The Kingdom of Kenrei lies amid the Obsidian Wastes, a sprawling desert in the southeastern portion of Midworld. The Wastes themselves are named for the massive obsidian shards that that dot its arid expanse.
The Kenrei believe that these obsidian menhirs are the pieces of an ancient Dragon, even the Eternal Empress herself — moving or defiling them are expressly forbidden by royal decree, although only a handful have ever been moved from their place. The King of Kenrei sits on one such shard, molten into a throne’s shape by the Lotus Queen over a thousand years ago – it has since become a symbol of the Kingdom’s royalty and their sovereignty amidst the wastelands.
The Kenrei mark five seasons in a year, although their coming and going is dependant on the arrival and departure of rainfall rather than a mark on a calendar.
Rain Season (usually February to March in Wyrdic Reckoning) – a time of growth and celebration, when birds nest and desert flowers bloom. It is sometimes called Ki-Jinru or Ki-Hana (the Season of Blooming Flowers).
Brown wren in song
swelling rivers glimmering
The Lotus opens
Hot-Dry Season (usually April to June) – the sun scorches the land during this season and most travel is done at night rather than day. Even Sand Troll attacks trickle to a rarity during this season.
It is sometimes called Ki-Terasu or Ki-Atsushi (the Season of Shimmering Winds). The Sky Lotus festival marks the middle of Ki-Atsushi, a night-time celebration where Alchemy and Artifice is used to produce brilliant colored explosions in the sky.
A bright eye watches
amidst infinite azure
We quiver below
Storm Season (usually July-August) – a short season of storms and flashfloods, the Storm Season is sometimes called Ki-Kaishu or Ki-Kaminari (the Season of the Thunder Clouds). During devastating drought-years, this season lasts only a few days or skips Kenrei altogether.
Ten thousand swords fall
Howling and Clangor and Flash
Prologued by quiet
Warm-Dry Season (usually September-November) – Also called Ki-Tetsu or Ki-Zansho (The Season of Falling Leaves). One of two dry seasons, Ki-Zansho also marks the second harvest of the year within Kenrei as well as the Grand Chrysanthemum Festival, which marks the coming of the five Ryujin.
Plucked by swift fingers
Settles upon stream
Mild-Dry Season (December-January) – “Winter” in Kenrei is a mild season marked by a lack of extreme heat and a lack of rain. Called Ki-Shinju or Ki-Samushi (the Season of the Slumbering Night), this time of year is notable for its especially cold nights. Among the Kenrei, it is a time of meditation for the coming renewal brought by spring and heralded by the New Year Festival.
Moon-lit and sleeping
Awakened, I left my dreams
Out on the Obsidian Wastes, only the most resilient of life can survive. Amid scabland and badland, low-lying shrubs and towering cacti alike eke out a living. While some verdant plants and trees blossom in the many oases that dot the wasteland, they fall to slumber and wakefulness according to the vitality of a particular locale. Similarly, bodies of water turn into seas of salt as seasons of plenty turn into seasons of drought.
The Sea of Dust – Known mainly for its towering dunes, the Sea of Dust is an area made treacherous for its lack of landmarks and the hazards posed by the dunes themselves. It is known that ancient ruins lie beneath the sands, sometimes unearthed for a few hours by region’s howling storms only to be swallowed shortly afterward.
The Plain of White Sorrows – Although flooded with a few inches of water during the wet seasons, the Plain of Sorrows remain salt-crusted and dry for most of the year. They are frequented by salt miners (who gather salt for its immense utility) and by nomadic herds of animals (who lick up the salt). Several Salt Elemental Lords lair in the remote portions of this area, lashing out at trespassers and leaving desiccated corpses in their wake.
The Steppe of Shadowed Death – the greatest concentration of the obsidian menhirs lies in the Plains of Glass, a land scourged of life by a forgotten curse. The black sand within this locale also includes finely crushed glass, which can permanently blind a traveler or rend apart one’s lungs. Several Free Tribes of different Races claim this area as their own; they perform raids upon the Obsidian Kingdom, their faces covered with veiled masks of obsidian.
The Great Fissure – Sometimes called the Mouth of Hell, several tributaries of lava flow at the bottom of the massive canyon that borders Pendrakken and Kenrei. Although the local populace believe this to be a gate into the Underworld, some sages submit that it simply has powerful ties to an Aethyric Realm of Fire. Exploration of this area has yet to truly be successful not only because of its environmental perils and elemental denizens, but also because of the nearby Sand Trolls that attack all that approach.
The Pillars of Meditation – North of Kenrei are the Pillars of Meditation, a mountain range known for the clouds of steam that lend it a misty atmosphere. Wu Jen settlements are perched upon these mountains, overlooking bubbling hot springs and places of verdant wonder.
The Falling Malevolence Mountains – Ever shrouded by the ash and smoke of a simmering volcano, these south-eastern Mountains mark the territory of the Yao-guai. Beneath these slopes are the hives and warrens of the Nightmare Demons; entering this area without the strength of an army is a guaranteed death sentence for any would-be-hero.
The Triumphant Mountains – Once the home of the Sand Trolls, the people of Shen Tetsu have since colonized and resided on this mountain range. The storms that ravage Kenrei during the Ki-Kaishu find their graves upon these heights. Shen Tetsu has cut into the mountains to create the Verdant Stair, a series of artificial ledges that hold arable ground.
The Sacred Lotus Sea – The Sea of the Sacred Lotus is the heart of the Obsidian Kingdom; without it, the Kenrei would have been lost to the desert winds. It is fed from the north by the River of Meditation (which is also fed by the River of Serenity) and from the east by the River of Triumph.
The waters of the Sacred Lotus spill out to the south, via the swift currents of the River of Twelve Steps. The Twelve Step River flows into and out of the Jade Lily Sea before terminating at a steep drop into the Slavering Seas (update: where the ruins of Four Winds City lies).
Standing beside the Sacred Lotus Sea, Shenjing no Ryu (the Dragon within the Soul) is the center of the Kenrei Kingdom. Behind the clay and the brick is a place of shining fountains and pristine gardens. The legendary Obsidian Throne stands within Vigilant Dragon Castle, a timeless edifice to the roots of the Kenrei people and their constant alertness against chaos and anarchy.
Shenjing no Ryu is the largest city within the Kingdom, although the other cities have their own portions of Kenrei’s glory. Victory above the Sands (or Victory City) is the stronghold for Shen Tetsu and holds the greatest martial schools in Kenrei as well as the finest steel-forges. Perfection before the Dragon (or Perfection City) is the seat of Shen Jinru, downriver of the Sacred Lotus Sea and surrounded by trimmed gardens and orchards.
The Four Winds City (or simply, Wind City) is the multi-tiered capitol of Shen Kaishu; it is built atop and along the cliffs of the southernmost portion of the Kingdom, where the Twelve Steps River meets the Slavering Seas. (Update as of February 2016: Four Winds City is no more and Shen Kaishu and its vassals no longer has any influence over the Obsidian Kingdom).
Shen Terasu has its own stronghold where the River of Meditation meets the River of Serenity; Wisdom kneeling to Memory (or Memory City) is a place of learning and history, where the scholars of Kenrei meet with the philosophers of the Wu Jen.
Although the Lotus Queen had won over the tribes of the Obsidian Wastes, Terasu had to win their allegiance and fealty. Through trials of intellect, strength and power, he persuaded the tribes to follow his leadership.
Terasu married into the family of the strongest tribe and married Kaishu, Tetsu and Jinru to the women of three other powerful tribes. Together they strengthened the foundation that the Lotus Queen had built, persuading and coercing those who were resistant to the new regime.
The Dao of the Obsidian Kingdom
The Kenrei are tiered into the three Dao, the three paths of life into which each soul is born. The Dao are not inviolate: marriage (a bride and her children assume her husband’s Dao), ordination (to become a Wu Jen) and royal edict can change a citizen’s Dao. Passing the Royal Examination to serve the Obsidian Throne is not a promotion into being a Shen, but it is a step toward such a goal.
The Dao of Dragons (Those who Protect)
The Shen walk the Dao of Dragons, earning it through their ancestry or through Royal Edicts. Just as the Skies overlook the world beneath it, so too are the Shen charged with studying the battlefield, civilization, the lores and the soul. Only through culture and learning can the Shen lead their people to prosperity, protect the Kingdom and bring honor to their lineage.
More than any other Dao, the Shen are held to the highest and strictest of standards. Those who cannot maintain their Honor become are cast out of their families as Ronin or asked to commit Ritual Suicide to cleanse their soul of sin and bring Honor back to their family.
The Dao of Spirits (Those who Dream)
The smallest of all Dao, the Wu Jen are tasked with guiding Kenrei to enlightenment, seeking the truth to the world and their own personal quest of spiritual illumination. The life of a Wu Jen is allowed only for those who can speak to the spirits (Witches or Mystics) or those who can master the difficult disciplines of the Kenrei faith. Those who are unable to perform either must walk the Dao of Mortals and become Nin-gen.
While some Wu Jen live in monasteries within the heart of the wilderness, others have their temples in the midst of cities, offering instruction and enlightenment to all who enter and performing rituals and ceremonies to appease the spirits. A few Wu Jen live under the patronage of Shen households, acting as spiritual advisor to its members – these Wu Jen are often (but not always) members of that family.
The Dao of Mortals (Those who Serve)
Also called the Nin-gen, the Dao of Mortals is the simplest and lowest path for the Kenrei. These are farmers and merchants, entertainers and craftsmen. Their task is to serve their families, their feudal lords and their King. To be Nin-gen is to live a life of service and humility – it is a difficult existence, but also one without the complexities of the court, the horrors of war, the strictures of dogma or the demands of the spirits.
Despite their lowly status, there are those among the Dao of Mortals that have carved glory and honor for themselves. Exceptional artists, craftsfolk and warriors can come into the patronage of a Shen household. Wealthy merchants, yakuza leaders or landholders may not have the honor of Shen, but they can influence their betters through sheer financial power. There are even rumors of those Nin-gen who achieve greatness through their talented service in certain dishonorable arenas such as espionage.
Finally, those who have proven themselves to the Shen may also serve in roles of responsibility and minor authority as administrators, stewards and even local sheriffs – naturally, these Nin-gen have authority only over their lessers within their Dao.
Crime and Punishment
Through dialogue with his brothers, the tribal elders and the wisest folk of his age, Terasu wrote and completed the “Eight Analects”, which detailed the various morals and ethics that the rulers and the peoples of Kenrei should follow. His son, Atarasi, added to the Analects with a thousand amendments.
The Eight Analects of Terasu
1. The Analect of Allegiance: The King of Kenrei is the Legacy of Heaven. He shall be obeyed and all respect given to him. The Obsidian Kingdom owes him their service.
2. The Analect of Hierarchy: Follow those ranked above you. Respect those who are beside you. Those beneath you must obey you.
3. The Analect of Devotion: Honor your family. Protect them and provide for them. Avenge them when they are wronged.
4. The Analect of Balance: Seek harmony and order over strife and chaos. Avoid dark passions and the fell arts. Your soul’s destiny is yours and yours alone.
5. The Analect of Trust: Swear only to truth. Speak only what is true. Falsehoods and deception poison the soul.
6. The Analect of Custody: Respect what given to you or earned by you. It is honored by proper usage. Do not take or destroy what belongs to others.
7. The Analect of Guardianship: Revere the land given by the Lotus Queen to her heir. Do not overtax or abuse this verdant gift. Invaders must be driven away.
8. The Analect of Righteousness: Seek peace over passion, words over steel. Avoid bloodshed unless virtue demands it. Malice poisons the soul of the murderer and the assailant.
The Analects are more than mere laws that punish transgressors, they are a guide to Kenrei society. For the Kenrei, violating the Analects represents more than merely breaking a rule, it is an attack upon the order that Kenrei is built upon. Thus, the Obsidian Kingdom punishes criminals harshly.
The fate of a criminal is judged either by the Dai-shen of a clanhold or a judiciary member of the Obsidian Lotus. The accused and any of their victims are allowed a familial or professional advocate to speak for them, if they so desire.
Shen who find themselves accused of a crime may defend themselves against the accuser via an Iaijutsu duel* to first blood, fought personally or through a champion. Accusers who cannot defend themselves or who lose the duel are forced to retract their statements. If the accused loses the duel, they are tried in a court as above.
In some cases, a Shen will seek out vengeance for a wrong to their family and have their feud be licensed by the Obsidian Throne to mete out justice. This may occur when the wrong was committed in the domain of a major Shen clan. The practice is an ancient one, hailed from the ancient tribal days of the Wasteland tribes — if the avenger(s) is slain or stopped, then the criminal is let loose.
Fine or Servitude – is the least of the punishments meted out by the authorities, reserved for the slightest of crimes. Since Nin-gen and Wu Jen rarely have enough money to pay fines, they often opt for servitude — this sentence can last for days, months or even years depending on a crime’s severity.
Public Flogging – involves up to an hour of torment for the criminal; this may also include severe maiming if the crime is harsh enough. For Shen, the slight upon their honor is enough to consider this a grave punishment, many opt for the next worst sentence.
Execution – is a common punishment in Kenrei, especially for the Nin-gen who offend the wrong Shen. Decapitation is the typical method for men although hanging is reserved for female and child criminals.
Exile – is the forced exit of the criminal out into the Obsidian Wastes and beyond, typically without any survival equipment or provisions. This is practically a death sentence for all but the hardiest folk. Some Exile sentences last for a few years but most are permanent sentences. For the Kenrei, Exile is worse than Execution because even a basic funeral is denied of the criminal.
Ritual Suicide – Not a sentence per se, many Shen opt for this method instead of being executed or even flogged. If done properly and with honor, the suicide cleanses the doer of the crime’s shame (but not the crime itself) and frees the person’s family from their dishonor.
Despite the name, it is custom for the ritualist to have a “Second”, an assistant to decapitate them with their own sword before they can scream or weep in pain. For women, Ritual Suicide is a quick slit of one’s own throat; for men, it is an involved slitting of one’s abdomen in a painful triangular motion.
*The Iaijutsu duel is a ritualistic duel unique to Kenrei: it involves both participants standing back to back from each other with swords sheathed. At a signal from a judge, both duelists draw their blades and strike each other in one deadly blow.
Typically, the duelist that strikes first is declared the winner. However, some duels are done to the death instead of first blood; this is especially common among duelists who are unwilling to yield the match after first blood is drawn. It is a mark of courtesy to yield although in some circles, it is considered a point of honor to continue fighting.
The sacredness of the contest ensures that no one, not even each duelist’s second or assistant, interferes with the match.
Families in Kenrei are close-knit, patriarchal units consisting of entire clans of people. The role of the patriarch (the oldest paternal figure) is as the family’s primary arbiter of resources, tasks, blame and punishments. He typically takes the lead in most familial rites and traditions, acting as celebrant in each ceremony or sharing the role with other patriarchs when it comes to marriage. When the patriarch dies or retires, his authority, his position and his profession are taken up by his appointed heir, usually (but not always) his eldest son. Similarly, the heir inherits up to one-half the estate and properties, with the remainder going to the other male members of the family.
Just as the law of Kenrei is harsh, so too is the word of the patriarch. He is expected to rule his house with a strict hand, punishing those who transgress and casting out those who bring dishonor to his line. He is also expected to award those who bring glory to the family, awarding them with prestige and wealth as he sees fit. Especially prestigious family members may be awarded with the responsibility of keeping a family heirloom; the greatest heirloom among the Shen is the family sword — handed only to heirs and heroes.
Marriage and Polygyny
In ancient times, it was typical for a man to have multiple wives — modern Kenrei sees polygyny only on very rare occasions because of societal expectations.
Where a husband used to be able to marry as many women as his household could maintain, the current standards of filial honor discouraged Shen to marry their daughters to an already married man. Among Wu Jen, marriage is an affair of equals and therefore polygyny is out of the question. Only with the Nin-gen could one see such practice being followed; however, only the wealthier of this class are able to afford a lifestyle with multiple wives.
Marriage among the Shen is less a romantic affair and more a business one, uniting two families in alliance with festivity and joviality. Marriages of love do occur and are celebrated, but most matrimonial unions are loveless, albeit with the expectations of heir production. Men are allowed to employ and maintain concubines, although such practices should be kept discreet as a matter of tradition and courtesy. The offspring of a concubine and a married man can be adopted into the family at the father’s choosing, although this is usually reserved for families will very few children.
Among the Wu Jen and the Nin-gen marriage is more personal but largely follow similar customs. Their marital customs are more subdued than their wealthier counterparts and they more often marry for love than otherwise.
Anyone expecting to marry into a family must meet with the patriarch’s approval — elopers often find themselves in dire straits since those who cross their own family are largely untrusted within the Kingdom. Even those who wish to start their own clans would do well with the good will of their families; resources in Kenrei are scarce for those without connections.
Women in Kenrei
With some exceptions, women in the Obsidian Kingdom do not enjoy the same statuses and privileges as men. Society expects them to have a male responsible for them, be it their father, their brothers, their sons or their husband. Some women enjoy the liberation of having negligent or casual patrons. Widows, in particular, can direct their sons according to their own wishes while maintaining cultural control over their own destiny. A woman without a male is a prime target for criminals and unscrupulous Shen — without a “man’s honor”, she can be suborned into a role of servitude or worse.
One of the exceptions to this rule are those women that have joined the Obsidian Throne by royal appointment or by passing the Royal Examination. As officials of the King, these woman are granted respect and station above what society gives their sex. They can be warriors or administrators and advance according to their office, rather than being enslaved to the wife/mother/daughter roles within a family.
Another exception to this rule are those women that display any ability in magic. Although ill-regarded by other women, these magic-users are given training by their clan or sent off to join the Wu Jen.
A final exception to the rule are the Wu Jen of Kenrei. They live in monastic, egalitarian communities where equality among the sexes is the norm rather than the exception. A female Wu Jen can own property and advance in status as easily as a man. That said, men and women among the Wu Jen live in separate dormitories, even those who are married.
Education and training are what constitutes the early life of a Shen child. They are taught the cultural arts of Kenrei (e.g. poetry, history, politics) as well as basic academia (e.g. arithmetic and grammar). As befits their Dao, martial training is also a big part of a Shen child’s upbringing. Even young females are trained in basic martial arts.
The youth of the Nin-gen are more practical when it comes to their time; they are usually helping out their family with chores if not apprenticing to the family’s craft. Their academic education is a bare one, learned from their parents or from a traveling Wu Jen.
A young Wu Jen’s life is a combination of both worlds. They work difficult chores like the Nin-gen but they also study academia and martial arts like the Shen. Unlike the Shen, their education is mainly religious rather than academic.
Feastdays are the few times of leisure for children of all Dao, especially the new year. During the new year is when all the children of Kenrei celebrate their “birthday” — their astrological signs are also derived from the year of their birth rather than the month.
Genpuku and Mogi
Among all three Dao, the practice of Genpuku (or Mogi for girls) is the most important rite in a child’s life: it is the feastday that celebrates their coming of age.
During this ceremony, the child is required to meditate for most of the day. At the end of the day, they are dressed as adults and they burn their childhood clothing. In front of the family patriarch, each child announces his or her new adult name and swears fealty to the King and the family. After this, the patriarch pronounces them an adult in the eyes of clan and Kingdom.
Funerals in Kenrei are quiet, private affairs. Officiated by the clan patriarch, the body is washed then ceremonially cremated before being buried in a family plot. A keepsake is kept within the family home to mark the presence of the diseased.
Those without families or even distant relatives to mourn and keep their possessions have their items seized by the Obsidian Throne and their bodies dumped into a beggar’s grave.