They stepped out into a neatly kept park, all manicured lawns and paths marked by stately lines of trees. The sun had passed behind the limb of Abila, so through the dome overhead, only stars could be seen. Ahead of them was an amphitheater of the finest white marble sunk into the ground, large enough for several thousand humans. Varouforos’ guards led them in that direction.
Several thousand sapients did, in fact, fill the amphitheater—kraken in great number, a large contingent of athat palanquins, more humans than Varouforos had expected, and more yashcheritsy than he would have liked, perhaps two thousand in total.
They came to the stairway down to the dais. Varouforos put his hand on the shoulder of the guard next to him. “You should stay here, Adalric.”
“Sir?” Adalric Ewart was a short, mustachioed man, no longer young but no less fit for it, who led not only Varouforos’ personal guard, but, as Morana‘s strategos, commanded every footman aboard the jump ship.
“I can’t rely on our usual escape mechanism when they take their shot,” Varouforos replied. “The interference is strong here. Ippocampos and I, perhaps. You and your men, most likely not.”
“Remain here,” Varouforos said. “I trust your men are ready to cross from Morana. You have my leave to use them, if need be.”
“Very good, sir. You’re armed?”
Ewart smiled. “Godspeed.”
Varouforos nodded, then followed Ippocampos down the stairway.
The kraken observed, “You are ill at ease.”
“You have a keen sense for the obvious.”
Ippocampos’ cloud of flitters shifted toward Varouforos, so the kraken could see him more clearly. “But why?”
Varouforos raised an eyebrow. “Does it not seem odd to you that your erstwhile enemies choose today to make such a show of force?”
The kraken bobbed, silent. Before it could work out its response, they reached the dais.
Traditionally, the Empire had taken a soft stance on religion. Even in the early days, under Alexander I and the first few generations of his descendants, the government held citizens to no particular standard. Most followed the Hellenic gods. Over the next fifteen hundred years, as the Empire extended its dominions throughout the entirety of the Homeworld, they came across faiths founded by men named Buddha, Christ, Muhammed, and others; so long as citizens of the Empire paid their taxes, their beliefs were irrelevant.
As ever, some periods in Imperial history ran counter to the trend. Shortly after the invention of the jump drive, one autokrator—an Alexander, if Varouforos’ memory served—deemed that the Orthodox Church was the one true church, and dispatched missionaries to all corners of the galaxy. They reaped a harvest of souls unprecedented in history. Their most stunning success came among the yashcheritsy, the lizard-men of the galactic northeast. Now, nearly every yashcherit professed a belief in Christ under the authority of the Patriarch on Homeworld.