The Setites are greeted with curiosity and fascination by those who do not realize what being a Follower of Set means. And why not? They offer their charms and mysteries to all who need them most. The Setites are ridiculed and dismissed by elders as hedonists who waste the gift of immortality. And why not? Their siren song draws enterprising young vampires down into pits of vice and revelry. The Setites are received with fear and distrust by Kindred in the know, however, less because of what they do and more because of what they help others become. And why not? Vampires have given up titles, ties, and nearly everything else to dance to their alien tune, all of their own free will.
Setites do not force their creed on anyone. All they need do is wait.
And they have waited, according to tradition, since the dawn of civilization in Egypt. Their oldest lore goes back to a cult of vampires dedicated to Set, the god of foreigners (which they were in the mortal lands) and the desert (which symbolized the growing wasteland of lifetimes Kindred must endure). Horus represented everything forced and despised: rigid order, strict castes, and living one’s life according to the demands of others - the soul-draining trap of normal Kindred life.
Set, by comparison, was the emblem of self-awareness, self-determination, and fearlessly embracing one’s deepest desires. Rules and laws were never as important as living genuinely. As an early and powerful god, Set’s perseverance showed vampires that they could survive the wastes of ages. His dalliances with foreign goddesses encouraged early Setites to seek companions on their path. His defeat of Apep, the serpent of Chaos, was a reminder that chaos must be mastered to avoid destruction. When Set lost the throne to Horus, it was interpreted as a sign that Setites are not meant to rule civilizations, only themselves.
Some fragments claim that Set was a vampire of immense power who handed down his doctrine to his descendants. A few tablets claim that Set was a spirit or half-spirit creature who took pity on Kindred on the verge of self-destruction. Others link Setite treatises to various priests and adherents. Several Kindred posed as Sutekh in the ancient world and claimed divinity, but there is no evidence that they were more than Kindred. No modern bloodline can trace itself back to such a figure, either. The covenant has survived by being taught by priests to hand-picked listeners. It has always appealed to vampires, who have been able to study and preserve its lore and tend to be its leaders. However, its deeper mysteries are also open to other long-lived beings like ghouls, high Wyrd changelings, and mummies. This diversity and openness are other reasons the covenant is so feared and misunderstood.
Followers of Set have been found across the globe over the millennia but few of their fellowships have lasted longer than a couple of centuries. When they have risen to power in particular eras and regions, their alliances have usually been based around needs and vices that soon dried up, leaving members free to move on. Many times, an adherent will move into an area in search of the right students or companions and they will remain together until the arrangement withers on the vine. These are commonly known as circles, sometimes with their own names or titles. If more of their long-term goals align, Setite circles can bloom into full-fledged cults, with Kindred taking up the highest positions and mortals and ghouls making up the laity.
Whether power stays in the same hands or changes hands frequently, Setites have fallen into these arrangements for thousands of years. Groups develop their own hierarchies and histories, which are not always acknowledged or respected elsewhere. (But any lore uncovered from other cults is saved, unless it is deemed heretical.) They tend to maintain ties through members who travel or via Priests, but they are free to ignore other Setites, if they wish. Groups can make alliances, which happens more frequently in restrictive societies or when members or cults are being threatened by enemies. Setites can also make war, if it comes to that. Destruction of other Followers of Set is a last resort but once the decision has been made, bloodbaths of striking ugliness have been the result.
The few who leave the fold are expected to return but they are only pursued if they are suspected of threatening Setite interests. Since desire is the cornerstone of their entire philosophy, it is considered a grave insult to force anyone to stay with the covenant if they really do not want to be involved. Those who aren’t sure are given space for up to a year and a night to decide but they can expect Priests to show them reasons to remain. If petitioned, however, an oath of secrecy is required and a ceremony of separation is performed to make it official. This means that Setites who try to flee are immediately suspected of treachery and will be hunted, perhaps to their death, depending on what they have tried to do on their way out.
Most large-scale rituals are done for the benefit of mortal members who need to feel like they are part of a secret society. These involve blood, sex, and whatever else Priests decide to mystify and present for consumption. This is only done to appease the outer fringes of the organization, however. Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master ranks are possible for breathing folk who accept the dogma and live by it consistently. A few Masters of the Outer Mysteries are chosen for the gift of the blood, otherwise known as ghouling. Then they begin as Apprentices of the Near Mysteries, from which they might never ascend. Followers of Set can be Embraced into the creed but just as many are adopted into the Innermost Mysteries from various clans and covenants.
Setite cults tend to have charismatic leaders who rise to the top through popularity or boons, and they are known as Viziers. These social figureheads are not always the most potent or the longest-lived in their cult, however. Lively vampires with legendary schemes and admirable dreams can make for busy Viziers. Savvy mummies can use their boons to buy them loyalty instead of resentment. Members will then begin to seek them out for guidance, judgments, and punishments. Being sought and respected can solidify a Vizier’s title until it is announced by others at the next cult gathering. The elevation has to be accepted, but few refuse. Those who rise by their own machinations are eventually respected because of how much they went through to seize their place, but no Vizier truly crowns himself.
Unlike Princes, Viziers know they can only set so many rules over their brethren, since their role is meant to be advisory. They are only authoritarians when something has gone wrong and can only remain so for a brief period before they are removed by force. The most noted sacred texts agree on boundaries for those who want to rule over the covenant, or else the Setites will be as immobile as every other Kindred group. Extended tyranny, or even extended rulership seems to go against Setite instincts, anyway. Viziers can and do choose their replacements, and few are amused by their title for more than a few decades. But some of the most impressive figures in Setite history have taken up the mantle more than once, in new cities and eras, with lengthy breaks in between.
Viziers can also offer rulership over a domain within local Setite interests to a Nomarch. Domains can be either physical or social, but they tend to work differently than Kindred expect. Most Followers do not bother with territorial borders as much as influence over assets. Few Nomarchs rule over entire neighborhoods, for instance, but many rule over dominant industries and any sites that are important to them. Others cultivate groups of people like particular gangs, high schools, or churches. These interests don’t always seem worthwhile to other covenants but since they do range across territories, they can bring Setites into conflict with other supernaturals. These conflicts are usually brought to Nomarchs to resolve; only if the Nomarch fails does the nearest Vizier get involved.
As long as a candidate agrees to take on the challenges of being a Nomarch, the role is theirs for as long as they can handle it. Offering incentives, moving the right people into the right places, and finding ways to discourage rivals is all in a night’s work, but the job is rarely dull. With time, Nomarchs might gain as much respect as the local Vizier, especially since Nomarchs are more visible and interact with others regularly. Depending on the city, the duties can become wearisome swiftly, so Nomarchs can also name their own successors. There are Nomarchs who rise to prominence simply by seizing a domain until they are officially recognized as the best by the Vizier or by other local Setites. Regardless of their origin, those with the most clout simply win out.
Those Setites most steeped in lore can gain influence by becoming Priests, and they act on a much more intimate level with their fellows. Some study forbidden books written by reprobates in every society. Others follow and watch Setite masters at work, learning on their knees. However they gain their skills, Priests exercise them by finding marks for manipulation and conversion, starting with mortals and working their way up to supernaturals. They arrange temptations, chance meetings, direct lessons, and cryptic tests. They invite adherents into circles and cults, and they are expected to step in when they find Kindred losing their grip on reality. Priests operate one-on-one and though they face more personal danger by getting too close, they can enjoy richly rewarding results.
Members are rarely fresh off the fang or new to being-long lived, but young initiates are not unheard of. A few enterprising souls encounter Setites early in their experience and want to be more like them, so they find ways to prove their worth. Priests go out of their way to approach Kindred or other youth who seem to be spiraling out of control, suffering from aimlessness, or on the verge of suicide. Most members make their way into the fold after their first century of an extended lifespan, however, when the weight of the world begins to crush them as old touchstones fall away. And a few ancients who scoffed at the Followers thousands of years ago have become desperate enough to invite the snakes into their lairs to stay.
Historically, the religious nature of the covenant was important to the way it was spread. Renouncing old gods and creeds in favor of the serpent’s wisdom was the first step to entering the Near or Innermost Circles. Taking on permanent marks, like tattoos and scars, was common. It was a test of loyalty and conviction (and it implicated the initiate, in case they tried to betray fellow cultists to authorities). Traditional lessons were couched in parables about Set but enterprising Priests tied him to nagas, serpents gnawing on the roots of the World Tree, or the serpent in the Garden. Whether Set was a god, demigod, spirit, or something else varied widely, but few cults ever made war over semantics. The most important thing was that he represented a vastly different way to live and threw off the limitations of other doctrines.
For the last few hundred years, the religious angle has been muted and morphed into secular philosophy or fads. Few Priests bother with the ritual for conversion to the faith anymore. Most elders have come to see that other beliefs are abandoned after enough time is spent in the fold. One Setite has ghost-written a self-help guide to promote the tenets as a lifestyle for bold, independent mortals looking to seize control of their lives. It omits any references to magic or mysticism and has been rather successful in securing initiates. A few Setites have become gurus with doctored teachings about “awakening the pure potentiality of the serpent energy known as the Kundalini.” Some add Hindu trappings, while others keep their sessions completely Westernized. But those who are devout or crave religion can still find it in Setite art, books, and gatherings held specifically for the faithful.
One key to the Setites’ enduring popularity has been their egalitarian structure. While individuals are free to believe what they wish about genders, races, and other groups of people, the accepted doctrine has made one thing clear: Nothing trumps desire and the will to make one’s desires come true. The oldest written works confirm this repeatedly, with few (heretical) exceptions. Women were Viziers of ancient Setite cults far more often than they were allowed to be Emperors, Popes, or other figureheads. Former slaves have been Nomarchs, and child vampires have been Priests. Those who have attempted to stand in the way of promising members out of old prejudices have been cunningly unmasked and ruthlessly scorned. Few risk the ire of their brethren now for such petty reasons.
This should not give the impression that the sandsnakes are problem-free or a true meritocracy. Power becomes imbalanced early, just in a more subtle way. What at first appears to be generosity and brotherhood is eventually revealed to be a dizzying game of who owes whom. Unless directly specified and offered freely, any favor one Setite does for another is a boon that must be repaid. But first, it must be called in or traded to another member of the covenant. This means that newer members are uniformly saddled with debts and desperate to be rid of them. Since some Setites sit on their boons for as long as they can, this can take decades and keep many compliant. Though a difficult feat, some Viziers have risen on nothing more than platforms of favors. Not a few have been kept from rising in the ranks because of what they owe or how much time they have to spend working off old debts.
At the center of each Setite’s world is the self. This is true whether Set or another divine figure is invoked or not. What might begin with simple narcissism has a practical foundation. While everything else can be stripped away, your central self - a potent blend of psyche, soul, will, mind, memory, personality, and emotions - is the last thing you can lose. It is the repository of all you have endured and the wellspring of the best you can become. The self is the most sacred aspect a Setite knows or believes in when all other masks are torn away. They defend their selfhood as much as possible and are forbidden from altering one another’s memories or feelings without open permission. Discovering this kind of tampering is cause for bloody retribution, and if a member reveals the treachery, other Setites are expected to help avenge the insult. No stolen gem is as precious as the thoughts and desires in a Setite’s innermost temple.
Despite this extreme valuing of the self, only a few Setites dare to claim perfection, and fewer still would believe them. Being a supernatural creature does not make you flawless. The point is not that members have little to learn, but that they have more time to improve what they are. A Setite who refuses to see their weaknesses is begging for abuse and death, and if they remain stubborn, they will deserve it. A cornerstone of the covenant is the recognition that things will inevitably change, so perfection cannot exist except perhaps in moments. Once those moments are done, the search for a new focus must begin. Being immortal means you have more chances for perfect moments and the struggles before and after them - no more, no less.
With this outlook comes some surprisingly heavy expectations, although elders tend to build new members up before setting the heaviest crowns on their heads. Priests strive to teach others why they owe themselves more, but only a personal epiphany can bring a deeper understanding and acceptance. In short, Setites must be deserving of their strengths and the chances to exercise them. They must live up to their existence in the world, which was not promised in the first place but has been enriched by additional years and health. They deserve the very best, but only when they dare to want it and take it for themselves. While they can manipulate others to serve their needs, choose to serve others or follow advice, they have to be the primary movers in their lives. In the end, they own nothing unless they own their potential.
Out of all beings who have ever lived, those with extended lifespans are uniquely blessed. This does not mean that such a blessing will be easy or even bearable, but it is an opportunity too powerful to be disdained or destroyed. Whether it comes from a curse, divine intervention, or some mystical accident, youth and years are priceless. They add to a Setite’s value immeasurably and give them reasons to perfect themselves. Those who were chosen to be preserved can take even more pride in their condition - but all are expected to take careful advantage of it. Self-indulgences that others would deride are encouraged, if that’s what a Setite enjoys. Living will not always be pleasant, but if you cannot find something to be happy about in your life, you are doing something very wrong. This is even more true for a trained Setite, who should be shown how to search and savor the world around them.
Setites believe that those who live longer will not make it far by embracing self-hatred. Masochism and supposedly self-destructive acts can be fun pastimes, but lasting self-mutilation and suicide are anathema to the Setite way. Giving in to the Beast willingly can be an exhilarating change of pace, but giving up to the Beast is wrong. Wallowing in vices and madness not for kicks but out of despair or boredom shows failure, not triumph. One bad night is not the end of the world, but giving in to bleakness could very well be. Priests exist to keep the worst from happening, but members are supposed to monitor themselves and their motives. If they have to change everything about how they are living in order to keep living well, the covenant cannot look down on it. Titles can be reassigned, but a dead Setite cannot be saved.
What can save a vampire from the Beast, or a ghoul from a servile life of drudgery? How can a changeling or a mummy stave off insanity and disconnection? What can turn even the oldest mortal’s life around? The answer to these riddles, for Setites, goes back to the same holy element: desire. Not a just passing fancy or a tickled sense of novelty, not merely curiosity or basic need, but a deeper sense of want from a more informed perspective. A driving and enduring desire is an oasis in the wastes of time. It will sustain and strengthen you until it, too, runs dry - but the sign of a worthwhile desire is that it builds up and lasts a while. It draws itself out, refuses to be easily quenched, and will even seem to reinforce itself, branching out or gaining steam from interactions. Sifting through fleeting sensations to uncover a bona fide ambition is perhaps the most important part of a Setite’s work.
Yes, there are grades and categories of desire, and Setites consider themselves connoisseurs. But it is easy for outsiders to misunderstand their intentions, particularly when Setites encourage activities that tear people or institutions down. Others do not understand that even if it seems to be urging you toward destructive acts, the best type of want has creation as its end goal. Utter destruction is the opposite of ambition, and thus the opposite of what Setites teach. It leaves nothing to do next, nothing to feed on, and nothing to appreciate. Only a fool who does not know value would wish for widespread ruin or worse, total oblivion. A wise Setite will sacrifice much to create something greater, but not everything. Those without an end design are encouraged to seek help from Priests before they do unthinking and unthinkable harm. This is the core of their feud with the Baali and others who would court annihilation and eternal servitude.
Setites, ultimately, are life-affirming. They believe that the best desires will guide you through life toward a destination. This sense of direction, purpose, and place is absolutely necessary if you are going to enjoy living. The lack of true desire is what poisons wealthy and bored children who have everything given to them, as surely as it sickens hard-working middle managers who feel chained to their families as surely as their desks. Without your own freely chosen, internally generated intentions, you will atrophy, no matter who or what you are. If you cannot reach beyond your basic needs for something more, you will spend more time yearning to die than to live. For a Setite, misery is failure - but as long as they live and seek their next desire, even that failure is temporary.
Groups develop their own ceremonies, which can vary wildly within the same city or even the same decade. Traditionalists might celebrate holy days of Hathor, Wadjet, and Set or other “pagan” deities. Modernists, on the other hand, design occasions based on current aspirations, and might invoke yogic practices, chanting, or meditation. Not a few base their worship in sex as the bodily manifestation of desire, but whatever trappings they use to sanctify it are just that. There are a handful of practices, however, that remain relatively rare, revered, and known to most Setite gatherings. One of them is well known outside of the covenant and is a source of great dread.
In keeping with their dedication to emotional freedom, magical manipulation of a Setites’s thoughts and feelings is verboten and punished severely. The one exception is when a Setite is so unstable that they must be saved from destroying themselves or damaging the sect. Only then will a Vizier step in to deliver a ritual that is one part mercy and two parts torment. After reports are confirmed, the erratic Setite is seized and held under a Vizier’s authority. If a sire or mentor is not available and no one else steps forward, a Guardian is chosen to take on the duty of watching over the Thrall. (If multiple volunteers offer and cannot reach a compromise, the Vizier will make the choice between them.) Some means of magical compulsion is used to guide the Thrall’s behavior, whether they agree or not. The terms are sealed before the Vizier, who is expected to check in on the arrangement from time to time.
For a year and a night thereafter, the arrangement is maintained, and the Thrall is under the direct authority of their Guardian. Failure to care for their own needs has led to a kind of imprisonment that all Setites find uncomfortable - but it is preferable to watching someone meet the Final Death. Thus, all members will back the Guardian and report anything suspicious the Thrall tries to do. The term isn’t an excuse for torture, slavery, or humiliation, but it does call for extreme scrutiny, and privacy must be earned. A Thrall who somehow manages to escape is hunted down, having wasted their last chance at life and with the covenant. Otherwise, a Guardian can expect to keep their Thrall close and take an active hand in retraining them. In return, the Guardian inherits any boons owed to their Thrall and will likely be granted all of the Thrall’s holdings when the duration comes to an end.
Because regardless of the outcome, exile is the last step. This is primarily why the ritual is known as Wandering the Wastes. In order to reclaim their selfhood and find their way to a new chapter in life, the Thrall must be free from everything that holds them back, especially their old patterns. Since there is no surefire way to ensure a lasting change in their views and methods, sending the Thrall away is a mercy. A difficult, possibly lethal mercy, but merciful nonetheless. They are allowed to take any portable possessions, including their ghouls, but anything else is given to the Vizier to distribute. This repays the local cult for their time and effort and divests the subject of anything to come back for. Their exile from the area is permanent, since they cannot be trusted again; if they return thereafter, they will be seen as hostile and dealt with accordingly.
None of this prevents a former Thrall from joining Setites elsewhere down the line, but few will trust an exile easily.
During the mummification processes of ancient Egypt, the major organs were always removed and preserved separately - all except for the heart. As the seat of the self, the heart had to remain within the corpse. Removing it would have been blasphemous to the dead by interrupting their judgment in the afterlife. Over the centuries, however, rumors have accused Setites of knowing the means to mystically remove hearts without destroying the target. It is said that by hiding their own, Setites become nearly impossible to manipulate, rile, or stake. Worse yet, by tearing the hearts out of their enemies, they gain life-and-death control over them, effectively turning them into puppets. The ceremony is the most carefully guarded secret of a covenant steeped in them and has never been reproduced by others with any success.
There are, as usual, grains of truth to the rumors. There is no way to remove a heart from a body that continues to function without a substitute; modern medicine is correct in that regard. And nothing is further from Setite philosophy than permanently trying to deaden emotions. That doesn’t mean they have no use for hearts, however. For their greatest enemies, the ritual of xak-ib leaves Setites with the most memorable of trophies. Helpless, cut open with pure gold instruments, their chest cavity marinated in prepared Kindred blood, even vampires can have their hearts removed. The remaining bodies are not affected, but the hearts are preserved against any damage, save for fire. Being near such an item gives the Setite who claimed it an extra measure of confidence and resolve for years to come. Those bold enough to display their treasures can gain an edge over even the most jaded opponents, as well. After all, nothing is quite as personal or powerful as a heart.
What about the target of the ritual? If they are doomed, their body can be killed by normal means; their heart will remain unharmed. If they are sewn closed and released, they will be nearly impervious to mental and emotional magic while their heart is separated from their body. They usually experience emotional numbing and difficulty with memories which increase over time. Those side-effects can be overcome with effort and perhaps the right stimulants. The ritual may also dampen or negate mental illnesses, curses, or other influences the target suffers. Trying to concentrate during stressful situations could become easier because it is harder to panic. The Beast can be more difficult to rouse, even when it’s needed. Xak-ib might be enacted to prevent a sliding Setite from worse (like Wandering the Wastes).
The real danger is twofold: the length of time the separation is maintained, and the security of the heart. Every decade without their heart makes it more difficult for the target to feel deep emotions, maintain close relationships, and recall memories. Memories without deep emotional resonance are harder to access. This may also interfere with using Empathy, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Socialize. This will continue until the target is a husk, unable to feel anything deeply. Some stories of groaning mummies mindlessly reaching out for strangers may be the work of xak-ib. Similarly, tales of wandering Kindred assassins without mercy may also be leftovers from this ritual.
If the heart is consumed by fire, the target dies, no matter the distance. If the heart falls into the wrong hands, it gives the wielder considerable influence over the target. Of course, using a Setite’s heart against them is taboo in the sect and one of its worst crimes. It’s not impossible for hearts to be misplaced or stolen; it’s happened before and will again. When it does, the wielder has an easier time manipulating the target’s thoughts and feelings than anyone else. Even without invoking the heart’s magic, the wielder can probably get the target to agree to anything, so long as their heart is kept safe. Setites are bound to help return a heart to its rightful owner in such a case - but only if they find out about it. So while those outside the sect spread rumors of Setites misusing the hearts of their foes, Setites tell horror stories of losing their hearts to monsters who will imprison them forever.
For this reason, the traditional durations for xak-ib are a season, half a year, or a year and a night, at most. A heart is held in the most secure place and the strictest confidence until the ritual is redone and it is reseated. A Setite who has undergone xak-ib will be watched closely to see if it has stabilized them. Others will usually be set free to figure out what the ritual means to them now that they can feel everything again. A few have gone back to the sect to learn its ways, having seen the errors in theirs.