StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Fic) The History of the Watchers' Council - Chapter Two

This is Chapter Two of my account of the Council's history.  For the introduction and contents, go here.

Šes'ene Ğissu'ak - Brotherhood of Shadows 3500 BC - 1746 BC

 A Sumerian city


The three Shadowmen lived far longer than normal mortals, thanks to their powers. Through their control of the Slayer and their accumulated magical knowledge, they were the undisputed leaders of a loose sorcerous organisation that encompassed most of the civilised world. Eventually they died - or according to legend, passed on into another dimension of their own in order to continue their growth in magical power and knowledge. Their followers continued to maintain their traditions and maintain control of the Slayer line - although after the death of the Twenty-Third Slayer the practice of numbering each one individually fell into abeyance, and she was simply referred to as The Slayer.

The records of the Watchers' Council maintain that their organisation was continually in existence all through this era, from 6000 to 3000 BC, handing down its knowledge and rules from teacher to apprentice. Given that we're talking about a period longer than that which separates us from the Trojan War, around 120 generations, this claim is open to some doubt. Nevertheless, the oral traditions and the name of 'Shadowmen' were apparently preserved. The earliest written records in the Council archives - a handful of clay tablets embossed with cuneiform characters dating to approximately 3500 BC - refer to an organisation calling itself Šes'ene Ğissu'ak, Sumerian for the 'Brotherhood of Shadows'. Whether the name was preserved during all those centuries, or adopted anew in honour of their ancient predecessors, is unknown.

Sumeria had flourished in the intervening time - thanks in part to its relative safety from vampire attack due to the efforts of the Slayers. By 2000 BC the city of Ur where the Shadowmen had first met had grown into a mighty metropolis with over 60,000 inhabitants. Its people had discovered pottery, bronze-working, the wheel, brewing beer and writing; and while the second-to-last of those inventions might be most popular with the majority, it was the last one that the Brotherhood of Shadows most valued. Literacy meant that knowledge no longer had to be imparted personally from teacher to student, or - all too often - die along with its holder. Written records meant that magical research could be preserved for all eternity; and instead of each generation having to start afresh, it could build on the achievements and discoveries of its predecessors.

The result was an explosive efflorescence of sorcerous studies, the likes of which the human race has rarely ever seen. The frontiers of knowledge were pushed back in all directions and the secrets of the universe laid bare. It's no coincidence that even today in the 21st century AD, some of the most powerful spells and magical rituals are written in Ancient Sumerian; the black-headed people of lower Mesopotamia achieved an level of skill and power which is still unequalled. Of course, their meddling with the fabric of reality had its occasional unfortunate side-effects; one member of the Šes'ene Ğissu'ak is believed to have been accidentally responsible for a gigantic flood that inundated all the coasts of the Persian Gulf and is remembered in folklore even today. For all their power, therefore, the members of the Brotherhood were feared and hated by ordinary people, leading them to reinforce their habits of secrecy.

Despite this, their power and influence spread widely, all over the world. Through use of teleportation and far-scrying magic they were able to make contact with fellow-sorcerers in many other lands. These techniques had initially been developed to keep track of the Slayer: as new centres of civilisation and dense population arose in places like Egypt, the Indus valley and the loess plains of northern China it became more common for the next Slayer to be Called in some distant region instead of conveniently close by in Sumeria. Once located, the Slayer might be teleported back to Ur - or if need be, sent against some local threat. Indeed, the Brotherhood were beginning to notice that new Slayers were often called in a part of the world where a major demonic or supernatural menace was brewing - and while nothing in their records suggested that this was supposed to happen, it did so too often to be purely a coincidence.

As a result, the Brotherhood began setting up satellite organisations all over the world. For the most part these were comprised of local magicians who followed their own traditions and practices, but were willing to accept membership in the Brotherhood and to follow its rules because of the many advantages it offered: unparalleled magical knowledge, access to the culture and prestige of the world's most advanced civilisation, and the secret of the Slayer. This last was promoted to the local branches of the Brotherhood as an ultimate weapon they could deploy against their enemies - that is, the demonic enemies of all humanity, naturally... But increasingly the lines were blurred and Slayers sent to kill human opponents of the Brotherhood, including those "evil" sorcerers who refused to join them. Clearly they had to be evil if they were opposed to the benevolent Brotherhood of Shadows, after all.


The Council Civil War 1759 - 1746 BC

The increasing politicisation and, some would say, corruption of the Brotherhood of Shadows reached its peak in the event known to later Council archivists as the Civil War of 1759-1746 BC. Although it happened so long ago, detailed records are still preserved as the episode would be used as a cautionary tale and warning to later generations of Watchers.

In the year 1792 BC, a brilliant but ruthless prince named Hammurabi succeeded his father as king of Babylon, a city-state in the land to the north of Sumeria which had recently extended its power over several nearby cities. From this base, Hammurabi set about building a mighty empire. His armies marched north, east and south, conquering and subduing everyone they met. In 1763, Hammurabi crushed the forces of the Sumerian city-states and incorporated that ancient land into his empire. The cities were plundered, the inhabitants enslaved and their treasures shipped north to enrich Babylon, which was now an imperial capital.

The leadership of the Brotherhood of Shadows had remained aloof from the fighting, seeing mundane politics as none of their concern as long as they was left free to continue their work. This official policy, however, was by no means welcomed by all of the Brotherhood. Some were loyal to their homelands and families, and wanted to help defend them against Hammurabi; others saw opportunity in the rise of such a powerful king, and proposed allying with him in return for favours. The Brotherhood's leadership held the line, but its stance was increasingly unpopular.

Tensions heightened in 1761 when the Brotherhood's leadership took the momentous decision to move their headquarters from Ur - which was half-ruined and desolate in the aftermath of war - to Hammurabi's capital of Babylon. While some of the "Interventionist Faction", as they were beginning to call themselves, welcomed this move as putting the Brotherhood closer to the seat of power and better able to influence it, there was also widespread anger at the disruption and the betrayal of centuries of tradition. This, claimed the Interventionists, was the price paid for their leadership's policy of merely watching affairs pass them by: the Brotherhood was driven from its home, uprooted and cast adrift. The name of 'Watchers' - Lu'úru in Sumerian - was mockingly given to the Conservative Faction to imply that was all they were capable of doing. In reaction, the Conservatives cracked down on internal dissent, punishing any breach of their non-intervention policy harshly.

The spark that lit the flame of civil war came, however, from the other side of the world. In China, the Xia Dynasty had established an independent civilisation, and the sorcerers of Xia were among the many such groups who had accepted associate membership in the Brotherhood of Shadows. However, King Xia Jie was a notorious tyrant: one of his most infamous deeds was filling an entire lake with wine and going boating on it, before ordering 3,000 men to try to drink the lake dry (they all died). A nobleman named Zi Lu finally rose up in rebellion against Jie. As his army took the field, a series of natural disasters shook China: first a meteor shower, then an earthquake, a landslide, and finally a fierce blizzard that coated the fields with ice and froze the rivers in July. Zi Lu argued that this proved the Xia Dynasty had lost the Mandate of Heaven; Jie's followers deserted him en masse. Finally in the year 1766, in a battle fought in the middle of a thunderstorm, Jie's army was defeated. Zi Lu took the name Shang Tang and declared the foundation of a new dynasty, the Shang.

All these events meant little to the Brotherhood in Babylon... until the secret was revealed that the disasters that plagued the final years of Jie's reign had not been natural at all. They had, in fact, been caused by Chinese Brotherhood sorcerers working for Shang Tang... and they now stood behind his throne as the true power in China. For the Interventionist faction, this was a vindication of their beliefs and an example that they should all follow themselves. To the Conservatives, it was a direct challenge to their authority - and one that they could not afford to let pass by. They issued a demand to the Chinese sorcerers that they resign their positions of influence forthwith, and make amends for their disobedience. When the Shang advisors refused - as expected - the Brotherhood declared them in revolt and assembled a team of warlocks to direct a powerful curse against them.

Far from cowing other malcontents into line, this action served to inflame their fear and anger. For the leadership of the Brotherhood to use dark sorcery against its own members horrified many who had so far remained neutral, and drove them into pre-emptive opposition for fear that some breach of protocol might put them in the firing line too. Others, however, rallied around their leadership in this time of crisis out of loyalty or ambition. Battle-lines were drawn and the fighting escalated as more and more branches of the order were drawn in on one side or the other. Nevertheless, it was a strange, long-distance and slow-motion kind of war. The tools used were, for the most part, magical sendings, curses and demon-summoning rather than swords or axes; many of the participants never saw the men they killed except through sorcerous scrying. For the most part the general population was unaware of the war, although occasionally there were accidents or collateral damage - earthquakes, storms, plagues or rampaging demons on the loose. These became more frequent as the war intensified and the death-toll rose: after a decade of fighting, neither faction could see any alternative except total victory or utter defeat.

During these ten years of war, the Slayers continued to do their traditional duty fighting demons and vampires; they were deliberately kept apart from the ongoing internecine warfare. All that changed in 1748 BC when a branch of the Interventionist faction based in Knossos in Crete acquired control of the latest Slayer and decided to use her as a weapon against their rivals. She was placed under a confusion spell then teleported into the middle of the Council Chamber of the Conservative leadership in Babylon - this was warded against external attacks, but not against the Slayer. Blinded by the spell into seeing all the people there as demons, she slew eighteen of them before finally being dragged down and killed. Unfortunately, this merely triggered a race by both factions to track down the next Slayer, take control of her and send her to kill their opponents - or failing that, to kill her themselves to deny her to the enemy and hope that the next one would appear in their own territory. During the following three years, twenty-seven Slayers were called and then killed, one after the other.

According to the Watchers' Council's own histories of the Civil War, the ruthlessness of this behaviour finally shocked the rank and file membership into action. Some of them still remembered that their guardianship of the Slayer was supposed to be a sacred duty, and their mission was to protect humanity, not slaughter each other. They rose up against their leaders in both the Interventionist and Conservative factions, and put an immediate end to the fighting. The conventional accounts end with a brief homily on the importance of duty and serving mankind. Oddly enough, the traditional Council records have also preserved the name of the Slayer who was active when the Civil War finally ended: she was Erishti-gamelat from the city of Sippar. This is most unusual; it was not until the second century BC that the Council began routinely recording the names of its Slayers for posterity. Indeed, Erishti-gamelat is the earliest Slayer whose name has been preserved, and the only one for another thousand years. (Hiywan's name does not appear in the Council records at all - it's only known because she told it to Buffy personally in a dream after the breaking of the Shadowmen's binding spell.)

Some revisionist historians have speculated that this discrepancy hides a larger truth: that it was Erishti-gamelat herself, not a band of idealistic junior Watchers, who rebelled against the faction leadership and put an end to the war. Because the idea of a Slayer taking the initiative and dictating terms to her Watchers was anathema to the Council, this aspect of their history was hushed up. Nevertheless, a persistent legend also circulates that Erishti-gamelat died not in battle as a teenager, but at the age of 34 giving birth to her sixth child.

Next chapter: Kilib Lu'ennugi - Watchers' Council of Babylon 1746 - 275 BC
Tags: buffy, fic, history, meta, watchers' council
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