A Theory of Fire

The following is the transcription of what remains of an account about the origin of fire, set for obliviating during the Age of Erasure. It was recovered from an oneiric vault concealed at the edge of the Dreamlands, where the apotheons hid it in an attempt to remove its contents from the collective unconscious. Its authorship is unknown, but it is suspected that the Undying Fire itself produced the manuscript through the ages by possessing a number of individuals, as the charred markings that pose as letters suggest. As of today, these sigils remain our most promising lead to contact the Undying Fire. Whether it still lives, is another matter completely.

Once, everything was on fire. Then, after the Division, there was a war amongst the Primal Souls. Against all odds, the Fire lost, and for a time the Great Souls were at a loss as to what to do with it. The first to speak was the Wind Heart, source of all aerial beings and progenitor of storms. Carried away by its uncontainable impatience, the Wind proposed to extinguish the Fire, so that its power could be claimed by the rest of them. The Tides of Time, having been at the end of all things, restrained its hectic sibling and, with the patience of a thousand collected lifetimes, suggested it should be left to consume itself, as all things eventually do. The Soul of Stone, aware of the impending catastrophe, broke its vow of silence and hastily sent a message to its siblings in the only way it could. When the mountains were finally in place, however, no one remained to read them. So is the fate of stone, and it is there that its wisdom lies.

It was so that, not knowing what to do with it, the Fire was expelled from the perceptible spectrum and forced to retreat to the backroom of existence, only to show itself when called or needed. Aware of its own immovable ontological status, the Fire has the confidence of all the lifetimes that it will survive everything and everyone and for now is content biding its time somewhere beyond the Dreamlands.

Technically, everything is still on fire, and lighting a torch or setting a bunch of sticks on fire with flint and tinder does not produce any kind of physical reaction in the material realm, but rather allows the Fire controlled and supervised passage into the perceptible spectrum. These ‘invitations’ or codified permissions were in fact set in stone long ago, and are actually nothing more than glorified, esoteric rituals that the more scientific minds pride themselves in calling ‘laws of physical causality’.

There are other ways, however, by which the Fire can sneak its way into this world. Bursts of smoldering passion, explosions of all-consuming rage, a surge of unrestrained wrath or any emotion that moves the soul towards a state of uncontrolled action and frantic motion can also open the metaphysical gates to the Fire. Barbarians of the Red Tribes, for example, abandon themselves into a torrent of violent fury, their bodies often igniting as they charge toward their enemies like human-shaped pyres come to life. (this is actually why their skin seems to glow with the hue of slumbering ember and why they lack any bodily hair; ritual shaving and body painting are usually undertaken by the youth in imitation of their elders as an attempt the bring themselves closer to the Fire).

Inspiration, ever so hard to find and always so sudden and unexpected in its appearance, is also speculated to be a byproduct of the Fire’s dreams, as they bleed into the feeble minds of mortal souls, granting visions of unlikely yet probable futures as well as glimpses of the quiet machinations of the Soul of Fire, which often translate into manic bouts of unbound creativity. As a result, enlightenment, brilliance, a restless intellect or an ardorous élan are often attributed to manifestations of the Fire.

The rest of the manuscript has succumbed to the influence of the Dreamlands, and as a result most of the sigils have been stripped of all coherent meaning, leaving behind only burnt paper and a riddle of ash. Four lines alone survive at the end of the manuscript, clinging to the page like a fallen footnote, unwilling to be lost or forgotten.  The lines read as follows:

 

The Fire sees.

The Fire knows.

The Fire waits.

The Flames burn.

The Line

To Edda and Samsara;

May you live more lives than one. 

There was a time when I thought I would achieve great things. Possessed by the spirit of youth, I saw in my future a tree made of golden leaves and silver branches, waiting for me to reach out and pick its fruit. As I age and my back keeps bending forwards, my eyes can no longer stand the brightness of such sight, and now I can only look down, where the roots, old and twisted, plunge deep into the earth. Around them, a carpet of fallen leaves and bleeding plums reveals to me the innards of the discarded futures I never dared confront.

I could blame the Line and all that came with it. I could blame the House of Transparency for my contentment, curse my life under the gaze of the Hegemonic Eye. But the truth is that I did nothing to resist it. We thought we were making a change. We believed we could make things happen. We took the streets and shouted and raged at those who made us miserable. Whenever we were not stopped, we thought we were winning. Until our dissent and its manifestations were sanctioned and included in the list of accepted practices and we understood we had been playing their game all along. There was no way out. There was no way in. The Hegemoic Eye saw all, and all it didn’t see, did not exist. The space in between was called the Line.

Looking back, I realise all the things we could´ve done and no one did. I wish I could tell you a story of bravery and defiance, of bold women and men who accomplished great things. For a time, we believed the Empaths were the answer. But then the House of Transparency came and even their message was filtered and codified so that we would see it through the Hegemonic Eye.

It took two children to end it all. Their story is well known all over the Ecology of Knowledges; everyone has read the many accounts narrating their encounter and the events that brought down the Hegemonic Eye. But as it is always said, there is only one way to fully understand a story, and that is telling it yourself.

“Beyond the Line there are no sins.”

Tahira thought about it as she was walking back home. She was always quick at grasping whatever new concepts the teacher threw at her. She was good at Maths, Physics, Philosophy and of course, the Science and the Language. She knew by heart the List of Accepted and Desired practices, as well as the Sinful Act. She was always told by how much she outstripped her classmates, and how much farther than them she would get. But what had the teacher meant? As she went down the road, Tahira passed a formation of men walking to work. Most of them had adopted the customary stance for efficient moves, a kinetic pattern created with the purpose of maximising one’s mobility without spending too much energy. Most days, she would also adopt that pattern on her way home, but today her movement was focused on stimulating deductive processes. She had learnt, from a very young age, that adopting the kinetic patterns prescribed by the House of Transparency brought ease to her mind and her body. Her limbs responded in a predictable way that she had learnt to recognise and perform. There was something soothing in being able to understand what was going on within and around you just by looking at the way people moved.

During dinner, Tahira asked her parents about it. Whatever she couldn’t understand, she could always count on them to explain.

            “Who said that to you?” her father said, keeping his eyes on the screen that made up one of the dining room walls.

            “A teacher.”

Both mother and father looked at Tahira.

            “Well, before the Line was drawn, there was no virtue or sin. There was no way of knowing what was wrong and what was right, until the House of Transparency came and brought to us the kinetic patterns and the List. Now, we don’t need to think about it.”

Tahira looked at her father, puzzled. She already knew that. But then again, father’s job didn’t involve knowing things, so she wasn’t very surprised by his explanation.

Her mother sensed another question brewing and answered it before it was uttered:

      “Although the word ‘sin’ makes reference to ancient religious practices and superstitions that the Science has long disproved, nowadays it is used to define those practices that everyone would call ‘wrong’. What your teacher probably meant is that dwellers beyond the Line do not know what is right because they do not know what is wrong.”

               “Is that why they live beyond the Line?”

               “Exactly,” answered mother with a smile.

              “And that’s why we live on this side,” added father.

They kept eating in silence.

Before going to sleep, Tahira asked the screen about the Line. There were many diagrams and graphics and maps stating its length and purpose. There was even an interactive simulation that showed its evolution over-time. There was, however, no date or time stamp that could tell her when the Line was drawn or by whom. The House of Transparency was also mentioned several times, as was the introduction of kinetic patterns and their vital role in society. Tahira noticed that the Line was not straight. In fact, it was very irregular at some places. A curiously shaped bent got her attention. It was not very far from home. Tahira yawned, selected a recommended dream from the list and went to sleep.

It didn’t take her long to find the place. She had almost forgotten about it after her refreshing dream, but when the teacher posed them a mathematical question on the screen, something in the way the numbers were arranged reminded her of the irregular patterns she had seen the night before on her own screen. After class, she found herself adopting a kinetic pattern she hadn’t attuned to in a very long time, and she got home earlier than usual. There was no one home. She knew what she had to do. She knew she had to select a recipe from the list, do her homework and her daily set of exercises, but for some reason, going through all that felt like the most difficult task she had ever faced. Tahira asked the screen for some meditative exercises. When she failed to calm down, she took her jacket and started walking towards the Line.

Although she had never been in that part of the city, everything looked increasingly familiar as she walked further away from home. The buildings, the streets, the crossroads, all had a dreamlike quality to them, as if her mind was trying too hard to remember them and thus convinced itself that she had already walked those roads. The more she went south, the less people she encountered. Twice she had to change route to avoid a couple of suspicious looking individuals whose kinetic patterns were hardly recognisable or bordered on the sinful.

Eventually, her steps took her to a small cove that blended gracefully with a lake so wide she had trouble seeing the other side. The entrance was hidden in such a natural way that she would have had trouble finding it if she hadn’t known where she was going. For some reason, the feeling of familiarity was stronger here.

 It couldn’t be much further to the Line.

Tahira checked her terminal and her blood froze. According to the map, the Line was right in front of her, cutting the lake in half. But there was nothing there. No wall, no fence, no contrast or desolation, nothing that marked the end of a world and the beginning of another. “Beyond the Line there are no sins.” As the feeling of familiarity threatened to overwhelm her, an unsurmountable urge to flee took over Tahira.

Mother was pacing up and down the dining room, trying to keep up with a pattern devised to ease worries and calm thoughts. As soon as father saw Tahira, he stood up with an inelegancy inappropriate for a man. Father had never been good at remembering patterns or enacting them and that was perhaps why he never got very far in life.

Where were you? Why did you leave? Why didn’t you answer your terminal? Have you not seen what’s going on? Tahira checked her terminal, as if looking for an excuse, but it was in a lockdown. All of them were. Apparently, the screen explained, the Empaths had taken the streets yet again, performing patterns of disconformity listed under the sinful act. The Hegemonic Eye was considering withdrawing the Line yet again so that another quarter of the city would be left on the other side, at least temporarily.

              “They will bring ruin to all of us. What’s with this nonsense of calling them people? There is no one beyond the Line! No one! Only beasts and savages without the Science and the Language!” grunted father.

Tahira wanted to cry. Mother shut down the screen. When father realised, he took Tahira in a silent embrace. It was then that she remembered. The cove, the sand, the lake. They lived there before, when the Line was still far away and sin was just a rumour. That night, Tahira chose not to dream.

The sand of the lake shore felt warm to the touch. Tahira had spent many days trying to solve the riddle of the Line in her mind. Her efforts had started to affect her kinetic patterns and her performance at school was also starting to drop. She had to know and see for herself.

Tahira took her shoes off and got closer to the water. At first, she was afraid that a hand with too many fingers would grab her from the ankles and drag her deep down, but when she felt the coolness easing her feet, she didn’t run away. Where was the Line? Where were the savages father spoke of? She spent some time imagining impossible things moving about the trees on the other side, looking at her with too many eyes bent at the wrong angles.

Tahira was ready to leave when she noticed something by her feet. It was a symbol drawn on the sand. She inspected it closely. It was not the Language. It was not the Science. It was something she had never seen before. All of a sudden, she became aware of the Line and its immediacy. There was another symbol now. And another. She fought the urge to run away with a series of localised kinetic patterns prescribed to abate ugly thoughts. What were they? Where did they come from? As the questions dawned on her mind, she realized that something, or rather someone, was drawing them. She looked at the hand holding the stick and then at the body it belonged to and finally at the face looking at her with curious eyes.

“What-“ Tahira tripped on her own feet before she could finish, falling on top of the symbols. A hand reached for Tahira. It was a hand with five fingers not unlike hers, connected to an arm also not unlike hers, governed by a body of familiar shapes and contours. Tahira counted the eyes on this new face: only two. They remained like that for some time until Tahira finally accepted the helping hand and got to her feet.

Was this girl a savage? She didn’t look dangerous. She didn’t feel dangerous. In fact, she didn’t even look that different. Tahira raised her hand and touched the girl’s face. It felt warm, just like her mum’s. The girl smiled and touched Tahira’s cheek in return. Soon, all the doubt was forgotten, and the children started to draw shapes on the sand and playing with the water. It was clear this girl didn’t know the Language, or the Science, and there was something about her kinetic patterns that Tahira couldn’t really grasp. She moved about in ways hard to predict, and sometimes she even incurred into patterns from the sinful act. But what puzzled Tahira the most were those patterns she couldn’t even recognise. It was almost as if the girl didn’t know what a pattern was. How odd, Tahira thought, and she wondered whether the girl felt the same way about her.

Perhaps there is something else than the Language, Tahira pondered one afternoon as she drew letters on the sand for her friend. But how was that possible? Wasn’t the point of the Language to unite the people and push civilization forward? Perhaps there is more than one Language, Tahira surprised herself thinking. Ever since she met Anlama, most of the things that came to her mind were questions. She had started questioning the patterns, the list, the Science, and even the Line itself. There was something in the smile of her friend that defied all categorizations and brought to her mind possibilities that she would have never thought possible.

It was one of those afternoons that mother found them. Tahira was looking at Anlama’s face, trying to repeat the sounds that came out of her mouth when her friend’s smile vanished.

Tahira turned to see what had scared her friend so much and she found mother standing right under the cove’s entrance, shielded by shadow. Tahira suddenly stood up, disregarding all kinetic patterns. Mother nodded. Tahira looked back one last time before following. Anlama was gone, the symbols on the sand scrapped.

 

The House of Transparency was waiting for her. She knew they were the ones to regulate the Language and the patterns as well as the list. She knew they were the ones who kept civilization together by keeping opacity at a minimum: “Transparency brings clarity. Clarity brings understanding. Understanding brings peace.” She remembered understanding the words once, when she had read them on her first visit, and the warmth they used to fill her with whenever she saw them on the screen. But where once was comfort and reassurance, now there was only despair.

          “Mum, please…” pleaded Tahira as the Regulators took her, tears raining down her cheeks. “Please don’t let them do it, please…”

            “I love you Tahira. More than anything else in this world.”

 Tahira’s last thoughts before falling asleep were of shapes in the sand and a friendly smile.

 

“Why do you have to pick me up at school?” Tahira asked mother not for the first time in the last few weeks. She had the vague recollection of having been ill. It must have been something serious, for it had even affected her kinetic patterns and her ability to follow them. Tahira had the feeling that there were some things she should be able to remember, but try as she might, she was unable to make things fall into place. “It’s an effect of the illness, don’t think too much about it and it will go away.”

That night, the screen talked about the Line. The Hegemonic Eye had decreed a new delineation that would reshape the city to reflect the new kinetic patterns established by the House of Transparency as a response to an increasing number of savages trying to cross the Line. In order to ensure safety, a curfew had been established with immediate effect. It was not far from home. Father started complaining and mumbling, while mother focused on her meal. Tahira could only look at the screen. There was something there, something that eluded her among the maps and diagrams and the pictures of violence. A memory that she should be able to remember lurked right beneath the screen, under place where the Line bent in a curious shape.

And then it hit her. The sand, the lake, the smile burning bright at the back of her mind. Tahira left the house ignoring the curfew and incurring into several sinful acts. She didn’t care anymore. She should have never cared. Before she realised what she was doing, she was already running towards the cove. There was no pattern her legs would obey or follow. With every stride, she shed a kinetic pattern and an element from the list was erased.  When she stumbled upon the riots, she simply plunged through. Empaths and Enforcers alike formed a sort of corridor of violence almost without realising. There was something about the way she moved that even the Empaths couldn’t grasp, something vaguely familiar and compelling that defied categorization.

Anlama was waiting on the lake when she finally got there. This time she was not alone. There were more people with her, behind her, around her. People from beyond the Line. As soon as she saw Tahira, Anlama ran towards her and the two of them fused in a sisterly embrace. Tahira could feel her heart beating against Anlama’s chest. She whispered something in her ear. She didn’t understand the words, but she didn’t need to. Now that they were together again, they could teach each other all the things they had never known they ignored.

            They were still locked in their embrace when they fell dead on the sand.

When the screens all over the city broadcast the Enforcer shooting the bullet that pierced the girls’ hearts, the city finally awoke. Although the uprising led by the Empaths shook the city to its foundations, the image of Anlama’s and Tahira´s blood mixing in the sand triggered on us more subtle and profound changes. The patterns were gradually abandoned only to become objects of study. The List that had once dictated the choices of so many was abolished, its contents preserved as a remainder of all the things that had been imposed upon us. But it was only when they entered the city and we welcomed each other like long lost relatives meeting for the first time that we realised: the Line was finally gone. Two children had brought it down.

It is your responsibility to never draw it again.

Embrace change.

Expand your ignorance.

Seek new ways of knowing.

And never forget that all knowledge is precious.

After all, there is no knowledge that is not known by someone for some purpose.