Written by Shinushil
Dragonkin society, like many religious communities, is controlled and dictated by subtle rewards and penalties from the community. Shame is apportioned when you (or more rarely a member of your family) performs some act contrary to the will of the community, and virtue is granted when you perform some act of extraordinary good. However, unlike many human societies the ultimate rewards of virtue can only be awarded by a dragon and whilst the dragonkin do reward virtuous acts this is rare and never very large - there is no equivalent to the charismatic preacher who can do no wrong and to whom all good accrues in this life because he stands between you and God. A dragonkin can still be your superior - your boss for example - but he/she is still only a dragonkin, not a dragon. It should be remembered that for very shameful acts your wings will be clipped and you will be marked for life. For extremely shameful acts, such as treason, you will not only have your wings clipped you will be executed and your body burnt far from town. The rest of this article deals only with less shameful actions that can be expiated by time and effort, and those rare moments of virtue being rewarded. Although dragonkin communities do not keep a numeric score of shame and virtue, both scores have a kind of half-life. Shame, each individual shame, has a half-life of eight months, and after eight half-lives is forgotten. Of course that means you are shamed (although gradually less and less so) for over five years unless you undertake one or more of the rituals of expiation described below. Virtue, on the other hand has a mixed half-life. You will always be remembered for your virtuous act, to the point your name may be changed “Huishuan the Wise” for example after solving a particularly thorny problem, or “Chunitluash the Builder” if you have designed a new temple that brings honour upon the community. The other rewards of your virtue decline every eight days, and again are lost after 64 days. The chances of being regarded as virtuous twice simultaneously are negligible. What is being regarded as virtuous good for, except gaining a cognomen? Well, the most obvious thing, if you imagine it as a scoreboard, is that it can offset shame, expunge it from the record. Chunitluash the Builder would have a large part if not all of the shame that he has accumulated during the building process wiped out at once (see below for more on this accumulation of shame whilst in a position of great responsibility). If you should be lucky enough to get into positive, to be regarded as virtuous, then for the duration of that happy time you will be offered choice cuts, invited to attend endless ceremonies to fête you and the like. You might cynically note that the fêtes take up time, allowing you to accumulate extra shame and offset the burden of your virtue more rapidly. What can cause you to be shamed? Just about anything. Speaking too loud in temple, not attending temple often enough, not joining the services sufficiently enthusiastically, not contributing fully to the community, not caring for the children, for the elders, for the temple guard, providing faulty goods, bearing false witness, making false accusations, failing to bear witness, failing to report suspicious activity, failing to report shameful acts performed by yourself or others and so on. Many of these potentially shameful acts are contradictory, for example you are shamed for reporting suspicions without evidence (although not much if they turn out to be true), but you are also shamed for failing to report suspicious activity. Thus it is almost unheard of for a dragonkin to be entirely without shame. How can shame be expiated? There are a number of ways beyond simply waiting the requisite 64 months. Note that, although uncommon for most dragonkin, it is possible to undertake these rites when your shame is less than the amount expiated or even when you are virtuous. They will cause you to become virtuous or maintain your virtue for longer. This is most commonly found among the Compassionists but is available to all. Small amounts of shame can be expiated by additional work for the community. Now, of course, all dragonkin work for the community, but there are always the unwanted, dirty, hard jobs. Redecorating the temple, building a new family’s home, cleaning the latrines, hunting tasty but dangerous game and the like. Dragonkin undertaking this work to expiate shame will blacken their scales and wear jet black robes so that all observing them know what is being done. This work is handed out by the ministers in light of the level of shame to be expiated and the needs of the community. It is not uncommon for cities to have entire days of expiation about once each month where major necessary but generally disliked tasks are undertaken - the value of having a population always in shame! Medium amounts of shame can be expiated by various public rituals. These are available daily to those who need or wish to reduce their shame more rapidly. The dragonkin will again don jet black robes, this time with weights around the bottom so they cannot fly. They will not only blacken their scales, but will also blacken their wings. It is not uncommon for those taking this route to also bind their wings with black ribbon so they temporarily appear to be and functionally are wingless. Such dragonkin are almost always cast as the villains of the piece in morality plays used to educate the children and on occasion the whole city. Their roles are, wherever possible, chosen to reflect the source of their major current shame, although this is often exaggerated: a dragonkin shamed for damaging community property will be cast in the role of a traitor or saboteur. Human psychology struggles to understand this: you are reminding everyone of the reason for your shame and this reduces rather than enhances shame - not in most human societies it doesn’t! - but the dragonkin seem to regard this as facing and acknowledging your fault and your shame and thus expiating it. Finally large but not extreme amounts of shame can be expiated by special rituals performed by the ministers before the assembled community. A leather binder is used to symbolically shrivel your wings and alchemy to create an egg around you as you stand, dressed in jet black once again, before your community. Before your head is encased you recite the sources of your shame and apologise to the community. The egg is left to harden - this takes an amount of time carefully controlled by the alchemists that prepare the material for the egg - during which time the encased dragonkin is required to stay almost perfectly still. The egg is porous and loose enough around the chest to allow breathing. Once the egg hardens it turns alabaster white and cracks, allowing the dragonkin within to emerge. The alchemical process also changes the robes to pure white and dissolves the leather binder somewhat more slowly. The dragonkin is reborn and often but not always takes a new name. The wider impact of this ritual is immense however, as the dragonkin is treated as a new adult despite their skills and experience. They lose all seniority within their profession and become common labourers, hunters or similar once again. They can, and usually will, advance rapidly, because they do have all that experience and their existing skills of course, but they begin again as a junior. The impact of this method of expiating shame is subtle and far reaching. It is hard for the most senior members of dragonkin society: the ministers, chief architects and the like to not accrue shame and thanks to the demands of their roles it is also hard for them to find the time to expiate it. This ritual allows them a rapid to expiate their sins whilst also ensuring they step aside from their high post. And that, in turn, helps the dragonkin maintain a far more egalitarian society than most human societies, because the commonest end for those in high office is not privilege and continued power, it is a return to the lowest status and building a career once again. Remember that all these rituals are voluntary. Within the Second Chance sect in particular the rebirth rite is the subject of deep schisms. Some believe that being the best they can be requires being at the pinnacle of their profession so the dragons will notice them and possibly take them with them. Others consider that the dragons will choose the most skilful, regardless of status within dragonkin society and that, by returning to a junior position they widen and deepen their skill base thus increasing their chances of being chosen when the dragons return. It is reasonably common for a dragonkin with a cognomen (who thereby avoided needing to reborn thanks to the associated virtue) to, on their next major project, require rebirth. Their cognomen does not transfer; it is forever associated with their old name and will be recorded in the city’s archives with their old name. This contrasts markedly with most human societies where you can be rewarded with a knighthood or peerage (even today the number of architects who are also knights in the UK is disproportionate; many of the historical architects you can probably name are knights, Sir Christopher Wren for example) and this will usually change your name to the name of your new station (the head of the Howard family is Norfolk - more strictly His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk - not Mr. Howard). It is theoretically possible for a dragonkin to gain a cognomen under more than one name, but this has never been recorded.