"Reikos is no more. Our home - the cradle of our virtue - has been steeped in the noxious bile of our enemies. What grows here now is only misery and despair. The land has turned against us - those who have survived the Druj will find only death here now."
The wild-eyed preacher stood atop the mound, his clothes ragged and torn, his hair and fingers stained with dirt. His pronouncements of doom had angered some and they have moved on quickly - but a large crowd remained - gripped by the fervent preacher's words. Many bore physical marks of their captivity, vivid weals and scars at wrists and ankles. The Black Thorns had moved through here only days earlier driving the orcs before them and freeing the slaves from the Druj camps.
"The Druj are but one part of our destruction. Our Senate barters away the Empire to the northern orcs to buy peace from them - but the horns of war blow on every border of the Empire. We are beset on all sides. Besieged - we cannot hold. Death is come upon us. She is inexorable, the hound that pulls down the hind. Not the little death - not release into the Labyrinth. I speak of true death! Our souls themselves lost as our Empire is torn down!"
A drop of spittle ran from the preacher's lips. His hands continued gesturing even when he stopped speaking, moving back and forth abruptly as if animated by a will of their own and seeking to underpin the threats the priest warned of.
"It is time now! Just as our souls enter the labyrinth and are reborn - so must our Empire be reborn. Reforged, the nations of humanity will come together as they did only once before. Only once have we been truly united - when SHE walked the land. When SHE led us into war. When SHE brought the Way to all humanity."
"On the day SHE entered the Labyrinth we lost the Way. What virtue did SHE follow? Lost - lost to us - lost to the darkness of the Labyrinth. That is why we have squandered HER legacy. That is how we have fallen so low. We have forgotten the faith SHE used to carry all before her!"
"No - not lost... hidden. Hidden by cardinals and gatekeepers who could not stand the light of truth that shone from HER! Buried by the priests who could not bear to submit to HER path. They destroyed the truth! These cowards stole the Way from us. By their actions they doomed us all!"
The crowd groaned, there was no-one left now who was not swept up by the preacher's words. Starved and beaten by the Druj, they had grown used to the hunger in their bellies - now they were reminded of the hunger in their soul.
"But the truth is reborn just like our souls! There are still priests in the Synod brave enough to speak the truth. Not all our silenced. Listen to the wind - there you will hear the truth. SHE was an exemplar of Courage!"
"Courage is what we need now. Courage to withstand our slavery beneath the Druj. Courage to turn their fear back on them. Courage to send the orcs crawling on their bellies back to their mountain holes. Courage to unite our great Empire beneath HER will."
"I am sent to bid you to Courage for I have seen and SHE will be reborn! Long has she laboured in the Labyrinth, but now SHE prepares for her final journey into life. Now SHE prepares to lead us in war against our enemies - to unite us once more. But only if we have the Courage to follow HER."
"We must make the Empire ready for HER! This is why SHE has not returned to us - because we are not worthy! Traitors and silver-tongued schemers have taken HER dream and twisted it into something SHE never intended. We must set it back on the right path, must have the Courage to return to HER way - and then SHE will return to lead us!"
"Our Empire must be reborn! The Way must be healed! Not seven virtues equal and the same. How can that be? A feeble lie we tell our children - a lie that suits the flatterers of every virtue in the Synod well. But if SHE was an exemplar of Courage as they finally admit - then the truth is revealed. Courage - beyond any other virtue - is what we need to follow HER through the Labyrinth. Courage above all other virtues to defeat our enemies. Only Courage will remove the fear from our hearts - only Courage can save us."
"Courage was HER virtue. This is the truth the Synod has kept from you for centuries. That is why we have fallen. That is why you laboured under the whips of the Druj."
"Courage was HER virtue. Set aside the others - and turn at the last to the truth. And you will be reborn, our Empress will be reborn, our Empire will be reborn."
"Courage was HER virtue. Who now will follow another virtue when you know that the greatest human who ever walked the earth chose this for HER path?"
"Courage was HER virtue. Who among you will step forth and be reborn. Step forth and I will anoint you in HER Name - in HER virtue."
The speaker stood, silent at the last, his hands wide, imploring the crowd to accept his words. For a moment there was silence and then a young woman stepped forward, her eyes full of fervour to receive the priest's blessing. And then the tide burst.
The devastation wrought by the Druj in Reikos has scared the Highborn inhabitants both physically and spiritually. The people of Highguard pride themselves on their indomitable spirits, but even they are not immune to the bone-cutting terror they have suffered. Now that the people have been freed and the invaders have been driven from the land, some of them are beginning to raise up their heads once more and look for answers.
Into this febrile environment has come an enigmatic Highborn preacher, Golan the Wanderer. Unkempt and dishevelled, he appears to be the very antithesis of the Highborn sensibilities - and yet his words have had a powerful effect on those who have heard them.
What Golan is preaching appears to be a simple case of heresy - he claims that only Courage can save the Empire, he does not actively deny the other Virtues - but he very clearly claims that it is profoundly more important. Of course scholars have argued for centuries about the relative merits of each of the virtues, but Golan's claims are more down-to-earth - more fundamental. He claims that the First Empress was a follower of Courage.
Every Virtue has made claim to the First Empress at some point, but Golan goes much further. The First Empress founded the Empire - in effect the Empire is her legacy - and she is its paragon. She embodies it - and it embodies her. By Golan's logic this simply removes Courage from any comparison with the other virtues. The question he asks over and over is "if the greatest woman who ever lived followed Courage - why would we follow a lesser Virtue? Are you wiser than the First Empress?".
Normally this would seem to be a cut and dried case of blasphemy - yet another variant of a purification heresy. Golan's other claims may be simply more fantastic than blasphemous - that the Empire stands on the brink of destruction - only the rebirth of the First Empress can save it - and that that can only happen when the Empire pursues Courage above all other Virtues.
However the legal situation is somewhat confused by a recent Judgement by the Synod, in which the Assembly of Courage unanimously declared the First Empress to be an exemplar of their faith. This is a point repeatedly referenced by Golan in his speeches - and he is clearly using it to build his audience - even as he claims that the proof will be when the Synod acts to suppress this essential truth.
Golan's speeches seem to be confined to Reikos at present, but it seems likely that he has his sights set on transforming the entire Empire.
Golan's preaching is taking root, but has not yet had a significant effect. However, if Golan's following continues to grow then the effects will be very noticeable by the time of the Spring Equinox. Congregations lead by priests dedicated to Courage are already seeing numbers swell in response to Golan's teachings - while other Virtues are beginning to suffer by comparison.
If nothing happens - then every congregation in Reikos operated by a priest dedicated to Courage will see a significant gain in the amount of liao and the number of votes they receive. Conversely all other congregations will see a loss of liao and votes.
Worse, if Golan continues his campaign unchecked, then he may be able to spread his message to other territories.
If the General Assembly or the Virtue Assemblies passes a judgement refuting the claim that the First Empress was an exemplar of Courage and names a priest to travel to Reikos with 50 liao, then they can stop the heretical priest from influencing any further Highborn citizens and undo the work he has done thus far.
Alternatively the Synod might wish to put Golan to Inquisition and attempt to summon him to Anvil to answer his critics. It cannot compel a citizen to attend, but Golan seems to have no fear of the Synod or any punishment they may hand down. Rather he seems keen to invite such punishment, perhaps believing that a martyr will give credence to his claims that the truth is being suppressed by the Synod.
If the Courage Assembly or the Highborn Assembly passes a judgement supporting Golan's claims then the backing of the Synod will provide a massive boost to his efforts. If the Synod names a priest to travel to Highguard with 25 liao, then they can spread the effects of Golan's teaching to every territory in Highguard.
Ultimately Golan is claiming that the First Empress is a paragon of Courage - that in effect the entire Empire is an edifice built on Courage and that it can only triumph when it is dedicated entirely to that Virtue. If the General Assembly passes a judgement in support of this claim, recognizes the statement of the Assembly of Courage that she is an Exemplar, or raises the First Empress to the status of Paragon of Courage, then a named priest chosen by either the General Assembly or the Assembly of Courage could spread this word across the Empire. This would require 100 liao - but every congregation in the Empire would then experience the same effects as will soon be felt in Reikos. The priest would need to named as part of a separate statement of principle raised by either the General Assembly, the Assembly of Courage, or the Assembly of Nine.
In the event that multiple incompatible judgements are passed, the judgement that has had the largest amount of liao spent on it takes precedence.
The Imperial Synod made three judgements in this regard.
The Courage assembly passed the judgement "The Assembly of Courage calls for a campaign of preaching in the territory of Reikos, teaching how the Virtue of Courage stands alongside the other Virtues as an inspiration against fear and ruin. The campaign will be led by Nina of Cantiarch's Hold and be supported by at least 25 vials of liao to inspire virtue through virtuous auras."
The General assembly also passed the judgement "Golan the Wanderer is false in his preaching that purifying the Empire to Courage will cause the First Empress to Return. We know this for I, Yael, am the First Empress returned from beyond the Labyrinth and reborn among the people of my Empire. I shall come among the Citizens of Reikos to tell them of my vision of the Labyrinth and of the Land Without Tears."
Finally, the Courage assembly declared an Inquisition on Golan "Inquisition to call Golan of Reikos to stand before the justice of the Synod on charges of Blasphemy, Heresy and Idolatry. As author of the Recognition of the First Empress I request the opportunity. Inquisition to occur at the Spring Equinox 380YE. " There has been no immediate response from Golan.
Unfortunately, Nina of Cantiarch's Hold did not gather sufficient liao to significantly influence the people of Reikos - the minimum threshold was 50 liao to refute Golan's claims. It becomes clear very quickly (before any liao is spent) that she has insufficient liao to influence the people of Reikos.
In contrast Yael's judgement (backed up virtuous auras) that Golan is incorrect because the Empress has already been reborn has inflamed the situation.
Her claims have cast doubt on some of Golan's claims - that the Empress will not be reborn until the Empire adopts Courage wholeheartedly - but they have done nothing to undermine his central tenet that if the First Empress is an Exemplar of Courage then Courage must be the key virtue of the Way. If anything many of his followers seem more than ready to accept Yael's claims because they see them as adding weight to Golan's wider preachings that Courage is the preeminent virtue...
This means that all congregations in Highguard lead by priests dedicated to Courage are receiving additional votes and liao due to massively increased attendance, while those lead by priests who are not dedicated to Courage are seeing reduced attendance and consequently their influence in the Synod is somewhat reduced, and they have somewhat less liao that they might expect.
You can find further information about the situation regarding Golan and his preaching here.