Politics and Religion
Politics and religion in the Empire are currently in a highly volatile and fractured state. With the simultaneous removal of the Arch as a means of electing leaders and the restoration of the Rat to the Wheel, arguments have naturally erupted over the best ways to deal with these problems. Most of these groups are not highly organized at present - they are political positions, not political parties, religious beliefs, not separate sects - but with the death of Empress Idaia, many of these issues will be forced to the surface.
- 1 Politics
- 2 Religion
This group maintain that the system of rotating through the Houses in turn deprives the Empire of qualified candidates simply because they are of the wrong House. Most believe that the candidacy process should still be limited to individuals nominated by their respective Houses (i.e. mainly if not exclusively nobles) and that the selection process should continue to be conducted via a vote in the Great Council – though without the final sanction of the Patriarch, as many members of this group are, if not necessarily atheists, than at least staunch believers that the church currently has too much influence over government. They point out that their plan would eliminate problems such as Emperors being assassinated by members of the next House in line for the throne. Their spokesperson (some say figurehead) is Loick Silveira, a charismatic young nobleman of House Cat.
Critics argue that this system would lead to greater factionalism, increased division between the Houses as each House votes only for their own members, Emperors stacking the deck by creating a bunch of new nobles from their own House, or the possibility of two or more Houses constructing a power-sharing agreement to only elect their own members and cut out those from other Houses.
This group argue that, with the Arch gone, an important element of randomness has disappeared from the selection process. Previously, while nobles could nominate candidates of their choosing, there was no way of knowing which person would ultimately be selected, whereas now the system is dominated by factionalism, vote-buying, and partisan politics that take little concern of the common citizen and instead rely on a few elite families trading favours amongst themselves. They note that as recently as two hundred years ago, a woman of low birth, Myrtha Taliaferro, rose to be Empress, having been selected by the Arch against the expectations of the Great Council, and she was known as an excellent ruler. Other Emperors of common birth (Loch Tederic, Temoura Wrenn, Maxence Sutphin) also reigned well, but as the system stands, such a situation will almost certainly never arise again – the nobles will not allow such power to fall into the hands of the common people. Consequently, they advocate for an open candicacy process and widespread suffrage (e.g. anyone who is interested can nominate themselves for the position, and large segments of the populace – just how large varies depending on who's doing the talking – will vote for them.) The nominal figurehead of this fractious group is the House Wolf nobleman Aden Olivier, and their leader is young woman of common birth (but possibly distant noble heritage) named Thea Vermillion.
Critics argue that this proposed system would lead to widespread chaos – if anyone could nominate themselves, there could potentially be hundreds of candidates. Furthermore, it biases the selection process toward Diablotin, as the Empire is far too large for very many candidates to travel from its distant reaches in time for an election. And finally, the logistical problems of giving the vote to so many people may well be insurmountable, or at the very least delay the political process for unacceptably long periods of time.
Various small factions argue (though not often in public) that the system would be a good deal simpler if a hereditary monarchy was instituted. However, the debate breaks down over who exactly would be the founder(s) of this dynasty, and there any hope of agreement pretty much ends, as everyone has their own favoured candidate.
Critics of this plan mainly scoff at a) the idea that anyone could think that just because someone is qualified to be Emperor means that his or her great-grandchildren will also be qualified, and b) the sight of people who think they want to run an Empire being unable to agree over anything.
A small minority of people, who are often scholars and strong traditionalists, believe that serious attempts should be made to restore the Arch. Not necessarily under the same circumstances as the last time, they would hasten to add – but by binding a possibly-evil entity into the artifact, one would both remove it from greater influence in the universe at large and turn its powers to the service of good. It would both remove the ultimate authority for election from the nobles and restore an element of risk to the proceedings that ensure that only the truly devoted will present themselves as candidates.
Critics of this position say "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU CRAZY?" Also, they point out that no one knows how to accomplish this feat, so the position is largely academic and impractical.
The Rat people traditionally had their own hereditary rulers, whom they formerly called kings and queens, but whom they have now taken to calling Emperors, in a gesture of either rebellion or solidarity, depending on who you ask. The current leaders are Emperor Alexior and Empress Char, who long ago refused the offer of noble titles from the Aveyrone Empire and consequently live in modest circumstances in Rhenea. Their stated desire is for the Empire to grant them a homeland of their own, where they could retreat with their followers and live in peace – however, a not-insignificant number of members of House Rat are not thrilled with the idea of going to be farmers or fishermen out in the country somewhere, when the city is all they have ever known.
They follow the teachings of Matriarch Pasith, and indeed sometimes surpass their foremother in radicalism. They hold that Houses are merely guidelines, not strict boundaries, that marriages should be permitted between members of different Houses and those who are Houseless, that adoption into Houses is acceptable, that there is no religious penalty for being Houseless or having Houseless children and consequently there should be no social penalties either. The most radical followers believe that Houses are an obsolete concept and should be done away with entirely. The current Patriarch, Morlan, is a moderate Pasithian, while the current Lord Marshal of the Spoke, Butler Belden, is a fervent follower of his mother's reforms.
They hold that Matriarch Pasith's reforms were doctrinally unfounded and based on wishful thinking, and are eager for a return to the former ways and teachings of the church, which has been, they believe, corrupted and debased in recent years. A not-insignificant number of clerics hold to this position, and refuse to, e.g. perform inter-House marriages or adoption ceremonies. Their primary spokesperson is one Sister Estelle Dauntesay, though it is rumoured that some among the Council of Reverends also hold to this position.
Following the events of 2197, the return of the Rat, and so on, some people became disillusioned with the Way of the Wheel entirely. We cannot know the motives and intentions of the gods, they argue, and cannot blindly trust that they mean us well. Individuals who act abominably may still retain powers granted by these gods, therefore it clearly does not matter to the gods how we conduct our lives – all of the rules we surround ourselves with are our own creations, not dictated by divine authority. Some radical believers in this viewpoint go so far as to refuse clerical healing, while others, more pragmatic or self-interested, believe in using (or abusing) clerical powers to their fullest, provided one lives freely and does not succumb to the doctrines promulgated by the self-appointed leaders of the church. A few hold that even the resurrection of the dead is only considered wrong because of the artificial constraints we have placed upon ourselves, and so if someone wishes to be brought back to life, there is no harm in honouring that wish.
Order of the Black Down
Superficially, they appear to be a group of dandies and fops with more time and money than brains who engage in secretive but allegedly depraved rituals revolving around the Arch and the entity they claim was formerly contained therein (and they don't mean the Rat). Many dismiss them as poseurs who simply wish to make themselves seem more mysterious and dangerous than they are, or as essentially harmless perverts, so long as they keep their practices to themselves and don't bother the neighbours. Some, however, view them as a more serious threat to order and decency, and as a sign of how far society has fallen in recent years. Their self-proclaimed High Priestess is Phedre Lozada-Boyne, a noblewoman of House Cat, assisted by her much younger second husband Earric Boyne.
Revelators ('those Hellfire crackpots')
As yet a relatively minor but very vocal group, they are characterized by fire-and-brimstone preaching, prophecy, and calls for the sinful to repent. They hold that, with the destruction of the Arch and the disappearance of the Void from the skies, the cosmology of the universe has fundamentally changed. Instead of lost souls being sent to the Void, a place of nothingness, souls who do not pass muster are condemned to a Hell of eternal torment. This claim is based on their visions as well as on the accounts of a few people who have 'come back from the dead', so to speak. They furthermore claim that demonic forces originate or draw their power from this Hell, and that demonic activity has markedly increased in the past fifty years. Most also believe that the church authorities are fully aware of these facts, but choose to conceal them for reasons of their own (ranging from not panicking the public to possibly being in the service of evil forces themselves). Their most prominent preacher is Marlow Stavanger, a former cleric of the Order of the Cat who left (or was kicked out of) the church under acrimonious circumstances several years ago.
Prior to the release of their deity, the Rat people followed a simpler nature philosophy, and their magical healing and so forth was performed by druids. Since their return to the surface world, some have continued to embrace their traditional ways, rejecting the Way of the Wheel as inherently biased against them and overly concerned with matters they don't much care about. However, they do not seek to convert others to their beliefs, and indeed most are opposed to non-Rats learning their teachings.