BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 53:
"My God, my God," he heard himself muttering over and over again. "What a disaster! My God, how did something like this happen? We never allowed lit lamps or candles unless someone was actually using them! Never!"
"You didn't this time, either, Doctor," Captain Athrawes said grimly.
"What?" Mahklyn blinked at him. "What did you say?"
"I said you didn't leave any lit candles behind, Doctor." The seijin turned to look at him levelly. "And this was no accident, either. That fire was deliberately set."
"What?" Mahklyn shook his head violently. "No, that's not possible. It couldn't be!"
"Why not? This building, your College," Merlin waved one hand at the roaring, crackling inferno as the first of the city's fire pumps came thundering up behind a pair of foothill dragons, "has been denounced by the Temple Loyalists from the very beginning, Doctor. It's one of their pet horrors, the home of all that 'unclean knowledge' that 'led the Crown into apostasy,' isn't it? Why shouldn't one of their zealots decide to burn it to the ground?"
Mahklyn stared at him as the firemen began coupling hoses between the pump and the closest fire department cistern while others took their places at the pump handles. It was obvious they couldn't save the College, but they might save the buildings to either side if they could get enough water on them quickly enough.
"Surely it hasn't come to the point that people are willing to murder one another so casually!" the doctor exclaimed.
"You think not?" Merlin raised an eyebrow, and his eyes were hard. "You may, perhaps, remember the fact that less than three five-days ago they tried to murder Archbishop Maikel in the nave of his own cathedral?"
"Well, yes, of course it was, but he's the Archbishop! If anyone's going to be a logical target — assuming there could be any such thing for something like this — then obviously it would be him. But to murder someone like me? A no one? As if it were no more than swatting a fly? Surely not!"
"If it hasn't come to that yet, it soon will." Merlin's deep voice was harsh as crushed stone. "And you're scarcely 'a no one,' either, Doctor! I'll grant you, whoever set this particular fire probably didn't have murder on his mind, but not because they wouldn't think killing you was worthwhile. I simply doubt that they could have realized the opportunity even existed. How many people outside the College itself know the hours you keep?"
"Not very many," Mahklyn conceded, swinging away from the other man to stare at the flames once again.
"Then probably our friend with the tinderbox didn't know it, either. He probably thought the building would be empty at this time of night."
"I suppose that makes me feel a little better," Mahklyn said bleakly. "But if whoever it was wanted to destroy the College, he's succeeded. All our records, all our documents, all our work is inside that building, Seijin Merlin. Everything, you understand? Gone."
"The records and the documents, yes, Doctor." Mahklyn turned back to look at Merlin once more, startled by the gentleness which had suddenly infused the guardsman's voice. Merlin looked back steadily, and his shoulders twitched in an odd little shrug. "The records may be gone, but the minds which created them, or studied them, or worked with them, are still here."
"We can't possibly reconstitute all of that –"
"Probably not, but at least you can make a start on it. And, if you'll permit me to say so, what you really need is to find yourselves some youngsters with the same mindset. Get them involved. Give them some starting points and some guidance, then stand back and see where they take it. You might be surprised. And at least you know Cayleb is prepared to support and fund you openly. Let him, Doctor. You've got too much rebuilding to do to worry about the independence from the Crown that might have been so important forty years ago."
Mahklyn stared at him, listening to the mocking roar of the furnace consuming his life's work. The insulating effect of shock and the first outriders of grief were already beginning to pass, and as he met Merlin's eyes in the lurid glare of the flames, he knew why that was. They were being displaced by another emotion — rage. Raw, bloody-fanged rage. Rage such as he had never before felt in his entire life.
"Yes, Doctor," Captain Athrawes said, nodding almost as if he could read Mahklyn's mind. "Whatever else happens, you can't let these people –" he gestured at the booming flames " — win, can you?"
* * * * * * * * * *
Bishop Mylz Halcom watched the additional fire engines charging through the city streets. Despite the lateness of the hour, the seething torrent of crimson flame and midnight-black smoke had summoned quite a crowd out into the streets, as well. Many of the spectators were hurrying forward to assist the firemen in fighting the flames, although it must be obvious to all of them that the Royal College itself was already doomed. The majority were simply gawking in awe at the holocaust. It wouldn't be long until they figured out exactly how the fire had started, though, and Halcom nodded to himself in satisfaction.
All the loyal sons of Mother Church had needed was a little leadership, a little direction to point the way for their outraged faith to strike back at the abomination of the so-called "Church of Charis'" schismatic heresy.
And what could have been a more suitable target? he asked himself. It's time Cayleb and his sycophants discover just how hot the true faithful's rage really burns. That accursed seijin may have managed to save that tratior Staynair's life, but they know now that one setback isn't going to cause us to just give up! Perhaps this little bonfire will help them . . . reassess their decision to raise impious hands against God's true Church.
And if it doesn't, I'm sure we'll be able to find one that will . . . eventually.