Oh, yes. You have graduated, my dear pupil. You did not know that you were being tested, but you were. And if you are here, before me, then you have succeeded in your goals.
What does this mean? In this moment, and from this moment forward, you are no longer a Journeyman. You will no longer lay any claim to a Household, save that which you may one day claim Mastery over.
Until now, you have been misled. You were told lies concerning our structure, the better to hide our true nature from others. But you will now hear the truth, as it was told to me, and to the one who told me, and to the one who told that one... back and back further into the genesis of our Guild.
You see, the others - the Hierarchy, the Renegades, even our fellow Guilds - all see only what we wish them to see. As an Apprentice, and then a Journeyman, you were led to believe that same lie: that we are only interested in gratification, or meddling with the Skinlands for fun or profit or some strange combination of the two.
The deception was a necessary one, both for your safety and for ours. If every fellow in Prison knew of our true purpose we would be driven out, hunted down even worse than we were under Charon, or never left alone.
The Grand Secret, then, is that we are not ghosts who take
upon ourselves a mockery of life. It is that we are ghosts
who, recognizing this Prison for what it is, attempt to return
to life in order to effect a more effective and permanent escape.
Our art, then, is not merely a temporary reprieve from that prison, nor is it merely a vehicle for revenge or gratification. It allows us to continue what we have left undone, and that allows us to leave the Prison behind us. And one day, perhaps, we may escape entirely... into the state that some refer to as Transcendence.
That is the Grand secret of the Guild - that we are not a Guild at all, and that we seek the escape from this world as the Believers.
Of course, with such a secret there are countless interpretations, and these interpretations have all spawned movements within us. We do not think of these differences of opinions as bad things... at least in theory... so we do not call them "factions." They are Philosophies.
There are countless Philosophies, and slight variations from them, that have sprouted up throughout the ages. But of those Philosophies there are but three who have taken root, flowered and matured, as it were.
Echoes (Also called "Repeaters," or "Skips")
These are most common ones amongst us. Much like an echo is a second chance to hear once's voice, they feel that their Art provides a second chance to return from whence they came. They return to continue from whence they left, without change or with as little change as possible: fathers return to their wives and children, workers return to their jobs, leaders return to their chairs and soldiers return to their posts. Of course, this is easier said than done, as you might well imagine, but still they try to carry on as best they can.
The goal for the Echo is to continue the life they left behind to its logical end, usually when the Proctor has either Resolved most of what holds him in this Prison, thus "Ascending," or when the sense of having learned the great secret, or having done what needed to be done, has come and gone. At that point they either disappear towards their next step in the great cycle of things, which is also "Ascending," or they retreat back to the Guild. Returning members then share their lessons and wait for Transcendence of a different sort when that time comes.
Of all the major Philosophies, the Echoes lay claim to be the oldest. They may have the right to that, though their two main competing Philosophies may say otherwise. By the mere fact of being oldest, they tend to think their ideas of things have more weight than the others, and this leads to some rather tedious and virulent debates on whatever subject they've claimed as their own this week.
Organization: The highest acclaim is given to those who live their life from where it was ended and then, when it is over, disappeared with a flash of realization called "Ascension." This is the pinnacle to which all of their Philosophy aspire, but it is an end that does not come that often, if it's ever come at all; they have a list of "The Ascended Ones" that could be counted on both hands with a few fingers left to spare.
But I have read that list, and have my doubts. Do you think that madman who called himself the Son of God would have lasted more than a fortnight in Prison? I think not.
But mind not my prejudices. The Ascended are in no position to teach nor lead, of course. The ones who command, then, are those who lived their lives anew and left once they realized what end their life was leading to, and performed that duty. They are called "Guideposts," and, as the name suggests, they give new Guildsmen helpful suggestions. These suggestions are really nothing more than thinly veiled commands, of course, but such is the nature of Philosophers and their students.
Karmics: (Also called "Penitents" or "whipping boys")
For every Proctor who thinks they should come back into the life they left with no regret, there is at least one or two more who feel their life was wasted, or else corrupted.Why else would they be here, in Prison?
The Karmics, then, are those who return to undo their mistakes of their old life, thus "redeeming" themselves. Sometimes they never reveal themselves to their old families or friends, preferring to work from the shadows to solve the problems left behind. Sometimes they reappear and attempt to undo their sins from their old place in things. And sometimes they will reappear and simply beg for forgiveness they may feel unworthy of. They will not rest nor return to Prison until they feel they have atoned.
The core of their Philosophy comes from Purgatorial Guilt, recently infused with a dash of Eastern thought. In order to advance towards a more enlightened state, mistakes must be not only recognized but rectified. It makes sense, true, but so much guilt! Surely this is the heated bed of passion from which the Shadow within slakes its lusts. A good number of their Philosophy never return to teach, having been lost to the foolish things such guilt leads to, or the depravations of their darker halves.
Like the Echoes, the Karmics claim to have been the eldest. They and the Echoes are ever at one another's heels for this shared presumption. In truth, I wonder what the matter is? A new fool may be as foolish as an old fool, after all.
Organization: Those who are "redeemed" come back to Prison as "Bodhisativas," thus to teach new Karmics the finer points of self-awareness, and recognition of the mistakes such awareness leads to. Some Bodhisativas will teach for a time and then leave, seeking the secrets to Transcendence and inviting those who are left behind to find their own pathway there. They are, of course, never seen again. As to what happens to them... I suspect much but know very little.
And I should note that the term "Bodhisativa" is a recent acquisition. Before Eastern thought, and the concept of "Karma," became so prevalent in Western society, we called them "Penitents." Their teachers, then, were known as "the forgiven."
And as you might suspect, there were very few teachers, then or now.
Spinning Wheels (also called "facedancers" and "broken gears")
For some, the old life is too much to continue, or they think themselves damned unworthy of it. Either that or any attempt to go back to it fails miserably. But yet life has its lesson to teach, and it must be challenged that the Proctor may escape this Prison. Therefore, if the old life will not work, or cannot be taken up again, even from a distance, then a similar path in a new direction must be initiated.
A Spinning Wheel shares the same belief that we are creatures of many lives. Where they differ from the others is that an old one need not be completely over for a new one to begin, or that by beginning an new one the old one can be drawn to a close. To facilitate this, he takes up a new life, either blending new with old or starting completely anew, and lives it until either it is done, or he is.
Transcendence is then a simple matter: in theory, at least. No one is quite sure who succeeds and who fails as such things rarely happen in public, non? But, from my experience, there are many Spinning Wheels who have been spinning in one place for a long, long time, and there are many more who spun quickly for a time and then lost their direction to that darker wheel that keeps time with us all.
Organization: The Spinning Wheels rely on the system of mentor and student, with the oldest Wheel in one geographical area being the mentor to the second oldest, and the second oldest being the mentor to the third, and on and on to the newest wheel. The oldest wheel in any given area is on equal footing with the oldest wheels from the other areas, and there is one, primal Wheel they refer to as the Pathfinder. She has lived one new life since the dawn of the 16th century, to hear her tell it, and yet she hasn't found that answer she was looking for.
Who knows if she ever will?
And, I suppose while I have your rapt attention I should speak of those Philosophies which were shunned or fell out of favor. Instead of Philosophies we call these "Heretical Notions."
But before you rush to condemn them I would point out that, at one time, the Spinning Wheels found themselves in this category as well. Today's bride can become tomorrow's whore and yesterday's criminal today's policeman. In that is another secret: sometimes, only change is constant.
The Eternals - also called "Immortals" - are those who think that the only purpose to life is to live it to its fullest, with no end in sight. After all, in order to be full one must consume a thing to the limit of one's capacity, and if a ghost be an immortal soul and we Proctors souls given new flesh, then what capacity yet daunts us?
So these ones live simply to live. I suppose this is where the Spinning Wheels and the Echoes meet in practice, and then walk away from the ultimate goal of both. Transcendence is not their aim, rather an eternity of watching the Sun set and the Moon rise, and enjoying all things between, from the viewpoint of a mortal man.
How is such a thing possible, you might ask? Well, some are inveterate wanderers who travel the world like the gypsy folk. Some are less adventurous, and these take a trick from the pages of the urbane vampire. Not wishing themselves shut from the mortal world, they fake their death every fifty or so years, go elsewhere, and then come back a son or daughter of the "deceased." The place in society is assured, the fortune continues within his hands, and no one need be any the wiser.
Yes, it does sound much like that one film, does it not? But before you get caught up in the romanticism of such a thing, remember where and when we live. This is the age of the electronic tattletale. Records and files and the careful census are the whole of mortal law. This Philosophy worked wonderfully in the time when one city was at war with another and no one wished to travel. These days, you'll need an Artificer to run ahead and change the information to fit your lie. And though we do rely on Nhudri's lot for quite a bit these days, there comes a time when you and the hammerbitten must part company before you know too much of one another to be a danger to both.
As for their numbers... I wish I could honestly say. Every once in a while we hear a tale of the "wandering pale stranger" who comes to visit one particular establishment every hundred years on the same day. And I am sure you know of the story of the Wandering Jew? Is he one of us? I can only speculate on that.
As for the more stay-at-home ones, I have heard tell of the Vampires' seeking such persons out as dangers to their little deception and killing them as best they can. Either that or they "adopt" them in return for information and aid in those things that only one of our kind can do. Or that may also be another lie?
There are also the so-called Sacred Kings, better known as "Sybarites." The only Transcendence these ones seek are the transcendent experiences that lie between the loins. Just that, then, and nothing more.
And that is understandable. Even in this ghastly parody of life we retain the senses we enjoy on the other side of things. Did you think sex was wondrous before? Wait until you try it now. The smells, the sights, the feelings... oh, wonder upon wonders! There are times when I think I could spend my entire time in the world in debauch, and yes, there are such times...
But, see, I step back from the brink of total, unceasing lust. Does this surprise you? Oh, yes, the tales they tell of me... the tales I told of myself that others have been kind enough to repeat, I should say. Suffice it to say that I was not nearly the fiend I made myself out to be, but I do, now, appreciate the fact that my name has entered the language as an adjective.
But then we have those who cannot step back. They spend their time doing nothing else but that one, precious thing. All day, every day, sun up to Sun down and well into the night. I have heard of temples in far off locations where the pale ones have set themselves up as priests to one strange Goddess or another, and the party goes on from now until doomsday.
And I suppose that some do Transcend using such a fashion. I think some of the Heretics we keep company with use similar methods? But there comes a point where the point of return must come, and it either happens, or it does not. And more often than not, it is crossed leagues past before one realizes it was underfoot.
Of course, how well do the other Philosophies fare in that regard?
And then you have those who I find it hard to call a "philosophy," much less a "heresy." If I mention The Butchers here it is because there are too many of them to ignore. In truth, those who come to us seeking only revenge, and nothing more, are more of an unfortunate comment on human nature, and I am certain that we cannot be the only group - Guild or not - who gets used for such things. Their presence rankles the nose because they create such a bad image of us in the eyes of others.
Oh, do be sure, my pupil - we kill. We have killed the Quick in the past and will do so in the future to protect our own. You will remember the Huntsmen from your time as a Journeymen? There is a reason they have that name. Just as one must break the neck of the chicken to make soup, blood must be spilled for the higher good of the group. It is sad, but it is necessary at times.
Where the Butchers deviate from our methods is that they care not a whit for Transcendence. They meet violent ends, or live lives hampered by the fetters of others' ambitions or prejudices. And then they come into Prison feeling as though they were cheated. And yes they were! And were they able to temper their anger with other matters they would make splendid fellows...
But they cannot see beyond the act of putting their hands around the throats of their assassins or oppressors. They are spiritually blind, and that blindness makes them dangerous.
So what do they do? They join our group, assume responsibilities, perhaps gain some station as well... mouthing the party line while thinking of one thing and one thing only the entire time. They use us like one might use a young lady with a substantial dowry: they woo us with honeyed words full of promise, take us to an altar, then take us upon a bed, and then we are penniless and they are somewhere else with our money.
In our case it's not money but information they lust after. As soon as they have learned that one trick that we are using now... they vanish. Poof! And the next we hear of them there is a bloody mess on the floor, and both the mortal authorities and the Hierarchy are involved. "A pale figure seen running from the scene," say the more respectable newspapers. "A pale man who was thought to be dead" scream the less reputable.
Either way, the result is the same. An area suddenly becomes less hospitable to us, any somewhat-friendly contacts in the Hierarchy dry up like a scorned woman's box of treasures, and we must all be blamed for the sins of the one. A rather sad thing.
But fate help the wretch when we find him. And we do, too. The Hierarchy may have to go digging for such a one, but we know where to look. We know so much of such a one already. And I can only imagine how they must feel, as it's a frightening thing to see a once-friendly face turn hard with judgment...
But examples must be made and kept. We have but one penalty for such a crime against our trust. You wore it on your face all the way here.
And that, I think, is enough said of that matter...