These are relevant references from the Books where Flame Death is mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
"On the other hand," he said, "you will learn that in lighting, shelter, agricultural techniques, and medicine, for example, the Mortals, or the Men Below the Mountains, are relatively advanced." He looked at me - amused, I think. "You wonder," he said, "why the numerous, rather obvious deficits in our technology have not been repaired in spite of the Priest-Kings. It crosses your mind that there must exist minds on this world capable of designing such things as, say, rifles and armored vehicles."
"Surely these things must be produced," I urged.
"And you are right," he said grimly. "From time to time they are, but their owners are then destroyed, bursting into flame."
"Like the envelope of blue metal?"
"Yes," he said. "It is Flame Death merely to possess a weapon of the interdicted sort. Sometimes bold individuals create or acquire such war materials and sometimes for as long as a year escape the Flame Death, but sooner or later they are struck down." His eyes were hard. "I once saw it happen," he said.
The Supreme Initiate turned and faced me, pointing that long skeletal finger.
"Die the Flame Death," he said.
I had heard of the Flame Death from my father and from the Older Tarl that legendary fate which overtook those who had transgressed the will of the Priest-Kings. I knew almost nothing of the fabled Priest-Kings, but I did know that something of the sort must exist, for I had been brought to Gor by an advanced technology, and I knew that some force or power lay in the mysterious Sardar Mountains. I did not believe that the Priest-Kings were divine, but I did believe that they lived and that they were aware of what occurred on Gor and that from time to time they made known their will. I did not even know if they were human or nonhuman, but, whatever they might be, they were, with their advanced science and technology, for all practical purposes, the gods of this world.
On the back of my tarn, I waited, not knowing if I was to be singled out for the Flame Death, not knowing if I, like the mysterious blue envelope in the mountains of New Hampshire, so long ago, was doomed to explode in a devouring blue flame.
"Die the Flame Death," repeated the old man, once again jabbing that long finger in my direction. But this time the gesture was less grand; it seemed a bit hysterical; it seemed pathetic.
"Perhaps no man knows the will of the Priest-Kings," I said.
"I have decreed the death of the girl," cried the old man wildly, his robes fluttering around his bony knees. "Kill her!" he shouted to the men of Ar.
No one moved. Then, before anyone could stop him, he seized a sword from the scabbard of an Assassin and rushed to Talena, holding it over his head with both hands. He wobbled hysterically, his eyes mad, his mouth slobbering, his faith in the Priest-Kings shattered, and with it his mind. He wavered over the girl, ready to kill.
"No!" cried one of the Initiates. "It is forbidden!"
Heedlessly, the insane old man tensed for the blow that would end the life of the girl. But in that instant he seemed to be concealed in a bluish haze, and then, suddenly, to the horror of all, he seemed, like a living bomb, to explode with fire. Not even a scream came from that fierce blue combustive mass that had been a human being, and in a minute the flame had departed, almost as quickly as it had come, and a dust of ashes scattered from the top of the cylinder in the wind.
"It is said below the mountains that Priest-Kings know all that occurs on Gor."
"Nonsense," said Misk. "But perhaps I shall show you the Scanning Room someday. We have four hundred Priest-Kings who operate the scanners, and we are accordingly well informed. For example, if there is a violation of our weapons laws we usually, sooner or later, discover it and after determining the coordinates put into effect the Flame Death Mechanism."
I had once seen a man die the Flame Death, the High Initiate of Ar, on the roof of Ar's Cylinder of Justice. I shivered involuntarily.
"I once saw a man die the Flame Death," I said. "Is that mechanism also in this room?"
"Yes," said Sarm, indicating with one foreleg a quiet-looking metal cabinet to one side possessing several dials and knobs. "The projection points for the Flame Death are located in the surveillance craft," said Sarm, "but the coordinates are fixed and the firing signal is relayed from this room. The system is synchronized, of course, with the scanning apparatus and may be activated from any of the control panels at the observation cubes."
"Of course," I said.
I looked about the room. It was an exceedingly long chamber and built on four levels, almost like steps. Along each of these levels, spaced a few feet from one another, were the observation cubes, which resembled cubes of transparent glass, and were approximately sixteen feet square. I was told by Sarm that there were four hundred such cubes in the room, and monitoring each, I could see a Priest-King, tall, alert, unmoving. I walked along one of the levels, gazing into the cubes. Most of them were simply filled with the passing scenery of Gor; once I saw a city, but what city it was I could not tell.
Sarm and I passed further on down one of the long levels, looking into one or another of the observation cubes.
Suddenly one of the cubes we passed locked onto a given scene and no more did the scenery move past me as though in a three-dimensional screen. Rather the magnification was suddenly increased and the air became suddenly filled with more intense odors.
On a green field somewhere, I had no idea where, a man in the garments of the Caste of Builders, emerged from what was apparently an underground cave. He looked furtively about himself as though he feared he might be observed. Then, satisfied that he was alone, he returned to the cave and emerged once more carrying what resembled a hollow pipe. From a hole in the top of this pipe there protruded what resembled the wick of a lamp.
The man from the Caste of Builders then sat cross-legged on the ground and took from the pouch slung at his waist a tiny, cylindrical Gorean fire-maker, a small silverish tube commonly used for igniting cooking fires. He unscrewed the cap and I could see the tip of the implement, as it was exposed to the air, begin to glow a fiery red. He touched the fire-maker to the wicklike projection in the hollow tube and, screwing the fire-maker shut, replaced it in his pouch. The wick burned slowly downward toward the hole in the pipe. When it was almost there the man stood up and holding the pipe in both hands trained it at a nearby rock. There was a sudden flash of fire and a crack of sound from the hollow tube as some projectile hurtled through it and shattered against the rock. The face of the rock was blackened and some stone had been chipped from its surface. The quarrel of a crossbow would have done more damage.
"Forbidden weapon," said Sarm.
The Priest-King monitoring the observation cube touched a knob on his control panel.
"Stop!" I cried.
Before my horrified eyes in the observation cube the man seemed suddenly to vaporize in a sudden blasting flash of blue fire. The man had disappeared. Another brief incandescent flash destroyed the primitive tube he had carried. Then once again, aside from the blackened grass and stone, the scene was peaceful. A small, curious bird darted to the top of the stone, and then hopped from it to the blackened grass to hunt for grubs.
"You killed that man," I said.
"He may have been carrying on forbidden experiments for years," said Sarm. "We were fortunate to catch him. Sometimes we must wait until others are using the device for purposes of war and then destroy many men. It is better this way, more economical of material."
"But you killed him," I said.
"Of course," said Sarm, "he broke the law of Priest-Kings."
"What right have you to make the law for him?" I asked.
"The right of a higher-order organism to control a lower-order organism," said Sarm. "The same right you have to slaughter the bosk and the tabuk, to feed on the flesh of the tarsk."
I wondered about the young male Priest-King in the secret chamber below Misk's compartment. I supposed my best way of serving Misk might be to abandon him to his death and try to protect the young male, but these were matters in which I had little interest. I did not know the location of the female egg nor could I have tended it had I known; and, further, that the race of Priest-Kings should wither and die did not seem the proper business of a human, particularly considering my hatred for them, and my rejection of their mode of regulating in so many important respects the lives of men in this world. Had they not destroyed my city? Had they not scattered its people? Had they not destroyed men by Flame Death and brought them, willing or no, to their own world on the Voyages of Acquisition?
I looked at the golden rows of Priest-Kings, alert, immobile, their heads wreathed in green leaves, about their necks dangling the tiny, primitive, silverish tools telling of a distant, simpler time before the Scanning Chamber, the Power Plant and the Flame Death.
I knew that never before in the history of the planet had a man been seen to return from the Sardar.
The Initiates, hundreds of them, knelt in long lines to the crags of the Sardar, to the Priest-Kings. I saw their shaven heads, their faces distraught in the bleak white of their robes, their eyes wide and filled with fear, their bodies trembling in the robes of their caste.
"Do you come from Priest-Kings?" he asked.
He was a tall man, rather heavy, with bland soft features, but his voice was very deep and would have been quite impressive in one of the temples of the Initiates, constructed to maximize the acoustical effects of such a voice. His eyes, I noted, in contrast with his bland features, his almost pudgy softness, were very sharp and shrewd. He was no man's fool. His left hand, fat and soft, wore a heavy ring set with a large, white stone, carved with the sign of Ar. He was, I gathered, correctly as it turned out, the High Initiate of Ar, he who had been appointed to fill the post of the former High Initiate whom I had seen destroyed by the Flame Death years earlier.
Then, to my horror, a large, golden creature, six-legged, supporting itself on its four long back legs, almost upright, stepped from the ship. It had large eyes and, I thought, antennae. It moved swiftly, delicately, almost daintily toward the ship and, bending down, disappeared inside. Some of the men followed it in.
In perhaps less than a minute the creature, and the men, emerged from the ship; they, together with their fellows, then swiftly re-entered the silverish ship. The hatches slid shut and the ship, almost simultaneously, lifted itself, silently, some hundred feet from the grass. Then it moved above the wreck of the black ship. There was a sudden, bluish flash, and a blast of almost incandescent heat. I put my head down. When I raised my head the silverish, disklike ship was gone. And so, too, was the wreck of the black ship. When I dared I went back to the site of the wreck. The depression in which it had lain, and the earth around, for some tens of feet, was scorched. But I could find nothing of the ship, not a bolt or a bit of quartz, not a thread of metal or a scrap of wire.
"Do you believe in Priest-Kings?" asked Marcus.
"Certainly," I said.
"I do not," he said.
"As you will," I said.
"But how are we to explain the Weapons Laws, the Flame Death?" he asked.
"That would seem to be your problem, not mine," I said, "as I accept their existence."
"Several of them, I think, are about," said Fel Doron.
"As I understand it," said Mirus, who now joined the group, "the Priest-Kings enforce their laws by the Flame Death."
Human beings tend to assume that the Priest-Kings are rather like themselves, that they are human, or, at least, humanoid. Perhaps their vanity prompts such a speculation. Kurii, too, incidentally, assume that the Priest-Kings must be somehow akin to them. Surely the terror of their ships and the accuracy of their weaponry suggests that. But let us not waste fruitless speculation on this matter. Whatever may be the nature of the Priest-Kings, it is clear, as does not seem to be the case with many gods, that they exist.
The Flame Death, with which they commonly enforce their laws, if nothing else, mitigates against agnosticism in this matter.
He had not been informed, of course, by Priest-Kings of his inadvertence, error or crime. This is not unusual. Would you inform, say, an insect, or small animal, found annoying, of the reasons for your displeasure? You would, presumably, simply deal with it, and as you pleased. Surely the Flame Death does not explain itself, but simply strikes. But in certain cases, with rational creatures, this lack of communication is deliberate, and calculated to unravel, so to speak, its victim, who, perplexed and frightened, is denied an accounting of his alleged faults or charges. He is plunged then into confusion, dismay, and, not unoften, is overcome by a sense of unlocalized, nebulous guilt.
"I wish I had a rifle," said Pertinax.
"It is better that you do not," I said. "If you possessed such a weapon, you would be in violation of the weapon laws of Priest-Kings, and liable to the flame death."
"Surely there would be an inquiry, a trial, or such," he said.
"No," I said.
Whatever the truth may be in these matters the Priest-Kings, as is their wont, did not explain the rationale for their rulings. They do enforce them, however, mercilessly, with the Flame Death. Perhaps the rulings on body armor were not even particularly rationally motivated, at all; perhaps they were the result of a random notion or an idiosyncratic whim on the part of one or more Priest-Kings. Whatever the case may be the rulings, as in the case of certain forbidden developments or innovations in weaponry and communication, and such, are in place.
"We must learn their language or be destroyed," said Lord Nishida. "Some recalcitrants and zealots were consumed by fire, streaming from the sky."
That would be the Flame Death. It was commonly used for enforcing the technology laws, and, doubtless, could serve other purposes, as well.
It was my understanding that a dialect of Gorean was spoken at the World's End, that the Priest-Kings had seen to this. By their mysterious power, and secret sky ships, it seems they had long ago placed Initiates amongst the Pani, perhaps centuries ago, who had taught them Gorean. These Initiates, as the legends went, had sought to exploit their prestige in an attempt to secure power, and had been done away with. The Priest-Kings, on the other hand, by various manifestations of their power, doubtless the Flame Death, and such, had made clear the wisdom of retaining Gorean.
"Do Priest-Kings exist?" I asked.
"Yes," said Desmond of Harfax, "though their nature is little known. We think them to be much like men. Kurii perhaps think them much like Kurii. Their power makes clear their existence, for example the Flame Death, selectively used, usually to enforce the weapon and technology laws, the policing of the skies, to seek out and destroy intruding ships, the inability of tarns to fly over the palisaded Sardar, and such things. In any event, the first phase will presumably be the conquest of Gor, its surface, so to speak, largely within the circumscriptions of the laws.
"Do you believe in Priest-Kings?" he asked.
"Certainly," I said.
"Do you think they concern themselves with us?" he asked.
"Of what interest might we, or urts or sleen, be to such remote and powerful beings?" I asked.
"But you believe in them?" he said.
"Certainly," I said. "There is the Flame Death. There are well-authenticated cases."
"You have heard of the Flame Death of the Priest-Kings?" asked the first beast of Tyrtaios.
"I have heard of it," said Tyrtaios, "but have not seen it."
"I have seen it once," said the beast, "when a fellow of mine, brandishing a forbidden weapon, one forbidden by the laws of Priest-Kings, was suddenly torn away from me, literally from my side, in a burst of light, of flesh of blood, and ash. The stones on which he had stood had melted."
"Few Kurii, on Gor," said Lord Grendel, "will risk the bearing of a forbidden weapon. The laws of the Priest-Kings are strict. Their enforcement is merciless. Doubtless their surveillance, limited as to resources and interest, is incomplete and sporadic, but it exists. There have been several well-documented instances of the Flame Death. No, Kurii on Gor are very much aware, even more so than humans I suspect, of the Weapon and Technology laws of the Priest-Kings and the hazards of contravening them. Many humans do not believe in the existence of Priest-Kings, supposing them to be no more than an invention of Initiates, to deprive the simple and trusting of their coins, but no Kur doubts their existence. Their evidence is irrefutable, destroyed fleets and devastated landing forces."
What puzzled me was that Agamemnon, perhaps in desperation, had dared to utilize a body so conspicuous and so obviously incompatible with the technology laws of the Priest-Kings. Did he not know the danger of such a venture? Men had been subjected to the dreaded flame death for so little as an attempt to design an experimental musket.
I turned once, to look upon the broken silver tarn, now in the distance. I had gazed at it for no more than a moment when I stumbled back and shook my head to rid it of the blinding frenzy of light and fire which had torn open the slope of the bluff. Then, where the silver tarn had been but a moment before, there was a spewing crater from which molten rock burst forth and ran down the sloping surface of the bluff.