Sida is walking along a mountain road in the dark. Which, sure, maybe isn't the safest thing, but walking in the dark is fun and she doesn't want to stop for the night just yet.
"Probably one of the last ones before winter sets in properly, yes."
She is lead to a clearing in the gardens of the temple, where several stone benches have been placed around a small pond.
"So, what did you wish to learn?"
(It is, perhaps, the luck of the dice, that this monk and the previous one are both orcs, but orcs aren't rare in this city.)
"I'm from another world, originally, before I arrived in the city two months ago. At home, we don't have any gods, so that's one of the things I'm trying to learn about. The predominant religion in my world centers around the sacredness of truth and beauty, which takes many different forms, but some of them seem similar to what I've read about what Understanding cares about. There is a... theme that centers around freeing yourself from illusions, remembering your deepest insights, seeing and thinking more clearly. There's a lot of other stuff that builds on that, but that's in large part the core of what it means to be on the path, to most people."
"So, um, I already know what is important to me, and it seems close enough to what the god cares about that I want to figure out if worshipping Understanding is something that would be worthwhile for me."
"Interesting. For most people, the gods teach us what to value and how to go about engaging with life. But you're not interested in that, are you? Have you considered learning from a god who doesn't preach to be who you already are, but who has something you need? Understanding is a great ally to you, but - do you need an ally? I have faith that you will do Understanding's work, if you truly are set on that path already. So why do you not cultivate another virtue not already so strongly rooted in your heart? Of course, if you will not be deterred, I will be happy to teach you how we in this place honour Understanding, and bring about it's work in our hearts and deeds. And of course, no matter what you decide, I would be interested in hearing about the practise as it occurs on other worlds. Different minds produce different insights, after all."
"I know what I value, and who I want to be, and I don't expect anything I learn on this plane to change that. An ally is essentially what I was looking for. I'm not sure exactly how gods work, but I was hoping that I could do mostly what I was going to do anyways, go a little out of my way to aid someone's goals, and receive in return a little aid to mine. I'm told that a transactional approach could only result in a very shallow relationship, but I'm not interested in being anyone's servant, and I don't know if there are any other alternatives."
"I think you should not confuse a shallow relationship with one that is unrewarding. The gods are not incapable of understanding that great deeds should be greatly rewarded, even if those deeds were done solely in the name of a reward, or for unrelated reasons. But essentially, yes. If you only want to do a little, your rewards will correspondingly be only a little. But do not confuse that for it not being worth it."
"... Though, I am concerned, that you think of the relationship between priest and god to be one of servant and master, when it is rather one of student and teacher. Understanding has the greatest mastery of themself, and the greatest understanding of the world. If you are interested in truth and clear-sightedness, why would you *not* follow their directions in finding them? And when the master calls, what student would not rally to their causes?"
"To have a god for a teacher is... more reasonable than the impression I had gotten so far. What I was worried about is independence of thought. It's important to have a certain degree of skepticism towards things other people tell you, and to come to your own conclusions, because in the end you bear sole responsibility for your beliefs and decisions. But some of the things I've read or heard have suggested to me that gods, or some of them at least, desire some amount of deference, or conformity to their beliefs and values. Maybe I was reading too much into stuff, I don't know."
"Hmm, I think I have a number of things to say to that, but first, let me ask -"
"Tell me, why do you think that there are so many gods of death? Why the pantheon permits a god of deception and weakness to stand as a full member? Have you considered what it means for there to be 35 gods in general?"
"It's easier to usurp an existing divine domain than to create a new one, right? So either there's some fundamental principle of symmetry or a historical reason why this world ended up with seven groups of five, plus all the other various gods. I'm given to understand that a lot of the distant past is shrouded in mystery, so there are a lot of possibilities for what could have happened so long ago. But if I had to guess, the number of domains, and the way they're divided up, has something to do with the amount of work needed to maintain the things they pertain to. Since apparently the basic rules of the universe need maintenance here. Or maybe it was originally less symmetrical, and in the past someone made it their goal to add new gods or rearrange things to create a symmetric, universal pantheon."
"Ah, the founding of the pantheon as an institution is actually pretty recent, in cosmic terms. We have good records of the early pantheon conclaves in the rebuilding period after the fall. But that's not what I mean - why do we worship a god of weakness, and not of bloody revolution? Why do we worship a god of death by violence and not a god of torture? Those gods also *exist*, but we do not follow them. The first lesson, then, that you need to learn is: Not all gods are the same. We do not follow revolution because he considers the idea of a church to be a heresy against his own beliefs; we do not follow the god of torture, because, quite frankly, he is a monster, for all they dress it up as prosocial. Some gods wish their followers to be loyal before they are thoughtful, but it's not a fundamental trait of godhood, any more than it is a fundamental trait of any other kind of leader. Similarly, some gods consider their domain to be a throne on which to sit, and others consider it a matter with which to wrestle. If anything, I'd say the latter view is more common. To be a god is to say that your relationship with your domain is the most important such relationship, but that's not the same as thinking you have everything figured out."
"That makes more sense, but I still have some confusion I can't quite articulate. Did you have other questions?"
"Can you tell me more about the whys of the religion you had at home? What made it a holy thing, and not just another set of rules that came from a higher power?"
"Um, we don't have definitive rules, mostly. Nor did we have higher powers, and if we did we wouldn't necessarily obey them."
"The prophet Irakas said that knowledge of truth and knowledge of beauty are both forms of knowledge, alike, but different, both sacred. There's a lot of disagreement about what it means for something to be sacred, in what way truth and beauty are sacred, if that is the same way for both, etcetera. Some people focus exclusively on one of them. Personally, I never paid attention to most of that philosophy. I don't think it's particularly important for my life, or most peoples' lives. I think what it ultimately comes down to is that—the world we live in is a confusing place, and it's difficult to know what's really going on. So anything we can do to improve our understanding, to see through the fog that surrounds us, is worthwhile. Knowledge elevates us. It moves us, a little bit, away from confused bumbling around and towards purposeful action."
"What an excellent way of putting it! The bit about Understanding, not the bit about sacredness. We have scholastics who could not put it so well."
"I do think you have missed something important by dissmissing the holiness in your own creed, but I do not think you will find it in arguments with priests."
"You should not leave this place empty handed, though, so I will give you a gift, to show you that Understanding is on your side."
He will reach over to the garden, and pluck a crocus that flowers there. It's stamens begin to glow a pale blue. He hands it to sida.
"A blessing. Understanding only knows exactly what for, but I'm certain you will appreciate it."
"Holiness isn't the word I'd use, but I'm certainly not dismissing the sacredness here. I just think the... philosophical minutiae are not important to me. It's something I feel and know on a deep level, even though I can't offer a rigorous explanation."
She takes the flower and smiles.
"Thank you. This is quite pretty."
"Then perhaps you will come to feel and know the sacredness of our faith as well."
She starts braiding the flower into her hair.
"What, exactly, is faith? I'm using a mysterious translation superpower to speak the common tongue, and what I'm getting from it is... confusing. I don't think there's a word for that in my native language."
"The way I'm using it is essentially a synonym of "religion", or maybe "culture", but it also has connotations of - this is a thing which is holy or sacred and a thing which is important for reasons beyond the simple pragmatic decisions being made by everyone who is a part of the project. Something to *believe in*, rather than simply endure because it makes pragmatic sense to do so. A cause. The sort of thing you'd want to keep acting on, even if you were the last person in the world who did."
"Oh, yeah, I get that."
"Thank you for answering my questions. I did learn some things, I think."
She finishes her braid, says a short goodbye, and heads out.
So, this world's religion stuff is pretty weird. She's not sure exactly why, but it leaves her unsettled. Maybe the part about having a close relationship with a higher entity you don't truly know and can't properly talk to? She definitely doesn't understand a lot of how this works, but she has lost interest in learning anymore. Sida is inclined to go with her instincts here, both by judgement and by nature. Oh well, this probably won't be important for a while anyways.
Several weeks later, Sida is in the coffee shop district to meet with a client, and to stay up to date with the happenings in general. On one of the patios, she spots Dyva talking to a red-scaled kobold. (One of many things she has discovered in the past few months: Kobolds are short reptilian people created by dragons.)
"...only been to the first floor of course, though it is not as if that is a small place. We have been on three trips so far and I doubt I have seen more than a quarter of the floor. It is a convenient way to gain Experience, but by no means easy. Some delvers do not fully realize that, I suspect."
"Still! That's very impressive. I think something like a quarter of people die on their first delve down there, one way or another. Less if they're working for great-grandfather, but he doesn't really organize very many expeditions these days, so it's not surprising that they don't. Have you had any trouble from stronger expeditions? I heard someone complaining that there was a powerful sniper taking potshots at everyone using the entrance for a few days last month."
"We have not run into any trouble we were not able to avoid or wait out. It is also possible to time expeditions for low-traffic periods, if you are willing to wake up early."
"Hey, Dyva. You guys mind if I join you?"