Excerpt from â€œThe Legacy of the Zechen-Rotliegendish Commonwealthâ€ by Alexander Kaszarjd, 1712SS â€“ current)
Amongst the many legacies that the Commonwealth has left us, one of the most controversial is the secret organisation known as the Pillar of Zech. Whilst almost none would doubt that it exists, its extent, numbers and influence is unknown: its critics claim it to be nothing but a talking house for a few eccentric escapists whilst those of a more romantic (or perhaps hysterical) frame of mind claim it to be an extensive, insidious, almost all-powerful organisation which secretly controls and manipulates almost every event and action of significance on the continent. The truth, I suspect is somewhere in between â€“ my research has certainly led me to believe that the Pillar numbers several powerful figures amongst its members (though hardly as many as some would like to think); however, too large an organisation could not have been kept secret for so long; furthermore, if it were so powerful its actions would be far more evident than they are.
What is known then, about this mysterious organisation? The Pillar of Zech was founded in the latter half of the ninth century SS by a number of senior figures (Szlachta nobles, senior intellectuals (such as priests and wizards)) in the Zechen-Rotliegendish Commonwealth. At this time the Sejm of the Commonwealth was Pavel Jitanski, 52nd Sejm of the Commonwealth, a corrupt and tyrannical ruler who neglected the affairs of the Commonwealth and sought (ultimately in vain) to curtail the powers of the Szlachta which was, in this period, particularly divided and ineffectual. Fearing the threat of outside invasion, the founders of the Pillar did not wish to resort to Rokosz but instead founded the Pillar of Zech as a secret organisation dedicated to the greater good of the Zechen-Rotliegendish Commonwealth and the promotion of its values. Over the next five centuries, the Pillar grew and became more influential, numbering many influential figures of the Commonwealth amongst its adherents and being a major (frequently the major) faction in controlling and influencing the direction of the Commonwealth. It was in this period that many of the rituals, practices and traditions of the Pillar that continue to this day. During this era the Pillar of Zech, though never fully open about its doings or members, was by no means as secret or mysterious as it is today.
Despite the best efforts of the Pillar of Zech, the power and extent of the Commonwealth waned inexorably. The requirement for unanimity in the Szlachta proved an insurmountable obstacle to adaptation and the Commonwealth eventually became a 4th century nation (in terms of its governance) in a 14th century world. The independence of the nobles resulted in an inability to cope with the incursions of the Commonwealthâ€™s increasingly aggressive and powerful neighbours; a situation not aided by the increasing propensity of nobles to resort to Rokosz. The succession of shadowspawn uprisings in the 10th century also took a heavy toll. Though occasionally the situation would be reversed for a decade or two, thanks to a talented Sejm or united Szlachta, in the end the result was inevitable. By the time the Pajderza War (1378SS-1381SS) resulted in the formation of the independent states of the Kingdom of Rotliegendes and the Duchy of Zechstein (and thus the dissolution of the Commonwealth) the Commonwealth controlled little more than these original kingdoms anyway.
The failure of the Pillar of Zech to stop the decline was not only due to the failures of the Commonwealthâ€™s government system; rather it was due to the fact that the members of the Pillar were themselves a product of that system and firmly believed in the very aspects that led to the Commonwealthâ€™s fall. Their energies, rather than seeking reform, were rather directed to the betterment of the Commonwealth within the existing structure. When their influence was strong this was all very well; however, in between such times the Commonwealth waned.
This discussion, however, would be no more than an interesting historical treatise if it were not for the astonishing fact that the Pillar of Zech not only managed to survive the fall of the Commonwealth, but has managed to preserve its structure, influence and secrecy to the present day. Its members surely number in the thousands, possibly the tens of thousands and are distributed across all Laurentia, predominantly in the north. Many of these members have considerable influence in the land, and all are sure, even when not explicitly furthering the cause of the Pillar, to help out and trust a fellow member.
Little is known about the inner workings of the Pillar due to their secrecy. This secrecy is preserved by careful choice of membership, a culture of loyalty and brotherhood, a series of oaths (some probably enforced by magic) and, almost certainly, a determination to preserve their secrecy by any means necessary, up to and including murder. It is certain that no Pillarians above the fifth degree have ever revealed the inner details of the Pillar; though some lower degree members have not always kept the tightest reign on their tongue, their knowledge is not only limited, but confused by people who delight in making up such stories. As such, the information I am about to impart is speculative at best.
Membership of the Pillar is by invitation only. It appears that all moderately senior members will keep a look out for any person who he thinks, through their behaviour, conduct and capabilities, would make a worthy member. Qualities looked for include a strong sense of honour and integrity, intelligence, trust-worthiness (and the ability to remain silent) and some form of drive. Prospective candidates are then approached in a subtle manner â€“ usually being asked to perform a small task in secret (to test their trust worthiness) which will have some clues that indicate that the Pillar is involved (to test their intelligence). People approached in this way have almost always shown interest in and/or sympathy for the Pillar of Zech and its ideals. It is known that the Pillar takes both male and female members, though the majority are male.
Once this test is past, a member is initiated. A member is first known as an Initiate, and then progresses up the ranks through the three degrees of Initiate, the two degrees of Faithful, the seven degrees of Guardian and the five degrees of Da-Szlachta (meaning â€œparliament in exile). To earn each degree (and particularly to progress from one station (e.g. Initiate, Guardian) to another a member must learn lore, take part in ordeals, have shown his loyalty and faithfulness of the Pillar in furthering its work and ideals and take ever more constricting oaths and bindings. On attaining each degree, Pillarians learn more lore (including not only ancient knowledge, but also powerful magical and religious rituals and powers and knowledge of secret currents in the current affairs of the world today) and gain more authority within the Pillar (such as knowing more people within it). A junior member of the Pillar will know only a few other members of the Pillar; this number will gradually increase as he progresses through the degrees (there are also signs by which a Pillarian can make others aware that he is one â€“ these, however are unknown to us though it is believed that more senior Pillarians know more such signs than junior ones). A Pillarian is expected to help another Pillarian in his day to day life as much as is feasibly possible (without endangering the secrecy of the Pillar); furthermore, one is expected to defer to a Pillarian of higher degree (unless they have been specifically placed under you by a more senior member of the Pillar) even if you would normally be in a position to command them; the greater the difference in degree the more deference is expected. The stations and degrees are believed to be (from lowest to highest):
2. Comrade in Arms INITIATE
3. Master of the Pillar
4. Temple of Faith FAITHFUL
5. Citadel of Virtue
6. Knight of the Pillar
7. Knight of Zech
8. Circle of the Honoured Servant
9. Royal Paragon of Dominic GUARDIAN
10. Knight of the Shining Star
11. Sacred Wyvern of Virtue
12. Prince of the Leszt of Olfensee
13. Knight of the Helm/Chalice/Book
14. Perfect Knight of the Helm/Chalice/Book
15. Prince of the Helm/Chalice/Book DA-SZLACHTA
16. Prince Adept of the Helm/Chalice/Book
17. Royal Commander of the Helm/Chalice/Book
For the thirteenth to the seventeenth degrees there are three equivalent ranks at each degree, representing the three noble orders of chivalry of the Zechen-Rotliegendish Commonwealth. Pillarians take the path best suited to them â€“ those more military become a Knight of the Helm, those most pious a Knight of the Chalice and those most scholarly a Knight of the Book. Once set, this path is final. The seventeenth degree is held by only three Pillarians at a time â€“ one of the Helm, one of the Chalice and one of the Book. The Royal Commanders have authority over all others in the Pillar (though many will not know who they are) and direct the activities of it. Technically, their decrees may be reversed by a decision of the Da-Szlachta (which is also the only authority which can change any of the procedures, rituals, etc. of the Pillar); however, as the Da-Szlachta, just like the Szlachta before it, requires unanimity on any decision, the Pillar is essentially strictly hierarchical. In general, members of the Da-Schlachta are merely senior members in that hierarchy.
The number of degrees is seventeen, a number which is known to have profound mystic significance to the Pillar of Zech. Seventeen is comprised of the first four prime numbers: two (for the two nations of Zechstein and Rotliegendes which formed the Commonwealth), three (for the three holy orders of chivalry), five (for the five gods) and seven (for the seven princely virtues (courage, honour, independence, intelligence, integrity, piety and revenge)) which together sum to make seventeen; itself indivisible save by itself (the seventeen original leszts (fiefs) of the Commonwealth) and by one, the unified Zechen-Rotliegendish Commonwealth, eternal in spirit.
A large number of symbols, numbers, rituals etc. are rumoured to have mystic symbolism for the Pillar; there are too many to detail them all here in a serious work of scholarship. Two things that are known is that members pledge, â€œIn loving memory of the Zechen Rotliegendish Commonwealth, eternal in spirit,â€ to which the reply is, â€œHonour and glory be hers, then, now and for ever more.â€ The chief seal and symbol of the Pillar of Zech consists of a stone tower divided in to five segments surmounted by a red wyvern, rampant (the Sacred Wyvern, emblem of the Commonwealth), the whole surrounded by an eternal golden braid of three strands and seven tassels in a figure of eight (i.e. two holes).
The aims of the Pillar of Zech are to promote the seven princely virtues throughout the world by all means consistent with these virtues (naturally Pillarians are also expected to demonstrate these virtues in their daily lives) and, ultimately, to look for the reestablishment of the Commonwealth over the whole earth, when all the world will live by and acclaim these virtues as their own.