By One Iota
rating: +116+x

Deep in the catacombs beneath Overwatch Cathedral, there was a cavernous and isolated chamber at the end of a long hallway. The historians of the Holy Foundation could only guess at what purpose it might have held before the Great Breach - some claimed it had been a storage room, some an auditorium, some a shelter, others the containment chamber of one of the demons the ancients had contained before the world was consumed. No sound penetrated its walls, and it took five strong men to open or close the mighty steel door (which not everyone agreed had originally been part of the room) that offered the only means of entrance or exit. Few but the highest ranking members of the clergy knew it even existed, let alone the path to reach it, and none could breach its doors but by satisfying the Omega Guard that they had a right to be there, for this was the heart of the Overwatch itself - the meeting place of the Council of Thirteen, the Doctors of the Church, the vicars of Bright.

As one passed through the grand doorway, he would see all three walls before him covered with grand tapestries, sewn over decades by the D-Caste and the deacons who oversaw their work at portraying the history of the Holy Foundation. On the left wall, the tapestries portrayed the legends of the ancient world, before the Great Breach. St. Alto staring down the great dragon and feeding the multitudes from a steaming pot of soup, St. Konn the Vampire-Slayer testing his steel against the duke of the strigoi, St. Canis Corvin educating the False War-God, and in the center of the wall the First Resurrection of the Lord Bright, holding the Holy Amulet above His head. To the right, the tapestries depicted the Great Breach and the degradations that occurred in those days, the fall of the ancient temple, and the rising of the Holy Foundation, with the Lord Bright, again in the center of the wall, flanked by His saints as they stood triumphantly over the corpse of the great dragon and the rubble of the statue that He Himself had smashed to bits in his rage over the death of St. Agatha. On the opposite wall, the art portrayed the Holy Foundation as it existed today - educating the civilians, carrying word of the Holy Containment Procedures to all corners of the world, keeping the ancient evils sealed. In the center of that wall was the hope for the future - a shining silver city, greater than any that had stood before the breach, over which Lord Bright looked with a smile.

Beneath this tapestry, there sat against a wall a great throne of mahogany and leather, decorated with gems and holy icons, preserved and restored throughout the centuries for the Father of the Foundation, His Holiness the Lord Jack Bright, whose amulet sat in a glass case upon the throne in His stead. Thirteen lesser chairs before thirteen desks sat arranged in a semicircle facing the chair. Today, ten of the chairs were occupied by old men and women, the Cardinal Doctors who had given their lives in service and risen through the ranks of the church to become members of the Council of Thirteen. Two of the Omega Guard flanked the door to ensure that none trespassed on the meeting. One of the men near the left end of the semicircle rose and spoke to the others.

"I, the Second," he said, for in this chamber it was their custom to refer to themselves by number rather than name, "hereby call this meeting of the Council of Thirteen to order in the name of the First, who has passed away this last winter and is absent. Cardinal Doctors Two, Three, Four, Six, Seven, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen present. The Twelfth has agreed to lead us in prayer."

The Second seated himself as the Twelfth rose from her seat and bowed her head. "Lord Bright," she began as the others lowered their heads as well, "forgive us today for the transgression we are about to commit against You. Know that we mean no disgrace or disrespect in our hearts, and that we commit these deeds to understand Your glory and to further carry out Your will, as we do in all things. Forgive those who serve us today and take part in these acts at our orders, for they seek only to serve and to honor You and Your Foundation. Bless us with Your wisdom and keep us safe, that our children may know a world free from the terrors of the Expunged. Amen."

"Amen," the other nine agreed as the Twelfth seated herself. A moment passed in silence as each of the ten waited for one of the others to take action, for it had been over a hundred years since the Council of Thirteen last found this course of action necessary, and though they had all agreed it was the only way, each of them had their doubts.

"Perhaps," suggested the Sixth timidly, "we should conduct the vote once more before we begin?"

"Indeed," the Second said. "It would be a shame to discover too late that this proceeding is unnecessary. Please cast your votes on the question at hand in the traditional manner." One of the guardsmen left his post at the door and picked up a large box with a slot on top. As he walked around the table, each of the cardinals wrote their vote on a slip of paper and dropped it into the box. After a few minutes had passed, the guardsman returned to the door and opened the box, where he and his partner removed the slips and tallied the votes one by one.

"The vote remains tied," announced the guardsman. "Five for one, five for the other."

"Then we must proceed," the Second said, "and Bright have mercy on us all. Guard! Our guests may enter now."

The guardsman approached the door and knocked on it in the agreed-upon pattern - three short knocks in rapid succession, followed after a brief pause by a hard knock, a short knock, another hard knock, and another short knock, followed after another pause by a short knock, two hard knocks, and a short knock. The door rumbled and opened slowly as it was pushed from the other side. A half dozen Omega Guards entered - two carrying a table between them, two carrying several heavy chains and ropes, and the other two leading a D-Caste, stripped to his loincloth. The D-Caste had been specially prepared for the day's ritual - starved and emaciated, his teeth pulled and fingernails removed, and he looked to the assembled cardinals only a few days away from death. The assembled leaders of the Holy Foundation watched in silence as the table was set between the semicircle of desks and the throne, the D-Caste was laid on it and bound with the chains, and the guardsmen pulled the hoods of their black robes over their heads and tied them closed so that only their eyes were visible.

"Do you know why you have been brought here today, D-34029132?" asked the Thirteenth.

"Yes, my lord," replied the bound man.

"And have you agreed to this rite willingly?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Are you ready to give up your life in the name of your church and your Lord?"

The D-Caste paused. "Yes, my lord."

The Thirteenth turned his gaze to the guardsmen. "Make sure the ropes and chains remain taut and that he does not attempt to hurt himself. If you must restrain him physically, do not hesitate to do so. There is no sin in any of the actions you have been asked to perform today - and though He may test you with His cries and protestations, remember that the Lord loves you and will forgive you."

The Second nodded. "Now, please proceed." The cardinals rose from their seats and watched attentively as five of the guards took their places around the D-Caste. The sixth guard approached the throne and reverently picked up the glass case containing the Lord Bright's amulet before taking his own place at the head of the table. Another guardsman reached out and removed the top from the case. As the other five tucked their hands into their robes to prevent any accidental contact, the guard holding the case turned it upside down, and the Holy Amulet fell out and landed on the chained man's chest.

The late Cardinal Doctor Anders Clef, who had been present when the Lord Bright was summoned to the Synod of New Denver in 237, had written in his memoirs that the expression on His face when He appeared was always one of confusion - the shock of finding Himself in a new host, and trying to figure out where and when He had found Himself. None of the men and women watching would have disagreed with that assessment, for no sooner did the Holy Amulet strike the D-Caste than his demeanor changed. The chained man groaned and tried to pull at his bonds to no avail, his eyes darting around the room as he took in the people and decorations around him. The cardinals watched in silence as he tried to bite off his tongue, dislocate his joints, break his limbs by bashing them against the table - all in vain, courtesy of the amendments made to the Holy Procedures centuries ago to prevent the Lord Bright from taking His leave if His earthly presence was required. As He resigned himself to being once again in a body of flesh and bone, He set his eyes on the Ninth, who had produced from his robes a scroll bearing the holiest of the Holy Procedures, those relating to the Amulet itself, and He spoke.

"I like what you've done with the cafeteria."

"Could you please tell me your name?" asked the Ninth, reading from the scroll. "I believe you are Tom Higly, working for us as part of your life sentence."

"Cut the crap," the chained man said with a sigh. "You know who I am, and you know I've been through this little ceremony enough times to wish I'd never come up with it."

The Ninth looked to his compatriots, who nodded their agreement that they could proceed. "The rite is successful!" he proclaimed. "Praise be to the Lord Bright!"

"Praise be to the Lord Bright!" shouted the assembled cardinals and guards.

"Aaah!" Lord Bright shouted. "Not so loud. This body must have the mother of all hangovers."

"Forgive us, Lord Bright," the Second said. "The Procedures state that the host body's reflexes are to be dulled with alcohol before the ritual."

"Uh-huh," Lord Bright said. "New Holy Procedure; next time, save the alcohol for after you wake me up. Somebody write that down."

"It would be my honor, Lord," the Thirteenth said.

"And haven't you guys had some sort of renaissance or reformation or scientific awakening yet? What year is it this time?"

"It is the year 698 After the Breach, Lord."

Lord Bright sighed again as he looked at the men assembled before him. "I thought you would've re-invented pants by now. Anyway, it's been nice chatting, but I'm sick of this place and I'm sick of you. Guard, be a dear and strangle me so I can get back to my nap."

"Forgive us, Lord Bright," the Second said, "but we must beg Your indulgence for a short time longer. A great… difficulty has arisen that threatens to tear our Holy Foundation apart, and we can find no authority greater than Yourself capable of settling this matter."

"Goddammit," Lord Bright said. "You guys really need to start thinking for yourself. Alright, what is it? Containment breach? D-Class rebellion? Are the Serpent's Hand back?"

"No, Lord Bright," the Second answered. "It is… a matter of theology. One of great importance, that this Council has been unable to resolve."

Bright groaned. "'Restart the Foundation as a church,' Clef said. 'It'll make sense to scientifically illiterate peasants rebuilding society,' Clef said. Well, what's the issue?"

"It would seem that the Sites and Areas in the eastern lands," the Second said, "began teaching an interpretation of the Gospel According To Everett several years ago which is quite different than that which has been maintained here in the heartlands. This… interpretation," he said so as to not upset certain of his peers, "has spread to Overwatch itself, and a great deal of strife has broken out among our many churches and outposts regarding which is the true and correct belief. We fear it may come to outright war, and thus we resolved to have a vote amongst ourselves and determine which is the one true interpretation. Unfortunately, we have become deadlocked, five to five."

"That's why there are supposed to be thirteen O5s," Lord Bright said. "Did you need to wake me up just to remind you that those chairs aren't supposed to be empty?"

"They are not empty by design, Lord Bright," interrupted the Tenth. "The First and the Eighth succumbed to the plague during the long winter, and the Fifth is currently in the south commanding the Mobile Legions in our ongoing crusade against the Chaos Insurgency. Due to our being deadlocked on this issue, we have been unable to appoint any to take their place."

"Of course. So what's this big disagreement?"

The Second nodded to two large books on the desk. "It concerns a disagreement in the translation of chapter 37, verse 25."

"Which is?"

"Was the child that you and St. Agatha conceived on the eve of the Great Breach created of Your spirit, or from Your spirit?"


"And that," said the old man, "is how one word almost led the world to the brink of war - and how the Lord Bright set things straight."

"But what did the Lord Bright say?" asked the towheaded boy sitting at his grandfather's feet.

"Yeah!" cried the girl sitting next to him. "What did He tell them?"

"What do you think?" the grandfather asked.

"I think she was born from Bright's spirit," said the boy.

"Nuh-uh!" the girl said. "St. Emile was born of Bright's spirit!"

The old man laughed. "Looks like we've got a schism on our hands again, right here."

"Well?" the boy asked. "Which of us is right?"

"And say it in your Bright voice!"

The old man scowled and did his best Bright impression as he read the last line of the story;

"For cryin' out loud… Rights and I never had any kids."

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