Winds of fortune: seven lords of virtue

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+++SEVEN LORDS OF VIRTUE+++

The portly Asavean priest glided across the marble flagstones of the courtyard toward Tomas. Olybrius Pancratius, High Priest of the Outer Temple of Baddu, Initiate of the Three-fold Angle, Acolyte of the Weltsilver Chisel. The Asaveans did love their titles.

He wore a long, formal tunic under a polished mithril pectoral inlaid with tiny pieces of white granite that matched the statues flanking the portico. The little man beamed ear-to-ear, and enthusiastically welcomed the (slightly embarased) civil servant.

“I am very pleased you have come, Tomas.” he said in thickly accented Imperial. “Very pleased. Are you ready for the grand tour?”

Tomas disentangled himself with a little difficulty.

“Yes, I thought I would take you up on your offer to have a look at this temple of yours. You made it sound like a wonder of the ages. I have to admit, you were not exaggerating as much as I had thought.”

Olybrius beamed even wider.

“Thank you, thank you. It is exceptionally beautiful as you can see - but then it would never do for us to honour the God of Builders with anything less than the finest, most splendid building mortal hands might construct!”

Tomas winced inwardly. Despite nearly two years in Nemoria, he still found talk of gods and their temples discordant. Olybrius gestured for the civil servant to accompany him, and lead the way through the stone statue garden that surrounded the temple. It was indeed impressive - great white columns soared at least forty feet, supporting a great fresco showing the Asavean god engaged in various activities, primarily to do with construction and building. The craftsmanship was exquisite, Tomas could tell. Every angle perfect, every straight line immaculate. From his reading, he knew that the proportions of every element of the temple were carefully calculated to some esoteric geometry handed down by the priests of the god - the false god, he reminded himself.

They skirted a deep rectangular pool that occupied much of the central courtyard, where delicately calculated gets of water launched themselves into the air in a mathematically significant fashion.

The great stone doors that lead into the temple halls stood closed, which surprised the merrow civil servant a little. He expected Olybrius to lead him to a side entrance, but the priest quickened his pace slightly, and came to a halt at the bottom of the steps that swept up toward the portal. There was already a small crowd there. The priest placed one hand on Tomas’ elbow to stop him, and the pair waited.

“It is beautiful,” whispered Tomas. “Imposing. Impressive.”

Olybrius smiled indulgently. “For the fane of a heathen god, you mean? What would your dour priests say!”

Tomas was used to being teased by now. It never ceased to amaze him how lightly even a powerful and influential priest like Olybrius seemed to take his professed faith. Since their first meeting in the hot steam room of one of the bath houses near the embassy, the rotund little priest had regaled his Imperial guest with tales of political maneuvering and scandal rather than with parables or homilies about Baddu, God of Architects.

“I can appreciate the beauty, the art, without worrying about the state of my soul, you know. I’m surprised you haven’t making more of an effort to convert me.” said Tomas, only half joking.

Olybrius attempted to give his guest a frosty look as he pretended to be affronted.

“I would not dream of such a thing! A woman or a man’s faith is sacrosanct! Our temples exist to give aid and succor only to those who seek it out - we do not go looking for followers like a beggar seeking alms! The most sincere petitioner is the one who comes of their own accord. Or because they want something, as my father would often say. All we priests can do is demonstrate the many ways in which Baddu can help those who are truly deserving.”

“According to the texts I have read, your Lords of Virtue are very ethereal - they provide aid for your soul as it departs this life. For us the gods are beings of this world - so the rewards for devotion come in this life. This temple was built to the glory of Baddu - and to show those who are curious what rewards might befall those who pledge their life to Him. We priests are here to demonstrate the wonders of Baddu - not hawk his secrets on the street corner!”

The priest shuddered, and then seemed to regain his composure. The smile returned, serene but with a conspiratorial look to it now. He leaned closer and whispered “Would you like a demonstration of the wonder of Baddu?”

“A demonstration?” Tomas asked, obviously intrigued, despite his concerns.

Olybrius did not answer. Instead he gestured for Tomas to stay where he was, and stepped through the crowd to mount the shallow steps. He turned to face the assembly, who fell silent. He had positioned himself in such a way that the peaked roof of the temple behind him was directly above his head - as was the noonday sun. A beam of light illuminated Olybrius - probably directed by concealed mirrors Tomas thought.

The priest raised both his arms and in his native tongue spoke what Tomas took to be a blessing. Several times, the crowd around Tomas murmured a few words - a catechism of some sort, he thought. Then, after only a few minutes, the sermon was clearly over. Olybrius lowered his arms and turned to face the portal behind him. He raised one hand, his fingers spread, and shouted a single word at the top of his lungs:

“Aberto!”

Nothing happened for a moment and then suddenly the pools behind Tomas exploded - seven jets of water burst upward, spraying the crowd with a fine mist that smelled strongly of jasmine. At the same time, a great gong sounded somewhere within the temple and the massive portals - each one apparently made from a single immense slab of white granite, weighing more than Tomas could imagine - began to swing smoothly open of their own accord.

The crowd began to stream up the steps. Olybrius beckoned for Tomas to follow him. The priest was rosy-cheeked, sweating a little.

“Was that magic?” asked Tomas in an undertone, curious. Olybrius shook his head, amused.

“No, not at all.”

“Slaves then? Pulling the doors open on your signal?”

Olybrius looked even more amused.

“No. Why go to all that trouble just to have slaves do it?”

“How then? Those doors look as if they weigh a tonne!”

“Quite a few tonnes, actually,” the priest said, a little primly. They had reached the top of the stairs and Tomas was again stricken by just how massive this structure was, and how cunningly the proportions worked to create a feeling of awe in the approaching supplicant.

“Would you believe me if I told you it was the power of the god of builders?”

"I … well … " Tomas floundered slightly. He did not wish to risk his new found friendship, but he was uncomfortable lying about something so important. “No. No, I’m afraid I can’t believe that.” He said at last.

Olybrius’ expression became beatific. For the first time since they had met, there was no suggestion of slightly sardonic good humour, or world-weary cynicism, about the priest. His eyes shone with something else, something entirely different.

“Nevertheless …” he said in a quiet voice, his expression serious for a change. “That is exactly what it was.”

And then he turned and lead the way into the immense columned hall of the temple of Baddu.


The Asaveans are offering the Empire an opportunity to build a temple dedicated to the Seven Lords of Virtue (or whatever ethereal principles it is the Imperial worship - the Plenum seems a little vague on the details). All they want in return is permission to build a temple of their own on the Bay of Catazaar. They’re approaching the Senate … but the newly established civillian commissioners (profounddecisions.co.uk/empi … missioners) might also decide to get involved.
You can learn about the opportunity, and about the two potential temples and how they would work, here → profounddecisions.co.uk/empi … _of_virtue Missionary work, wealth, hearts-and-minds … what’s not to like?

(This one might get a mild edit in the morning to see if I can make how it works a bit more explicit)

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