The bespectacled professor sniffs quietly, before clearing his throat and beginning to speak.
"This is a diagram of the cult's self-written history. In the center, here, is their account of the genesis story; Rannoch Dawn. They assert that time is cyclical, reflected quite obviously in their layout of history as A Circle Inside a Circle Inside, well, et cetera."
The professor adjusts his glasses and scans the room to make sure his class is finished taking notes, before sighing wearily and pressing his clicker to advance the slide.
"This is their matriarch and alleged goddess Renata. She both founded and led the cult for its entire lifespan. When this photograph was taken, she was nineteen years old, pursuing a degree in religious studies overseas. This is the only known photograph of her, all other images of her are works of art done by members of the cult."
The professor silently counts to ten, then begins slowly but deliberately flipping through more representations of the matriarchal figure.
"While attending university, Renata began experiencing visions, the most important of which she referred to as The Caterpillar's Intervention, in which a celestial caterpillar convinced her to drop out of school and start the cult. This occurred in 1948. We have plenty of cultist artworks depicting this vision."
After showing three relatively impressionistic paintings of the vision, he continues on.
"Also in this vision, she claimed to receive instructions on preparing a body for the afterlife. This process is the same as many Tibetan Buddhists, and the Caterpillar even gave it the same name: a Sky Burial. These images are a little gruesome, so feel free to look away."
The professor clears his throat again as he displays an image of the burial process occurring in Tibet, where a half-decomposed body had attracted a flock of vultures.
"Renata continued receiving visions for the course of her life, eventually coming to refer to these as The Illuminations. Most of these dealt with the specific practices of the cult, and I've been studying Renata's diary for the last ten years to make as much sense of these as I can. It's truly a stroke of luck that I was able to access the document, but fortunately an Inter-City 125 library swap program was able to send me a facsimile. If you want to see this, please visit me during office hours."
The professor smiles wanly, as his hours were scheduled to prevent undergrads disturbing him from his research, although there were two students that showed up to every office hour. It was beginning to grate on his nerves, as neither student was smart enough for him to feel as though their discussions weren't just an obstruction to his life's calling. He takes off his glasses and folds them into his pocket as he advances to the next slide, purposefully left blank.
"After its founding, the cult went off the grid and went uncontacted for fifteen years. We know now that they traveled into Cornwall, and set up a shelter in the Delabole Quarry. This location was chosen due to the relative aloofness and apathy of the local Cornish people, as well as the night sky's expanse and freedom from light pollution."
Another click advances the presentation to a medieval fresco depicting Christ in Revelation.
"In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance - Revelation 1:16. You've all taken a few bible classes, you're familiar with this symbolism. So was Renata. Her cult devoted themselves to the stars during their isolation, believing they could predict the events of Revelation by finding the right grouping of Seven Stars."
He checks his watch to ensure that he'll have time to finish the lesson before continuing.
"Now, the group was entirely isolated for fifteen years. However, it wasn't quite perfect isolation. In early 1963, Cornish police responded to seven calls in Delabole where residents claimed to have seen humans that had Gone Feral, stealing livestock or just prowling through the village at night. They also responded to numerous complaints of theft and break-ins, but in the crime spree, the only items taken were brass instruments. Now, you may have realized that I haven't told you the name of the cult yet. This is because they didn't have a name for the greater part of their existence, instead referring to themselves as "the enlightened," "our people," "our race," or other epithets along these lines. Their name was given to them in Renata's final vision, in 1961. In this vision, some higher power indicated that the world had been stolen from Renata's people, and after the apocalypse delineated in Revelation, she and her cult would inherit the planet. They then took the moniker of The Inheritors."
He pauses to allow the furious transcription of notes to die down a little before he continues.
"From this point forward, The Inheritors decided they needed to accelerate the end times by any means possible. This marks the beginning of their crime spree, as we believe they decided they needed seven trumpets to trigger the events of revelation. On a humorous note, while a total of seven trumpets were stolen, during this rash of theft, the Inheritors also snatched two trombones and a French horn. Clearly whoever was in charge of this plan didn't properly explain to the thieves exactly what a trumpet looks like."
He chuckles a little to himself, and a few chortles erupt from some of his more brown-nosey students. He then advances to the next slide, a side-by-side comparison of a page from Renata's diary and a more modern scan from a music textbook.
"On the right we see the Circle of Fifths, an organizational diagram of the twelve pitches in western classical music. On the left, we see Renata's take on this - with tritone relationships on the inside rather than relative minors. The tritone is one half step short of a perfect fifth, and sounds rather dissonant. Monks composing Gregorian chants circa 800 were forbidden from using the tritone, as it was thought to be the devil's interval. Why Renata needed to have every tritone relationship at hand is unclear - but it's likely she was training their ragtag band to play some kind of apocalyptic brass fanfare to trigger the events of Revelation."
He advances to the next slide, a black and white photograph of a blazing inferno inside Delabole Quarry.
"On June 16th, 1963, the Cornish Fire Department was called to investigate suspicious black smoke in Delabole Quarry. Upon arrival, they found the Inheritors' hideout engulfed by flames. They battled the fire bravely, but in the end the hideout collapsed on itself. Renata was still alive at this point, and a rescue team did their best to extricate her from the rubble. She was hysterical, accusing rescue workers of being servants of the Antichrist, alluding to snippets of the Inheritors' history, and babbling incoherently. She killed herself with a pistol her would-be rescuers were unaware of. The rescue crews tore apart the rubble looking for survivors, but found nothing but charred corpses. Renata's room was mostly intact, however, with her diary open on her bed by her lifeless body. Fortunately, most of the cultists' art on her walls also survived. We've pieced together what we know about the Inheritors from this single primary source, and the iconography in the paintings on her wall."
He checks his watch again, and seeing that he's gone a minute over his allotted lecture time, wraps up.
"This concludes today's class. I'll send out the slides later today. Have a good rest of your day, I'll see you all on Thursday."
As the students pack up and began leaving, the professor breathes a sigh of relief. Finally, he had Some Respite from the obligations of teaching and could return to studying the more obscure pages of Renata's diary. However, his peace is disturbed by the girl who always comes to his office hour. She's bright enough to pass the class, but the professor dreads reading her papers. Her voice is derivative and robotic, almost like a computer program automatically summing up the information covered in lectures and research. After a brief internal sigh the professor resigns himself to answer whatever question she will ask.
"Professor, you alluded to your own research quite a bit today. How long have you been studying the Inheritors?"
"I suppose I started as soon as I got this position here in Blackpool - Late Eighties."
"But out of all the interesting cults we've covered this semester, why have you dedicated your so much of your life to researching the Inheritors?"
"It's a bit of a Self-Playing Schmaltz, but my father was one of the rescue workers trying to save Renata."
The girl's eyes widen, then she gathers her wits and thanks the professor for the lecture. He returns to his office, slightly perturbed, and also slightly guilty. He didn't quite tell the truth about his interest in the Inheritors. Renata was with child when she was found, and a doctor managed to deliver her baby via Cesarean section. The child was raised by a kind local shepherding family, and the existence of a child of Renata was never publicly acknowledged or put on the record, to protect their privacy. Fifty odd years later, that child pores over his mother's diary, determined to know everything about the woman who gave him his own Rannoch Dawn.