Dark Kingdom of Jade Update


Samuel Fenwick

 The single unalterable principle of all things is that all things change. Nothing is immune, not even an empire beyond death.


In distant lands

The Sixth Great Maelstrom came with cruel timing, thrusting the bulk of the Empire's military forces into a bewildering battle against both spectral attackers and the defending forces of Stygia, in an unfamiliar landscape, made fluid and razor shape by the winds of the storm. Casualties were insane and even the Immortal Guard did not survive unscathed. To make matters worse for the invaders, the amulets that had brought them across the Shadowlands in an instant, and whose manufacture had bled the occupied provinces dry, no longer worked, thanks to the fury of the maelstrom winds.

Most of the troops have given up their dreams of conquest. Some have trusted to their skill with the Argos arcanos and were swiftly lost amidst the maddened winds or crushed beneath the claws of Shades. More have managed to ally with the native wraiths against the spectres, in a measured attempt at survival. This has been difficult in the face of both the massive language barrier and the understandable animosity of their western counter-parts, but it is more than compensated for by the odd chance to rest in a secure haunt or the times when the local wraiths knowledge of the local shadowlands terrain swings the battle in the alliance's favour. Catharsis remains a severe problem given that many of the soldiers joined the invasion in high hopes of "avenging" past atrocities and insults levied by the west on their homeland and are constantly plagued by the cruel remembrances of their shadows.

Much of the London necropolis has been turned with the help of the jade military into a fortress against the innumerable spectres, mostly with parts salvaged from the stricken hull of the "Righteous Judgement of the Filament." The irony of their position has not escaped the notice of the remaining jade commanders, but there is no alternative.

The Immortal Guard have abandoned the rest of the imperial army, and have begun a long march through the shadowlands, that will dwarf that of the living communists in 1935. They are called by their Lord and they cannot help but obey. Unfortunately, the myriad trials and the need to constantly call upon their pathos reserves, is a serious concern for their unofficial commander, Yuo Kang. Therefore, he has ordered arcanos use to be kept to an absolute minimum. Whatever happens, it appears that Yu Huang will have to do without the bulk of the one force that was incorruptibly his own, for the foreseeable future.

Domestic matters

The Dark Kingdom of Jade has been shaken to the core. Not only has the fiercest maelstrom in wraithly memory, torn across the tempest and shadowlands like a bandage ripped from a bleeding wound, but the very soldiers who are meant to protect the populace from such dire events are impotent against this threat, with most of their number trapped thousands of miles away.

Nonetheless, although the first wave of spectres and rampaging Kuei wrecked bloody havoc on the Dark Kingdom of Jade, the subsequent waves encountered fierce resistance from an unlikely source. Many of the more powerful families had made sure that many of their members in military service and militias were posted to the garrisons of the larger necropoli. Their presence have managed to stem the dark tide temporarily, but at a dire cost in souls. Although Spectral attacks are becoming less frequent, they are now lead by something with millennia of guile and experience in the arts of war. Rumour has it that an army of the shadow-eaten now marches under the command of Fu Xia, the mage who once helped Qin Shihuang in his quest for immortality. Some wonder if the sight of Feng-Tu could have reduced the once-mage to one of the shadow-eaten. Sightings of spectres wielding strange and horribly efficient weapons are becoming increasingly common and many a wraith who once cursed the presence of the Immortal Guard now longs for their return.

The rule of law as set down by the Jade Emperor and his judges, already riddled with corruption before the 6th great Maelstrom has now burst apart like a rotting fruit crushed underfoot. Yu Huang is still conspicuous in his absence, although there have been several sightings in Feng-Tu. The disorder of the Jade Empire varies greatly from necropolis to necropolis, often depending on the presence of the Immortal guard, now greatly diminished from the failed invasion of Stygia. Where the disorder is at its height, typically the necropolis is controlled by the most powerful family within its walls, or in regions where no one family dominates, by a single individual who typically acts in the manner of an enlightened despot.

Feng-Tu has changed and not for the better. Before the Sixth Maelstrom, the chief purpose of Hell was to generate white jade for the defence and prosperity of the Jade Empire. Now, things are different. Souls are tormented, long past the point at which they could be smelted down into white Jade. Indeed precious pathos is invested to keep them aware and suffering long past the natural point of dissolution. Some say that the suffering of the souls imprisoned in Hell, now feeds an appetite darker and more insatiable than that of the soul-forges. Despite the chaos in the shadowlands and in the occupied territories, the flow of souls into Feng-Tu seems unabated, yet not even the Judges know where these souls come from. Secondly, the Ebon road seems to be ever widening and can clearly be seen on approach to Feng-Tu. More surprising is the fact that no effort seems to be made to stop this incursion from Yomi Wan. Indeed a surprising amount of traffic seems to be occurring in both directions, although why this should be so and unopposed remains a mystery. Much of this traffic seems to coming from the Hell of Twisted Devotion. It may be that Xue Jung, the lord of this hell is seeking to strike a bargain with the Jade Emperor for reasons unknown.

A Question of Trust

Unknown to anyone in the floating world not languishing in unspeakable torment, Yu Huang and Xue Jung have indeed come to an arrangement. For a being with intentions of total dominion over both the worlds of the living and the dead, the Sixth Great Maelstrom has been an incredible set-back to the plans of the Jade Emperor. Given the increasing frequency of maelstroms, it is unlikely in this stage of the great cycle that the Shadowlands could ever be united under his rule.

To make matters worse, his greatest rivals, the Yama Kings have made great gains in the past few decades to the extent where their Hells are beginning to merge with the most abhorrent places in the skinlands. It is this that has caused the Jade Emperor to seek the mantle of a Yama King in addition to his temporal power over the Chinese dead. Xue Jung has been offering instruction in this process for reasons of his own. The more powerful contenders for the demon throne there are, the more likely it is that they will obliterate each other allowing himself to claim the prize during the resulting fallout.

Secondly, the Lord of Debasement recognises that although the forces of Yomi Wan are great, it would be much easier for the Demon Emperor and his loyal advisors, if when the turning of the age comes the living mortals do not struggle. It is unlikely that the mortals would ever accept domination by giant maggots or crazed shape changers but the story may well be different with their ancestors and figures out of legend, especially as both the latter were or still are human.

Naturally Yu Huang intends to terminate his arrangement with the Lord of Debasement shortly after achieving his objective, in a most lengthy and pleasing manner, especially as he has some inkling of his partner¡s ulterior motives. The mutual distrust between two such powerful beings has lead to a complex dance of lies and deceit, espionage and counter-espionage. A cunning Wu or ghostly family, if it ever uncovered the terrible truth could easily disrupt this fragile arrangement and thereby prevent the ascension of Yu Huang to a Yama King and cause the destruction of the Hell of Twisted Devotion.

The economic problems facing the Jade Emperor, due to the loss of the occupied territories, will soon be solved, due to the crystallisation of Demon Chi from the suffering of those tormented in Feng-Tu. The fact that Lu-Wang's spectral army has returned to its master has assisted matters. During the past centuries, they deserted, as it was felt that their master had become too human and had turned away from oblivion. Now they work once more, intent on gathering souls and raw material hacked from the dark walls of the labyrinth. Naturally this influx of materials is kept secret from the Emperor's wraithly subjects as it serves oblivion for them to be overworked to the point of harrowing. Every Wraith that succumbs to the P's is another soldier in the army that Yu Huang is building with the aim of gaining the demon throne.

The most pressing problem facing the subjects of the Jade Empire, save that of simple survival is an internal one: The war between Hun and P¡o. The strife that has gripped the Empire has stripped many wraiths of the fragile illusion of safety and stability. The absence of the Castigate arcanos and the frantic nature of ghostly existence at present have made the threat of Catharsis ever present. Wraiths most at risk of succumbing to the blandishments of the P'o are mostly found on the frontline between the Necropoli and the Storm front, but the savage, constant political infighting is also taking its toll, especially at the higher ranks of the four branches. Naturally, the resultant havoc caused by Catharsis in high ranking individuals generates even more angst in their subordinates, until the mouth of Yomi opens wide for those wraiths unfortunate enough to be caught within such a vicious circle. The near impossibility of maintaining one's fetters is a contributing factor, to this problem, especially given the backlog of harrowings in the Labyrinth. The workload on many wraiths involved in governance or soulforging has quickly escalated to intolerable levels, due to the loss of experienced personnel.

A lesser problem is that the maelstrom and the changing passions of the quick are making opportunities to gain Pathos few and far between. The recent tide of monism ("To get Rich is to be glorious") among the quick of China has left little time or energy for the veneration or even remembrance of the departed. The current imbalance between the sexes in mainland China, partially due to the One Child policy has made it extremely difficult for wraiths with passions concerning romantic love, while conversely those with a strong merchant or materialistic streak are almost glutted on emotion. Some wraiths talk of trying to manipulate the government of the Quick to improve matters, but as the storm winds contain to howl and shake even the most secure of haunts, it is unlikely that this could be achieved in the near future.

This problem has left a gaping niche, one that is quickly being filled by a group of western wraiths who have only recently appeared in the necropoli of the Middle Kingdom. These strangers have little in common, other than a strange green gleam in their left eyes and a remarkable ability to rose passions in both the Quick and the restless dead. As a result they are running a roaring trade, but strangely seem to refuse direct payment, preferring to call in favours at a latter date. However, those oriental wraiths that associate with the few Stygian wraiths left in the middle kingdom are desperately uncertain about this new development.

These wraiths of Stygia, marooned in the Jade Empire due to the Maelstrom have been busy. Aside from their disquiet at the encroachment of the Solicitor's guild into new territory, many have been winning acclaim and fortune in the defence of the Necropoli. Others have been trying to spread the knowledge of the Castigate arcanos throughout the local populace, but this seems to be resisted by agents of the Jade Emperor, despite the lack of a formal edict banning its use. Many, made desperate by the failing state of their fetters have spent every lull in the Maelstrom attempting to repair the Midnight Express tracks that lead from Hong Kong back to more familiar lands. Some escaped shortly after the maelstrom hit by inhabiting flights back to Europe. Unfortunately, the scores of Shades that infest the air of the shadowlands soon wised to this attack and have made this option tantamount to jumping straight into the mouth of Yomi. To make matters worse, it has come to their attention that Oblivion is now openly, but quietly promoted as the gateway to reincarnation. Even if this theory is true, it is the general opinion of these wraiths that the last thing that is needed is for oblivion to be strengthened in this way.

The most absurd rumour that has left even the most gullible of the Jade Emperor's subjects shaking their heads with disbelief is that a small detachment of the Immortal Guard have shrugged off their bondage to the Jade Emperor and are establishing a base somewhere within the Tempest. Why or let alone how this could be remains a mystery, although some whisper that the first Wu-Keng to throw of the yoke of "her" Ju Ak, Ma Sheng may be responsible and is secretly planning to launch an attack against the Yama King, Ku of the thousand Tears, with her new force. Others say that this detachment discovered a dreadful secret concerning the Jade Emperor and resolved their fetters with an insane feat of will. The same sources also say that these Immortal guard are now pledged to the cause of transcendence and have already cut a plasm drenched swath through corrupt magistrates and doppelgangers alike.

The Tables turned

In the occupied territories, the Sixth Maelstrom left the Chinese garrisons completely cut off from supplies and reinforcements. Although the resistance movements were at a relative disadvantage in terms of shelter from the storm, it did not take long for them to start wearing down the oppressors. Fierce battles raged throughout the shadowlands, often engulfing both the quick and the hungry dead in the aftermath. However, towards the summer of 2002, a lull in the maelstrom occurred and the lines of supply were about to be reopened. Despite losing over half their number in suicidal attacks, the garrisons had held. However, a seemingly insignificant event was about to occur in the lands of the quick, which spelt downfall for the Chinese. Japan and Korea became joint hosts to the football World Cup. The resultant surge of patriotic fevor spread like wide fire through the populace, and the resultant tide of pathos, allowed both the Fists of Nippon and the National Dragons in Japan and Korea, respectively to sweep aside all resistance. The one sided conflict took on a horrific face, when the Fists unveiled a new weapon onto the maelstrom wracked battlefield: great ensembles of scarred melted, eyeless and skinless monstrosities, composed of the remnants of self-image belonging to those who succumbed to the H-bombs and their radioactive legacy. The beasts' great strength and insatiable hunger were the deciding factor in several major engagements and broke the back of the Chinese garrison. However, victory has not been without price. Many Japanese wraiths, although glad to be rid of imperial rule, are concerned at the fact that many of the Fists have been seem to employ Dark Arcanoi and have allies among the shadow-eaten. Representatives of the Fists have claimed that they were merely means to an end and a natural result of using Hiroshima and Nagasaki as bases. The leader of the Fists is actually rumoured to be one of the shadow-eaten, perhaps even a general who presided over the invasion of Shanghai and the surrounding territory.

The Hungry Dead and the World of Yin

Those Kuei-jin with knowledge of the Yin world have been quick to reappraise their affairs. On the whole, many Kuei-jin have stopped travelling to the Yin World, due to the danger of the sixth Maelstrom. Relations between Wraiths and those Wan Kuei brave enough to risk the journey have worsened for the most part, due to the near collapse of wraithly society. As a result, the emphasis is less on etiquette and more on personal power. Although the wraith has the advantage of being on home ground, a Kuei-jin is typically far more prepared for combat.

Many of the jina of the Devil-Tigers have been calling for the mandate of heaven to be withdrawn from the Jade Empire, a proposal given much weight by those of non-chinese origin and those who have heard the rumours that Yu Huaung is the Malfean Lung Wang in disguise. Jina and running monkeys alike have been unofficially trying to undermine the existing power structures, especially the transport of souls to Feng-Tu. For many young jina, this is an excellent chance to perfect the techniques that may soon be needed to resist the coming of the Demon Emperor, not to mention a chance to glut themselves on the cold chi of the dead.

Perhaps the most infamous of the west-aspected Devil-Tigers, Go Li has recently been researching the history of the Yin World, intent on discovering what caused the Spectres and wandering Kuei to exceed their appointed heavenly mandate. Apparently, his interest was first piqued after a lengthy discussion with an ancient Gaunt of western origin, who referred to himself as only a "Ferryman" and who described to the Bone Tiger how once spectres and harrowings once served to make a uncertain wraith confront issues and facets of her personality that would otherwise be brushed aside. A further research topic that he shares with his Wu mates is the source of the P'o and why its' influence is only seen after the first death.

The Resplendent Cranes on the other hand have been horrified at the changes in the lands beyond death. Now the natural (or is that established?) order is upset and the restless dead now haunt the living with impunity. The fact that a great deal of Resplendent Crane Mandarins had extensive connections with the status quo of the Jade Empire is mostly to blame for this consternation. Many of these Mandarins are now vulnerable to attack from the Yin world for this very reason. A few pessimists and Crane recidivists point to the anarchy engulfing the Yin world as yet another sign of the Sixth age. Many Cranes of non-Chinese origin have launched ambitious plans to assist their ghostly countrymen, in the hope of keeping the occupied provinces out of the grasp of the Jade Emperor, even after the 6th Great Maelstrom has abated. Some have even started trying to transform wraithly society into one that resembles the Crane ideal. Unfortunately, the combined pressures of a Wraith's passions, fetters and shadow, make this a task so complex that by the time significant progress is made, it is likely that the wheel will have already turned.

The Jade Masks of the Thousand Whisper dharma have found themselves in a quandary. Now more than ever, there are ghosts who are overstepping their heavenly mandate or remain despite the circumstances of their creation being long resolved. However, the sheer number of spectres and kuei that roam the shadowlands has made it almost impossible for many wraiths to tend, let alone resolve their fetters. Many of the wisest and most experienced Jade masks have already taken upon themselves to try and exterminate as many spectres as possible, a task aided by the remains of the necropolis militia. The extensive contact many have had with the shadow-eaten (in the worst possible sense) has hammered home the difference between spectre and wraith together with the realisation that while balance may be possible within the heart of the latter, it is a concept antithetical to that of the Shadow-eaten.

The Bone-flowers have found themselves beset with calls for aid. The sudden instability of the empire has flown those wraiths in a position of relative safety into a whirlwind of political activity, for never in ghostly memory has there been such opportunity to gain so much at the expense of one¡s rivals. Naturally a Bone-flower is a powerful ally in such dealings and many have been able to put powerful ghosts in their debt. Some of the most cold-minded of the bone-flowers have begun to explore the depths of the labyrinth, an enterprise aided by the fact that most of the spectres that had previously infested its dark decaying glory, now ride the maelstrom winds. Although several Wu have returned incomplete, they have already brought back copies of several Kuei-jin classics lost during the burning of the books.

Other Bone-Flowers have begun to systematically capture spectres for interrogation and have found their captives surprisingly knowledgeable about almost any line of investigation, if given the proper motivation. Unfortunately, for other denizens of the Middle Kingdom, the Bone-Flowers' Cold-Mindness has allowed them to make many questionable bargains of this sort in pursuit of knowledge. Such excesses may soon backfire on the adepts of Yin as many have already taken the second breath as a result of these Faustian bargains. The appearance of many ghosts across the shroud has also kept Bone-flowers occupied. It does not do for the restless dead to terrorize the living and naturally the followers of the black metal egg are attempting to introduce these ghostly delinquents to the dark peace of yin.

The sudden surge of hauntings and restless dead has forced the Thrashing Dragons to pay more attention to the state of the Yin world. With the Jade Empire teetering on the brink of outright anarchy, many ghosts who were once restrained by wraithly politics or the local magistrate are free (provided they can brave the dangers of the maelstrom) to seek vengeance on their slayers. The Bone-eating Dragons have been almost overwhelmed by this turn of events. Temporary solutions have been found, ranging from simply sending the offending wraith into a harrowing (especially effective, considering the backlog within the labyrinth) to the use of Ghost shackles. However, one Thrashing Dragon, has found his work made far more significant in the light of the weakened shroud than anyone could have anticipated.

Mo Kung, a member of the Ten Seasons Sect, was once an alchemist obsessed with finding the secret of immortality. Such was his passion for this search that he neglected the life he had, in hope of that which he could never attain. On his death, heaven both rewarded and cursed him with his goal, in equal measure. In addition to cultivating a garden of the second sort, Mo Kung has begun to investigate the nature of death marks, the mysterious sigils that appear on mortals shortly before their deaths (which can be seen by both the hungry and the restless dead).

He has started to investigate what events trigger their appearance, via a series of subtle experiments. Naturally, it has occurred to him that it may be possible to shape a person's life so that the death marks may never appear.

The weakening of the shroud has had a dramatic effect on the death marks. Once, the marks were difficult to make out and were often blurred or out of focus. Now to the trained, death touched eye, they practically jump out at the viewer. Indeed Mo Kung has catalogued many new marks that have never been previously seen before ­ Unfortunately, his research although of great import, may prove to be his dharmic downfall as every moment he wrestles with the question of mortality, his karmic debt mounts still further.


Chronicle ideas

"The Long March"

For an interesting change in pace and power levels the troupe could play as Immortal Guardsmen separated from their fellows but still compelled to return to the Chinese shadowlands as directly as possible. Given strange and often deadly obstacles can they make good use of their abilities while all the while their pathos reserves dwindle? What will they do if they do return and discover the changes in their master?

"The buck stops here"

Here the troupe begins play as key players in the defence of an important Necropolis from the hordes of shadow-eaten and Kuei. How do they cope with desertion and treachery within their own ranks? What of the great game that is family politics? Will they and their subordinates pull together for the good of all, or will others be sacrificed for petty gain? How do the characters respond when they come face to face with the leader of the spectral forces, only to find that he/she was once a dear friend?