The Temple of Rome
The Grand Roman Temple, as it was being called, had been built over a wide area from the edge of the River Tiber and covered part of the ancient remains of the old Circus Maximus. It gave the building proximity to the river as well as a central location for all of Rome’s worshippers. Easily the largest building built from the ground up since the Days of Revelation, it was nonetheless slightly smaller than Nora would have liked. They had needed to scale back their ambitions for the time being, but it had been built with expansion in mind. More people would come to Rome over the next few years, and more gods would come with them.
From the outside it was meant to look distinctly Greco-Roman (Kebechet had final relented on her pyramid design), the front featuring a large portico and distinctly ionic columns. Rather than a dark singular cella within for worship of a single deity, the inside of the temple was an expansive hall designed to let in as much light as possible, decorated with sculptures and images of many gods. The walls of this primary hall were inset with smaller altars, generally for the worship of more minor everyday gods. The nine Muses, ever popular among the people, occupied perhaps the largest of these small shrines.
Branching off of this hall were several dozen individual cellae, smaller rooms with a single altar each and larger images and facsimiles of their respective gods, done in the style requested by each deity. Over two dozen were occupied and there was room for many more. The Olympians received many of the “best” spots, or so they had been told. They were closest to the entrance, it was true, but Nora had been strict in noting that each god received a cella of equal size.
Nora now spent much of her day in and around this temple. There was a raised stage and podium near the back of the great hall not dedicated to any specific god, instead acting as an open stage for each cult to make their public statements (though many preferred the designated street corners out in Rome), as well as the place where Nora, in her duties as Pontifex, made her own addresses to the faithful of Rome.
Today, however, she had no such business, but was making her presence known at the temple to receive visitors and questions. It was important, Echo and Kebechet had insisted, to keep herself in the public eye as reassurance for the people of Rome, and to ensure her own popularity. While Nora worked diligently at her duties and went many sleepless nights working out solutions to the myriad of problems that organizing several dozen cults entails, she still privately disliked the publicity angle of it.
Which meant of course that if she was going anywhere, Kebechet and Echo would be dragged along with her.
The pair of them handled it much better than Nora did. Kebechet was a wolf of Rome, and thus had the support and thanks of virtually everyone in the city. Capitolina Lupa and her wolves had fought for months to ensure that there was still a Rome to exist. Kebechet might be foreign, but it had been her divine power over water that had given the people of Rome access to clean freshwater for those first few months where it had been so precious.
Echo was perhaps even more popular than Kebechet. The wolf was relatively cold and unapproachable, a side-effect of godhood and being a generally aloof person. Echo, however, was warm and bubbly to virtually everyone. She had also helped the first Roman greenhouse, ensuring a steady food supply and keeping the people fed. Particularly now that the curse Hera had placed upon her had been removed Echo was more popular than ever and was almost always found at Nora’s side.
“What a lovely day.” Echo smiled as they walked across the sunlit portico. It was the midday break and people were streaming in and out of the temple, many of them hopefuls wishing for a little more luck to make it through the afternoon, or begging protection for friends and loved ones in the legion. Echo was in full bloom, as Nora liked to think of it. She had started dressing more finely since she became so frequently a part of Nora’s circle. She was resplendent in a dress of white and softly dyed greens with hints of yellow at the hems. Her hair held in a tumble of light brown around her back and shoulders, bedecked with several large living flowers that seemed to react to both her weather and her mood. She walked barefoot, as she always did, and was always at Nora’s side, though maintaining a certain proper distance in public that evaporated once doors were closed.
Nora preferred to wear blue and as her position grew more prominent, so did her dress become more elaborate, much to her dismay. The finery of cult leaders necessitated a certain level of equivalence from the Pontifex who was meant to be their leader, and it had led to something of an understated fashion war as certain cult leaders chose increasingly elaborate costumes, which pressured Nora into similar choices until she had put a stop to it. Sometimes she envied Giovanni and his more modest take on Catholicism. While the wolf was no longer the leader of the faith, he was still the one most people turned to and had never worn anything more elaborate than a homespun brown robe.
“Agreed.” Nora said, squinting slightly in the harsh light of the late spring sun. “Seems the people are happy.”
“They have no reason not to be.” Kebechet said. “Each day for Rome grows better. There is more food, water, and space available than ever before.”
“It honestly worries me a bit.” Nora said hands held at her sides. “All good things must come to an end, or so everyone says.”
Echo passed her a comforting smile. “Try not to think too hard on it.” She said. “Just enjoy the good times while they’re here, that’s why they’re here. If you dread the good times and the bad, then you’ll be miserable no matter what you do.”
“That sounds about right.” Nora smiled wryly. “Miserable one hundred percent of the time? I’d say that’s me.”
Echo gave her reply in the form of a gentle nudge of the hips.
“Fine,” Nora relented. “Ninety percent of the time.”
“Better.” Echo said, retaking her position beside and slightly behind her.
“Kebechet,” Nora turned to the wolf girl next. “Is the temple functioning at full capacity?”
“It’s not a machine.” Kebechet raised an eyebrow. “This is an entirely faith-powered place, I can’t adequately quantify that.”
“What is the metric unit for faith?” Nora pondered sarcastically. “Millimiracles? Milliprayers?”
“I certainly have no idea.” Kebechet said. “Though to answer your original question, the temple is purifying the River Tiber to an adequate degree. It is well within safe drinking limits and is still the primary source of drinking water in Rome for the time being.”
“Good” Nora said triumphantly.
“Though before we grow complacent there are other considerations.” Kebechet said. “Siphoning from the river alone will last us for some time, possibly years, but if Rome is to reach its former glory alternatives will need to be found before too great a toll is taken on the water table. Public bathhouses in particular take a tremendous toll on water supply.”
“Then we’ll do it old school like we always do.” Nora said. “Repair or rebuild the old Roman aqueducts until we get the man and machine power for a more modern spin.”
“I’ll take the idea to Capitolina.” Kebechet said.
“Do so.” Nora nodded. “Now back to the temple, do we have a headcount on all of the gods here?”
“We do.” Kebechet said. “I keep the ledger in your office updated. Most individual cellae are dedicated to the Roman gods. Jupiter, Janus, Juno, and Mars were some of the first, though the insistence of their champions ensured places for Diana and Minerva as well, some under their Greek names and epithets.”
“Do the smaller gods appreciate the spaces in the temples? I know we couldn’t get them their own rooms but…”
“Thalia approves.” Kebechet said plainly. “She said she prefers a less stuffy spot closer to the people anyway, though her spinning chair is comfier.”
“I don’t get it.”
“My apologies, Pharaoh, the irony was for me.” Kebechet said.
“Ah, well…speaking of, how are the Egyptians? I know we got Isis-Ra her own room but…”
“Outside of the cella for Isis-Ra, there is one dedicated to the pantheon as a whole but it is rapidly becoming insufficient. Argument for who is to take a new one has been…quite fierce.”
“No fights I hope?”
“None yet, no.” Kebechet, an Egyptian goddess herself, said. “The frontrunner is presently Osiris. Isis-Ra all but insists upon it and he was a chief deity even before her ascension. The problem being…”
“The problem being Osiris is trapped in Duat and can’t hear or answer prayers.” Nora frowned.
“It might still be a good idea.” Echo chimed in.
“Oh?” Nora turned to her, unable to help herself but smile. A year ago chiming in had been all but impossible for Echo. Now it seemed she almost couldn’t help herself.
“Well, I heard a rumor that Typhon is laying low-level siege to the Underworld.” She said. “And it’s why there is some changing opinion about Hades…er…Pluto. Some say we should worship him to give him strength against the monster. If that’s true, wouldn’t praying to Osiris help him against Apep, even if he can’t respond?”
Nora glanced at Kebechet.
“It is possible.” The jackal-eared girl nodded. “Though it bares resemblance to your earlier suggestion, Pharaoh.”
“Hmm?” Echo looked from Kebechet to Nora.
“I did have an idea.” Nora said. “To establish a cross-pantheon cult specifically for veneration of divine aspects that had slain or beaten Primordials like Apep and Typhon in the past.”
“And…?” Echo looked at her for an answer.
“It never got much traction.” Nora sighed. “Jupiter obviously has his own cult and they don’t like to share. Thor is a controversial choice as, while he’s popular, he never slew the Nidhoggr even if he’s archetypically appropriate for the role as a dragonslayer.”
“Right he slayed the other big dragon! The umm…Yor…Yorma…” Echo tried pronouncing. To her credit she had been doing her best to read up on foreign myths, but something in her very essence made it difficult. She was, after all, a Greek spirit to her very bones.
“Jormungandr.” Nora finished for her. “And the fact that it might also be out there only worries me more. That’s not what stopped up the idea though.”
“Nope.” Nora said. “The problem is that the Egyptian deity most attuned to fighting Apep, other than Isis-Ra herself, is Kebechet’s grandfather Set.”
Nora noticed Kebechet go quiet.
“Ahh…” Echo said awkwardly. She didn’t know much Egyptian mythology, but she didn’t have to. Set was known to much of the world as an evil deity, a dark lord of the desert and a despoiler of civilization. Nora and Kebechet both knew the truth was significantly more complex than that, but the problem with gods is that they could be defined by their worshippers. As long as Set had none, he could continue to live in his milder and more ancient aspect. If that changed, however…if the Cult of Osiris, an enemy of Set, grew more popular, then they could lose a powerful ally and, at worst, gain another enemy.
“It is best to tread carefully in this regard.” Said Kebechet. “Inter-pantheon unity will come slowly, but it will come.”
“It had better.” Nora sighed. “Norse, Egyptian, Greek…we need them all working together, and it doesn’t stop there. Already we’re hearing rumors of Sumerian Gods in the Middle East; then there are the older gods of the Yoruba and Akan in Africa. I’m starting to wonder where it ends.”
“I doubt it will.” Echo said. “I can tell you, and I’m sure Kebechet agrees that…this isn’t just Europe. This is happening everywhere in the world.”
“She’s right.” Kebechet nodded. “Africa, Slavic Lands, the Fertile crescent, and I’m sure beyond. They have their own gods and monsters to contend with.”
“Well for the time being we need to keep our eyes focused inwards.” Nora said “We can leave those Gods to act as they please until they reach Italy.”
“And then?” Kebechet asked.
“Then we’ll see.” Nora was already walking again, heading out of the temple and back into the city.
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=5&sl=636