You find the compound of the Unbroken Circle easily enough by going up the Hill and following the wall. It doesn’t have distinctive decorations, but then not all cults do. A beggar on the corner clues you towards the open gate on the otherwise residential street, leading to the yard of an ordinary-seeming townhouse.
The house doesn’t seem very active during the day, at least, but you do notice a drowsy gatekeeper sitting in the gate-nook. He proves remarkably insolent at being prodded, but a closer look at your gentlemanly habit quickly turns him to scurrying for the master of the house. Judging by the poor attire and manners of the gatekeeper, he may well be one of the unfortunates the Unbroken Circle seems to foster.
The yard gives the impression of regular activity, what with the carts and stable facing the house. There is glass in the upper storey windows, affirming the notion of some wealth in the place. You don’t have much time for snooping, however, before the gateskeep returns with his superior. The man seems a butler in essence, yet a wide white sash brings a touch of formality foreign to the role. You cannot help but notice the way he scopes the gateway, perhaps ascertaining that you are the only immediate visitor.
— I am sorry for a gentleman being held up but a moment in the yard, the man starts talking at twenty paces, approaching energetically. — It is a rest day for the Unbroken Circle, yet welcome be!
— I am known as Derak the Easterner, good master, you introduce yourself with the shallow bow. — I am sorry for disturbing the peace of the house.
The man stops in his step at your bow, responding with a similar one despite still being ten paces out. He shows an undisturbed smile and continues to approach. — No worries, master Derak; it is my task to greet men of substance, and bid you welcome to the house. I am Plotkin, a deacon of the Circle, and glad to be of assistance.
The deacon approaches for a handshake, but you cross your arms over the chest and bow again, in the manner of the bravo with a blade up their sleeve. Which is, of course, precisely the case with you. A man more familiar with your reputation would know that you do not shake hands.
Undismayed by the intimidating second bow, deacon Plotkin bids you to enter the house proper. — The Unbroken Circle welcomes all guests, and I would be happy to hear your concerns in a more comfortable place, out of the sun.
Entering the house, you accept guidance to a spacious parlor. There seem to be at least some servants, dressed in white knee-length skirts, and the deacon is quick to offer you appropriate hospitality by serving a draught of pazzine for you both from a chilled carafe. It seems like the house expects visitors to pop up unannounced.
— Your community was recommended to me by an old friend, Papak Vicente, you throw your cards on the table.
— Oh yes, master Papak, the deacon responds to the name with an eager smile. — He is an old friend of the Unbroken Circle from back in the day. How fares he?
— I am afraid that Papak has passed away in a far away land, you respond gravely.
— That is sad news indeed, master Derak, deacon Plotkin says in a regretful voice. — Master Papak was a gentleman and a scholar. I would hear more about the circumstances of his passing, if possible.
The deacon seems apologetic over the sad news, and naturally assumes this to be the reason for your visit.
— Perhaps later, master Plotkin, you aver for now. Better to find out more first. You could drive directly at the reason of your visit, but as the deacon seems hospitable and willing to share, you might as well let him enlighten you about the Unbroken Circle. For all you know, it may pertain to your quest.
The vague prompt seems to well suffice for the personable deacon, and he does not hesitate to regale you with what probably amounts to the cult’s standard pitch: they are, by their own definition, an honorable fellowship of free scholars dedicated to the study and celebration of the Hidden Master, one Theudas Elchasar, whose teaching has survived from the imperial times in the southern lands. The wisdom of the Unbroken Circle promises the usual concerns of religion, ranging from fulfillment and healing to salvation, all springing from the intense contemplation of the Hidden Master who has ascended to timeless Ataraxia and now watches over his adherents as an amiable, transcendent figure.
— Those are some quite extraordinary claims, you interject politely. It wouldn’t do to be impolite, and a pretense of gullibility would certainly be that.
— I am sure that you have heard similar in the past, the deacon concedes easily. — However, a learned man such as yourself might nevertheless enjoy a study of the more unique aspects of our philosophy. Many have judged the words of the Master to be some of the most persuasive on the question of human equality. We have even been graced with accusations of radicalism by the most strident followers of imperial mores; such accusations we carry with pride, in the spirit of the great philosophers.
— You make the Hidden Master sound more like a philosopher than a prophet. Somebody to be studied rather than revered.
Deacon Plotkin leans towards you as if passing on a minor confidence: — The Unbroken Circle is not zealous about doctrine in the way the old cults are. I often encourage free scholars to consider us more akin to a school than a cult. It wouldn’t be entirely false to say that the Hidden Master is an useful conceit in orienting people towards a search of the eternal truths taught by all the great philosophers.
Well, you could while away time finding out more about the cult, but the impression you get is not that different from one of the many schools and clubs that appear in the City to cater to the social and intellectual needs of various free professionals. The deacon probably downplays the more vulgar crowd-pleasing aspects of the business, but you’re not here on behalf of the Pseudoduke anyway, so who cares. Time to dig deeper.