The Temple,
City of Zion,
The Temple Lands

“Well, this ought to be an interesting dog and dragon show,” a voice muttered quietly, and Vicar Samyl Wylsynn looked up as his brother settled into the chair beside him.

“Not, perhaps, the most tactful — or safe — thing to say,” Samyl replied even more quietly.

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t make it inaccurate,” Hauwerd Wylsynn half-growled.

“No,” Samyl agreed.

“Well, then.” Hauwerd shrugged, and Samyl grimaced.

Actually, there was a sufficiently wide moat of empty chairs around the two Wylsynn brothers that the likelihood of anyone overhearing a private conversation between them was virtually nonexistent. On the other hand, Samyl hadn’t survived this long by running unnecessary risks. Still, he understood his younger brother’s profoundly mixed feelings as they waited, along with perhaps forty or fifty other vicars and senior archbishops, for the tribunal to convene.

How many years have we been collecting evidence of corruption — especially in the Office of Inquisition? Samyl asked himself. We must have enough of it to fill a dozen trunks by now! Large trunks. Yet with all those years, all that effort, we have yet to secure a serious indictment of anyone. And now this.
There had been times when Samyl had been sorely tempted to abandon his quixotic quest. The chances of success, even if he somehow, someday, found himself stepping into the office Clyntahn and his successors and corrupted so thoroughly, were slim. He knew that. He’d always known it. And even if he somehow achieve that goal, it would be only to find himself battling literally generations of entrenched opposition and self-interest. Yet he was who he was, and the unending (and generally thankless) task of reforming the Church and purging it of its many abuses had become a Wylsynn legacy.

And a damned risky “legacy” it is, too! he thought moodily.

He’d actually preferred charges against at least a dozen of his fellow Schuelerites over the years, whenever he could produce the necessary evidence without exposing the Circle’s broader, covert, and far riskier activities. At least twice he’d had absolutely conclusive evidence that the Inquisitors in question had been using their office (and all the grisly threats associated with it) to extort money out of completely innocent men and women. And once he’d had almost absolutely conclusive evidence of murder. Yet the most severe punishment he’d ever managed to secure had been no more than a one-year suspension from the Order of Schueler . . . and that had been for one of the extortionists, not the murderer.

It sickened him that his own order, the order charged with preserving the sanctity of the Church’s own soul, was even more corrupt than the other orders it was supposed to guide and police, yet there was no point in pretending that wasn’t true. And the worst of it was that many of those corrupt Inquisitors didn’t even realize they were corrupt. They were part of a system far larger than themselves, performing their duties exactly the way they’d been taught to perform them by Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his immediate predecessors. The thought that they genuinely believed they were serving God’s will was frightening, yet he’d long ago come to the conclusion that — for many of them — it was also true.

I sometimes wonder if even Clyntahn truly realizes how corrupt he is. In fact, I doubt he does. He doesn’t see it as corruption at all, which is probably the most damnable thing about him. I think he genuinely sees no discrepancy between what he wants and the will of God. They’re exactly the same thing, which is why he’s justified in doing anything — anything at all — to achieve his own ends. Anything that maintains and strengthens the Church’s authority (and his) is good and godly; anything that threatens the Church’s authority (and his) is the work of Shan-wei herself. And no one else, except for the Circle, cares a damned thing about it as long as it keeps working for them, keeps squeezing out money and power and privilege for them.

The truth was, although Samyl hadn’t told anyone, even among his brothers of the Circle, that he actually agreed with Maikel Staynair and the Church of Charis. The Church of God Awaiting was hopelessly corrupt, trapped in the grip of men like Clyntahn and the rest of the Group of Four. Even if he could somehow topple Clyntahn and Trynair, there was no point deceiving himself into the belief that there weren’t at least a score of other vicars prepared to step into the Group of Four’s place and maintain “business as usual.” It was simply the way things were.

But there truly are good and godly men among the vicarate, as well, he told himself stubbornly. You know there are. That’s the only reason you haven’t given up and fled to someplace like Charis yourself.

Perhaps so, but it was getting harder to cling to that belief. And the air of desperation, the sense of men willing to reach for any avenue of escape, which had permeated the Church at her highest level since the Charisians had bidden the Group of Four defiance was frightening. What had been merely dangerous before had become something far worse, and after the ghastly fate handed out to Erayk Dynnys, Samyl Wylsynn was under no illusion about that. Frightened men would turn savagely upon anyone who appeared to threaten their own safety, their own positions, and Zhaspahr Clyntahn was more than prepared to use that fear to support his own ends.

Perhaps it’s time, he thought. If the key wasn’t given for a moment like this one then why was it given? Surely an internal threat to the Church is just as deadly as an external one?

Yet it wasn’t the same thing, and he knew that as well as Hauwerd did. Perhaps the time was coming but until it did —

Samyl Wylsynn’s ruminations broke off abruptly as the members of the tribunal filed into the large chamber and seated themselves behind the enormous conference table. There were eight of them, but only one who really mattered, and Wylsynn’s face tightened as Wyllym Rayno, the Archbishop of Chiang-wu and Adjutant of the Order of Schueler, leaned forward and rapped lightly on the small bell hanging in its stand before him.