The Temple,


City of Zion,


The Temple Lands


            Rhobair Duchairn wondered if he would ever again cross the Plaza of Martyrs without recalling the bloody horror of Erayk Dynnys' execution. The chill bite of fall lay heavy on the city of Zion, despite the sunniness of the day, but his shiver had nothing to do with the temperature as he gazed up at the soaring colonnade of the Temple of God and the mirror-polished dome beyond it, with the heroic sculpture of the Archangel Langhorne raising the scepter of his holy authority high, and remembered that dreadful day. Then he paused in place, eyes closing in silent prayer, although he could not have said exactly what it was for which he prayed.


            Troubling times, he thought to himself as he opened his eyes once more and continued across the Plaza towards the Temple. Troubling times . . . and frightening ones.


            The triteness of his own thoughts was irritating, yet that made them no less accurate. The strength of his newly refound faith helped, and he'd found many passages of the Writ of tremendous comfort, but not a single scriptural passage told him what he ought to be doing.


            Well, Rhobair, that's not quite accurate, is it? he thought sardonically. You know exactly what you ought to be doing. The only question is how you go about doing it.


            He paused again, the spray of the countless fountains chilly as the brisk breeze blew it across him, and gazed at the very spot where Dynnys had died. The fallen archbishop's execution had been the most horrible thing Duchairn had ever seen, ever imagined. He was no Schuelerite. He'd read the penalties the Archangel Schueler had ruled must be meted out to the apostate and the heretical, yet he'd never allowed his mind to dwell upon them. They'd been one of those unpleasant aspects of life, something the Writ called for, but which Rhobair Duchairn had never expected to actually see, far less help to inflict. And he had helped. There were times, especially when the dreams came in the middle of the night, when he longed to pretend he hadn't. But the decision to execute Dynnys had been made by the Group of Four, and so Rhobair Duchairn bore his share of the blood guilt. Worse, he was fully aware that the initial decision to execute the former archbishop of Charis had been made as a matter of pragmatism, an act of expediency. And Dynnys' final words, his defiance of the Grand Inquisitor from the very lip of the grave, those worried Duchairn.


            The man had been promised an easy death — or, at least, an easier one — if only he'd played his part. Duchairn hadn't been supposed to know about that arrangement, but he had, and that made Dynnys' defiance even more perplexing. Unless, of course, the most obvious explanation was also the correct one and the man had actually believed what he'd said.


            Which he undoubtedly did, Duchairn told himself, gazing at the spot where the tortured wreck of a human being had finally been permitted to die. That's what truly torments you about it, isn't it, Rhobair? Whatever's happening now, you — you and the other three — set it into motion. Whatever Charis has done since you and your friends orchestrated the attack upon it, you were the ones who began it. You pushed Charis into its damnable actions. Any animal will fight for its life, for the lives of its young, if you push it into a corner, and that's exactly what you did to Charis, and Dynnys knew it. Not only knew it, but had the courage to proclaim it even after the Inquisition had decreed his death.


            It was a thought which had come to him frequently of late, and with the strength of his reborn faith, he made himself face it head-on once again. He'd prayed to God and to Langhorne, begging them to forgive him for the disastrous decisions which had provoked the unthinkable, but the fact that he deeply and sincerely repented his responsibility for them did nothing to relieve him of his responsibility to do something about them. It would have been his duty to confront the disaster and to somehow bring the Church of God Awaiting victoriously through the ordeal which faced her no matter how it had come about; the part he'd played in provoking that ordeal only made his responsibility deeper.


            And however difficult the journey may be, he told himself once again, ultimately there can be only one destination. This is God's Church, instituted by the Archangels themselves for the salvation of all men's souls. Whatever those misguided souls in Charis may believe, Mother Church must be preserved intact. And because she must, she will. There can be no other outcome . . . as long as we who defend her remain true to her, to the Writ, to the Archangels, and to God.


            He believed that. He knew that. What he didn't know was whether or not God would ever forgive him for the acts to which he had already set his hand.


            He looked one more time at the spot where Erayk Dynnys had died his gruesome death, wondering how many others the Inquisition would send to the same dreadful fate before the challenge to Mother Church's rightful supremacy had been dealt with. Then he shook his head, tucked his hands into the warm comfort of his cassock's full sleeves, and continued on his way.


* * * * * * * * * *


            "Well, I see we're all here . . . at last," Zhaspahr Clyntahn said waspishly as Duchairn walked into the conference chamber.


            Warm air flowed easily, effortlessly, throughout the chamber, maintaining the temperature at its customary level of perfect comfort. The imperishable conference table — the work, like the entire Temple, of the archangels' own hands — was as perfect and unmarred by use as it had been on the very day of Creation, and the illumination radiating from the ceiling itself flowed down with a shadowless brightness no candle or lamp flame could ever hope to challenge. As always, that irrefutable evidence that he was, indeed, in the presence of the Divine, reassured Duchairn that whatever errors mere humans might make, God was capable of setting them all right in the end, as long as His servants were only true to their faith.


            "I'm sorry I'm late," he said now, crossing to his place at that mystic table. "I had several pastoral matters to deal with, and I'm afraid the time got away from me."


            "'Pastoral matters,' was it?" Clyntahn snorted. "I'd think preserving Mother Church would take precedence over almost any other 'pastoral matter' I could think of."


            Zahmsyn Trynair stirred slightly in his chair at the head of the table. Clyntahn had become even more caustic and abrasive since Dynnys' execution. It was as if the ex-archbishop's final defiance had goaded the Grand Inquisitor into even greater belligerence and vengefulness. And in some peculiar fashion, Duchairn's obviously resurgent faith actually made Clyntahn even more inpatient with the Treasurer General. It was almost as if he feared Duchairn's faith would further soften the resolution of the vicar he'd always regarded as the least resolute of the Group of Four to begin with.


            Or perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps what had happened with Dynnys had made him wary of what Duchairn might yet do in the name of his refound faith,


            "Whatever you need to talk about, Zhaspahr," Duchairn said serenely, "my arriving here five minutes early or five minutes late isn't going to have any world-shattering consequences. And since that's the case, I saw no need to cut short the counsel and advice one of my bishops required."


            "And how do you –" Clyntahn began irately, but Trynair raised his hand.


            "He's right, Zhaspahr," the Chancellor said. The Grand Inquisitor turned his glare upon him in turn, but Trynair only looked back at him calmly. "I agree that a certain degree of urgency in responding to this sort of thing is undoubtedly in order, but we can't afford to simply drop everything and come running whenever some . . . unfortunate bit of news arrives. First, because even with the semaphore, whatever it is that brings us together must already have happened quite some time ago, and our response to it is going to take just as long to reach out from Zion. So frantic haste on our part isn't going to affect things very much, one way or the other. Second, however, is the fact that as vicars of Mother Church, we have many responsibilities, like the ones Rhobair was dealing with this afternoon. We can't allow the schism Charis has created to distract us from all of those other responsibilities. And, third, because it's essential we not allow anyone to believe we've been distracted from those responsibilities by it. Never forget that there are those who are merely waiting for the best opportunity to assail us. If we allow them to believe we've been so badly panicked that the schism crisis is the only thing we can think about, those weaker brethren among the vicarate may be tempted to openly defy our guidance."