Ahlam’s Temple is an old Firstcome faction, a faction of courtesans, philosophers, dance masters and performers, and – rather unusually it would seem – deadly assassins. Their presence is felt far and wide across the Third Horizon, from their temples, monasteries and other philosophical retreats, as well as schools and academies, on Mira and Kua, and the Coriolis station itself. The most famous of these are the Ahlam Courtesan Academy on Coriolis, and the whispered Halls of the Black Lotus, where the Ahlam’s Temple assassins are schooled in their dark arts.
What is Ahlam’s Temple?
The faction feels quite different from many of the others in Coriolis, summed up in an important Ahlam’s Temple saying:
“The knowledge of the purity of the present will help the people of the Third Horizon lead better lives.”
So what might that mean? For a start, if you read it at face value it might mean that Ahlam’s Temple isn’t just a big monolithic organisation that is entirely out for itself. The faction feels less nakedly self-serving than other major factions (the Consortium is looking to monopolise trade and commerce, to boost its bottom line, the Order of the Pariah are looking to protect and spread their version of the Icon theology, and hunt down what they see as heresy, and the Zenithian Hegemony want to impose their own brand of what is right upon the rest of the Horizon).
But Ahlam’s Temple does have a seat on the Council of Factions, and obviously participate in the political life of society, the aesthete Terminus Lete, the Temple’s representative. And obviously, many more from Ahlam’s Temple are around the Council table or walking the Council halls, as advisers and companions to the other leaders.
Terminus Lete and sisters of Ahlam’s Temple
Their way of life is seen as more a philosophy of life rather than a political or religious ideology, one that is publicly open and altruistic towards the rest of the Horizon. Are they, in fact, the Buddhists of the Third Horizon, caring for nothing but the health and future of the Third Horizon? Or are they that, and something more as well? Are they pulling the strings, meddling behind the scenes?
Influence over the Third Horizon?
It is certain that Ahlam’s Temple has a great deal of influence, and they are highly respected, their advice taken seriously: one example is the code of non-torture interrogation techniques practiced by the Judicators across the Horizon, based on a treatise put forward by the Ahlam’s Temple elders.
The wealthiest citizens of the Third Horizon, from across the factions and across the Firstcome / Zenithian divide, send their children to the Ahlam’s Temple schools. The children gain the best of educations, but what else are they being taught? “Give me the five year old child and I’ll give you the man” is a truism: there is much power to be found in moulding the minds of the next generation of leaders…
In addition to that, just about every important and high-ranking leader is accompanied by his or her Ahlam’s Temple advisor: many of these ‘advisors’ are courtesans and companions to these often lonely leaders; others are tutors or mentors who have gone on to stand side by side with their charges throughout their political lives. But all are seen as objective and principled, with the common good of the Third Horizon their driving principle. Thus, they are incorruptible, and their word carries weight. But they also give Ahlam’s Temple a unique insight, as they hear everything, know the thoughts and ambitions of politicians from across the Third Horizon.
Despite their outwardly altruistic approach, some worry that Ahlam’s Temple may be moulding the youth of today for their purposes of tomorrow. But if that’s the case it begs another question… what is their purpose?
What does Ahlam’s Temple want?
Ahlam’s Temple sees their purpose as the protection of the Third Horizon as an entity: there seems to be a genuine desire to work for the common good of society as a whole, with the health of the Third Horizon as a single organism the most important factor. This is laudable, but what happens when the welfare of individuals within the Horizon clash with what Ahlam’s Temple sees as the long-term health of the Third Horizon as a whole?
Is there something else behind this? Does Ahlam’s Temple see itself as somewhat above the rest of the Horizon, with the knowledge and judgement to make decisions on behalf of all, the power behind the throne as it were? And if this is not the case, then why does the faction train a cadre of expert assassins? Was there a moment in the distant past that warranted the Temple setting up and keeping trained killers as part of their faction?
This paradox is what some call The Great Contradiction.
Could this be Afrimede, of the Black Lotus assassins?
“Afrimede – a mere whisper of the name chills the blood of regents and rulers everywhere. Perhaps the most skilled hassassin of the Black Lotuses of Ahlam she has elevated her craft to a form of art. There are no known pictures of her, and she is said to be a master of changing her appearance.”
What should we read into this quote? What does it say about Ahlam’s Temple? The Black Lotuses are, without doubt, skilled assassins, masters of disguise and armed with the trademark Hand Fan, a subtle energy weapon used at close quarters only owned by those who have earned it, as graduates of the Temple’s academies.
But the quote also tells of a society where the great and good fear the Black Lotus assassins, and by extension must surely fear Ahlam’s Temple as well. And possibly for good reason: as we have seen the Ahlam’s Temple advisors are ubiquitous and are well known for their (so-called mythical) ability to plant ideas and thoughts in others, the so-called Memeturgy skill. The fact that this looks like sage advice to those being advised might all be part of that influence.
Furthermore, the book tells us of the Ahlam’s Temple devotee, Darkes Lamann, the slum poet who “mocks rulers and plebeians alike.” The fact that a mere poet feels secure enough to tear down the leaders of the Third Horizon shows that he is either very brave, very stupid, or feels safe in the knowledge that, as an Ahlam’s Temple devotee, he is untouchable.
Perhaps it’s just not the done thing to take out your ire on a simple poet: civilised society doesn’t tolerate aggressive actions against Ahlam’s Temple’s monks and sisters. But perhaps there is a more parochial answer to this question. It seems entirely possible that, if an angry faction leader chose to take vengeance, he might find his Ahlam’s Temple advisor and mistress less willing to do those beastly things he likes between the sheets, or perhaps she might disown him entirely, casting him politically adrift, denying him her political guidance and insight, leaving him alone in the dark. Or even, perhaps he would fall asleep in the loving arms of his companion, never to awaken again as her Black Lotus blade brings him to sleep with the Icons for ever more.
Whichever may be the case (and it might easily be a combination of all those possibilities) it goes to show the quiet power and influence that Ahlam’s Temple holds over the Third Horizon.
The safety and security of the Third Horizon
So, who directs the activities of the Black Lotus assassins?
As far as I know they post no adverts, offer no services: they are not, in any way, a mercenary band of killers for hire. The faction has set itself up, very quietly and covertly, as the protector of the Third Horizon and sees themselves as above the petty factional squabbling that goes on day after day: only the Elders of Ahlam have the historical (or might I say psychohistorical) perspective to see what’s best for all, and thus decide for themselves what actions they need to take – and who needs to die today – for the greater good. We know that the Black Lotus was heavily involved in hunting down the leaders of the Nazareem’s Sacrifice, back in the days of the Portal Wars, so we have one well-documented example of their methods to protect their vision of the Third Horizon.
But, what gives them that right? What gives them the authority to appoint themselves as the moral arbiters for the Third Horizon? What gives them the power to make life and death decisions today, for the betterment of unknown persons’ lives tomorrow? Perhaps they think the Icons do, in the form of their favoured Icon, the Faceless One.
There is one terrible question this discussion throws up: what if they are wrong? What if, even with the most genuine of motivations and altruistic of purposes, they made a mistake? Would they simply cover it up, again justified by what is best for the Third Horizon?
Following that logic you can easily see a day, not too far in the future, where the preservation of Ahlam’s Temple is – in itself – the most important objective for the protection of the Third Horizon. And then we would be in a moral and ethical black hole, from which none would escape unscathed…
Ahlam’s Temple in Modern Fiction
There are four things that this discussion has brought to mind:
– Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation: a hidden group of psychohistorians (come on, you’ve heard of Hari Seldon, surely? If you don’t know what this is go read the Foundation books – I’ll be doing you a favour!) who develop mental powers and are guiding the future of humanity from behind the scenes;
– The Sisterhood of the Bene Gesseritt, from Frank Herbert’s Dune;
– The Face Dancers of the Bene Tleilax, also from Dune: genetically altered humans (humanites? – can I feel a Talent of the Episode coming on?) that are adept at disguise and expert assassins;
– And the Companions’ Guild from Firefly (but with a sharper edge!).
Playing Ahlam’s Temple as a PC
This might possibly be about the most intriguing role-play prospect in the whole Third Horizon. A PC from Ahlam’s Temple, and in particular one who knows the truth and is working to that dubious mandate, might have terrible internal conflicts, every decision a life and death decision, the pressure building to make the right decision, and the consequences of making the wrong decision always in the forefront of his mind.
“Is this for the greater good? How can I make that decision? Who am I to make that decision? But then, I’ve been trained for this all my life, I’ve had exposure to the greatest ancient and modern moral and ethical thinking humanity has to offer – who else is better placed to make that decision? But still…”
Quite a mouth-watering prospect for a player in the Third Horizon.