The torches in the academic agora began to burn dim after a particularly long lecture, while the Scholar brought his thoughts to a resounding close:

"Men seek transcendence.  While their methods for doing so vary from person to person, all tend towards a common goal: that goal being a removal of barriers, removal of weakness, removal of form itself.  This opposition to physical hindrance, as a testament to the problem mentioned heretofore, imbues the human with a profound sort of vivacity, a desire for that which lies beyond itself.  Often, if this desire not be medicated or buried in some way, the human will spiritually devour himself before his life's end, for this desire could be likened to a flame lit from birth, which burns brighter with each passing day, if such a thing be allowed.  The most common means of burying this flame deep within the subconscious are alcoholic imbibement, sexual pursuits, and rapturous delight in food.  Any comfort gained thereby can often still the murmur of the soul for a great period of time, with the foremost problem for us being the following:  Such pleasures exist in such manifold number that it is quite possible for the flame of transcendence to be smothered till a man's dying day, with the chief questions going unanswered.  

There remain yet more means of smothering this flame, however; for a man may run away to hide within himself in deep contemplation of some idea he finds particularly attractive.  The ideas at the mind's disposal for pleasure are quite many: power, wealth, marriage, conquest, service, philosophy, religion, and many more like these.  It seems that the heart and mind of a human may take delight in a great number of things, a vast horde of things, far beyond our reckoning or ability to name.  These things often metaphorically possess dark hands, like the branches of charred trees, grasping at the human soul, pulling it down closer to baseness.  From every side it seems the human is blasted with rumor of destruction and failure. What is a man to do?

To which I reply that only one man ever claimed to hold the key to unlock the hearts of men within his very person.  His teachings are that which we will study in this course, Contemporary Moral Problems of Humanity.  I have listed all further information in your syllabus, and look forward to a year of learning with you all."

The students gathered their things in a hurry, and ascended up the stairs of the agora, eager to enjoy many of the very pleasures mentioned by the Scholar.  Soon, the Scholar was left alone in the amphitheater as the torches continued to dim.  For a long while he stood at the lectern looking out at the empty seats, until the torches finally went out, and no other light remained but the light of the moon, full and bright overhead.  

I once was entirely like them, full of vigor, full of promise and hope...

Again, the Scholar contemplated the words of the dusty tome which he found in the library.  After days of critical analysis, it was clear that the book was attempting to communicate a map of the human psyche, but what the symbols recorded in the book could possibly mean still defied all understanding, even with all of the scholarly powers of the university behind him.  Now, frustration and deep longing constantly kept him company.  

I went to university to be able to answer questions such as these!  I sought answers, and still, more questions reveal themselves.  

"What good is wisdom, and what good have been my days if still the horizon of thought hides itself!"

His voice broke the silence with sudden and startling force, reverberating off the stone seats and pillars of the amphitheater, resulting in a slight jump and intake of breath from the Scholar.  

If only death would take me, for my labor is no longer worthwhile: the citadel of Truth is unattainable.  No answers reveal themselves anywhere I look; my bread turns to ash in my mouth, while all pleasures of the body and mind lose their charm.  Truly, as the Oracle says, "There shall come a day when desire fails and the laborers cease because they are few!"

With downcast gaze the Scholar gathered his things and walked home, as he had walked home many times before.  

He entered his home and shook off the chill of the draft as he shut the door.  

As he turned around from depositing his things, he started with surprise at what he saw: A man, dressed in a black jerkin and black riding clothes, standing at the edge of the vestibule, whose face was hidden by the shadows.

The Scholar made a move to light a torch, but the man lifted a single white hand, signaling his interdict of such an action.  The man moved into the light:

The man, with a face of purest white, charcoal gray hair, and eyes of piercing blue, wide and rapt with attention.  

"Greetings, my friend.  I have come at your call."

Words failed.

"I did not take you for a rude man. Again, hello to you!"

"Greetings", responded the Scholar, perturbed at the tremulous edge in his voice.

Plucking up his courage, the Scholar attempted reason, "If it is money you want, there is plenty within the house, and food if such be your desire."

With a slight smile, the man motioned for the Scholar to enter his home, ever the polite and preferential burglar.

Thus, the Scholar entered his home, and looking over his shoulder revealed that the man still stood at the vestibule.

Strange, does he merely seek to welcome me to my home? , thought the Scholar, scoffing.

He turned yet again to enter his home.

"Welcome, my friend!  Eat, drink, and be merry!"

Beholding the inner halls of his house with amazement, the Scholar gasped aloud, for the tables were set with fine foods, and wine was poured, with a fire lit in the hearth, where a second before was only pitch darkness.  

At the head of the table sat the man, with a wine glass leisurely cupped in his hand.  

After a moment of awe and bewilderment, the Scholar, "My lord, if I may call you such, I sense that whatever you are, you are not a creature of these mortal realms, and you have filled me with dread!  All I ask is this: from whence came you, and for what purpose?"

"I have come to drink your health, or lack thereof, for that matter", said the dark man, raising his glass, smiling a full, bright smile.  

"And as to your question, I have come from going hither and thither throughout the earth and its wastes, looking for such as seek transcendence.  I could not help but hear your rousing lecture and the grippingly honest words that followed; It seems you have finally reached the peak of wisdom, for which I applaud you!"

A full glass of wine appeared in the Scholar's hand.

"Drink."

The Scholar sipped the wine cautiously, and instantly felt a joy grip him beyond any of his previous joys.  

"Ah, yes, it is a good night for drinking!", said the Scholar with satisfaction, while still recalling some of his earlier despair, "but how came you here to toast my health?  And you have yet to answer whence you came? ....or who you are?"

"Such questions require a seat and an excellent meal, with music and laughter!" replied the man.

Music began, but no musicians could be seen.  Seared pork tenderloin appeared on the plate before him, with fine fruits of a kind the Scholar had never before seen, possibly from the East.  

"Now, you eat and drink, and I shall answer your questions as I am able. "

The Scholar sipped another draught of the fine wine, and listened attentively, not being able to hinder the roguish grin appearing on his face.  The wine quickly took its effect.

"To your first question, I say that quite simply your doings are talked of much by folk of my kith, and your seeking has caused quite a stir.  Many were very disapproving, but I took pleasure in watching your efforts, knowing that you would eventually find the correct answer.  Your lectures have often been very informative on the people of the One.  Though I know the One better than any within this mortal realm, his kindred is especially troublesome and beyond my comprehension.  At least it was so until I attended your lectures.  How very droll that even I have begun to receive an education!"

With that the man laughed boomingly at his own quip, shaking the rafters of the dining hall.  

Regaining composure, "Where was I? Ah yes, the purpose for which I have made myself known unto you. When a man beats against the doors of the spiritual realms as loudly and as long as you have done so, it causes a ruckus in heaven, and also, well... hell, of course."  

The Scholar took a deep draught of wine.

"And quite honestly, many of my associates were worried that your incessant clamor would reach the Throne of the One himself, that eternal meddler, but  – praise be to Heaven! –  it seems that he has not seen fit to meddle on this occasion, which means, that the door of greatness remains open to you, for you have seen the utter vanity and uselessness of all of this."

With the man's final words, he motioned a grand sweeping gesture to everything, as if he meant more than just the home and dining hall in which they sat.  

"At this point, if you have not gathered who I am exactly, you are exceedingly dull for a Scholar", spoke the man with a chuckle and grin, sipping his own wine.  

The Scholar also smiled, taking yet another draught of wine, "Truly, you are most obviously an angel of darkness, which I find most fitting, considering my mental state.  And ah yes, what a strange and sublime dream this is!", said the Scholar with a light laugh, the nervousness of which betrayed itself as it fell flat in the large dining hall.  

"And you have divined my nature somewhat correctly, my friend!  Now we can truly converse in detail.  You mentioned transcendence on multiple occasions in your lecture, which lead me to believe you are an authority on the subject.  So, pray tell me, what is it exactly?"

The music turned soft and low, humming in Dorian mode; calming, yet evocative of something beyond words, as the Scholar attempted an answer:

"Transcendence...that need to go beyond this present suffering, finding a place of quietness and serenity, finding a state of knowledge and understanding.  You ask me of that which men inquire after on a daily basis, when they look up at the stars and in an instant feel a quiver of doubt about themselves.  Or, when they kiss their lover and feel a resonance within their hearts, as if they were meant to be one with something.  And still more, when they flee from the depth of despair to hearken to the voice of truth, gazing upon the reality of things in such detail that every falsehood flees from view out of shame.  Such you have asked me, you angel of darkness, and such have I answered, for the arrogance of your kind is legendary and deserves a strong retort!"

Barely concealing a sneer, the angel, "How confidently you elocute for one who mere minutes ago doubted the very necessitude of existence itself!  Have you not considered the terrible injustice of your very being? You! A man who hath denied the greatness within, so that you may find truth.  You! A man who hath submitted to the grotesque mistreatment of the One and applied every bit of his slave morality to your life in such a way that hinders your view and prevents you from the very thing which you seek! You! Who give away all, that you may have your heart's desire, but still find it elusive and beyond your grasp.  Oh the tragedy, but ever and always, the absurd comedy of it all! You speak of these high-minded ideals with such a force of passion and certainty, when even you yourself know such things are rubbish, the affairs of idealistic, pre-pubescent boys!"

The Scholar appeared unabashed by the angel's onslaught of words, and responded clearly, as if in a mere academic debate.

"Injustice?  How can you speak of such when justice itself has not yet been defined?  I did not anticipate such a misstep from you, my lord", not helping the confident smile that grew on his lips.  

Seething, the angel mastered himself with terrifying discipline:  "I will define justice when you define transcendence, for your poetic musings have barely contested its deeper meanings.  You give examples of where its meaning may lie, but neglect to share the very things of which it may consist essentially.  Therefore, you neglecting to share a definition, I will share my own:  Transcendence, that release that comes when the futility of life is revealed, showing that Man's actions are all equal, as equal as the animals in their passions.  

For what is the benefit of any action when Death itself reigns supreme over the realm of man and beast alike!"

Without a hesitation, the Scholar loosed the quarrel of his own query:

"I most take issue with your terminology of 'slave morality.'  How can the morals of slaves elevate to the throne of Heaven?  How can the morality of slaves raise mean men to the height of kings?  And most of all, how can the breaking of such Law result in the precipitous fall from the heights of bliss?  

Let that which Justice hath struck down remain silent!"

The angel did not need to read a dusty tome to catch the allusion of the Scholar.  

He remained perfectly calm and still, but raged like the riptide currents of the ocean shores within his soul.  He gazed upon the Scholar with the intensity of a wolf on the hunt.

He raised his glass and softly said,

"Forgive me, O Scholar, it seems the wine and music have caused me to forget my manners – to your health!", said he, draining his own glass.  

And The Scholar drained his to the bottom as well.

Instantly, smoke filled his nostrils, burning sulfur, and rotting flesh.  

He fumbled around in front of himself, searching for the table as a landmark.  

Ahead of him there was a soft surface, a moving surface...

He recoiled and screamed in horror as the wall in front of him came alive with fanged worms and rotting hands, reaching out to him, tearing at his clothes, begging for mercy.  He fled in terror from the wall of decay, for light somewhere in the distance seemed to beckon with hope!

He stumbled and fell headlong into the ground, and realized with even greater dread that he walked upon men, thousands of men and women, packed tightly into the earth, gnashing upon one another with their teeth.  Blood pooled everywhere and covered the thrashing ground beyond all recognition.  

Ahead he tore with the speed of the damned, fleeing the dreadful calamity around him: the light loomed ahead, warm, and welcoming.

But alas, he stopped and realized with utter despair as the light moved into view:

The Pit of fire, cremating the damned eternally, and above the pit floated his house guest of mere seconds ago.

"Greetings, my friend, and welcome to the place where neither fire is ever quenched, nor worm ever dies!"

All at once,

as the light of his dying soul faded,

with a cry of combined desperation,

resignation,

crushing horror,

the Scholar,

"IT IS FINISHED!"

Darkness.