The Expressors of Agápē with Compassion
(agápē means "tough, unselfish love") is a religious
order among many in the Offwhite City
. The name is catchier in Instarrian
and the organisation is called shortened names in local languages: for example, on Shade
, it is known as the Mercies
. The order is sanctioned by the state and has subtle political influence at a very high level.
It does not proselytise or accept converts. The order employs monks, all male, in various ranks and rôles.
The literal translation of their name is something like "Expressors of Agápē[*] with Compassion" - definitely not Compassionate Expressors of Agápē. The organisation's name is variously translated in alien languages, because they pay a very great deal of attention to nuance of language so as not to sound sinister or threatening.
- 1. Purpose
- 2. Beliefs
- 3. Resources
- 4. Location
- 5. Public opinion
- 6. Ranks
- 7. Home life
- 8. Purity
9. Education and abilities of monks
- 8.1. Grades of purity
- 9.1. Training given to all monks
- 9.2. Training specific to field (slasher) monks
- 9.3. Training specific to field (diplomat) monks
- 9.4. Training specific to entertainment monks
- 11. Vows
- 12. Spotter's guide
- 13. Unusual features
In Wessian language (Helmine's native language, spoken by Nico and a variant known to Sebastian and Weft), the name of the order is probably given as something with the connotations "Makers of tough decisions with compassion". This might literally be given as something like "wearers of steel-plated silk", as a culturally specific comparison to Wies's own clergy (the so-called 'wearers of gold-plated silk').
- [Weft:] "I work for what's officially called the Expressors of Tough, Unselfish Love with Compassion, a monastic order. We're one of the more important and moderate sects and we do a lot of work for the city -- well, officially for the city and also for various people and gods who live here." 
The monks have religious duties, including prayer, and they are rumoured to use their various agents to exert pressure in various ways - always for the good of the state, of course. They do not have any official political power and do not receive financial support from the government. A large part of their work is charitable in nature and it's common knowledge that they donate any profit they have left over after covering operational costs.
They say they follow the one true Divine (which is not quite a god
). They can and do discuss their religion and a monk will willingly get into a philosophical conversation if someone seems interested. Just don't expect to make any headway in convincing him he's wrong.
- "Why pray to a god no-one knows anything about?" [asked Nico]
"To keep them all from losing interest and going away," Weft replied. "There's no need for us to honour the popular ones. Other people do that." 
The order has extremely
good knowledge-gathering methods, and a way to share information
with their agents, wherever they may be.
Halfway up the Offwhite City
's slope, in a recreational (park) district. The monastery itself is three buildings in an outer wall, with a courtyard in the middle. The courtyard contains small trees and a pair of decorative fishponds with benches around them.   
5. Public opinion
A post from Roofrats
gives [the general range of public opinion]
. It seems street children aren't afraid of them. 
have encountered monks of two ranks, an assassin-cum-spy (example: Weft
) and diplomats (example: Tortile
7. Home life
Monks, when cloistered or stationed at home base, follow a strict routine with devotions at standard times and daily training depending on their rôle.
Their food is plain ("nutritious and hypoallergenic and famously discouraged at least four deadly sins"). Field agents and other monks with duties away from a monastery can eat manabars: white, chewy, largely tasteless pressed food with many of the properties of order food. It has been hinted that these taste worse for a monk with a guilty conscience, though further details about this property are unknown.
Monks do not eat or drink anything intoxicating or narcotic. The only approved drinks seen so far include a clear "water with stuff bubbled through it", drunk cold, and a translucent liquid with a green tint, served hot. Both smell unappetising to humanlike senses.
They have purity rules and consider certain things, including some specific substances, species and behaviours, to be damaging to purity.
Weft has written a description of a [typical solo purification ritual].
8.1. Grades of purity
Note that aliens are not yet listed here. The list will need to be reworked to take them into account.
|niceness||Best thing imaginable|| ||Worst thing imaginable|
|subclass.|| || ||Cleanest||Edible||OK||Dirty||Dirtiest|| |
|theological name||Deities||Angels||Persons||Flying thing|
|Running (2) thing||Running (4) thing||Swarming thing||Chasing thing||Crawling thing||Demons|
|consists of||anything classified as such||Instar kind ONLY||Instarrians ONLY||birds|
long body eg weasel
|anything classified as such|
|monastic attitude||honoured appropriately||honoured, avoided||have souls and feelings, is sin to murder them||used, killed, eaten etc, have no souls or feelings||killed on sight|
9. Education and abilities of monks
The order does not accept children older than what on Earth
would be considered pre-school age. There is no exception for promising Callow Youths
9.1. Training given to all monks
- A way to get knowledge directly into any monk's head
- Possessed by all members who've completed training
- It is not known how the system works
- See full article
- Good manners (in diplomatic and entertainment units, these are impeccable)
- good manners do not necessarily extend to offworlders, of course
- Taught to handle stress and mockery gracefully
- Trained to move noiselessly and to be still when not needed to move
- As in this culture at large, they don't have compiled spells like Shade's
- and have very poor reserves of energy, making any useful application of magic impossible
- There's no 'stealth' magic, since it would be seen as permitting agents to be imperfect
Cultures: Each initiate studies a few different Instar religions/creeds/belief systems (there being far too many of these in the world for anyone to understand them all in detail). For any creed they may need to deal with, there will be an array of monks with knowledge of it. Of course monks could acquire the relevant knowledge as and when occasion demanded through the godbond, and do so if necessary, but it has traditionally been useful to have a deeper understanding of another religion's mindset than a simple accumulation of facts would provide. Note also that monks have often dealt with, and even been hired by, other religions and gods.
See Weft's pantheon.
9.2. Training specific to field (slasher) monks
- Assortment of weapons disciplines
- Focus on killing or disabling in a single blow: they don't hit to wound
- Example of weapons: straight-bladed (or slightly curved?) thinsword (about arm length - probably worn on belt for use but on back for travelling), thrown bladed weapons or knives, twinstar daggers (twin short blades)
- field agents occasionally bring back new weapons from abroad, which are studied and sometimes added to the curriculum
- Projectile launchers: light crossbows and a heavier launcher-bow (both take some assembly and aren't for quick or general use)
- Improvised weaponry
All order-standard weapons are unornamented and non-sentient (heavens forbid! No, really, heavens are very clear on the subject).
- Different to the martial arts any Offwhite kid learns in PE at school
- Non-harming throws and blocks, then killing/finishing moves: little in between, don't bother hitting to wound
- Lots of ways to kill someone with bare hands
- Improvisation if restrained, injured, [etc]
Lesser-known skills of a field agent:
- Writing, pedipulating a key into a lock and turning it, throwing a star-disk or knife - all with feet
- Trained ambidextrous
- Doing absolutely nothing for 48 hours (Weft's limit) or more (most can go for longer; Weft is "an incurable fidget")
- Basic physiotherapy and relaxation techniques
Sprinting vs endurance note: slashers are built for bursts of speed and activity, not endurance. They use stealth and surprise and if a target is not killed or disabled in a single hit, it is possible the mission will be failed - they do not do well in a fair, prolonged fight. Similarly, escapes usually rely on a sprint for cover or a lightning-fast climb to higher ground.
9.3. Training specific to field (diplomat) monks
- Impeccable manners
- never take visible offence
- learn new cultures' social conventions quickly
- not seductive
- Top-notch negotiation and bargaining skills
- Detective and investigation skills, critical thinking
Knowledge web notes:
- More closely connected than slasher units
- Access to more information
- Much faster uplink
- Nothing like as deadly as a slasher, but can 'strike from courtly bow' in unusual circumstances
9.4. Training specific to entertainment monks
Entertainment's a euphemism. They're high-class escorts.
- Do not behave or dress like other monks
- they are generally 'undercover' long-term plants in cathouses
- Impeccable manners
- never take visible offence
- good listeners
- perpetually (almost unbearably saccharinely) awed by whatever you say to them
- Very good at staying still and being ornamental
- Very good at physical pleasure - massage and other cultural rituals* as well as sex
- Very, very good at extracting information
*Cultural rituals typically include some very... stimulating... hot tealike drinks.
- Never carry weapons
- Not trained in monastic combat disciplines
- primarily because this might give them away
- though can grapple or fight unarmed (civilian techniques)
- May kill clients on very unusual occasions, but this obviously risks cover being blown
Weapons (more detail later) include blades (inc thinsword, daggers, twinstar daggers used for close-quarters fighting vs multi opponents, also multibladed thing perhaps used as caltrop), projectiles (arrow launchers, not drawn bows, no great strength required - for ranged ambush only), thrown weapons (inc daggers, discs), miscellany (inc garotte wire), undecided on gunpowder, chemically quite advanced - remember physiology and toxicology different
Whetcloths mentioned in one or two places ( and?) are what they sound like - they obviously won't work out big dinks, but are at least as effective as wire wool and more portable than a whetstone.
Upon completing their training, monks have the opportunity to leave the order 
. If they choose not to, at this point they take formal, lifelong vows.
For combat-trained monks, their vows include killing demons, including vampires, on sight.
12. Spotter's guide
Weft on how to recognise an Offwhite order monk:
- [Weft:] "Dress code, [...] behaviour and attitude. Mainly little things missing that you'd expect to see on most guys -- jewellery, long cuffs, scarves. Obvious to anyone who grew up in the city. You can easily learn to pick us out, or so aliens have told me.
"Of course not everyone who looks dumb, fast and menacing is a field agent like me. Civic police have uniforms. The difference to look for between a combat brother and somebody's hired muscle is that we're stiller, nicer, we talk less trash and we tend to call people 'citizen'." --[ref]
13. Unusual features
This is not quite like your average oppressive religious order or cult, as this quotation from Kit-Fox
- "...so you see, it's not as if bees like flowers for the sake of the flower itself, and I do know most bees are of the female persuasion. It's a flawed analogy to begin with," Sebastian concluded[.]
"Oh, I quite agree. As a homology it really doesn't fly at all... although bees are useful for setting novices to meditate on societal ideals." [said Weft]
"Oh, yes, the common good, sacrifice, such and so forth," Sebastian said, not unkindly toward any of these ideals. They were essentially very good ideals. Just not his ideals.
"Oh, no - blind obedience, anti-individualism and loyalty to authority," Weft said, concerned that Sebastian had misunderstood. 
Indeed, the monks consistently stress that they are made aware of the nature and purpose of their training and current tasks, except where this would be counter-productive to a mission.
* [noun, meanings 1-3]
Partial list of monks
- Weft, slasher
- Acuate, slasher, known for pointed wisecracks. (Darkish fawn with washed-out blue eyes according to [evidence])
- Tortile, diplomat (in training during early War)
- Amass, trainer
- Accrual, trainer
- Coy, Greatbrother to Weft while trainee. Quote: "There will be occasions when, as combat brothers, whether on your own or working in tandem with one of the conciliatory grades, you will be required to be intimidating. Now, the tried and tempered tactic..." [KF 21]
- Snags, slasher
- Triviality, slasher
- Afflictive and Affability (one slasher, one admin)
- Captious, utterly sweet-tempered entertainment brother
- Winsome, entertainer
- Scud, slasher
- Wisdom, admin
- Fix, slasher
- Crudity, diplomat
- Salva [sic], admin or senior dipl.
INFO TO BE ADDED
How monks are fed while on assignment
- In theory: "they beg for it, or their clients feed them, but in the latter case there are all sorts of rules about how the monk is supposed to be fed only as well as the client's lowest servants, and not put anyone to any trouble, and there's a whole range of things they're not allowed to eat, the consequences of breaking these rules tending to be unhappy for the monk in question".
In practice, as far as we've seen: "Weft shows up at the back of the mess tent, to the great excitement to the srollen head chef, who has taken a liking to him and has formed the habit of keeping nice cuts of fish back for him. Weft hangs around some distance from the fire* and bitches about Suitov, the alien landscape, the alien humidity wrinkling his clothes, etc. Head chef tries to persuade him to eat the fish. Weft fusses unduly and acts nervous and grumpy. Head chef offers him creamy milk. Weft eyes it up and fusses more."
*Suitov refers to this distance as "the Weften approach/retreat modifier, or WARM radius, expressible as a function of misery × (20 degrees - outside temperature) divided by guilt". Everyone else refers to it as "the creepy spy skirting around the fire again".