darling, come sit at the table, stop staring out the windows. i’m sure tyverion has shown you all you need to see. that land out there is yours, by divine right, but there are those who oppose divine right, and those who do not believe in padora’s grace. this is true of all civilizations–there are those who believe, and those who don’t. padora was wise to grant us the ability to question her existence, to give us the skeptic’s path toward enlightenment. for what good is a goddess if she cannot be held accountable for the things she does, or does not do? the exhalers would lead you to believe that padora does not even know of the world she has created, much like we sometimes forget that we are breathing, even while we do it. not knowing implies not caring, or rather, that she is not aware of our problems, nor does she try to fix them. this is justification for the wars with the outer lands; that because the unbelievers cannot be shaped by padora’s grace, we must shape it for them. but because padora strictly forbades violence, we direct the peacekeepers to fight in our stead. many of them do not return, and it is becoming difficult to replenish our forces of able-bodied men who willingly defy padora to protect tersus. it is difficult to defend your divine right, logos. but i will do whatever i can, whatever is within my power, to keep you safe until you are of age to reign. until then, please heed my words: tyverion is a good man, but easily swayed. he fought in the war of the ancients and has seen much death and destruction, and it hurts him, as he believes he is no longer connected to the breath. he is swayed in favor of the outliers and will protect them when the time comes, and he will use you to help him. you must not let that happen, for if you do, your lineage will come to an end. believe me, my love. i would never do anything to harm you. i love you and will protect you to my dying day.
glorious, isn’t it? take a look at it all, let it all sink into the depths of your eyes. this is your land, all of it, from the earth beneath your feet to the tops of those mountains in the distance, and beyond. smell the flowers blooming in the valley below, feel the wind against your cheek. this is yours. a river, about 70 miles past the mountains ahead of us, is the end of your reign, majesty. imagine, anywhere from here to there is yours to roam, to do whatever you wish in. and for this you only have two people to thank: your mother, and padora, the goddess herself, who has infused your body with her breath. the land of tersus is yours by right of divinity, yes, all of it, even beyond the river, but currently your mother the queen has suggested to the peacekeepers to wage war on the sinners of the other lands, who use the goddess’s breath to craft nefarious magics, which they use against us. she does this for you, young one, so that when you take over the throne you will have little to worry about. all she asks for is your patience and your unwavering loyalty to padora, your goddess-mother, whose breath was instilled inside of you and will be passed along to your offspring for a thousand generations, until mankind dissipates into the cosmos with the great exhalation.
it is important to remember, dear prince, that your ascendancy into royalty came from nothing, from the sheer will off the goddess, and only in the goddess will it continue. your mother, she … is a fine queen, a glorious queen, praise be her name, but her council … is worried. we are worried about her grand designs for tersus and the surrounding land. not about conquest, per se, but … her alignment with the peacekeepers. by law she should not be allowed to even speak to them, as they are the embodiment of war, chaos, destruction, the evils the goddess forbade. but we turn a blind eye, because she is afraid of what those in the other lands have devised to use against us. she is in a precarious place, and one wrong move could strip her of her divinity. we do not wish that for you, dear prince. i need you to promise to me that, no matter what happens with your mother, you will never speak with the peacekeepers, nor be a part of any of their dirty work. there are intermediaries–myself, for example–who are equipped to deal with them and their secular nature. there is dogma attached to all of this, tenants brought down from the angels. when you are older, you will understand. but for now, i need your promise. please promise me?
no one tells you this, but the feast is the most important part of the choice. the elders are watching every potential initiate like yourself, to see at which table you will sit. whom you will sit with, whom you will talk to, what you will say. you have chosen to sit with us, the skeptics. this makes the elders nervous, as the more questions are asked, the more the veil gets lifted and we learn the objective truth. that is the mission of the skeptics, to find out the truth of padora. when bazhekevel spoke to the ancients on the mountain, he reiterated three times in his recital: “do not believe simply what you perceive, for in the shadows lurk truths beyond your reckoning.” that is from chapter eight. from chapter thirteen, “always question the man who tells you a truth,” and from chapter twenty-eight, “even the great goddess padora questions the breath she takes in, for why would an immortal being desire to breathe?” thus from these passages alone were the skeptics born, and protected by scripture.
the inhalers and exhalers both wish us gone, as when we unravel the great mysteries of life, we endanger the religion and mythos of padorism itself. it is much like being born and then one day, being told your father and mother were figments of your imagination. this, i believe, is the hope of the inner sanctum of skeptics–to denounce padorism entirely. those of us on the fringes are not as adamant, and i myself only wish to discover more of how the world works by studying it, rather than blindly assuming everything is padora’s gift. her gift is in the intricacies that we must study to understand. the tree, for instance, is a great gift by padora. it brings us fuel for fire and wood for homes. yet did you know that inside the tree are tiny cells which, put together, create a tree? i just learned this a couple of weeks ago in one of our lessons. skeptic gyorg of the first path has this enormous machine, a series of mirrors and lenses, and when you look through it you can see the world up close, very close. it’s fascinating. and when you become a skeptic and look back at the rest of the tersusi people, you realize … we’re all skeptics. we’re all searching for the truth. some get stuck searching within themselves. we call those people “inhalers.”
anyway, you’re about to be accosted by some exhaler thugs so i suggest you keep an open mind. nice to meet you.
the inhalers will try to make you believe that they take in the worst of the lot, the liars, the cheats, the scoundrels, and rehabilitate them using prayer and good deeds. but this is a lie. it is the peacekeepers who take in the worst: the murderers, the rapists, the sodden souls begging for anything at the bottom of a muddy alleyway. our rehabilitation is work, and freedom from judgment. the peacekeepers are allied with the people of tersus; we have denied the right to join padora in death so that we may fight for her in life. we absolve ourselves of the sin of murder so that we may fight the northern invaders, or the barbarians from the east, and keep tersus and its people safe. when we die, we become one with the earth, our souls do not become the breath as padorism dictates. we are not allowed inside padoran temples, only our highest ranked soldiers speak to padoran priests and skeptics–we are not padorans, but we fight for padora and her people.
ours is a difficult path, but one that rewards you in discipline, patience, and the ability to defend the goddess and all of her worshipers. we deal in the sins padora despises, using them to better the world. if you join us, your life will be difficult, and when you die you will not join padora’s breath, but you will, in effect, be able to do things here in tersus that you cannot do as a breather, nor will you be punished for doing them. of course we have our own code, our own laws, and if those are broken you will be dealt with by the peacekeeper elite. but the local guards and law enforcement of this land cannot touch you. everyone in tersus is scared of the peacekeepers, and we intend to keep it that way.
(dosak is adorned in an elaborate bishop’s vestment, dark gray with silver and gold trim. each of his fingers has a gaudy ring. on his head is a broad, flat miter, and he walks with an elaborately carved silver and gold scepter with an orb encrusted with various jewels.)
i’m sure you’ve heard everyone speak of us as the “evil” sect of padorism. that’s a pejorative term i don’t appreciate; “self-centered” would be a more appropriate term. even “selfish.” both terms have negative connotations that are merely the last ditch effort of a dying religion to save face. alas, the term persists, as we are often seen as an arrogant, haughty sect. this couldn’t be further from the truth. the exhalers see the world for what it is: temporary. padora’s breath gives us life but all life must eventually exhale. we all take our last breaths, and when padora finally breathes out the air she has brought for us, we will die, like the trees in the cold winter snow. everything ends, and thus it is imperative that we celebrate the gift of life as much as possible.
you haven’t touched your dessert, mura. this tart was hand-crafted by our top chefs in our inner sanctum. the cream on top whipped from milk from the finest and most well-fed cows in all of tersus. we spare no expense, mura, in delivering the best life for all of our followers, and it is not a coincidence that because of this, we have the highest membership. the skeptics did the math: nearly 80% of all tersusi who pursue padorism identify themselves as exhalers. the officials, the legislators, they claim to be inhalers or skeptics, but your average person, someone like yourself? they live in filth and dream of more, and thus the exhaler’s pursuit begins. sure, you can align yourself with altruistic ideals, but you’ve seen the world out there, you’ve seen the death, the misery, the destruction. this is why the peacekeepers exist. all the exhalers dream of is to enjoy the life we’ve been given. the feast meticulously prepared for you was part of this dream. our founder, von, was effectively an inhaler before there were sects, and he saw the death and despair of the tersusi people prior to the awakening, which is why he so quickly advocated exhalation as the right way to appreciate what padora gave us.
when initiates are brought to the crossroad, 90% of them either head for the skeptics, or for the exhalers. thus, most people either question padorism in general, or prefer our way. trusting the people of tersus is important. exhalation is the one true path. soon the breath will fade and where will you be? what could you say about your life? toiling for decades despite inevitable decay? there is beauty in a life lived, not in a life spent suffering for others. join us, and enjoy the fruits of a glorious life free from pain and suffering.
you have spoken to andeleyekor and saw his giant telescope, yes? this is important, as for many years our people believed ourselves alone in her lungs. we huddled around campfires and lived in baked mud huts back then, and worshiped false gods or no gods at all. indeed, there were times, before we learned the truth from bazhekevel, when we were unaware we were a part of padora at all, or that the air we breathe is the same as her breath. wars were waged due to ignorance and lust for power, as we believed we were all that existed in tersus, and some strove to become the greatest of those who existed here. but some of our ancestors wondered where the air came from, and saw the curve of the world from the tops of the tallest mountains, and wondered why we constantly needed to breathe and why our hearts beat incessantly, and our curiosity was sated when bazhekevel, the being of light, descended from the heavens to grant our people the wisdom of padora’s existence. since then, we have spent many centuries exploring the sky with our telescopes and debating the philosophy of padora, and all of this, no matter how big or small, has enriched the tersusi, made us brighter, smarter, stronger, and spiritually fulfilled.
we inhalers believe in the grace of padora, and her breath of life. padora brought life to all things with her inhalation of the life force that surrounds us. we celebrate our lives and the lives of others. we believe in charity and service to those who are less fortunate. judging by your facial expression right now, i believe you have started to realize that this is a recruitment trip, haven’t you? you would not be mistaken in that assessment, which is good. you seem like a smart young woman. please understand though that the inhalers do not recruit in the ways that you think–we prefer to bring members in through living example. anyone can tell you the good deeds that they’ve done, but to see someone doing good in action, that is truly a miraculous thing to witness.
you have spoken with the skeptics first. this is not unusual, many acolytes begin the journey by choosing the skeptic’s path. and while i am here to answer any and all questions you may have, please know that my time is limited and you will eventually have to speak with the other sects before you make your decision. it is very difficult for initiates to see the good that the inhalers bring to tersus within the context of the church itself; normally our deeds are viewed outside among the people. thus, i presume you chose the skeptic’s path first because you are questioning the legitimacy of our religion in the first place. this is good. all answers will be revealed no matter which path you take. but please understand that certain paths, such as the inhalers, are here for the benefit of all people, and by aligning yourself with us, you give a tremendous gift to everyone you will help in your future.
with that, i hope you will return to us. may your breath be deep.
the world you see through that telescope is but a tiny fraction of the entirety of padora’s lungs; the space stretches onward to infinity. not even the most powerful telescopes devised by the smartest skeptics can see that far. the most fascinating thing is that the objects are moving, mura. you have to track them, day by day. no one knows which way they’re moving, whether padora continues to breathe inward or if she has begun exhaling, or if, perhaps, while she holds her breath the objects move. look in the telescope again, let me adjust the settings … do you see that? that orb in the sky? most are bright stars but that is not, that is some kind of celestial body. it makes us skeptics think. the great skeptic astevelin accurately measured that our world is round, and that, were we to start walking east and not stop, eventually we would return to where we started. obviously no one has tested this hypothesis yet, since anyone walking east would eventually drown in the ocean, but due to the natural curve of the world when standing atop a tall hill or mountain, i’m inclined to believe her. it’s important, mura, to understand that there are so many things in this world that are much bigger that we are, and to know our place among these things. that tree over there is taller than you. that boulder is larger. the ocean is vast. and yet all of these things are very small compared to the vastness of space that is padora’s lungs. and that orb out there, perhaps that is another world with people just like you and me on it. imagine that!
one day the grand master believes we will sail great ships into the sky and contact these other worlds. unfortunately neither i nor you will be alive to see that happen. such is life; we make our own unique discoveries, which build on the discoveries of our descendants. now. it is getting late, and you should be getting ready for bed.
ah, yes. this is a common question so forgive my rote recital. please, have a seat, i know your clan has traveled far. feel free to take any of the fruit in the basket. now. padora was created out of the void, which we see as nothingness but to her is something. before padora, nothing existed; after her creation, everything existed. you understand so far? good.
padora infused the void with what we call “something,” with our world and the objects within it. the earth, the trees. every star in the sky is something that came into being with her creation. if andeleyekor has not shown you his great telescope yet, please visit him after i answer your question. it truly is a marvel. through the telescope you will see that some of those stars are not stars, but celestial bodies floating in the void. each one of these is padora’s creation, and is, in essence, her. we believe that padora inhabits a body like ours, only much, much larger, and we also believe that we exist within padora’s lungs, for two reasons: one, there is so much space between us and other celestial bodies, therefore we must be in a great expanse of space, and two, because we see the effects of her breath all around us; namely in the wind itself. for an eternity padora lived without breath, but one day she took the great breath, which infused all of her creations with life. padora breathes like us, but she does not need to–her breath is a gift to us, which we thank her for every day and night with our prayers and rituals.
now, young one, go find andeleyekor before he goes to bed. perhaps he will stay up a little while longer and show you the stars with his telescope. go on!