The Empire of Ku'pon
Ku'pon is the capital city of the Ku'ponese Empire located in the southernmost reaches of Vanteria and is inhabited by a race of Kalnuur. The territory of the empire extends for some distance outside of the city and consists mostly of rice-paddies, bamboo thickets, small outlying villages, deep jungle, bleached desert, massive raging rivers, and majestic rolling green mountains. Ku'pon is a dynastic monarchy ruled by an emperor and his group of six royal advisers from the 'Forbidden City' located just outside of Ku'pon proper. The current ruling family is the Tānlán Dynasty (Current Emperor Zhīfáng Tānlán), known for their lust for wealth and lack of regard for the poor folk within the empire. Despite their shortcomings, they have brought a period of economic prosperity to the empire through their open trade policies with neighboring nations and cunning fiscal sense. The military and naval forces of Ku'pon are mostly reserved to defend their capitol and major trade routes, rather than for open conflict. This attitude stems from the religious beliefs and ancient philosophy of the Ku'ponese people. The Ku'ponese speak a distinctively different dialect of the Kalnuur language that has evolved over the years and by the intervention of the Mu'go to be almost completely different from normal common-speak. Their written language bears a resemblance to the written language of the ancient Moogles of the first age, leading some scholars to make the connection between the Mu'go and the Moogles of our own historical texts (See Kalgrillion).
Their religion is far different from anything known in Venera, but some of the most widely known peace and non-violence advocates in history studied the philosophies of the Ku'ponese. The Ku'ponese do not worship the gods of the peoples of Venera, and many are not even familiar with the names of those gods, or even Karkien. The Ku'ponese theology revolves around the mysterious birth of the world and the coming of the creatures known as the Mu'go from the moon who taught their philosophy to the Ku'ponese when they were but a young people, secluded from the outside by the rough terrain of their homeland. These Mu'go passed on their teachings of love, magic, wisdom, non-violence, compassion, courtesy, and friendship as well as many teachings regarding meditation and " Yúijiā ", a system of stretches for exercise of body and mind. Most of this knowledge is recorded in the doctrine " Zhìhuì Shū. " which has never been translated into common. The Mu'go presented the first monks with "The Golden Pom-Pom"(a large sphere of pure gold engraved with Moogle symbols), then left Kalgranoon once more to allow the young people to flourish on their own, stopping in every now and then to observe their progress.
The people practicing the most pure form of the Ku'ponese religion are the order of Monks, who serve as bodyguards to the emperor as well as high priests of the Grand Monastery, living to defend the Golden Pom-Pom. The Monks have a leader called the " Lǎoshī Zhǔ " who serves as one of the six advisers to the Emperor. The monks are fierce warriors, but at the same time are peace-loving and act violently only in self-defense or to protect an innocent. The Monks are compassionate and peaceful at their most base level, always seeking inner tranquility and to prevent suffering in others. The martial arts practiced by the monks were created in ancient times through the careful observation of the natural world and the behaviors of animals.
Ku'pon's existence was known by the denizens of Venera because of the healthy flow of trade goods that flowed from their ports. This trade consisted mostly of rice, spices, silk, tea, livestock, fish, incense, soaps, and luxurious riches. Unfortunately, another of their largest cash-crops was cactus-green, which is one of the most devastating narcotics in all of the world. Almost all fine-quality tea in Venera can be traced back to Ku'pon. Every once in a while a foreign-looking traveler would be seen on the road in gold and scarlet robes offering words of wisdom and cups of delicious tea to travelers. A few people from Venera even hopped aboard a ship across the sea and visited the Imperial city for themselves. Their ships were of a distinctive style: tall, rectangular barges of dark wood, with flaming scarlet sails. Their national banner is that same flaming scarlet with a single striking golden circle in the center, representing the holy golden pom-pom that is kept at the Grand Monastery and is central to their religious rituals.
The Lǎoshī Zhǔ, Hóuzi Yǒngshì
Fifty-one years prior to the Karkien Decimation in the holy chamber of the Lǎoshī Zhǔ deep within the halls of the Grand Monastery of Ku'pon, a man of great importance passed into the next life. In his limp hand, he held a small piece of parchment with two words on it in thin Ku'ponese script "Jeju Island". Immediately, a team of monks led by the elder monk Gǔlóng was dispatched to Jeju island at the southernmost tip of the Ku'ponese empire. Meanwhile, while the former Lǎoshī Zhǔ breathed his last breath, in a small cottage on Jeju island the piercing cry of a newborn child rang through the night. This child was Hóuzi Yǒngshì, the offspring of a tea farmer and his wife. The team of monks arrived after several weeks of travel in the middle of a cool, clear spring night. They had been going from house-to-house in the village testing every infant male they found with the holy test of the Lǎoshī Zhǔ. They placed a series of toys in front of the child, and had him choose three of them for himself. Hóuzi was the only child in the village to choose all three of the same toys that the previous Lǎoshī Zhǔ had 100 years earlier. Hóuzi and his family were moved to the Grand Monastery, where he was to be raised and trained to be the next Lǎoshī Zhǔ of the order by Elder Gǔlóng. Hóuzi learned the ways of the monks quickly and adeptly. He was wise, a skilled hand-to-hand fighter, and knowledgeable in the scripture of the order. He quickly became the poster child of peace and tranquility in Ku'pon.
When he came of age, he began attending the council meetings of the Emperor as the representative of the order of monks. He often was put at odds with the young emperor (He had replaced his father as emperor not long before, he was only slightly older than Hóuzi) and they quickly became rivals. While the other five members of the council often bowed to the Emperor's orders, Hóuzi was not afraid to stand his ground in debate. The Emperor and Hóuzi continued to be at odds with each other for more than thirty years, the schism between the order of monks and the imperial government becoming more and more wide.
Then, something strange started happening. When Hóuzi was 51 years old, more and more reports of strange disappearances at sea began coming in. Trade from Venera was almost entirely cut off and strange travelers began wandering the lands. The council's response was at first confusion and worry, but the emperor simply decided that Venera was not a vital link to the economy of Ku'pon and that they shouldn't worry themselves with the problems of a far-off land. Everyone on the council but Hóuzi took this as an adequate answer. Hóuzi demanded that the Emperor send a delegation to Venera to find out what was going on, but the Emperor simply ignored him. Hóuzi Knew something was amiss, so he announced his retirement from the order to become a tea merchant for health reasons, the only way he could get away without the Emperor thinking much of it.
He feigned illness and left for the countryside with his mule companion Fudan, saying that he was going to spend time in his home at Jeju island with his mother (his father having passed away a long time ago). Hóuzi did not go to Jeju island, but traveled north to find out more about these strange occurrences in the hopes of saving his beloved homeland before it was too late due to the Emperor's inaction. He traveled far and wide until he finally landed under a canopy next to the mines in Ne' Rah for a lovely nap. Little did he know, this was where his life would change forever.
The tension between the Order of Monks (Mu'go'dai'chi) and the Tānlán Dynastic Imperial Government has continued to rise in the wake of the lock-down of Ku'pon and the forbidden city and the disappearance of Houzí Yōngshí, the current Lǎoshī Zhǔ of the Mu'go'dai'chi. The Emperor has continued to mistreat the poor-folk, forcing them into a tiny, dirty area of the city to make room for the civilian refugees coming in from abroad. Disease spread quickly in the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the slums leading to the deaths of many people, and crime was rampant. The Emperor was more concerned with maintaining the economic stability of the nation in the wake of the crisis, and ignored the growing problems in the slums. In the wake of this unrest, the inner council of the Mu’go’dai’chi sent a white dove to seek out the Lǎoshī Zhǔ and deliver him the news, imploring him to return.
In an act of protest, the Mu'go'dai'chi began housing poor folk in the Grand Monastery against the orders of the Emperor. The Emperor sent military soldiers to the Monastery to clear out the "rabble, filth, and scum" that the Monks had taken in out of empathy for their suffering. The Mu'go'dai'chi Monks created a human barrier at the entrance gate of the Monastery, defending the innocent from the brutal actions of the Emperor's minions as they had vowed to do in the very beginning. A heated melee ensued between the forces of the Imperial army and the Monks. Many lives were lost on both sides during the fighting and the remainder of the Monks took the Golden Pom-Pom into their possession and led the civilians in a retreat to the city's gates. At the gates, they demanded that the guards let them pass. The guards refused and attempted to arrest the Monks for their defiance of Imperial decree and were summarily beaten to a pulp by the Monks. The Monks fled deep into the slums of the city, hoping to hide from the Emperor's forces in the one place they knew he didn't care to watch closely.
The Emperor proceeded to abolish the order of the monks, proclaiming that they had committed treason against the nation and had attempted to overthrow him and the council. The people responded with the creation of wholesale chaos and civil disruption in the streets. Protests, counter-protests, and riots occurred from the supporters of both the Mu'go'dai'chi, and the Emperor. Soon enough, the city was in flames as the two sides clashed together in horrific and bloody battles. The Emperor sent a brigade of troops to Jeju Island where Houzí had proclaimed he was going. Not finding Houzí there, they took his mother prisoner and brought her back to the Imperial dungeons in the Forbidden City. For good measure, they burned the village of Jeju to the ground and slaughtered its inhabitants.
The Monks resided in an old abandoned warehouse within the slums as the battle raged around them. Just when it seemed as though all hope had been lost for peace, a dove fluttered down from a hole in the tattered ceiling of the warehouse. The monks gathered around the bird, which sat perched on a fallen rafter. The bird had a note tied around its leg which was wrapped in a golden ribbon, the symbol of the Lǎoshī Zhǔ. The eldest Monk present opened the letter and smiled, his hope restored. The Lǎoshī Zhǔ was returning from his leave of absence and he had found what he was looking for in the north. The time had come for the end of the Emperor’s corrupt regime.
On a stone in his garden, Houzí sat peacefully meditating, trying to control the ongoing pain of his burns and injuries. Hardaz walked into the garden with a cup of tea and some salve for his burns. He left when Chimba yelled for his assistance in the tea garden. Houzí smiled, happy at all of the new friends he had made in his time here, but he knew what he had to do. It was time to go home.
Return to Ku'pon
Houzi left Ne'rah in haste, traveling south along the trade road to Ku'pon. He stopped at a village to barter the very last of his special tea for a horse fit for the long journey ahead and set off at an even faster pace for his homeland. After a while, he passed into Ku'ponese territory to find nothing but abandoned farms and outlying villages. A ghostly sight, but he knew from Hardaz's account that all of the commoners had gone to the Imperial City to take shelter from the imminent Karkien invasion. He eventually came to the colossal crimson gates of the Imperial city and was shocked to see billows of black smoke rising from behind the great barrier wall. The sound of shouts, anguished cries, and the clashing of blade on blade were carried to him by the wind. He rode to the gates and was stopped by an Imperial guard who luckily didn't recognize him. The guard stopped him and informed him of the lock-down, nobody was allowed into or out of the city by decree of the Emperor.
Houzi began to turn back to find a different way into the city when suddenly high on the wall in the gatehouse, a brief melee could be heard along with muffled yells. Two monks dropped down from the wall dextrously and deftly dispatched the four royal guards with several lightning fast shurikens. The monks greeted Houzi with deep bows and informed him how grim the situation was inside of the city. The Imperial guards were slaughtering people in the streets and the two factions (The resistance led by the remaining monks, and the Supporters of the Imperial throne) were at open war. One of the monks shouted up to the gatehouse and the massive gates slowly began to creak open, revealing the utter chaos within. As the gates parted, a crowd of refugees; women, children, and elderly people pushed and stampeded their way through the breach with looks of relief upon their faces as they saw the outside world for the first time in weeks. After the crowd passed, Houzi entered the city. Bodies were strewn all over the streets and many buildings had been demolished. High above the city upon the temple mount, the smoking ruin of the Monastery sat like a burnt skeleton of its former self.
The monks brought Houzi to the city's slums where the Monks had established their headquarters. Injured people were lined up in rows and beleaguered monks were rushing about treating their injuries. Houzi was introduced to the leader of the civilian rebellion, Himitsu Akuma, a mariner from the island nations off the coast. Himitsu proved himself as a skilled tactician and strategist, launching many attacks against the Imperial forces that seriously hindered their plans.
After a few more weeks of fighting, the forces led by Himitsu Akuma pushed the forces of the Emperor back to the Forbidden City's palace gates. Houzi assembled a team of Monks to infiltrate the Forbidden city and capture the Emperor. Himitsu insisted that he come in order to provide support in combat. Houzi granted his wish and allowed him to come with them. The team climbed over the wall into the palace grounds late at night. They made their way through the camps of the Imperial army, silently dispatching several guards along the way, and arrived at the back entrance of the Palace. They entered the palace and were greeted by a brigade of guards defending the Emperor in his throne room. They had been betrayed; the Emperor knew that they were coming the guards went forth and captured the team, everyone that is except for Himitsu.
At that moment, Himitsu walked up the steps and bowed before the Emperor. He turned to the monks and gave his evil villain monologue, at the end of which he revealed his true form. He was in fact a Zurgator of Karkien. The Emperor stepped forward to give his own evil villain monologue, revealing his alliance with the forces of the Karkien realm in order to save his nation from destruction. As he delivered his riveting speech, Himitsu (now in his Zurgator form) unsheathed his blade and kicked the emperor's legs from under him sending him to his hands and knees. He stared into Houzi's eyes while he sawed the Emperor's head from his shoulders pronouncing himself the new emperor and that Ku'pon was now the property of the Karkien gods. He waved his hands and the Imperial guards transformed into Karkien horrors which dragged the Monks to the dungeons and sealed them away in the darkness. A Karkien rift tore open upon the temple mount, spewing forth evil creatures into the city. The wave of Karkien darkness had overcome the people of Ku'pon... for now.
In the shadows of the Imperial dungeons a spark of light flared as Houzi revealed the Golden Pom-pom from within his robes. "Timu to kicku some Karukenu assu.”
Houzi gripped the Pom-Pom tightly and began to meditate. His monk companions began chanting a version of the ancient ritual said to have been used by the ancient Mu’go sages in ancient times to combat a task of great significance on a snowcapped mountaintop in a far away land. Houzi’s robes billowed. A wind from an unknown source whisked through the room like a hurricane, amplifying the chanting of the monks throughout the Imperial palace. Houzi opened his eyes, illuminating the pitch-black dungeon with an almost blinding light.
In the throne room, the new emperor, the black shadowy figure of Himitsu (Or his true name Shulim, Zurgator of Karkien) stood on the balcony overseeing the burning of the Imperial peace gardens by his minions. His ears perked up at the whispering sound emanating through the halls, he turned from the balcony, motioned to his guards to follow, and strode down the stairwell toward the source of the sound. When he arrived in the dungeon he felt an odd warm breeze as he approached the holding cell. His guard unlocked the door and peered inside. The guard stood agape at what lay inside. Shulim shoved him aside and peered through the archway. A massive hole had been blasted through the wall, the prisoners had escaped. Shulim’s vengeful bellow created a massive fireburst of black flame that incinerated his two guards where they stood. He rocketed off out of the gaping the palace wall into the din of the chaotic city to hunt the escapees down.
Houzi’s robes glistened as white as his piercing effervescent eyes. His gaze swept back and forth, taking in the destruction and death around him. Four ethereal crystals orbited around his body like tiny moons, one verdant, one golden, one deep blue, and one jet black. His band of monks followed behind him at a distance as he weaved his way through the streets. He stopped suddenly, as if he had heard something within the crackling of the fires. He bent down and pressed his ear against a beam jutting from the ground. The monks gathered around him as he listened, straining their ears to hear what he did. Houzi bent down and gripped the beam with both arms, lifting it over his head with seeming ease. Beneath the beam was the basement door of a small house that had collapsed; Houzi unlatched the door and descended the steps. The monks waited outside for a moment until he finally appeared from the shadows once more holding a hysterical little girl clutching a cat under his arm; behind him came her pregnant mother. He set the girl down on the ground and gave her a pat on the head and gestured for them to follow him. The girl hid behind her mother and took refuge within the group of monks. The group continued down the road towards the gates.
Shulim soared above the city like a bird of prey upon a cloud of deepest black. He circled over several times looking for them, but the smoke of the burning city was far too thick. He stopped to think, panning his gaze across the ruined districts of the once beautiful capitol. A tower collapsed in the distance creating yet another billowing cloud of dust, obstructing his gaze. He felt that something was terribly amiss. As if an ancient power had been awoken in that prison cell and was threatening to foil his plans. It was time to act. Instead of swooping around the city once more, he went down to his generals and informed them to round up the surviving civilians and put them in chains; they would be taken through the rift and used as slave labor. Shulim was not a foolish entity, he would take his winnings and run while the going was still good. His masters would be pleased with their new slave labor force. If he could stop the Monk, he would. A sparkle appeared in his throbbing red eyes; he knew where the monk would be going.
After several skirmishes with the Karkien-beasts in the streets, Houzi and his monks had gathered a group of a few survivors that followed closely behind like scared children. The group finally arrived at the grand promenade plaza beneath the golden gates to find a horrible scene unfolding. Hundreds of people were chained up and being led across the plaza by the Karkien creatures. They were being dragged up the thousand steps to the top of the temple mount where they were to pass through the rift in the midst of the ruins. Before the monks had diverted their gaze from the sight, Houzi was already gone; Houzi flew off toward the temple mount with lightning speed and stood in the path of the procession at the top of the thousand steps in front of the charred wooden torii archway that was once the gate of the Monastery.
He held his hand aloft and stated in the language of Ku’pon in a calm but reverberant tone “You shall not pass.”
He stamped his foot on the ground, creating a burst of vibrant golden light. The shadow-guards at the front of the procession flew backwards and tumbled down the stairs. Manacles clanked to the ground and rolled down the steps with a metallic tinkling. Houzi turned to the rift and walked into the shadows of the monastery ruins. The Monks rushed forward and ushered the group of civilians down the steps and toward the gates. Outside the gate they met resistance from the Karkien gate-guards and several shadows lying in wait inside the gate house. The monks dispatched them with their advanced martial arts that were too fast and powerful for even Karkien horrors. The gates swung open with a mechanical clanking. The crowd surged through the gates with fiendish intensity.
The temple was dark, the air stagnant. There was an eerie silence in the main chamber. Ashes fell through the gaping hole in the roof through which the swirling, thrumming Karkien rift climbed toward the heavens. The ceremonial gong hung from a single chain like a dangling golden pocket watch. Torn scarlet banners lay strewn across the dust-coated floor. A sinister voice bellowed through the hall.
“You are more resourceful than I suspected. I was negligent to underestimate you.”
“It is time for us to end this, dark one.” Houzi responded in his own unearthly tone.
Shulim appeared from the shadows, cackling. “You think you stand a chance against me, monk? I am a Zurgator of Karkien!”
A cloud of darkness flared around him and climbed to the ceiling, congealing back into his true form. Houzi stood silent and still, dwarfed by the shadow of the colossus. He walked calmly to the wall and took one of the ancient Katanas from its display sconce. A high pitched ringing danced through the room while he unveiled the glistering blade from its sheath.
“Shulim!” Houzi cried as he charged at the cackling giant.
Shulim and Houzi’s clash created an explosion that tore the temple mount apart, leaving a smoking crater. The Karkien portal erupted from the crater like a great pillar of conflagration into the sky. The clouds were torn asunder and formed into a swirling maelstrom above the city. The flames of the city began to sway in the direction of the great vacuum and then were sucked into the fray, extending into serpentine infernal streams. The monks rushed away from the city with the surviving civilians. They stopped upon a shaded hilltop and watched the spectacle from a distance. The pregnant woman was moaning beneath a tree being fanned by her tiny daughter; the cat stood sentinel atop a nearby boulder. Buildings were torn from their foundations and wreckage began swirling around the vortex, the city was being shredded apart by the pure force of wind and flame. Trees were ripped up by the roots, ships were pulled out of the harbor; the screams of people and shadowbeasts lifted into the air tore through the night. When the city was little more than a windswept pile of rubble, the portal began to shrink. It finally closed to just a faint thread of red light, and then it winked out of existence.
The survivors stood in silence upon the hilltop utterly aghast. It was a massacre, the city was silent and still; empty. Nothing but the slight whispering midnight breeze was audible. A few of the monks ventured forth to examine the ruins for any survivors. The facades of some better constructed buildings still stood, but much of the city had been wiped clean into a dusty plain; a skeleton of its former self. They approached the spot where the temple mount once stood. The crater glowed red with heat, pieces of buildings and other unidentifiable crumbling organic objects lay scattered about like the charcoal remains of a bonfire. They stood aghast when a blackened hand appeared at the rim of the crater. Something pulled itself over the rim and rolled onto its back, smoking and gasping for breath. The monks approached the figure cautiously and gazed down upon it. The figure looked up at them; it was Houzi. His face was charred and his robes were tattered. The mystic light had left his eyes and the ethereal crystals were no longer in orbit around his body. The Golden Pom-Pom was nowhere to be found.
“Things are going to be changing drastically in the world.” Houzi whispered to the monks as they gathered closely around.
“This destruction is happening all over the world… I only hope my friends will stop it before it destroys all we hold dear…” His voice began to trail off. One of the monks cried out,
“Master! Stay here with us, we will need guidance in this new era.”
“No, you will find your way. Go to the North and seek out the Blue one, he will lead you to your destiny.” He coughed and sputtered, but then began chuckling. “I have done my part. I’m off to find a good cup of tea. Farewell, my friends.” His eyes rolled back and his body went limp. The Lǎoshī Zhǔ, Houzí Yōngshí, was dead. The monks dug him a shallow grave on the spot where the Imperial peace gardens once stood and prepared to give him his final rites. Before they lowered his body into the ground, one of the monks noticed he was holding a piece of paper in his hand. The paper read “Outside on the hill.” The monk stared at the paper for a long while and then smiled. The monks lowered his body into the hole and covered it with earth. They exited the graveyard that had once been the shining jewel of the south and went back to the hill where the survivors waited. An unfamiliar shrill shriek resounded through the night air as they approached the hill. It was the sound of a newborn baby, the mother named her Houzula.