During the two months that Tse-dong, Mo-tse, and Tass were enthusiastically learning sorcery, Bayar was not idle. He was on a journey of his own, though different in nature. Having come to doubt the institutional religion in which he had placed his faith, he had begun to seek a way to worship Viru outside institutional forms. Then, in the tunnels below Kong Wan, he’d encountered Jing-a, leader of the secret community called the Lepers and a fellow doubter. Now, he intended to go on extended spiritual retreat to seek Viru’s guidance in this matter. Of tantamount importance was insight into how he would practice his religion, including receiving Divine Magic spells, without resorting to temples.
Bayar told his compatriots that he didn’t mean to be rude, but needed to isolate himself as much as possible. The others agreed to leave him alone for the duration of his retreat. Bayar then spent his time in protracted study and meditation at the Lodge.
Now and then, he had to go in to town to get food and new books to study, and on one of these visits he received a letter. It was from his fellow doubter, Jing-a. She wrote:
My soul has been afire with questions ever since our fated meeting in the tunnels. I wish to continue our conversation about unconventional spiritual paths. Let us join as kindred spirits in lighting our way through this darkness.
Please exercise utmost caution in discussing these matters with others, lest rumor paint us as heretics. As for myself, I do have some friends left among surface dwellers, namely the Chief Sweeper of the Thauma-Virun chapel. You may deliver to her any correspondence for me, addressed to “Shines-in-Darkness”, and I shall address yours as “Shines-Above.” In this way, we may protect our true identities.
My first question is this: What virtues shall we espouse? The traditional four are: compassion, filial piety, loyalty, and obedience. The first three continue to seem amenable, but the last presents difficulty. To whom shall we be obedient? We deviate from the institution, and therefore the state that supports it. Shall we yet obey the law in all respects? And what of the Emperor? Shall we continue to revere and obey the Emperor as the incarnation of Viru? If so, in which of the three princely siblings shall we recognize Viru? Or is the true Emperor in ourselves, in each of us?
I await your reply. May Viru inspire us in these dangerous matters of doctrine.
Bayar carefully considered the matter, taking days to carefully compose his response. Finally, he set brush to paper in reply. He wrote:
Pardon my delay. For now, the way remains unclear. Already I have gained both knowledge and favor with our savior. Please pray for me as I venture into the light in pursuit of the Sun-prince. May he receive me.
It is most certainly true that Viru shines brightest on his boldest seekers. You will be first to know of what Viru unveils to me. Strengthen your bond with Viru to no end, for his favor is truly the only favor of import!
The last line clearly implied that the favor to seek was not that of the institution, but that of the deity himself.
A few weeks after that, another letter came from Jing-a:
I have three further questions, this time concerning details of practice.
First, what skills ought we promote to aid followers on the path? The traditional eight are oratory, healing, first aid, literacy, singing, lore of the world, and lore of Thauma-Virun. But I think it necessary to add a ninth: that cultivation of will which is called persistence. For without cultivation of will, how may followers strike out on their own and recognize Viru’s subtle presence? Do you agree?
Second, how shall we perform our sacred donations? I am loathe to break with tradition, but we have no temples to accept our donations, and we here in the darkness have no means of acquiring such coin in the first place. Surely our charitable god shines on the wealthy and poor alike, and does not condition salvation on trifles of economics. How, then, shall we donate?
Finally, where may we gain and regain spells? Traditionally we must pray at temples. But we have no access to such structures. My feeling is that nature provides her own temples, yet I have had no success locating a sufficiently holy site in the tunnels. I have been without divine spells for quite some time. I implore you to think on this matter, and search out the places of Viru’s holiness.
Now deep in his meditations, Bayar replied with more confidence this time. He wrote:
In regards to persistence, I agree in the utmost. Might I also add that one’s pact with the Vanquisher of Darkness be held in high regard? Those closest will inevitably imitate that to which they are close.
We might donate of ourselves to others. It seems that value is in the eyes of the receiver. Let us not always give to an institution, but to a brother or sister. In regards to holy places, I must seek the counsel of Viru himself.
Please continue your prayers. It’s working!
The next letter to come continued the dialogue:
Now I turn to matters which only Viru may ordain, but which we must personally decide until Viru makes his will apparent.
How shall we advance in levels of devotion? Tradition entrusts temples with rites creating Initiates, then Acolytes, and finally Priests. But we have no such temples, and no clergy to transmit the line of initiation. Surely our generous god will recognize our efforts, even if we are not initiated through the proper lines of transmission. Viru himself will initiate us. But how shall we prove our readiness to him? How shall we seek advancement?
On this question, I may have a partial answer. A portentious dream came to me one night, and I cannot shake it off. The dream seemed to indicate that before I can be initiated as an Acolyte, I must perform a quest of charity for one belonging to a group to which I am personally opposed. That is why I chose to aid you and your surface-dwelling friends when you were in need. I pray Viru accepts my charity. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, I wonder if you too will be required to perform such a feat of selflessness.
During this extended theological conversation, Bayar became more and more determined to find an alternative to temples for the purposes of worship and the gaining of spells. He prayed to Viru for guidance, as he often did. Many times before, in times of uncertainty or crisis, whether in Kong Wan or Po Keng or on the road, he prayed for guidance. Never had he received any answer. But this time, as he wandered the lonely, snowy mountain passes, crying out to the sun god for guidance, he felt something different. Something deep inside him bade him journey just one ridge over. Then, he saw it…
There, in a snowy valley between four mountain peaks at each of the four directions, lied a wonder of natural beauty. Natural stone pillars soared vertically in majesty. They created natural sundials by their shadows. Bayar could only guess how tall the pillars were, as they were half buried in snow.
With a lump in his throat and the breath caught in his chest, Bayar fell into deep prayer. He recited hymns, thumped his fists against the snow, circled the pillars, and called out to Viru to be granted power. Then he felt the prickle of energy coursing through his fingertips.
Trembling, Bayar raised his hands and attempted to cast a spell. Blue sparks leaped from his fingers and the peculiar smell of magic clouded the air. It worked! He had done it. He had found a holy site, outside any institutional temple, where communion with Viru was possible.
Surging with gratitude, Bayar thanked his deity and hurried back to the lodge to write his reply to Jing-a. Ecstatically, he brushed the characters upon the paper:
Praise the Ancestor of All! Just yesterday he did shine most clearly upon this seeker! I now know of a holy place to regain from him that which is expended! Should you venture to the surface I will take you there with haste! Truly we are on the path to righteousness! Fear not, sister, for my theory is that such places are all around us, yet wait to be revealed through faith!
It has become clear to me that advancement can only be spoken by the mouth of Viru. Furthermore, only today has Viru spoken to me for the first time. To even hear his voice must be a new step. I now know that only today have I truly become an “initiate” by the mouth of Viru.
It seems that I am not the only seeker to hear from the savior! Your dream is indeed Viru-sent! Obey it, for it comes from the proper source.
Keep praying. It’s working!
After that, Jing-a made many trips to the site of the natural pillars discovered by Bayar, getting magic to heal her people. Bayar also secured for himself several new spells which he had never cast before. Finally, he finished up his spiritual retreat and rejoined his compatriots brimming with spirit.
It was a fateful time to rejoin them, for no sooner did he do so than Citizen Dugo made his revelation of the sorcery scandal, and the Governor summoned all of them to his presence. It seemed the brothers were finally being called to account for their dabbling in sorcery, and he along with them. Bayar didn’t know if they were headed into the very jaws of death, but there was one thing he did know: Viru was with them.