to become a leader as I was. He does not yet possess self-knowledge.

How good Vincent is, how innocent. But how much would it take to shatter that innocence beyond repair?

How much - or how little?

And if something violent were to happen, what would he become?

Until Catherine Chandler arrived, he never delved any further into what he was. In all the time before he was able to look into the mirror and see a beast, a lion-man, and yet he never truly - never deeply - questioned the assumption that he was anything more than a human with a mishapen face and body. That is what he was told, and how the other Tunnel Members have always treated him. And when Catherine Chandler came into his life., she brought a trust and a warmth that inspired a new tenderness in him. So much so that he dared to love her as a man loves a woman.

But although she could never have known it, she also brought destruction and danger into his world. For she could never love him fully. The barrier between them became evident, and rather than lose her he has resigned himself to a Platonic love. But all the same he was reminded - more painfully than he ever dared admit to himself - that he could not love a human being. For he knew that in the eyes of the World Above he could never hope to be considered fully human.

Through that he groped toward a fuller knowledge of what he was - but that same knowledge is even now racking him from within, filling him with guilt and fear. I watch him from the shadows, and can almost feel his suffering. It is all so needless, so wrong. And I know he must overcome it if he is ever to become the leader I want him to be - I am the one who must help him understand. He has the capacity to be a stronger, better ruler than I was - and he will be, if I can only show him...

But how can I do it? Should I confront him with it - tell him, face to face, what he is and how he must acknowledge the side he has always refused to see? The answer is no. I tried once, and he did not believe me. He would not listen to my words then: he would reject me now. Could I bear that again? But still I need to show him: the very rage that burned in his eyes showed the truth of what I said. The twin flames in his eyes, the twin suns... He was terrible and magnificent at once, a god, and I was afraid. Afraid that he might succumb to his rage and claw me down into silence.

I was a coward.

I will do it. Since words are of no use I will show him clearly what he is, in a way he cannot ignore. In violence and pain I will force him to see that all his education and "civilization" is nothing, a useless veneer to conceal what is bred in the bone. It is his animality which must rise to the surface, the lust for power, that brute force within himself which will awaken with the first taste of innocent flesh. As he realizes what he has done he will feel horror, disgust, repulsion, but he will grow to understand that these are needless emotions, traps of society to shame the common man into compliance. He is no common man: he is greater than this paltry human state, he has always been greater. And he will understand his godhead when the savour of human blood washes over his tongue.

And it is my blood which will work this alchemy, which will wipe away the old vestiges of love and reason and baptize him anew. I give it freely. I have been through the fire, Vincent, and emerged purified, like gold. Now it is your turn, and when you writhe in the agony of the flame I will watch you and hope for you.

When it is over you will arise, as terrible as an army with banners.

You will be my son.

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Many thanks go to Betty Christophy (betpchem@worldnet.att.net) for reading the first draft, and giving me advice and the title.