Sun, Sept 13th, a little before noon
The Imperial Pantheon
“This must have been built after the newcomers arrived,” I said.
“Yes, it was built to celebrate victory in the Wizards’ War,” said Yali. “The architect was one of the newcomers, Stuart Dowd. He also designed the Union Senate building, and the glass upper levels of the old Central Station. They’re considered masterpieces of the era.”
“He seems to have liked borrowing from the classics of our world,” I said.
We were standing in front of a huge and oddly familiar building; I’d seen the original during the year I’d taken seventh grade for the first time. My father had been on sabbatical, and we did a lot of traveling that year. Among other trips, my father had taken our family to a conference in Rome.
The Imperial Pantheon here closely matched my memory of our world’s Pantheon in Rome – a rectangular columned entrance in front of a much larger domed circle. Unlike the original, it was clean and without any visible weathering or age.
When we went inside, the resemblance remained, albeit less so; unlike the one in Rome, instead of the narrow oculus open to the sky, there was a broad glass dome, and all around the room there were massive statues.
The largest ones were directly across from the entrance, in unpainted white stone and in the shape of a bearded man in a tunic, a sword at his belt and his right arm around the shoulders of woman of similar height with flowing hair and a long dress. She held a sheaf of grain cradled her arms.
I asked Dormer and Yali, “Are those the city’s patron gods?”
“One of them is,” said Yali. “That is Zagras, but the one with him is his wife, Mina.”
I looked around; the next on my left, standing on its own was a statue of a woman in the same smooth white stone. The statue was close in size to the first two, and the woman portrayed was almost implausibly curvy. Unlike the modest long dress that Mina wore, the one this goddess was wearing left little of what it did cover to the imagination.
“That one must be Jaklamina?” I asked.
“Yes, Mina’s sister,” said Yali, “and our city’s other patron.”
“Who are the rest?”
“The patron deities of all of the alliance countries from the Wizards’ War,” said Yali. “Normally, you wouldn’t see some of them combined, but a whole lot of priests were consulted and judged it auspicious after the war. If you’re interested, we’ll be making a circle and there are plaques at each one.”
“Dormer was telling me about this,” said Joel. “Since neither of us has a patron deity, it would be good to… um, introduce ourselves? It helps with some varieties of magic.”
Dormer handed each of us a pile of small silver coins; they were wheels, worth ten mil Imperial or about the equivalent of a dollar back home.
So we went in a circle, clockwise from the entrance. First, flanking the entrance were the primal Gods of creation and destruction - Lerza and Ainros – each an amorphous vaguely-humanoid form carved into the wall itself, each trimmed with an inverted pattern of gold and silver. I remembered these two from a passing mention of this world’s creation myth in the history textbook.
They must have been above the need for human worship, as beyond the labels on the wall there neither one had a plaque or offering box.
Our first stop was a huge statue of woman, slightly less large than the three across from the entrance, and unlike those the statue was painted. She wore bright gold armor of an antique sort, resembling a legionnaire, and had her hair painted in shade of bright blonde. The plaque read “Tennia – Goddess of Fire among the new gods. As patron of Obdrest, when the Priest Kings invaded, she brought her fire to them and drove them from Obdresti shores.” Below that was the same thing in several other languages.
I had no idea what one was supposed to do at one of these, so I looked around. There weren’t many folks around, but Dormer had his head bent down and eyes closed. Joel was next to Dormer and doing the same; Yali was farther back standing quietly. I wondered how Joel was doing with this; my family was about as secular as they come back home, but Joel’s dad was Catholic, and he’d told me his family sometimes went to mass on the big holidays.
I dropped a coin in the box, and then realized I had no idea how one was supposed to pray. It reminded me of visiting my grandparents on my mom’s side for holidays, and I’d get to stand around while someone read something I couldn’t understand in Hebrew.
Eventually, I decided I’d just bow my head like they did and put a good word in for Joel without saying it aloud. Since you’re the patron of the country my friend’s family is from, thank you for looking after Joel and his great-uncle the King. If you don’t mind my asking, please continue doing so.
I stepped back to where Yali was standing and waited for Joel and Dormer to finish. For each of the next four along the left wall, I dropped a coin in each box, bowed my head, and reflected that I had no idea what I was doing here.
After a brief stop at another pair of Gods, we got to Jaklamina – Imperial Goddess of Love and Prosperity, who watches over the unfortunate, patron of Feldaren. The statue was even bigger up close, and it was easy to appreciate how artist captured the female form. A little too easy, actually; I caught myself staring. Sorry for ogling, really! My friend Joel really wants a girlfriend, can you do something for him? Oh, and the whole watching over the unfortunate… I don’t know if you can do anything for dead people back in my world but if you can I hope you can look after Anne. Anyway, thanks in advance!
Joel and Dormer remained taking these quite seriously, so I waited for them.
Next came Zagras and Mina, who we’d seen as we entered directly across from the entrance, and another three along the right side of the room.
The last spot along the wall lacked a statue; instead, it was an alcove set with dozens of smaller shelves, each one with a small offering box and an artefact. Among them, I spotted more than one form of Christian cross, an unlit menorah, and two different Buddha figures that could have been from my world. Among the others, there was a lit oil lamp, many figures of animals or what might be people in stone or metal, and even a few abstract symbols. Besides the recognizable ones from our world, one stood out – a creepy squid-headed humanoid who looked suspiciously like something out of Lovecraft.
There was no plaque. “I recognize some of the symbols from our world,” I said to Yali. “What is this section for?”
“It’s sometimes called the foreigners’ corner. Some of the newcomers kept to the worship of the deities of their world, but there was no agreement on which ones, or in a couple of cases what to use to stand for the same one. Some groups who worshipped other deities from this world wanted to have representation here, and a few belong refugees that came through the gate from other worlds wanted to leave a figure or idol.”
Joel stopped at the last one for a long while, this time without Dormer. I could hear him praying very quietly, although I couldn’t make out the words.
For my part, I’d never had much use for religion back home, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to put a coin in the box by the menorah. If you really are there back in our world, thanks in advance for looking after my folks.
It took a while for Joel to finish, and we headed back home in Dormer’s car. On the way, Yali told us, “Don’t worry if that seemed a little awkward. The important thing is that you each made some small offering at each. As you learn more magic, you’ll find a few classes of spells that call on divine beings. Few mages go deep with those, unless they’re also priests, but the basic ones can be very useful.”