The Bridge Is Crossed

Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
OOC: I am willing to have outside participants. Just contact me first so we can plan it out.


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The Bridge is Crossed

You see around you those most capable of saving us. Is it the man on the throne? Is it our dear mothers who formed us? Is it that most reverent monk in the mountains? Perhaps. Though I am more sure at each passing moment that it is those with us here in this crowd, the men and women who have dared to rise with the sun and make a mockery of its warming light. ~Regulus of Greco (Regulus's 3rd Epiphany - Canon 232)

Part I: The Laid Foundations
The moon was rising above the great mountains of Rigda. One could feel the tranquility of the Sophian Realm's untouched wilderness. It was proper to such a place. The landscape was as perfect and unreal as the people that inhabited it. How many years Fabian had spent among these mountains learning, nearly without ceasing, the exercises of a rising saint. Such a life was in the past. Nineteen years was he on this earth and twelve of them had been given to Sophia. How happy his parents were when the Order of Johannes du Crux had accepted their son as a postulant. After all these years he was still only a Student of the Lash. Such a rank would not even allow entry into the enclaves despite all the time, loyalty, and progress he had made. Fabian was afraid of leaving it all behind for even the idea brought out his anxiety. All those years . . . down the drain. It would not be too far now. Only three are so miles remained between him and his new life as a member of Doctrini society. Anger, regret, and pain were now his companions. Obviously no one was able to see his true talents and affinity for the spiritual life. Regulus would be proud of him! Joshua too! If there was anyone who was there for him it was always the Lord and Gregis. In fact Father Gregis was the one who had given him the directions and spiritual assignment to Rigda, the perfect opportunity for escape. He knew the difficulties of living up to every standard one could imagine from a superior. Am I holy enough? Is this vocation my true calling from the Divine? Have I inadvertently wasted my time and this spot which could have been filled by someone more deserving? The ledge dancing in spiritual direction sessions kept all of these thoughts fresh in the mind. It was a fountain of humility and full reliance on the Lord they would say. Yes, Sophia was certainly built on such a formulation of humility. Beg of the Spirit for what one truly desires and with patience and enough sacrifice it would be rewarded. That is what kept people constantly prostrating and groveling before Queen Mother Superior at all waking hours of the day.

The final pass was up ahead. Fabian was near even with the peak of Mount Strong where the Doctrini-Sophian border was famously delineated by concordats of the distant past. Fabian's excitement grew with each passing step. Soon there would be relief and freedom from all these shadows that have followed him around. Fabian almost didn't notice the streak of motion twenty or so yards in front of him. His pace slowed as he attempted to make out what it was. The shadow methodically and calmly moved towards him. Soon the dark blob took on the form of a nun until . . . All at once the glint of the three keys at the front of the nun's cincture glinted in the moonlight. It was a Perpetuan Sister, a member of the ruling class. Before he could change course or speak a flame sparked to life and illuminated her tranquil face.

"Is it not too late for a stroll among the mountains, dear Fabian?"

"Perhaps so, Mother, I fear I have gotten lost trying to find my way home."

"For certain, Student. It can only be seen as providential that I was here to help you find your way back."

"I . . . I can't imagine how you were able to find me." Fabian attempted to hide the fear and worry from his face.

"Not so hard when it's a matter of rescuing one of your spiritual children."

"Forgive me, Mother, but if I am of your conclave, how is it that I do not recognize you?" Fabian pushed the only reasonable thought from his mind. There is no way this woman could be who he had heard in the stories whispered in the cloister courtyards.

"Like any good mother, I have watched over you, my child, even if you did not raise your eyes to me." The nun raised her center key to the candlelight. Upon the bow of her key shone a gilded silver sail. Fabian collapsed to the ground in complete shock. This was Mother Superior Canticle of Joshua's Sail, the highest ranking sister of Fabian's Conclave of Joshua's Sail. No one he knew had ever seen her save for the governor of his cloister.

Her demeanor remained unchanged. She quietly scared down at him. "I have come most of all to deliver some words of a mother's love to you, Fabian. In the difficulties of your formation know that you are loved, that you are seen, and that like Perpetua all of Sophia lives to watch over you as a true son of the Lord."

Fabian's eyes were filled with tears as he had never felt this level of relief or validation in his life. At this point he rolled into the fetal position unable to move or process whatever else the Mother Superior had said. After a few moments of this, the Mother Superior pulled him to his feet and they walked back to the Rigda northern abbey. The joy he was feeling must of been of the Spirit for it filled with with the same warmth of Mother Superior's candle. After about twenty minutes the nun stopped and turned to him, the keys swinging with her movement.

"It's never easy when one loses their way, but know that the Sail is here for you. It will take just one more year of formation to help with this journey into the dark mountainside but we will be next to you the entire time to assure your formation makes you a future brother of the enclaves. I support this with my holy vows."

He nodded feeling completely safe and at ease with his spiritual mother. He called to mind one of the teachings of Regulus of old: The common man will resort to violence or to the disordered means of force to bring one to God, but with the work of the Spirit, the demands of love, and the building up of right thought, the man puts away violence for the excellence of spiritual bliss. (Regulus - 5th Letter to Perpetua Canon 11).

Fabian happily considered the encouragement of the Mother Superior, something he had secretly desired for so long. She had come to him at his time of greatest need. Sophia would never abandon him and neither would he abandon her. He had reached that spiritual bliss.

As Fabian reflected on spiritual bliss so did the other dominions of Grecoideatia. For they remained wary of Sophia's force and its ways that circumvented force with the Spirit as an instrument of absolute rule.
 
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Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
The fireworks commemorating the start of the new year lit up Ontos's city center. The colorful lights made the ancient buildings shine like an ancient exhibition under a myriad of show lights. Demran stood next to his brother on the balcony bought for top dollar at the celebratory cotillion event. The Grecoan events were always the best in the city. The Doctrinis held boring lectures reflecting on the previous year, the Caritians ran around putting on charity events, Passiontides were probably crying looking at the pretty lights and were already trying to start a painting to commemorate their newest emotional breakthrough, and the Sophians probably locked themselves in a dungeon somewhere for the night. The word is that Linus knew how to throw a great party, and the Grecoans certainly felt obliged to follow through in the spirit of their father.

Another year now came to a close, and now another chapter filled with surprising twists and turns awaited. If anything was celebrated this New Year's, it's the sustaining of the ship upon the rough seas of life. We made it another year without a return of the Calamity, we showed our own ability to stay the course despite the obstacles and so we celebrate the strength to remain steadfast again in this coming year. Demran was determined to soak in every moment of the yearly celebration. Soon he would be whisked off again to Cosmuten to finish his senior year. Lord knows how scary a time this was. He would soon leave the safe walls of the university to begin making a name for himself in his favorite field: Grecoideatian history. He turned back to the gallery to scan the room for Linden. Finally he found him at that table with the finger sandwiches. He gestured to his brother that he was heading back in and then made his way to the table. Linden caught sight of him as he was ten feet away and began nervously glancing elsewhere as if he has been caught in a crime.

"I've only had for little sandwiches, I swear."

"I'm not here to arrest you, bud. I just came to talk to someone I actually like for once this evening."

"Finding it hard to seek out someone not being a poser, huh?" He snatched another sandwich from the table.

"You can surely say that. We study bugs are spared having to wear those plasticky smiles that our poor parents have worn since their wedding day."

"Our history brains must make us immune from being the empty shells of these big names we have parading around here. If I have to hear someone awkwardly work in a Regulus quote into another conversation I may have to join the Passiontides and their perpetual emotional breakdown."

"Shut up. If you make me laugh too loudly the plastic smiles will swarm us. I'm so glad that psychology degree is being put to good use for a future job as clown." Linden presented his signature eye roll.

Trisha Gerus approached the two boys. Linden quickly swallowed the sandwich he was currently devouring.

"I hope you two aren't causing any trouble this evening." Demran gave her a look of disbelief.

"I don't know why you would accuse us of such a horrid thing, Mother!" She pointed her clutch at Linden.

"Do save some of those sandwiches for actual paying party guests, Linden. Lord knows they cost the price of a Sophian crafted Rosary given we used the best caterers in town." Linden sighed realizing he had finally been caught.

"Why don't you boys go down the Tilber's Grill where the other college folk are. I have some members of the Caritian Union coming for Grecoan talks, and I know such engagements bore you."

"I didn't know you were a dignitary of such clear insight, Mother. We'll make a quick exit of it then." Trisha's eyes narrowed with the frustration of her son's insolence. Demran smiled in response knowing he had worked his magic.

The two left the gallery for Tilber's before another word could be uttered by either party. They were about four blocks from the restaurant when a man quickly darted into their path from an alley.

"Good evening, gentlemen. I have to say, I've been waiting for some time to run into you." The man was dressed in a while cloak with gold lining. It resembled ancient Grecoideatian clothing.

"Look sir, we aren't Sophian, and we certainly aren't interested in becoming so. We just want to enjoy the New Year in peace." The cloaked man simply smiled. He seemed no older than 35 and had striking red hair along with a knowing smile that seemed to be a permanent fixture of his face.

"We've just met and you are already insulting me by assuming I'm Sophian. How rude. I simply have a gift for you both. I hope you will be courteous enough to accept our invitation." He quickly removed his right arm from below the cloak and extended two simple business cards to Demran and Linden.

Demran, confused, just stared at the cards. "Who do you work for?" The man didn't respond, but his hand remained extended.

Finally, Linden took both. The man nodded, bowed, and walked away without another word. The boys stood there baffled by the ordeal. After a few moments, they exchange glances. Linden handed Demran a card and they moved towards the streetlight to get a better look.

On one side of the card was a seven spoke wheel such as one found on an old horse and carriage set below a VII, seven in numerals. The reverse had the date 6:00 PM, January 12th, and a set of coordinates.

"What the nebula is this?" Demran could hear his heartbeat in his ears. Suddenly his once smooth sailing ship on the sea seemed to be tipping.
 

Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
Demran stared aimlessly outside the train window. He was finally returning to the University Doctrini in Cosmuten. It was January 11th which only left a day before that meeting on that card. He still wasn't decided yet if he should go or ditch. He was afraid that something bad might happen either way. The stranger obviously knew something about him and Linden as the meeting coordinates weren't that far from the university campus. He knew where they went to school. Furthermore, it might be possible in some crazy way that his mom was involved. When he told her about the experience she seemed keen on him going as if she was excited, though she would say nothing more. It was her suggestion that they go out at that exact time too. Was he crazy to think his mom was plotting against him? Knowing how impressionable Linden was, it was going to be up to him for what they both would do. He couldn't risk asking anyone else for help. That guy's intel might find out and take out acts of retaliation.

He considered every angle he could think of regarding the situation and came to conclusion that he would have to play along or else. His parents at least knew about when and where this cryptic meeting was to take place so hopefully they could contact the authorities in the case Linden and him went missing. The train was finally pulling into the local transfer node. It was only an hour later that he turned the key in his senior apartment and entered the dark foyer. Demran quickly made his way to the second bedroom off the side hall where he had been living for three semesters. With the light now on and the luggage flung onto the bed, Demran noticed the red envelope on the dresser. He didn't let the scariest possibility enter his mind and without thinking tore open the red paper. Inside was a white card, and the first thing he noticed fulfilled his unconscious nightmare. There it was, the wheel and numerals VII.

Hoping your travels were pleasant. We are excited to see you tomorrow.
~Sincerely
Your newest friends


Well at least he knew this meeting was inescapable. He knew what he had to do. He ran out the apartment towards the university church. If his parents or law couldn't protect him, only the Lord could.



Linden and Demran walked slowly and methodically as the sun set to the west below the Demran skyline. Anyone watching would thing they were walking to their graves, and to them they were. What had they done to deserve this? Neither had conduct issues in school nor were they involved in any illegal activity. Maybe it was a prank set up by their college mates . . . though this was quite intricate for something like that to be true.

The GPS on Linden's phone led them to the district library. It was an hour past its closing time.

"What should we do, Demran? Maybe we are just supposed to wait here and see if someone comes."

"Well let's at least see if it's open first."

The front door was unlocked. Demran led the way inside. This was one of the central libraries in the city which showed in its architecture. The main room was a large rotunda with a neoclassical dome spanning at least fifty feet high. The lights were off but the lengthy wall windows let in the dim light of the setting sun. There was, however, one aisle of books on the third floor visible in the tall central rotunda that had its aisle illumined.

"Well, that's a pretty big clue. We gotta check it out." Demran eyed the elevators to his right near the main entrance. He hit the button and the central shaft immediately opened. He hit 3 on his way end and Lenden slowly followed. The ascent began.

"I'm having second thoughts, Demran. Maybe we shouldn't have done this. We should have told our friends back at the apartments. Maybe they could have helped us figure this all out!"

"There's is nothing more we could have done, Lenden. They know. I don't think there was any escape that would have worked so all we can do is hope for a happy ending." There was a calm acceptance to his voice that he never knew he would be able to pull off. If this was the end of his life, this was the closest he was going to come to accepting that outcome. Lenden bowed his head in defeat. There was no other out to what was coming.

The doors parted open on the third floor. The lit aisle was a third of the way around the rotunda to the left of the elevator. The two boys walked slowly towards the light, even more slowly than their procession to the library. As they neared the aisle corner they paused. Demran turned to Lenden and stared at him for what felt like ten minutes.

"Good luck Lenden." He managed a smile.

"God be with you, Demran."

It went against his usual demeanor, but Demran reached out and grabbed Lenden's hand. They were in this together, and this is what they needed right now. The boys turned the corner together.

There he was. The same man from before turned to face them with that usual unmovable smile.

"Well! You took the step, you two really are made of some brave stuff." He reached his hands out to motion to the aisle. "I hope you appreciate the setting. I chose this aisle just for you after all."

Demran looked at the books next to him. They were each historical texts. He eyed the sign near the top of the bookshelf: Grecoideatian History. He couldn't help himself. He had to learn more.

"How do you know so much about us? Why are we so interesting to you?"

"Important questions indeed. To the first, it is simply my purpose to get to know my new colleagues. As to the second question, that is not my area of responsibility. I will tell you all that I can. You two have been chosen for a job opportunity. Something any senior would be elated to find in this current job market. We are hiring for two political positions, one for a psychology major and one for a history major."

"And we needed to be dragged here to be offered a job?" Demran was feeling slightly more angry than afraid now.

"Well yes, you see, this job is quite unique and discreet. Not being dramatic here, but it literally aids in maintaining Grecoideatia as we know it. It is that high up the job ladder so to speak." The Lenden eyerole followed.

"Well then if it's so important tell me what firm or government agency you work for?" Demran felt like this had turned out to be a scam after all.

"Given the importance and sensitivity of our work I am sworn not to name the institution for you . . . that is until you have joined and gone through orientation."

"Which is my job." A lady appeared behind the two boys. She wore a similar cloak as the stranger but it was pink and gold rather than white and gold. She wore a golden oval mask that covered her face save for slits that revealed her eyes and red lipsticked mouth. "I can't believe my brother here has been so unwelcoming as to not introduce himself! He's Chariot the Seventh and I'm Lover the Sixth."

Chariot the Seventh that made sense to Demran given the wheel and seven on the cards.

"Were you two named after cartoon characters?" Lenden scratched his head while he asked the question.

"Hardly." Lover smiled at the question. "I tell you what, gentlemen. I think unlike Chariot here, you should get some more of your questions answered before you make this big life decision. Your mother, Demran, was so excited when she heard we were considering her son for this career opportunity. I promised her that you would get a test run to see how you like it before having to make any commitments. If we want to make our employees happy, we have to treat them like family. Right, Chariot?"

It was Chariot's turn to role his eyes.

"I talked to your father, Harold, Lenden and he was just as excited. Doctrini University is well aware of our job searching activities and they have agreed to give you full semester credit if you join our work study program. I can't tell you the full job description or business name until you consent to join the study, though. I know its a weird stipulation, but know you both will be doing the thing you love most for the good of Grecoideatia and in defense of good Regulus's teachings. In fact our job is to protect Regulus's teachings from harm, and you can do that good work too!"

The boys stared at each other not knowing what to do. Chariot spoke up after a while.

"Look, I once had to spend my life as a police researcher in Doctrini. For five years I sat there studying every suspect not seeing how my actions were leading to sanctification. I was letting both Christ and Regulus down, but then I got a lucky job offer, and I can say with certainty that this was the only job that could help me be fulfilled. At least give it a try, then you can walk away if you find I deceived you."

Demran didn't like walking into something he knew nothing about. His life successes were built on his ability to control his actions and his path, and this was literally throwing all of that away even if for a little while. However, it was every Grecoan's dream to ascend to a most meaningful career that made Grecoideatia that much more the vision of Regulus's sanctuary. Perhaps the Lord was calling him to this through his letting go of his small mindedness and pride. He sighed.

"If this is just a trial, I have nothing to lose. I'll give it a go."

"Me too! It beats listening to a bunch of lectures on dead people. I want to actual sit down with people and listen to what they have to say."

"That's the spirit boys! I knew you were bold enough to take on this adventure. Chariot time for the contracts."

Each boy was handed a contract that was unlike any contract they had ever seen. It read:

Orientation Protocol Contract
I. Signatory pledges to remain part of protocol until the end of the Orientation duration of 5 months uninterrupted.
II. All rights and responsibilities given to full colleagues shall be given to those in Orientation also.
III. The completion of the Orientation Protocol shall grant the privilege of joining Highest Protocol.

I agree to all of the above without reservation.


X_______________________

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This was not a joke after all. The Grecoideatian national seal proved it. Only documents with the force of the national government could have a seal. At the very least, this job offer was government sanctioned. Demran and Lenden signed their names and handed the documents back to Chariot. Lover clapped her hands together.

"You guys really are awesome. We are going to have so much fun sneaking into that Sophian convent!"

Chariot glared at her. "Sometimes, sister, you are just crazy"

Lenden and Demran began to protest, but before they could say three words Chariot's arm moved with a flash from below his cloak and threw two gas balls at the floor. The aisle was immediately filled with white gas. After a few seconds the the two boys collapsed to the floor unconscious. Lover looked towards Chariot.

"That's still my favorite part!"
 
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Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
Demran opened his eyes, unable to remember what had happened or where he was. As his eyes began to focus, the first thing he could make out was the red curtain above him. It was satin and draped around a high window. His hand stretched open next to him to feel the smooth leather of the couch he was lying on. It was slowly returning to him: the cloaked man, the masked woman, and the new job he was trying out for. Then like a strike of lightning he remembered the gas coming towards him, the vertigo, and then the dark which led him to this moment. They had taken them as unconscious. That wasn’t right, and they were going to know that.

He slowly arose to see that he was in what looked like an ornate salon. The walls were tall and white with one side adorned with a white fireplace and mantle carved with accents that resembled garters. There was a mirror above the fireplace that reached to the ceiling. Opposite his couch on the other wall was a similar couch where Lenden was still out. He walked past the fireplace towards Lenden and gently shook him. The boy awoke with a shock and stared around with a bewildered expression.

“They’ve taken us somewhere.” Demeran looked around the grand room still unamused by the stunt.

“We must still be in Cosmuten, right? They couldn’t have taken us far.” Lenden took his phone from his pocket.

“It depends on how strong those chemicals were, and for all we know they gave us extra doses to prolong the sleep.” Demran turned back to Lenden to await the results of his phone search.

“There isn’t any signal here.”

“Typical.” A door to the right of the fireplace opened, and a man dressed similarly to Chariot and Lover entered the room. His cloak was green and gold, but he wore a cincture that was also gold. At the very front of the cincture was a dangling emblem that shined like gold. It was in the shape of a jester’s mask.

“Good evening, Gentlemen. I am Fool the Zero. You can call me either Zero or Fool, I have no preference. I welcome you to Sanctum Denari.” He had a quiet demeanor to him, one that seemed anything but dangerous or imposing. Demran attempted to make conversation to defuse his own stress and the awkwardness of the situation.

“The Fool . . . you and your friends use the deck’s arcana for names.” Fool smiled.

“That is correct. Furthermore, meditating on the nature of each card can reveal something about our callings as well. Chariot, a symbol of mobility, tells of Chariot’s role as recruiter. Lover which symbolizes the stirring of the heart persuades, and I the Fool, the first among the Arcana, introduces new brethren as teacher, guide, and yes mentor. Lord knows how many of my brothers and sisters were once my children.”

Demran stared at him, the disbelief welling up in him. “What is all this? Why have we been brought here?” Fool nodded his head and motioned for the boys to have a seat on one of the couches situated in front of the fireplace. Demran and Lended sat to the right as Fool made his way to the left. He sat, stared up for a moment, and began.

“Like all good things in Grecoideatia it begins with Regulus. We are all aware of the insight, the beauty of his words which point us upward to the transcendent world. Consistently, we outsiders try to explain ourselves to outsiders by showing them that all of Ideatian society strives to reflect divinity in all that we do, our culture, our communities, our thoughts, and our works. We make the transcendent present.”

“Yes, the embodiment of the Forms of the Divine. It’s of course a central element of Regulan ontology.” Demran was following so far.

“Correct, Demran. The ideal is at the center of our life, but it takes but a moment for it to all come crashing down by the corrupt acts of a few. Our way of life is beautiful and vibrant but vulnerable to physical forces and schools of thought that may be more pragmatic or materialistic in nature. God sees that almost every nation in the world is aligned as such. This looming problem requires a significant response. You see, Grecoideatia is protected by what you will for now call it the Protocol Unity. That is the formal term for anyone in the Orientation Protocol. We have existed since the end of the Calamity, instituted by secret concordats so that the central concordat that all know from Ideatian history may remain stable and ensure the future of Grecoideatia.”

Lenden lit up at the mention of The Concordat of Greco Nations. “Yes, that follows Regulan political philosophy. The union must be assured by the ‘sentinels of the ideal’ , a ruling servant class which historical scholars thought meant the monarchs of each dominion.”

“That was the intent, yes. If the Protocol Unity were to be public knowledge, then there would be more chances to disrupt our efforts. We are as old as the public governments and have coexisted with them since the Concordat ended the period of the Calamity. Furthermore, I am sure you are curious about our alignments.”

Declan raised his hand to chin in ponderance. “It is an intriguing question.”

“Though our brethren come from each and every dominion, we are all officially unaligned and recognized as so by every political authority. You see, the Protocol Unity is made up of those who are capable of transcending the division of Regulus’s children and instead embrace each equally with the others to be a full successor of Regulus himself. We exercise our responsibilities through our mastery of the five ways.”

“Doesn’t the Grecoan State already do that?” One could see the intrigue on Lenden’s face.

“They certainly think so, but in a way it is a false acceptance. Children of Linus simply want peace and a comingling of the various ways, but the Protocol Unity seeks perfect synthesis of the ways so that they can be embodied in the single person. This is why you both are here. The time has come to seek out new brethren to join us in this highest calling of the nation. Through discernment, we believe you both are capable of seeking this synthesis, and so the potential to become descendants of Regulus, not just one of his five famous children. These five months will be spent beginning the path to that unity while showing your worthiness and dedication to this cause.”

Demran could feel his growing excitement. He above so many others was plucked from the masses to do this work. He would get a chance to fulfill his wildest dreams by embodying virtues his friends and family could only imagine. Lenden looked troubled.

“Well, what happens if we make a mistake or wish to leave if we accept after Orientation?”

“Mistakes are tolerable in small amounts, but leaving before the whole first agrees is impossible. You are dedicating yourself to the highest service, and that service is the most solemn of all. Your freedom in many ways becomes restricted, but your liberty is traded for the life most worth living.”

“Teach me the highest ways, and I will remain loyal to the end. Make me pure, and in my debt to the Lord I will make my works brilliant.” Demran quoted the famous Regulan prayer, but he meant every word. Fool smiled at him as if he had seen this fervor, this response one hundred times before.

“What about you, Lenden? Are you willing to take on this sacrifice to receive so much more?” There was indecision in Lenden’s eyes, but once he saw the excitement in Demran’s face, he relented.

“I will begin this path and dedicate myself for all five months. Once they come to a close, I will discern again.” Fool’s eyes narrowed perhaps with a slight tinge of incredulity.

“Good. Now, you will take on vocation names which shall replace your given names. Never share your true given name with anyone for that can be used against you or harm the Protocol Unity’s privacy. Demran, you are now Piedmont. Lenden, you are now Oudler. These are names reserved only for Orientation level brothers. If you choose hereafter to give yourself to the higher protocol, you will be assigned proper names of the community. With all this settled, let me give you a proper welcome. Come.” Fool stood up and motioned them to follow him through the door he initially entered from. They were led through an ornate hall into a two story foyer space and outside. There waiting for them was Lover. Her eyes lit up and her red lips gave a bright smile.

“I just know we are gonna be BFFs by the time you finish Orientation!” She moved toward the boys and spun them around to face a large ornate edifice.

“Welcome to Sanctum Denari, the crown jewel of the Protocol sanctums in Passiontide!”

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Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
They had been in training at Sanctum Denari for two weeks. It was unlike what they had initially expected. Surveys of literature, painting classes, the taking up of the harp and flute, these were not the makings of a political or executive leader but of a lifelong artist. Fool had been their guardian throughout the period keeping communication open with Piedmont’s (Demran) and Oudler’s (Lenden) instructors to make sure they were progressing smoothly. Sanctum Denari was a sanctuary of the arts that any child of Clement in Passiontide would be envious of. To become full members of the Protocol Unity, they had to be formed in each of the Regulan emphases. The first area was of course passion where they currently found themselves.

Piedmont and Oudler sat before their canvases atop Denari’s highest balcony. It was their task to capture the elegance and beauty of the setting sun using techniques they had recently been taught. It was a balancing act of two bulls which battled one another to get free. Form, accuracy, and realism pulled to the left while creativity, emotion, and the whispers of the sun’s beauty pulled to the right. They were the masters of the brush, the wranglers who had to keep the bulls from pulling the composition apart by their deviating aims. Piedmont felt the drop of sweat rolling down his neck as he attempted to capture the waves of the sea along the coast. The dancing lights along the waves were difficult to capture in dry, unmoving paint. This aspect would make or break the work, he was sure. The sun careened for the horizon, stealing from him these final moments of work before he must wait again for the dusk of tomorrow to continue his battle with the bulls. All these thoughts had him lost in his mind when he suddenly noticed a shadow growing on his canvas. He looked up to see Chariot approaching from behind. Piedmont hadn’t seen him since that night in the library back in Cosmuten.

“I see you are well away at an artist’s craft.” Chariot’s smile seemed friendlier than he remembered. Perhaps it was the absence of tension in between two bookshelves.

“It certainly is quite the exercise. Time and focus seem to be the key.”

Chariot nodded and panned his view over to Oudler. He was carefully outlining the rays of his sun. His face was pre focus and his hand moved with the precision and care of a surgeon.

“I have come to inform you that Ace is putting you two on your first work of the Union. That is to say, you have finally been given a mission.”

“A mission?” Oudler’s trance was broken now as he stared with the same intensity from his painting now aimed at Chariot.

“Yes, a progression through Orientation requires an increase in responsibility since the rest of your lives will be spent with the greatest responsibility one can imagine. You must be prepared gradually to shoulder such a responsibility, but not without the help of your brothers and sisters of course.”

Piedmont flashed a stare of determination across his obscured face. The light of the setting son behind him had cast its shadow. “Ok, what do we do?”

“Finish your work for the evening then ask Fool to take you to the Works Lounge. There Ace will brief you and your fellow brethren who will join in the task.”

They had heard comments about Ace before. Every dominion in Grecoideatia had an ace who was ultimately in charge of the missions, called works, and daily governance of the Union’s functions in each part of the country. They would be speaking to the Ace of Passiontide, Ace of Coins. Piedmont found it more difficult on his current assignment as he continued painting. He eagerly awaited the sun to finally touch the shining surface of the sea so that he could put away his easel and canvas and find Fool. This moment finally came about twenty minutes later. He touched up the faint cloud to the left of the image and rose to descend into the Sanctum. Oudler quickly followed.

Fool was in his office reading a commentary on a Regulan letter. The door was already ajar so Piedmont decided to knock in the doorway. Fool looked up and over his spectacles.

“Chariot said we have to go to the Works Lounge.”

Fool was unphased by the statement.

“So he did. Follow me, gentlemen.”

Fool rose and led them to the third floor and down the rear wing hallway where neither had ventured before. At the end of the hall was a set of ornate double doors that opened into a great room not so different from the one the two boys woke up in on their first day there. There was a similar mantle, but above the fireplace was a giant coin that was the same style coin as the one on the Passiontide coat of arms. It had an image of Clement facing right in a golden metal. There were two already present in the room. A familiar masked figure turned to them and beamed a large smile.

“There’s my boys! We are definitely gonna have a successful work now that you’re both here!”

Lover motioned for them to come sit with her. There was another masked woman on the couch perpendicular to Lover’s. Her mask was white and had a white sphere extended above the bridge of the nose to cover the center of the forehead. Her cloak was navy lined with silver piping. She looked up at them, smiled shyly, and bowed her head in greeting. Piedmont and Oudler bowed back.

“Boys, this is my Union sister Moon the Eighteenth. She never has much to say but she knows how to find the remote after we other have gone and lost it! I wish she could find me a man as easily as she can find anything else.”

Lover gave a wink to accompany her laughter.

“I have never known someone who can infiltrate a fortress or discover some lost treasure like she can. I guess her perpetual vow of silence helps with the sneaking in part, but that searching gift is just pure talent.”

Moon began to blush at the introduction. Lover obviously did enough talking for the two women. Suddenly, the bracelets the two were wearing began to flash.

“Ace knows that you two finally made it here. We better get settled so that he can clue us in.”

Everyone was seated on one of the two couches when suddenly light proof shades began to descend from the frames of each wall height window. The main chandelier and the lanterns on the wall illuminated to a stronger brightness to compensate for the loss of the dusk light outside. The coin above the fireplace lit up and a voice began speaking from it.

“Welcome you four to the lounge. I am very happy to be giving a first work to our brothers in Orientation: Piedmont and Oudler. Needless to say this will not be per se an easy mission as it involves the Sophian Realm.”

Lover’s eyes narrowed while Moon lowered her head as if exhausted at the thought.

“It is rare that we have so many recruitment works back to back, but the need has come to begin another orientation. There is an entrant of interest out of the Order of Johannes du Crux. The word is that he has some aspirations to leave Sophia which is being caused by disillusionment with the culture there. Someone with that sort of deposition is valuable to us. His talents align with a new opening we must fill as soon as possible as the office is crucial to the Union’s operations. He is a Student of the Lash with the given name of Fabian. It will be your job to get him out of the Sophian Realm and to the nearest sanctum in Doctrini. It turns out that Sanctum Bastoni is too far from his location even though it is the central Sophian sanctum. Therefore, we will be dispatching you to Second Sanctum Papyr Mountain in lower Doctrini. You will be given the maps and tools to cross the Sophian border undetected and make your way to the mountain retreat that he will be visiting before returning to his home abbey in southern Sophia. Remember that the goal is to make it appear that he either escaped or has been abducted. Now for your individual areas of authority:

Moon, get the party in and out safely without detection. Lover, make sure Fabian is compliant and willing to escape with the party. If he is unwilling to leave then there is no hope for the work succeeding. Piedmont, your knowledge of Sophian culture and history will come in handy in persuading Fabian or dealing with possible witnesses or onlookers if questions are asked. Oudler, you will assist Lover by being the particular companion of Fabian throughout the work. Make sure that he feels he has a friend, and do take a psychological profile throughout the whole event.

You will be dressed as common Sophian citizens. Get him out as efficiently as possible, and save the explanations and briefing for Chariot when he is returned to Papyr Mountain. Further information and instructions will be waiting for you in your apartments. God be with you in this important work of the Union. You depart for southern Doctrini tomorrow at 10 AM local time.”

The coin darkened, and the shades retracted. This felt like something out of a spy novel. The four of them looked at each other.

“Well this truly is going to be fun. Sneak outs are those rare but fun nights you get to have as a gift for your work! Well, I better go start studying so I can be Fabian’s best little cheerleader. I have the perfect earrings that’ll go with any Sophian fashion! It’s too bad we can’t take a little detour to some town artisans there as I’ve been meaning to dabble more in Sophian fashions. Oh well, there is always next time.”

Lover departed the room with Moon quickly behind her. Piedmont was excited about the work. Perhaps Fabian could be a new friend. For the last two weeks Oudler and he had been the new kids out of the loop, but with perhaps a new recruit, there would be finally someone with less of an understanding of what’s going on than them. Oudler moved towards the door as well.

“Well, Piedmont, I guess we better go look at our papers too. First impressions are big and all right?”

“Yeah, you’re right. We gotta hit this one out of the park to show what we are made of.”

Piedmont went to exit as well but froze for a moment to look out of the window. It was fully dark now. The sun had dipped fully below the waves of the ocean just like his life before all this. This work marked the end of who he once was. It was up to him to put on the responsibility of this work and let it remake him into a servant of Grecoideatia. He walked towards the window and rested his head against the cool glass. A Regulan quote echoed through his mind:

The past has brought us to now where the future can forge us slowly into what God has destined for us. Put away the errors and mistakes of yesterday so that the grace of Heaven may truly reform you and make you dazzle with the radiance of holiness, which can only be defined as true sacrifice through service. ~Regulus of Greco (The Loving Champion - Canon 31)
 

Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
The moon shone bright as it has on many other nights. The search and recovery party had just left Regda and entered Exterior Highest. They rode farther and farther from the safety of the rest of Greco. Piedmont could almost feel the oppressive gaze of Sophian “humility” grow thicker around him. The Order of Johannes du Crux ran an abbey for its lower ranking members in the Exterior which is where the target was. The four were dressed in black and rode silently on until they reached the two mile checkpoint. From there it was a trek on foot to infiltrate the outer walls. The details had been written up by Moon who had provided painstaking details down to the very second. She seemed to have an intimate knowledge of Sophian security procedures and the general functions of their abbeys and monasteries. It might be more realistic to call them fortresses and compounds seeing how defended they are both from external break ins and breakouts. I guess this also made prison an apt description.

Suddenly the armored SUV came to a halt. The designated driver turned and nodded to us. We gathered our tools and belongings and quickly began our trudge through the Sophian forests due south by southwest. All was quiet except for the light brushing of grass against ankles. Lover made it very clear that he was here as historical and cultural advisor, not as an extractor. Oudler was to assess and keep the target calm on his unplanned vacation back to Sanctum Denari. Lover of course would speak to our contacts in and around the Abbey and coordinate the rescue . . . err removal while Moon readies pans B through Z in case there is trouble.

Moon, who was leading the way, slowed her pace and turned to us. She nodded and blinked her flashlight at the ground. We had arrived at the first checkpoint where our first insider would meet us and lead us to a closer position without drawing suspicion. No sooner than a minute after our arrival a man slowly moved out of the bushes ahead.

“A truly breathtaking evening the Lord has provided, my children. It saddens my heart that you have found yourself all alone out here.”

Lover ‘s white teeth shined in the moonlight as she smiled. “It’s been forever, Father Gregis! It’s so good to finally see you again.”

“Now now, Lover. This is official business. It’s 4 of Wands now. I see you brought the two new gents with you. I hope your stay here in Sophia will be both memorable and positive. At least, as positive it can be when experiencing life at an abbey. Well I’m sure you are on a tight schedule so let us continue. You are now my lost pilgrims who’ve come to seek shelter in the abbey. We never turn away poor souls looking for charity after all.” He gave a wink as he turned to lead the party the rest of the way to the monastery. They were led to what looked like an ancient castle. It even had a moat. When they reached the outer wall, they rounded the side to the front where a drawbridge was lifted to its closed position. The priest they had called 4 of Wands went up and spoke to the guard.

“I found these people lost in the woods on my reflection walk. They are tired from their efforts to get to Interior Higher, and the Lord told me to take them in for the night. I know we have plenty of room for the night.”

The guard smiled and nodded. “Certainly, Father! It’s been a long time since we even had visitors so I know how excited the community will be. Come on in.”

The drawbridge was lowered at which point they crossed. It was no sooner that they stepped fully inside that the bridge went back up. The inside of the walls revealed a beautiful village of gilded buildings built in the religious styles of the third Grecoan period. The golden pyres above each column support was a giveaway. 4 led them through the gridded alleys of the buildings.

“I know you are certainly tired, but I was hoping you would be able to meet one of my students. You see, we have been discussing the works of mercy lately and how important it is to serve those in need. I know getting a chance to talk to you all would do him good in that lesson.”

Lover’s eyes immediately lit up as they always did. “Oh goodness, Father! You have been soooooo kind to us, it is the least we can do!” Probably half of the abbey could hear her.

The priest nodded and led us to a building towards the very back which resembled a dormitory. They went in and headed up to the third floor and finally went right and down the hall to the second to last room. The priest knocked.

After a few seconds the door flew open to reveal a boy that looked the same age as Piedmont and Oudler.

“Hello, Fabian. There are some friends of mine I’d like you to meet.”

Fabian looked surprised and groggy all in one. He was obviously asleep a moment before.

“May we come in?”

“Sure, Father. Whatever you desire.”

The party filed into the small room and stood in a circle, the only way they could all fit without it getting awkward. There was an awkward silence by which Fabian stared at each of the strangers. Lover was staring at him with that usual intense smile as if she was holding back the urge to hug him. Moon was looking straight down as if she would die if she made eye contact with Fabian. Oudler was looking back at Fabian. Piedmont browsed the art in the room taking in the features and symbolisms they reflected. Fabian’s eyebrows creased as the moment drew on. Finally, the priest broke the silence.

“These friends of mine are here to help you, Fabian. I have been your protector and guide for 6 years now, and as we have discerned He is calling you to something greater and dare I say better than this place.”

“What? They’re here to take me?”

“Yes, but where you are going is a higher calling than any monastery, abbey, or basilica in Sophia. In a way you are going to serve Regulus himself.”

“Only the holiest of us truly serve Master Regulus, Father.”

The priest sighed and looked down.

“That’s what we always say, yes, but now the time has come to reevaluate everything that we take for granted. How often are we asked to sacrifice everything we have for something difficult but better? Is it not the central call of Christ?”

Fabian sat down on his bed and placed his head in his hands. Lover went and sat next to him.

“Wow, I know this is so sudden and out of nowhere, but we all serve the Lord and the nation in a way that really no one else does. Take a chance with us, and you can be a part of that too and have people who both love and truly appreciate you. I can see in your eyes that love is something you need right now but have not received. I also lived a life without parents so I know it when I see it.”

Fabian looked directly into her eyes with his tear filled ones. Suddenly Oudler stepped forward.

“She’s telling the truth. Me and my friend here are very new to this adventure for Regulus thing, and it’s been worth it so far. If I was you, and in a way I was just a month or so ago, I would give it a chance.”

Father Gregis smiled and nodded at Fabian. “Go with them, Fabian. Be happy away from this oppressive place.”

“For so long I thought this suffering and humility I’ve lived daily is what God wanted for me. It’s what Jesus went through so I had to go through it too. Is it really good to abandon that now?”

The priest answered, “You are right, Christ did endure a great deal for us all, but even after the cross came the Resurrection. It came to an end for an infinite good to be brought from it. This is your first resurrection, Fabian. I as your spiritual director give you the permission to take it.”

Fabian nodded. “Ok.”

Moon nodded back and turned to lead the party back out the door to the stairs. As they were nearing the stairwell, a nun appeared ascending the stairs. There was a momentary expression of fear and surprise on 4 of Wands’s face which returned to calm and friendly countenance

“Mother Superior Canticle, what brings you here at this late hour.”

“Hello, Father. When I heard we had guests tonight, I just had to see them for myself. It is of course beneath a religious such as myself to let you alone take part in the works of charity.”

Fabian did not make eye contact with the nun. He shook out of fear.

“A prudent notion indeed. Perhaps you can make sure their rooms are all prepared by the novices before we escort them there.”

The nun smiled as if she knew a secret no one else did.

“Well that would be good indeed if these lost travelers were really guests or travelers at all.”

4 shook his head. “I don’t understand, Mother Superior. They seemed lost to me when I found them.”

“Ah! Another act of Providence then, Father. I think we both know your walk of reflection served many purposes. My eye of wisdom reveals to me that these are servants of Satan, or as you might call them in the rest of the nation, Protocol. You certainly came to the wrong place if you thought your reign extended here. This my dear is a Rider institution.”

Lover and Moon’s faces turned to horror along with the priest. Moon immediately through a pod which came from under her cloak. It popped open revealing a net which was hurling towards the nun. The nun swung her hand and then there was a glimmer. The net was cut in half. There was a crucifix stuck in the wall next to them. Its ends were sharp like a throwing star. Everyone began backing up slowly towards Fabian’s room. The nun’s smile never left. She detached her rosary from her side, gripping it by the crucifix at the end. It illuminated and hummed with electric voltage.

“Tell me, my duly distrubed children, which one of you needs penance the most.”

Immediately, everyone turned and ran back to the room. Moon quickly shut and barricaded the door with the desk chair. Lover spoke up.

“Ok, so obviously we are all getting out of here together. Father, your cover has been blown so there is no way you can stay here.”

She began looking around as if for escape. Moon tapped her and showed her a remote with a glowing red light.

“Oh, good, Moon. The copter is on its way, but we still need a way to reach it. That window was obviously built for three year olds to climb through.”

Father stared at the window.

“I don’t think it is beyond your imagination that these bunks were built to keep people trapped, this seems to be a consistent theme in these parts.”

Piedmont was lost in thought.

“Does anyone know exactly when this dorm was constructed?”

Fabian spoke up. “Um, well, I’ve heard a few monks tell me stories about it. I think I heard them say that it was finished at the end of the second period.”

There was a knock at the door.

“I’m going to ask you only once to show me that you have some semblance of the virtue of obedience before I bomb this entire wing and have you reach final judgement for your sins. Repent now or die.”

Lover spoke up immediately. “Sorry, homegirl, I’m gonna choose neither.”

Piedmont remembered his classes about the architecture of these sorts of buildings.

“If you are right, Fabian, then in your closet there should be a ladder to the roof inside the wall. Novices at that time were expected to clean the roof and those assigned to that duty were housed in the highest floor.”

“I’ve been in my closet many times and never found any door or ladder.”

“Well, I’m sure the opening was covered up in order to make it harder for people such as yourself from escaping what we have clearly seen now as Sophian charity.”

There were sounds of gunfire outside the building. The salvos were shooting towards the sky.

“The copter is arriving,” Lover said.

Piedmont, looked at Moon. “Do you have a device that can quickly break a whole in the wall?”

Moon nodded and pulled a circular device from her cloak. The priest grabbed it.

“Ah yes, a classic. This will use intense sound waves to disintegrate the wall. I’ll set it up.”

“You sure know about tools and gadgets for someone who’s a priest,” Oudler said.

4 of Wands smiled. “The vocation takes you many a places.”

They piled around the closet to see what the wall revealed. The priest stuck the disc to the wall, made some setting changes, and activated it. There was a piercing noise but the wall was gone. It left a gaping circle. The device was picked up from the ground by Moon who placed it somewhere back under her cloak. She entered the hole and looked up. She motioned to Lover who went over.

“Ah! Yes, there is a hatch at the top but there is no ladder.”

Moon immediately shot a grappling hook up to the hatch and attached it to a harness under her cloak. She pulled Lover close and shot up the shaft with Lover screaming all the way. Their momentum forced open the hatch at the top. One by one each member was transported up the shaft. As Moon went back up last with the priest, the roaring of explosions filled their ears. Fire blew out the windows on the third floor of the building and was now following them up the shaft. Lover and Piedmont quickly pulled the two clear of the opening before a wall of flames burst up after them. The priest looked up, breathing heavily at the copter which was busy dodging gun and missile fire from the abbey.

He looked at his watch and pressed a button along its side. Suddenly a wave of energy shot from it across the entire abbey. All automated weapons including the unmanned missile launchers and guns went dead.

“Hopefully that is enough to get the copter down,” he said.

The roof near the edge began to collapse down on the bombed floor below. Moon looked towards the edge and immediately shot a grappling rope at the copter as it descended over them. She then threw rope at each of the members. Lover, Fabian, 4 of Wands, Piedmont, and Oudler began tying it around their wastes. Lover looked up and screamed at the copter to lift. As it rose, Moon went up first. The roof under Lover and Fabian collapsed and they began to fall about five feet before the lift of the copter pulled them up. In seconds all of them were in the air below Moon who acted as a central anchor for the ropes. They looked down to see the dormitory completely collapse in flames.

They looked next to the building to see the Mother Superior watching them. There was a man next to her with what looked like a bomb detinator in his hands. Without looking away she grabbed hold of him and broke his neck. His dead corpse dropped to the ground, her gaze never leaving the escaping Protocol members. Piedmont, Oudler, and Fabian began screaming. Lover calmed them down and uttered the last memorable phrase of the mission.

“This is going to be such a boring addition to my journal. Oh well, maybe next time things can actually be spicy.”
 

Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
Time seemed to pass quickly as Piedmont further integrated himself into this new secret world. He had been told to become a regular companion of Fabian. It was an interesting relationship. He was just now learning some aspects of this special work, and yet he was expected to immediately turn around and teach it to Fabian. This certainly was a central theme to all the tasks he was given. He usually had to do some report or lecture on a given topic. He became more comfortable at Sanctum Denari, so much so that he found himself considering it “home.” This was helped by the daily routine he had established.

The mission to the Sophian Realm was certainly an outlier as he was never asked to take part in such an adventurous mission like that again. He couldn’t say the same for Oudler since they were told not to share assignments with each other. Usually he would wake up in time for breakfast at 8 AM before heading to the Briefing Room which was where the giant coin on the wall was. This room was used for handing out both short term and long term assignments in the Sanctum. Sometimes there was an official there to give the assignment or the coin on the wall would do so by proxy of an unseen person. Usually it would be more art practice, a research assignment, or even a scheduled meeting to provide tours of historical sights near the Sanctum. Most tasks utilized Piedmont’s historical interests and knowledge which he imagined was purposeful. After a day’s work, there was then time to socialize with any other members who may be at the Sanctum before evening Mass and retirement back to the personal chambers.

This was the pattern until one day Piedmont entered the Briefing Room to find both Fool and Chariot there waiting for him. Both looked happy to see him.

“Ah, Piedmont my boy, come over.” Fool beckoned with his arm towards Piedmont with his usual fatherly and welcoming demeanor. Piedmont sat down on one couch while the two sat across on the other side of the mantle.

“We were just discussing how quickly time seems to pass. It feels like yesterday I was cornering you in that Doctrini library.” Chariot smiled wider at his reminiscing. Piedmont rathered not consider the fears of that day.

“It has been exactly two and a half months since that day. The contract period is now half over which means it's time for a new stage of Orientation. You’ve done well here in Passiontide. My associates have informed me of your rigor and willingness to successfully complete every task that has been given to you.” Piedmont felt a wave of reassurance. There was something in him that wanted to please Fool. Perhaps it was that ever present fatherly quality he noticed earlier.

“With this in mind, you are now assigned to Sanctum Endymion. There is a jet preparing on the grounds to take you there. An agent has also been assigned to the jet to brief you on the next Orientation stage. By the time you reach Endymion, you will know what to expect. Given the importance of your work with Fabian, he will be joining you. In case you are wondering, Oudler will not be going with you. We have another sanctum where he will be assigned to help hone his unique talents as we are now doing yours. Chariot here will be escorting you and will make sure everything is set for your arrival as was planned. Are there any pressing questions or concerns?”

“No, sir. I will depart as you have said.” This was all very sudden yet not unexpected. Piedmont had imagined that he would be leaving Sanctum Denari eventually. The inconsistency of change of scenery was always emphasized in his sessions with Fool. Service required answering the call no matter where that call takes you, and now was his chance to prove his grit in this area. He would miss Sanctum Denari but he knew he would eventually return later in life if the need required it.

It wasn’t even two hours later that Piedmont found himself with his luggage heading towards the sanctum’s runway. Chariot was there waiting for him and helped him pack his luggage away in the lower hold before boarding. They took their seats in the jet. It was a smaller plane that could hold around fifteen people. Piedmont only ever saw such jets in shows about the rich. They were soon in the sky heading for the Caritian Union. After about ten minutes following takeoff Chariot turned to him.

“Well, now that we are good and on our way, we can begin the briefing. There is someone we have specially summoned to inform you.” Chariot pressed a button on the ceiling panel. The door to the plane’s rear cabin opened and a figure emerged . . . it was Piedmont’s mom.

“It’s good to see you, Piedmont.” Hearing her use that name felt odd and out of place. It felt like a denial or their relationship for the sake of something more formal or even foreign.

“I was never able to tell you about my calling in life because it was too much of a risk both for your safety and the good of the Protocol. You of course know I serve as an ambassador from the Grecoan State to the Caritian Union, but I am also a proud representative as a Caritian to the Protocol. My diplomatic service allows me to be a protector, and ear, and a voice of Regulus as you have heard all under the Protocol are. You can refer to me as the Fourth of Cups or just Fourth. I serve the major members as I am able. For now, I am here to prepare you for the rest of your formation in Orientation.”

This was a shock that was difficult for Piedmont to stomach. All this time, his mom, Trisha Gerus, had been keeping her life from him. He wondered if Dad knew, if he was in on this great lie that had permeated his life. His heart felt split in two. The resentment in that moment tore at him like a wolf trying to capture its prey. On the other hand, he fully understood. If anything, the secrecy and protection of the work came first. Nothing, including family, could get in the way of that. Pursuing the fullness of the faith required the greatest of sacrifices and so he could not in good reason fault his mom for keeping her work a secret.

“Does Dad know?” Her eyes narrowed.

“I can’t be very detailed as I am sure you know, but simply put yes.”

“Ok.” There was an awkward silence which separated them like the widest of chasms. Chariot did not make eye contact with either of them. The chill in the air rivaled the frigid temperatures of the air outside the plane. Finally, Piedmont spoke up.

“What is it that I am to know?”

“The time has come for you to know what vocation you are being prepared for. Your intimate knowledge and skill regarding our shared history as a nation and its effects on the current is a vital addition and voice to the Protocol. Therefore, you have been called upon to become the newest major servant. If you keep with it, you will be the next Hermit the Ninth. The Hermit guards the wisdom of the past in order to keep our mission in full orthodoxy. A failure of the Hermit leads to corruption and division among us because the Hermit is the image of conscience. We have come to realize that your gifts aren’t merely memorization of facts and an infatuation with the past. You are able to interpret the past in a way that assures clarity in the present.”

Fourth looked out the nearby window. The plane’s movement caused the sun’s rays to shimmer in between the broken clouds. She sighed.

“You are so young, still so new to this life, but we are asking you to be in a fundamental way the light of the Protocol. Its grounded and moral voice.”

Piedmont could hear the wavering in her voice. Her words conveyed the gravity of his destiny. In that moment, she was mom again.
 

Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
“What is history?”

The question came suddenly and with the weight of an anvil. Piedmont shifted in his seat. The hall at the center of Sanctum Endymion was filled with ornate chandeliers and mirrored walls, architectural hallmarks of the 17th century, especially the Caritian Union. The question came from the opposite end of the room where a permanent partition was set up. It had a paper curtain which revealed a figure beyond it backlit in the shape of a human silhouette. No introductions or explanations were given upon arrival. Piedmont had been escorted to the room and told that there were to be a series of questions asked before proceeding.

“ The most succinct and true definition I can describe, sir, is the communal and deliberate act of remembering.”

“Remembering. Why is there such an importance in focusing on what has happened if one has the principles and virtues to look forward to what will be instead of dwelling on what has already come to pass?”

He could sense that these questions were not coming from a place of true disagreement but an inquiry into his thought. Piedmont had come to learn that this was a common protocol form of dialectic that he too had been trained in at Denari. “Remembrance is not a stagnant recall of facts and events of the past. It is rather dynamic in its process and formal practice. There is no intelligible future without the knowledge, experience, and comprehension of what has occurred. The present acts only as a bridge between the past and future since the present moment is purely experience. Reflection in the form of remembering must dwell in the past in order to form concrete principles and virtues that mediate the future.”

“What then of a priori principles? Those things considered without physical form lie beyond time and space and thus bypass your account of history.”

“Agreed, but only to the lowest degree. The metaphysical is not bound to time but that which it is applied to does. The value of honesty in the abstract can only be understood through its practice by humanity. We are by nature bound by time thus making honesty only truly manifested and understood in context of our behaviors and even ideas on the subject which lie in the past.”

“Is history then only a descriptive field which reminds and remembers?”

“It can merely be that, but the fullness of history as a field and as a practice finds its fulfillment in the lessons and fundamental truths it is able to unearth through its conclusions. Time itself sits closely to our understanding of human nature and human experience meaning that those things contained in time and questions regarding them sit closely to matters about human value and action itself.”

“You seem to speak in terms of Linus and the other Grecoans, contractarian: The middle way always prized above all else, the passion of charism cast aside for the sake of neutrality, and the adherence to modest language. History is a story of the right and the wrong, the life that has lasted to the present and the old ways lost to the dust of defeat. Could your level headed voice of history ever cooperate or be compatible with the vigor of beliefs that come from the followers of Perpetua, Evangeline, and the like? When does your approach of moderation finally fail in the face of history?”

The sting of the silhouette’s words was undeniable. He had never considered the struggles of the Greco nation’s factions in context of history and its interpretations. The Grecoan study of history advocated a unified theory of national history that dealt more with the facts of events rather than the philosophical meanings that came about for each faction from that event. “There are indeed some who may see moderation and the suspension of philosophical tradition in the study of history a jettisoning of values and meaning from the field of history, but I hold that there remains something infinitely valuable in doing so.”

“And what is that?”

“Despite differences of emphasis, Linus’s core teaching remains true. We are the one Greco people made strong and authentically people of Regulus in that union. The four emphases are reflections of the one teaching, aspects of the central teaching of sanctity by which no part can be rejected or taken up as superior to the others. A history that forgets one portion fails to remember when history, as we have established, is remembering.”

There was a pause of silence from the silhouette. Piedmont feared he had offended him in some way. After about 30 seconds, the figure continued the questioning. “Why do you believe we are discussing the merits of history?”

“It is the field I have dedicated my life to, both in my life before and here in the Protocol.”

“I am glad that you see it as a matter of dedication. It will make these next points much easier. This is a significant moment in our history. Considering new additions to our own is always taken seriously but even more so in this instance. Each of the 22 Major Arcana is given a kingdom, an area of importance within the protocol which is essential to its function and mission. If you succeed, you shall be given the responsibility of remembering. A man who suffers from dementia cannot fully be himself nor make a stand for he cannot remember what it was that defined him or guided him forward. Now more than ever, the Protocol must remember lest it turns away from Regulus, unable to remember what its aims are. Your failure risks the forces of the Protocol turning on one another, against Grecoideatia, and yes even against the world. Remembrance is the failsafe against corruption and disorder which risk plaguing us all. Do you understand these things?”

The silhouette’s tone had shifted from matter of fact to fear. There was an unmistakable quiver to his voice which filled Piedmont with fear as well. If he was before uncertain about the seriousness of this wild journey he had been taken on, that ended here. He was being asked to be a strong and unwavering pillar amongst a colonnade which upheld the nation and Greco people itself. He could neither say no to the figure nor consent casually. “I know within myself what my calling is, and that is to serve my nation and people through my calling to the world of before. I understand what you have said sir, and I understand it with all the dangers that come with the prospect of my failure. I vow not to fail my duties to the point of my life being taken if need be. I live to serve God and His servant Regulus.”

“Very well. I accept your vow. Among the Arcana is the silent one who reflects and speaks with the strength of the light, a light he holds confidently in hand so that all his companions may see what they normally could not. He is the point by which the spirit and the mission of the Protocol converge and find their anchor together. He is the ninth of the Arcana, the Hermit. You have committed to fulfilling his role in our midst. Your training will now continue so that you can accept that place faithfully. You are no longer Piedmont but Sub Hermita. This marks you as the future Hermit of the Arcana. You are dismissed for the night. We shall dine tomorrow evening in person where any questions you may have will be answered.”

A servant of the sanctum came in to retrieve him. The light behind the silhouette went dark. S.H. realized that with that light gone so went who he was before. It had only be a few months, but each conversation, each ritual was taking away a piece of Demran Gerus and replacing it with the Hermit. He did not know who he was becoming before, but now the face of who he was to be finally turned before him. He was tall, silent, striking, daunting, and still so far away. The last thought that entered his mind as he left the hall was how difficult it was for he a 19 year old college kid to become this arbiter of time. It was by a prayer and miracle alone that he saw it even thinkable. That is when this newer side of him took over. Then by a prayer and miracle will it all happen.

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Wonderess

"I will be true to you whatever comes."
-
TNP Nation
Castle Federation
Discord
Wonderess #6213
Sub Hermita’s dreams were filled with the illusions and quandaries of a changed boy. Something new was still coming over the horizon . . . yet something, many things had already come to him these past months. This was pure flux but not of the chaotic sort. He was moving towards something greater. That horizon was to give way to a stable form where risks surely were to be higher but so would the capacity to meet them. With each risk came a matched potential. Hermita was no longer asleep but stood at the tall window overlooking the manicured grounds. The rising sun was overtaking the glimmer of the stars in the sky. They tried and tried to sparkle but time got the better of them eventually.

There was nothing scheduled for him that day until the dinner appointment with the shadow. There was only the past and the future to keep him company. He thought of his mother, the way he knew her all of his life, and the way he knew her on the plane ride over to Endymion. What scared him most of all in that time was how much she seemed so much like a stranger. She really wasn’t Trisha Gerus anymore. She was 4th of Cups, and 4th only embodied the protocol’s ideals of Evangeline. Is that what this glorious transformation required: a complete sacrifice of humanity so that all that is left is the embodiment of highest ideas? He was certain Evangeline herself would disavow such an act, such a process. Grecoidieatia cannot fall into the trap of the arch as Regulus warned. The arch is strong since all the stones push in towards one another. They wrongly believe their strength is in the center of the arch which they all move towards when in reality they all hold one another up. As soon as one stops moving to the center the whole collapses because the center was empty and void all along thus holding nothing up.

Trisha Gerus, the woman who raised him to love and be loved could not be merely 4th of cups, and perhaps that one encounter was not representative of her or of the protocol as a whole. These are the sorts of things the shadow was certainly preparing for that night. This was unlikely a happenstance dinner. The protocol by its nature was aimed towards the future and all possibilities that affected the ultimate purpose of maintaining and accomplishing the sanctification of the Grecoideatian state Regulus guided. Hermita must be prepared as well. The protocol must answer under his best available scrutiny.

Sub Hermita entered the grand dining hall after a day of wandering the grounds and meditating on the protocol, his role, and the final end of Regulus’s work. The table was twenty feet long, but only one man sat on the far end of the table at the head, masked and cloaked in white. His chair was tall and also white with golden accents. As Hermita moved closer to the chair he also noticed the cloak was also accented in gold floral patterns. He was seated at the right hand of the man. His mask was also white and resembled a drama mask of smooth porcelain. It had rounded holes for the mouth and eyes and had the same golden patterns as the cloak. At the top of the mask was a armillary sphere that closely resembled the seal of Grecoideatia except that at each corner of the sphere were an angel, an eagle, an ox, and a lion. The man stared at Hermita in silence for what felt like two minutes. He could not see his eyes through the shadowy holes of the mask. Finally, the figure moved his hands up to his mask to remove it.

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It revealed a tired angular face which failed to dim a pair of bright blue eyes. A part of Hermita wished he put the mask back on. There was an unmistakable weight to the man both one of knowledge and one of burden, and it was continually difficult to tell which was weighed more at any given moment. Though the mask was now removed, the man failed to remove his gaze.

“It’s good to finally meet you, Sub Hermita. I assume in many ways, you have been waiting for this sort of moment, perhaps when you were ambushed in that library, perhaps when you were sent back to your room last night.”

“Correct on both accounts, sir. I must admit, mystery after mystery can get a bit tiring. It is comforting to come face to face with someone who can give straight answers.”

The man smiled. “Well, I’m sure you will soon learn that a part of creating a bit of joy as a full member of the protocol is instilling that mystery in others. It serves its purpose, but it also provides an opportunity for growth even for us higher ups. Though, for your sake I will do away with it. You know that each of the Arcana each have a responsibility and a burden. My burden is to be the last of them, the one who serves them and keeps them. I am the highest and thus the lowest of them all. I am World the 21st. So now you understand why in this moment I am here with you to answer any and all questions you may have, to a point of course.”

“It intrigues me that of all the Arcana, the highest one, in theory the most powerful one is the one sent to talk to the recruited.”

“It is an astounding concept on its surface isn’t it. It shows how special the process is and your role is to the whole. It is always a very special if not critical moment when a new member joins us among the Arcana. It takes all 22 of us for the whole to function and so we all feel a bit incomplete in such a period of transition.”

“Well then that makes me wonder what happened to the former Hermit. Did he die?” There was a pause before World spoke.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. In the way you mean, no. He who was once Hermit is no longer Hermit. He has been given a new title.”

“Am I allowed to ask what that title is?”

“The rules of the dinner are as follows. This dinner to celebrate your new status as Sub Hermita shall have 4 courses. You may ask questions until the dishes of the sixth course are retrieved at which point the period to inquire has formally ended. You are privy to any information that Hermit the 9th would be but no more. I am not obliged to volunteer any information that is not directly asked of me. Those are the terms. So yes, you may ask of his new title.”

“What is his new title?”

“He is now known as Anti-Hermit.”

“What does that mean?”

“He has now sworn an oath to be opposed by will and life to the work and mission of the Hermit.”

At this point, the servers appeared from the kitchen door with the appetizer course. It was an assortment of dips, hummus, peeta, chips, shrimp, and cocktail.

“By oppose, what do you mean?”

“Well, he wants to stop you, and frankly the protocol, by any means necessary.”

“Why would he want that?”

“Regulus was not the only thinker who existed all those centuries ago in Grecoideatia as I’m sure you as a historical mind can grasp. There were others who wanted to use might and empirical skill to brandish the will to make something of our people and turn our attention towards the world for the sake of making our nation into an imperial state. What better way to end the interior struggle than unite us against another people? Their teachings would make of us one nation by destroying others. By virtue of your contact I still may not reveal the name of the protocol, but I will tell you theirs so we can move on to more interesting topics of conversation. They call themselves the Rider-Waite Protocol. For every member of the Arcana there is an anti version who opposes and directly foils their focus for the sake of bringing about a new focus, a new order in Grecoideatia. That so-called nun that nearly had your head in Sophia was working for the Rider-Waite. As you can see, they are a very happy and loving collection of people just as their teachings are.” World casually sipped the wine that had been placed next to him. He began serving himself the hummus and peeta.

Hermita felt his sternum shudder at the thought of rogues being out to get him, his mother, Oudler (if that was still his name),and everyone he loved. Despite the danger, this gave him clarity.

“This somehow answers many of the questions I had for you. I was mulling over the arch void error in my head all day, wondering just how close the protocol was to falling into that trap. Now I see that the things you and the others do are not just chasing some vague idea, you are fighting a real threat, protecting the people from the corruption of everything Grecoideatia has stood for over the centuries despite our flaws and failures. I believe in God and all the promises of Christ, but I am also afraid to die at the hands of those who want to see us dead. Still, thinking about that doesn’t stop me from wanting to try and see Greco through to the end, to Regulus’s Final Guides.” World’s eyes somehow grew brighter listening to Hermita.

World nodded after a moment. “Yes, you will make a good Hermit indeed. You’ve got the heart for it. You even have the right worries and concerns. Trust me, it’s my job to see the full picture of the protocol, nothing goes undone without me seeing, and that sadly is my burden. It takes the Hermit to remind the whole of why we are here and who we are body and soul so that we can do what we do well. In honesty, not everything done is morally good. I’ve seen people lawfully and unlawfully killed to maintain Grecoideatia’s stability or Rider-Waite’s inferior position and that ends up destroying people. That is one blessing that you are granted, by virtue of your place,you will never be asked to witness or carry out a death either just or unjust. You will always have the right to know and pass judgment on our actions if you see fit.”

“I appreciate that. I will take that moral duty seriously if given the chance. Is there any other Arcana that I work closely with on the day to day?”

“I would say the most relevant member is Pope the 4th since he is a sort of counterpart. Arcana are either oriented internally towards the function of the protocol such as myself or you or externally such as Moon or Lover. Pope also deals with the protocol but advises and manages it theologically while you do so historically and philosophically. You are the voice of Regulus and he is the voice of the Church making you a well made pair. It therefore makes it very difficult for the Protocol to ignore a position if you and him are in agreement. This may make you less complimentary with our more particular and pragmatic members which you will soon find out for yourself, but more on that later.”

The servers returned to collect the dishes which were replaced by the main course. The main entree was salmon with a side of vegetables and potatoes with various garnishes available.

“How is Oudler doing? Is he still in Passiontide?”

“We actually sent him to a sanctum in Grecoan State, and he is progressing. He will not yet be moving to the next step like you are, but from what I hear he will be there within a month or two. Fool is taking good care of him. We in the protocol found it interesting that a pair fit our needs so perfectly at that time as that is a rare case. We don’t usually put two who know each other through at the same time, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“What role did the protocol have in mind for him?”

“Given his interests and area of study, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that we want someone who is good with understanding people both in terms of their psychology and in terms of, well, manipulation. The voice of psychology among the Arcana is Hanged Man, the one who hangs upside down on his own accord in order to gain a new perspective on the world.”

“Should I even ask what happened to the former one?”

“Well when the former Hermit left, he might have died figuratively, but he indeed caused the former Hanged Man to die literally by killing him. It was a classic case of knife through the back.”

“...classic. Well, if you are in such dire need of experienced people, why go through all this trouble of abducting college kids and training them from scratch? Why not just promote people already on the inside?”

“That is a small portion of Regulus’s wisdom. The protocol risks dying of stagnation if we simply play the promotion game. Orientation has been designed specially to instill in you a special sense of tradition while keeping intact your individual ability to think for yourself in your role and serve the protocol as you. You are given a guide, but you must fill it as you. I know this is a question that haunts you as it has haunted each one of us that has sat where you are now. You are Sub Hermita, yes, but never can we snuff out Demran Gerus. You will be Demran Hermit the 9th, and there will never have been and never will be another Hermit like you. We are not in the business of creating automatons for the service of Grecoideatia nor babying the idolatries of selfish individualities or identities. You are you, but you are only truly you when you serve at the high altar of grace as we Grecoans try to do throughout our lives.” With the fish gone, the plates are shuffled away and replaced by two slices of strawberry drizzled cheesecake with a side of milk.

Hermita sits cutting the pieces of the cheesecake deliberately, his mind racing all the while. Finally, he settles on one question that perhaps underlies every other question.

“What if I fail?”

World smiled at the boy. “I don’t think that will be possible because despite the stakes, despite all the things we have to do in Grecoideatia and in the world to make sure the protocol is safe and Regulus’s ideas are honored, we are a family, a spiritual family who take care with one another. We all gave up a lot coming in here, and we all suffer a great deal each day to make Grecoideatia what it is. There are not many people who can relate to us like that and so we always have each other’s back at the very least, and you have my word that I will always have yours. Just like you took your vow to me yesterday to fulfill your responsibility, I took my vow fourteen years ago to hold up and support whoever it is might be sitting in the seat of the Hermit and that’s going to be you. Know that despite that vow, I will begin doing it not because of that vow but because I will come to love you for you. As I said before, we aren’t all automatons, we all mean a great deal to one another. Losing both Hanged Man and even Hermit ripped a piece of us out which we all are still mourning. Up to now, I know Lover, Chariot, and especially Fool haven’t shown that because orientation has forbidden them not to, but know that it’s there. However, you are what’s come from the ashes. When there is loss there is always hope. One day you can read Regulus’s own writings on the Protocol. He likens it to Christ’s Resurrection. When one falls, a new soul may take their place but the very spirit of that Arcana continues on by virtue of that baptized member of the same Body of Christ, it is a remarkable concept and it surely eases the suffering we are all wrestling with. This is all to say that we as the other 21 are invested in you, in helping you to succeed in any way we can. If we succeed we succeed together, and if we fail then we do so together. If this is the time the protocol collapses, then by the will of God may it be so, but we will only let it come to be by our dying breath. I hope this convincingly answers your question.”

Hermita held his breath to keep from tearing up. “And now I understand why you are World the 21st. You’ve also helped me to realize something I’ve been wrestling with these past few months and most poignantly today.”

“I guess it is now my turn to ask a question. What is that?”

“I was afraid I was losing some part of me or leaving something behind to gain something, to become a better me. I had this idea that I was being taken apart and rearranged just to reach a grand ideal that was so high in the sky and detached that though the goal was accomplished, I would lose my way back to the important things I had before. With all my questions tonight, you’ve given me something more important than answers, you’ve given me your human, beating heart. You opened yourself and your family to me and I didn’t even have to knock. I’ve lost a few material things in the process of getting here, and yes I will certainly lose the life I had and was going to live. That I will share in mourning with you, but I won’t lose my humanity, I won’t lose my beating heart because it will bleed along with yours and the others in the work of the protocol. I guess it is up to me to make sure it never ceases to bleed for the sake of everything we stand for because from what you told me, Rider-Waite has never bled at all and that’s why it can build its ideas on the back of bloodlust and the sacrifice of others. Above all, I feel a wave of acceptance with all this. This dinner has given me what I need to move forward so I have one final question. The bridge is crossed. What next?” As if on queue, the waiters swiftly entered carrying the final course, coffee and assorted fruit.

World’s eyes narrowed in understanding. “Timetable at this point has become irrelevant. It really is about initiation. To truly become the Hermit you must act as the Hermit. Therefore, you are to take on a mission of utmost importance that he would. The protocol has thought for a good two centuries that all Regulan writings dealing with the Protocol were within our hands alone, but a scholar in Prydania has uncovered historic documents that may uncover information about our existence to the outside world. It is not unheard of for Grecoidetian writings to be uncovered overseas from various periods throughout history. This is both a matter of historic and diplomatic importance. Therefore, we must dispatch both Arcana dealing in those areas to deal with the matter both overtly and covertly Sun the 19th is providentially the Grecoideatian ambassador to Prydania as well as the chief Arcana of diplomatic affairs. You of course are our expert both in history and Regulan literature. You will leave for Prydania tomorrow to join Sun in handling this affair before it gets out of hand. You are to first attempt diplomatic attempts at de escalation before covert attempts may be deployed. The Will Report is with Sun in Prydania so he can fill you in when you arrive there. I wish you luck on this quite sensitive endeavor, Hermita. As I hinted at before, Son is in fact a more pragmatic member of our number so keep that in mind when working with him. I will be there in the morning to see you off across the sea towards Craviter before jetting off myself to my next business. Any followup questions or comments?”

Hermita went to speak up when the waiters returned to snatch the fruit and coffee. “Ah, what sorry luck, dear boy. See you tomorrow.”

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