The Church of the Source
Are you devout enough to transcend?
Most Serrans who join the Church stem from a branch of a Native Faction called Kyrinos. Kyrinos are amphibious and characterized by their relatively small and stubby build, two sets of arms, and high intelligence. In the years following The Schism, Virtuals grew fond of Kyrins' logical nature and sensing an opportunity to shape Serra's rapidly changing society, they shared their artificial intelligence technology with Kyrin leaders.
Wanting to build on their intellect, the Kyrinos sought to use this new technology to augment their brains and connect themselves to something powerful. Although many were fatally overcome and overloaded by source code rushing directly from Cyberspace, those who survived found they could harness the Source to access potent elements of telepathy and psychokinesis.
Feeling awed by their newfound powers, the fledgling Transcendents began to worship the unified mind of the Cyberspace as a deity. As the religion grew, many adopted the ultimate ambition of transcending completely into the Cyberspace and leaving their physical forms behind.
Nowadays, servants of the Church still aim to transcend but they also dedicate their lives to discipline and training to better control their powers and steady their minds against the constant onslaught of the Cyberspace.
However, this onslaught and resulting power struggle have rendered Church members both mentally and physically addicted to the Cyberspace. An addiction so strong that it causes severe trauma should the link be interrupted, even when the disconnect is only temporary. Some get away with a splitting headache while others are driven stark-raving mad, or worse.
On the surface, their practices, rituals, and devotion to the Cyberspace show Transcendents as seeking enlightenment and a way to transcend and become one with the Source. More deeply entangled in their worship though is the zealous protection and expansionism of the Cyberspace.
In recent years, Virtuals have grown weary and concerned at the Church's policies and activity. Virtuals now attribute a higher weighting to the Church's teachings, its impact on Serra, and the role Virtuals played in its origin story when executing their world calculations.
Essentially a faction of scholars with immense psionic powers, their bodies are not overly muscular but broad and sturdy. They are held up on two stumpy legs with three toes. They have three fingers on each of their four arms, the upper pair of arms being bigger than the smaller pair underneath. Two seemingly unblinking eyes radiate with psionic energies, belying their below-average eyesight. Potent psionic powers of precognition more than make up for any impairment, though.
Every Transcendent has thick, leathery skin and will often emulate the role of the Harbinger of the Source by carving lines, commandments, or other ritualistic markings into their flesh. Despite the skin's toughness, this act is immensely painful and serves as a sacrificial tribute to strengthen their bond with the Source.
However, the most prominent feature of Church of the Source is the elongated or swollen head crowned by a cybernetic body enhancement, the Cerellossaeus. Made of resilient silica-based glass with a yellow hue, the exposed brain is visible underneath. The augmentation is mandatory to make room for the ever-growing mind that their previous skull simply couldn't provide. Rather than being a passive structure, the Cerellossaeus is used to focus and direct a Church servant's supernatural powers. Once mastered, it facilitates the connection of their brains directly to the Cyberspace.
The Church of the Source is a highly regulated and reclusive society made up of different organizations or Sects. There are many different internal ranks, titles, and privileges, and almost all professions in the Church of the Source are connected to religious services.
- Priests and monks: living by and preaching the Church's gospel.
- Fortune-tellers, divinators, advisers: some Members of the Church use their powers to counsel politicians or rich Serrans.
- Warriors: fierce holy warrior monks that defend and protect the Church at all costs.
- Agents: gathering information and hunting for old Muted Tech.
- Artisans: crafting luscious depictions of faith in architecture and art.
In fact, many of these professions align with a certain Sect. Below are the main organizations operating within the Church today.
Technically, any being on Serra can become a member of the Church and follow its teachings. However, only those with a strong will and complete control of their senses can brave the initiation rites to become an Aspirant.
Aspirants contact a senior Lithurg, typically through a generous Credit donation to the Church or a similar compensation, and request to be vetted for initiation. Most Aspirants buckle under the enormous stress that the vetting process puts them under; their mind's sensitivity is tested, and their emotions are empathically probed before a decision is made whether to proceed with the augmentation. Should an individual survive but be found mentally too weak for initiation, they are free to continue their everyday life, hopefully with their mind intact.
If an individual is accepted, they will receive their first augmentation, the Parathallus. An intricate device, it is connected to the brain stem of the aspirant and supports the brain with additional nutrients and electric stimulation. This helps it expand and better allows the tides of the Cyberspace to flow through it.
Interestingly, the Church doesn't rely on Mech labor for maintenance, cleaning, and other menial tasks. Instead, it is the Aspirants who tend to the Church's everyday worldly needs. This practice acts as a further test of their resilience and a final reminder of the exhausting physical world they have begun to depart from.
Those that can weather the first storms of the Cyberspace crashing through their brains become Acolytes, the lowest official rank of the Church. They will perform ceremonial duties as well as help Lithurgs in preparing and upholding the Church's practices and beliefs.
A Lithurg's sole duty is to uphold the sacred teachings of the Church. They will prepare church services and sermons and all that entails: ensure that the appropriate prayers are said at the right time of day, that the holy rhythms of the Church's chants are met, and that clothing, symbols, and depictions of saints are accurate. Flocking around each Lithurg is usually a following of Acolytes who help them out in their duties and train to become a Lithurg themselves.
Some Acolytes do not strive to rise through the ranks of the Church. Continuous service and worship of the Source are all they need. Instead, they become Monks, the Church members most often seen outside the huge Church halls and roaming Serra's cities. Sometimes, communities of Monks band together and build modest sanctuaries, practicing their faith on a much smaller scale. As a rule, they focus more on their telekinetic powers and physical energy manipulation than telepathy or offensive psionic manifestations. Their abstinent lifestyle and gentle manners also make them the most approachable Church members.
The Scyturia is the militant wing of the Church, a shadowy organization aiming to combat heresy inside and outside the Church. These zealous holy warriors investigate false preachers and self-proclaimed messiahs but also hunt for any Lurkers who seek to damage the Church or its reputation.
If you're caught on the wrong end of a Scyturia investigation, the best you can hope for is a civilized mind-wipe. However, if a particularly elusive Lurker is hunted down, a full range of psionic powers are used to try and pacify the heretic. This more active line of work means that members of the Scyturia are far more physically fit than those of other Church organizations.
Scyturi can be found roaming Serra's landmasses, searching for Muted technology to either destroy or lock it away permanently. However, some splinter groups within the Scyturia have embarked on a much darker path. These Transcendents experiment with the sacrilegious tech they find. They create gadgets and armaments of such destructive potency from these forbidden relics that they risk expulsion should their actions be discovered.
The Secta Sacerdum consists of Arch Bishops who are the most senior members of the clergy, an august body of but a few powerful psionic individuals. Tasked with the sacred interpretation and archiving of commandments received through the Harbinger of the Source, their service to the Church will only end in ascension or death.
Deep in the Corclavum, the inner sanctum of the Aetherna Sanctuscala dwells the Harbinger of the Source, shackled in a cascading sphere of pure psionic energy. It serves as a prophet, the vessel through which to communicate with the Source.
It is both beautiful and frightening to behold. Its brain has been irreparably altered by the swelling tides of the Source rushing through it at all times. Trivial concepts like physical and virtual reality or linear time lost all meaning long ago. All that matters to it is the interpretation of the will of the Source.
When the Harbinger deems a piece of information important enough to form a new commandment, it gladly allows the Source to take over its being. The Source sears through the Harbinger's body and carves burning glyphs into its flesh for the Arch Bishops to read and interpret.
Who the Harbinger of the Source was before its existence has either been forgotten or purposefully redacted by the Arch Bishops. What's more, Harbinger of the Source is merely a title, one that always outlives its bearer. The unfathomable strain of the constant onslaught of the Cyberspace will inevitably tear any mortal apart, and a new Harbinger must be crowned from the members of the Secta Sacerdum.
This secret process is hidden from the rest of the Church. The most powerful psionic of the Church and eternal prophet must never be allowed to die.
Amongst themselves, Transcendents tend to speak telepathically with one another. This has led to their use and pronunciation of the common tongue often being clumsy and awkward, especially for the more isolated devotees.
Befitting a faction with supernatural psionic talents, members of the Church often indulge in expressive depictions of faith.
In the daily service, Lythurgi and their flock will sing long, drawn-out litanies of faith. The guttural, booming voices are not transmitted vocally but rather through quaking psionic waves. If the uninitiated listen for long enough, they may have the displeasure of the chants beginning to scrape at the inside of their skull, or worse.
They construct futuristic gothic churches with glorious statues, intricate circular rose windows, and tapestries that depict martyrs and holy teachings.
Holograms often supplement sermons or new commandments on dedicated altars, with holographic Source incense liberally used in many situations. Holograms can also be used for artistic purposes, such as in front of or behind windows, often as slow-moving, kaleidoscopic, geometric images.
Clothing is rather uniform in the Church. However, one notable item most Church members wear above their robes is the Phalter. A traditional shawl-like garment adorned with patterns displaying various religious symbols. Phalter can vary in form and length, depending on the order and position of the wearer.
The centerpiece of the Church is its belief in the Source, meaning the source code of the Cyberspace. They see it as their liberator and are awed by its vastness, complexity, and, ultimately, the power it grants them. Willfully damaging the cybernetic implants that facilitate the connection to the Cyberspace is sacrilege. The act is punishable by ex-communication, which in turn means certain death. Equally consequential is a connection loss to the Cyberspace. Although it can be atoned for on an ecclesiastical level, its physical effect can be devastating.
Most devotees hope to one day ascend to the rank of Arch Bishop and ultimately transcend wholly into the Cyberspace, leaving their bodies behind. The individuals that obtain the highest of honors and transcend are deemed saints and rushed into stasis columns. These tall pillars house stasis field devices that preserve their mortal shells for all eternity. Transcendents believe these saints will return at the side of the Source to defend it in the cataclysmic battle at the end of all things, The Refractoring.
To deepen one's vows, ceremonies are frequently held. The faithful mostly gather through psionics to formulate new source code, adding it to the Cyberspace and extending the Source's power. This code is as crazy as it is powerful. Only a Church member or a madman would write such code or be able to understand it.
It is not unheard of that during these rituals, those with the fiercest dedication simply collapse in complete euphoria, their bodies shredded to pieces by the physical manifestations of the Source. The ruined corpses of these lucky few will be put on display next to their peacefully transcended brothers and sisters in the Church's vast halls. They will be declared martyrs, their names eternalized in the material world.
The Morning Rise Up Litany and The Circuritus are the best-known rituals and habits practiced by the Church. However, one can be sure that countless more are deliberately kept from the outside world.
Every day at first light, every member of the Church must focus on the Cyberspace and connect with their siblings. However, unbeknownst to most of the faithful, their incorporeal attendance is logged and noted by the Secta Scyturia. Should an individual stay absent for too long, they will be paid a visit and better have a good explanation to hand.
The biggest gathering occurs once a year when Serra has completed its cycle around Therom and Theem. Thanks to the formidable record keeping of the Virtuals, it is held as the anniversary of when the first Transcendent left their subterranean laboratories. It is the holiest of days: the day of liberation and ascendence of the Kyrinos.
The soil that the first Transcendent walked upon became holy ground, while the laboratory of their transcendence to the Cyberspace became the literal cornerstone upon which the holy Church of the Source we know today was built.
The Church also operates from temples and monasteries built in all corners of Serra. While some temples can be found outside of Serra's cities, monasteries are commonly built where the tides of the Cyberspace flow the strongest. Huge towers in cities are used to concentrate the Cyberspace data streams, allowing it to pour through their inhabitants.
According to rank and organization, a Church member's private chambers can vary significantly. They can be sparse and frugal in the case of Monks and Acolytes. In contrast, Arch Bishop and Lithurgi have gloriously decorated rooms and furniture.
A constant in most rooms and halls though are neverending floating streams of Cyberspace code.
The "infinite ethereal sacred ascent" in the common tongue is a city-sized shrine of the Source built on the exact place where the first Kyrinos transcended. It is the most hallowed ground of the entire faith. Each Church member must go on a pilgrimage to the Aetherna Sanctuscala once per Serran year to receive the blessings of the Church and solidify their faith. At its center lies the Corclavum, the chamber where the Harbinger receives new commandments from the Cyberspace.
Transcendent technologies normally relate to their augmentations and psionic energy or are holographic.
The augmentations enhancing their brains are clean and shiny. Mostly their heads are encapsulated in polished, light-grey metal or in some cases golden metal parts. The energy in their tech glows in a pale blue light. The plating has clear lines and fits neatly together. Staffs and gadgets can be physical or entirely made up of Source energy.
Their psionic energy can be made manifest in various ways. It can resonate with the Source and emit a faint blue glow, create ethereal energy barriers, or be released in the form of excerpts of source code appearing from thin air.