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Maps: Overview Local Stockade Village
Story: Session 1


The Village of Ji'an

Ji'an is a small village approximately 300 miles from the coast. It is situated next to a ford of the Ji'an River from which it takes its name. The road that follows the course of the Ji'an river passes through the village, then crosses at the ford before heading downstream. The entire village is surrounded by a low bamboo pallisade, with gates where the road passes through.

The climate is cool temperate. Summers are warm and pleasant, winters can be harsh and cold. In spring the Ji'an rises due to snow run-off, and the ford is often impassible. Fall is dry and warm, giving way quickly to the snows of winter.

The territory surrounding Ji'an is fairly flat river basin. The Ji'an river flows generally north to south, dividing the region in two. The far side of the river is forested with a mix of pine and bamboo, rising to steep, rocky hills beyond. The near side is primarily cleared land used for rice paddies and vegetable fields. These fields are bordered to the north-west by a low line of hills (the site of the village clay pit) and to the south by a large stretch of swampy ground where many springs feed into the Ji'an's primary flow.

There are other villages both north and south along the Ji'an river. There is some limited contact between villages as the Srin-ga recognize the need for inter-marriage to maintain healthy slaves. There is also some limited trade allowed.

Local Populace

Ji'an's human population consists of about 30 families belonging to one of seven clans. Each clan shares one or two large ramshackle houses arranged around a series of courtyards housing work areas, small livestock (goats, chickens, pigs), and herb gardens. These courtyards all interconnect via a series of short streets. Buildings feature large overhangs that provide cover from the rainy weather. There is a central common hall that is used for village gatherings and to house any humans passing through (generally caravan labor).

All clans maintain their own garden plots and storehouses for food and clothing. Various clans focus on different aspects of village support. The Seven Clans of Ji'an:

The Seven Clans govern human affairs via the Elders' Council, where the elders of each clan gather to discuss issues involving social problems, marriage, inter-village trade, agriculture, and resource management. The craftsmen of the village provide input to the Elders' Council, as do the most seasoned farmers and hunters of the village. Though effectively imprisoned in their village the Srin-ga and their minions do not interfere in village affairs so long as their quotas for rice, fish and clay are met.

Living Conditions

Each house has 10 to 20 occupants, making up an extended branch of the clan. Elders tend livestock, gardens and children while the able-bodied tend the rice paddies and vegetable fields, mine the clay pit, fish the river, or hunt in the surrounding hills.

The primary focus of the village is agriculture, and all crafts are dedicated to supporting this activity or providing basic necessities to the village, though some of the clay dug here is exported. There is a blacksmith, carpenter, potter, weaver, cooper and tanner in the village. Most crafters only work their craft part time, devoting the rest of their time to agriculture.

Ji'an has a good climate for growing, and the extra resources provided by the clay pit and fishing mean the villagers eat better than most. Able bodied villagers are forced to work very long hours however, and the weak or disobediant are punished without mercy. A large wooden cross stands near the ford with the remains of the last slave to disobey a Mefun order.

The Srin-ga and their minions live in separate structures outside the village proper. This compound is walled with a mortared stone wall and contains several living structures as well as two large granaries, a warehouse, and a jail. There are a dozen or more Mefun and several Wesh living at Ji'an at any time. No Srin-ga has been seen in Ji'an in several years, though closed palanquins have passed through the village regularly.


The main travelers on the road through Ji'an are caravans transporting goods to or from the coast. Caravans consist of wagons pulled by the massive En-beasts, creatures brought to the Kingdom by the Srin-ga. Each caravan is guarded by Mefun and overseen by several Wesh. Human slaves guide the wagons and provide labor for the overseers. Rarely a Sring-ga palanquin carried by Mefun guards will accompany a caravan. Human caravan slaves are housed in the village when they stop for the night.

Aside from caravans there are occasional Wesh messenger or courier parties, several Wesh riding their reptilian mounts. These groups have almost no contact with the village and stay in the walled compound when they stop.

Weapons and Arms

Humans (other than Taken) are not permitted arms or weapons beyond those required for their tasks. Knives, wood axes, farm implements, and hunting bows and spears are permitted in limited numbers, but all such weapons are strictly monitored and controlled outside the village.

Local Knowledge, Rumors and Stories

Practical knowledge

Local wildlife includes many typical woodland species, fox, wolf, bear, lynx, leopard, rabbit, deer, monkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, and the mighty piku bird can all be found within a day of the village.

The piku bird is a large semi-flightless bird that inhabits the branches of trees in the hills and is about the size of a chicken. Some claim it is the stock from which domesticated chickens derive, however its black feathers with highlights of red and its long tail bear no resemblance. The piku bird can fly for limited distances mainly in a partially supported glide. The distance they can travel airborne is more directly related to how high up in the branches they start from. Once on the ground they can sprint for short distance, nearly twice as fast as a man can run. The piku bird gathers with its family group and utilizes a unique bobbing of its tail when it is nervous our senses danger. The bobbing of the tail is followed by its warning cry, which sounds like a rooster crying "cock-doooo", at which point the birds scatter. In some manner the warning cry does convey the perceived direction of the threat and the birds fan out away from that direction. Hunters use this flight pattern to scare the birds towards other waiting hunters. Once on the ground the birds seek dense foliage to hide in until danger passes or they are flushed out. If flushed they take short flights to gain the lower branches and continue until they are in the upper canopy. In this way they flee pursuit traversing the three primary environs of the woods; the lower canopy, the ground, and the upper canopy.

The river is broad, deep and cold, fed by mountain streams and springs. It is broad and deep enough at the village to be navigable, though there are places both up and downstream where only small craft may pass. The Ji'an is a rich fishing ground, especially when the shad run in the spring. Trappers also catch turtles and muskrat along its banks, while hunters take ducks and geese with sling or bow.

Far far to the north, beyond the great mountains, the land opens onto a vast plain peopled by nomadic tribesmen. They hunt the great buffalo and wooly elephants that roam there.

The hills to the north and east are riddled with caves. Most of these are cold shallow things, often containing a spring. Some go further underground. Some are inhabited by wild animals. The deepest are inhabited by things much worse.

Demonkin are twisted creatures touched by evil power. They appear in many forms, but all have glowing violet eyes and a single horn upon their head. They make their home in the deepest places beneath the hills.


Demonkin will rarely sneak into the valley from one of their hidden places in the hills. They will kill and eat any creature they can capture, even Mefun and Wesh. Some say the demonkin must feed on the life force of a creature with a soul before it can spawn. When a demonkin comes many Sring-ga allies will gather to hunt it down and kill it.

The eldest of the village can still recall the last time a demonkin came to the valley. More than 50 Mefun, Wesh and Srin-ga came to hunt it. They captured it and crucified it by the river. It lived for two weeks, screeching and howling in agony the entire time. Nothing grows in the ground that was touched by the demonkin's blood. Finally the Wesh cut its head off and burned the remains. The beast's mighty horn is still mounted over the doorway of the Mefun quarters in their compound outside the village.

The mighty city of Di-hon once stood where the waters of the Ji'an meet the sea. When the Srin-ga came they took the city and burned it to the ground. The people of Di-hon were driven north along the river. Very few reached the village. Most continued to flee to the north. The Wu clan traces its roots to the refugees.

The villagers along the Ji'an were among the last to fall under the rule of the Srin-ga. The great river dragon Ji'an-lung fought long against the invaders, tearing the hulls of their war ships as they sailed along the river, shattering bridges, and drowning their men as they crossed the fords.

There is a hidden cave in the northern mountains that is filled with glowing light. Some say a fragment of the heartstone is buried there.

The Srin-ga unleashed a terrible demon to fight Ji'an-lung, and drove the dragon into the northern hills and wastes. Eventually the Srin-ga returned without their demon. Ji'an-lung was never seen again.

The last humans to resist the Srin'ga were a small band lead by several brothers, captains of the Di-hon army. They raided the Srin-ga caravans and camps long after the villages were subjugated. Eventually the Sring-ga came in great numbers and drove the rebels into the eastern hills. The brothers were captured, stripped of their weapons and armor, and crucified.

Stories say the rebels surprised the Srin-ga, took the remains of the brothers, and their weapons and armor, and hid them away in a secret tomb in the hills.

On moonless nights the spirits of the unhonored dead, the Gunja, rise from their fallen bones and seek out the living. Few men can bear the sight of their ghostly rotten flesh, fewer still the touch of their chilling hands.

Few venture into the great swamp to the south, and none do so at night. The mists that seethe beneath the canopies of black-leaf trees are more than just mist. The bubbles rising from the muddy water is more than just rotting vegetation. Some think some demonic creature lives beneath the swamp, and now that Ji'an-lung is defeated grows in strength and power.

In the distant mountains to the west there are massive titans, creatures of rock and stone. No stories remain of these creatures. Some believe they hunted and ate people, others believe they were friendly.

One Night in Ji'an - The Elder's Council

As Li Xui made his way to the village hall he was surprised to see Wu Feng already waiting. "Feng, why are you here? Where is Dekun?" he asked as he tossed a few small sticks into the brazier that heated the chilly hall.

"Dekun is ill and asked me to come in his stead. He has the black cough, or so Lin Hao fears," the younger man replied, warming his hands by the brazier and watching as the rest of the elders arrived.

"Black cough, most unfortunate." Xui shook his head and gave a brief shudder. "Please give him my best when you see him." The black cough was a painful lung disease brought on by cold and poor diet. It didn't bode well for Dekun, who was frail to begin with. "Very well," Xui looked around and saw the rest had arrived. "Let's begin. These old bones want to get home before the rain starts."

Talk began, as it always did, with the crop. The new rice fields would be going in as soon as the ground warmed up. The elders, dominated by Xui, quickly laid out a planting order. The old man was a pompous scheming bastard, but he kept things moving.

The two youngest of the group, Yang Gui and Song Lin were fairly quiet through the fields discussion. They were more concerned about other matters. When the last field was scheduled and the seed allocations laid out Gui spoke "What of the outsiders?" he asked.

"What of them?" queried Xui, "The Mefun will catch them or drive them off."

"Will they?" asked Lin. "They seem reluctant to listen when we told them of the broken trap lines along the river."

Xui scoffed "A few traps stolen are no great loss." Song Lin bristled "There are plenty of boys in the village who will be glad to weave new ones. Take three or four and put them to work tomorrow."

Lin grumbled "That doesn't solve the problem. Strangers will just come back and steal them again."

Chao Li Hua piped up "Also the boys need to be helping in the field, not weaving traps! They spend too much time down by the river anyhow. Dangerous down there!"

"Then we must tell the Mefun more about the thieves." Xui said cautiously, not liking where this conversation was turning.

"Tell them? So they can go hunt someone down and hang them by the river?" Lin's voice rose "I'd rather give they took a few fish traps than have another rotten corpse hanging on the cross!"

"Then what do you suggest we do Lin? Should we starve so some roving vagabond can live?" Old Li Hua screeched.

"They are not all vagabonds." The quiet voice of Chen Ning cut through the raised voices "And we should be quieter. No need to shout. Not all are vagabonds, and some have traded fairly with our hunters. I'm certain one saved young Yang Tao So too."

Li Xui snorted "Saved? The boy is broken, he won't live to see another harvest!"

Yang Gui stared at Xui in disbelief, then quietly said "I wouldn't give up just yet. He is rallying. I saw him trying to stand last night."

"We aren't here to talk about some cripple!" Chao Li Hua spat "What do we do about the bandits?"

"Who said bandits?" Song Lin looked surprised.

"What do you call someone who steals and breaks traps?" asked Xui.

"Hungry." replied Yang Gui.

Xui tried to bring things back to a useful line "What should we do Lin? Gui? In your minds what course should we take?"

"There have been more outsiders than ever seen in the hills. We should find out who they are and what they want. We should find out how many there are." Song Lin dropped his voice "And we should be ready."

Li Hua turned a bit pale, but Xui scoffed "Ready? Ready for what? War that will never come? The war was long lost Lin. Di-hon is not going to rise again. Ji'an-lung is slain, the brothers of Di-hon crucified, their armaments and followers long scattered like last fall's leaves. No secret army is going to come down from the hills and drive out the Mefun and Wesh."

Song Lin stared at Xui "That may be, but we should know more about these strangers. One or two is not a problem, but what if it's 10 or 20? They could be trouble. We could lose crops or people to them. Your young Li Lian for example.

Xui stirred uncomfortably. Li Lian was his favorite grandchild, a sweet little girl of 6 summers. "Very well, perhaps we should know more. Let's send a few hunters out east to see what they can find."

Lin nodded. He would send out two of his sons along with one of the Yangs. "I think it is also time some of the younger boys were taught the stories. They are getting old enough to hear, and remember them."

Chao Li Hua shook her head "No! They are too young! They'll start talking about them and the Mefun or Wesh will hear! Too young!"

Xui nodded in agreement. "To young."

Gui shrugged "Some are already out exploring the wilds. They will find things sooner or later. Things they will have to be told about."

"Then let it be later. I don't think they are ready, and with Ih Bon skulking about..."

Song Lin sighed "Soon then."

Reluctantly Xui nodded. "Soon."

The elders said their goodbyes and then each made their way into the night. The last two were Lin and Gui, who shook down the brazier and banked the coals for the night "Not as bad as I expected," muttered Lin.

"No, but not as much as is needed. There are more people out there than Dao (*) lets on."

"Agreed, but we can't go against the will of the council."

"They are old, and fearful, some with good reason. We must make an effort to speak with Wu Feng more often. Soon Dekun, dragons help him, will be gone I fear. Feng is a practical man. He will understand."

Lin nodded, and the two men walked off towards their homes. Silence fell on the hall, then something stirred in the darkness beneath. Small figures squirmed from beneath the building. Eyes wide Shiko Bi, Ting Lee and Si Tang watched the two men disappear around the corner. The three boys stared at each other, puzzling over what they had heard.




"We have to do this again!"

The three ran off into the night, heedless of the rain, their laughter tinged with the exuberance of youth.

(*) No one named Dao lives in Ji'an

Cheng Ru's Tale

As told to Tao So.

"Master, there are rumors among the boys of outsiders in our woods and of secrets being whispered by the elders that they won't tell to us. We are anxious to understand the threat to the village and do our part but the elders think us too young. What do you suggest we do?"

"I told Song Lin and Yang Gui their words would spread. Too many mice loose in the village at night. Mice with large ears." He shakes his head "Or perhaps rabbits. Come." Cheng Ru gestures for Tao So to follow and he leads him off to the side of Sanctuary where the food is tucked away. "We may as well eat as we talk."

"There are many things in this world that are no longer known, but legend only. Some of these things are stories, tales of legends of myths. Some are... different. I am not a story teller, but I have heard the stories. The creation of the world, the death of Xian, the coming of the dragons, the shattering of the heartstone. These and many others. Stories."

"You and your friends are bold. Bolder perhaps than even Lin and Gui and I were when we were young. It is time you know at least some of the stories are true." Cheng Ru's voice drops, and Tao So inches closer. "It was fall, and harvest was done" he whispers. "There were four of us. Gui, Lin, and Chen Shai, who..." he pauses "We were a year or more older than you are now. We were brave and bold. We too had heard of the outsiders, and the secrets held by the elders." Cheng Ru looks at you with a twinkle in his eye "We too found the tunnel under the great hall in the village."

"Our elders were less tolerant, or perhaps wiser. When we asked about what we had heard, we were beaten. We decided to see for ourselves. We left one morning, early, said we were going hunting. But we were going east, east to find the outsiders. We never did find them, not then." He stares at you and nods. "Yes my young pupil, there are outsiders. More than the Mefun would like. But we didn't find them that day. No we turned north eventually reaching a great branch of the Ji'an. We followed it into the hills. At the time I remember thinking how bad it would be when we came back after being gone for so long, three days, but we decided we would say we got lost. And indeed we did."

"Up the river then. Mile upon mile. Finally we came to a great cliff. The river, much smaller there, poured down the cliff face from a great cavern above our heads. Gui and Lin wanted to go back home, but Shai wanted to see what was in the cave. In the end, we went, Shai in the lead, the rest of us trailing behind. It was a hard climb, but we made it."

"It was dark in the cave, and the sound of rushing water drowned out our talk. We lit a torch and wound our way in along the river's bank. It grew smaller and the cave twisted like a great serpent. It became warmer and the smell of sulfur and burning grass filled the air. We realized we could see light ahead, just around the next bend. We stuck our torch in the floor and crept forward, scarcely daring to breathe."

"We looked around that last bend upon a massive room. A great rent in the floor gave rise to vile fumes and dancing flame. Our heads spun from the stench of that place and Gui threw up because of it. The chasm cut across the entire cave, save for one narrow finger of stone. The far side was higher, but we could see something through the fume, something blue and sparkling."

"Lin thought it was gems, and said we had to go see. Gui didn't want to go, so I stayed with him, and Lin and Shai crept across the floor to the bridge. Up and across, then they stopped... They stood staring for the longest time. I was about to call out to them, when I saw it. The shadow creeping between the pillars of stone. The shadow with flickering red eyes." Cheng Ru stops for several seconds, then draws a deep breath and continues "I tried to call out, but it was too late. The shadow thing was too close. Finally I gave a strangled yell and Shia and Lin saw it. They turned and ran across the bridge. The shadow slithered forward between the stones, moving like black flame. Lin was in the lead when Shia fell. He didn't even see... He just kept running. 'RUN!' he screamed, 'RUN!'"

"We ran, half dragging Gui. Lin kicked our torch as he ran and it went out. Then we were tearing through the cave, half falling down the hill and into the woods beyond. The others didn't understand me when I told them what happened to Shia. I didn't understand it myself. The shadow touched him and he... melted. We asked Lin what he saw across the bridge. 'A dragon' he said. 'a sleeping dragon.'"

Cheng Ru looks long at Tao So, searching for comprehension. "Do you see it?" he asks, "Do you understand? The Srin-ga could not kill him, so they trapped him there, and left their demon to guard him. But the demon is hungry. That's what happened to Shia. The demon ate him. The dragon is still there. Ji'an-lung. Guarded by a demon, sleeping."

Cheng Ru rose suddenly. "And that, is one story. I'm sure you will tell your friends soon enough, just as you will tell them that outsiders are real. But for now," his voice takes on the tone of command, "back to work! First position!"


All material Copyright (C) Mark A. Thomas. All rights reserved.