Retelling the Allegory of the Cave
“THERE IS AN ancient legend of Old Earth that speaks of three men of Aegina, who lived in a cave deep in the mountains,” said Magnus, with the warmth of a natural storyteller. Though he had heard this story before, Ahriman found himself captivated by Magnus’ voice, the natural charisma that loaded every commanding word.
“These men lived shut off from the light of the world and they would have lived in permanent darkness but for a small fire that burned in a circle of stones at the heart of the cave. They ate lichen that grew on the walls and drank cold water from an underground stream. They lived, but what they had was not living.
“Day after day, they sat around the fire, staring into the flickering embers and dancing flames, believing that its light was all the light in the world. The shadows made shapes and patterns on the walls, and this delighted them greatly. In their own way they were happy, moving from day to day without ever wondering what lay beyond their flickering circle of light.”
Magnus paused in his recital, allowing the audience to imagine the scene and picture the dancing shadows on the cave walls.
“But one day a mighty storm blew over the mountains, but so deep were the men that only the merest breath of it reached their cave. The fire danced in the wind and the men laughed to see new patterns on the wall. The wind died and they went back to contemplating the fire, much as they had always done.
“But one of the men got up and walked away from the fire, which surprised the other men greatly, and they bade him return to sit with them. This lone man shook his head, for he alone had a thirst to learn more of the wind. He followed it as it retreated from the cave, climbing steep cliffs, crossing chasms and negotiating many perils before he finally saw a faint haze of light ahead of him.
“He climbed out of the cave, emerging onto the side of the mountain, and looked up at the blazing sun. Its light blinded him and he fell to his knees, overcome by its beauty and warmth. He feared he had burnt out his eyes, but in a little while his vision returned, and he hesitantly looked around him. He had come out of the cave high on the mountain’s flank, and the world was spread out before him in all its glory: glittering green seas and endless fields of golden corn. He wept to see such things, distraught that he had wasted so many years in darkness, oblivious to the glory of the world around him, a world that had been there all along, but which his limited vision had denied him.”
The primarch stopped, looking up to the stars, and his rapt audience followed his gaze, as though picturing the blazing sun of his story.
“Can you imagine what it felt like?” asked Magnus, his voice wracked with emotion. “To have spent your entire life staring at a small fire and thinking it was the only light in the world, only to be then confronted by the sun? The man knew he had to tell his friends of this miraculous discovery and he made the journey back to the cave where the other men sat, still staring into the fire and smiling vacuously at the shadows on the wall. The man who had seen the sun looked at the place he had called home and saw it for the prison it truly was. He told the others what he had seen, but they were not interested in far-fetched tales of a burning eye in the sky – all they wanted to do was live their lives as they had always lived them. They called him mad and laughed at him, continuing to stare at the fire, as it was the only reality they knew.”
Ahriman had first heard this story as a Philosophus in the Corvidae Temple when Magnus had mentored him prior to facing the Dominus Liminus. He heard the same note of bitterness in the primarch’s voice that he had heard then, a precisely modulated pitch that conveyed the proper measure of anguish and frustration at the blindness of the men in the cave. How, Magnus’ tone said, could anyone turn away from such light once they knew of its existence?
“The man could not understand his friends’ reluctance to travel to the world above,” continued Magnus, “but he resolved that he would not take their refusal to come with him as an end to the matter. He would show them the light, no matter what, and if they would not come to the light, then he would bring it to them.
“So the man climbed back to the world of light and began to dig. He dug until he had widened the cave mouth. He dug for a hundred years, and then a hundred more, until he had dug away the top of the mountain. Then he dug downwards, a great pit in the heart of the mountain, until he broke through into the cave where his fellows sat around the fire.”
Magnus fell silent, his words trailing off, though Ahriman knew it was a theatrical pause rather than any real moment of introspection. Knowing how the story ended, Ahriman was not surprised Magnus had stopped here, In the original version of the tale, the man’s friends were so terrified by what they were shown that they killed the man and retreated deeper into the cave with their fire to live their lives in perpetual twilight.
The tale was an allegorical parable on the futility of sharing fundamental truths with those with too narrow perceptions of reality. By telling it selectively, Magnus had broken his covenant with the audience, but none of them would ever know. Instead, he continued his tale with fresh words woven from his imagination.
“The men were amazed at what he showed them, the light they had been missing for all their lives and the golden joy that could be theirs were they just brave enough to take his hand and follow him. One by one, they climbed from their dark cave and saw the truth of the world around them, all its wonders and all its beauty. They looked back at the dank, lightless cave they had called home and were horrified by how limited their understanding of the world had been. They heaped praise upon the man who had shown them the way to the light, and honoured him greatly, for the world and all its bounty was theirs to explore for evermore.”
Magnus let his new ending wash over the amphitheatre, and no member of the Theatrica Imperialis had given so commanding a performance. A rolling wave of applause erupted from the tiers, and Magnus smiled, the perfect blend of modestly and gratitude. Sanguinius and Fulgrim were on their feet, though Mortarion and the Death Guard remained as stoic as ever.
As pitch-perfect as Magnus’ delivery had been, Ahriman saw that not all of the audience were won over, though it was clear the case against Magnus and the Thousand Sons was no longer as cut and dried as his accusers had hoped.
Magnus raised his hands to quell the applause, as though abashed to be so acclaimed.
“The man knew he had to show his friends the truth of the world around them,” he said, “and just as it was his duty to save his friends from their dull, sightless existence, it is our duty to do the same for humanity. The Thousand Sons alone of all the Legions have seen the light beyond the gates of the empyrean. That light will free us from the shackles of our mundane perceptions of reality and allow the human race to stand as masters of the galaxy. Just as the men around the fire needed to be shown the glorious future that lay within their grasp, so too does humanity. The knowledge the Thousand Sons are gathering will allow everyone to know what we know, to see as we see. Humanity needs to be led upwards with small steps, with their eyes gradually opened lest the light blind them. That is the ultimate goal of the Thousand Sons. Our future as a race is at stake. My friends, I urge you not to throw away this chance for enlightenment, for we are at a tipping point in the history of the Imperium. Think of the future and how this moment will be judged in the millennia to come.”
Magnus bowed to the cardinal points of the amphitheatre. “Thank you for your attention,” he said. “That is all I have to say.”
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