Sunday, June 28, 2009

White Mountain, Black River: Societies and Cities of Yanzhou

A CONSIDERATION OF YANZHOU PROVINCE

Part Two: Societies and Cities

The Wulin World, as you know has several different paths, each containing within them a host of sects, brotherhoods, and styles. The accidents of history-- geography, master teachers, alliances and betrayals has shaped those orders and organizations. Those of the East fall have been called the Temple orders, in the East, they follow a tradition called Kiongfu, the heartlands organize under the umbrella of Wuxia, the South calls it Gongzhu. In the northern reaches, including Yangzhou, the tradition and the orders which hold to them are referred to as the Jianghua Societies. There exists a central shared tradition among many of those orders, a lineage of a sort. Even those brotherhoods not presently tied to the Jianghau Society principals today generally trace themselves back to an early teacher. Regardless of what forms and principles the Jianghua Societies originally formed under they've expanded, diversified and changed so much that each sects seems very different from one another.

Within Jianghau, the Society itself has split into two major factions, with several groups outside or at the margins. The Holy Society, the smaller of the two, takes its name from the sacred retreat of the Sect, located on Holy Mountain. Holy Society, despite its name, generally has a negative reputation. They're seen as extremely strict and some fanatical members in the past gained great and unrighteous reputations. However, it may not be beneficial to describe them as evil or wicked out of hand. They certainly pursue a darker path, but some members have been loyal heroes or important figures within the Wulin world. Notably among Jianghua groups, Holy Society led the movement to support the Tian Dynasty and the overthrow of the last dynasty. Three major groups make up this sect. The first is the Ninth Void which leads the group, but remains fairly secretive. Orders from the Void come down from Holy Mountain and their operatives are said to move throughout the many orders of the region. Their style is said to have a more sorcerous bent. The second is Twilight Blade, whose leader Shadowed Saber, has command over Only Six Devils city. His agents range far and wide throughout the north and have a generally neutral reputation. On the other hand, the Harvesting Fists, the last of the three major sects of Holy Society has a more fearsome presence-- with a leader, Avalache Tsui, who seems ready to bring any simmering conflict into open war.

The other major sect of Jianghau, the Righteous Party, has a better reputation, but still contains within it some troublesome elements. It has five sects presently counted among its number, the sixth having been dissolved after an internal struggle some fifteen years ago. Worryingly General Guan Cang has a great deal of influence within the Righteous Party, having supported the elevation of his cousin Tengfei Cang to leadership of the Blazing Wheel, the most important sect within Righteous Party. Closely allied to the Blazing Wheel are the Seven Fiery Ghosts, which practices a conventional style despite the exotic name. The Pilgrim's Ox Escort Bureau and the Purity Sword sects of the Righteous Party have an excellent reputation for justice and heroism. On the other hand, the Hundred Faces, a Daoist wushu sect, with a strange masked style maintains a haughty attitude and mysterious ways which alienate outsiders.

The rift between the two sides within this Wulin order has significant consequences. Members of the Holy Society may not associate with the Righteous Party and vice versa. Both sides keep to this, with violations being punishable by exile or death. Both sides take their war seriously-- and conflict can occur frequently. However, the Governor has brought some measure of control to the situation. Duels or battles between them which cause a disruption to the public order is not punishable by death-- and regardless of the circumstances he holds both sides accountable. Additionally he declared Waiting Sage's City off-limits to fighting between the two sides in any form. All representatives of either side to receive punishment should that peace be broken. This has meant open conflict has been reduced, but the battles still go on behind the scenes. Holy Society has fewer members, but a more hierarchical system of leadership and control. Righteous Party, while larger, suffers from a diversity of authorities and tensions at times between the sects.

Other Wulin groups do have a presence within Yanzhou beyond these two sides. The Beggar Clan, as elsewhere, elects a Beggar King to this area, in this case the notorious Ugly Yedong. Other small groups exist, such as Red Lotus' Blossoming-Towards-Crimson Academy and Ironhand Nan's Sheathed-Blade Empty-Hand Prosperity Society, both of which operate independently in Only Six Devils with the approval of Shadowed Saber. Some of these groups are small schools, while some are portions of or a presence for a particular clan.

Beyond the world of formal Wulin, three groups exert a dangerous and unrighteous influence within Yanzhou. The Wicked Pavilion is a potent and dangerous criminal organization operating within Yanzhou. They trade in conventional banditry, theft, extortion and murder for hire. As well, they are said to have a significant stake in the trade in Black Lotus. Unlicensed production and possession of Black Lotus is a serious crime. However, Yanzhou Province has a number of legal production points-- with those crops being sent on to the capital to be made into medicines. It is a well-known fact that the amount of Black Lotus actually produced and trafficked through Yanzhou far outweighs the amount alloted to the license. In some cases, this is clearly a bureaucratic tactic with paperwork being confusing and misleading. In other case further away from the cities, groups like the Wicked Pavilion undertake such harvests without even the pretense of legality. The Governor does, from time to time, send enforcers out to burn some fields as a gesture. However, the trade continues and is likely of high value to all parties involved. Investigators should exercise caution when dealing with these trades.

A more fearful group, however, has also made its name known in recent years. Once thought exterminated, the Many Venoms Sect is said to be growing. They're an awful group-- practicing forbidden arts and rituals. In the past they grew strong enough to challenge the authorities and the putting down of them created the Scarlet Marsh and destroyed the regional capital. They treat with demons and devils, practice magics based on blood and have little purpose other than destruction and power. Any sign of their activities should be taken seriously. Should they be reforming in any form, they must be put down mercilessly.

Lastly, the Hell Clan, as everywhere throughout the land, has a presence here. From their stronghold in the East, the Hell Clan keeps its fingers in all manner of criminal activity, through a network of agents and powerful enforcers. They have great power in the margins-- kingdoms not aligned with the Empire, barbarian lands, and the settled places far from local authorities. The Hell Clan seems bent on power-- but especially seems devoted to the acquisition and control of Heavenly or Divine Weapons. Those weapons shape destinies and they believe controlling them means their star will rise. The recruit with threats and coercion-- claiming that in such unsettled times, only the strong will survive. Those who refuse to become their clients are killed.

The Hell Clan's Lord, Dominion, watches for any and tales tales of legendary weapons arising. If he believes they can be obtained or taken, he sends his powerful emissaries to undertake the task. Rest assured that the Hell Clan has agents present in Yanzhou, though for now, their identity remains unknown.

The Cities and Towns of Yanzhou
Only Six Devils is an unusual place-- reckless yet tightly controlled. Shadowed Sabre remains in his palace, overseeing the affairs of the city. Rumor has it he travels out, but few if any have seen him. Only Six Devils is the second largest city within Yanzhou, rivaling the capital. Other smaller places are more properly called towns rather than cities. Yet, most accept that the master of this place has no ambitions greater than maintaining his fief as he wills it. Only Six Devils serves as the gateway to the western reaches. Traders know that goods of a questionable provenance will have a less thorough examination here than elsewhere. The city itself is divided into six districts, each overseen by a unique district governor. Entry into the wealthier sections of the city requires sponsorship-- keeping the rabble to the outskirts. This also ensures than persons within the district maintain their client relations to their allies.

Three Wisdoms in the northeast is home to General Guan Cang and his family. The city itself sits beside the Dai River in the midst of the verdant woods. Great trouble has been taken to clear the area surrounding the city, while at the same time keeping the feeling of a natural place. Visitors coming upon the city from the great road often express surprise as the city itself miraculously appears from within the forest. Guan Cang himself rules the city in fact, if not in name. Stone-Minded Lang serves as the city's governor, but he comes from a client family closely allied to that of Guan. Three-Wisdoms serves as the central city for the Righteous Party, and their members have strong sway here. It should be noted that the General maintains his troops in various barracks scattered within a day's distance from Three Wisdoms and that traps and breakfalls have been set up for the unwary attempting to infiltrate.

Nine Tiger's Watch in the southeast is also a city of the Righteous Party. However their presence is less overwhelming and more cooperative. Pang Yuwei of the Ox Pilgrim's Escort Bureau commands the city, but leaves much of the day to day affairs in the hands of trusted advisors. Instead he splits his time between the city, the Bureau's affairs, and time in his sect's sanctuary in the mountains. Nine Tiger's Watch is a smaller and more open town sitting on the lake. It forms the hub of a trade network of smaller villages along the lake. Many describe the pace here as sedate, others as boring.

When the Jewel of Morning, the Summer Capital of the old Yan Ruling family fell, the remaining royals abandoned the place. They resettled to Yanzhou and completely forgot this place. However, while the disaster had been mighty and the Scarlet Marsh nearby remains haunted, people eventually returned to the area. Many structures and buildings remained intact, and so people simply set up shop here. Over time the community grew, as people discovered that good quality clay could be harvested from the the marsh. Renamed Drowned Gate, under the Tian Dynasty, the city has come to be formally recognized. It remains the smallest and poorest of the cities of Yanzhou. The City Governor, Grandmother Yiyi, maintains loose rules. She does, however, keep a small staff of exorcists on call to deal with the occasional problems which arise. Travelers to Drowned Gate have described the experience as quite strange-- some parts of the city feeling as abandoned as ever and even the settled areas possessing a haunted feeling.

Eight-Walled Grace, in the north, is a medium town built as much as a fortress. That had been its role before things quieted in the north. The Governor, Pei Feng Fu, keeps a close eye on the situation. At the same time, he's fairly welcoming of outsiders and those of the north who wish to come into the Empire. Most describe Pei Feng Fu as an able administrator, reasonably dedicated to the prosperity of people in his town. That is said less of Flawless Ning, master of the town of Rooted Serenity in the south. He's more devoted to the improvement of his family and sect, the Heaven's Hand Brotherhood. Before Ning, they'd been aloof from Imperial and local affairs, but now they've more fully entered into the realm of politics. Ning has the ear of the Governor, or perhaps vice versa. Rooted Serenity is a modest town, a gathering point for downriver trade and Flawless Ning makes the most of his authority to inspect cargoes and check on goods.

Finally, we will move on to a discussion of Yanshan, the provincial capital and consider the character of the Governor and his people.