intervals, the Circle will levy a tax in human beings on one of its
subject worlds. This tax is known as the Soul Tax, for many of those so
taken are destined for sacrifice at the Pylon. Not every person Taxed ends
up being sacrificed. A significant portion of each Tax enters the army,
the Uukaptai, or the bureaucracy. Many high-ranking Denayi officers and
governors began their careers in the Tax.
A request for a Tax begins with the Circle, either to fulfil the
requirements of one or another branch of the government, or to refill
Pylon, or to punish a wayward province. In ages past, the Circle would
strip whole continents, even Worlds of their population. It might still do
so today, in the event of a major war, but in times of peace, the Precepts
of Ruthlessness dictate that the taxes be small, regular, and
minimally destructive of provincial society. In general, the Circle aims
for one Tax on each World, about every ten years.
The Circle prefers fit adolescent and young adult males, as they are
hardy enough to survive the march to Denayi, are of soldiering age, and do
not yet occupy an important place in the target society. Women and girls
are less welcome; it is easier for the population to replenish itself in
time of the next tax, if women are excluded. Nevertheless, it will accept
women and girls of childbearing age, provided the World in question has
sufficient population, and their sex does not prevent them from serving in
the military or bureaucracy. The Circle will also accept a percentage of
the old, the weak, or the poor and unproductive in a Tax; if they survive
the march, they will undoubtedly be sacrificed, freeing up other
candidates for more useful roles.
The Circle initiates a Soul Tax by giving the target World’s governor
a quota and some idea of what proportion of the tax should be fit enough
for military service. The Governor and his local administration then have
wide latitude on how to raise the quota. Typically, the Tax falls heaviest
on areas nearest the Word’s network of Gates, and on areas connected to
them by road or sea. Urban areas, such as cities and towns, and their
suburban farms give the bulk of a typical Tax. Rural areas, particularly
those on continents unconnected by Gate, experience the least disruption.
Those running the tax typically draw first on the poor, the
unprivileged, the landless and the young. Sometimes the local government
will attempt to eradicate a minority or other powerless group by focusing
the Tax on them. Circle policy discourages the destruction of any one
people, but its wishes are not always enforced.
Nobility are officially exempt from the Tax in most instances. The
wealthy and the privileged can usually avoid the Tax falling on their
families through a fines, bribes and favors. Sometimes, those who cannot
shield their sons from the Tax can still bribe the collectors to send them
into the military or the Uukaptai. Inspectors, both local and Republican,
attend the collection, and often screen promising candidates into cadres
bound for one or another government service.
Once the local government has assembled its quota, the Uukaptai or the
Republican Army oversee its transportation to Denayi City. The assembled
Tax travels on foot. The travel is not intentionally brutal, but the march
of so many people in such marginal conditions inevitably takes the toll.
Often, marginal candidates die or must be abandoned along the way. Some
medical treatment and transport exists, but only for those who seem
promising for more than sacrifice.
Once the Tax arrives in Denayi, inspectors and representatives from the
various branches of government sort the Tax into their fates. Depending on
the purpose for which the Tax was levied, the fate of an
"average" candidate can vary greatly. Sometimes, the need for
souls is so pressing that all but the most promising are immediately fed
to the Pylon. At others, the principal need was for soldiers, and all but
the most unfit or unwell enter military service. In a typical peace-time
Tax, about a half or two thirds of the candidates enter some form of
service, and about a third are sacrificed.
Each department selects its own candidates, and any cadres assembled
before departure are inspected again, in an attempt to remove the
unsuitable who entered through bribery or influence. The Uukaptai look for
strong, healthy and intelligent candidates in their early teens. They
prefer to train candidates for several years; thus they are unlikely to
accept any but the most exceptionally talented older youths. The regular
army trains its troopers less; it prefers full grown and hardy young men
who are already fit for combat. The bureaucracy, of course, looks for the
clever or gifted; it conducts linguistic tests, and often prescreens its
candidates at the local level, or encourages volunteers from educated
families who would otherwise be unwilling to surrender their children with
promises of money or safety for their children. They also look for
exceptionally attractive young men and women to train as concubines and
spies. Bribery and influence play a minimal part at this final stage, as
the candidates themselves have little to offer save their bodies and
souls, which are already claimed. Exceptions do occur; a relative might
journey to the capitol with a bribe, or the candidate might sleep their
way out of the sacrifice.
Those who do not make the cut for whatever reason are marked for
sacrifice. The Circle encourages worship of ancestors and veneration of
the Pylon, and the actual sacrifice is a religious ritual as well as a
form of slaughter. The Circle’s priests perform ceremonies that honor
the victims and celebrate their contribution to the state. Denayi religion
holds that the sacrifices join the deified ancestors in watching over the
living; thus, sacrifice is also an apotheosis, and the sacrifices receive
the honor due future gods. The night before the sacrifice takes place, the
victims partake of feasting, wine, and narcotics, and have sexual access
to women of child-bearing age. Any children of such a union are supported
by the state, and honored as "children of the ancestors."
Sometimes the "night" of feasting and sex can last several days,
if there are many victims to sacrifice. These practices have their
practical side –after all they make the victims more docile and help
replenish the population – but many Denayi nevertheless believe in them,
Initiates and Uukaptai as much as peasants or priests.
The actual sacrifice takes place in a cavern beneath the Circle’s
palace-complex. A Circle member or a specially-trained priest must
ritually inscribe a symbol on the victim’s flesh, then anoint the Pylon
with the blood, a process which irrevocably binds their soul to the Pylon.
The victim is then killed before they manifest the powers of an Initiate.
Usually, this happens without incident, but sometimes a sacrifice goes
uncontrollably berserk with magical energy. The actual process of
sacrifice can last hours or days, depending on the number of victims, and
the queue of sacrifices often stretches for a mile or more along the
As the sacrifice continues, and often long after it is complete, the
priests remove the victim’s remains for cremation on pyres. The Pylon’s
chamber contains a large pit for temporary storage of corpses, and
functionaries remove the bodies as they fill it. Blood from the pit drains
out into the river Flavus, which runs red during a sacrifice. This red
water, and the smoke from the pyres are both considered by the city’s
inhabitants to partake of the ancestor’s powers. The former is often
bottled as a relic, and the latter perfumed to make it more acceptable.