ince the disappearance of Charon, the Hierarchy has had to adapt itself to leading without a visible and active leader. Rather than elevate one of their own to the throne of Stygia, thus implying that one of the Legions was in some way superior to all the others, the Deathlords elected to rule as a council. While many privately harbor a cynical attitude toward the idea of a Stygian rule-by-committee, this decision has many positive aspects that may not be immediately apparent to wraiths unfamiliar with political intrigue.
First of all, since no single Deathlord has supreme power, members of each Legion can rightly feel that their faction has an equal say in Stygian and Hierarchy politics. Second, the co-rulership of the Deathlords encourages the example of cooperation among the Legions within any given Necropolis (“…if they have to do it, we have to do it…”). Third, and most importantly, the illusion that the Hierarchy is keeping Charon’s rightful place ready for his return maintains the belief that one-day Charon will return. For many wraiths, this hope is all that keeps them within the Hierarchy – something the Deathlords are painfully aware of.
The disadvantages inherent in rule-by-council may, however, ultimately outweigh the advantages. Even within a group of equals, there will always be an attempt to be “first among equals.” The political maneuverings that go on within the council of Deathlords often take precedence over more critical matters – such as the survival of Stygia. Important decisions frequently depend more on political alliances within the council than on the actual factors affecting those decisions. Each Deathlord seeks to advance in power, usually at the expense of one or more of the other Deathlords, and these quests for personal advancement often have dire repercussions throughout Stygia and it’s Necropoli.
Regardless of their private ambitions, all the Deathlords realize the importance of maintaining at least the appearance of stability. They know that the solidarity of the Shadowlands depends upon a strong, orderly social structure that can stand as a bulwark against Oblivion and the Spectres who serve it. To this end, the Deathlords take extreme measures to prevent information leaks or rumors of dissent within Stygia’s highest circle. To a certain extent, this façade endures throughout the Necropoli as well, where the councils of Anacreons promote the public image of cooperation while privately following their own ambitious schemes.
Charon’s disappearance also served to accelerate a growing trend within the Hierarchy. From its origins as a social structure intended to guide wraiths toward Transcendence, the Hierarchy has evolved into a self-perpetuating organization that officially denies that Transcendence is possible or even desirable. The modern Hierarchy realizes that their power lies in keeping the Underworld populated with easily controllable wraiths. Thus, encouraging the groundlings toward Transcendence is not on their agenda.
Despite modernization in some areas, the Hierarchy has stagnated in its social evolution. It still rests at a level that corresponds to the feudal structure that developed during the middle ages. Originally its structure was based on the Greco-Roman model and depended heavily on the concept of citizen or soldier vs. non-citizen (slave). The ranks and titles of the Hierarchy’s military framework still reflect those origins: Cohort, Legion, Centurion, etc.
The rise of feudalism in the Skinlands offered a more viable pattern to the Hierarchy’s social organization. Feudalism was inherently stable. Each person within the feudal society knew her place, and participated in the dynamic fealty, owing loyalty and obedience to those above her while expecting the same from those below her. This tight reciprocal construction helped strengthen the Hierarchy’s ability to act as a bastion against Oblivion.
Although the living world has advanced in social structure far beyond the medieval stage, the Stygian Hierarchy shows a real reluctance to modernize, feeling that other political systems are too easily subject to uncontrollable change. The rulers of the Underworld fear that any change in government or leadership would leave Stygia vulnerable to attacks from opportunistic Spectral armies. The seemingly changeless nature of feudalism offers a constancy with which the Hierarchy cannot afford to tamper.