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The Nine Schools of Pneuma [White Elephant for Whybover]

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  • The Nine Schools of Pneuma [White Elephant for Whybover]

    I'm less than sure how closely I was able to hew to Whybover's request for "Forbidden lore (and) Realm/Immaculate experiments, that behind-closed-doors captured Anathema stuff."

    But I do think that they'll at least be able to get some relevant plots out of this.

    Pneuma is the City of a Thousand Temples. Every street in the cramped, narrow, and costly High Town has its own, and the sprawling working-class Low Town and Shore Towns are not far behind. Even the military reservations of the three barrier islands and the very city walls themselves have their own temples, woven into the structure of the great ring of defenses. At the geomantic center of that ring, the sheer sides of the aptly-named Nail of Truth rise hundreds of feet into the air. Each day sweeps the Nail’s shadow across the city like an enormous sundial, from dawn’s hilighting of the Royal Palace of the Hon Kings, to dusk’s half-and-half division of the Redwood Channel. A common saying in the city is that everyone lives in the shadow of the Nail, and it is both literally and figuratively true.

    The Thousand Temples of Pneuma are organized into strict coalitions known as Schools, each espousing and often enforcing a particular doctrine and approach to it. Where those doctrines conflict, there are acrimonious voices raised in theological debate… And, all too often, violence in the streets between bands of ‘anonymous’ monks. House Hon, the cadet satraps of Pneuma, wend their way through the politics of the Nine Schools in a never-ending quest to preserve some scraps of their long-waning power over their city, and even the Sant Sipahi, the titled head of the Realm’s garrison in the city, has often intervened to keep inter-School conflict at a level low enough for her to overlook - and thus avoided any chance of drawing her forces into conflict with the Immaculate Order as a whole.

    The Halls of Inerrant Mission have long been the most ascendant of the Nine Schools. These temples, largely Earth-aspected, mostly concern themselves with the teaching of Immaculate doctrine in areas where it is not already prevalent, and the persuasion of recalcitrant gods. The Halls are extremely conservative in their approach to broader questions of doctrine, and tend to favor the division of any subject or group into discrete, entirely distinctive segments. Mortal divide from Dragonblood from Divine; Fishermen divide from Farmers divide from Craftsmen. Work divide from Worship divide from Rest.

    The long patronage of the Empress and the highest levels of the Immaculate Order have freed the monks of the Halls to concentrate on their goal of spreading Immaculate orthodoxy to the unenlightened, and the most secretive and ruthless temples of the school have used certain artifacts of slavery and control to ease that goal. These mystic shackles will be attached to a suitable victim; an unethical god, or a relatively weak Anathema, and used to compel it in attacks against states or settlements the Halls seek to enlighten, creating opportunities for the Order’s monks to appear as saviors.

    The Circle of Reverent Waves are the most common ‘saviors’ to answer the Halls’ scheme. A militant order whose wide renown for allegiance to moral causes owes most of its origin to their adoption of only the most uncontroversial and universally agreed definition of ‘moral’, the Circle is ever ready to find a wrong, locate a god they can name responsible, and deliver punishment. The secret the Circle uses to give its elite shikari their final cutting edge is live training; long ago they reworked their school’s mother-house into a prison for a specific Lunar Anathema, an entity they selected for their subject for his original youth, limited form library, and extremely limited creative and thinking skills. By carefully controlling the information and sources of knowledge their prisoner is exposed to, the Circle has kept him from realizing any of the ways he might escape, and, blooding them against him, provided generations of their monks with a realistic but relatively safe expectation of what strength they will face on the Wyld Hunt.

    The Condign Breezes Community are a small school, known to their fellow monks for their practice of Order-approved sorceries independent of the Heptagram’s occasional… unorthodoxies. In fact, though, the Community sets itself into two layers - the outer, public layer are required to act, to coordinate with other temples and schools and to see to the maintenance of the Community’s own affairs and survival, and in so doing to lend support to the inner layer, who spend their days and years and decades carrying out the Community’s purpose. That purpose, taken deadly seriously, is no less than gaining a true understanding of the vector of Anathema infection - by securing samples, still breathing, and examining them one mote of essence and drop of blood at a time.

    The Community was quite thankful when they verified that consciousness had no effect on the quality of the relevant data, and not merely for security reasons.

    The Groves of Fecund Mercy have little to do with the struggle against active Anathema or heretic gods, and only a little more concern for the spread of doctrine and orthodoxy. Their work is charity, the relief of the plight of the poor and needy. In slums or disaster areas, their green-belted monks can be found working tirelessly, distributing alms and, all too often, saving lives.

    Most, even within the Immaculate Order, assume that the Groves draw their resources from gifts from the larger Order, from grateful or pious Dynasts, and from grants from the Scarlet Empress herself, and much of what they hand out does indeed come from those sources. The rest is miraculously duplicated in secret rituals; a grain scoop marked with the sign of a god of the harvest, which pours out twice what it is filled with when a prayer is intoned; a fountain that pours out the pure sweet water that is the ‘blood’ of another deity, when propitated with the proper sacrifice.

    Such prayers and sacrifices are pure heresy, even for a monastic order. If the Groves’ use of such were discovered, the entire school would be destroyed, much less their ongoing search for more and greater tools to bring to bear on their task. The monks of Mercy care not for the risk; they know that far greater efforts will be needed of them, and soon.

    The House of Five Elements in Harmony is one of only two of the Nine Schools that does not favor a particular element in its philosophy and reverence. Intensely involved in educational efforts, the House’s great focus is on theology and right meaning; more than any other school, the House searches for meaning and logic in the lessons of the Immaculate Texts, and concentrates on the power of the correct teachings to bring about spiritual improvement.

    A century ago, the head of the House persuaded one of the rare Solar Anathema of her day to submit and accept instruction, seeking to redeem the lost and supposedly damned soul through example and learning. The project showed many signs of success for the forty-five years of her life, but after her death, her successor decried the project as morally irresponsible vanity, and applied various harsh persuasions to ‘reveal the demon’s true nature’.

    The successor’s name was struck from the House’s rolls when, after three years of torture, the supposed Anathema maintained a moral attitude, reciting scriptures even as the brands were applied, and in so doing persuaded a strong majority of the House’s other abbots that the man’s persecution of the woman they named ‘Sister Glint’ was in fact in service of his own pride.

    Since that day, Sister Glint has lived the life of a modest, supposedly god-blooded monk of the school, learning, teaching, and doing sincere holy works. Lately, however, Sister Glint has spent more and more time in devout meditation, seeking to suppress the long-lasting whisper of what she believes is her inner demon - a Persona that is everything her prosecutor only gave her relief when he had ‘proved’ her to be it: spiteful, devious, and utterly wicked.

    The Altar of Pure Flames school are the most doctrinally extreme of the major schools. They have the strictest definition of ‘heretical divine interference’ and ‘unauthorized worship’ of all, and the Sisters of the Pure Flames are everywhere in Pneuma and its environs, accusing and agitating against heresy and iconography. The Pure Flames are the most likely of any of the schools to escalate to street violence, but the least likely to leave serious harm in their wake, if only because their numbers and efforts are divided between so many different ‘heresies’.

    The Pure Flames’ fanaticism is a thing deliberately stoked by the head of their school, Watchful Memory. In her youth, Memory was a member of a Hearth which all but perished in battle against a Demon of the Third Circle. One of Elloge’s souls, the Demon had caused itself to be summoned by writing its Name and existence into a sequence of inscriptions on one of Pneuma’s temple - and when the sequence was read, the spirit was summoned into Creation, killing all of Memory’s fellows and leaving her crippled.

    Rendered desperate by the Time of Tumult and her own advancing age, Memory has determined that her lifelong struggle to erase the Unspoken Name is likely to fail, and has begun to have her most trusted agents delve into forbidden knowledge, even consortation with Anathema, to refine the Pure Flames’ efforts.

    The second of the three fire-aspected schools, the Altar of Banked Coals, are so greatly devoted to the lesson of Hesiesh that the monks of the Banked Coals are said (by others) to never speak among themselves, spending their days in contemplation and prayer to the point of converting even the day-to-day tasks of survival into other forms of moving meditation.

    Very few outsiders have the information to wonder how the Banked Coals maintain such a presence in the politics of the Nine Schools if they spend their lives in silence, and fewer still have asked about the matter. None of that tiny number have yet survived further asking just how much the Banked Coals know about their rivals’ secrets, or what advantage they expect to reap through timely reveals.

    The final two schools, the Altar of Warmed Braziers and the House of Lifted Eyes, share an origin. During the first century of the Realm, two sorcerers discovered a spell that would amplify the utility and closeness of the sacred Hearth bond, and tested it with their own two hearths.

    The hearth of the younger sorcerer would go on to found the Warmed Braziers school, which has grown into a medical order that freely grants healing to all who walk through the doors of its widely-spread hospital-temples. Those that can be cured by mundane means or exalted charms will be and are, without price; those beyond such help will be made an offer: life and health, in return for eternal allegiance to the school.

    Many accept, and are sworn as new members of the perpetually-renewed hearth bond. They awake from the oath ceremony to discover that their bodies’ reserves and healing are supplemented by all the hundreds of members of the school, of the hearth. They can hear and feel each others’ thoughts and innermost hearts, each a conscious and self-aware part of happy whole.

    The Altar of Warmed Braziers is one hivelike entity, determined to survive but in its own way ethical and sincerely devoted to Immaculate precepts…

    ...And to ensuring that the unceasing efforts of its opposite number to grow, to capture and conquer and subsume, are thwarted. The House of Lifted Eyes preaches the perfection of mortal souls through prayer and enlightenment, mostly as a way of luring in additional victims to induct into itself. The Braziers watching eyes and ready tongues limit the Lifted Eyes’ ability to kidnap new component-hosts, but those who come willingly are a different matter.

    Both hive-minds are now maneuvering for advantage as the long certainties of the Empress’s reign come apart around them, and considering the potential of members beyond mortals and Dragonbloods.

    Iä! Iä! Moe fthagn!

  • #2
    You hewed pretty damn close.


    • #3
      Glad to hear it. Hope at least some of these serve you well!

      Iä! Iä! Moe fthagn!