The Masks of the Seven Gates
One should not say one thing and think the other thing in ones heart.
Ozelot found the discussion at any rate very straining for Aron stood his ground on even the thorniest points of the exchange. Taking care not to lose his temper, after all he was out to gain the prince's trust by stealth, Ozelot quickly devoured one slippery snake after another. The poison seemed to calm him down for after the last bite he turned once again with great equanimity toward his companion.
"My darlings are not at all as depraved as you think," was Ozelot's answer to a reproach Prince Aron had not spoken out loud. "At least not as long as I'm the caretaker of their reputation. For I do my best to conceal their true nature from the world. Everyone likes to appear in the best of lights, even my evil seven. That's why it's an honor for me to disguise their wickedness. No one discerns their true nature because no one can look inside of them. It's all in the outward appearance. That's why I drape my darlings in the mantle of harmlessness so that your clueless sunlanders don't regard them as particularly worrisome and certainly not as dangerous. Generally, the evil seven (1) (2) (3) are being dismissed as excusable weaknesses, bad habits, or quirks. That's exactly my ruse. I want my darlings to be taken as naïve. This serves them well in their task of pulling the wool over your eyes. Furbo, furbissimo! Ain't that damn clever? The effect appears to be minute and inconsequential. No one recognizes their terrible power. No one realizes how he is slowly drawn into a world from which there is no return," divulged the secret seducer.
"In times gone by, yes, back then, my darlings were still hiding under the dark cover of night because they were afraid to be found out. But that has long changed. Now they carry on their misdeeds in broad daylight and nobody gives a damn. They get bolder and your Nubians ever more gullible because they are no longer able to distinguish sins from virtues." Ozelot's sides were splitting with laughter which resounded thunderously from the walls of the throne room. "Some even take the deadly ones for virtues. And that's how it should be for it makes it easier to lure you onto the wrong path. Far off any virtues, the evil seven are able to spoil characters and dissolve the order between heaven and earth. Isn't that fabulous?" asked the black ruler without waiting for an answer. "Your sunlanders have learned to see the world through my eyes in the process of which they are being taken for a ride by the Flying Spider." (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
"That's ghastly." Aron instinctively felt for his neck. He still felt the cold breath and the thin, prickly legs. "Everything you say is ghastly. You distort and obscure the facts to a point where one gets dizzy and no longer knows what's right and what's wrong. You see the world the way you want to see it. I see the world from a different perspective," Prince Aron fought back with disgust.
"I don't exaggerate. It's all even much worse than you have ever experienced in your darkest dreams. Not for a minute do your dim-witted Nubians suspect that they are swallowing a bait with which I will drag them through the seven gates into the black holes. There they will rot through all eternity as shadow ghosts. Isn't that ingenious?" Ozelot was overcome with infernal glee. He pounded his armor twice with his fist, making it rumble.
The prince wanted to protest and tell him what one regards as dim-witted, another calls well-meaning, but the lord of darkness babbled on brazenly: "Don't think that your sunlanders are coerced into swallowing something they don't want to swallow. They do it completely of their own free will. Your virtues have failed. They didn't succeed in educating the Nubians in the most basic matters. Sunlanders should know that not all that tastes good is good for them. They should also know that they are running a great risk if they let the evil seven sidetrack them from the righteous path and disrespect all limits. Even when Superbia has managed to drag a soul as far as the gate, they could still turn back. Is it my fault that your people lack the backbone to say 'No!' Saying 'No!' is your strength, (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) but you take it for weakness.
The cowardliness of the good is the power of the evil. There's nothing anyone can do about it. Do you get it now, Prince Greenhorn, with what kind of adversaries your nampy-pampy virtues are faced? It's your curiosity, your desire to see and experience the worst and that's exactly what breaks your neck," sneered Ozelot as he laid out to Prince Aron the painful reality of his people's weak character. "Each of you is free to decide what actions to take, be it right or wrong. You have the freedom and the power to cast your lot with the evil seven."
"Or with the noble seven. We always straddle good and evil. The choice makes the difference," the sun prince countered bravely.
"Sure. But believe me, nobody has ever been infected by truth and morality. What's right for one mustn't be valid for another by a long shot. My darlings know very well that ill feelings hold true power over the likes of you. Reason and sound judgment take second place among you. But whoever surrenders to his destructive impulses loses control of himself and the situation. How easy it is to ensnare your people and how little can be done against it. That's the true artistry of my darlings. When my darlings' camouflage has by and large been successful, your people with all their gullibility succumb everywhere. That's just the way you are. Between heaven and earth, you simply want it all. You are unable to deny yourselves anything. I'm telling you, my gold prince, you don't need any of this. For, once someone is hooked, he will encounter the last, black secret of his soul before his ultimate downfall. He'll march ineluctably toward his fate, for the evil seven are in reality the grim reapers. They lead you off the straight and narrow path toward traversing a perilous threshold. All in all there are gates through which you should absolutely not pass," the black baron made fun of the sunlanders' unwariness. "Those who don't recognize the limits and fall victim to the evil seven, destroy their own life and that of their parents. Their suffering will go on forever. I rejoice over every Nubian who gets to feel personally that the deadly seven rightfully bear their name," Ozelot painted the artistry of his favorites in the darkest colors.
"What a ghastly lesson. But each one of us is familiar with these burning sentiments," Aron countered. "Arrogance, anger, greed, all these are part of human nature. When someone bursts with anger, when he gets boiling mad, he still doesn't turn into a murderer by any means. For deep inside of us is a dividing line we won't cross. This guardian rings a warning bell should we tend toward something dishonest. Even if we turn against our inner voice, it gives us the proper advice. This authority, which stands even above the crown and is higher than the law, was instituted by the Eternal himself. It is our conscience that guards us against harm, the harm that your evil seven inflict because they hide their true intentions."
"Believe what you want. The human conscience has long abdicated. Who's still plagued by a bad conscience nowadays? Who still listens to that inner warning voice? Your guardian has lost all power because my darlings are stronger! Your weaklings can't resist the secret of evil. When barriers begin to crumple, the enemy will pass through. We are your enemies. But who among you recognizes us? Many Nubians never give it a second thought when they act unjustly. They have forgotten that which really counts in life. They don't care about having someone on their conscience because they are unable to control Avaritia, (1) because they can't stuff themselves enough, and they will step over dead bodies for Nubian gold. Your miserable, meek-voiced conscience has nothing to offer to counter my brilliant darlings. The evil seven push you into a high of desires because, most of all, you always want more. They make you forget how velvety soft a clear conscience feels. They make you forget all that you deem good and noble. They render you deaf and blind toward your insipid virtues."
"My dear enemy," Aron cited his opponent in his mind, "all you have are these lousy seven. I for my part, however, can amass an entire people. They all carry the virtues in their hearts and each one of them hears the warnings from his conscience about your cutthroats. The evil seven will never tip the balance in their favor, that I can guarantee you. Plenty of sunlanders have an honest hide and don't constantly push the limits."
But Prince Aron was smart enough not to express his thoughts out loud for his desire to bring back his parents trumped all else. Only they were important and worth of Nubia's gold, his parents, his gold dust. For them, the prince exposed himself to all the dangers of this world. For what would he be without his parents?
"My darlings have an array of talents with which to muddle your head. You can hide behind your 'armor', your inner uprightness, as you call it, all you want. We'll get you in the end," Ozelot continued to spin his tale. "For if one always wants more without consideration for others, it can happen that in a moment of rage one kills inadvertently the person one claims to love most. At such a point, one has long lost all conscience, one takes without giving, and be it a life. Then there's no going back, the threshold has been crossed. Most sunlanders recognize too late what Superbia (1) or Ira (1) has made of them and the deadly rightfully deserve their name. They destroy your character, undermine the divine order, and eradicate all human love." Ozelot couldn't rejoice enough in his favorites' accomplishments. Malice flickered in his beast-of-prey eyes.
"Then the evil seven are the seven gates to our dark side?" Prince Aron, who mustered the firmness of a tree, made sure he got it right. And he needed it in order not to waver for he wanted to get to know every aspect of his opponent. Only those who know the sound of the evil one, who see through and understand his character will be able to protect themselves against him. That much became clear to him at that moment.
"Let's put it this way," Ozelot continued his boasting, "at the doorstep of darkness live seven blackguards in seven gates. They do all they can to give the soul a wrong direction so that it will encounter its own shadow. In the end, it will be devoured anyway." His eyes filled with horror, Aron turned away from Ozelot.
"Come on," the dark ruler tried to make nice again. "I'm not as bad as you think. We all take care of our families, and my family are the evil seven. They too need to eat every day. It's a dog eat dog world. My darlings eat souls, what's the big deal? The only reason why you want to right everything is for you to strengthen your power. So you see, I too want to strengthen my power by weakening yours. That works best if I stalk your souls and poison their good thoughts. It's the fatal poison of my family that spreads its effect in your hearts. Worse than all outward symptoms are the changes they wreak primarily in the innermost being. Thoughts are like threads one follows. The poison of the deadly ones makes sure that the good thoughts get off their usual track and turn toward arrogance, anger, envy, (1) and greed. The evil seven determine your decision long before you meet them. For sentiments are stronger than reason. They are your advisers, who lead you astray . . .Toward the bad."
"Hopefully toward the good," Aron held out under the evil thoughts. They gave him an inkling of why it was so difficult to be a good person, and even more difficult to remain one.
Again Ozelot flashed his shark grin whereby his knight's helmet disappeared partially, but right away covered the ghastly mouth again. "We understand each other. We are cut of the same wood, for we are rulers."
The black baron, in the spirit of comradeship, slapped Aron's back with his claw almost causing him to collapse. If we are supposed to be of the same wood then you are made of coal, but the sun prince kept his thoughts hidden from the ruler of the world of darkness. To destroy an opponent from inside was simply abhorrent to the brave prince. For Ozelot it was nothing more than the art of war which since the beginning of time has fought for the evil side in man.
The ugly in Ozelot had put his cards on the table, had blurted out all his tricks and depravities. Never before had the lord of darkness given away all that takes place behind the scenes. This was not a good sign, but Aron was inexperienced in these little games and therefore it escaped his notice. Ozelot's plan, his strategy of putting the mask (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) of naiveté on the evil seven to make them look like harmless vices (1) (2) filled Aron with disgust and admiration at the same time and even his fantasy was germinating ghastly, black flowers. How rotten must someone be to purposely mislead a soul and devise its undoing. The thought made Prince Aron recoil. No wonder many sunlanders don't recognize the danger and wander obliviously into Ozelot's fatal snares, he made excuses for his subjects to himself.
Suddenly the sun prince became aware of the true extent of his parents' arguments and how they had permitted themselves to be devoured by the deadly power of IRA in their concern for the continuance of the good thoughts. He knew now that even a king and a queen are not infallible. They desired the good and did the bad. They too probably did not recognize how dangerous IRA could be and failed to drive out these bad feelings, these intruders. The absence of fortitude and vigilance had been the undoing even of my parents. If I ever get out of here alive, the prince swore to himself, I will do everything to fight evil with good. The odds of this power struggle with the lord of darkness were not in his favor. Then the prince asked rather valiantly: "Is there anything else I should know?" even though he had already seen and heard more than he could stomach.
"You know what," Ozelot rumbled on through the throne room, which to Aron seemed to have no end, "keep an eye out on the sunlanders and you'll recognize my darlings' fine art of seduction in their bad nature. The evil seven turn into convivial buddies with whom one enjoys having a boisterous good time. Little transgressions turn into malicious monsters."
Instinctively, Prince Aron took a step to the right as if to duck an invisible cudgel Ozelot was swinging at him. This Ozelot was really the most cunning and unscrupulous beast he had ever met. He would have liked nothing better than to wish some kind of scabies on him or to see him suffocate in his own wickedness. But the virtues in him kept the upper hand. They didn't permit the ruler of Nubia to slide down the path of ill sentiments. When Aron noticed Anger starting to seethe in him to seal his fate forever, he heard Wisdom asking him just in time: "With what do you fill your heart: with hatred or love?" Sharp as a knife, his mind recognized that Ozelot had only been waiting for this one moment. The prince forced himself to think for a moment before acting. Thus he saw through the black baron's trickery of deliberately filling his heart with hatred so as to turn him into something ghastly and erratic. Wisdom saved Aron from his anger. IRA abated and Aron thought furtively: somehow furbo, furbo, furbissimo - as clever as a rogue, this black ruler, and an ice-cold sensation drizzled down his back. The prince had been saved, at least for the moment. He retained control over his own feelings. The darkness had not been able to find an entry into his soul. next